Friday, December 31, 2010

Five more great CDs

Ok, I'm going to admit it--I wrote up my TOP TEN BLUES RELEASES of 2010 the other day, and ever since then I have been kicking myself. I think I left out about 5 other great cds from artists who deserve your attention, artists who made great music in 2010......and artists that should get recognized but did not appear in the Top Ten I posted the other day.

So if you'll give me another chance, here are FIVE MORE GREAT CDs. In no particular order:

Robin Rogers -- Back In The Fire. See Rick Harmon's review Dec 16.

Buddy Guy -- Living Proof. See my review October 24.

Nick Moss -- Privileged. See my review March 30.

The Delta Flyers -- Sixteen Bars. See my review November 22.

John Nemeth -- Name The Day. I am sorry I really missed this one in 2010. I've been a fan of this guy since 2006. John Nemeth has set such a high standard over his past 3-4 cds, and this time out his singing, harp playing, and songwriting are all TOP NOTCH. Nemeth has always been one of the best singers around, and this time out he continues to cook. John leads a first-class band through his strongest batch of songs. Best song here could be "Heartbreak With A Hammer," which features great harp work AND a great guitar solo AND nice piano work AND a smooth horn section all riding atop a great groove, or it could be "I Said Too Much," which features a great old school R & B call-and-response vocal with the spirit of Otis Redding.

Ok, so now in my mind, anyway, I have suggested a Top Fifteen of 2010. These are all worthy of your purchase. I promise I'm not going to suggest 5 more next Monday.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Ten Blues releases of 2010

It's time for the traditional end-of-the-year Top Ten list for 2010. This year has seen a lot of great music released. Some of these I reviewed earlier this year, and some of them are newly listed--anyway, in my humble opinion, this is the best of the good stuff. Support your favorite blues artists, and go buy these cds. Furthermore, if you have the chance, go see these artists live.

1. Ronnie Earl -- Spread The Love. Ronnie Earl is the most important blues guitarist alive, and this is his most beautiful release in a career of making great music. Fits equally well on Saturday night or Sunday morning. On Stony Plain Records. Any Top 10 Blues List that doesn't include this cd by Ronnie Earl is completely bogus.

2. Grant Dermody -- Lay Down My Burden. See my review September 12.

3. Cee Cee James -- Seriously Raw (Live at Sunbanks). See my review July 12.

4. Retro Deluxe -- Watermelon Tea. Featuring Bobby Joe Owens on vocals, Zach Sweeney on lead guitar, Jimbo Mathis on drums and songs written and/or arranged by Robert J Thompson, this one is more fun than anything else I heard all year. On the Rinkled Rooster label.

5. Peter Parcek 3 -- The Mathematics of Love. This one is for all you rock 'n blues lovers--a fantastic release, from a top-notch guitarist who has paid his dues for a long time in Boston. Starts off with a burning "Showbiz Blues" and never lets up. This one has turned up on several other Top 10 lists. No problem. It really is that good. On Vizz Tone Records.

6. Moreland and Arbuckle -- Flood. See my review Feb 23. Includes my favorite song of the year "Don't Wake Me," which will teach your soul everything there is to know about the blues in less than 4 minutes. Don't believe me? Listen to it again.

7. Jay Gaunt -- Harmonicopia. I am shocked that I did not review this earlier this year. A fantastic journey through the world of harmonica styles. Harmonica played with taste and chops, and the band surrounding Gaunt plays as well as he does. Includes a cool bluesy version of "Greensleeves." Yeah, that Greensleeves, the classical song. I love it, but I'm pretty sure than Jay could do a version of Kermit the frog's "Rainbow Connection" and I'd love that too. On JBG Music.

8. Albert Castiglia -- Keepin On. See my review August 19. Runner up for my favorite song of the year is "My Baby Is Now On My Mind," which is so good it reminds me of the late great Sean Costello.

9. Jim Byrnes -- Everywhere West. See my review December 15.

10. Studebacker John's Maxwell Street Kings -- That's The Way You Do. A great big Valentine to the early days of Chicago Blues on Maxwell Street. Studebacker John Grimaldi wrote all the songs, and he plays slide guitar and vocals and harp, with Rick Kreher on guitar and backing vocals, and Steve Cushing on drums. This three piece brings the classic Chicago Maxwell Street blues scene to throbbing greasy life. On Delmark Records.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Robin Rogers "Back In The Fire"




(Note: The review following appeared on the yahoo group "Match Box Blues." I am re-printing it here because I couldn't write it up any better. Thanks Rick. The day after I posted this review Robin died. RIP Robin.)

by Rick Harmon

Robin Rogers new album for blues label Blind Pig records could not be a more bittersweet triumph. The recording is beautiful, powerful and probably the last she will ever record.

"Back in the Fire" is the follow up to "Treat Me Right," the 55-year-old singer's first recording on Blind Pig, which when it was released two years ago gave the performer her first smash hit in a professional music career that began in Miami in 1979.

She gave a wonderful performance in Montgomery a few months after her album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard blues charts, where it remained for years. At the time she made it clear that while the newfound success was wonderful, she considered her true success freeing herself of a drug and alcohol habit that had once plagued her.

With the help of Tony Rogers, her musical partner and husband, she thought she had put those years behind her. But just months ago she was diagnosed with liver cancer, a complication of the hepatitis-C she contracted in the 1970s. The cancer is untreatable, and she is not a candidate for a transplant.

"Back in the Fire" is an even stronger recording than her first. It combines lyrics that represent a life full of hard lessons and courage but manage never to be preachy. The production is lower key than on her last album, reminding you less of a painstakingly recorded studio album than a stunning live performance.

Whether singing about others' mistakes ("Baby Bye-Bye) or her own ("I Know I Done Wrong") she sings with the sort of sultry experience that one associates with the great torch singers of old.

There are also deeper and sometimes more painful songs such as "What We Are Worth," which sums up some of the wisdom she has fought so hard to gain, and "Don't Walk Away Run," a warning to domestic violence victims to leave while they can.

Throw in some gorgeous covers - Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad," Allen Toussaint's "Hittin' On Nothin'," a well-known Irma Thomas standard, and the Big Maybelle song "Ocean of Tears," -- some nice instrumentals from pianist Mark Stallings, guitarist Tony Rogers and a guest appearance by Bob Margolin to Tony Rogers on guitar -- and "Back in the Fire" is a passionate, powerful tour-de-force.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Blind Pig recording artist Robin Rogers has been diagnosed with liver cancer. She was hospitalized for complications caused by Hepatitis C, and a CT scan prior to surgery revealed an untreatable cancerous tumor on her liver. She is not a candidate for a liver transplant so she has been sent home for hospice care.

There has been a major outpouring of support and care since the announcement of the hospitalization by her husband Tony on Robin's Facebook page. Announcements were made of the establishment of a Robin Rogers Medical Trust Fund to cover medical expenses.

However, while this fund will help with astronomical hospital and medical bills, it does not cover other expenses such as hospice care and basic living expenses. Robin will not be able to return to the stage, and Tony, her musical partner, will be out of work for the foreseeable future. Like most musicians, Robin and Tony do not have health insurance and depend on touring income for their livelihood. Expenses for hospice care, medicine, and everyday living will be extremely high.

Fans who are interested in providing help directly to the family can donate by sending a check (made out to Tony Rogers) to: Robin Rogers c/o Piedmont Talent Agency, P.O. Box 680006, Charlotte, NC 28216. In addition, the Charlotte Blues Society has set up a PayPal account, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting Robin. PayPal donations can be made on the PayPal webpage.

Fans can also help by purchasing CDs from her website, www.robinrogers.com. Benefits and fundraising efforts are also being organized, and fans can follow developments on a newly created Facebook page: Robin Rogers Benefit Central.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jim Byrnes "Everywhere West"



Jim Byrnes is a guitarist, a singer, songwriter and a musicologist--and he is terrific at all. He is originally from St Louis, but he has been a Canadian blues treasure for more than 30 years. His latest cd "Everywhere West" is his fourth for Black Hen Music and his eighth overall. This marks the fourth collaboration between Byrnes and producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, and this may be the best work they have done together so far. The band includes Byrnes on guitar and vocal & Dawson on slide guitar, banjo, and dobro, Chris Gestrin on organ, and Dawson studio regulars Keith Lowe on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums. On four songs they are augmented by a 3 piece horn section featuring Daniel Lapp on trumpet, Bill Runge and Jerry Cook on saxes. Lapp also plays a beautiful fiddle lead on "No Mail Blues." Four of the songs are Byrnes originals ("Hot As A Pistol," "Storm Warning," and "Me And Piney Brown"), three are traditional songs ("Bootlegger's Blues," "No Mail Blues," and "He Was A Friend Of Mine"), one is by Steve Dawson ("Walk On"), and there are covers of Jimmy Reed ("Take Out Some Insurance On Me"), Robert Johnson ("From Four Until Late"), Louis Jordan ("You Can't Get That Stuff No More"), and Lowell Folsom ("Black Nights"), and the Bass/Thompson "Yield Not to Temptation."

I listened to this cd four of five times before I even started thinking about writing a review of it. Now thatb I've written the review, I expect I'll be listening to it a lot more. Each song spins out and captures my ears. This is good music in a variety of blues styles, timeless music well played. As Byrnes writes in the liner notes, "Everywhere West" is dedicated to 'those who came before,' but this music doesn't belong in a museum. Check it out for yourself --this is the best cd to come out of Canada this year.

You can buy it at http://www.blackhenmusic.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

James Kinds "Love You From The Top"



Bluesman James Kinds was born in Mississippi in 1943. He moved to Chicago in 1959 and was a fixture in the blues and gospel scenes there until 1983, when he moved to Dubuque Iowa. But James' kept performing in Chicago and all over the MIdwest, and between 2004 and 2007 he made three indy cds with the All-Night Riders, and he was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 2008. James's biggest career hit is a song called "Ada" which he recorded in the mid-'70s for Cloud 9 and it's still James' show-stopping closer which he sang at the 2007 Chicago Blues Festival.

This is James' first major label cd, and it catches this veteran performer in superb form. Kinds wrote all the songs. Along with Kinds on vocals and guitar and Eddie Shaw on sax on four songs, the band includes Al Pool on guitar, Anthony Dotson on bass, and Claude L. Thomas on drums. Now if you happen to read liner notes like I do, you'll know that this is one hot band--Pool, Dotson and Thomas are all veterans of the Chicago blues, and they can each play the blues like ringing a bell, and Eddie Shaw is a legend, the long-time leader of the Howlin' Wolf Gang. So it is with a sense of anticipation that I dropped this one in the cd player, and this cd does not disappoint.

Things kick off with the title track, and wow, James Kinds can sing--he has maybe the best voice in the blues right now. The guitar work is spot-on, and everything is deep in the pocket, and Shaw blows a great solo. And it never drops off! Song after song, everything is sweet and strong and tasty. Kinds tells his story in "Mason Dixon Line Blues," and he does a humorous song about the perils of booze on "I Didn't Go Home" and he adds a gospel touch to the slow blues of "Take A Look At Yourself" and on "Johnny Mae" he brings forth another song as good as "Ada." Every note on this cd COOKS! On a normal CD there are 12 songs, and the last notes of "Johnny Mae" would be the end--but Kinds has been waiting too long to make this breakthrough to stop where everybody else might. He treats us to three more great songs, including "I Can't Take It" and "My Mama Told Me," and both of those songs are terrific. Every song on this cd is terrific.

A very fine release. You can buy this cd at http://delmark.com

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Delta Flyers "Sixteen Bars"



The Delta Flyers are an awesome blues force. Let me tell you, if you like that sweet bluesy music made by Canned Heat back in the 60s you will love this disc. This is a great cd, and a great band. The music is built around the vocals and harmonica work of Steve DuPree and the guitar work of Travis Stephenson. The songs were all written either by DuPree or by DuPree/Stephenson. The Delta Flyers encompass an impressive range of rural blues and country styles supported by Jack Saunders (bass, percussion and backing vocals), Rick Richards (drums), Rich DelGrosso (mandolin) and Sister Tommie Lee Bradley (backing vocals). Things kick off with "61 Highway Blues," an electric slide guitar shuffle, then the jaunty country two-step beat of "Sixteen Bars," which is not about gin mills or the length of a blues progression but the number of bars in a jail cell door. "Mentone, Alabama" is a road trip song done up with joy and tight bluegrass-style harmony vocals. Things stay in a high energy mood thru "Baby's So Fine," a superb boogie shuffle. Then comes the best song on the cd, and a strong candidate for Bruce's song of the year, "Sunflower River Rag." By itself worth the cost of the whole disc! It sounds like it could be by the Marshall Tucker Band or the Pure Prairie League or the Doobie Brothers or even Alabama but it's better than all those others! DuPree's vocals and Stephenson's guitar ride over the rhythm, and when the chorus comes in with Sister Tommie Lee it blows my head clean off. I had to listen to it three or four times in a row, just to enjoy it again and again. Next comes "Poison Took My Baby," a cautionary tale about drug abuse. "Dockery Farm" pays tribute to that famous Delta plantation with a hypnotic, twangy hill country groove that will not quit. "Fishin' Little Mama" is a Chicago-style blues shuffle, and "Baby Jane" is another country two-step featuring great drumming by Richards. Then things close out with "I Got To Testify," a nice gospel-style song featuring great work by Rich DelGrosso on mandolin and backing vocals by The Fabulous Inebriators.

I love this one. A very strong release. This one will be released on January 4th on Soulbilly Records. You can buy it at the band's website, http://www.thedeltaflyers.com/

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Todd Sharpville "Porchlight"



Todd Sharpville's new cd "Porchlight" is a compelling release--partly because of the musical quality of his guitar and vocals, partly because of who and what Todd Sharpville is. According to Wikipedia, "Sharpville (born The Hon. Roland Augusto Jestyn Estanislao Philipps, 9 April 1970, London) is the younger son of the 3rd Viscount St Davids and younger brother of 4th Viscount St Davids, is a British musician, singer-songwriter and lead guitarist, mainly in the blues field." He's British royalty, and he plays guitar, writes and sings.

I really don't care about the royalty angle--what interests me is the music, and Sharpville has been making records since 1994's "Touch Of Your Love" (Red Lightnin' Records), which won "Best Album" in 1994 in the British Blues Connection awards (Britain's equivalent to the W.C. Handy Awards). He won the British Blues Connection "Best UK Guitarist" award in 1995. His second album was 2001's "The Meaning Of Life" (Cathouse Records), and featured guests Leo Sayer, Eugene "Hideaway" Bridges, Snowy White, Paul Lamb, Keith Dunn, and ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. Sharpville also appeared on Leo Sayer's "Voice In My Head" (2005) and Albert Hammond's "Revolution Of The Heart" (2006).

As an antidote to the mention of Leo Sayer, let me point out that Sharpville's new blues double album "Porchlight" was produced by Duke Robillard and features guests: Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, & Kim Wilson. The Todd Sharpville Band includes Mark Teixeira on drums, Jessie Williams on bass, Bruce Bears on keyboards and a fine horn section consisting of Scott Aruda on trumpet, Doug 'Mr. Low' James on baritone sax, Carl Ouerfurth on trombone, and Mike Tucker on alto sax. That cast of characters and guests make this a pretty good double cd. Todd Sharpville writes all 15 songs, and I really like the majority of them, as Sharpville gets into various styles of blues with fine results.

Things kick off with "If Love Is A Crime" which features good work by Sharpville and Kim Wilson. That is followed by "Lousy Husband (But A Real Good Dad)" which features good work by both Duke and Sharpville and especially Bruce Bears on piano. Next up is "Used," in which Sharpville gets to show his major guitar talents. Then "Why Does It Rain?" which features the horn section--this may be the best song on the record. Things wander astray a bit with the next two tracks, "Can't Stand The Crook" and "Everything Will Be Alright," but everything comes back into major focus with the next song "Old Feeling" which is 5 minutes of great music.

The second cd is similarly strong out of the box, with "When The World's Not Enough" which is fine rockabilly, and "When The Blues Come Calling," which reminds me of Eric Clapton in a good way, and then things droop with the dreadful "If That Ain't Love What Is?" and the leaden "Legacy of Greed." But then things pick up again with "Whole Lotta Lady" which features that fat baritone sax and that great Duke Robillard sound, and the next three songs "Misery" and "Busted In Pieces" and "Porchlight" are all highlights--all great guitar and band burning the house down. "Misery" or "Porchlight" are the most personal songs on the disc, and there Todd Sharpville makes his stand. This guy is really good, even if he is a Brit and royalty. Grab this set, give it a listen, and see what I mean.

This cd is on MiG (Made in Germany) Records. You can buy it at www.Allmusic.com

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lance Lopez "Salvation From Sundown"



Lance Lopez is a blues-rock guitar gunslinger, and "Salvation From Sundown" is a great blues-rock cd. I was tipped off to Lance's music back in 2007 by my DJ friend Mark Smith, the Blues Pilot at KJLU FM. Mark always has loved a hot 3 piece band. Turns out Lance Lopez has been around for quite a while, including a 3 year stint in Lucky Peterson's band starting when Lance was just 18. In 1999 Lance won the Southeastern Regional JIMI HENDRIX Electric Guitar competition in New Orleans sponsored by EXPERIENCE HENDRIX. Lopez has released 5 previous cds--the first one was "First Things First" in 1998 which should have been a big hit. Over the years Lance has continued to develop a hard-charging style, complimented perfectly by a gruff voice. This album is his best yet. It was produced by Jim Gaines, and the band is Tony Valdez on bass and Cody Norman on drums. The first song "Love Of Mine" sets out what's coming--a straightforward full guitar tone played with confidence, with the voice front and center, telling a story with fire and heart. After that comes what may be the best song here, "My Good Thang," and on song after song both the writing and the playing are just top-notch. A dozen sizzling cuts. If you like your blues heavy with a dose of rock on the side, this disc is right up your alley. If you like Todd Wolfe or Albert Cummings you should give Lance Lopez a listen. Really good stuff.

This cd is on MIG label. Release date is November 9, 2010. You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ernie Hawkins "Whinin' Boy"



Ernie Hawkins is a great finger-style acoustic guitarist. His new cd "Whinin' Boy" should establish him at the very top rank in the genre. Hawkins took lessons with Rev Gary Davis back in the 60s, and this time around he plays with a band. And what a great band it is! The band includes Dwayne Dolphin, the jazz bassist; Joe Dallas on trombone; Paul Cosentino on clarinet; Roger Day on tuba; James Moore on trumpet; Marc Reisman, on harmonica; and percussionist George Heid, who also produces "Whinin' Boy." They offer up a smorgasbord of great songs, starting out with the Jelly Roll Morton penned title track, the Naset-Kahn "Susie (of the Islands), the Donaldson-Kahn "Makin' Whoopie" in a Dixieland arrangement, a couple of originals, the Little Brother Montgomery "Vicksburg Blues," Louis Armstrong's "Weather Bird," Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," Big Bill Broonzy's "Shuffle Rag," and the Rev Gary Davis' "There Is a Table in Heaven." The songs vary from fingerpicking blues to dixieland and back--and everything here is beautifully done. Check it out!

Ernie Hawkins has been featured in SingOUT!, Fingerstyle Guitar, Dirty Linen, Acoustic Guitar, Blues Revue and Vintage Guitar magazines. He has appeared on "A Prairie Home Companion", "Mountain Stage" , "Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour" and XM radio. Ernie appears on Maria Muldaur's Grammy and Handy nominated and Indie Award winning album "Richland Woman Blues."

This cd is on Corona Records, and you can buy it online at www.erniehawkins.com

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Buddy Guy "Living Proof"



Buddy Guy may be 74 years young, but this man is not old or tired--and this is no nostalgia act. A dozen dynamite songs loaded with amazing guitar work, passionate vocals and a great band adds up to a top-notch release. From the opening notes of the opener "74 Years Young" Buddy hits it out of the park on every song--the bragging, the storyteller, the guitarist with power and style and fire. I've listened to it half a dozen times now, and each time I'm literally exhausted by the energy and the effort Buddy puts fourth here. The band is super tight. The songs are all written or co-written by drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, who along with Michael Rhodes on bass, David Grissom on second guitar, and Reese Wynans on keyboards make up the Buddy Guy Band. Special guests include B B King on the wonderful "Stay Around A Little Longer," Carlos Santana adding a beautiful lyrical Latin-styled turn on "Where The Blues Begins," The Memphis Horns making things pop on "On The Road," and Wendy Moten and Bekka Bramlett adding backing vocals on three tracks. Then way too soon everything closes with this fabulous burning song "Skanky" where Buddy shows that he hasn't lost anything at all. He started out with Raful Neal in Louisiana nearly 60 years ago, and he has been one of the top guitarists around for over 50 years, and on this cd Buddy Guy reminds the world that he isn't done yet. Go see him live when you get a chance, even though he sometimes talks a little too much, because he's one of the GIANTS and they won't always be here among us.

You can buy this wherever blues cds are sold.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's new?

It has been a couple of weeks since I posted, and the stack of worthy discs just gets higher. Lately I've been listening a lot to these fine cds: Kenny Neal's latest "Hooked On Your Love," Tim Woods' "The Blues Sessions," and Chrissie O'Dell & One Hot Mess "If I Had A Dime." All three are really terrific work, with great singing and playing and a lot of blues fire.

Kenny Neal continues to be the pre-eminent Louisiana swamp bluesman out there, carrying the banner from his father Raful Neal. Raful gave Buddy Guy his first break into the business. I've been listening to Kenny Neal since 1989, and he continues to hold the blues banner high. Kenny continues another family tradition, with nephew Tyree and brother Frederick Neal on keyboards and brother Darnell Neal on bass. Top cut to my ears is " New Lease on Life," which sizzles. On Blind Pig.

Hard to believe this is Tim Woods' debut cd after playing guitar for 25+ years. Here he gathers a star-studded band in "The Blues Sessions," including David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Ike Stubblefield, Bob Stroger, Lee Williams and Big Jack Johnson. With players like that it would be easy to get overshadowed on your own record, but Woods' voice ties everything together. Includes a terrific "Deep Ellum Blues" and a wonderful cover of WilIie Dixon's "It Don't Make Sense You Can't Make Peace." Honeyboy Edwards sings lead and plays guitar on three songs here. This one will appeal to everybody on your Christmas list. On Earwig Music.

Chrissie O'Dell & One Hot Mess' "If I Had A Dime" is also a debut cd. When you hear Chrissie sing a few lines of the title track you'll know why she has suddenly been discovered--she is the best new female vocalist out there in years. She reminds me of Koko Taylor. Check out the song here "Sleep All Day"--a hot honking tour de force. The One Hot Mess band includes John Bendy on guitar, Bill Quinn on organ, Craig "Clutch" Costa on bass and Papa John on drums. They make a straightforward righteous blues. Catch her at the beginning of what we all hope will be a long and lustrous career. Indy release.

These three are all well worth your time and your money. You can buy these at
http://www.blindpigrecords.com
http://www.earwigmusic.com
http://www.chrissieodell.com/

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

J W-Jones "Midnight Memphis Sun"



J W-Jones is the # 1 blues artist in Canada. He has released 6 cds since 2000, and as always the draw is his remarkable guitar playing. This time out Jones recorded much of the cd at Sun Studios in Memphis. He also wrote eight of the twelve tracks--and the originals hold up well alongside covers of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee's "Burnt Child" and a Chicago-style cover of Jimmy Reed's "I Don't Go for That" and a Jump Blues cover of Lowell Fulson's "Love Grows Cold." Jones' songs on this cd exhibit a variety of blues styles, from the Stax/Volt style opener to the ‘50s R&B sound for "Kissin' In Memphis" to a blues-ish cover of fellow Canadian Bryan Adams' "Cuts like A Knife" to the Delta-flavored "Mean Streak" and the keyboard-fueled "Right On Time" and the B.B. King-styled "Make a Move." The core band features Jones on guitar and vocals, Jesse Whiteley on organ and piano, Brian Asselin on sax on three tracks, Nick Cochrane on trumpet on three tracks, Martin Regimbald on bass and Jeff Asselin on drums. Guests include Hubert Sumlin on three tracks, Charlie Musselwhite on three tracks--and they are both terrific, bringing great fire to every track--and the esteemed rhythm section of Larry Taylor on bass and Richard Innes on drums are here on 7 tracks.

This is a good cd and the guitar work is really good. The song writing is strong. The only weak link is Jones' voice. It's not bad, just that when he sings he sounds like a guy from Canada. When on "Make A Move" Jones turns the microphone over to Lisa-Gaye Pryce you get a hint of what might be possible here--she is terrific.

Check this cd out at http://www.jw-jones.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joe Lewis Band "Good News Blues"



I've been enjoying this disc for wayyyyyy too long--I should have written about it months ago, but every time I put it on I forget to write about it! The Joe Lewis Band is a three piece blues band based in central Missouri. They play the instruments and use the structures and flavors of the classic blues songs, but the lyrics are all pure gospel. You really have to hear them to see how well they make this work. The band is Joe, who sings and writes and plays guitar, and Ken, who plays bass, and John, who provides the solid back beat on drums. These guys are a very fine band! It's the sort of music you wish got played in church, and the lyrics are all pretty theologically sound. No, they don't play your father's gospel music. This is current and fun and energetic music. The Joe Lewis Band has played at the United We Sing Fest in Jefferson City MO, the Mid Missouri Biker Blessing in Centralia MO, and at the Blue Note in Columbia MO, and each time they have made a righteous impression, tearing down the house with their great playing and testifying. This is my all-time favorite cd to listen to with headphones on while I'm writing a sermon in the middle of the night and the rest of the family is all asleep. I have shared some of these songs in church, in bible study with senior adults, in ministry with teenagers and college students, one on one with other blues lovers--and I always have received a very positive response. My favorite song here is "If Not For Mercy," which starts out pure Chicago blues and then Joe and his guitar and the band take things straight to church. It's wonderful.

This is an indy release, but you can buy it by contacting the band at http://www.joelewisband.com

Tell them Bruce sent you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grant Dermody "Lay Down My Burden"



Grant Dermody plays harmonica and sings. On "Lay Down My Burden," his third solo recording, he brings together a wonderful set of acoustic country blues songs and a great group of players. The mood is gentle, but the playing is top-notch on every song. It's a Sunday afternoon kind of set, and it is Sunday afternoon as I write this review. The talent of the guests here is mind-blowing, and includes John Cephas (his last song is a great cover of Skip James' "Hard Times Killing Floor Blues") Eric Bibb, Darick Campbell, Rich Del Grosso, Rich Hill, John Dee Holeman, Orville Johnson, Louisiana Red, Del Rey, and a host of others. The songs range widely as well, from Rev Gary Davis' "I'll Be Alright" to Steven Gomes & Ronnie Earl's "It's My Soul" to a very nice cover of "Amazing Grace" to Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" (done a cappella in 4 part harmony) to Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have To Go" and a Tibetan prayer "Vajra Guru Mantra" with a few traditional songs and three Grant Dermody originals. Louisiana Red sings and plays guitar on his original "Where Is My Friends?" There are a grand total of two songs here which feature drums--played quite well by Dale Fanning. Instead of the drums most of the time there are a few instruments, a few voices, and these great songs come to life. I think the best things here are a great spin on Dick Powell's "Waterbound" with Richie Stearns on banjo and Grant's harp and voice, and the traditional instrumental "David's Cow," with very fine violin by Scott Meyer, guitar by Forrest Gibson and Grant on harp. Both of those songs are as good as anything done by anybody I have heard this year. The cd is engineered by Garey Shelton and produced by Orville Johnson, who also plays dobro on "Amazing Grace" and "Vajra Guru Mantra" and mandolin on "Evening Train" and "First Light." Liner notes are by Phil Wiggins.

This is a terrific cd, full of humanity and dignity and art. Every time I play it I am reminded of the beauty of music played well.

You can buy it at http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mitch Woods "Gumbo Blues"



Mitch Woods' latest, "Club Gumbo," is a tribute to Smiley Lewis and the pioneers of New Orleans R&B, but this is no nostalgia trip. Instead, this is a ready-made party in a jewel box. Every song is guaranteed to get your ass swinging. Mitch Woods is one of the very best boogie-woogie piano players on Earth, and he and the band tear through a slice of the great music from the Big Easy. The immortal Dave Bartholomew wrote most of these songs, and the great singers Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino sang them way back in the day--they must all be smiling to hear this cd. Woods is ably assisted in this tribute project by a great band--the talent on this set is shockingly good. Herb Hardesty on sax--he was Fats Dominos' tenor sax man for over 60 years. Amadee Castenell and Brian "Breeze" Cayolle on baritone and tenor sax--they play horn in Allen Toussaint's band. John Fohl on guitar--he is Dr. John's guitar player. Cornell Williams on bass--he plays with Jon Cleary. Eric Bolivar on drums--he's the drummer for Bonerama. Even a casual fan of New Orleans music will recognize these names--and these guys can ALL flat out play this music. From the first note things are PUMPING and the level never drops off.

I played this cd for my friend, a New Orleans native, and you should have seen the smile on his face. He said "Just like going home again--and cheaper than a bus ticket!" If you love the city of New Orleans, or New Orleans music, or that great 50s style Rhythm & Blues, this cd will make your ears and your heart happy. You need this cd in your collection.

You can buy this cd at http//www.mitchwoods.com

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Two-fer Reviews: Chris James & Patrick Rynn "Gonna Boogie Anyhow" AND Rob Stone "Back Around Here"






Today we share the good news about two fine cds from a 3 man writing team that lays down the Chicago Blues in all its glory. Chris James & Patrick Rynn play guitar & bass respectively for the Rhythm Room All Stars in Phoenix. Rob Stone is a bandleader in Chicago. These three guys first got started together co-founding a band called the C-Notes in 1990. They continue to write together, and now James/Rynn and Stone have each released new cds on Earwig Records at about the same time. Both good cds, too, each built from many of the same elements. Both cds feature the James/Rynn/Stone writing team. Both cds have the James/Rynn duo on guitar and bass, and both cds feature Rob Stone and sometimes Bob Corritore on harmonica, David Maxwell and sometimes Henry Gray on piano, and the great Sam Lay and sometimes Edie Kobek on drums. On the James/Rynn disc Chris James handles the vocal chores. On his disc, Rob Stone sings and plays harmonica.

I really like these guys. They make good mostly up-tempo blues music with no pretense. I hope these partnerships continue to grow and develop. If these three guys could spend enough time together they could be the Chicago version of the Mannish Boys on the west coast--an all star ensemble with chops and taste and flair to spare. Highlights abound. On Rob Stone's disc, "I Need To Plant A Money Tree" has a real infectious groove, and "Lot To Love About You" is a wonderful harp workout with Aaron Moore on piano helping things move. On the James/Rynn disc the best songs are "Money Don't Like Me" (Parts 1 & 2) where the whole band swings and roars and everybody hits the mark. Another highlight is "Headed Out West," featuring only James & Rynn, on electric guitar and upright bass, showing another side of their massive talents.

Two winning discs--snap 'em up at Earwig Records. You'll be glad when these discs land in your mailbox.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Top Ten "Desert Island Discs"

I wrote this for Facebook this afternoon, and after I thought about it for a while thought I should post it here as well. These discs cover a wider spectrum of music than I usually discuss here--they aren't blues (well, the Sean Costello and Cee Cee James discs are blues) but this has been my personal Top Ten for a while now. Each is highly recommended.

Bob Dylan -- "Blood On The Tracks." Can it possibly be that I've spent 35 years with this record? Its music and words are just part of the substance of my life, they're in my blood like holy wine--to quote Joni Mitchell. I might have chosen five other Bob Dylan records, but this one will stand in for all the rest.

Emmylou Harris -- "Pieces of the Sky." It came out the same year as Blood on The Tracks, and over the years I have found so much in these two records that if I pick one, I better pick them both. l could have chosen only the single "Boulder to Birmingham" and that would be enough, but Emmylou's voice and the quality of her work over the length of this record--and her career--mean so much to me. One of my heros.

Uncle Tupelo -- "Anyodyne." First time I heard this it opened up the top of my head and rearranged the way I heard music.
Sometimes I listen for the faster Neil Young-ish songs, sometimes for the slower Gram Parson-ish ones, but I can never turn it off until I've heard the whole record. These guys and the Clash were just the top of the top for me, for a long time, and I still listen to them over and over.

The Clash -- "London Calling." To me it has always been scary how great this is. An amazing album, with a deep connection all the way back to Woodie Guthrie. Folk music for the 80s. You hardly ever find music this real, and almost never find music this deep.

James Brown -- "20 All Time Greatest Hits!" I'd pick this only for "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," but I guess I need the whole record. If I'm on a desert island I've got to have some dance music. JB brought the joy--I miss him and Otis Redding nearly as much as I miss my own mother.

Otis Redding -- "Live in London and Paris." I've got to include some Stax/Volt. Booker T & the MGs and the Mar-Keys provide the music, Otis sings the enthusiasm and the love. Those lucky people in Europe got to hear some of the very best music made during my lifetime. They're another disc of Otis out there called "Live at the Whiskey" which is pretty good too.

Sean Costello -- "We Can Get Together." Has to be one of my desert discs, because I don't know how I got along without it before 2008. Sean could do it all--great guitarist, great singer, great writer. I was just beginning to look forward to the next twenty years of his musical journey when Sean died 3 months after this record came out. What a great send off.

Cee Cee James -- "Seriously Raw." This is a great live disc by a great singer. Cee Cee lays it all on the line, and she makes you believe every word. And she's backed by one of the best blues band around right now--Chris Leighton, Dan Mohler, Rob Andrews, Jason Childs. Heir to the throne that Janis Joplin used to occupy.

Sam Baker -- "Cotton." Sam Baker did something nobody else has ever done--the first time I listened to this record I wept at the beauty of it. I list this one to stand in for all the great singer-songwriters like Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zant, Robert Earl Keen, but Sam Baker doesn't have to take a back seat to any of them. My son Chris tipped me off to this one.

And last but not least: CSNY -- "Deja Vu." I've been listening to this one forever, and I've never grown tired of it.

If I added one more and could make it Top 11, I would choose the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Albert Castiglia "Keepin On"



Albert Castiglia is a great guitarist and singer, but that's not the best thing about this new cd "Keepin On," out August 10 on Blues Leaf Records. The best thing is that Albert keeps getting better. I listened to Castiglia's work from "Burn" (2002) to "A Stone's Throw" (2006) to "These Are The Days" (2008) and now this new cd "Keepin On" (2010) and the growth is remarkable. Albert's guitar playing is hotter, better, cleaner and his singing stronger, more emotive than ever before. Albert and his band, bassist AJ Kelly and drummer Bob Amsel, kick things off with the Sir Mack Rice-penned "Cadillac Assembly Line." Check out the first time Albert did this song, on "Burn" and compare that take with this one. Albert did a good job of covering Albert King on the 2002 cd, and this time out he completely knocks it out of the park. Next Castiglia does a great job on a Bob Dylan song, this time with "Till I Fell In Love With You," a talent that he has used to good effect previously with "Catfish." Next up are a pair of originals, "Mojo 305," an instrumental which showcases the talents of this three-piece band, and "Keep On Keeping On," which features a great Credence Clearwater Revival-style guitar melody broken up by one of Albert's finest solos yet. That is followed by a cover of T-Bone Walker's "My Baby Is Now On My Mind," which in less than 4 minutes amply illustrates the genius of both T-Bone and Albert's guitar work, which is followed by a cover of Peter Green's "Could Not Ask for More," with guests Bill "Mighty" Quinn on piano and an uncredited Sandy Mack on harmonica.

Then comes a wonderful break--Albert on acoustic guitar with Toby Walker on dobro for "Sweet Southern Angel," a Castiglia original, followed by a standout cover of Robert Nighthawk's classic "Murderin' Blues." This is the direction I'd love to see Albert explore further--I already know he is one of the very top electric guitar players out there, but his guitar touch and his fine sense of dynamics, along with his remarkable voice, have both improved so much since 2002 that I think he could do a GREAT acoustic cd. Maybe someday?

The rest of the disc includes a John Lee Hooker cover "Goin' Upstairs," with Quinn on the Hammond B3, and concludes with two more Castiglia originals, "Gettin By" and "Closing Time," which each turn the heat up again with some great electric guitar work. These two songs are not just coda to all that has gone on before--they illustrate how Albert Castiglia is clearly on top of his game. He closes things down with 12 minutes of great guitar work on these 2 songs, 12 minutes of music that CUT everything that Eric Clapton, for example, has done over the past 4-5 years. It reminds me of the way Stevie Ray Vaughan would just spin out these great melodies and riffs like it was easy for him. Albert is terrific and this is a great cd.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Les Copeland "Don't Let The Devil In"



Les Copeland is a fine guitarist and an underrated vocalist. He hails from Canada, but the blues he bring to life on this disc really are universal. This album is Copeland's first release on Earwig. According to the label, it "showcases Les’ fine finger picking, melodic sensibility and chordal finesse, and his wry and ironic lyrical observations about everyday people." Copeland shows a talent for all kinds of songs here--sometimes he's doing Chicago blues, sometimes jazz, sometimes old-style country, and sometimes folk music, but always the music and vocals are clear and strong and honest. All the songs but one are Copeland originals. On several songs Copeland's slide guitar playing reminds me of Ry Cooder--especially on "Ry Cooder" and "Riding The Sky Train." And on "Ginseng Girl" and "Wet Paper Bag" Copeland shows that he has listened to Barney Kessel, spinning out gorgeous jazz melodies. On "I'm The Little One" he even sings a children's song, and on the next song "Everyday People" Copeland takes a very nice folkish turn. His singing voice reminds me of Jimmie Rodgers, especially on "What's Your Name," "Long Lost Love," and "Distant Train." All these comparisons are high praise.

Helping Copeland here are guest Hall of Fame bluesman David 'Honeyboy' Edwards on second guitar on two songs, "Anna Lee" and "How's That Drummer." And Honeyboy's manager, Michael Frank, contributes harmonica on three songs, "What's Your Name," "Silently," and the title track.

Les Copeland has made an interesting and quite good disc. You can buy it at Earwig Music. Http://www.earwigmusic.com

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grady Champion "Back In Mississippi Live at 930 Blues Cafe"




These men won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2010 so you know they play with fire and power. This show was recorded on 07-07-07 at the 930 Blues Club in Jackson Mississippi, and it captures a great time. Grady Champion and the Grady Champion Revue featuring Eddie Cotton Jr, as a band, are made of Mr. Champion on vocals and harp and Mr. Cotton on guitar, Calvin Wilson on keyboards, Marquis Champion on bass, and Frank White on drums. They have played together long enough to do things right. Things start off with the doubleheader blast of Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed, with "I'm Ready" and "Baby What You Want Me To Do/Bright Lights" the way shows probably kicked off in hundreds of blues clubs back in the 50s and 60s. These classics are expertly done, and after that warm up the band brings out three Grady Champion compositions, "You Got Some Explaining To Do" "1-800-Blu-Love" and "Policeman Blues." Grady testifies, he tells the truth in each song; and then, as the audience is catching their breath, the Revue launches into a long and glorious cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" and you think the show must be wrapping up. But the best is still yet to come! Led by a slow and terrific organ and guitar intro, the band digs into "Lonesome Bed Blues" where everybody gets a chance to shine, especially Eddie Cotton Jr. His guitar work here alone is worth the price of the cd. The rest of the show is all 100% top notch blues, mixing Grady Champion's original songs with the BB King classic "Why I Sing The Blues," which is where you get to hear Grady's great harp work. During "Wine and Women," co-written by Grady and Eddie Cotton Jr., Calvin Wilson plays a great solo on piano. Every song is fully realized... This cd is a great teaching opportunity too. Anybody who says "I don't like the blues, they're all sad songs" needs to hear this. It will lift your spirits! You can dance to it! And for all you blues DJ's out there, there's a good blues Christmas song here too--"Blues On Christmas."

Just yesterday (July 12) Grady Champion won the Jackson Music Award as "Local Blues Artist of the Year." Lucky people of Jackson.

You can buy this disc at http://www.gradychampion.com

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cee Cee James "Seriously Raw" (Live at Sunbanks)



This is a terrific disc! It's an old-style live disc that needs to be played loud. Cee Cee burns the place down with her singing, and the band is great too. Cee Cee is backed by Chris Leighton on drums with Dan Mohler on bass and Rob "SlideBoy" Andrews on slide and rhythm guitar and Jason Childs on lead guitar. There's not a weak second anywhere. It feels almost as through you're hanging out at your favorite blues club on a hot hot Saturday night, and Cee Cee is singing to expel the demons and save her life. There's a lot of Janis Joplin in her soulful growl, but I think on this set Cee Cee does Janis maybe even better than Janis did. Especially recommended is "I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues."

My favorite live disc, not only of 2010 but maybe of the century so far.

You can buy this disc at http://www.ceeceejames.com/music.html

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Marshall Lawrence "Blues Intervention" & Andy Cohen "Built Right On The Ground"




Two acoustic guitarists, each with new cds, each one really good at what they do. Marshall Lawrence is from Canada and Andy Cohen is from Memphis. I have been listening to both discs a lot, going back and forth, and I decided to just present them both at once.

Marshall Lawrence writes 10 of the 13 tracks on "Blues Intervention." The writing on the originals is quite good. The playing by Lawrence on vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, jug and thigh slaps, with the terrific Sherman "Tank" Doucette on harp, and the equally terrific Russell Jackson on stand up bass, is very top notch. And Lawrence has gotten great support for this cd--"Blues Intervention" ranked #3 on The Blues List - May 2010 for Blues Underground Network's Top Picks for May 2010 and "Blues Intervention" has charted in the Top 10 on Canada's Roots Music Report for radio play. Lawrence deserves every bit of that. This is a good cd. My favorite tracks here are "Going Down to Louisiana," a Lawrence original, and the cover of Tommie Johnson & Mattie Delaney's song "Traveling Blues."

And if you are a fan of good acoustic guitar music, this new disc by Andy Cohen is very good. Cohen only writes one original song here--his style is, like Steve Howell, to find and play good songs that deserve resurrecting. Many of these songs are from the 1920s and 1930s. "Built Right On The Ground" is almost completely a solo effort--Cohen plays guitar on all tracks, and piano on two songs, and dolceola on one track. He is joined by his wife Larkin Bryant on vocal and mandolin on 2 songs, and Kurt Anderson on vocals and guitar on 2 more. The playing and singing here is absolutely stellar--it reminds me of Doc Watson in that from song to song it's either blues or country or ragtime or blues again. Every note here is good music, that's for sure. My favorite tracks here are "Mopper's Blues," a Big Bill Broonzy cover, and the Bobby Charles song "Tennessee Blues."

The Marshall Lawrence disc is an indy relese--you can buy it at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/MarshallLawrence
The Andy Cohen disc is on Earwig Records--you can buy it at http://www.earwigmusic.com

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace "Lemonace"



This is a perfect cd for a late night road trip. At least that's the way I first heard it, and the other night when I was making another late-night trip down the country two lane roads of South Georgia this cd was the first thing I packed for the trip. Johnny Ace plays the bass like it amplifies his heartbeat, and his heart has a lot to say. Cathy Lemons is one of those women singers who can sing anything and make it compelling. Pierre Le Corre plays great guitar all over this disc, with a little help here and there from Kid Andersen and Tommy Castro. The drum chair is ably filled by Artie "Stix" Chavez. Guests include David Maxwell, who contributes terrific piano work on "When Bad Luck Looks Good" and "Gimme A Penny", Paul Oscher, who contributes a great harp turn on "Gimme A Penny," and Ron Thompson, who contributes a typically understated sweet slide guitar solo on "Shoot To Kill."

When I first fell for the blues back thirty-five-plus years ago, this was the kind of music that hooked the teenage me--great vocals over a rich deep bed of bass and drums, with slinky great guitar and harp work weaving through everything and tying everything together. I remember the first time I heard the Butterfield Blues band as if it was just yesterday. Those guys knew the formula--they had listened to and played with everybody who was anybody in Chicago--and they brought the music to rich throbbing LIFE. It was new and yet it wasn't, and they didn't give a damn if you liked it or if you didn't. Well, this cd captures a bunch of that same feel. It's hard and deep and rich.

Tommy Castro writes the liner notes, and he calls this "a strong and soulful effort." He's right.

This cd is on Vizztone Records.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Annie Piper "Chasin Tail"



From the first cluster of guitar notes this cd grabbed my attention, and then a wonderful thing happened--Annie Piper began to sing. She has the kind of voice and delivery that goes straight to your heart. The music is passionate in-your-face blues and blues rock, played well and best heard LOUD. The songs are originals, along with ripping good covers of Freddie King's "Hideaway" and Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child Slight Return." If you are a fan of Janiva Magness just go buy this cd immediately--Annie Piper will, as my friend Don says, melt your face right off. The band is Sam Buckley on guitar, Annie Piper on vocals and bass, and Reuben Alexander on drums. Good stuff.

This cd is on Blues Leaf Records.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rocky Jackson "Testify!" and Chainsaw Dupont "Acoustified Electrified"

Two guitar players, they both sing. Rocky Jackson brings 13 songs on his Texas-based "Testify!" and 5 covers--by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson, Traditional, and Willie Dixon. Chainsaw Dupont brings 18 songs on the live from Chicago "Acoustified Electrified" and 3 covers--by Mel London, Albert King, and Howlin Wolf. If it's Mel London that must mean another cover of "Messin With The Kid," right? Right--that's one mark against Chainsaw. But Rocky Jackson's covers include another overdone song--Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You." That's one mark against Rocky.

But other than one over-obvious cover each, I like both these cds. Rocky Jackson and Chainsaw Dupont both have plenty enough talent and ability, they both can play and sing and write, they have have made solid listenable cds, I'm sure they both can put on a good live show. In the pantheon of the blues these guys are in the same position as middle inning relief pitchers in baseball. Nobody goes to the ballpark to see the middle relief pitchers. But we blues lovers, we need to be applauding these guys--because every day that goes by BB and Buddy and Hubert and Honeyboy are all one day older and closer to leaving us. Someday soon the top rank of living bluesmen is going to be Bernard Allison and Big Bill Morganfield and Corey Harris and Albert Castiglia, and when that day comes Rocky and Chainsaw and a dozen others just like 'em are going to be standing on that mound with the game depending on them, and they will be holding the ball.

If you love this music like I do, and you've loved it for over 40 years like I have, then seeing cds from Chainsaw Dupont and Rocky Jackson is a very good sign. These guys can play guitar pretty good, and they each front bands that sound good. Chainsaw and Rocky write good songs, and they sing pretty well. If pressed to choose I might say that Rocky is a tiny bit better singer, and Chainsaw is a tiny bit better guitar player. I think Rocky writes songs a tiny bit better, and I think he's a tiny bit more disciplined. Chainsaw has a little more marketing vibe going for him. (Yes, that is me listed on the inside cover among those Chainsaw would like to thank for their help. The only help I can give him is this review.) I would be very glad to go to my local blues venue and hear either one of them--and I urge everyone who reads this review to do the same. It'll be worth it to hear the joy in Chainsaw's voice when he rips into "Soul Check" and it'll be worth it to hear Rocky's solo on "Early In The Morning."

You can buy these cds at http://www.cdbaby.com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stringbean -- Layin Low



Ken Sorenson is a musical icon in New Jersey--whether on his own or in a band setting as the leader of Stringbean and the Stalkers. Over the past couple of dozen years Stringbean and the Stalkers have played everywhere and with everybody. Though this is billed as a solo disc, this cd features regular Stalkers Dan Mulvay on stand-up bass, Joe Murphy on guitar, Sim Cain on drums, and Neil Thomas on accordion and organ. Stringbean plays guitar and harmonica and sings. One of the things I have always appreciated about Stringbean is that he puts a lot of songs on each cd. Here he brings the goods on 15 songs, mostly originals, and as might be expected from a group who play sometimes with the great New Jersey guitarist Sonny Kenn, lots of styles are evident. The title track ("Lay Low") sounds like it would fit on an Albert Castiglia cd, and it features a guitar figure that I can't quite place. There are Chicago style songs ("Heart Has Been Broken," "Going Over The Hill," "Mean Red Spider") an acoustic song ("The Rain Outside") Texas style shuffles ("Kill Me (Baby)," "Pain Killers") some funk ("Funky Mama") soul blues ("Live Till Tomorrow," "How Can I Be So Stupid") a fast harp and guitar boogie ("Showplace Boogie") and there's even a reggae number, "Off My Back," which may be my favorite song here. There's also a nice cover of Leadbelly's "On A Monday" that reminds me of Johnny Cash or Ry Cooder.

This is a very fine release--it belongs in my top 10 of the year so far. Every time I listen to Stringbean's music I get hooked by his great harp work, but on the second listen I'm just as impressed with the guitar playing. Then I'm listening to the singing. Every time I put it in the cd player things just move right along--I keep finding myself at the end of the disc and I need to hit start over. I tell myself "One more time." Buy it and see if you don't end up doing the same thing.

You can buy this disc at http://www.bluesleaf.com/

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jimmy Warren Band "No More Promises"



Jimmy Warren may be the best guitar player you never heard of, and this cd "No More Promises," is a very tasty introduction to his tremendous talent. This is Jimmy's second release following "Live At Last" from 2009. Prior to that he took a decade off from the music business to help his wife Lynn raise their family. For this review I listened to both discs, and there are moments when I think I'm hearing Roy Buchanan, and that is very high praise. Jimmy Warren has it all down--a wonderful thick expressive guitar tone, incredible touch, a perfect sense of timing, and a good voice--and he uses it here to share a dozen original songs. There are fast songs and slow songs--but all all the songs are meat--no filler, no waste. The band is really good. Jimmy Warren is on guitar and lead vocals, John DiGregorio is on rhythm guitar, Mike Boyle is on bass and Charles Price is on drums. In addition, Warren's son Jimi Dill plays a great slide guitar solo on "Mean Mistreater" and Bob Margolin adds a guest spot on "It Ain't Fair." The best song here in my opinion is "Darker Shade of Grey," which has an entire encyclopedia's worth of great guitar work packed into less than four and a half minutes--but listen to it yourself.

This release is on Electro Glide Records. You can buy it at http://www.jimmywarrenband.com/

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fathead "Where's The Blues Taking Me?"



This is the second Fathead cd I have reviewed. I loved 2007's "Building Full Of Blues." It won a Juno award in 2008 for best blues cd--the second one for the band. The first time I heard "Building" I actually laughed out loud for pure joy. Since I started blogging in 2007 there have been three cds that stand out--when I want to listen to get joyful with the blues these are the discs I go to--Fathead's "Building Full Of Blues," Sean Costello's "Cuttin' In," and John Nemeth's "Magic Touch." Well, Fathead's new disc includes what I loved about the previous release. Again John Mays is on vocals, Al Lerman is on harp and tenor sax, Lance Anderson is on B-3 organ and piano, Omar Tunnoch is on bass. On "Building" Darran Poole was on guitar and Hayden Vialva was on drums--this time around long time member Teddy Leonard is back on guitars and Bucky Berger is on drums. (Poole does deliver a sizzling guest turn on lead guitar on the title track.) So how does it sound? Well, everything still sounds like Fathead, and that's a very good thing. There are 15 tracks here, courtesy of the long-time writing team of Omar Tunnoch and Al Lerman--and again the band executes a wide variety of blues styles. The Electro-Fi Records web site says it like this: "The release demonstrates that the Fathead sound is constantly evolving and provides a generous supply of everything within Fathead’s wide musical sphere including straight up Blues, R&B, 50’s framed Rock & Roll, Funk, Gospel, and even some cabaret Soul/Blues. All selections are delivered with the warmth and accessibility listeners have come to identify with the band." That sounds about right to me. And the band closes things out here with a wonderful cover of Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops."

Fathead is one of the very top blues bands anywhere. Spend some time listening to the Fathead catalog, and you'll remember why you fell for this music in the first place. This new disc is as good as anything they have ever done.

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Billy Lavender "Memphis Livin"



This disc came out in January/February while I in the doldrums and somehow it got buried under the other stuff on my desk. I overlooked it then, but I have been enjoying it a lot lately! Billy Lavender brings together an all-star cast of Memphis' finest musicians and great singing and playing ensues on a batch of mostly Lavender/Brad Webb originals. The backbone of the band is Russell Wheeler on Hammond B-3 organ, Brad Webb and Billy Lavender on guitars, Vince Johnson on harmonica, Dan Cochran on bass and Tony Adams on drums. If you have read the back of nearly any cd that came out of Memphis over the past twenty years you have seen these names, and if you have listened to any cd that came out of Memphis over that same time period you know these guys can seriously bring the goods. This great band is augmented here by some great guest talents--Reba Russell sings on three songs, and Blind Mississippi Morris plays harmonica on one, "Let's Party." The first four songs set up the rest of the disc--everything starts off with the Rolling Stones-ish "Singin The Blues" written and sung by Tony Adams. That is followed by the aforementioned "Let's Party" with strong harp work by Mr Morris and vocals by Reba Russell. That's followed by "Tonight" sung by Ken Dinkins and featuring dynamite guitar work by Lavender. Then comes my favorite tune of the bunch in "Just Chillin," which I have been listening to back to back four or five times in a row every day for weeks. After that opening 15 minutes the rest of the cd just flows out seamlessly, just as together and smooth as butter.

I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall when these sessions took place--it sounds like it must have been a great time.

You can buy this cd by going to: http://www.memphislivin.com

Monday, April 12, 2010

Johnny Charles "Stratified"



Winner of the 1995 W.C. Handy Award for best blues guitarist in the NYC Metro area, New Jersey’s guitarist extraordinaire Johnny Charles is no newcomer to the blues. This latest "Stratified" is a his third disc, and his second for Blues Leaf Records. This is a guitar lovers' tour de force, with burning lowdown blues interspersed with rockin' blues and The band is Johnny Charles (guitar, keyboards); Nasty Ned (vocals on two tracks); Rob Kondor (keyboards); Charlie Blackwell, Bill Blum, Chris Epler, Ron Howden (drums). Everything starts with "Stinger," a cooking instrumental that gives Charles plenty of room to show off. That's followed by "Step On It," a tidy rockabilly number, and then the classic "Take It Easy Baby" with vocals by Nasty Ned and loads of passionate and tasty guitar work. "The King Shuffle" is another instrumental with lots of Albert King styled blues work, and that is followed by "You Move Me" with great guitar by Charles, great vocals by Nasty Ned, and great uncredited harmonica. Then we make a stylistic shift to mid 70s Jeff Beck "Blow by Blow" era guitar jazz for "The Cat" before returning to the bluesy "Texas Blues" which takes that Johnny Winter style for a walk, and "Yardbird Stroll," which tips its hat to the jazz work of Jim Hall, before wrapping things up with the jazzy "Metro City" and then title track returns to the blues strat work we started with on "Stinger."

Johnny Charles has made an enjoyable and interesting record--i wish there were a couple more songs here, (there are only 10 songs) and the jazzy forays seem a bit dated, but overall the guitar work is terrific. I think Johnny Charles should be much better known--there is plenty here to nourish the blues lover who values musical taste above pyrotechnics.

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nick Moss "Privileged"



Nick Moss is a great guitarist and singer. For the past decade he was the front man for the Fliptops, who with him were the premier Chicago blues band around. After they made seven very fine discs together, evidently the Fliptops are no more. This is Nick Moss's second solo effort--after his debut in 2001--and it is possibly the best thing he has ever done. The lineup for this new disc is: Nick Moss: guitar, vocals, harmonica; Nick Skilnik: bass; Willie Oshawny: piano, organ, vocals; Travis Reed: organ; Bob Carter: drums. The playing is up to Chicago blues standards, which means it sounds terrific, solid, committed, full. The sound here is funkier, but still recognizably blues. In the promo materials, Moss indicates that he wanted to broaden the pallete of the blues, and in line with that there are a few interesting covers here--Cream's "Politician," Steven Still's "For What It's Worth"--each done with passion and taste. In fact, I am surprised that anybody in this day can cover "For What It's Worth" anymore and make it work. It might be the best thing on "Privileged." Then you listen to the rest of the disc, and every song is that good. This is a great effort, but I think it's transitional too. You really ought to hear this cd for yourself. Nick Moss has been one of the premier band leaders and guitarists in the Chicago blues for the past several years, at the absolute top of that game--there was nothing more for him to prove by continuing with the Fliptops, making great records one after another. By taking this step, Nick can challenge himself, explore the various opportunities and directions out there in front of him. I think Moss has an absolutely jaw-dropping disc ahead of him, at least one, and this is a necessary step to get from the "Live at Chans" discs to fulfilling that promise. My hat's off to him, and I applaud his guts taking this step.

All of Nick Moss's music is available at http://www.bluebellarecords.com

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mannish Boys "Shake For Me"



This is the Mannish Boys Five Year Anniversary as a band, and their fifth cd release--it seems hard for me to believe that
a.) there was a blues world not all that long ago which somehow existed without The Mannish Boys? and
b.) how did we get along without all these great songs?

Because the fact of the matter is that most of the songs the Mannish Boys have committed to disc since December 2004 were pretty obscure prior to The Mannish Boys reviving them. That was the reason for bringing the Mannish Boys into the Delta Groove world--for the sake of the songs. Remember that. There will be a quiz later.

The Mannish Boys make real blues music by people who love the blues as much as we do. They are a Los Angeles based blues band who record for Delta Groove Music. They play in the West Coast style, with occasional forays into 40s and 50s jump blues and Chicago blues. Returning on this release as the constants in the revolving door of great musicians who have been in the Mannish Boys are Randy Chortkoff on harmonica, Kirk "Eli" Fletcher and Frank "Paris Slim" Goldwasser on guitars, Finis Tasby, Bobby Jones and Johnny Dyer on vocals. New to this release is the rhythm section of Willie J Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums, replacing Ronnie James Webber and Richard "Big Foot" Innes.

Anyway, this disc is great, just like all their other discs. All five cds have featured top-notch musicianship and great songs done with joy and respect and verve. This time out the highlights include Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" with a terrific piano line by Fred Kaplan and sung great by Johnny Dyer, Little Walter's "Last Night" with a great harp turn by guest Rod Piazza and vocals by Finis Tasby, and a really fun Bo-Diddleyish "Mona/Willie & the Hand Jive" by guest Mike Zito and Bobby Jones.

I listen to the Mannish Boys cds a lot, and I enjoy them all---but one disc I keep finding in my cd player is Kirk Fletcher's "Shades of Blue" from 2004 on Delta Groove. It features several members of what became the Mannish Boys--Kirk Fletcher, Finis Tasby, Ronnie James Webber, Richard Innes, with production by Randy Chortkoff. It's a really good cd. In fact, if there is an artist whose music you enjoy who plays for, or played for, or guested on a cd by The Mannish Boys, you should pick them up. It's a great franchise--everything is really good. I especially encourage everybody reading this to buy the cds by The Hollywood Fats Band and The Hollywood Blue Flames and Kim Wilson. You will thank me later.

The Mannish Boys music is available at http://www.themannishboys.com

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Saturday Night Mojo--"Neighborhood Sweetie"

Saturday Night Mojo have made a fine cd that showcases their fun, up-tempo, rocking brand of the blues. These guys have plenty of experience--they used to be The Porkchops, a well-regarded cover band from Cleveland Ohio. Then they began writing their own songs, and in 2002 they evolved into saturday Night Mojo. The band is made up of Ed Durma, (drums and harp) Ray Fisher, (bass) Denny Klisuric, (guitar) and Joe Piete (guitar). The songs are all originals. Things get off to a rocking start with the title track, written by Joe Piete and featuring a great Hendrix styled funky guitar sound. Next up is "Just The Way We Like It," written by Ed Durma, a harp showcase with another great guitar solo and hot drums. This one has potential hit written all over it. Then the Ray Fisher-penned "I Ain't Lying," a barroom blues shuffle that showcases the twin guitar attack. Then Denny Klisuric's song "Fool No More," it starts out rocky but soon is redeemed by a very nice guitar solo. "Boston," written by Joe Piete, is another of those eternal "gotta get back home" blues songs. Then a very cool things happens. The rest of the cd just takes off--Ray Fisher's "Nobody Got Dem Blues" and Ed Durma's "Ashtabula Blues" and "Old Black Moe" and "Never Givin' Up," both written by the band, are clearly the highlights--strong harp and guitar songs, great vocals, blues all over the room. And how many bands do you know who have the chops to close their cd with an instrumental? A really good instrumental--"Never Givin' Up" sounds like the Butterfield Blues Band on a good night! I truly expect these songs to get Saturday Night Mojo plenty of blues radio play. These guys are really very good. They play a variety of styles, they write good songs, they all sing. It's an independent production and that does show--I think the cd could sound a little better, especially in the vocals, with more money spent on production. But the future Iooks bright. I like this cd, and I'm already looking forward to where these guys will go with their next one.

You can buy this cd online at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/saturdaynitemojo1

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Moreland and Arbuckle "Flood"



I have been waiting for this. Moreland & Arbuckle's last cd "1861" came out in February 2008. It was great, and ever since then I've been looking forward to their next outing. Well, after 2 years, "Flood" continues right where "1861" left off, and it is great to have them back. This is their first cd for Telarc, but don't think they have compromised anything to get here. Aaron Moreland on guitar and Dustin Arbuckle on harmonica and vocals, with the powerful driving help of Brad Horner on drums, have made another mighty, rootsy Delta blues-fueled cd. Highlights are plentiful, from the sizzling Little Walter cover opener "Hate To See You Go" and a "Legend of John Henry" that literally could be 25 minutes long and still never get old. The tune "Don't Wake Me" has some great slide guitar, some great harp playing, a few vocals and a piano--in less than 4 minutes this single track alone will pay you back the cost of the cd. There are two versions of "Can't Get Clear"--one electric and one acoustic featuring a banjo--and both burn with a devilish intensity. Everything here sounds just exactly RIGHT, like it is not new at all but years and years old and it has just waiting to be re-discovered and presented again to a world that needed these songs. A big part of why I have complete faith that the blues will never die out is the music like this. These guys can stand before a microphone or a crowd and flat out play--they deliver the living breathing GOODS. M&A have been playing together for almost a decade now, and it's time for the blues world to get excited about them. Don't even hesitate--go buy this disc and listen to it a couple of dozen times. Go see them live.

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Chicago Blues A Living History"



This 2 disc set was released in April 2009 and it is fabulous. Fabulous. I can understand that a lot of the focus has gone to the featured artists on this set--Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell--and that is as it should be, because those guys truly bring the Chicago Blues history to living and breathing LIFE. But if I might make this comparison, the Living History Band on this set (Matthew Skoller on harp, Billy Flynn on guitar, Johnny Iguana on keyboards, Felton Crews on bass, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums) should get some of the credit too. They create a sound, a feel, a pocket that seems deeper than deep. They surround the featured artists with such sensational support that everybody had to raise their game to the a new level. These guys may end up doing for Chicago Blues what the Mannish Boys have done for West Coast blues. I have played this set non-stop in the house, in the car, always for nearly a week, and it still knocks me out. The last blues cd that had this kind of effect on me was "Breakin' It Up Breakin' It Down" with Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter and James Cotton. Like that disc "Chicago Blues A Living History" is a perfect tool for evangelizing people to the blues, too. Just play the opening of Howlin Wolf's "Moanin' At Midnight"--when John Primer hits that first vocal line he actually stops TIME. There are moments exactly like that on every song here. I wish I had bought this set months ago. If you haven't got your copy yet, check out this list of awards.

Most recent awards and nominations:

Grammy nomination:

Best Traditional Blues Album 2010

Best Traditional Blues Album 2009

Blues Music Award nomination:

Best Album 2009

Best Traditional Album 2009

Blues Blast Award:

Winner, Best Traditional Album 2009

L'Académie du Jazz de France:

Winner, Best Blues Album 2009

Now go buy it at http://www.chicagobluesalivinghistory.com/

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Little Joe McLerran "Believe I'll Make A Change"



I'm probably late writing a review of Little Joe's disc--it has already been # 1 on the Roots Music Report for the week of January 29--but let me add my own praise. Little Joe is an up and coming artist out of Tulsa. He was the 2009 International Blues Challenge winner in the solo/duo category. He is a great Piedmont style blues guitarist and vocalist, and he is only 25 years old! This disc has plenty of traditional songs, including the title track, "Jesus Make up My Dyin Bed," "Blue Railroad Train," Down at the Village Store," and "Blues Before Sunrise," a few good songs written by Little Joe, some up tempo tunes, some slow tunes, and a touch of Jimmy Rogers-style country blues in the way he sings just behind the beat. This disc reminds me of Dave Gross' "Crawling The Walls" (2008, Vizztone) in that both artists are immensely talented and both have a huge future ahead of them. Don't be fooled, though. This is not a solo disc. Joe is backed by a capable combo made of Robbie Mack on bass and vocals, Ron McRorey on drums, Dexter Payne on reeds and harmonica, and Jack Wolfe on keyboards. David Berntson and Jimmy Junior Markham each guest on harp on one track.

Give this disc a listen and you'll love it. A strong early contender for Top 10 in 2010. You can buy it at http://www.LittleJoeBlues.com

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steve Howell "Since I Saw You Last"



Steve Howell is back with this, his third cd of country acoustic blues, and I think it's his best work yet. His first two discs, 2006's "Out Of The Past" and 2008's "My Mind Gets To Ramblin'" lay out the formula--Howell on guitar and vocals backed by a small combo consisting of some combination of Joe Osborn (bass and 12 string guitar), Darren Osborn (drums), Chris Michaels (electric guitar and bass), Dave Hoffpauir (drums and vocals), Arnie Cottrell (mandolin and guitar), and Brian Basco (keyboards). This disc was recorded between September 07 and September 09, so it surrounded the "Ramblin'" set. I listened to both of them in preparing this review, and I discovered again that I like Steve Howell's sound--it feels like everything was recorded in somebodys living room, relaxed and quiet. Each of Howell's discs has great playing and good singing--the quality rises or falls depending on the songs. This time around, he records songs by, among others, Mance Lipscomb, Frank Stokes, Blind Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Buddy Johnson and Gus Kahn--it's a strong collection, and Steve's playing with Arnie Cottrell is terrific throughout.

On his last disc the highlight was when Steve brought in Buddy Flett for Robert Johnson's "Steady Rollin' Man." There is nothing on this disc as superlative as that, but this set of 12 tunes are stronger. You can't go wrong buying a Steve Howell cd, but be prepared to discover the disc will burrow its way into your brain with happy results. Nowadays I can't listen to Robert Johnson's tune or Rev. Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" without hearing Steve Howell's warm, winning way with the melody.

This disc is available on Out Of The Past Music.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Derek Davis “American Blues Box” (2006)



For this disc I need to thank my new friend Don de la Leaumont, a fellow fan of Bob Dylan and a good singer-songwriter. Don showed up at my house last Thursday with a cd in his hands--the “American Blues Box.” He told me I would love it, and after I listened to about 45 seconds of the opening cut “Mississippi Mud” I knew he was right. This is some fine rockin’ blues! The band is made of Derek Davis on vocals and slide guitar, James Pacheco on drums, Kyle Bates on lead guitar, Eric Pacheco on bass, Charlie Knight on harmonica and Rob Lansing on bass. The band was formed by Davis & Pacheco in late 2004 and they are based in the San Francisco Bay area. The music feature some great guitar playing, gruff but powerful vocals, fine rocking percussion and some wailin’ harmonica. If you love old early Aerosmith or more recent Kenny Wayne Shepherd this is right up your alley--it sounds like primo J. Geils Band, seriously blues AND rock and roll. And this disc includes the best version of “Some Kind of Wonderful” by any band ever.

This cd is on Apocalypse Records. You can buy it at http://www.cd baby.com

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Juke Jumpers "Villa Acuna, 1963"



Man o man, this is a great band! Where do I start? I've been working on this review since New Year's Day and I can't stop listening long enough to write anything down! The Ft Worth based Juke Jumpers have been making great Texas music since 1977. They are back on this disc with their original members--Michael Bartula on drums, Sumter Bruton on guitar and vocals, Jim Colegrove on guitar harmonica pedal steel and vocals, Jim Milan on bass, Johnny Reno on saxophones, and Craig Simcheck on keyboards. Of the twelve songs here, eight are originals including the title track, which is done up in true Tex-Mex style. "Pink Heart Days" starts things off with a rockin' instrumental with super guitar and saxophone work. The band follows that with "Luck in a Hurry," which sounds old and new at the same time, and "Standing at the Crossroads Again" by Mickey Jupp, then the evergreen "Dr Feel Good" by Curtis Smith, then two by Jim Colegrove, "I Wonder What She Looks Like Now" and "Nowhere City Night." After "In Walked You" comes "Go Ahead On" by Tommy Cassel, then "Screen Door Jesus" by Johnny Reno and "Red Light" which if it doesn't make you smile you might be in a coma. Then (finally) we get the title track, and then they wrap up this great disc with a cover of "Rock n Roll Ruby" written by Johnny Cash and recorded by these guys back in 1980. There is no loss of sizzle, no drop off at all in the intervening nearly 30 years. Everything here is energetic, fun and it is all played great! Check out the effortless dance groove by Bartula and Milan, the great guitar work by Sumter Bruton, the amazing musicianship of all star Jim Colegrove, the list goes on and on. Every time I put this cd in the player I am knocked out. These guys are Texas sized legends.

Pick up this disc at Cool Groove Records, http://www.thecoolgroove.com.