Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Levee Town -- "Pages of Paperwork"



Levee Town is a Kansas City based quartet: Brandon Hudspeth on guitar and vocals, Jimmie Meade on harmonica and vocals, Jacque Garoutte on bass and vocals, and Jan Faircloth on drums. This is their fourth release after forming in 2002. They were discovered at the 2007 International Blues Challenge, where they were finalists. Pages of Paperwork is a collection of fourteen original songs, three by Garoutte and ten by Hudspeth. Meade writes one song.

The guys in Levee Town have been playing together for almost a decade now, and it shows. These guys plug in, look around at each other, and hit it hard. They play tight, smooth and balanced. Listening to this disc on a grey rainy day here in Atlanta, I hear echoes of Led Zeppelin circa "Houses of the Holy." Everybody can flat-out play, and everybody gets a chance to shine--this is a musical machine and they're making the best music they know how. The vocals are deep and clear whether Hudspeth or Meade or Garoutte are leading. Hudspeth is on fire on guitar, especially on "Hurt But Strong" and on "Song She Sang." Meade gets to cut loose on harmonica, sounding like Sonny Boy Williamson on "Four Leaf Clover" and like Slim Harpo on "Show Them Whatcha Got." Cudos to Jan Faircloth and Jacque Garoutte for laying down the rock-solid foundation, playing with intensity and restraint, keeping everything hot and jumping on the bass and drums. I am looking forward to playing this disc for my friends. I already know that my friend Don will dig "It's Been So Long." But as impressive as the band is on this cd, I can only imagine that they really are best experienced live. I believe "Angel On My Shoulder" (and/or almost any other song here) would absolutely COOK in a live setting.

You can check the band's schedule for gigs in your area and you can buy this cd at http://www.leveetown.com

Monday, December 26, 2011

Moreland and Arbuckle -- "Just A Dream"



Guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle are a musical force. This is their 3rd cd I have reviewed--"1861" and "Flood" and now "Just A Dream." This is their second release on the Telarc International record label, a division of Concord Music Group. On this album Moreland & Arbuckle take their latest step in the quest to unearth the rawest and most honest elements of the American music tradition – without getting caught up in definitions and categories that would only serve to limit the vision. It sounds like hard-driving blues to me--so here I am reviewing them again. This is the best thing they have done so far. So far. The next one will probably be even better than this.

“It’s hard to say exactly what we are and what we do,” says Arbuckle. “Blues is definitely at the core, but we’re huge fans of all sorts of American music, and all of that comes through as well. Obviously, there are elements of traditional country in what we do, elements of vintage rock and roll, soul and all that sort of stuff. We always try to stay grounded in that traditional blues center, and at the same time branch out and do as many different things as we can while still keeping it consistent with the sound we’ve developed.”

This time out the first thing I hear is a new depth in the lyrics. Especially compared to "1861," the songs here, opening with a tribute to Joe Louis, "The Brown Bomber" and continuing thru the title track and "Purgatory," are both more direct and deeper than were the songs on previous releases. By the time Moreland & Arbuckle do an awesome cover of Tom Waits' "Heartattack and Vine," things have picked up a few layers of sophistication to their roots-y sensibility. "Gypsy Violin" is a spoken-word song that is the most different moment on this disc, but even it works. Every song here is good and tough and strong.

The 12-song set showcases Moreland's dynamic and compelling guitar work - two tracks were recorded on his cigar-box guitar consisting of three guitar strings and one bass string - Arbuckle's emotionally charged vocals and edgy harp, which here often rteminds me of Little Walter - and drummer Brad Horner's rock-solid backbeat. Chris Wiser adds his swirling organ work on four songs, and Steve Cropper adds his guitar to "White Lightnin'."

Just A Dream is a really good release. These guys dig down deep and bring the goods. You can buy this cd at http://www2.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/Moreland-Arbuckle/

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cash Box Kings -- "Holler and Stomp"



The Cash Box Kings have made the best blues disc of 2011. After a decade of playing together, they bring to life the richest sound of anything I heard all year, a deeply vintage and yet clean uncluttered sound. The Cash Box Kings are still anchored by Joe Nosek, Oscar Wilson, and Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith. The songs here are uniformly wonderful. Seven are written by band members and five are covers. The originals are all terrific, but the covers are off-beat and brave choices--did anybody else in 2011 cover Hank Willams, Ray Sharpe, Muddy Waters AND Lightnin' Hopkins all on one record, and do every one of them great? There is abundant variety of styles here, but everything here is deeply honest blues. Some of that variety comes naturally from having two fine and very different sounding vocalists, Joe Nosek and Oscar Wilson (and Nosek also plays harmonica); two guitarists, Joel Patterson (who mostly plays lead) and Billy Flynn (who mostly plays rhythm); a really good keyboardist, Barrelhouse Chuck; two good bass players, Chris Boeger and Jimmy Sutton; and three really good drummers, Mark Haines (on 4 songs), Alex Hall (on one song) and Kenny 'Beedy Eyes' Smith (on 5 songs). Kenny Smith is of course the son of the legendary Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Muddy Waters’ drummer from 1968-1981). With this abundance of talent to draw from, The Cash Box Kings have the chops to make great blues records, and this one is exactly that.

I have heard it said that there is a great blues band on the East Coast, Roomful of Blues, and one on the West Coast, The Mannish Boys. Both of those are really good bands. Well, there is a great blues band in Chicago too--The Cash Box Kings. You can't go wrong buying all the music you can find by all three.

Extra credit for the cover here of the Rolling Stones' song "Off The Hook." Fabulous!

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boy Wells -- "blue skies calling"



There are few names in the blues that generate more discussion than guitarist Danny Gatton. Gatton's chops were unassailable, top-notch, and he could play blues, jazz, or country and play them all great. But Gatton's star never rose to the degree it should. Like the other "unknown" great guitar player Roy Buchanan, it seems that Gatton's personality sometimes got in the way of him connecting with an audience. With all that said, I need to mention that Boy Wells was a friend and protege of Gatton's for over 20 years. After playing guitar professionally since the late 70s, Wells has been everywhere and can play everything on the guitar. "blue skies calling" is his debut, and Wells wrote all 12 songs.

The new album was recorded by Dave Hanbury at House of Jam Recording in Beltsville, Maryland, and features Boy Wells on vocals, lead, slide and acoustic guitar, joined by a cast of stellar musicians, including former Danny Gatton bassist John Prevetti, drummer Bruce Crump (Molly Hatchet) and Rickie Simpkins on violin and mandolin, whose credits include work with Emmylou Harris. Other players include Andy Hamburger on drums, Bill Watson on saxes, Brian Simms on keyboards, Jimi Lee on harmonica, Brad Clements on trumpet and Becky Taylor on banjo.

A special bonus on "blue skies calling" is the inclusion of a CD-ROM featuring a one hour guitar lesson given to Wells by Danny Gatton from the late 70s. Wells writes that "This lesson was me and Danny in the living room of his house; it's killer stuff."

The music on this cd covers a wide range of styles from Americana Music. Wells does New Orleans funk/jazz in the opener "Mr. Coluzzi;" blasts blues in "World Weary and Blue," "Love in Vain," (which is not the Robert Johnson song) and "Devil's Backbone Blues;" beautifully shows his southern rock roots in "Bring It Back," "Broke Down," "Mon Angel" and the title track; plays two instrumentals, "Marcel Marsupial" and "Tova;" and riffs a couple of bluegrass/country tracks "Tin Winter" and "Traveller." Special standouts include "Tova," which sounds as close as we are going to get in this life to hearing Duane Allman on acoustic guitar, and "Bring It Back," which sounds like how the Allman Brothers would if they had a great saxophone player. Throughout, Wells cooks on guitar when he needs to, but a lot of the time he allows the rest of the band to shine. On the opener, "Mr. Coluzzi," the horn section of Bill Watson and Brad Clements leads the way. On "Marcel Marsupial" things take a "Blow By Blow" era Jeff Beck jazzy turn, but the result is gorgeous playing by Bill Watson, Boy Wells on guitar and Brian Simms on keyboard. The title track reminds me of great early Marshall Tucker Band. All through the cd, the music is open and accessible and beautifully played.

This is an indy release. You can buy it at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/BoyWells

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lisa Mills -- "Tempered In Fire"



Lisa Mills has a winner here. "Tempered in Fire" is a cooker. My first clue about Mills' voice is that she was the singer in Big Brother & the Holding Company for three years. She has been making music for a long time--her previous album, 2005's "I'm Changing" was also produced by Ian Jennings. The partnership is strong--Mills and Jennings make beautiful music together. This time, Mills & company channel classic R & B from Memphis Tennessee--especially the Stax studio sound. Mills sings and plays guitar, backed by Andy Fairweather Low on guitar, Ian Jennings, co-producer and double bass, and Eric Heigle on drums and backing vocals. They are assisted by Nick Payne on baritone and alto sax (on "Keep On Smiling") and Matt Winch on trumpet (on "Keep on Smiling") and flugelhorn (on "My Happy Song"). These are ten strong songs--there are no weak links here. The first song hooked me for the whole cd--"Tennessee Tears" is a keeper. It should be on every radio station everywhere. Then Mills does something I never thought I'd hear--she covers the Jimmy Hall/Wet Willie classic "Keep on Smiling." A contender for my favorite song here. But Mills also covers Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" in a vocal/guitar duet with Andy Fairweather Low and they do it great! Mills sings two of her own songs, "Why Do I Still Love You" and "My Happy Song," and three songs by the fine songwriter George Borowski, "Blue Guitars of Texas," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and "Someone Very Close."

Robert Plant is quoted in the press sheet saying, "You should check her out; she has a wonderful voice." Good enough for me.

This is a great disc. You can buy this disc at http://lisamills.com/

Monday, December 12, 2011

Leaflets Vol. 2



Leaflets Vol 2 is a sharp new compilation from the artists on Blues Leaf Records. Leaflets Vol 1 came out in 2001. It was one of my favorite cds when I began as a blues DJ in 2006 because every track was good for airplay. It was on Leaflets 1 that I first heard Janiva Magness sing "Empty Bed Blues" and Stringbean & the Stalkers' great song "Great Change." Well here we are, ten years later, and Blues Leaf brings out Leaflets Vol 2. Like Vol 1, this collection is intended to get these artists some radio air play. It is a fine set, with a tight set of songs by a truly worthy group of artists. These artists are doing it right--making music, touring, working their butts off for not much money or recognition. Things start out with Steve Guyger, just like on the previous collection, this time singing and playing harp on "Sometimes I Wonder." Next up is Paul Oscher playing harp on "All Night." Man o man. Oscher has been playing harp since back in the day. He was with Muddy Waters' Band. Oscher and Steve Guyger made a cd together back in 2000 called "Living Legends." You ought to pick that one up. Next up is the Killer Blues Band, doing the instrumental "Don and Dewey" featuring a lead violin. When you do it right, you don't need to use words. Then three of the top artists in the blues--Sandy Mack "Keep holding On Baby" and Janiva Magness "Nobody Love You Like Me" and Stringbean and The Stalkers "Back On That Horse." Believe me, these tunes cook! Red Young is next, with "Organ Grind Blues," and he makes the Hammond B-3 sing. Then we have Janiva Magness singing the hell out of "Stormy Blues." Sweet! George Friend testifies to the woman who did him wrong with "Whole Lotta Trouble," and Stringbean and the Stalkers recreate the 60s blues sound of John Mayall with a fabulous take of "I Wish You Would." Taking the microphone at the end of that might be a daunting task for any band, but The Tonemasters are up to the challenge with "Goin' With The Flow," the title track from their 2004 release. It is a step back into the 50s Chicago style, a horn-driven song to remind us that blues was once music to dance to. Arsen Shomakhov, the Russian guitarist, steps forth with what I think is his best song so far, "Dangerous," title track from his 2006 cd. And then things wrap up with Albert Castiglia's "Big Toe" from his 2006 cd "A Stone's Throw," another slice of great guitar work and singing.

So that's it. Leaflets Vol 2 is really good. I recommend all the cds by each of these artists. If you are a blues lover and haven't got all these cds, or if you are a new to the blues student, here's a compilation that will introduce you to a bunch of people whose music you need to discover.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fiona Boyes -- "Blues For Hard Times"



I came to "discover" Fiona Boyes by listening to fellow Australian guitar great Geoff Achison. Geoff was playing a backyard concert & tipped me to Fiona--all it took was one listen to "Live at Bluesville" (2008) and I knew Fiona Boyes was a keeper. That record was really good, recorded with Rich del Grosso and Mookie Brill (see my review August 2008), but this one is even better! It is her eighth solo release, a stripped back, traditional album featuring a mix of acoustic and electric small ensemble performances and six solo tracks. Again Boyes takes the listener on a road tour of blues styles, including Mississippi Hills, Delta slide and ragtime, late 20's women's barrel house, early Chicago, New Orleans/Louisiana country blues, and Piedmont finger-picking. Everything was produced by Kaz Kazanoff & Boyes and recorded at Wire Recording Studios in Austin Texas. The band this time out is a stellar bunch, including Fiona Boyes on guitar and vocals, Jimi Bott or Frosty Smith on drums, Dave Kahl or Larry Eisenberg or John Mazzacco on bass, Kaz Kazanoff on harmonica or percussion, Derek O'Brian on guitar, a terrific Nick Connolly on piano on "Guys Be Wise" and "Pony Ride." Mark Rubin on tuba and John Mills on clarinet bring a wonderful swing horn sound to "Guys Be Wise." Bob Margolin plays great electric guitar/slide on "Baptized in Muddy's Sweat." There is a solo acoustic cover of Rev Gary Davis's "Mean World" that I think is even better than the Eric Clapton/Duane Allman duet on Clapton's Crossroads box set. Boyes wrote eleven of the 16 songs here, and I am impressed by her songwriting. "Chain Gang" and "God & the Devil" feature Boyes on electric guitar. The rest of the songs feature Boyes on resonator guitar or acoustic guitar. With the variety of blues styles here, the constant connection is Boyes' wonderful singing and her sharp guitar playing. On every song she brings taste and skills. This cd has been in my cd player a lot over the past two weeks, and I really like it. Fiona Boyes is a triple threat. Check it out.

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Joel DaSilva & The Midnight Howl -- Self Titled



Joel DaSilva & The Midnight Howl is both the name of the band and the title of their cd. DaSilva is a South Florida musician, probably best known as the guitarist for Hep Cat Boo Daddies from 1998-2008. He established during that decade that he was a fine guitarist and a good singer. While the Hep Cat Boo Daddies favored a raucous, even punky interpretation of the blues, his new project offers the genre straight-up. This time out, the band is DaSilva on guitar and vocals, bassist Tom Coughter, keyboardist Scott Rowell and drummer Stefano Rotati. They come out of the gate with a kicking guitar song--"Let's Not Fight, Let's Make Some Love." From those opening notes, things move along winningly--these guys play with talent and passion. There are a variety of blues styles displayed. On "Hard Time" DaSilva recruits Albert Castiglia aboard on guitar and vocals, and the result is what may be the strongest song here. The second time I listened to this song I was singing along. But there are several good songs here: "Heart Of My Father" is a slow blues where DaSilva exhibits powerful fretwork, and he remembers his father, who was also a musician and died when Joel was three. In fact, thanks to technology, that is his father playing the opening minute of the song. "Every Night" is a nicely written acoustic song that sounds a lot like SRV on "Life By The Drop"-- that's a high compliment. And "For Don" is a solo, slide swamp song. "That was my manager [Don Cohen, of the Musicians Exchange nightclub]. He died on his birthday of a brain tumor,” DaSilva says. “I made a promise to him before he died that I would keep doing what I’m doing and go on my own and win a Grammy for him. That’s something I still plan to do eventually.”

I like this cd, and I am already looking forward to the next one. These guys are going to be big. You can buy this disc at http://www.jdandthehowl.com/

Friday, November 25, 2011

Big Joe Fitz -- "This Is Big"



I know this is a bit of a detour for me--an indy disc that came out in 2010 which I should have jumped on a long time ago, but for various reasons I missed it then. Please forgive me, Big Joe! This is a very fine disc--if you missed it, too, then let's get caught up! Big Joe Fitz is a New-York-area based blues singer and dj at WDST over the past twenty plus years. On "This Is Big" Big Joe is backed by his jumping band, the Lo Fi's: Big Joe on vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica, Jumpin' Jack on piano, Mark Dziuba, Pete Hop, and Billy Hunt on guitar, Robert Bard and DeWitt Nelson on bass, (Bard is also listed as producer) and Tim Whalen, Phil Nestor and Steve Brown on drums. These guys play a disc full of smooth rich and deep blues. Big Joe's singing reminds me of John Hiatt--he knows how to sing with soul and taste and "put a song over." The songs are all covers, but they are NOT all safe choices--Fitz tackles Ray Charles' "Hard Times," Howard Harlan's "The Chokin' Kind," Eddie Vinson's "Kidney Stew," Delbert McClinton's "Leap of Faith" and Jerry Ragavoy/Mort Shuman's "Get It While You Can" best known in the version by Janis Joplin. These are not necessarily songs I might look forward to hearing by this or any other middle-aged guy, you know? But Big Joe plunges in, backed by a very good band, and he makes everything work out--even better, he actually makes these songs jump and move! My favorite here is the Doc Pomus/Dr John "Imitation of Love," on which Mark Dziuba, Tim Whalen, and Robert Bard make a beautiful creamy smooth groove for Big Joe to sing above. A fine song, part of a fine cd. Big Joe has been singing these blues all over New York & New Jersey for a long time, and his voice and his taste and this band all combine to make "This Is Big" a very worthwhile listen for any blues lover. There is a quote from Duke Robillard on Fitz' website, "I really like your version of "You Mean Everything To Me". Good Work!"

How could anything I say top that? You can buy this disc or individual songs at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/BigJoeFitz

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Duke Robillard Band -- "Low Down and Tore Up"



This is another fine disc from the great Duke Robillard and his band, their 18th release on Stony Plain Records. The players include Duke on guitars and vocals, Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on acoustic bass, Mark Teixeira on drums and vocal. This time around the core band is assisted by DRB alumni Matt McCabe on piano and Sax Gordon on tenor and baritone sax. Everything is engineered/mixed by Jack Gauthier. Dick Shurman wrote the liner notes. The music here is simply wonderful, honest, and deep, featuring songs by Pee Wee Crayon, Eddie Jones, Dave Bartholomew, Sugar Boy Crawford, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy McCracklin. It's like Duke & the band are trying to re-create a great jukebox that might have been in a Chicago club circa 1951--track after track that captures everything that went into that authentic, raw and real blues sound of the 40s and 50s.

This is an absolutely essential part of every blues lover's library. Actually, every Duke Robillard disc is terrific, guaranteed to be worth the price of admission. His 2006 cd, "Guitar Groove-A-Rama" was a Grammy nominee, as was 2009's "Stomp! The Blues Tonight," and he won the Best Traditional Male Artist at the IBC in Memphis last year. This guy is not coasting--he is still making great discs, touring, and creating great blues every time out. Go buy this cd. You'll love it. Play it for your friends. They'll love it too!

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Maria Muldaur -- "Steady Love"



Maria Muldaur is an American musical treasure. There are few out there who have as extensive a history--maybe Dr John or Bob Dylan, both of whom have shared a stage with Maria over the years. Maria has now made 38 records, a magnificently broad collection, including a few records of children's music, some Jazz, some Big-Band swing, some Bluegrass, way too few R&B, and some wonderful Gospel. I have loved Maria's music for thirty years--I wish she might have recorded with Ray Charles, and I still hope that she might make some music with Dolly Parton. A wonderful singer, a song stylist, an honest and real voice.

Anyway, this cd marks Maria's return to the music of New Orleans. She sings a beautifyul set of songs with passion and spunk and taste, backed by an "A List" of New Orleans musicians: Dave Torkanowsky on keyboards and musical director, Shane Theriot on guitar, Johnny Allen of the subdudes on bass, drummer Kenny Blevins from John Hiatt’s all-star backing band, The Goners, on drums. There's also an impressive set of guests, including New Orleans traditional jazz’n’funk drummer Shannon Powell, local guitar ace Cranston Clements, an appearance on slide guitar by Rick Vito, an appearance by "Mighty" Mike Schermer on guitar, backing vocals by daughter Jenni Muldaur, Jolinda Kiki Phillips and Yolanda Windsay, and horns by Jimmy Carpenter and Ian Smith, all wrapped together in the final mix by veteran producer (and multi-Grammy winner) John Porter.

Especially notable on this disc are Maria's covers of Bobby Charles' "Why Are People Like That?" and Henry Glover's "Rain Down Tears." Either of those are, alone, worth the cost of the entire cd. And no other singer I know could cover Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Somebody To Love" and make it live and cry like she does here.

An A+ project all the way. You can buy this cd at http://www.stonyplainrecords.com

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sugar Ray & the Bluetones -- "Evening"



Sugar Ray & the Bluetones have been around as a group since 1979, and in that time they have made a bucketful of great music. Sugar Ray's last cd, 2007's "My Life, My Friends, My Music" was terrific, earning four nominations for Blues Music Awards. This time out, Sugar Ray is back with the Bluetones, which means it is chock full of great playing and great songs by great musicians having a ball. Sugar Ray Norcia leads on vocals and harmonica. "Monster" Mike Welch is filling the guitar chair. Michael "Mudcat" Ward is on bass and Neil Gouvin is on drums. Anthony Geraci is on piano. There are twelve songs here, including nine originals and three covers--and the originals are all terrific, especially Welch's "Hard To Get Along With" and Norcia's "I Like What You Got." The covers are "You Know My Love," written by Willie Dixon and known best by the great Otis Rush, and MItchell Parish & Harry White's "Evening," known best by T-Bone Walker or Jimmy Rushing, and Johnny Young's "I'm Having A Ball." My favorite song here is "I'm Certain That I'm Hurting," which has some hot guitar by Monster Mike, a great piano turn by Anthony Geraci AND cooking vocals and a harp solo by Sugar Ray.

Sugar Ray's vocals may be an acquired taste to some blues lovers, but after 20+ years I say "Let the man sing." Me, I enjoy the way Sugar Ray sings. His harmonica playing is relaxed and spot-on throughout. On this new disc, everything is tight and right, with a heaping dose of Sugar Ray's blues soul, but without even one second of anything stiff or old fashioned. A very welcome addition to the blues library.

This cd was released on Severn Records on October 18, and you can buy it at: http://www.severnrecords.com/

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lil' Cliff & the Cliffhangers -- "The Lovin' Kind"



Lil' Cliff & the Cliffhangers are a harmonica-based blues & R&B band based in metro New York. They have been bringing their unique blend of blues/swing and R&B for over 20 years in New York & New Jersey. The band were International Blues Challenge finalists in 2006, and in 2008 they released their first cd, "God Bless Women," (Shankbone Records). This is their second disc. Members of the band are Lil' Cliff Bernard on harp and lead vocals, Richard Street on double bass and vocals, Dennis Phelps on guitar and vocals, and Frank Patterson on drums and vocals. Also playing on this disc are Manny Focarozza on keyboards, Jack Licitra on accordion on three tracks, Sweet Suzi Smith on backing vocals on three tracks, Tex Sax on saxophones on three tracks, and John Abbey who edited "Spank That Monkey." Eight of the fifteen tracks are originals, written by Lil' Cliff or Richard Street, and they are wonderful songs, complete with robust harmonies and stomping spiritual fervor. The covers are done in the Lil' Cliff style, and they are stand outs, jumping out of the speakers with high energy and joy--including a ripping harp workout on Big Walter Jacob's "Up The Line," a beautiful take of Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue," a take of Leiber & Stoller's "Three Cool Cats" with Richard Street on lead vocals, and a lively, joyful bass heavy take of Willie Dixon's "Twenty-Nine Way (To My Baby's Door)."

The playing is silky smooth, and the baritone vocals by Lil' Cliff take center stage by storm. The harmonies are a wonderful addition to the genre. With a few more releases and some promotion, these guys could be right up there with Roomful of Blues.
This disc will certainly help get them in that direction. It is a fun, energetic jump-style disc, a full step forward from "God Bless Women." Completely delightful.

You can buy this disc at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lilcliffandthecliffhange

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shane Dwight -- "A Hundred White Lies"



Shane Dwight has made the best cd of his decade-long career. Writing and playing his way through a divorce at the Rock House Studio in Franklin TN with Kevin McKendree, Shane plays great guitar and sings better than I have ever heard him. Backed by Delbert McClinton's touring band--McKendree on keyboards, Rob McNelley on guitar, Lynn Williams on drums, Stephen Mackey on bass, along with the McCrary Sisters and Bekka Bramlett on exceptional background vocals. Shane wrote 11 of these twelve tracks, along with a rocking bluesy cover of the Dylan/Secor song "Wagon Wheel" that just might make you forget about the Old Crow Medicine Show's otherwise fine bluegrass version. The title track is in that wide and deep vibe of Moreland & Arbuckle or JJ & Mofro, and the rest of these songs will remind you of Keith Richards, The Faces, Leon Russell, Waylon Jennings, Albert Collins ..... do you get the idea that this disc pretty much blows me away? Everything here is smoking! My favorite song here is "True Love's Gone," which is a strong contender for Bruce's song of the year. "A Hundred White Lies" is the Saturday night companion to the Sunday morning disc by Mark T. Small that I reviewed last Saturday. Give it a listen and you'll know what I'm babbling about.

This cd is on R-Tist Records, and you can buy it at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shanedwight6

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mark T. Small -- "Blacks, Whites & The Blues"



This Mark T. Small cd is a small gem of acoustic guitar fire. If you are a fan of Mississippi John Hurt or Mississippi Fred McDowell, or the country music of Doc Watson or Leo Kottke, or any well-played acoustic guitar music this is musical nirvana.

Mark has been playing guitar for over 40 years. He started out in Massachusetts, playing fiddle tunes on the guitar in the styles of Doc Watson and Norman Blake, which led in 1981 to Mark joining a Newgrass Band called the Brown County Band. In the late 80s Mark started his own Chicago style blues band, The Lonesome Strangers, and they played the New England club circuit for over a dozen years. In 2000 Mark began to pursue a solo career, focusing on combining the fast clean flat picking bluegrass style and the soulful acoustic guitar blues music from the early 1900-1950s. This is Mark's third cd, after 2009's "Screamin’ & Cryin’ the Blues"(which hit # 19 on the National Living Blues Charts), and his 2007 self-titled debut disc.

This cd only one original Small song, "Boogie Woogie Guitar Man," but he sparkles as he plays a bounty of well-chosen covers, and plays them very well. The opener will sell you on the whole disc--Muddy Water's "Trouble No More" with a full-blooded guitar and a fabulous funky rhythm. Highlights include the Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton, Art Gillham "Hesitation Blues," the traditional song "Old Gray Mare," a beautiful presentation of Scott Joplin's "Solace," Mississippi Fred McDowell's "A Few More Lines" and a very nice acoustic take on Roy Hawkins & Rick Darnell's "The Thrill Is Gone." The entire cd is acoustic with one exception--an excellent cover of John Lee Hooker's "Bang Bang Bang Bang."

All in all, a very listener-friendly disc, chock full of beautiful guitar work. This is one of those "invite 'em" discs--play this cd for your friends who say they don't like blues. 45 minutes later you'll find a new blues fan.

This cd is an Indy release. You can buy this cd at I-Tunes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Diunna Greenleaf -- "Trying To Hold On"



Diunna Greenleaf has released a winner! She can sing, O God this woman can sing so good; AND she wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 14 songs; AND she is backed by a stellar group of musicians .... including Mookie Brill, Bob Margolin, Rich Del Grosso, John Del Torro Richardson, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Anson Funderburgh, Billy Branch, and most of The Rhythm Room All Stars, Bob Corritore, Patrick Rynn, Chris James. Every song is a beautiful slice of Diunna's soul. Diunna dedicates this cd to the memory of Koko Taylor, and like Koko did, Diunna delivers a genuine and heartfelt performance on every song.

"Be For Me" is an up-tempo song, featuring Bob Corritore's tasteful harp fills over Bob Morgolin's guitar leads. "Sunny Day Friends" is a warning, and "Growing Up and Growing Old" is a quiet thoughtful meditation on mortality, "Beautiful Hat" showcases Rich Del Grosso's mandolin, and then "I Can't Wait" is the showstopper; a fast loud powerful blues party packed in 3 minutes 45 seconds. "Taking Chances" features Smokin' Joe Kubek on guitar, John Street on piano, and Ron Jones on sax. Just fantastic. "Tryin' To Hold On" tells the story of a REAL blues band struggling to get by, and "You Don't Feel That Way About Me" is note-perfect Stax soul by Josh Preslar and Diunna. The rest of the cd is just great, song after song.

If Otis Redding had lived another decade I imagine this is exactly the sort of music he would have made. If you love vocalists, Diunna is a marvel. Buy this cd. That's all I can say.

You can buy it at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/diunnagreenleaf

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brick Fields -- "Gospel Blue"



Brick Fields are an Eureka Springs, Arkansas-based band combining elements of blues, jazz and gospel into a remarkable roots music. The members are Rachel Fields Brick on vocals, acoustic guitar and flute; Larry Brick on guitar and backing vocals; Randy Fairbanks on keyboards; Johnny Ray on bass; Casey Terry on sax and Caleb Bomar on drums. Rachel and Larry met and started the duo in 2007, forming a partnership based around music and their Christian faith. The band was fleshed out in 2010 and won the Ozarks Blues Society of NWA Blues Challenge and competed in the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Gospel Blue contains nine original songs and a jazzy, bluesy cover of "Amazing Grace." Things open up with "On The Vine," which is a showcase for Fields' voice. She has a big but gloriously controlled alto, with a wide range, always deep in the pocket and wonderfully supported by the passion of Brick's guitar. Fields adds flute to the slow minor blues of "Cryin." "In The Light Of Love" is an up-tempo gospel number spotlighting Brick's jazzy guitar. "Hopelessly Addicted" is an old-school acoustic blues ballad, and probably Field's most effective vocal. Here her voice blends beautifully with Brick's guitar and Terry's sax to form a transcendent musical moment. "Talk About The Weather" features a sweet sax turn by Terry, along with good vocal interplay between Fields and backup singer Rain Equine. "How Long" is a sweet love ballad that could be addressed to a lover or the Creator. Again here Brick and Terry shine on guitar and sax. "These Are The Days" is an upbeat R&B number, and then the rest of the cd shifts towards bluesy gospel with "Go With The Soul," "Lord I'm Coming Home," and "Amazing Grace" wrapping things up.

Brick Fields are a welcome addition to the blues world, especially as a vehicle for the voice of Rachel Fields Brick. She stands out, worthy to be compared to Kris Schnebelen of Trampled Under Foot. If you are a fan of female vocalists and good guitar work, (and who isn't?) you will like this cd. I like this cd. Good job Brick Fields!

This cd is self-produced. You can see Brick Fields live at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena Arkansas on October 8, 2011, and you can buy this cd at http://www.brickfieldsmusic.com/

Monday, September 19, 2011

D'Mar & Gill -- Real Good Friend



I have to thank my friend Chris Puyear for hooking me up with this fine disc. He said the magic words--"Want to hear something a little different?" and I was hooked. Derrick "D'Mar" Martin on drums and percussion and backing vocals, Chris Gill on acoustic guitars and lead vocals--that's it. But these two master music makers carry you back to the 1930s in Mississippi, they show exactly how much can be created with just that spare instrumentation. And they do it with nine original songs and only one cover, Little Walter's "My Babe," which they re-create as a funky rumba. Of course, these are not your ordinary blues musicians. Derrick Martin has been a long-time session drummer, and for 15 years he played with Little Richard and Nu Funk. Chris Gill is the leader of the Sole Shakers and has a long career playing acoustic solo gigs. Together they create something altogether different than you might expect given their backgrounds--they play an acoustic, expressive, inventive and moody blues. "Every track presents a completely enriching musical experience cut live in the studio"--that's from the promo sheet, but it's right on the money. I was expecting something like an acoustic Moreland & Arbuckle, and what I found was not quite Moreland & Arbuckle--this is more like the roots music of Grant Dermody or Dave Gross. Here Martin weaves a deep pocket around the beat on a set of African drums. Gill works with a National steel guitar, or a National Tritrone guitar, and he sings off the beat, too, playing around that wonderful deep percussion. Everything is warm and well-played and thoughtful.

This cd would be good at your local Hi-Fi store, just so you can hear how wonderful those big-dollar speakers sound playing real music from honest-to-God musicians.

Just listen. You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/dmargill

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bernie Pearl -- "Sittin' on the Right Side of the Blues"



Bernie Pearl has a new cd! Those in the know need read no further--they're already going to get this disc. "Sittin' On the Right Side of the Blues" was recorded live at Boulevard Music, Culver City, on February 5, 2011 with Bernie on acoustic guitar and vocals, Mike Berry on upright bass. The song order was changed, but there are no overdubs. Pearl and Berry make beautiful acoustic music together, with abundant taste and style. This time out they feature several Mississippi Fred MacDowell songs, some Lightnin' Hopkins songs, Muddy Waters' "Can't Be Satisfied," Son House's "Shetland Pony Blues" the Baton Rouge artist Herman E Johnson's "I Just Keep On Wanting You," Mance Lipscomb's "Night Time Is The Right Time," and some Pearl originals. The cumulative effect is a sweet gentle musical blessing. Just listen.

The cd is just exactly what you get if you are lucky enough to be at Boulevard Music or one of the other clubs like Iva Lee's or Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ on a night when Bernie Pearl is playing. He learned everything he could about living the blues and playing the guitar beginning as a teen in the early 60s at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, sitting at the feet of the greats like Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Fred MacDowell, John Hurt, Freddie King, Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker and many more. Bernie is now 70 years old, but he is still learning and teaching those lessons to everybody who will listen.

There are several great acoustic artists out there--Steve Howell comes to mind--musicologists using 6 strings and their voices to share the old truths and make them new. Bernie Pearl is as good as it comes. Just listen. And if you're ever near Culver City, California, head over to Boulevard Music and catch Bernie playing live. You'll thank me.

You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/berniepearl5

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tom Hambridge -- Boom!



Tom Hambridge's cd Boom! is probably the # 1 cd I've listened to so far this year. Nashville-based, Hambridge tears things up from the start to finish. Hambridge is probably best known as a producer, songwriter, session singer, and drummer. He has produced albums by such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood, and Susan Tedeschi. He has been nominated for four Grammy Awards and won for his production of Buddy Guy’s Living Proof CD in the Best Contemporary Blues Album Category. He has also carved out a nice solo career for himself. Boom is his sixth album release and he toured all summer as the opening act for Lynyrd Skynyrd. This month he is on the road with George Thorogood.

Hambridge weaves together all his blues, rock and country influences on Boom! He wrote all the songs, collaborating with Gary Nicholson, Delbert McClinton, Jeffrey Steele ands Lynyrd Skynyrd's Johnny Van Zant. The opener "I Keep Things" and the closer "I Had A Real Good Time" bookend the cd with real good time rock. Hambridge does the Southern rock/country thing proud with "I Got Your Country Right Here," which was a hit for Gretchen Wilson, and "Things I Miss The Most," which was a hit by Donnie and Johnny Van Zant. Hambridge does a bluesy turn with "Upside Of Love," "Two Thumbs Up," "Nine Pound Hammer" and "The Pistol." My favorite song here is "Never Gonna Change," which sounds like a great slice of ZZ Top. Inspired slide work by Rob McNelley.

A great cd. You can buy it online at http://hambridgetunes.com/boom/

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trent Romens -- "Aware"



Trent Romens is a 19-year old guitarist from Edina Minnesota. This is his debut album, but he has been playing blues guitar around Minnesota's Twin Cities since he was 13. From his website: "Trent's greatest influences are the artists that have proven their music to be timeless, and whose songs hold great weight: the lyrics of Bob Marley and Dylan, the improvisational spirit of the Grateful Dead, and the scorching guitar grooves of the The Allman Brothers Band. “I respect the music that has come before me. It’s through these influences that I’ve learned: what goes in comes out. I pour myself into my music, it’s who I am.”

The band includes Romens on vocals, guitar and co-producer, John Wright on bass and co-producer, Toby Marshall on Hammond B-3, Jordon Carlson on drums, Tony Paul on percussion and Cate Fierro and Shalo Lee on backing vocals. The ten selections on "Aware" include eight Trent Romens originals and two covers, St Louis Jimmy Oden's "Going Down Slow" and Big Bill Broozy & Charles Segar's "Key To The Highway," given an acoustic treatment. The songwriting on the originals is solid. There are no lyrics here that will remind you of Bob Marley or Bob Dylan, but the lyrics set things up for the vocals and guitar to take center stage, and Trent's singing is just fine--the key is his guitar work, which is quite impressive for someone of his youth. He plays fast and slow, loud and quiet, electric and acoustic, even a little bottleneck slide, and the playing is spot on. Romens shows a remarkable range and taste, a lot of promise. Highlights include the two covers and "Love's Lost Cause," which does show a lot of Allman Brothers influence, and "Right Back Where I Started" which sounds to me like it could be an early Sean Costello track. There's a lot of soul in both.

This cd is on New Folk Records, and you can buy it online at http://www.trentromens.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jim McCarty & Friends -- Live From Callahan's



If you're a guitar lover I've got a treat for you. Jim McCarty was the guitarist for Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and The Buddy Miles Group and Cactus and The Rockets. He flat-out knows rock 'n roll, and here he shows that he knows his way around the blues. This cd was recorded live over a three year period at Callahan's Music Hall in Auburn Hills, Michigan. McCarty lists Callahan's Mike Moss as Executive Producer. The cd features McCarty on a dozen tracks "sitting in" with some of today's leading blues figures as they play at the club--Johnny A and his band, Jason Ricci & New Blood, Duke Robillard and his band, The Millionaires (Big Band), John Nemeth & his band, Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers--and it closes with McCarty's own Mystery Train band.

Highlights? Are you kidding me? Everything here is a highlight! There's two jump instruments with Johnny A, a very hot and tasty "Help Me" with Jason Ricci & New Blood, two great cuts with Duke Robillard, "Hi-Heel Sneakers" and "West Helena Blues," three tracks with The Millionaires, including "tell Me What's The Reason," a cover of The Stooges' "No Fun" and T Bone Walker's "Strollin' With The Bone," John Nemeth singing the hell out of B B KIng's "Sweet Sixteen," Bee Badanjek teaming up with McCarty for "There's A Train Coming Down The Tracks," Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers' doing a kicking version of Chuck Berry's "School Days," and things finish up with McCarty's band Mystery Train covering Duke Pearson's "Cristo Redentor."

McCarty still plays rock & roll, but he plays blues too. "For me, rock ‘n’ roll and blues are both necessary. I need both of them to be musically happy."

This cd was released on June 25. You can buy this cd at I-tunes or contact Mike Moss at Callahan's Music Hall, 2105 South Boulevard, Auburn Hills, Michigan 48326

Monday, July 11, 2011

F & G Band featuring Edlene Hart -- "Grease Up Yo' Strutt"



There are times when I really love this blog. I get to bring attention to some great blues, music that you might never hear about if not for me. This time out is one such occasion. This is a very fine cd! The F & G Band is Edlene Hart, lead vocals, backing vocals. She has toured the world, including Africa, as the lead with the Glory Gospel Singers based in Harlem, has won the world famous Apollo Theater's amateur night TWICE, and has sung with and for countless people, including Tony Bennett and Isaac Hayes...she even sang for the Pope! Sly Geralds bass, vocals and co-producer along with Suzanne & Tom Foscino. He has toured and recorded with Al Green, Maceo Parker, Cindy Lauper, Bill Perry and so many more. Tom Foschino, drums, performed, recorded and toured with the legendary Blues Hall of Famer, Sam "Bluzman" Taylor for many years before Sam's passing. Tom also performed with Sweet Suzi for many years, heading to the IBC three times. On guitar here are Bill Marino, Chuck Russell, and John Anderson--all of them very good players and they add their own style to the songs they appear on. Special guests include Lil Cliff Bernard, of Lil Cliff and the Cliffhangers, on harmonica and backing vocals on one song, and Tim Mitchell, on vocals, guitar, keyboards, and/or bass on eight songs. Tim is currently touring as the lead singer and bass player of the Javier Vargas Blues Band, playing all over Europe and Asia, recently doing a short stint of shows in Russia. During the 80s, Tim was James Brown's musical director. The songs are all written by Suzanne Foschino and Sly Geralds, thus the F & G in the title.

The songs are a departure from the current "lead guitar, bass and drums" style that seems to be in fashion. Nothing here is that simple. On this cd the players follow the vocals, providing a "deep pocket" to carry the songs along. It feels old-school at first, similar to the High Records sound by Al Green back in the day--but it sounds great. "Mama Said," the first song, is tight, sassy and rich, with Tim Mitchell creating a horn section and Chuck Russell and John Anderson's guitars surrounding Edlene with great playing. And Edlene really brings the goods. Here and throughout I am blown away by the way she sounds--strong, confident, awesome. We may not have heard her before, but Edlene makes the case that she is a singer to be reckoned with. Things continue to cook on the next track, "Can't Get Your Man Off The Rack." The next track, "Caught Between The Lost And Found" slows things down just a bit and features some great guitar playing by Chuck Russell. Things pick up again with "You Don't Sing The Blues, The Blues Sing You," which features Edlene's sweet soaring vocals along with Lil Cliff on harp and backing vocals and Bill Marino on guitar. "One Good Cry," the next track, is my favorite song on the disc. Edlene's vocals are terrific, but I am won over by the lead guitar on this slow blues, which is by Tim Mitchell. And the next six tracks are just as good as the first five! Of special note is the duet by Edlene and Sly on "Seeing Eye To Eye, Maybe Toe To Toe" which describes the current battle of the sexes in song. In a perfect world this would be a hit all over the radio....but anyway, it's a contender for Bruce's song of the year.

I enjoy this cd very much. I'm impressed by the cool heat of this band, and especially by Edlene Hart's vocal abilities. You need to hear this music. This an indy release. You can buy it at http://www.fandgmusic.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trampled Under Foot -- "Wrong Side of the Blues"



Let me catch up on a really good blues cd that has been out since April by Trampled Under Foot. They are out of Kansas City, MO, and they have been on the fast track to blues stardom ever since, winning the 2008 International Blues Music Award, then releasing their 4th cd "May I Be Excused" (2008, Blue Edge Records) and "Live at Notodden Blues Festival" (2009) before "Wrong Side of the Blues." TUF have been nominated for two 2011 Blues Blast Music Awards, Blues Band of the Year and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award. TUF are siblings Nick (guitar), Danielle (bass), and Krin (drums) Schnebelen. This time out they have enlisted special guests Kim Wilson (harp), Johnny Lee Schell (cigar box guitar, engineer and backing vocals) and Mike Finnegan (organ). Tony Braunagel is in the production chair, along with co-writing eight of the songs with the band. He focuses on the band's strength's, which are considerable. Nick is a very strong guitar player, and Danielle sings like the sun shines, and Kris works the drums with power and drive. "Wrong Side of the Blues" is the best work by the band so far. It has been in my cd player A LOT since April, and I don't think it's leaving anytime soon. My favorite songs here are "Evil Train," and "It Would Be Nice," both of which just hint at the talent these young people possess. This is one of those cds you should share with your friends--this is not your father's blues, not the heyday of Chicago or Memphis blues--this is the current blues, and it's good stuff. Introduce your friends to TUF, open their eyes. This disc shows that the blues do have a long and exciting future ahead. Get this band into your collection, and enjoy the ride.

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

Saturday, July 2, 2011

EG Kight -- "Lip Service" (Blue South/Vizztone)



I have been a fan of EG ever since I first heard her, back on KJLU-FM in Jefferson City MO. "Lip Service" is her sixth release, and like always, the center of the cd is her voice and song writing. The good news is that her voice is in great form, and the songs here are as good as any she has written. Eleven of the 12 are written or co-written by Kight. Paul Hornsby is in the producer's chair, and the band includes EG (vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Porter and Bill Stewart on drums, Johnny Fountain and Marshall Coats on bass, Tommy Talton and Ken Wynn on guitar; with special guests John Nemeth (vocals), Randall Bramlett (Hammond B-3, piano, drums, guitar) Earl Ford (trombone), Marcus Henderson (Sax) and Gil Gillis (guitar, piano, bass, percussion). Hornsby also plays Hammond B-3, bass and piano, and Kimberly Welch brings soulful background vocals. The songs are in the typical EG Kight blues/gospel/country flavor, and they range from big band with full horn section numbers, such as "Goodbye" and "I'm In It To Win It" all the way to Kight vocals over keyboards bass and drum number like "It's Going To Rain All Night" and "I'm Happy With the One I Have Now." Every song has something to draw you in--the intensity of the vocal duet with John Nemeth on "Somewhere Down Deep," with a great guitar break by Tommy Talton, is my favorite track.

In my opinion, the top female vocalists in blues are Janiva Magness and CC James. EG Kight should be counted right beside them. Her voice and songwriting and tasteful music continues to shine. You can buy this cd at http://www.egkight.com/

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Grady Champion -- Dreamin'



Grady Champion was the 2010 International Blues Challenge Band winner, and now he has a cd to share that talent with the rest of us. Before I even opened the cd or heard a note, I was excited about this disc because of the presence of Zac Harmon on guitar, drums and vocals and co-production. He has golden ears and a wealth of taste about blues, and Champion involves both on every cut here. The songs are all written or co-written by Champion, (except for "Weight of the World"), and the band lineup is Champion (vocals and harmonica), Harmon, Gregg Wright (guitar), Buthel (bass), Christopher Troy (keyboards, drums and co-producer), and Sue Ann Carwell and Cedric Goodman (backing vocals). The playing is spirited and soulful, and they cover a wealth of different styles over the ten tracks here.

Things start off with "My Rooster Is King," which first appeared on "Payin' For My Sins" (1999, Shanachie), here presented as a Willie Dixon style hot party opener. Next up is the title track, in the style of Slim Harpo. Zac Harmon contributes a fine solo here. The next song, "Weight of the World," is a dose of Memphis soul with great harp and guitar. It sounds like a radio hit--is XM listening? "Guilty As Charged" keeps things rolling with some sweet harp work and features Sue Ann Carwell on harmony vocals and a nice guitar solo by Gregg Wright. "Same Train" is my favorite track, with every note chasing Champion's driving vocal and never quite catching up. "Make That Monkee Jump" sounds modern and old fashioned all at the same time, and Champion's great harp work keeps things bouncing along. "Cross That Bridge" is a soul ballad, and in "Thank You For Giving Me the Blues," Champion thanks the Lord for giving him the blues. The guitar here is by Zac Harmon in the style of Albert King. "Laugh, Smile, Cry Sometimes" features Champion channelling Sonny Boy II style harp work, and then things wrap up all too soon with "Walk With Me Baby" which has vocals by Zac Harmon and Champion's great harp work twisted with great organ work by Christopher Troy.

I've been waiting for this cd since the 2010 IBC, and it's even better than I thought it would be. Grady Champion is a delight.

Dreamin is on the GSM Music Group label. You can buy this cd at http://www.gradychampion.com

Monday, June 20, 2011

Davina & the Vagabonds--"Black Clouds"



Davina & the Vagabonds have made another great cd! This is their fourth release, following "Songs From Thomas Ave." (2006), "Under Lock and Key" (2007), and "Live at the Times" (2008). The band is based in Minneapolis MN. They have been playing an energetic piano and horns based blues/root music together for 5 years. They are made up of Connor McRae on drums, Michael Carvale on bass, Daniel Elkmeier on trumpet, Ben Link on trombone, and Davina Sowers on piano and an incredible, totally unique voice. That's right--no guitar! Sowers wrote all the songs. To put it simply, this cd works to reel you in--the songs are built on a rock-solid rhythmic foundation, with an adventurous amount of horns, Davina's real good lyrics and piano and voice. Things get off to a rollicking start and finish with "Vagabond Stomp," and in between Davina & the Vagabonds take you on a wonderful musical journey. "Sugar Moon" is terrific in the same way as if Cyndi Lauper sang "This Land Is Your Land" with Ray Charles on piano. "River" might be the best song I've heard this year, and I'm not even sure it's the best song on this cd. "Pushpin" or "Crosseyed" might be even better songs--they both cause me to turn the cd player up every time I hear them. In fact, all the songs on here have that effect on me. If you are a fan of old-school gospel music, or Dixieland jazz, or old Phil Spector-ish R & B, or nearly any music of any kind, chances are that you will love this cd. If you are young or old or anything in between, you will love this cd. This is my 7 year old friend Nathaniel's favorite cd--in fact, I had to borrow it from him long enough to write this review. I was playing it last night and my wife asked me if it was blues--I honestly don't know and I'm not going to argue about it. This cd is great music, made with passion and taste.

If you go to their website http://www.davinaandthevagabonds.com you can also listen to other songs by the band.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hadden Sayers "Hard Dollar"



Hadden Sayers is a Texas-based blues guitarist, songwriter and singer. He was born in Nacogdoches, TX and was raised in Sugar Land. Following college Sayers began his “blues internship” with legendary BB King rhythm section “Silent Partners,” then he joined Bluesman Lucky Peterson’s touring band. After his stint with Lucky Peterson, Sayers returned to Houston, TX to concentrate on writing songs. It was there he began a 3 year association with regional sensation Miss Molly and the Whips making his recording and songwriting debut on her first 2 releases: “Miss Molly” (EFM 1992) and “In the Garden” (EFM 1993). Sayers began work on his own in late 1993 and the Hadden Sayers Band was born...touring the globe and going on to create 4 more albums of searing blues-rock.

His 5th cd, Hard Dollar, is the best of the bunch. Let me tell you, if you loved those great albums that John Hiatt made way back in the day -- "Slow Turning," "Bring The Family" -- then you are in luck because Hadden Sayers channels those great albums on Hard Dollar. That is high praise indeed. Hard Dollar was produced by Sayers using his touring band consisting of Tony McClung on drums, Mark Frye on bass and Dave DeWitt on Hammond organ. Sayers writes all the songs, and plays acoustic and electric guitars and sings. Special guests include Phil Clark on harmonica and baritone sax and Doug Kahan on bass guitar on "InsideOut Boogie," and Ruthie Foster adds vocals on "Back To The Blues." Every song on this disc is worthy of blues radio play--fine playing, good singing, smart lyrics. "Take Me Back To Texas" gets things started with a bang, and "All I Want Is You" has a great opening Elmore James slide riff, and "Back to the Blues" is a very fine duet with Ruthie Foster. Thereafter every song is just great--there are no weak links. Sayers writes a few words about each song on the inside cover. My favorite song here is "Room 155." Sayers says it is written in honor of Sean Costello. After you buy this cd you may find that you're listening to it all the time.

Hard Dollar comes out June 21st on Blue Corn Music/IODA/SonyRed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Steve Dawson "Nightshade"



Steve Dawson has made himself a national treasure in his native Canada, and his singing, guitar playing and song writing are all top-notch. In addition to his own work, the five time Juno award winner has produced albums by other luminaries, including Jim Byrnes, Kelly Joe Phelps, Old Man Luedecke, The Sojourners, and The Deep Dark Woods, as well as bringing the award winning Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Project to fruition. Dawson should be much better known than he is in the US--he reminds me of Ry Cooder, and this record reminds me of Cooder's "Into The Purple Valley, " both in the subject matter of the songs and the virtuosity of the playing.

"Nightshade" is Dawson's fifth solo release. All the songs are Dawson originals, except "Gulf Coast Bay," written by Walter Vinson. As always, Dawson's guitar work centers each song. The instrumental work on “Nightshade” is certainly the most nuanced and gut wrenching of his career to date. From the weissenborn that drives “Fairweather Friends” to the pedal steel that defines “We Still Won the War” or the 12-string slide guitar on “Darker Still”, “Nightshade” like all of Dawson’s recordings offers a veritable musical feast for string aficionados. Banjos dance through “Side of the Road” (a song that was inspired by the life of bluesman Skip James), and snatches of acoustic melodies can be heard from time to time, but given the serious tone of many of the songs, Dawson wisely opted for a harder more electric sound this time out. And Dawson is backed by some of the best players in the business. Frequent collaborators Chris Gestrin (keys) Keith Lowe (bass) and Geoff Hicks (drums) lock in from the first note to sympathetically complement the twists and turns posed by this challenging music. Acclaimed singers Jill Barber, Jeanne Tolmie and Alice Dawson each add great backing vocals.

This is the best Dawson release so far. I look forward to the next one. Steve Dawson is building greater stature with each cd. You can buy this cd at http://www. www.blackhenmusic.com/

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Johnny Rawls "Memphis Still Got Soul"



One Blues Music Award nomination means you made a good song or cd; two BMA nominations means you're good. How good does that make Johnny Rawls? He has received five BMA nominations for his past three releases. After being nominated for the Soul Blues Album of the Year award in 2009 for "Red Cadillac" Rawls won the Soul Blues Album of the Year award for "Ace of Spades" in 2010. I have been listening to Johnny Rawls since 2007s "Heart and Soul" and he just keeps delivering the goods, making good soul-blues every time out.

"Memphis Still Got Soul" may be his best cd yet. The new album features 10 original songs, plus a testifyin' take on "Blind, Crippled and Crazy," a song best known for the version recorded by Rawls' musical mentor, O. V. Wright. Like Rawls' previous releases, "Memphis Still Got Soul" re-creates the soul drenched Stax-Volt sound, and like those great old records the lyrics are true-to-life poetry delivered with sincerity. The playing and singing on this cd is top-notch.

This cd was recorded at two sessions, at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo Texas and at Soul Tree Recording in Helena Montana.
The band at the Texas sessions includes Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Andy Roman on saxophone, and Richie Puga on drums, all alumni of The Rays, a band Rawls discovered in 1999 and subsequently produced for his own Deep South Soul Records label.

Among the many highlights of "Memphis Still Got Soul" are the title track, which salutes the musical heritage of Memphis; the Curtis Mayfield/Impressions feel of "Give You What You Need;" the deep soul sound of "Take You for A Ride;" the autobiographical "My Guitar;" the soon to be live show fan favorite "Blues Woman;" and the funky blues-driven "Burning Bridges."

This is a great release--it should continue Johnny Rawls' string of BMA awards. Winning soul blues. This disc is out now--you can buy it at http://www.catfoodrecords.com

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Al Basile "The Goods"



Here's a good cd that I don't want you to miss out on! Al Basile may be the best musician out there that you've never heard. Think of him as the current version of Southside Johnny back in the 80s--that underground artist that you just had to be hip to. Al Basile is that same artist now--a great singer, a great songwriter, a great cornet/trumpet player, front man with a great band--and once you're "in the know," he will be an indispensable part of your catalog.

This is Basile's seventh cd since 1998, following 2009's "Soul Blue 7" which reached # 12 on the Living Blues chart. He puts them out on his own label, Sweetspot Records, on his own schedule, with stellar sidemen. This time out features friend Duke Robillard on guitar and production, Basile on vocals and cornet, Doug James on horns, Bruce Bears on keyboards, Mark Teixeira on drums, Brad Hallen on bass, and special guests The Blind Boys of Alabama. Every song is intelligent, each lick is right on the money, and the lyrics tell the kind of stories worth hearing over and over. I like the opener "The Price (I Got to Pay)" which showcases the horn section and features sharp lyrics; and the crackling good piano-driven "Mr Graham Bell;" and the gospel-ish "Pealing Bells," which sounds like Basile has listened to Daniel Lanois' swampy roots-rock production with Bob Dylan. And there's even an original Christmas song! I especially enjoy hearing Basile and this great band with The Blind Boys of Alabama doing "Lie Down in Darkness (Raise Up in Light)" which sounds great, has a great message, and needs to become a modern classic.

This is a very strong release--even in a year with a lot of really good releases, this one is high in the running for Bruce's top 10 of the year! You can buy it at: http://www.albasile.com

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rory Block "Shake 'Em On Down"



This cd is subtitled "A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell" and it is a joyous celebration of two masters of the acoustic guitar blues--Mississippi Fred McDowell and Rory Block. This time out Block brings to vibrant bubbling life seven of McDowell's songs, along with Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and 4 Block originals that sound like they should belong in the McDowell catalog. This disc is part of Block's on-going project "The Mentor Series," a collection of, as she writes in the liner notes, "tribute albums to the masters who I had the priviledge of meeting face to face." Like Block's previous Mentor sets, one lifting up the music of Son House and one lifting up the music of Robert Johnson, this one is flawless and fabulous and spot-on. The singing and playing are up to typical Rory Block perfectionist standards, which means 99.5% of the guitar players out there can't touch it. This time out I'm not lifting up any individual songs--just buy this disc and listen to it, and you will soon love it. You may find that you need the other tribute discs as well. All three are highly recommended. Rory Block is a musical treasure.

This cd is on Stony Plain Records. You can buy it at http://www.stonyplainrecords.com

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Burton Gaar "Fried Grits & Greens"



On this wonderful cd Burton Gaar is singing and playing exactly what I needed--a Louisiana-flavored blues fest. The first time I heard this cd it reminded me of David Egan's great disc "You Don't Know Your Mind" from 2008. If you love that David Egan cd you know what I mean, and how good this Burton Gaar cd must be. I have been listening to it in the car the last week or so, and I even came the long way home from the BBQ contest this afternoon just to hear it some more. There are 15 songs, all originals, written by Burton and George Hollinshead (13) and Burton and Floyd Saizon (1) and Burton and Robert Felsonthal (1). The band is made of folks who have all worked with Burton before, and includes Tom Coerver, Robert Felsenthal, Larry Turner and Sean Brouillette on keyboards, Burton's brother John Gaar, George Hollinshead and O'dell Wilson on guitars, and Floyd Saizen on drums. They all sound great together--tight and loose, sweet and clean. I can only guess that hearing these guys play live in Louisiana must be a great treat. Burton's vocals are the key--perfectly spiced, emotive, solid. He sounds like Tommy Castro, in the best way.

I'm listening to this cd again now, and I like it even more. The best songs this time are "Sugarfied," "Strung Out On The Blues," and "That's All She Wrote." Part may be what it DOESN'T sound like--it doesn't have an ace guitar slinger that wants to slash every second of every song to ribbons to show off. It doesn't sound like they have a big budget. It doesn't sound like these guys are all 20 years old, trying to make a name for themselves. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but if you buy this cd looking for pyrotechnics or flash you'll be disappointed. It's a good cd precisely because Burton sings these 15 songs with taste and everybody plays with economy. You might find this cd on your player or in your car 5 years from now and you'll welcome it like an old friend.

You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/BurtonGaar

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nicole Christian "Run Rabbit Run"



Nicole Christian is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter and guitarist. Her newest release, Run Rabbit Run, was recently voted the Best Debut Roots and Blues Album of 2010 award by the Underground Blues Network. There are 11 songs on "Run Rabbit Run," and all of them are written by Nicole, except one ("Barn Dance") which is written by Nicole and Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King. Seems the esteemed writer has taken a shine to Nicole's work, which can't hurt anything. Some of the songs here are played solo and some are played by Nicole and the her band the Caravan--Roberta Hunt on keys, Vide on electric guitar, Alfie Smith on slide guitar and Jeremy Edwardes on harp and bass clarinet.

Christian's music is a little folk, a little roots, and a lot of bottle-neck blues. Remember the great music by The Band? Nicole Christian could be the Daughter From Big Pink. Listening to this cd is a treat--I played this cd straight through three times. There is an intelligence to her lyrics, a toughness to the music that is appealing. There is an acoustic vibe--similar to recent releases by Ernie Hawkins and Jay Gaunt--of music played for the joy of it. Highlights include "Shelter Blues" which has a cool violin and piano accompaniment, and "Lay Me Down" which reminds me of Ruthie Foster, and the title track, which has a great harp and guitar and piano thing going on and is, I think, the best song here. In a perfect world I could imagine several songs here getting radio play, some on blues radio and some on country radio, some on both.

This is an independent release. You can buy it at http://www./cdbaby.com/nicolechristian

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Joe & the Dynaflows "You Can't Keep A Big Man Down"



After an eleven year absence due to various illnesses, Big Joe is back! One of the great blues drummers and a super vocalist, Joe Maher & his band the Dynaflows were one of my favorites back in the 1990s-2000s. Their 1994 Black Top release "Layin' In The Alley" and the 1998 Severn releases "I'm Still Swingin'" and "All Night Long" (2000) were part of the soundtrack for my life. When this new disc arrived, it was like re-discovering an old friend! I've got to tell you, these guys can play that 40s-50s jump blues and boogie woogie like nobody else--they've been doing it for 30+ years. It may never have been the fashionable blues, but in Big Joe's hands it's an effective way to life people's spirits and get butts up and moving on the dance floor.

This new set of Dynaflows include keyboardist Kevin McKendree from Delbert McClinton's band, guitarist Rob McNelley, bass by Bill Campbell, and even a few honks from the vault of the late great Dennis Taylor on saxophone. They make a great full upbeat sound and everybody gets chances to shine. Big Joe writes or co-writes six of the 12 songs and they are uniformly excellent. Covers include BB King's "Bad Case of Love," Johnny Green's "Someday," Jimmy McCracklin's "I'm To Blame," Jay McShann's "Confessin' The Blues," and Delbert McClinton's "What the Hell Were You Thinkin'." It's a great and varied set. Right now I think "Someday" is the best song on the cd, but it only barely edges out "Face The Facts" and "Supercharger" and "Evangeline." Yesterday I was thinking "Confessin' The Blues" was the best song here. Tomorrow I'll fall in love with another one.

Anyway, this is a HOT cd, great music to minister to your spirit. You can buy it at http://www.bigjoem.com/CDinfo.html

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

John-Alex Mason "Jook Joint Thunderclap"



John-Alex Mason's new release came out on February 15. This is the sixth full-length release for this Boulder, Colorado based one man band. Yes, I said one man band. According to his website, Mason started out as a singer, then learned guitar, then learned to play drums to get people dancing. On this self-produced disc Mason plays guitar and kick drums and harmonica, and fully 6 of the ten songs are played on his one man band rig. Mason is also assisted by Andy Irvine on bass, Gerry Hundt on harmonica and mandolin and nine-string guitar, Cedric Burnside on drums, Cody Burnside on vocals, Lightnin' Malcolm on guitar and bass, and Lionel Young on fiddle and bass. Of the ten songs, six are either written or co-written by Mason. He also covers Robert Johnson's "If You've Got A Good Friend," Oscar Brown's "Signifying Monkey," Fred McDowell's "Write Me A Few Of Your Lines," and rearranges and adds lyrics to the public domain song "Rolled and Tumbled."

So how does it sound? I really like this cd. It's played in Mississippi hill country style--fans of Moreland and Arbuckle or JJ & Mofro or Otis Taylor will find much here that speaks to them. Mason brings a freshness and an energy to the proceedings. The playing is crisp and tight, but never stiff or fussy. Special cudos go to Gerry Hundt's harmonica floating over a deep bed of great percussion in "Riding On," (which includes about 10 seconds of rapping and might be the best song here) Lionel Young's fine fiddle work in "Diamond Rain" and Cedric Burnside's very good drumming in "Write Me A Few Of your Lines."

By the way, there are two free bonus tracks available at Mason's website that are well worth picking up--he calls them tracks "zero" which is the song "Delta Bound" and "eleven" which is "When You've Got A Good Friend."

You can buy this cd at John-Alex's website http://www.johnalexmason.com

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pete Anderson "Even Things Up: The Deluxe Edition"



This is a good cd you might have overlooked in January when it came out. It comes from Grammy-winning producer/guitarist Pete Anderson. All those great guitar lines snaking through those songs by country/rockabilly artist Dwight Yoakum, that was Pete Anderson. They worked together from 1986-2003. Now Anderson has re-released this "Deluxe" version of his fourth solo cd, with 4 additional songs cut live at the Starry Plough in Berkeley California last August.

Anderson sings, plays guitar and harmonica. He also plays drums on "Stop Me." He is backed by co-producer Michael Murphy on keyboards, drummers Herman Matthews and Jeff Donovan, and horn section Lee Thornburg and David Woodford, among others. All the songs are written or co-written by Anderson except "Room With a View," written by Michael Murphy & Lynn Coulter and sung by Murphy. The flavor of the disc is agreeably eclectic, veering from straight blues on "One and Only Lonely Fool" and the live "110 In The Shade" and "Live in Mississippi" to a jazzy turn on "Wes' Side Blues" to the Steely Dan-ish "Booker Twine" and the Tonight Show band-sounding "Dogbone Shuffle." Anderson acquits himself masterfully throughout--I like his vocals, and his guitar work is delicious. I love the instrumentals here, where the band gets to play and they all make some truly beautiful music. But the best song here is "Still in Love" presented twice--once in a studio setting with Anderson on vocals, and once in a live setting with Bekka Bramlett singing. I've played this song for three or four friends and their first response is to love it, then they all want to hear it again.

If you like recent releases by Dave Gross or Robben Ford, or if you liked Steely Dan, this record might be right up your alley. There's a lot here to like. Good musicianship, tasteful playing. I have a feeling this one will be in my cd player for quite a while.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Junior Wells & the Aces "Live in Boston 1966"



This Delmark release is a showcase for Junior Wells & the Aces as a FABULOUS live act. Junior Wells on vocals and harp, Fred Below on drums, and the Myers brothers Louis on guitar and Dave on bass--this is a great band, a band of professionals, and they play for an hour, bringing to the concert stage a dozen songs, and every one is a gem. The result is simply awesome. If you love the blues you need this cd in your collection just as a historical document--but it's a lot more than that. I think Fred Below is the best drummer Chicago ever produced, and Junior Wells belongs on the short list of the greatest harp players of all time. Here you get the chance to hear these great musicians at their peak, making the music they love. The set list is tremendous, including "Messin' With The Kid," "Look On Yonder's Wall," "Worried Life Blues," and "If You Gonna Leave Me." And Delmark smartly leaves in the between songs banter--the set is studded with Junior Wells' personality. And the whole set is covers. Please notice that Junior didn't write a single song here--all he does is play them all with passion and fire and power.

You end up wishing you were there. Many thanks to Delmark for putting this one out. l dream of hearing a similar set by Magic Sam and his band. Does that exist in a tape vault somewhere?

You can buy this at http://www.delmark.com But when you do, go ahead and buy Junior Wells' "Southside Blues Jam" like I did. I know you've already got "Hoodoo Man Blues." Simply great music, and essential to every blues lover. You know, one of these days I should put together on this blog The Essential Blues Recordings-- according to Bruce.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rich DelGrosso & Jonn Del Toro Richardson "Time Slips On By"



This is a great disc by two great players! Rich DelGrosso and John Del Toro Richardson have made a very good mellow Texas-flavored cd in "Time Slips On By." DelGrosso gets to show off his mandolin skills and Richardson gets to show himself as a very fine guitarist. They both sing. Eight of the 14 songs here are by DelGrosso and six songs are penned by Richardson. The band around them is top-rate: Carl Owens on drums and percussion, Ed Starkey on bass, Nick Connolly on keyboards, Joel Guzman on accordion, Sonny Boy Terry on harmonica, and the great Texas Horns--Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff on tenor sax, John Mills on baritone sax, and Al Gomez on trumpet. The band makes a backing for the two feature players.

I was hooked by the first 10 seconds of the opened "Baby Do Wrong," a Texas shuffle played great. And after that things never drop off--the level stays hot all the way thru. DelGrosso does a mandolin history lesson in "Mandolin Man" and a very fine turn on the 'Yank' Rachell-inspired "Hard To Live With." Richardson burns up the guitar frets on "Baby Please" and does a very fine soulful vocal turn on the love song "Katalin." About halfway thru the set they play a great song for those of us blues lovers stuck in the cold and ice of wintertime, "Summertime Is Here." I've been listening to that one about 5 times a day for the past week, and it really does seem to help. Other highlights include the Richardson song "Where's Laura?" and DelGrosso's opening on "Good Rocking Johnny" and Sonny Boy Terry's great harmonica break on "She's Sweet." Things wrap up with the "Please Don't Go," with DelGrosso on acoustic mandolin and Richardson on acoustic guitar. Wonderful. Give this one a chance and it will grow on you--or you could get hooked by the first 15 seconds. Either way, this is a disc to enjoy and treasure.

You can buy this cd at http://www.mandolinblues.com or at http://deltoroblues.wortdpress.com

Monday, January 10, 2011

Todd Wolfe Band -- Live!



The latest release by The Todd Wolfe Band, "Live!" was recorded live under a full moon one night last summer at McCoole’s Arts Place in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, in front a wildly appreciative audience and showcases The Todd Wolfe Band in all its blues-rockin’ glory, wailing on 10 tracks of original songs that have become fan favorites over the course of six previous albums.

Todd Wolfe, on guitar/vocals, Roger Voss, on drums and Suavek Zaniesienko, on bass/backing vocals, make up this power trio. There's no place to hide in a three piece band; every player has to shine at every minute, and this is even more true in a live setting. These guys make an incendiary music which is deeply rooted in the blues, but amped up. Things start off with "Ready For Love" and "Crowded In My Soul" which sound like they could by Delaney & Bonnie, gospel/blues burners. Next up is "Cold Black Night," where all the strengths of the band are front and center--fine song writing, incendiary playing, and really good vocals. "Beg Forgiveness" follows, and it sounds like Robin Trower on a good night. Song after song, these guys are in complete command and bringing it home to a live audience. One of the highlights of the set is the 14 minute closer, "Shame," which really doesn't feel that long. There's no drag anywhere, just a joyous celebration of the art of making and hearing great music.

Now, with his own band and releasing his seventh album, Todd Wolfe is front and center, and the critics have been paying attention. Hittin’ the Note magazine says: “Imagine some power trio mixed into a Texas blues foundation and overlaid with trippy psychedelia – that’s the essence of Wolfe’s music.”

Check it out, and you can hear and see the pure, unadulterated power of a band in its prime.

This cd/dvd will be available January 11, 2011. You can buy this at http://www.toddwolfe.com