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