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/