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

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 you can also listen to other songs by the band.