Friday, November 23, 2012

David Maxwell -- "Blues In Other Colors" and Mitch Woods -- "Blues Beyond Borders: Live In Istanbul"

David Maxwell and Mitch Woods are both really good piano players, and they both released albums within two weeks of each other, and these albums each push the boundaries of the blues in interesting and different directions. So I thought I'd try to talk about both of these fine albums together in one review.

So let's start alphabetically, with David Maxwell. He is an award winning piano player, with a Grammy and several Blues Music Awards. He has been playing piano for over 25 years, mostly in the Chicago style, backing some of the greatest and well-known musicians in the blues. He has played with Freddie King, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, Bonnie Raitt and Hubert Sumlin. So this is a guy who knows his way around the piano, and this time he is trying "a melding of traditional blues with music from other countries to which I've been drawn."

Maxwell is backed by Harry Manx on Mohan Vina and Guitar, Jerry Leake on Indian and West African Percussion and Balafen, Fred Stubbs on Turkish Ney, Boujmaa Razgui on Oud and Moroccan Raita, Troy Gonyea on Guitar, Eric Rosenthal on Drums, Marty Ballou on Double Bass, Paul Kochanski on Electric Bass, and Andy Plaisted on Congas. Together Maxwell and these great musicians make a beautiful album chock full of Eastern textures and African rhythms alongside some traditional blues--and the reader should notice there are no vocalists listed. It's a 13 track instrumental release, and it's beautiful. There are moments when it sounds like The Beatles, and moments when it sounds like Chicago blues, and moments when it sounds like you're in a whole other country, and moments when it sounds like nothing you've ever heard before anywhere. But every moment here is absolutely gorgeous. On my internet radio show, Bruce's Texas Blues, at I've played a few tracks from this disc--specifically "big Sky" and "Cryin' The Blues" and "Rollin' On," and the response was encouraging. Those are the most traditional sounding blues songs here.

In short, I think it's a really important cd, and a really good cd. As Maxwell says in the liner notes, "Relax and enjoy the trip!"

Now let's shift gears and talk about Mitch Wood's new release, "Blues Beyond Borders."  This one features Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s, recorded in Istanbul, Turkey. Woods is one of the premier boogie woogie piano maestros anywhere, and this release is a CD and a DVD of that tour. In the liner notes Woods writes about how the Republic of Turkey is a secular nation with 99% Muslim population that straddles East and West..... and how Woods saw themselves as "musical ambassadors, able to cross cultural, religious and national borders that most people cannot." It looks like Woods played shows that stuck pretty much to the great boogie woogie music he has been playing for years--a mix of well-seasoned originals and traditional songs, jump blues, swing and New Orleans Rhythm and Blues. Woods' piano and vocals are backed by The Rocket 88s: Amadee Castenell on sax, Cornell Williams on bass, Adam Gabriel on guitar, and Larry Vann on drums, with everybody on backing vocals. The CD contains 14 songs, the DVD contains 18.  The concert feels like the band and the audience had a great time--the playing is tight and loose at the same time, the set list inspired, the audience joyful and enthusiastic. I remember way back when Eric Clapton did a live album from Japan and the Japanese audience sang along on the chorus of the song "Cocaine." In English! They might not have known all the lyrics, but they were having a good time. On this cd Mitch Woods and The Rocket 88s are playing before a lively and excited audience in Istanbul.

In the liner notes Mitch Woods writes "as they say in Turkey--"Bastan basa Blues" --the blues is everywhere!"  

You can buy these cds at:
David Maxwell:
Mitch Woods:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Al Basile -- "At Home Next Door"

Al Basile is having a great year in 2012. After spending 40+ years as a poet, playwright, and fiction writer, his career retrospective of poetry "A Lit House" was published this year, and now he has also released his ninth solo CD "At Home Next Door." Produced by Duke Robillard, this 2 cd set includes one disc which is a retrospective of his 14 year tenure on his own record label, Sweetspot Records--along with a second disc which is a collection of new songs in a 60s Memphis style.

Both discs feature Duke Robillard on guitar, and Al Basile singing and playing cornet. The look back is disc one, and it includes songs from 1998 to the present. Featured in addition to Basile and Duke are Bruce Katz on keyboards on seven tracks, Matt McCabe on piano on two tracks, Jerry Portnoy on harmonica on two tracks, Sugar Ray Norcia on harmonica on one track, and Marty Ballou and John Packer on bass along with many alumni members of Roomful of Blues. It is a terrific look back at Basile's wide-ranging talent as a writer and a singer and a horn player--lifted out of their original releases these thirteen songs shine with a new luster. There is also an acoustic blues duet with Al and Duke Robillard on "80 Bells," which is kind of like having these guys singing and playing in your living room. Very nice.

The second disc is the new material, and it features Al Basile and the Duke Robillard Band playing in a 60s Memphis R&B Stax-Volt vibe, with the addition of great jazz tenor sax player Scott Hamilton on three tracks. And let me tell you, this disc is primo stuff! Track after track, I am swept away by a horn riff, a vocal phrase or the keyboard or the guitar, the horns and or the drum--and next thing I know I've gotta go back and listen to that again. Basile is a great songwriter with a great musical feel for presenting a song, and he is backed by a terrific band that has played with him for nearly 25 years. I think this is the best music Basile has made so far in his career--his ease and strength as a vocal storyteller continues to grow with each release, and his cornet playing is rich, nuanced, and succinct. I still remember "Too Much Like Fate" and "Stony Ground" hours after hearing them. "It Is What It Is" gets a big boost from Hamilton. But the best song on this IMO is "A Mystery To Me." Just terrific--a candidate for Bruce's song of the year.

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Joanne Shaw Taylor -- "Almost Always Never"

Joanne Shaw Taylor's third cd, Almost Always Never, is the sound of a guitar player growing into a songwriter and a fine artist.  On her first two releases, Diamonds In The Dirt and White Sugar, she was a good and growing better guitar player, but her songwriting had not yet caught up with her fretwork. This time out, she writes all the songs, and she sings and plays guitar better than ever. Part of what makes this such a success is the presence of ace Mike McCarthy in the producer/recording/mixing chair--his past work with Patty Griffin and Spoon lend power to the proceedings. I'm not knocking the esteemed Jim Gaines, who produced Taylor's first two cds, but McCarthy does a real good job at the board here. And the backing musicians are equally terrific: David Garza on keyboards and mandolin, Billy White on bass and acoustic slide guitar, and J.J. Johnson on drums. They play consistently great, especially Garza's work on keyboards. Everything is tight in the pocket, and the band gives Taylor the opportunity to deliver her songs with power and passion on both vocals and guitar.

For years I have watched for good artists to make their third cd--by that point they begin to reach their potential. I remember Dire Straits' third album, Making Movies was a great leap forward from what they had done before--as much as I liked the earlier albums, Making Movies was to me the best album of 1980. Almost Always Never is like that too--from the first ripping notes of "Soul Station" you know this is a quantum leap forward, and there is no letdown--the entire cd delivers that on that promise. This time out, Taylor blows the roof off whatever you thought before of "that white girl guitarist from England."

Highlights include the already mentioned "Soul Station," the terrific title track, and two songs that deal honestly about love--"You Should Stay And I Should Go" and "Lose Myself To Loving You." "You Should Stay..." has some of that beautiful Mark Knopfler fingerpicking guitar sound, and "Lose Myself..." has some wonderful piano, the best singing and lyrics on the entire set, and it wraps up the album and leaves me wanting more.

This release is a terrific accomplishment. If she continues on this trajectory Taylor soon won't have to take a backseat to anybody. You can buy this cd at

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sunny Crownover -- "Right Here Right Now"

Sunny Crownover's third release, Right Here Right Now, is her best to date. As on her previous two cds, this one is a collaboration with Duke Robillard and his band, but this time Sunny is singing from her roots--unlike the earlier cds they did together, "Introducing Sunny And Her Joy Boys" in 2009 and Duke's "Stomp! The Blues Tonight" and "Takes From The Tiki Lounge," this is a contemporary blues/roots and R&B outing. Enjoy the ride as Sunny is singing great on great songs, just like she has been doing for the past 15+ years, first in Dallas/Fort Worth Texas, then in Austin Texas and now in New England the last dozen years. 

Right Here Right Now was recorded by John Paul Gauthier at Lakewest Recording. The band was stellar, including Duke Robillard on guitar, Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums, and a horn section that includes Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Mike Tucker on tenor sax, Doug James on baritone sax, and Billy Novick on clarinet. The fantastic Sugar Ray Norcia guests on harmonica.

The songs are all well-written by great songwriters to show off Sunny's vocal strengths. Five of the songs are by Gary Nicholson, one by Duke Robillard, one by Sandy Atkinson, one by Madeleine Hall, one by Brenda Burns, one by Joy Tiven and one by Al Basile.

I like this release. Highlights abound, including, of course, Duke Robillard's guitar playing throughout. I also like the Chicago blues of "Roll Me Daddy," the funky, rockin' "Cook In Your Kitchen," the horn-fueled cautionary tales "Warned" and "I Might Just Change My Mind," the old timey piano and clarinet on "Hi-Heels And Home Cookin'," and everything about the beautiful title track.

In his review for BLUES & RHYTHM (UK), Phil Wight got it exactly right: "If you are a fan of Sunny Crownover, or indeed Duke Robillard, you can't afford to let this album pass you by. A big thumbs up from this reviewer."

Every song here is radio-play worthy, and I hope that Sunny gets a lot of exposure from it. I'm already looking forward to her next cd!

You can buy this cd at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Maria Muldaur -- "First Came Memphis Minnie"

For her 40th album, Maria Muldaur presents a loving tribute to blues pioneer Memphis Minnie. This is a wonderful cd, and Memphis Minnie surely deserves to be lifted up in this fashion. Memphis Minnie was the reigning queen of mid-20th century blues, a blues singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and guitar player-par excellence; a colorful, larger-than-life character who was one of the first blues musicians to record with an electric guitar. In a career that spanned over 40 years, she released over 200 songs, many of which are still classics today. This tribute cd features special guests Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow, and Koko Taylor. Other musicians on this cd include Del Ray, David Bromberg, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Roy Rogers, Steve James and Steve Freund.

Several of the songs included here were previously-released from two of Maria's Grammy-nominated albums. Two of the songs are previously recorded by artists who are no longer with us. Koko Taylor's cover of "Black Rat Swing" is from her cd "Old School" from 2007 and Phoebe Snow's cover of "In My Girlish Days" is from her cd "It Looks Like Snow" from 1976. Some of the songs on this new tribute cd are also new recordings from Rory Block, Ruthie Foster and Bonnie Raitt.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Maria Muldaur. Well, with this release you get great singing by Maria Muldaur, AND great singing and playing by Bonnie Raitt and Ruthie Foster and Rory Block and Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor--all accompanied by great musicians in really wonderful arrangements. Each song here is presented with a mix of reverence and passion, featuring the talents of the artists at hand and lifting up Memphis Minnie.

My favorite song here changes every time I listen to it--but this afternoon I am really taken with the cover of "Me And My Chauffeur Blues" by Maria Muldaur with Roy Rogers on guitar and Roly Salley on bass. Fabulous in every way. 

This is one of the most accessible, joyful and soul-satisfying releases of Maria Muldaur's career, and it is one of the top cds I have heard in 2012. Highly recommended.

You can buy this cd at