Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jason Vivone And The Billy Bats -- "Lather Rinse Repeat"

Jason Vivone And The Billy Bats came to my attention at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia MO in 2011. That Saturday I stumbled out of the BBQ judging tent with a serious meat overdose, sleepy and overstuffed by eating LOTS of ribs and brisket. On the stage down the street there was this band playing. As I drifted closer, I began to hear and feel an electric guitar and three vocalists and a banjo all ripping it up, all energy and loudness, humor and joy. The crowd was literally going crazy. My plan after judging BBQ was for a long nap, but I ended up staying and listening to this great band for their entire set. And ever since then, this Kansas City-based band has been a favorite.

The nine songs on Lather Rinse Repeat are originals by Jason, who also produced. The band is made up of Jason on vocals, guitar and harp, Matt Bustamante on drums, Jeremy Clark on bass, Paula Crawford on vocals and guitar, Imani Glascow on vocals and percussion, and Ben Hoppes on vocals and banjo. They employ several different styles--from the ominous boogie of "I Hear A Heartbeat" through old timey hokum blues of "Baby Fat" through an Elmore James-type slide number "The Nina, The Pinta, The Santa Maria." Over a Muddy Waters "Mannish Boy" vamp the band does "The Black Lone Ranger," a tribute to the Chicago legend the late James Ramsey, the blues singer who dressed, acted and lived like the mythical Lone Ranger. After that Vivone pays tribute to his baby in "One Hot Mother," and leads The Billy Bats through a Tex Mex number, "Photograph," and a hilarious Bo Diddly-esque turn on "Do The Nod." Then there is a short and off-the-wall drinking song rap number, "Liquid Diet," and then everything is wrapped up by the seven minute guitar and banjo "Medusa Blues," with a bass line that will recall Steely Dan's "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number."  

This band has serious chops, and they have made a really good cd, and a really funny one too, a quality sometimes missing in the blues. The more you hear it, the more you'll get the sly smiles and lyrical jokes. The instrumentation is unique because of the inventive ways Vivone and Crawford use their guitars and the presence of the banjo, and having three good vocalists makes for a lot of variety.

Well worth the purchase price. You can buy this cd at

In addition, you can hear Jason Vivone And The Billy Bats along with The Mojo Roots from Columbia (see my review March 18) and The Bottoms Up Blues Gang from St Louis all together in the Missouri Blues Caravan on Thursday April 25th at Knucklehead's in Kansas City, Friday April 26 at Mojos in Columbia, and Saturday April 27 at BB's Jazz, Blues And Soups in St Louis. A unique opportunity to see the "next generation of Missouri blues talent" all on stage at one time--sponsored by the Kansas City Blues Society, the MO Blues Society, and The St Louis Blues Society.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jake Lear -- "Diamonds And Stones"

Jake Lear's "Diamonds And Stones" is a top-notch slice of hot blues guitar & folky lyrics & rock 'n roll sensibility.  To tell the truth, the Vermont born and Memphis resident Lear and his trio have made a great, stripped down, musically adventurous cd. This is the best electric sounds-like-Dylan disc since Chris Bergsen Band's 2011 "Imitate The Sun."

The trio is Jake Lear on guitar and vocals, Roy Cunningham on drums, and Carlos Arias on bass. All the songs are written by Lear except for John Lee Hooker's "Jack O Diamonds"and Junior Wells' "Work Work Work." Production is by Jake Lear and Rafael Yglesias.

There's nothing very fancy here. The sound is mammoth, with a big guitar chugging and clanging, chasing a runaway freight rhythm section, while the lyrics wind around your brain. Every song here invites the listener in, and then either the guitar, or the lyrics, or the kick ass drums, something hooks you. Turning it up only adds to the fun. The opener, "Strange Things," is a throbbing minor key 12 bar blues. "Going Back Home (North Mississippi Bound)" was the first song that got me--I dug everything that went into that pot of delta blues soup.

"Wasting Time" really reminds me of mid-60s Dylan--the drive and the lyrics, the style of the master is on full display. "Diamonds And Stones" and "Down By The River" continue the Dylan-fest, with wonderful grooves and guitar work that I swear sounds like Mike Bloomfield. The next two songs are the covers, and "Jack Of Diamonds" doesn't work as well--instrumentally the single chord guitar is right there, but there ain't nobody alive who can get that John Lee voice quite right. But "Work Work Work" is just great, a Jimmy-Reed type shuffle that cuts like a machete. "I See A Train Coming" borrows that Bloomfield style guitar again, and there's a touch of Robbie Robertson over the Texas shuffle of "I Quit." "Boogie Time" is an instrumental closer, with Lear's guitar ripping it up and reminding me of more than a little of Duke Robillard. Very cool.
I wish there was a lyric sheet--other than that, there's nothing to complain about. Well, I could wish for a few more songs too--there are only ten.  But this is a very good cd, and if you like good guitar, or if like me, you love those old Bob Dylan albums, give this one a listen. Highly recommended. I have a feeling that Jake Lear is someone to watch. An early contender for cd of the year.

You can buy this cd at

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Mojo Roots -- "What Kind Of Fool"

There was a time when I wasn't very happy about moving from Decatur Georgia to Columbia Missouri last summer. On the good side I would be closer to family, but on the other side I was going to lose my friends in Georgia--in particular my BBQ friends and my blues friends. Well, the move is completed and everything is going to be alright. I am making new BBQ friends all the time, and I am happy to report that Columbia has a blues band as good as any I heard in metro Atlanta--the Mojo Roots.

 These guys are terrific.  Jordan Thomas is on vocals, harp and rhythm guitar, Trevor Judkins is on lead and sometimes slide guitars, Jim Rush is on bass, and Andy Naugle is on drums. Guesting is ace keyboardist John D'Agostino, who  contributes some great Hammond B-3 organ.

Jordan is the primary songwriter--he wrote six of the 11 songs--and he produced the cd. The originals are uniformly good, especially the title track, "Deaf, Dumb And Blind" and "Green Eyed Baby." The 5 covers are pretty good songs too--Leo Nocentelli's "I Got The Blues," Jerry Butler & Otis Reddings' "I've Been Loving You Too Long," the traditional "Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name," John Mayall's "It's Over," and  Johnny Jones' "Hoy Hoy Hoy."

One thing I especially like about this cd is Jordan's singing. There are times here when I think I'm listening to Curtis Salgado. And tackling an Otis Redding song? That's pretty brave. His work there won't make you forget the original, but he in no way embarrasses himself.

Another thing I like is Trevor's lead guitar work. He reminds me of an Atlanta institution on the guitar, Jim Ransome, of The Breeze Kings, and that is a very good thing. Like Ransome, Trevor is a soulful player, who likes to play with the tone and touch that each song needs and not one note extra. He looks young, but he must have been playing the guitar for 30 years to get this good.
And the rhythm work of Jim Rush and Andy Naugle is terrific. Space does not allow me to list all the bands that Jim Rush has played with over the years, but take it from me--he is the dean of Missouri bass players. He has been playing in the pocket for over 30 years, and here he and Andy make every song swing and jump. And Andy Naugle plays everything so clean and tastefully--on "Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name" everybody is working in harmony, and the result is a powerful gospel blues, but the foundation of it all is Andy Naugle.   

All together, the Mojo Roots make a rich, deep bluesy sound--it is a combo sound which is respectful of blues history and yet all new. They remind me of Sean Costello. Nobody overplays and nobody gets left behind. No egos.

The Mojo Roots made it to the semi-finals of the IBC in their first attempt earlier this year, and the truth is they deserved it. They really are that good. Check them out before they get BIG. I just found out they have been invited to play the Chicago Blues Festival on June 7th, on the WCBS stage. 

This is an independent release--you can buy it for $10 at