Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Robert 'Top' Thomas -- "The Town Crier"

Robert 'Top' Thomas's debut "The Town Crier" on Wild Root Records is terrific, all Florida swamp blues and delta roots. For those who might be unfamiliar with Thomas, over the past 10-12 years he has toured and/or recorded with Noble 'Thin Man' Watts, Lazy Lester, Victor Wainwright, The King Snake All Star Revue, Alex Taylor, Bill Wharton, Blue House and Mark 'MuddyHarp' Hodgson. Thomas may be best known, however, as a founding member of King Snake recording artist "Smoke-House" who recorded 4 ground-breaking cds in the 90s that defined the genre of Florida swamp blues. Their 1995 cd "Cadillac In The Swamp" was listed among the best blues cds of that year.

And now Thomas releases "The Town Crier," on which he sings lead and plays lead guitars, backed by The WildRoots rhythm section--Stephen Dees on bass, guitars, backing vocals and percussion, Billy Dean on drums--and Stephen Kampa (winner of the 2012 Florida Harmonica Championship) on harmonica. Guest musicians include Victor Wainwright on co-lead vocals on "Bad Seed," and piano and organ, Damon Fowler on dobro on "I'm A Freight Train," Brandon Santini on harmonica on "Blues Grass" and "Daddy's Gone," and Beth McKee on accordion on "The Same Thing Could Happen To You." Stephen Dees produces and arranges. All the songs are by some combination of Robert Thomas/Stephen Dees/Victor Wainwright/Bob Greenlee except the Jerry West song "The Same Thing Could Happen To You."

Thomas has a perfect gruff blues voice. He sounds a little like Watermelon Slim to me, which is a compliment. The songs are all a terrific balance of storytelling and drive. Nowhere on this cd do I hear a 6 minute pointless guitar solo--every note is played in the perfect place for the sake of the song, and time I hear one song I want to hear the whole cd, and every time I hear the cd I want to hear it again. Highlights include the title track, which features a nice "crying" vocal and guitar solo by Thomas and a really good harp solo by Kampa. Santini's harp riding over Billy Dean's drum work on "Daddy's Gone." Damon Fowler's dobro sparkles on "I'm A Freight Train."

On every song you can hear a very good band playing with joy and taste. This cd is a terrific effort. Buy this one, and watch for whatever Robert 'Top' Thomas does next.

You can buy this cd at  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Big Bill Morganfield -- "Blues With A Mood"

As I continue to play catch up from last February, I want to share a few words about the latest cd from Big Bill Morganfield, "Blues With A Mood." 

Big Bill's last cd (2009's "Born Lover") was terrific, and this one is even better. The songs are all really strong--7 of them are originals, and the others are by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Peter Chatman, and Doc Malone. The band Big Bill has assembled is absolutely all star caliber. How about Big Bill on guitar and vocals, and Augie Meyers on piano, and Eddie Taylor Jr on guitar, and Colin Linden on guitar, and Mookie Brill on bass, and Chuck Cotton on drums, and Doc Malone on harp? AND add to that core the guest musicians--Bob Margolin on guitar, Steve Guyger on harp, Chuck Stern on piano, and Brian Bisesi on guitar. What a great lineup!

This cd documents the continuing musical journey of Muddy Water’s son, Big Bill Morganfield. Indeed, he contributes yet another solid disk to keeping the blues flame burning bright. Bill recorded this, his 5th record, in Nashville Tennessee with Colin Linden in the producers' chair Big Bill said, "I wanted to put together a set of tunes with heavy grooves and deep moods which stay close to the musical genre of Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Junior Parker, Robert Johnson, and several other of my musical heroes." He has done that, and made the best cd of his 15 year career.
My favorite song here is "No Butter For My Grits," a true-to-life and very funny song.

You can buy this cd at

Friday, May 3, 2013

4 Jacks -- "Deal With It"

Continuing with my project of catching up with some great cds that came out in the depths of last winter, I present to you a blues "Supergroup."
The 4 Jacks release "Deal With It" came out last February, and this is a great cd! The band consists of Anson Funderburgh, Big Joe Maher, Kevin McKendree, and Steve Mackey.

The "J" of Jaks, Big Joe Maher is a great drummer and bandleader. His band the Dynaflows has been a standout on the blues scene for many years. The "A" is Anson Funderburgh is one of the very best guitar players around, and he and his band The Rockets have been active for over 30 years.The "K" is Kevin McKendree, who has been Delbert McClinton's bandleader for many years, along with being a great keyboard player. He also had toured with Brian Setzer. Kevin recorded, mixed and produced this cd at his studio "The Rock House" just outside Nashville. And the "S" is Steve Mackey is the bass player in this band, and he has recorded and toured with a long list of great bands and artists. Steve is one of Nashville's first call session players. Additional musicians include Yates McKendree piano on "Ansonmypants" and Rob McNelley rhythm guitar on "I Don't Want To Be President" and "Thunder And Lightning. "

Eight of the twelve songs are originals on "Deal With It" have Big Joe Maher involved in the writing. Maher also is the chief vocalist. The covers are Percy Mayfield's "I Don't Want To Be President," Gil Caple's "Your Turn To Cry, " L Cadden's "Bad News Baby," and "Ansonmypants," by Joe Maher and Yates McKendree.  The songwriting is all uniformly strong, and the singing and playing are everywhere crisp and solid. Every song here should be in serious radio rotation. The title track is a smoking instrumental, and "Have Ourselves A Time" sounds like a Roomful Of Blues track. "I Don't Want To Be President" is timely and it has great guitar. "She Ain't Worth A Dime" is marvelous--Kevin McKendree rips it up on piano, and the song shows these guys can bring that old-school jump blues just like Louis Jordan. "Love's Like That" features Anson Funderburgh channeling his inner Duke Robillard over a smooth jazzy rhythm. "Bobcat Woman" may be the most Texas-styled song in the set--Anson wrapping the melody around the core of Kevin's piano and Joe's drumming. "Your Turn To Cry" is the requisite slow blues, showing off Big Joe's vocals and McKendree's B-3 organ and Anson's guitar. "Thunder And Lightning" picks up the tempo again, and may be my favorite song on the cd--all involved give their best on this one. "Texas Twister" is an Anson Funderburgh showcase, and he truly flies with the opportunity. "Ansonmypants" features Laura McKendree's vocals in a marvelous duet with Big Joe.  "Bad News Baby" sounds like it could be an old Ray Charles song--it really is that good. And "Painkiller" wraps things up with a flourish--the first time I heard this instrumental I thought is was Booker T & The MGs, and the next time I heard it I thought it was from the movie "Shaft." Really nice R&B cooker.

You can buy this cd at