Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Damon Fowler -- "Sounds Of Home"

Damon Fowler's new "Sounds Of Home" is a smorgasbord of great guitar work and fine singing and songwriting. Recorded at Tab Benoit's studio in Louisiana--and with Tab's typically understated production work--this is Damon's sixth cd and his third for for Blind Pig Records. It is also his best.  Fresh from a year touring with the Southern Blues-Rock Royal Southern Brotherhood, Damon has raised his game in every direction---and he has been pretty doggone good for several years already.

Nine of the songs here are Damon originals, sometimes with the help of writing partner Ed Wright and Tab; and there are two covers: Johnny Winter's "TV Mama" and Elvis Costello's "Alison." The album closes with the traditional "I Shall Not Be Moved."

Damon's voice is country-ish, clear with an agreeable roughness on some songs, and his writing shows plenty of pop-music smarts. But my favorite part of this set is Damon's guitar--he gives the entire fretboard a good workout with an endless supply of razor sharp hooks.

Favorites? The centerpiece of the cd is "Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me," which sounds like it should have been written by John Hiatt or Willie Nelson. One of the best songs of the year, for sure."Thought I Had It All" is an excellent song, as is the title track. "Trouble" has a tasteful solo around lyrics about being addicted to a lover. "Spark" is an energetic rock song--back in the good old days of real radio, every song here would be on a playlist somewhere. This is a Top Ten cd of the year candidate.

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


Monday, December 15, 2014

Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson -- "For Pops"

Those of us who have been connected to the blues for a long time will hear all they need to know when I say that this cd is a tribute to the 100th birthday of Muddy Waters by his son Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson backed by an all-star band of Chicago blues players.

But those of you whose love for the blues may have developed rather recently--like maybe beginning in 1995--may need some more encouragement. This is a cd of really great old school songs and music. Like twenty years older than The Black Keys. Older than the Blues Brothers movie.

But not old like a museum exhibit. This music is not stodgy or creaky or stiff. This music roars out of the gate and burns from beginning to end. Part of that is Kim Wilson's doing--his Little Walter styled harp work here very nearly raises the dead--and part of it is that Mud Morganfield is one of the better singers out there, especially when singing Muddy's songs. And a huge part of it is the band that brings these songs to full, uproarious life: Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn on guitar, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. The album was produced by David Earl and Steve Gomes and recorded in four days at Severn Sound Studios in Annapolis, Maryland. 

Everybody plays together with the same sense of balance and taste that you hear in those great Muddy Waters bands from back in the 50s. Every note of every song is blues perfection. Nothing extraneous, nothing out of place, no showing off. Love it.

You can get this cd at http://www.severnrecords.com/

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jim Suhler -- "Panther Burn"

Let's skip over the fact that this was released last February. I need to say how terrific it is, and I need for you to hear how terrific it is. I have loved Jim Suhler's work for over 15 years now--in fact, two cds he made, one with Alan Haynes, "Live At Blue Cat Blues," (2000) and the solo acoustic "Dirt Road," (2002) are among my all time favorites. 

And this new cd is as good as anything he has released over the twenty-plus years he has been making Texas music.

The band this time out includes Carlton Powell and Buddy Momed on bass, Beau Chadwell, Kevin Schermerhorn and Jimmy Morgan on drums, Tim Alexander on piano, organ and accordian, and Shawn Phares on organ, Jim Elmore on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica, and Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson on vocals, along with Suhler on guitar and vocals. There are thirteen original songs and one cover, "Remember Mama" from To Kill A Mockingbird.

My favorite song here is the wonderful gospel "Amen Corner," which segues into "All God's Children Get The Blues Sometimes." Great organ work by Tim Alexander and great acoustic slide guitar by Mr Suhler. Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson add some great vocals.

Jim Suhler is a great singer, songwriter and guitarist. Give "Panther Burn" a listen, and you'll be hooked. You can buy this cd at http://www.jimsuhler.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finis Tasby & Kid Andersen -- "Snap! Your Fingers"

I have fallen in love over the years with some things in the blues--BB King's guitar intro on "Three O'Clock Blues," the great Boz Scaggs/Duane Allman & The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section "Loan Me A Dime," T Bone Walker's "Call It Stormy Monday," JJ Cale's languorous guitar on "Crazy Mama," Sean Costello's cover of Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist Of Fate," a few others. But one of the things I fell in love with wasn't as well known as those others, and it wasn't even on his own album. Back early in 2006 I listened to Kirk Fletcher's cd "Shades Of Blue" (2004, Delta Groove). That was the very first time I had heard Kim Wilson or Janiva Magness or Finis Tasby sing, and I fell in love with Finis Tasby's voice. He sang "The River's Invitation" with Kirk Fletcher on guitar, Ronnie James Weber on bass and Richard Big Foot Innes on drums and I was hooked. Hooked!

Finis started out in Dallas Texas in 1962 with a band called The Thunderbirds, playing bass and singing behind ZZ Hill. In 1973 Finis left Dallas and moved to Los Angeles, where he played and recorded with the Finis Tasby band and had some success until his chance came--his debut release was "People Don't Care" (1995, Shanachie Records). Following that, Finis released "Jump Children!" (1998, Evidence) and "What My Blues Are All About" (2005, Electro Fi). Since about 2004 Finis has been one of the vocalists for The Mannish Boys, many of whom played on that great Kirk Fletcher cd "Shades Of Blue." 

This is what it says about Finis on the BlueBeat Music.com site about this new cd "Snap! Your Fingers." (BlueBeatMusic):

Finis Tasby has been a fixture on the Southern California blues scene for over 4 decades.  Originally from Dallas Texas, Finis first made his mark on the Bihari Brothers BIG TOWN label in the 70's and has continued recording for labels as diverse as ACE- EVIDENCE- ELECTRO-FI & DELTA GROOVE.  As the lead singer of the MANNISH BOYS, Finis has added his authentic soulful singing to their many fine releases over the past few years.....This set is reminiscent of  early 70's radio blues with hit's originally recorded by the likes of BB KING- ZZ HILL & BOBBY BLAND.  Kid Andersen's production is clear and crisp with just the right touch of sweetness for Finis' gritty style........

The band on this new cd include Finis on vocals, Kid Andersen on guitar, Kedar Roy on bass, June Core on drums.  There are also a passel of guests, like Elvin Bishop on guitar, Lisa Leu Andersen (who adds a great vocal on "Ghetto Woman,") Lorenzo Farrell on organ, Bob Welsh on piano, organ and guitar, Sid Morris on organ, Scott T Miller on rhythm guitar, Butch Cousins on drums, Derrick Martin on percussion and a crack horn section of Jack Sanford on tenor/bari sax, Terry Hanck on tenor sax, and Ed Early on trombone.

I probably need to say that after this cd was recorded, in December 2013, Finis Tasby suffered a massive stroke. Since then he has been paralyzed on his left side, and he is residing at a long term care facility in California. Buying this new cd not only gets you some great blues music by one of the best vocalists around and a band of all-stars, but it provides Finis with an income when he could really use a hand. I hope everybody who reads this review will buy at least one cd. I paid for my review copy myself. 
Finis Tasby, the Original Mannish Boy and award winning vocalist suffered a massive stroke Dec 6, 2012 and remains paralyzed on his left side.
He is currently in a long-term care facility in Santa Ana, Calif.
- See more at: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/blues-legend-finis-tasby-needs-a-lil-help-from-his-friends-/154297#sthash.WcvRezCu.dpuf
Finis Tasby, the Original Mannish Boy and award winning vocalist suffered a massive stroke Dec 6, 2012 and remains paralyzed on his left side.
He is currently in a long-term care facility in Santa Ana, Calif.
- See more at: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/blues-legend-finis-tasby-needs-a-lil-help-from-his-friends-/154297#sthash.WcvRezCu.dpuf
Finis Tasby, the Original Mannish Boy and award winning vocalist suffered a massive stroke Dec 6, 2012 and remains paralyzed on his left side.
He is currently in a long-term care facility in Santa Ana, Calif.
- See more at: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/blues-legend-finis-tasby-needs-a-lil-help-from-his-friends-/154297#sthash.WcvRezCu.dpufFinis Tasby had a massive stroke--and since then he is unable to perform. The new cd is terrific, and buying it gives one of the great blues singers over the past 40 years an income when he really needs a hand up. 

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bernie Pearl -- "Take Your Time"

If you love the great blues and folk music from the early 60s through the early 70s, go to you tube and search for "Live at Ash Grove Los Angeles." You can hear music by Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert Collins, and Big Mama Thornton. Well, when all those great musicians were playing at the Ash Grove, Bernie Pearl was there too. Bernie's brother Ed ran the Ash Grove from 1958 to 1973, and many of the musicians that played there also taught Bernie as they passed through.

Bernie Pearl is one of my favorite guitar players. When Bernie plays and/or sings, he is not a retro player--he uses everything he has learned along the way to the service of the songs. Bernie has been releasing his own cds at least as far back as 2002, and his newest cd, "Take Your Time," (Bee Bump Music, 2013) is a complete blues' lover's delight. "Take Your Time" is nominated by the Blues Blast Music Awards for "Best Acoustic Album." Featuring Bernie on guitars and vocals along with long-time bassist Mike Berry, this disc also features the extraordinary Barbara Morrison on vocals and Albert Trepagnier Jr on percussion and Bobby "Hurricane" Spencer on tenor sax.

Everything is clear from the first song, "Worried Life Blues." Great finger picking by Bernie, his warm and relaxed vocal this time in a duet with Barbara. Albert adds just the right amount of percussion and Mike's bass is clean. There's no star turn, no rushing, no note out of place--what you hear are professional musicians presenting a great song. You feel like you're right there in the room with them.

And that's the way it rolls for all of the 14 songs. Excellent, just excellent. After you hear it all once I'm sure you'll listen to it again. This cd is dedicated to the memory of Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson. 

You can buy this cd, and all of Bernie's cds, at http://www.cdbaby.com/



Monday, June 30, 2014

Lisa Mann -- "Move On"

Portland Oregon-based Lisa Mann has a fine release in "Move On." She and the Pretty Good Band have been stalwarts of the blues scene around Portland for several years, and from the first funky notes to the end of the disc, they make music with life, passion and style.

Lisa plays bass and sings. The Pretty Good Band is Jeff Knudson on guitars, Michael Ballash on drums and Brian Harris on keyboards.   

From the website: Lisa is a proud inductee into the Cascade Blues Association’s Hall of Fame after winning the Muddy Waters Award for Bass Player of the Year three times in a row. In Nov of 2012, Lisa took home the Muddy for Bass yet again, and to top that off, she took home Female Vocalist of the Year and her “Really Good Band” won Contemporary Blues Act of the Year.  In 2011, she and her Really Good Band represented the CBA at the International Blues Challenge, where they made it to the semi-finals.  Her latest CD, Satisfied, was the CBA’s choice for the Best Self-Produced CD competition through the Blues Foundation.  Lisa also won the Portland Music Award for Outstanding Achievement in Blues in 2012.

Quite a resume, huh? Lisa wrote nine of the 12 songs here, and the covers are "The Blues Is My Medicine" written by Sonny Hess and Paulette Davis, "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby" written by Jimmy Reed, and "The Blues Is Alright" written by Milton Campbell.    

And there are some stellar musicians here as guests--a big chunk of them from the Portland blues scene--Sonny Hess plays guitar and sings backing vocals on one song, Mitch Kashmar plays harmonica on two tracks and backing vocals on one, Larhonda Steele & Arietta Ward bring backing vocals to two tracks,  Dave Melvan plays drums on three tracks, Alex Shakeri plays piano on two tracks and organ on one, Rae Gordon does backing vocals on one track, and Richard Arnold brings backing vocals to two tracks. The synopsis is there are some great players and singers on this cd, and pretty good songs too.

And the result is that Lisa Mann is back with a vengeance. After a seriously rough patch which included the death of her mother and losing her voice for six months, this really is a triumphant return for all involved.     

you can buy this cd at http://www.lisamannmusic.com

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tweed Funk -- "First Name Lucky"

Tweed Funk formed in 2010 in Milwaukee, and their debut release was "Bringing It." That put them on the map, and their next cd, "Love Is" just kept them climbing. This is their third cd, and this time out, Tweed Funk wanted to make something in the style of those great Memphis soul records. Recorded mostly live in the studio of first or second takes. This is one great cd--just smoking from track one to track eleven! 

Of course, all the members of Tweed Funk have talent and abilities in spades, and they have won awards to prove it. Tweed Funk won the 2012 Wisconsin Area Music Industry award for R&B/Soul Artist of the Year.  For 2013 frontman Smokey took home the WAMI for Male Vocalist of the Year and Bassist Eric Madunic for Bass Player of the Year.  Additionally, Tweed Funk was nominated in 2013 for R&B/Soul Artist of the Year and Kevin Klemme for Brass/Reeds Player of the Year.  In 2011 the band was nominated for a WAMI for New Artist of the Year.  Frontman Smokey was nominated for a 2012 WAMI for Best Male Vocalist. And Kevin Klemme took home the 2014 WAMI for brass/reeds Player Of The Year.

Smokey Holman sings, JD Optekar plays guitar, Eric Madunic plays bass, and Nick Lang plays drums. The horn section is Jon Lovas on sax and Kevin Klemme on trumpet. Rounding things out are Brian "Looper" Lucas on harmonica on "Get It On," and Chrissy Dzioba and Sara Moilanen on backing vocals on three tracks. Seven songs are new Tweed Funk originals, with four covers--a hot reading of "Let The Good Times Roll" that takes it back to its blues roots, a truly amazing "Sugarfoot," with maximum R&B spilling on the floor, an inspired take of "I Got Loaded" that threatens the Los Lobos version, and a cover of "Knock On Wood" sung by Eric Madunic that my wife in the next room thought was Sam and Dave. I really enjoy "Blues In My Soul," an original that, the first time I heard it, made me get up from the computer and dance. 
Sometimes all your heart needs is a guy with a guitar. But there are other times when the sound your heart is looking for is a full band with horns. These guys play it hot and greasy, and the Memphis soul/R&B focus was an inspired choice. It's like listening to Booker T & The MGs again when those guys were all in their prime. 

I could go on and on, but suffice to say this is my new favorite band. You can buy this cd at http://www.tweedfunk.com/   

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Forrest McDonald Band -- "Turnaround Blues"

Here's something I didn't know--the great guitar work on Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll" and Bobby Womack's "Roads Of Life" was by this guy--Forrest McDonald. He was born in Texas, and has played guitar for almost 50 years. He was a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and for a time the guitarist for Kathi McDonald and Bonnie Bramlett, Jimmy Reed Jr and Bobby Womack.

And now he has released "Turnaround Blues," his 12th cd on World Talent Records.  This is a seriously good cd--good song writing, (most of both by Mr McDonald), good singing (mostly by Andrew Black and sometimes by Jon Liebman), and loads of good playing by everybody. The rhythm section is Lee Gammon on bass, John McKnight on drums, and Tony Carey on keyboards. Special guests include Darrell Cobb, (vocals and guitar on "Stay Or Walk Away")  Rich Ianucci (keyboards on "Checking On My Baby" and "R&R By Bye Bye") and John Schwenke (bass on "River Of Tears").

There is a lot of really good blues music on this disc. It's a Forrest McDonald release, and the guitar work throughout is stellar, but these guys play together as a band. There is room here for great turns on vocals, harp, and keyboard. I especially enjoyed their cover of Junior Wells' "Checking On My Baby," where Jon Liebman just channels Junior's feel on harp, and "River Of Tears," which is just smoking from start to finish,  and "Funny Thing Baby," which Forrest dedicates to Toy Caldwell, who was the great guitar player for the Marshall Tucker Band. The cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II's "V-8 Ford" is terrific--here it is transformed from a country blues lament into a sizzling electric blues workout with solid solos by harp, guitar and  keyboard.

Good stuff. Check it out. You can buy this cd at: http://www.forrestmcdonald.com  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Little Mike & The Tornadoes -- "All The Right Moves"

Little Mike & The Tornadoes are New York based and play a tough Chicago-style blues. Their last disc, 2013's "Forgive Me," was a hard-hitting set that featured ten Mike Markowitz original songs and one cover, and great harmonica playing on each song. After hearing that cd, it was easy to get excited about their next one! This set brings back original Tornadoes Tony O Melio (guitar), Brad Vickers (bass), Rod Piazza (drums) and adds Jim McKaba (piano) with Little Mike (harmonica and vocals). Again most of the songs are written by Mike--there are two covers. The playing is crisp throughout, and the vibe is energetic. Little Mike's harp is upfront, propulsive and fat-toned, great Chicago style playing. His singing is really solid.  The rhythm section of Piazza and Vickers bring every song to life. It seems like those two have played together for years--tight and loose at the same time and always squarely "in the pocket." McKaba's piano lifts each song higher--especially his right hand on the title track. And Tony O is simply spot-on everywhere. He might be the best traditional Chicago blues style guitar player anywhere right now. His work on "Blues Is Killing Me" is alone worth the cost of the entire set. My take on it? The title of this cd is the truth--All The Right Moves indeed. Great work from everybody beginning to end.

When my wife and I moved to Atlanta in 2007 one of the things that helped me feel better was the music of The Breeze Kings. For months I listened to their music nearly every day--and I still love their 2003 release "You Got To Bring Some To Get Some" (Veritone Records). As I thought about starting this blog again, Little Mike & The Tornadoes "All The Right Moves" was the cd I wanted to review first--these guys remind me of The Breeze Kings in the best way.

You can buy this cd at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/littlemikeandthetornadoe

It's About Damn Time!

Six months of silence on this blog, a blog that I have been writing since 2007, a blog that made me happy and kept me connected for 6 years. Yikes! I started last August looking for a house in the Kansas City metro area, and after we found and bought it in October there were renovations to do and all our stuff to move. Now I have finally finished unpacking at my small grey house in Prairie Village Kansas. I love And after losing the past six months, I aim to begin on the blog again today, and if I can write two or three blues cd reviews each week, in about 6 months I might begin to feel caught up again. There is never any shortage of great music to review--there are great musicians writing/performing/singing/imagining wonderful new blues music every single day.

Can you imagine that there were days when we had not heard any music from Stevie Ray Vaughan? Or Koko Taylor? Or BB King? I truly believe that somebody who will have as big an impact as any of the greats just picked up a pencil, or a guitar, for the very first time and they are coming down the pike real soon. No, the blues are not dead. My opinion is the blues are as alive as ever, and all that is required is for us to find those new musicians, that new band, that new lyric, that new chord change--and let it connect within our hearts.

I invite you again to share this journey with me.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bruce's Top Twelve of 2013

Time for the annual "Best of" list, and I need to say at the start that this has been a great year for blues releases. The quality of the music that came to me this year is higher than 2012, higher than I expected. There were still several who were more rock than blues, but for the most part there are a number of really good artists out there working hard writing and performing really good music. The following cds are my favorites from an excellent year. And before I get to the list, I need to say thank you to all the musicians, PR people, the venues that support the music, and blues fans out there. This music we all love is meant to be heard live. Go hear some blues as often as you can. Spend a few dollars at the venue. Cheer yourself hoarse. Get to know some players. It's all good for your soul!

12.  David Egan -- David Egan. (Indy) See my review October 29, 2013. Egan's best release in an over twenty year career. He wrote all the songs, and his singing and piano playing are better than ever.

11.  Steve Howell & The Mighty Men -- Yes I Believe I Will (Out Of The Past Records) Like the David Egan cd, this is a masterpiece by a very fine musician and musicologist. Steve Howell is one of the very best acoustic guitarists of our time. The liner notes on Howell's cds are terrific in their own right. 

10.  Solomon King -- Train (Indy) See my review October 29, 2013.

9.  Nicole Hart/Annie Piper -- Split Second (Blues Leaf Records) I have followed Nicole Hart since
2006. I love her voice, and I didn't exactly know what to expect with this release. But from the first song "Can't Let You Go" this cd just hooked me. Everything I love about Nicole Hart is here, and Annie Piper plays bass and sings great. Great songs, and the band is one of those all-star groupings: Ron Rauso and Juke Joint Jonny on guitar, Sandy Mack on harmonica, John Ginty on keyboards, Annie Piper on bass and Sim Cain on drums. "Dream Baby," a terrific cover from Roy Orbison's heyday, is just icing on the cake. Sweet!!

8.  See note below.

7.  The Planetary Blues Band -- Once Upon A Time In The South Loop" (Indy) This group from Indiana has spent a lot of time in Chicago and on the road. They have an attractive abundance of energy and talent and plenty of chops. This cd showcases a band on the way up. Check out their cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean."

6.  The Mojo Roots -- "What Kind Of Fool" (Indy) These guys are not a hometown choice. They were 2013 IBC semi-finalists.  The Mojo Roots have created a fresh spin on a soulful blues sound. See my review March 18, 2013.

5.  Andy T - Nick Nixon Band -- "Drink Drank Drunk" (Delta Groove) This pairing of Nick Nixon's great Memphis-based vocals and Andy Talamantez' Texas-based guitar sounds from the first note like they have worked together for decades. They haven't--but their blend is fabulous. And the rest of the band is stellar, too--Anson Funderburgh, John Garza, Christian Dozzler, Danny Cochran, Ron Jones.
If you read liner notes, those guys have together and separately played with damn near everybody over the years. I seriously hope they get to make a follow-up cd in 2014.

4.  Cyril Neville -- Magic Honey (Ruf) This release feels to me like the 2012 release of Joe Louis Walker's "Hellfire." It is so obvious that Cyril Neville's cd belongs on this list. From my first listen this was near the top of the heap--and all year long everybody gave it their best shot, but almost nobody could knock it off that perch. The only two who did were: 

2.  Trampled Under Foot -- "Badlands" (Indy) This cd debuted at # 1 on the Billboard blues charts. Danielle, Kris and Nick Schnebelen have made their strongest cd so far. Produced by Tony Braunagel, with guest appearances by Mike Finnigan and engineer/guitarist Johnny Lee Schell.      

1.  Buddy Guy -- "Rhythm & Blues" ( RCA) See my review July 31, 2013. Top of my list all year.

Note: One cd which would have made this list--and did, in early drafts--but eventually had to be dropped was The Ruff Kutt Blues Band -- "That's When The Blues Begins" (Vizztone). This would have been # 8 in this list. The quality is there without a doubt, but then I looked closer and the cd was released in 2012.

After much thought and hearing hundreds of songs, Bruce's Song Of The Year is by The F & G Band, on the cd "Pass It On" (Indy) "Untie That Knot." See my review July 22, 2013.