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

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   

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:  

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

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.