Saturday, June 21, 2008

Just Between Us reviewed by Mark Thompson

Just Between Us
Clarence Spady
Severn Records, Inc.
www.severnrecords.com
11 tracks/49:05

Clarence Spady is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who had a release twelve years ago on the Evidence label. Nature of the Beast received substantial critical acclaim and Spady seemed destined for bigger and better things. One key element in that recording was the use of the Hammond organ, which was just starting to regain its popularity in blues and jazz. Another highlight was Spady’s gritty original blues tunes.

His new effort also features his own material, including two songs that were co-written with Donya Washington. Once again, the Hammond organ plays a prominent role on each track, courtesy of Bob O’Connell or Benjie Porecki. But the music on the latest disc reveals far different influences than the last release.

Spady is now mixing funky soul grooves with a bit of blues for an engaging collection that slowly insinuates it’s way into your consciousness. “Enough of You” has a rhythm that glides along before Spady heats things up with a strong guitar solo. His vocal on “Just Between Us” at times sound like Prince in his younger days, His voice displays a supple range with a slightly higher pitch that consistently breathes life into each cut. He really digs into the harder funk beat of “Won’t Be This Way Always”, with Porecki adding fat chords on the Hammond organ and tasteful fills on electric piano. Clarence veers toward a soul-jazz feel on the guitar passage.

The gospel-tinged “I’ll Go” features strong backing vocals from Meg Murray and Karla Chisholm. The spirit in this song embodies Spady’s view of life – a message of love, peace and forgiveness. “Cut Them Loose” preaches the importance of associating with the right people. Clarence switches to the blues on “Be Your Enough”. This slow-burner features fat chords on the organ from Porecki plus a gritty vocal turn and a taut guitar solo from Spady.

The lone weak track is the instrumental “E-Mail”. It is pleasant enough but it never really develops, despite being the longest cut on the disc. The closing tune, “Candy”, goes back to the up-tempo funk groove with several fine tenor sax breaks from Jacques “Saxman” Johnson.

This project is a real deviation from Spady’s prior work. He conveys a strong feel for his mixture of soul and funk topped off with blues. The eleven tracks shows a verve for life and Spady’s passion for the best it has to offer. Give it a chance – this one will grow on you !!

Jukebox Drive reviewed by Mark Thompson

Jukebox Drive
Mitch Woods featuring the Lazy Jumpers
El Toro Records
www.eltororecords.com
12 tracks/47:54

Mitch Woods is a fine piano player and singer who has spent his career focused on rhythm & blues music with a boogie beat. His last project paid homage to the New Orleans R&B tradition., featuring several key musicians including Herb Hardesty on sax and legendary drummer Earl Palmer. His latest release finds him traveling to Barcelona, Spain where he enlists the help of the Lazy Jumpers. The group consists of Mario Cobo on guitar, Ivan Kovacevic on doublebass, Blas Picon on drums, harmonica and backing vocals plus Dani Perez on sax. These guys are the real deal, effortlessly laying down the sounds of a by-gone era with style and spirit.

The title cut is a Woods original that opens the disc in fine fashion with Mitch telling the tale of a cool cat who is adducted by aliens. Mitch wrote half of the tunes on the disc and every one of them sounds just as authentic as the better-known covers that fill out the project. The next cut, Joe Liggins classic, “Drunk”, gives Perez a chance to blow some cool sax licks.

Mitch crafts a mini-tribute to boogie-woogie music with the next three tracks. “Boppin’ the Boogie” is in overdrive right from the start, the Jumpers rocking hard behind Woods’ booming vocal. Cobo contributes a strong guitar solo before Mitch takes over with a piano solo that rocks the house, taking no prisoners !! The band slows the pace down a bit for the late night swing of Louis Jordan’s “Blue Light Boogie”. Woods full, deep voice easily conveys the sensuous nature of the lyrics while Perez lays down another exciting sax solo.
Then it’s full-speed-ahead on “Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man” with Woods and Perez trading several energetic solos.

“Blues Hangover” is another original tune with more hot piano licks from Woods. It’s followed by another romping Woods tune, “Boogie Woogie Bar-B-Q, “ with the band cruising along in high gear and Perez blowin’ a hard-hitting solo on his saxophone.

Woods revisits New Orleans with a rollicking version of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” before turning John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” into an up-tempo piano rave-up over a crisp guitar line from Cobo. “Parchman Farm” provides additional proof that Woods and the Jumpers can excel at the slower tempos, too. The disc closes with the instrumental “Mitch’s Boogie”. Mitch is all over the keyboard, pumping out a series of dazzling sequences over a driving shuffle beat from Picon.

This certainly ranks as one of the finest recordings of Woods career. There isn’t a weak cut on the disc. Woods provides convincing proof throughout the disc that he is a master of the piano. The Lazy Jumpers lay down superb accompaniment that brings depth to each performance. It is hard to think of anything that could have made this stellar recording better than it is. A rousing triumph for Mitch Woods and a reminder that in the right hands, the past can still be a vibrant source of musical pleasure.

Sweet Man is Gone reviewed by Mark Thompson

Sweet Man is Gone
A Maxx Maxwell Mystery
Peggy Ehrhart
Five Star Publishing
www.PeggyEhrhart.com
245 pages

Maxx Maxwell is trying to get her career as a blues singer off the ground. After making changes to her physical appearance, she is trying to put together a smokin’ band to back her up. Her new guitar player, Jimmy Nashville, is a wizard on the strings and no slouch in the looks department. Before Maxx can succumb to his charms, Jimmy is found dead outside his apartment building. Did he jump – or was he pushed ?

Peggy Ehrhart gives readers an in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of the life of a working musician. She is a widely published and award-winning author, particularly in her specialty of medieval literature. A former college professor, Ehrhart also plays blues guitar and has performed live with numerous in the New York/New Jersey area. Those experiences bring a refreshing sense of realism to her descriptions of the day-to-day stresses of maintaining a musical career.

The police think Jimmy jumped. But Maxx doesn’t buy that theory. After all, Jimmy had six beautiful women in his life and their band was really coming together. So Maxwell decides to conduct her own investigation into Jimmy’s death. She starts with Monique, Jimmy’s glamorous girlfriend, and his elderly neighbor. Soon she is trying to track down several dark and menacing characters in the background of Jimmy’s existence.

In her spare time, Max tries to keep the band together while searching for a new guitarist. Her drummer wants to leave the band for a better gig. Her former guitarist, Stan, keeps showing up and begging for another chance. Maxx knows that Stan does not have a feel for the blues but begins to suspect that Stan may have played a part in Jimmy’s demise. And the body count continues to mount.

Ehrhart does a great job “painting the picture” of Maxx’s life – the struggle to make it as a blues singer and simply to survive. Her descriptions of the band’s rehearsal sessions certainly ring true. Ehrhart also accurately captures the give-and-take nature of the negotiations necessary to keep a band together and to secure bookings for live shows with club owners. The book occasionally drags a bit when Ehrhart takes too much space to explain Maxx’s travels around the city in pursuit of Jimmy’s killer. But her description of the climatic final scene created several extremely humorous mental images that were still bouncing around in my head days later.

Ehrhart has crafted a solid whodunit. Sweet Man is Gone is an entertaining read, particularly for a first novel. The mixture of mystery and music should be attractive to a wide range of readers. Hopefully we will get another opportunity to read about the further adventures of Maxx Maxwell.

Live in Chicago reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live in Chicago
Dave Specter
Delmark Records
www.delmark.com
DVD format/87 minutes
Also available on CD

The latest release in Delmark’s on-going series of DVDs that document key musicians on the label’s roster features guitarist Dave Specter and several of his friends backed by a superb band. Brother John Kattke handles the keyboards while drummer Marty Binder and Harlan Terson on bass form a tight rhythm section. Collectively, these veteran musicians have backed some of the biggest names in Chicago blues – including Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks and Junior Wells. The disc captures performances from consecutive evenings last summer at two of the city’s finest blues clubs. The first night was filmed at Rosa’s Blues Lounge followed by a show at Buddy Guy’s Legends.

Specter has spent much of his career blending different musical styles together in an effort to break free from the standard 12-bar blues format. One will hear elements of jazz, soul, funk and even country in the eclectic blend of his original music.

The opening track from Legends is a medley of two Specter tunes, “Boss Funk/Riverside
Ride”. The combination allows the band to quickly settle into a funky groove reminiscent of the Meters or Booker T & the Mgs, two of Specter’s influences. Dave displays his dynamic guitar playing followed by Brother John cuttin’ loose on the keyboards.

There are three other Specter instrumentals on the disc that serve as interludes between the featured guests. “Texas Top” pays homage to the many fine guitar slingers from the Lone Star state. Specter explores his jazz influences on “The Hollywood Park Shuffle” and “Is What It Is”, his tasteful guitar work riding the strong support from the expert rhythm section.

The first featured guest is Tad Robinson, who has recorded with Specter several times. His soulful vocal style and chromatic harmonica playing make his original, “What Love Did To Me’, one of the highlights of the disc. On “How I Got to Memphis”, Robinson’s impassioned vocal convincingly conveys the heartache in Tom T. Hall’s lyrics.

The energy raises up several more notches when Jimmy Johnson takes the stage, stating “I like blues, barbeque and pretty girls!”. He then proceeds to tear through “Out on the Road”, his pleading vocal matching his taut guitar licks. The enthusiastic performance continues on “Feel So Bad”, with Specter and Johnson each contributing strong solos. The sequence finishes with a spirited take on the classic “You Don’t Love Me’, with Brother John getting another chance to display his prodigious ability on keyboards.

Sharon Lewis has a big, brawny voice that provides a stark contrast to Specter’s intricate guitar lines. She storms her way through her original tune ”In Too Deep”, shouting out defiance to an unfaithful lover. She closes the disc with a deeply moving performance of “Angel”, another of her compositions. Lewis did this song at the last Berghoff & Blues Festival. She had scores of people clamoring for a recording of the piece after her set but it had not been recorded yet. The song’s inclusion on this release and the companion cd should make a lot of people happy. It is a testimonial to the redemptive power of faith and serves as a powerful closing for the disc.

Included on the DVD version are three tracks that are not on the cd release. The disc gives you several choices for the audio set-up in a surround sound mode and also features a separate commentary track by Specter that discusses his career, his fellow musicians and some of the history of Chicago blues. The shows were shot with multiple cameras and the finished video product is outstanding !! You’ll think that you have a blues club in your own home.

By bringing together all of these fine musicians for this project, Delmark has created another snapshot in time of some of the great but lesser-known Chicago blues performers. Through it all, Dave Specter sparkles on guitar and provides the leadership that makes this project work so well. Be sure to check this one out !!

Let Life Flow reviewed by Steve Jones

Let Life Flow
Kenny Neal
Blind Pig Records
www.kennyneal.net
www.blindpigrecords.com
11 tracks/50 minutes

After a move to the Bay Area and a recording hiatus, Kenny Neal is back with a new CD of music written and performed as Kenny wanted. After stints with Alligator and Telarc, Neal was excited to get the opportunity to create a more self-directed project and he has created an introspective CD of mixed original and covered songs.

Anyone who has met Kenny Neal knows that he is a genuinely wonderful person and an exceptional artist. In 2004 and 2005, he had four close friends and family members pass away. This new CD, Let Life Flow, is a part of the healing process that Kenny has been going through. Kenny dedicates the CD to his dad Rafus, brother Ronnie, sister Jackie, and past drummer Kennard Johnson. The track “Fly Away” was written for them. He laments on the temporary nature of our existence and sings that “we are only passing through;” yet despite the darkness, Neal also focuses on that “one day will come, we’ve got to fly away to a better place,” recognizing that our existence is just a precursor to something better.

Neal’s blues run hard and deep in this CD, yet the music is obviously a release for him. In the opening title song Neal philosophizes about letting life flow due to it’s unpredictable nature and the fact that we just can’t control what happens. In “Blues, Leave Me Alone” Neal demands that the blues please leave him alone and that ”you oughta go back to your troubling home.” In “You’ve Got to Hurt Before You Heal” Kenny tells us that “That’s the way love works” in losses; “you’ve got to hurt before you heal. After this trio of opening songs, one’s heart goes out to Kenny and what he’s been through.

Neal gets a little more upbeat in tunes like “Louisiana Stew,” “Starlight Diamond” and “Since I Met You Baby,” but the general tone and timber of the other eight tracks are emotions that are deep in the blues.

In the closing song “It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace” Neal sings about all the things we can do in life to cure peoples ills, create technology and solve some problems and yet we can’t make peace. An apt commentary on the world we live in.

In his despair, humility and hope, Kenny is joined by a number of talented folks who add a lot to the CD. His son Kenny Jr. joins him on the majority f tracks with keys, electronic percussion, bass and horn work. Junior was a big part of this production and Kenny gives him credit in the liner notes as he does his does his Mother and the rest of his surviving family. Lucky Peterson appears on three tracks with some great keyboard work. Joe Campbell’s trumpet supports a half dozen tracks with great musicality. But it is Kenny who really brings home the bacon in this CD. His baritone vocals, guitar and harp work are superb.

I think of Kenny Neal as one of the young new generation of bluesmen due to his youthful look and attitude, yet he’s already reached over a half century of birthdays. I guess the youthful, swampy, bluesy artist is forever young in both his and our hearts.

If you are looking for an album of pure, uplifting music then this is not your CD. If you are looking for the display of a variety of emotions ranging from the darkest despair to the shimmer and glimmer of the Phoenix of hope rising from a man who is dealing with his losses and is now moving on, get this album. It is a fine piece of work by a talented man who I am happy to see touring and recording again!

Her Name is Gina reviewed by Steve Jones

Her Name is Gina
Gina Fox
BackBender Records
www.ginafox.com
www.backbenderrecords.com
10 tracks, 45 minutes

It seems like the Garden State has become a hotbed for the blues. No longer is it just the realm of Bruce Springsteen; on any given night we will find the likes of Dave Gross, Gina Sicilia, Dennis Gruenling or Gina Fox playing the blues somewhere between the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love. Many of our readers are familiar with the first three artists as they have played the Rockford area, and some have even done Blues in the Schools programs for us. Gina Fox is the lone artist many of you may have never heard of.

Gina is a great blues singer with beautiful and expressive voice. Born in Newark and raised in Montclair, her family was and is deep into the NY/NJ music scene. Her mother was also a singer and her granddad Ralph Randall sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Gina’s been singing the blues since age 14 and is a member of Dennis Gruenlings’ Jump Time roadhouse blues band.

Gina diverges from her roots in roots music and swings gently and sexily into the world of the crooners with this disc. The CD features six original tracks penned by Gina and four covers. From the opening of the first song, Gina’s “Night Time,” we know this is going to be a venture into the world of loneliness, lost loves, broken dreams and the never ending human hope and desires for fulfillment. Sultry lyrics like “night time is the right time for making love...c’mon darling, don’t leave me alone” evoke emotions we have all felt.

The covers are respectfully done with Gina’s own flair. “Loverman,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “How Long Has This Been Going On,” and “On the Willows” receive more than workmanlike interpretations from Gina and her superb backup musicians. The sax work by Doug Sasfai on “Loverman” is gritty while the duet with Paul Rishell on “You Don’t Know Me” with Gruenlings’ added harp work make sweet music.

The “Feelin’ Me” and “One More Time” tracks provide some get down blues with Dennis’ harp providing support to the songs. Gina growls out the lyrics expressively in both cuts like the great blues singer she is.

Backup work throughout is adeptly provided by a plethora of Jersey Boys who play equally well from gritty, barroom blues all the way up to the big band sound. For those of you who appreciate the Great American Songbook and who have appreciated the blues artists who have dived into that Songbook with gusto, this CD is for you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lowdown Feelin’ reviewed by David Stine

Lowdown Feelin’
The Mannish Boys
Delta Groove Music
www.deltagrooveproductions.com
17 tracks

With 17 songs and 20 musicians, the new Mannish Boys CD is sorta like Jazzfest: if you can’t find something to like, then you don’t like music. The fourth CD from The Mannish Boys is another very enjoyable disc featuring the key players, Kid Ramos, Eli Fletcher, Finis Tasby, Johnny Dyer, Randy Chortoff, Richard Innes, Ronny James Weber, Bobby Jones, Frank Goldwasser, and Tom Leavey. Special “guests” include Junior Watson, Lynwood Slim, Al Blake, Fred Kaplan, Little Sammy Davis, and Fred Scriber. With tons of talent and an ear toward the “less-heard” side of blues songs selection, The Mannish Boys have another “hit” by continuing on a path begun with 2004’s That Represent Man.

The CD kicks of with a guitar/trumpet, near-mariachi intro to “These Kind Of Blues.” But it’s not the Butterfield version most of us are used to: Bobby Jones and band own this one in their own right. Randy Chortoff contributes two songs. The boys cover only two more pretty-well-knowns: “The Same Thing,” and “You Don‘t Love Me.” (I question the wisdom of doing the latter as an instrumental with ALL the vocal talent available here.) Also included are Wolf’s “Chocolate Drop,” two Little Sammy Davis tunes, and two-hands full of lesser known gems like “Figure head,” “Something’s Wrong,” and “Dead Letter Blues.” I won’t take the time to mention or review each cut--17, remember?

It’s hard to pick a favorite cut with a CD this long and with so many great players. For those of you unfamiliar with The Mannish Boys, part of their “shtick” is to stay pretty close to older blues confines--read no songs made unbearable long by 15 minutes of guitar soloing. These guys, for the most part, have other things to do, so their acknowledgement of and adherence to the “old school” is a choice not a gimmick. SO . . .given all that, my favorite cuts are “These Kind Of Blues,“ Searchin’ Blues,“ The Woodchuck” for it’s unique hilarity, “”Figure Head,” “Rude Groove,” and “Something’s Wrong”. Does The Mannish Boys near perfect copping of 50s/60s Chicago blues, you ask, automatically relegate them to incidental background music? Not in the least I say. They satisfy at all levels and give us something that has been missing quite a bit lately--old school (great singers, guitars, harmonicas, piano, bass, drums, occasional horns). Which, to me, is good school.

Today reviewed by David Stine

Today
Mike Zito
Electro Groove Records www.electrogroove-productions.com,
www.mikezito.com
13 tracks

Mike Zito has the tatts, the Strat, and the pained look of an up-and- coming blues star. Although Zito sports “Blues” tattooed on his right hand, there is NO (in my opinion) blues music on this disc. That’s not to say this isn’t a noteworthy freshman outing. It’s just that Zito owes more to the ongoing series of Strat-toting pop songwriters than to Strat-toting Stevie Ray wannabes. Maybe that’s a good thing. Though not blues, the CD sports some interesting material, restrained and tasty solos, and a crack band featuring “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass), Bentmont Tench (keys), and Tony Braunagel (drums) who hold down some pretty solid grooves. Except for “Little Red Corvette,” (yeah, Prince), Zito wrote everything in the CD. His themes run from love (woman, first born son), the sins that await in the city, to the closer, “Time To Go Home,” about the end of a tour and the peace that awaits at home. So, not being a blues album and not really being a pop album, what is this thing? I guess it’s one of those efforts that will have to stand or fall on it’s own genre-less existence. So let the experts at Borders figure out where to place it, I say.

How’s the music, you ask? Zito’s slightly gravelly John Mellencampesque voice might be an acquired taste, and his guitar owes a lot to previous Strat players, but there is something likeable and identifiable about Mike Zito’s songs. He avoids the blues themed my-baby-left-me all-alone clich├ęs for tunes like “Dirty Things” about a woman who so evil, we can only guess at the “dirty things” she does. “Hollywood” is about the vagaries of living in one of the most magical and at the same time sinister cities in America. (Side note: according to the blurb that came with the CD, Zito has a cameo in Spring Break ‘83--blues fans?!?!). “Universe” is a bland-lyriced tribute to Jimi Hendrix, that could also exist beside a Black Crowes CD. Zito‘s lyrics are heartfelt, the band is hot, Zito does a great solo on “Slow It Down,” BUT there is something missing here. I can‘t really put my finger on it. It may simply be the way Zito’s story is sold (a recoveror who made it); the crack band (did he need them the sell some just OK tunes?) or maybe it’s just that he covers “Little Red Corvette”.

Blues fans, move on. Rock fans give a listen.

Mississippi Number One reviewed by David Stine

Mississippi Number One
Eden Brent
Yellow Dog Records
www.yellowdogrecords.com
15 tracks

Eden Brent is a sassy, red-headed, piano playin’ Mississippian, and I found her first outing to be a joy. She has the “come hither” of Maria Muldaur, with a Dina Washington voice, and the piano chops of Diana Krall. Some albums are best late at night and some are afternoon albums. Brent’s is a combination: there’s late night small club here as well as music for an afternoon for mint juleps with friends. As you may guess from the title, there’s a lot of references to Mississippi and the original “blues” highway--number 1. This is also a tribute to Eden’s mother, Carole, who passed away in 2006, and who composed three of the fifteen songs here. Also included Amos Milburns’ “Trouble in Mind,” Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right,” Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,“ and several others not Brent penned. Don’t get the idea that Eden is not a good song writer; nothing could be further from the truth. She’s a clever and crafted songsmith. The songs she covers sound like her own and her ability to move from old-timey, to jazzy, to rockin’, to gospel, to bluesy numbers show the depth of her musical background. (Read the liner notes about her talented family and tutelage under Abie “Boogaloo” Ames.) Brent tackles themes of lost love, new love, lost jobs, sexual desire, life in the Mississippi delta region, and even the joy of fried chicken on this very “southern” sounding CD. The fifteen songs change stylistically from song to song, holding interest and, as I said, showing Brent’s songwriting and playing skills.

Is Brent a virtuoso? Maybe not, but there is a lot here to be enjoyed. This CD holds up well to the close listener and the backgrounder. She’s a talented lady, with a keen insight into the Greenville area and relationships. She comes to a genre overloaded with screaming guitars and dumb lyrics, contributing a refreshing breather from the same old-same old. I look forward to her next.

Hattiesburg Blues reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Hattiesburg Blues
Mississippi Heat
Delmark Records
www.delmark.com
13 tracks

Mississippi Heat's new CD, "Hattiesburg Blues," is another great Blues project from Pierre Lacocque! This collection of songs includes a Latin-Cuban blues influence, including Latin percussion. He has also added a gospel tune and the Chicago Horns to the project. With all of this, Pierre has created a great Blues CD.


Pierre is a very unique harmonica player. I use the term ‘player’ loosely, as he is a harmonica genius. His skills and heartfelt music are just outstanding. Pierre is also the song writer for most of the tunes and is the band leader. He has done an outstanding job with all of his chores. With the influences of Junior Wells and Walter Horton, Pierre has developed his own unique style and sound on the harmonica. His great tone and skill is just a treat to one's musical senses.

Inetta Visor is the lead singer for Mississippi. Simply put, Inetta is one great Blues singer. She always has great emotion in her singing. On the racy tune "Tiger Man", she belts out some super Blues lyrics that are truly heart felt. Ivetta also shows off her song writing ability on "Light From Within". This tune is a drag down love story type song. Inetta has done a great job with this one. Pierre is ever present with his outstanding harp playing. He also helped her write the music for this song.

The title track" Hattiesburg Blues" is a tango-like tune. The Latin influence is very present here. The addition of The Chicago Horns is a real plus on this song. This song is about his love for his Cuban born wife, Vickie, for her side of the family and his Latin God-Children. "Calypso In Blue" is a Latin based instrumental by Pierre Lococque. Pierre"s harp playing really stands out on this one. The addition of Ruben Alverez on Latin percussion is outstanding. Giles Corey’s guitar solos are also featured on "Calypso In Blue". This is another great tune!

Carl Weathersby has played guitar on all of Mississippi Heat's recording since 1998, except for "One Eye Open-Live At Rosa"s Lounge". Carl adds either his great solos or rhythm playing to every track on this CD. On "Hell And Back", Carl does a fine job on the vocals, too. Lurrie Bell joins the group on two tunes with both his vocals and guitar playing. "Chicago Is My Home" is a tune that fits Lurrie’s vocal and guitar style weller. Lurrie puts an edge on his guitar work that just makes it stand out. Pierre adds his high end harp playing to this track also.

I would say that Pierre Lacocque and Mississippi Heat have created anoth great hit with the release of "Hattieburgs Blues". One should by now get the feeling that I really enjoy this cd. That would be the least of it. I really do enjoy it and would recommend that it be added to your collection also.

The Original Eric Noden reviewed by Harmonica Joe

The Original Eric Noden
Eric Noden
Diving Duck Records
www.ericnoden.com
13 tracks

Eric Noden has just released his cd of all original tunes. "The Original Eric Noden" is a great mix of the 20-40's style of acoustic blues. Using the influences of Big Joe Williams, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and Mississsippi JohnHurt (just to name a few), Eric has created a great music project true in their style. In my opinion, he has placed himself in the position to being an equal to them in musical prowess.

Eric's song writing ability has is insightful into his feelings on life. "Weep and Moan" is a minor keyed tune featuring Joe Filisko"s awesome harmonica playing. This tune is a real treat to listen to. Jimmy Sutton's bass playing adds a lot to this tune. "Weep and moan because you lost your happy home" just about sums up this song; it has some really meaningful lyrics. This is one of my favorite songs on the disc.

"Salt Rock Blues" is a tune about the tribulations of living in a cold weather environment. “Got salt in my shoes, salt in the streets and salt on my car" are lyrics that we can all relate to in our Mid-Western Winters. Joe Filisko's harmonic mastery is shown off again on this track and is a great addition.


Eric also has written two harmonica pieces for this project. He is also a very capable harmonica player and he does a fine job on these two tracks. "Turtle Creek" is a fox-chase rhythm tune played on a Auto-Valve harmonica. This harmonica being octave tuned gives the song an awesome sound. It actually sounds as if you are listening to more than one harmonica player. Great tune!


"The Original Eric Noden" project is very enjoyable to listen to. It is a showcase of Eric's musical knowledge, guitar playing, harmonica playing plus his lyrical abilities. His love of the music is very apparent. Eric has included some fine blues artists on this CD; Joe Filisko, Jimmie Sutton and Andy Cohen make this one outstanding recording. Eric is keeping the blues alive for us all with his outstanding efforts.
I have only listened to this CD about twenty times now. It is one that I will keep on playing.


Thanks for a great recording, Eric!

What Love Will Do reviewed by Rich Gordon

What Love Will Do
Janiva Magness
Alligator Records
www.janivamagness.com
www.alligatorrecords.com
13 tracks

When it was announced that Janiva Magness signed with Alligator, I knew good things were coming. She is the winner of the 2006 and 2007 Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Artist of the Year. Over the years, Janiva has been getting better and better. She has been experiencing, and she has been learning. All of this comes through on her new release of thirteen songs that deliver straight to your heart and soul. Take a blues base; add some old school R&B, plus a touch of gospel; simmer and heat, and season to perfection. That’s what this CD is all about. Included in the mix are songs from Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Annie Lennox, Little Milton, Dorothy Moore, Tina Turner, Candi Staton, and Bill Withers along with new material written especially for her. She makes every song her own. Her delivery serves these songs the best. You can tell that this music makes sense to her. It connects with her heart, and she shares those feelings and emotions with you. She’s not afraid to share. She’s not afraid to make that one to one connection with you.
Some of the standouts are “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” “I Want a Love,” “One Heartache Too Late,” and “Sometimes You Got to Gamble.”
“You Sound Pretty Good” is an excellent comment on the music industry for someone who hits the road each year for over 200 shows.
The musicians are tight; the vocals are incredible; the production is right on the money. I have always been partial to women singing the blues and this is the reason why. This CD is not time wasted. It is 48 minutes and 10 seconds packed with songs about the facts of life. It is about being real and being alive.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Essential Magic Slim reviewed by Mark Thompson

The Essential Magic Slim
Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Blind Pig Records
15 tracks/61:28

Magic Slim & the Teardrops have been one of my favorite blues bands for over 25 years. For me, they have always represented everything that I like best about modern electric blues music. Their live performances set a standard that few other bands could live up to as they would settle into a deep groove and stay there all night long.

This collection is taken from the six recordings Magic Slim has done for the Blind Pig label, with every track having been previously released. There is a variety of backing musicians throughout the disc with the primary backing coming from brother Nick Holt on bass, Michael Dotson on second guitar and Allen Kirk on drums. All three men contribute backing vocals.
One listen to this disc will quickly demonstrate that it really doesn't matter who the band is - Slim has his own distinct sound that varies little based on the band members. The driving rhythms and tough vocals that come straight from the West side of Chicago have changed little over the years. On one highlight, "Goin' to Mississippi," Slim starts with the declaration "I'm ain't drunk but I'm drinking," before the band settles into a pile-driving beat with Slim's guitar spitting out wicked licks at every turn.

Other highlights include the a stark emotional performance on "Crazy Woman," a slow blues that brother Nick composed that highlights Slim's deep, booming vocal and a rollicking take on the Jimmy Reed classic "Down in Virginia" that features a vocal duet with the two brothers. The longest cut on the disc is "Please Don't Dog Me," another slower paced song that features plenty of biting guitar from Slim that punctuates this tale of betrayal.

This set contains many prime examples of why this hardworking band is a favorite of blues fans around the world. If you don't have much of Magic Slim in your cd collection, make sure you get a copy of this one. Better yet, buy it and then catch Slim & the Teardrops live while you still can.

Radio Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Radio Blues
Steve Guyger
Severn Records
14 tracks/53:05


Anyone who was at the Dennis Gruenling Tribute to Little Walter show at Big Cities last month got to experience Steve Guyger up close and personal. His tasty harp playing captured that old school sound of the best Chicago blues bands. But the real revelation were his outstanding vocals. Guyger has a deep, gritty tone that can convey every emotion from heartbreak to the ecstasy of love. His latest release serves up further proof that he is a masterful blues performer.

Guyger gets excellent support from a topnotch band that includes Johnny Moeller on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Robb Stupka on drums and Bill Heid on keyboards. These veterans bring plenty of life to the ten Guyger original tunes and the four covers selected for this release. Some of the performances sound so authentic that you will be checking the credits, convinced that the song is some little-known blues gem rescued from obscurity and not a recent Guyger composition. "Blues Won't Let Me Be" is one example of how deep into the tradition this band can get. Guyger wails away on the chromatic harp when he isn't belting out the tale of pain and misery. Equally fine is rhumba tinged beat on "School is Over," which finds Guyger caressing the lyrics with an appropriately subdued vocal. Then he lets out several loud, long blasts on his harp as if to signal just who is in charge.

"Afghan Rumble" is a harp instrumental dedicated to Steve's brother, who did a tour of duty in that Middle East country. Stupka lays down a jaunty beat while Guyger lets loose some train-like harp phrases before he blows tight phrases that dance around the rhythm. The opening track, "Lookie Here," is another song with that tough, classic sound that will never go out of style. It's followed by a track that could be Guyger's own personal tribute to Little Walter, "You're So Fine." Once again, the band cooks away with Moeller getting the chance to show his skill on guitar.

The Rudy Toombs song, " I'M Shakin'," receives an ominous-sounding vocal from Guyger that equals the Blasters version of this classic. Guyger captures the spirit of all of the fine swamp blues on the Excello label on "I Can See By Your Eyes," with Heid on organ to flesh out the arrangement. "Hey Little Baby" employs a hand-jive groove by Stupka, which is the only accompaniment Guyger needs to fashion another impressive mix of his quality singing and fine harp work. When the band finally tackles one of those lesser-known tracks from the pen of Muddy Waters, Guyger goes deep into the lyrics, his voice bending and breaking as he pleads for attention from the object of his affections. That the rest of the disc sounds as tight and in the pocket as this track is proof of the high standards Guyger was able to achieve.

Harmonica fans will be listening to this disc many times over. Guyger definitely has the tone, technique and skill that make him an equal to most of the best harp players you can think of. But if you listen closely, you will also discover Guyger is an awesome blues vocalist, singing with power and conviction throughout this recording. He may not be as well-known as some of his contemporaries. But after you spend some time with Radio Blues, you will be telling your friends and family about the talented Mr. Guyger. This one is highly recommended !!!

Deliveries After Dark reviewed by Mark Thomspon

Deliveries After Dark
Popa Chubby
Blind Pig Records
13 tracks/67:51

The latest one from Popa Chubby is his ninth release for Blind Pig. Popa handles all of the and guitar parts as well as writing twelve of the songs on the disc. He is backed by Chris Reddan on bass, A.J. Pappas on bass and Dave Keyes on various keyboards. The focus throughout is on the leader with Keyes' contributions serving to fill out the arrangements.

The disc starts out in a rock & roll vein on the first four tracks. The opener, "Let the Music Set You Free," sports an engaging guitar line and Popa's intense vocal. His deep, powerful voice displays a surprising range and plenty of spirit. The next track updates the Mustang Sally tradition, recasting the soul anthem into a driving rocker. The title track describes the activities and illegal deals of some of the denizens of the night over a sledgehammer drumbeat. The lone cover finds Chubby turning "The Theme From the Godfather" into a modern-day surf instrumental classic. At this point, the disc makes an abrupt shift in emphasis to the blues. "Grown Man Crying Blues" is a stunning performance with Chubby lamenting about the pool-boy hanging around his house that doesn't have a pool. His guitar matches the emotional weight of his vocal, crying the blues with anger and despair. The intensity level gets dialed down on "You Can't Stop Love," which sports some nice slide guitar work. "2nd Avenue Shuffle" is a guitar showcase with Chubby serving up plenty of proof of his talent as a string-bender.

Then we get a look at the anger that exists in Popa's world. "I'll Piss on Your Grave" serves as a warning to a musical rival. Chubby leaves no doubt as to who will come out on top over a grinding rhythm punctuated by searing guitar lines. The upbeat arrangement on "Money Isn't Everything [It's the Only Thing]" serves as a stark contrast to the cynical message found in the song lyrics. And "You Never Loved Me" promises to exact vengeance without pity or remorse on a former lover. Chubby is able to create a chilling level of realism on this performance as his vocal spews out his hatred. The closing track finds Popa on acoustic guitar, lamenting the price of a musical career on "Oh Rock And Roll You Heartless Bitch."
One track that missed the mark was the reggae dub take on "Woman in My Bed." The track's style is a dramatic departure from the rest of the disc. It is not a bad performance but the cut doesn't have the emotional weight found in the rest of the disc.

Much of Chubby's past work has been a bit too over-the-top for my tastes. His new release finds him much more focused with a strong batch of tunes and solid support from his band. Some listeners might be put off by the aggressive nature of some of the lyrics. But Popa Chubby tells it like it is in his world without any apologies. His tales reflect some of the dark realities of life - and his guitar work serves as a musical counterpoint to emotions laid bare for all to see. Not for the faint-hearted but definitely worth a close listen.

Stronger Every Day reviewed by Mark Thompson

Stronger Every Day
Mike Morgan and The Crawl
Severn Records
tracks/67:34

It's been four years since Mike Morgan's last release on Severn. His latest finds him utilizing a number of musicians and vocalists on a batch of original tunes and one cover, a surprisingly brief version of "Okie Dokie Stomp" that comes to end just as things are heating up. Morgan's guests include Randy McAllister and former bandmate Lee McBee on lead vocals.

The disc opens with a tough, Texas-style groove on "All Night Long" that loses some impact because of Morgan's vocal. His thin voice lacks the heft and range needed to handle a tune like this. The next track, "Where's the Love," features a pleading vocal from McAllister that quickly show that his skills far exceed Morgan's ability. Stefano Intelisano provides some fine accompaniment on the organ.

McAllister's gritty voice is featured on four other tracks that travel down the soulful side of the street. The title track steadily builds the intensity level with Morgan providing an outstanding guitar part. Even better are the performances on "When I Get Back Home," a superb ballad featuring a simmering vocal from McAllister with help from Benita Burns. Morgan has always been a solid guitarist, seldom straying into the land of excess. He may not have awe-inspiring technique or speed but his guitar work gets to the emotional center of most tracks, as he does on this cut.

McBee was around for the classic recordings Morgan made on the defunct Blacktop label. It's great to hear the two of them working together once again. Lee has a higher pitched voice that always seemed to be the perfect fit with Morgan's guitar. Mike certainly sounds inspired on "Sweet Angel," his guitar spitting out hot licks in contrast to McBee's laid-back vocal. "I Cried for My Baby" is nothing special as a song but McBee takes a tougher tone, Morgan once again lays down some sparkling guitar parts and Intelisano's organ work creates a great foundation, creating another highlight performance. "Time" closes the disc with McBee wailing away over a boogie guitar riff from Morgan.

After hearing these two singers, it was hard to get excited about Morgan's vocals on three other tracks. "The Birthday Song" rates as throwaway filler material. The best of the three is "How Much More Time," a lighter tune that is a better fit for Morgan's limited vocal range. If McAllister and McBee had handled all of the vocals, this would have been a stronger package. Still, there is plenty to like here with several standout cuts that are worth repeated listening. Welcome back. Mike Morgan !!

Blood Brothers reviewed by Steve Jones

Blood Brothers
Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King
Alligator Records
www.smokinjoekubek.com
14 tracks

Smokin” Joe Kubek’s nickname becomes more and more apt as time passes. This new CD is a smoking’ set of tunes, with 13 originals and one cover song. Joe and Bnois King have moved to Alligator Records after their highly successful “My Heart’s in Texas” CD and DVD on Blind Pig and have another big hit with “Blood Brothers.”

I have come around to Smokin’ Joe’s and Bnois’ stuff more and more over the years. While I’ve always liked their music, they really have gotten it together over the last two CDs. The new material that Joe and Bnois are penning and playing is super.

The one cover on this CD is an outstanding rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Stop Drinkin’”. Bnois guts out some true grit in his vocals and the guitar licks are seminal stuff. It is so get-down-and-funky with Bnois and Joe trading licks back and forth in this 8+ minute cover. Not guts, no glory and this track has some guts!

The CD opens with “”My Dog’s Still Walkin’”where Bnois laments aging with some witty lyrics and smooth guitar work. “Midlife Crisis, Midnight Flight” is a later track also addressing the continuing theme here.

Two ideas run through this CD’s numbers: getting old and losing love. “Cold Folks Boogie,””That Ring Don’t Mean and Thing and “Don’t Lose Number” are examples of the latter thoughts. In that last track, the second on the CD, Bnois tells his girl to not to lose his number because she might need him someday and he just might be available. Really good, bluesy stuff with some nice slide mixed in here.

Bruce Iglauer helped the boys pen the instrumental track “Freezer Burn.” There is nothing cold in this track and it burns like a freezer at 50 below. Wicked, wicked stuff. They slow it down on the next track so the listener can catch their breath on a tune called “Coleman Avenue.” Joe proves he can mix it up well in both the fast and slow numbers, and Bnois' play and vocals are equally superb.

If you are looking for a new CD to sit down and relax with, this is not for you. Pretty much 10 of the songs get the heart pumping good and, while the other 4 give you a bit of respite, Smokin’ Joe and Bnois are blazing their way to new heights so there is no time to relax. I really enjoyed this CD and think that the guitar lovers out there will, too.

Long Time Coming reviewed by Steve Jones

Long Time Coming
Nappy Brown
Blind Pig Records
www.blindpigrecords.com
12 tracks

Nappy Brown truly still has it. His popularity in the 50’s and 60’s, his resurgence in the 80’s and now again prove his music is still as vital as he is. He was 77 when he recorded this CD last year, and based on seeing him last summer at Mississippi Valley I’d have to say he’s a regular Energizer Bunny. He may be playing, dancing and jiving until he’s well over 100.

This album features Brown doing a number of cool and soulful numbers, including his 1954 classic “Don’t Be Angry.” His tongue still rolls out the L’s as he did 50-plus years ago.
The CD is full of stuff that hearkens back to simpler times. Nappy’s ballads are things of immense beauty. He and the CD both earned nominations for Blues Music Awards.

Every track showcases Mr. Brown’s still exceptional vocals. This is a fine CD that fans of gospel infused blues ballads will enjoy and will be happy to have added it to their collection

Peace, Love and Barbeque reviewed by Steve Jones

Peace, Love and Barbeque
Marcia Ball
Alligator Records
www.marciaball.com
13 tracks

I don’t think that anyone who has ever listened to Marcia Ball has not fallen in love with her and her music at some level. Her musical talents are utterly superb. And if one has the pleasure to see her live, any convincing needed as to her talents gets done just a few bars into her first song. Marcia’s sultry vocals and expressive piano still send chills down my spine when I listen to her. No wonder she has been honored as piano player of the year for the last 3 years at the Blues Music Awards!

This new CD on Alligator is another great set of songs that showcase Ball’s talents. She authored or co-authored 8 of the tracks on the new CD. From the opening measures of “Party Town,” a song about New Orleans, the listener knows they are in for treat. The title track is next on the album, where Marcia pleads to “Give me some peace, love and barbeque.” I can’t think of a more perfect way for life to be. Well, maybe a few beers with all that, but you get my drift.

“Her Tallness,” as her web site describes the lanky and leggy chanteuse, is the epitome of Texas and Louisiana roadhouse dancehall music scene. Whether she is singing of the joys of “Married Life” or riding out the troubles of bad weather in “Ride It Out,” this first studio album release in four years treats us to the joys and pains of life delivered in her expressive musical style.

I love this CD as I do the musician. It is an great set of tunes that adds to the wonderful library of music that this woman has given to the world. If you like your piano music in the red hot, pounding expressive outpouring of East Texas/West Louisiana roadhouse style and your vocals as sultry as can be, then this is a CD for you! No one can compete with Marcia Ball at the peak of her game, and she’s spot-on in this great new release!

Golden Hearts reviewed by David Stine

Golden Hearts
The Juvenators
Circle Records
www.thejuvenators.com
10 tracks

I received two Juvenators CDs to review and I was really torn--one was a studio CD, the other a live recording. After several listens, I decided on the studio CD because it was all original songs.

The Juvenators are four (sometimes augmented by keys and sax: see YouTube and band website) middle-aged guys from southern Mississippi. Virgil Brawley sings and plays guitar, as does Bob “Byrd” Lovell. Bass chores are accomplished by George Vance, who sings backup as well. Guy Wade plays drums. As I said, all the songs on the CD were written by Lovell and Brawley.

The Juvenators are like so many blues bands currently playing clubs, bars, weddings, small festivals: older guys who got together to have some fun and make a little money. What makes the Juvenators stand out is that they write, they play well, and their songs are memorable. Also, they don’t seem to have been affected by the Stevie-Ray- Vaughanizing of a lot of blues. No distortion pedals here; no over-the-top solos that are too long. Somewhere on the web, I read that their influences are “old, black, and mostly dead,” and it shows.

The Juvenators are a solid blues band with fully active libidos: lots of references to girls in see-through clothing, cars with big back seats, and love that “hurts.” Besides the fun tunes like “See Through Dress“ (sic), “Wears Her Clothes, “ Love Me Til It Hurts,” “Huntin‘ For Fun,” and “’53 Buick,” there are a couple of slow blues tunes. “Sho Had A Good Thing,” sung by Lovell, is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers sans the organ. I like Lovell’s voice a lot. Brawley has a tendency to drop the note slightly at the end of his phrases, for effect, I believe, but to the casual listener, it might sound like he’s going a little flat. Lovell plays lead and slide guitar, while Brawley play rhythm. There are no Claptons here, but who cares--they do what they do. Nor are there any Otis Reddings here--but they do what they do. I did think that Guy Wade’s drumming is fairly “heavy handed.” The mix on the “Hearts” has the snare as loud as the vocal and lead guitar. Since Wade’s snare is just as prominent on the live disc, I assume he’s just a really “loud” drummer.

As I said, I found myself singing these songs to myself, and to me, that’s one of the marks of song worthiness--if it keeps coming back. These songs for me were “Sho Had A Good Thing,” “Love Me Til It Hurts,” and the title track, “Golden Hearts.”

You may not ever get a chance to see the Juvenators live, but you can dig them up on YouTube and their website (although I couldn’t make it load the several times I tried). We hear all the time about the future of the blues or the blues of the 20s or 50s or 60s, but these guys are the PRESENT of the blues. The Juvenators are a solid and enjoyable band that you may have never heard of; but you should check out.

West Side Strut reviewed by David Stine

West Side Strut
Eddy Clearwater
Alligator Records
www.alligator.com
12 tracks

Eddy Clearwater’s latest CD starts out strong but runs out of ideas at about its’ mid point. At that point, it starts relying on bass lines from 1998’s Cool Blues Walk and songs based heavily on the refrain. Fans of “The Chief” will probably find enough here for a purchase, but there are more consistent CDs out there--Cool Blues Walk, for one. Ronnie Baker Brooks produced the CD and he appears on guitar and vocal here and there. Dad Lonnie shows up for a “reunion” on a song entitled “Too Old To Get Married.” This song, like others that follow as I mentioned, rely on a clever refrain to carry the day. This is more of a rock n’ roll convention than a blues standard way of doing things; but considering Eddy’s last CD was recorded with Los Straightjackets, Eddy’s rocking version of the blues shouldn’t shock anyone.

It’s all here: the slow songs, the rocking tunes, an acoustic trade off with the younger Brooks, a gospel song, and my favorite: “Hypnotized” which uses an “Egyptian” bass line to underscore Eddy’s spell-casting woman. Bassists will be trying to learn the bass line for fun, I’m guessing. And I must note that the bass work of Carlton Armstrong is first rate and is a joy to listen to. Clearwater and Brooks both add great guitar work. And the senior Brooks and Clearwater play like men 40 years younger on “Too Old To Get Married.”

The CD is not without a bit of social commentary. “Do Unto Others” and the last song, “A Time For Peace” lament our poor treatment of each other and our unfortunate proclivity to always be at war.

Other guests on the CD are Otis Clay and Jimmy Johnson who help out vocally with “Do Unto Others.”

Where West Side Strut doesn’t strut for me are the acoustic “Came Up The Hard Way,” yet another unnecessary “blues credentials” song. Guys, we know who you are--you don’t have to prove you are blues worthy--and “They Call Me The Chief.” This is another song that relies WAY too much on the refrain because there aren’t really any lyrics to help it. “Rock-A-Blues Baby” new here sound like it might have been part of the Duke Robillard-produced Cool Blues Walk sessions. It has that “hey wait a minute--I’ve heard this song before” quality to it.

All in all, West Side Strut is OK. If you are a fan, it’s worth buying; if you are building and Eddy Clearwater library, check you internet music source for reviews of previous Eddy Clearwater CDs.

Born to Be Wilder reviewed by Mark Thompson

Born to be Wilder
Webb Wilder & the Beatniks
Blind Pig Records
15 tracks/56:21

This release comes blasting out of your speakers right from the start with "Tough it Out," a rocker with plenty of sizzling guitar riffs. Wilder handles the lead vocals and guitar. His band features two other guitar players, creating a musical buzzsaw that delivers one stellar performance after another.

Be advised that the lone blues track is a cover of "Baby Please Don't Go," with Wilder describing his in-person encounter with Big Joe Williams, who wrote this classic. The band's rendition owes more to the Amboy Dukes than anything Big Joe ever envisioned. Wilder turns in definitive performances of some of his own tunes, especially "Human Cannonball" and "How Long Can She Last." Both cuts feature Wilder's wacky sense of humor and plenty of rockin' guitar sounds.

On "If You're Looking for a Fool," the band shows it is equally adept at handling a country-styled weeper. The guitars get a workout on the instrumental "Sputnik," that revisits the surf music tradition. Another highlight is a rousing version of Ian Hunter's rocker, "Big Time."

Webb Wilder is not a household name but you will be a converted fan before you reach the end of this disc. Recorded at a club in Alabama, this is one of those shows that make you wish you could have been there. It may not be blues but it certainly is one smoking set - and truly a rockin' good time !!!!

Iron Man reviewed by Mark Thompson

Iron Man
Michael Burks
Alligator Records
http://www.alligator.com/
12 tracks/60:22

For his third Alligator recording, guitarist Michael Burks hit the studio with his road band for the first time. After hundred's of gigs, who better to record with than the musicians who back Burks night after night on stages across the country. It was the right decision as Burks and the band tear through each song with an energy level that has been rarely seen since the days of the late Luther Allison. Band members include Wayne Sharp on piano and organ, Don Garrett on bass and Chuck "Popcorn" Louden on drums.
I got to experience Burks live several times during the January, 2007 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. One afternoon he was playing in the lounge on the upper deck. I can still picture him with his Flying V guitar strapped on, his shirt drenched with sweat that also poured off his face in a steady stream. Burks put his heart and soul into that performance, creating a memorable show that was one of the highlights of the cruise.
That same passion and spirit is present on his latest release. Burks is equally at home with blues, rock or soul. At times he sounds remarkably like one of his main influences, Albert King. On the opening track, "Love Disease," there are moments where Burks vocal makes you think that Albert has risen from the grave and joined Burks in the studio. "Strange Feeling" sports a heavy rock beat and some nasty slide guitar. Then Burks slows the tempo way down and turns in a masterful vocal on "Empty Promises" that simmers in the emotional wake of a love turned cold. that contrasts with his guitar break, which screams out it's anger at the betrayal.

The band lays down a driving funk groove on "Salty Tears," with Sharp kicking the arrangement into high gear with his Hammond organ fills. Burks turns loose his expressive voice once again, the pain and suffering evident in every syllable. "No More Crying" is another track that ventures close to Albert King territory. The band is cooking and Burks fires off plenty of razor-sharp guitar licks.

Another highlight is "Ashes in my Ashtray," a slow blues that burns with the emotional intensity that Burks is able to convey with both his gritty vocal and his fiery guitar playing. "Quiet Little Town" is anything but, as the band rocks this track harder than anything else on the disc. Sharp expertly establishes the proper mood on "Icepick Through My Heart." He squeezes thick chords out of the Hammond organ in support of yet another impassioned vocal from Burks. As good as Michael can sing, his guitar playing overshadows everything else once he cuts loose. I had high expectations for the band's cover of the Free classic "Fire and Water" but this ended up being the only track that disappointed. It never really seems to catch fire like the rest of the disc.

Or maybe I was just worn out by that point. Michael Burks is a high energy performer with plenty to offer. Alligator has managed to recreate the magic that the band creates on stage in the studio environment. It is hard to do but, as this recording clearly shows, that is the best way to enjoy and appreciate the talent of Michael Burks. Don't let this one slip by - it's too good to miss !!!