Monday, December 5, 2011

From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta reviewed by Mark Thompson

From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta
Pascal Bokar Thiam Ed.D.
155 pages
Cognella, division of University Readers, Inc.

The front cover of this book states the author's intent - “How West African Standards of Aesthetics Shaped the Music of the Delta Blues”. It is a noble intent, to cover the history of major African nations, cross-continental trade that facilitated the sharing of many things including music plus 350 years of slave trading that forcibly brought millions of Africans to North America. Bokar Thiam makes the effort but comes up well-short of the mark.

Here are some of the issues with the book:
                    While the book has 155 pages, there is actually less than 50 pages of text including the introduction. The rest of the book is filled with pictures, maps and dead space. Given that the author is attempting to cover a span of history  that covers many centuries, the amount of  space dedicated to the book's topic is woefully inadequate.
                    A number of the maps in the book are slightly out of  focus, making it difficult to read some of them. With all of the printing technology available today, there really is no reason not to have sharp images throughout the book, like the map found on Pg. 25  of the empire of Ghana during the medieval period.
                    Several pictures are used multiple times.  The cover has a small photo of Taj Mahal  playing the banjo.  The same image is on Pg. 16 with a caption identifying  it as Taj Mahal. When the photo appears  again on Pg. 152, it is identified only as an African American playing the banjo. Images of the painting “Old Plantation” depicting slaves making music and dancing are found in close-up on Pg. 76 and in a wider view on Pg. 136. Other photos that appear twice include Basekou Koutate playing the ngoni (Pgs. 15 & 132),  Papa Diabate performing on the kora (Pgs. 15& 102), Mandinka dancing (Pgs. 18 & 69) and a Diola  musician playing the akounting, a stringed instrument (Pgs. 110 & 152).
                     Bokar Thiam writes with a scholarly  tone that can  make it a difficult read for the average person.   There are sentences, like the one to start Pg. 80, that fill an entire paragraph of 7 ½ printed lines. His description of the “swing” rhythm in West African music seems to be written for music majors (Pg. 79).
                    The author repeats certain facts and/or concepts repeatedly throughout the book, sometimes on the same page. Example – Author references the the unclear origins of Blues music in the second paragraph on Pg. 130, then restates the same info in the first line of the next paragraph.

On the plus side,  the numerous photos of instruments, artifacts,  sculptures and cravings help illustrate the authors points regarding different African cultures. His description of the oral tradition of transferring knowledge is interesting, particularly when the author discusses the secrecy involved in protecting the accumulated wisdom. Bokar Thiam states that we still do not fully understand  the theorems the Egyptians used to build the pyramids. He adds “.., one can rest assured that the Greeks and the Romans would have built pyramids twice the size as those found in Egypt” had they  gained access to the mathematics and physics knowledge required.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Included with the book was a recording entitled Savanna Jazz Club, featuring the author on guitar and vocals in a straight-ahead jazz format. The supporting cast includes well-known drummer Donald “Duck” Bailey on several cuts and a rhythm section comprised of four Senegalese percussionists on a set list heavy with standard tunes like “Donna Lee” and “I'll
Remember April”. Bokar has a fleet-fingered style that meshes well with the percussion. Other solo honors go to Dr. Karlton Hester for consistently entertaining saxophone work. The final track, “Road Blues”, is a swinging example that marks the end result of the musical assimilation process that the leader tried to cover in his book.
The author is offering a signed copy his book on his website for $50. Even if his cd is included, the price is too steep for a product that reads more like a expanded outline for a book rather than a thorough, finished product.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Friday, December 2, 2011

No Lie reviewed by Mark Thompson

No Lie
Sanctified Grumblers
17 tracks/54:17

Crossroads members should certainly be well-acquainted with Eric Noden from his frequent trips to Rockford over the years to participate in our Blues in the Schools program as a solo artist or with his musical counterpart, Joe Filisko. This project finds Noden in his familiar roles as lead singer and songwriter for half of the tunes. He also plays guitar and banjo guitar. He shares the spotlight with the multi-instrumentalist Rick Sherry, who plays washboard, harmonica, guitar, banjo guitar, clarinet and kick drum in addition to handling some of the lead vocals and composing five of the songs. The band is filled out with Beau Sample on bass and jug plus Mike Hogg on sousaphone. Additional support comes from Jim Becker on fiddle, saw and mandolin – Tom V. Ray on banjo & ukulele – and Mike Reed on drums.

As you can tell from the list of instruments, the Grumblers play music in the old-time string band style, with Hogg's sousaphone giving a nod to the New Orleans brass band tradition. Up-tempo tracks "Stump Grinder" and "Ramblin, Ramblin, Ramblin" give the group a chance to show that, given a chance, they'd have no problem filling the dance floor. Noden's delicate guitar lines play off the booming sousaphone on "9 Bar" while Sherry and Noden do a vocal duet. The insistent beat and Noden's expressive singing make "Broke & Dead" a standout track. Sherry's mournful harp and Becker's fiddle playing dance around the vocal line to great effect.

The Mississippi Sheiks are one of the Grumblers main influences. They cover a Sheiks tune, "Jailbird Lovesong" with fiddle and banjo featured behind Sherry's lead vocal. "Stain on the World" takes a humorous look at the people who claim to see miraculous images in things like toast or bedsheets. Sherry, the founder of Devil in the Woodpile, is a magnificent washboard player, spinning out dazzling rhythms on cuts like the the instrumental "Push Reel" and on the band's theme song, "EZ Ridin' Grumblers", with Noden once again taking vocal honors. "I Hate You Gin" is well-played the band but it exposes Sherry's vocal limitations. The New Orleans connection is highlighted on "SG Blues" with Sherry's clarinet adding charm to the cut.

Along with groups like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the South Memphis String Band, the Sanctified Grumblers are doing their part to fuel the renaissance of pre-war blues and jug band music. These guys really have a knack for the older styles – and they don't forget to have fun along the way. If you're yearning for a break from the standard electric blues format, No Lie is a fine introduction to a band that will bring a smile to your face and set your feet to tapping.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gospel Blue reviewed by Mark Thompson

Gospel Blue
Brick Fields
10 tracks/48:15

Based out of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Brick Fields is a six member band lead by the husband and wife team of Rachel a & Larry Brick. The group is unique in several ways. First, the nine tunes written by the couple have lyrical content heavily influenced by their Christian faith. Next, Rachel Brick plays flute -an instrument rarely associated with blues - on several tracks. The final defining characteristic of this ensemble is Rachel's magnificent alto voice that is capable of turning anything she sings into a memorable experience.

“On the Vine” opens the disc with Rachel joyfully espousing the value of holding on to the promise from Jesus that love will grow through the hardest times if we keep our faith. Larry, Rachel and Rain Equine combine their voices on a beautiful acappella segment to open “In the Light of Love”. Rachel's flute serves as a counterpoint to her dynamic vocal and Casey Terry accentuates the arrangement with one of his engaging sax solos. Larry's sensitive acoustic guitar accompaniment on “Hopelessly Addicted” serves as a springboard for more of Rachel's earthy vocalization on love in it's many forms.

The rhythm section of Johnny Ray on bass and Caleb Bomar on drums create a funky backbeat on “Talk About the Weather” while Terry delivers another solid tenor sax solo. Rachel can barely control her passion as she sings about the impending final reckoning on “These Are the Days”. The band slows the pace on the ballad, “How Long”, which is not the classic blues tune but an original that finds Rachel interspersing tender moments with emphatic statements that blur the lines between the secular and spiritual realms. Another highlight is “Cryin'” as Rachel pours her heart out over the misery of life with Randy Fairbanks on organ adding depth while Larry plays a short but dramatic guitar solo.

“Go On with the Soul” finds Rachel as she utilizing every facet of her powerful voice as it dips and soars through the gentle gospel ballad. Larry's tasty guitar work and Terry's sax stand out on the up-tempo workout “Lord I'm Coming Home”. The lone cover is the gospel standard “Amazing Grace”. The band uses a bluesier arrangement which surprising falls short of energy and conviction found on the rest of the disc, although Fairbanks on organ adds some sense of church.

Those of you who might be put off by the references to God, Jesus and religious beliefs should know that the lyrics on Gospel Blue are not always overt statements of faith. The songwriting often blurs the separation of the heaven and earth, so that the material can be enjoyed no matter what your beliefs. And once you hear Rachel Brick lift up her voice, it really doesn't matter what she is singing about. Her voice will comfort and soothe you while the band gives her expert support. If you enjoy outstanding singing, you need to check out this recording.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Monday, November 28, 2011

Boom! reviewed by Mark Thompson

Tom Hambridge
Superstar Records
11 tracks/38:00

Tom Hambridge has captured the attention of the blues world through his work on Living Proof, Buddy Guy's last release. Hambridge was the producer, drummer and songwriter for this project that has captured numerous Blues Blast and Blues Music awards, including Song of the Year honors for the title track.

His latest solo recording finds Hambridge enlisting the services of several Nashville-based musicians – guitarist Rob McNelley and keyboard wizard Kevin McKendree from the Delbert McClinton band plus Tommy MacDonald on bass. Their expert assistance allows Hambridge to explore all of his musical interests while maintaining a consistently exciting sound.

“Upside of Lonely” takes a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at the advantages of being single with McNelley's taut guitar licks sparking the basic blues rhythmic pattern. On “Never Gonna Change”, Hambridge sings with authority while guest Mark Jordan pounds the piano and McNelley plays slide guitar with a dirty, nasty tone that makes this track another highlight. Hambridge switches to a lighter country-rock sound on “The Best in Me” before demonstrating his mastery of the current country music sound on “I Got Your Country Right Here”, complete with soaring vocals, raging guitars and references to several of the classic southern rock bands. “I Keep Things” has bright, ringing guitar parts that echo the Tom Petty sound as Hambridge runs through some his important possessions.

The band channels the Rolling Stones sound on “Two Thumbs Up”, a spirited, straight-ahead rocker about a woman with star quality. McNelley once again sets the pace with his outstanding playing as Hambridge's vocal leaves you wondering just what exactly are his intentions. “The Pistol” tells the tale of death, stolen money and a lifetime of looking over the shoulder, waiting for retribution. The full-blown arrangement features an insistent beat from Hambridge and lots of guitars while McKendree on piano fills in any open spaces. Each band member gets to stretch out a bit on the driving instrumental “Bangin' Around”. The reflective “Things I Miss the Most” finds Hambridge yearning for his loved ones back home as he deals with the rigors of life on the road. McKendree's pumping piano propels the ramped-up tempo for “I Had a Real Good Time”, with Hambridge once again showing his skill as a rock-n-roll singer.

Despite his success, Tom Hambridge has no intentions of limiting himself just to blues music. And the world is a better place for that decision as Boom! is an outstanding rock-n-roll recording. Hambridge and friends wrote a engaging batch of songs that his veteran band brings to life in performances that will burrow into consciousness and stay there for days. When was the last time you listen to a recording like that? Highly recommended !!!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Hoodoo Man Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Hoodoo Man Blues
Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band, featuring Buddy Guy
Delmark Records
26 tracks/63:03

The best-selling title in the Delmark Records catalog, Hoodoo Man Blues presents an actual  Chicago blues band recorded in all of its glory without an concerns about commercial potential. The album has long been considered a essential classic of modern electric blues, in no small part due to the presence of two legendary musicians. Among the many accolades it has received is the 2008 induction into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.

Delmark owner Bob Koester let Junior Wells dictate the direction and tone of the sessions. It proved to be a wise decision as Wells dominates with his hard-edged vocals that add a dose of south-side funk to the proceedings. His dynamic harp playing shows that Wells learned plenty when he replaced Little Walter as a member of the Muddy Waters band. Originally billed as “Friendly Chap” on the initial album pressing due to contractual concerns, guitarist Buddy Guy proves he was the ideal partner for Wells. His clean, jangly rhythm lines are an integral part of the band's tough, hardened sound. When Guy's amp failed at the start of the sessions, engineer Stu Black ran Guy's guitar through a Leslie speaker normally used for the Hammond organ. It resulted in an unusual tone that added another unique quality to the album.

The latest version of this classic features the original twelve tracks plus six alternate takes, including three of “Yonder Wall”. There is one unissued cut, “I Ain't Stranded” and seven brief segments of discussion during the recording sessions. The crystal clear sound lets you hear every note, making it clear that the rhythm section of Jack Myers on bass and Billy Warren on drums laid down a solid foundation for their more famous colleagues. The stunning gatefold package designed by Kate Moss at Moonshine Design includes a sixteen page booklet with updated liner notes and eight unpublished photos from the studio, one of which is the lone shot of Guy.

As you listen to this classic, it is hard to believe that it only took seven hours of recording for the band to create classic performances like the three Wells' originals, “Snatch It Back and Hold It”, “Ships on the Ocean” and the brooding slow blues, “In the Wee Wee Hours”. They prove to be equally adept at
at updating classic songs in their modern (for that time) style. Wells adds an extra layer of bravado to “Good Morning Schoolgirl” before the band roars through a lightning-quick rendition of “Hound Dog”.
On the title track, Junior's confident vocal rides over Guy's otherworldly guitar tone while the Kenny Burrell instrumental, “Chitlins Con Carne”, allows Wells to demonstrate his mastery of the harp.

Whether or not you already own a copy, this remastered version offers enough additional material to justify your purchase of the latest edition. Voted a Desert Island disc by Living Blues magazine, you can't go wrong with two blues legends captured in their prime, at the start of a partnership that brought both musicians international acclaim. Hoodoo Man Blues is a defining moment in the blues tradition – no collection should be without it.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Holler and Stomp reviewed by Mark Thompson

Holler and Stomp
The Cash Box Kings
Blind Pig Records
12 tracks/41:01

It is getting harder and harder to find a hardcore blues recording amidst the steady stream of releases that promise blues but deliver rock music with faint blues influences. Thankfully, the Cash Box Kings celebrate their new association with the Blind Pig label by delivering a recording that is full of authentic, Chicago-style electric blues that is sure to excite blues fans around the world. The rotating line-up of the band is anchored by Joe Nosek, Oscar Wilson and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, who keep the music suitably grounded in the blues. The rest of the participating musicians are all highly regarded veterans who bring a wealth of experience to the group.

Check out the driving rhythm on Nosek's original “Fraulein On Paulina”, a musical tribute to sweet-loving woman from the northside of Chicago. Smith sets the pace on drums with help from Jimmy Sutton on bass. Joel Paterson lays down a swinging guitar solo followed by some fine harp from Nosek. The band brings the sound of the Louisiana swamp to the southside as singer Oscar Wilson goes off in search of his woman and some hot links on another original, “That's My Gal”. The easy-rolling groove on “Barnyard Pimp” recalls the Jimmy Reed style and features a call-and-response between Wilson's robust vocal and Nosek's echoing harp lines.

On “Feel Like Going Home”, the band captures the deep blues sound that defined the Muddy Waters legacy, primarily due to Wilson's eerie recreation of Muddy's vocal style while Paterson lays down plenty of nasty slide guitar licks. The buoyant rhythm of the title track frames a strong vocal from Nosek and more of Paterson's stellar slide guitar work. The proceedings shift to country blues on the instrumental “Hayseed Strut”, with Billy Flynn on mandolin and Barrelhouse Chuck on piano getting solo space. Both men regularly perform as members of the Cash Box Kings. Nosek pays tips his hat to a regular visitor to southside Chicago clubs on the closing track, “Tribute to the Black Lone Ranger”. Smith lays down one of his patented shuffle beats while Nosek threatens to blow the reeds out of his harp.

The breadth of the band's musical interests comes to light in their choices of tunes to cover. Wilson's exhilarating singing and Barrelhouse Chuck's Farfisa organ spark a rendition of an early Rolling Stones cut, “Off the Hook”. Sutton's high-pitched voice takes the lead on a rocking version of RaySharpe's “Oh My Baby's Gone”. A remake of Hank Williams “Blues Come Around” retains the country influences while some dazzling piano from Barrelhouse Chuck and a spirited solo from Paterson inject an equal amount of blues feel to the performance. Wilson's earnest singing on Lightnin' Hopkins “Katie Mae” is another memorable highlight.

This is one of those discs that will find a permanent place in your cd player. Even though the musicians change from track to track, the Cash Box Kings maintain a consistently high standard of performance throughout the disc. Equally impressive is their varied approach, expertly mixing various aspects of the blues genre into an outstanding collection. This one deserves your undivided attention – and comes highly recommended !!!
Reviewed by Mark Thompson

AWARE reviewed by Mark Thompson

Trent Romens
New Folk Records
10 tracks

The debut recording from this eighteen year old from the Twin Cities quickly establishes that Trent Romens is a compelling vocalist and songwriter who also is a skillful guitarist. At times, it is hard to believe that Romens has only been playing guitar for seven years, His music displays a maturity typically found in more experienced musicians.

On his covers of two classic songs, Romens shows that he has absorbed plenty of lessons from the blues tradition. His blazing slide guitar work invigorates “Going Down Slow”. He switches to acoustic slide on “Key to the Highway”, his aching vocal capturing the longing in the lyrics.

The rest of the playlist is filled with original tunes. The brief “Material Blues” is a haunting number with strong backing vocals from Cate Fierro and Shalo Lee. The crunching rhythm on “Right Back Where I Started” provides the springboard for more high-energy slide work from the leader.

The rest of the tracks contain some blues influences but are predominately rock tunes.  “With You” features Toby Marshall on the Hammond organ and Allman-esque guitar work from Romens.  The rhythm section of John Wright on bass and Jordan Carlson on drums navigate the shifting tempos on “Stimulate Me” while Romens some arena-rock guitar licks. The gentle, lilting rhythm on “Hey Now” closes the disc with Romens contemplating the future of mankind.

There are plenty of hotshot guitar players out there looking to break out to wider audience. Trent Romens provides some evidence that he may possess talent and skill that could lift him above the crowd. It will be interesting to see how his career develops as he straddles that spot where rock and blues music intersect. In the mean time, there is enough blues content on this release to warrant a visit to Romens website to give his material a listen.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Real Good Friend reviewed by Steve Jones

Real Good Friend
D’Mar & Gill
Airtight Productions
10 tracks

D’Mar & Gill are two accomplished musicians who got together and to tour and put this CD out and I am a little intrigued by it.  Chris Gill is a slide guitar wizard and D’Mar is a big-time percussionist.  They don’t have their own web site but I stole this info from their Facebook page: “Derrick D'MAR Martin has toured as the lead drummer for Little Richard for the past sixteen years. D'MAR pairs his energy and magnetism with bluesman Chris Gill. Gill gained knowledge of the blues firsthand from Bentonia legend Jack Owen, with whom he spent days on the porch pickin' and nights soakin up the blues at the Subway in Jackson, Mississippi. Both performers are accomplished solo artists in their own right and bring the wealth of their experiences two this musical partnership made in heaven. The skill and energy of D'MAR mixes with a greasy slide from Gill for songs that come straight from the soul of their home -- Mississippi.”  They also competed as a duo in the 2011 IBC this past January.

Okay, so now we all know who they are, but what is this record all about?  It’s an acoustic/resonator steel guitar player and singer who is deeply based in the blues who is accompanied by a percussionist who offers up a variety of styles and instruments that go back to even traditional African sounds.  Frankly, the highest points of the recordings for me were the percussion work by D’Mar. It is gripping and quite interesting.  Chris Gill is a more than adequate guitar player and vocalist, but the beating of the skins is unique and quite cool, and D’Mar also sings backing vocals.  The overall sound is not what you’d expect of a Delta based acoustic duo due to D’Mar’s congas and other somewhat extraordinary drums (at least in this setting). 

The duo offer up nine original cuts and one cover, Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”.  It is a bit disconcerting at first to hear the congas doing the lead in for this familiar song, but once you get over that it was kind of interesting.  The original cuts are ok.  I think they are set up well to show their talents on guitar and percussion.  They aren’t anything really new and completely different, but they are good.  The vocals throughout are also good but sometimes left me wanting a bit more.  Gill’s guitar work is excellent, but it’s the drums that keep you listening.  I can’t say I have ever said that about any blues song let alone a complete album of them.

If you are an acoustic blues fan who likes to hear a new twist on things, this may be the CD for you.  For damn sure this CD is different; these two guys are talented.  It’s worth a listen if acoustic blues and traditional African percussion are your thing.

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Monday, November 21, 2011

Send Me No Flowers reviewed by Rick Davis

Send Me No Flowers
Connie Lush
Wolf Records
11 Tracks

Connie Lush is one of the finest blues singers to come out of the United Kingdom in recent years. Voted Best UK Female Vocalist by the readers of Blues in Britain five different years places her in an elite group of blues artists. In France, she won European Singer of the Year beating all the of the competition in the French Blues Trophies awards for 2002. Connie has one of the most incredible blues voices you will ever hear. Her powerful vocals are the UK's answer to a combination of Etta James and Tina Turner.

 Her new CD Send Me No Flowers is also a testimony to her talent as both a singer and songwriter. She wrote or co-wrote six of the eleven cuts on the CD. Joining Connie on her latest studio album are Terry Harris on bass, Peter Wade on guitar, Nick Skorecki on Keys, and Mikhael Weizman on drums. The album opens with a slow Doc Pomus tune "Lonely Avenue" featuring superb slide guitar solos by Peter Wade backing the explosive vocals of Lush. Her powerful vocals and Wade's slide guitar continue with a song written by Connie "Morning Blues." She continues with another one of her tunes "Crying Won't Help You" this time with a soulful, sultry voice demonstrating the versatility of  her repertoire. Her third self-penned song, the title track "Send Me No Flowers," really rocks! "Take The Stars" written by both Wade and Lush is a slow acoustic tune with features guitar solos also showcasing Nick Skorecki on the keyboard. The CD continues with a rockin' gospel "Jesus On The Mainline" and moves to the deep soulful blues tune "I Could Have Had Religion." This powerful blues band would outperform the competition on the Lush/Harris tune "Queen." They follow up with another slow, deeply soulful Mize/Allen tune "(You Keep Me) Hangin On." The next tune is a traditional almost New Orleans style gospel tune "Nobody's Fault." This collection of superb music concludes with a mysterious, haunting tune written by Lush and Skorecki "Yeh Yeh I Know You."

I found Connie Lush & The Bluesshouter highly entertaining on their CD Send Me No Flowers. Here is one for your blues collection. We could only hope for a blues festival performance here in the United States.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Live In England reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Live In England
Hamilton Loomis
Ham-Bone Records
14 tracks/72:48

“Live In England” was recorded at Famous Monday Blues in Oxford, England and Liverpool Marina in Liverpool. This whole recording is the real deal without overdubs allowed anywhere. Maybe this is how all music should be recorded.

If you are not familiar with Hamilton Loomis, this recording will give you insight to who he is and what he is all about. Loomis is a multi-instrument player, including guitar, bass, keyboards and harmonica. Besides all of this he is a charismatic, intense, animated blues singer as well as a fine song writer. This man is just one plateful of blues.

Hamilton had a great mentor in BoDiddley. At the age of 16 he was given the chance to show his stuff to BoDiddley. He must have done this well as this relationship turned into a longtime friendship as well as having a musical mentor. This shaped the direction that his music was going to follow. Other influences for him include BB King, Joe “Guitar” Hughs, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Albert Collins and Johnny “Clyde’ Copeland. You can go to for more information.
Joining Hamilton on stage is the very talented Stratton Doyle playing his powerful style of saxophone, keyboards and adding vocals. Bringing on the bass line is Kent Beatly, who also adds some great bass solos to the mix. The steady-ready drummer on the recording is Jamie Little who also adds vocals. Along with HL this band is one tight, talented music machine.

After a short introduction, “Live In England” opens with a really outstanding instrumental piece. “Pull Strings” is almost five minutes featuring the musical talents of these powerful band members. This selection is bluesy, funky, jazzy and just plain good to listen to. Stratton Doyle, on sax, walks us into the music world of the Hamilton Loomis Band with his outstanding solo. Doyle is one of my favorite sax players to see perform on stage. This sax solo sets the stage for Hamilton to show us where his guitar skills are coming from. The mix of these two playing back and forth is very entertaining. While on this track, the drum beat from Jamie Little is very present as well as Kent Beatly’s bass line is holding everything together. This tune is a great way to start out a blues CD.
“Bo Diddley” opens with the all familiar Bo Diddley beat. Hamilton plays his Diddley style guitar on this tune and lets us know that he paid attention to his mentor and friend. His vocals are well phrased with the music and have that real a blues quality to them. Stratten Doyle jumps into the mix adding some of his keyboard talent to the tune. This track is a real hit for me!

“Workin’ Real Hard” is the tale of the guitar man playing his music. He is just “workin’ real hard, doing nothin’ at all” and “playing music all night, having a ball”. This is the blues guitar man’s life. Hamilton gives us a full blown sample of his guitar skill on this tune while pumping the audience to join in with him. This song is another keeper from HL.
“Live From England” is one fine example of Hamilton Loomis’ vast talent and love of the blues. He comes to entertain the fans every time that he is on stage. Putting this all together with the powerful band joining him makes Hamilton Loomis “Live From England” a real listening pleasure to me.
 “Ain’t Just Temporary” Hamilton Loomis “Blind Pig Records” -  11 Tracks 49Minutes 18 Seconds

While talking about Hamilton Loomis, I want to take time to mention another of his fine recordings.  “Ain’t Just Temporary” was released by Blind Pig Records in 2007.  Hamilton Loomis showcases his many talents on this one also. Most of the tunes on this CD were written or co-written by Hamilton Loomis. Almost all of the music is performed by HL. This includes guitar, harmonica, bass, keyboards, organ, drums as well as the vocals.  This man is very multi-talented.

“Ain’t Just Temporary” opens with “Best Worst Day” a tale of a relationship that is just not right. The lyrics, “she takes everything that I’ve got, I can’t stand it but I can’t stop”, “she makes me crazy, it hurts my mind but it feels so good that I just keep coming back” still after all this, “it is the best worst day of my life” tells us a real blues story. Loomis gives us insight into his song writing ability here. The song starts with Trevor Root on drums walking us into Hamilton’s guitar lead right into the vocals. Besides HL”s guitar, keyboards, bass and vocals we are presented really saxophone playing from Vince Palumbo.  This is a good tune for me.

“You Got To Wait” features Bo Diddley on guitar and vocals with Loomis. This is quite fitting to have his mentor and friend record this tune with him. This song features some great lyrics about taking your time will make it better. I assume that this relates to playing the music. You can take the lyrics where you want. Hamilton plays some awesome slow blues on this tune. The interaction between the two players here is very interesting. This is what the blues are about.

“Ain’t Just Temporary” is a blues project well done that does the many talents of Hamilton Loomis justice. I really like and will listen to this CD more than a few times

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

That’s Why I Don’t Sing The Blues reviewed by Steve Jones

That’s Why I Don’t Sing The Blues
Bobby Messano
Prince Frog Records
10 tracks

I met Bobby via our Crossroads’ Facebook page. After chatting for a while, he sent me a copy of his CD to listen to and review. I must admit that I along with other members of Crossroads get a lot of solicitations to listen to and review CDs; I work so as not to be skeptical and keep an open mind in all cases. So when this album arrived in the mail I popped it in my stereo and was pleased to have been very impressed from start to finish. This is one heck of a rocking blues CD!

Messano had a hand in all but one song, the other being a Jimmy Hendrix cover. The songs are not overstated, they are balanced and well-arranged. Messano’s vocals and guitar are spot on. Steve Geller provides support on bass, Joey B Banks is on drums and none other than our own local boy Jimmy Voegeli is on a variety of keyboards along with the Jimmy’s trio The Amateur Horns (Pete Ross on alto sax, Chad Whittinghill on trumpet and Bryan Husk on tenor and bass sax).

Messano blends blues and rock into a well-presented fusion of sounds. Opening up with a couple of more traditionally blues songs in “More Than Meets the Eye” and the title cut and then slipping into a more rocking mode for few cuts feels comfortable. But then he falls completely back into the blues with the “Gypsy Eyes” Hendrix cover using a beautiful acoustic slide- a touch of genius! He then blisters through a rocking cut entitled San Antone, gives us grooving some slow blues in “My Life in Bags”, and then switches through in a boogying country blues with “Nickels and Dimes”. He finishes up the CD with a very interesting cut called “Pride of the Cockney Rebels”. When I saw the title I expected a grandiose take on rocking blues like the Who, Moody Blues or even Emerson Lake and Palmer. I was pleasantly surprised with a really nice mid-tempo rocking blues with hot guitar and B3 interplay by Messano and Voegeli.

I was really impressed by this CD- Bobby has laid down 9 super original tracks and an inspired cover. He surrounded himself with some great musicians and has produced an exceptional CD- I really recommend this one!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wisdom reviewed by Steve Jones

Susan Angeletti
7 tracks

It seems more and more that the albums we get to review are a stretch from what we’d call traditional blues and in some cases not even blues at all.  This album falls in that latter category.  It’s really a rock album, but it’s one helluva rock album.  Angeletti’s vocal wail and scream in a stylistic manner similar to the stratospheric offerings of Heart’s Ann Wilson.  Bruce J. Korona’s guitar is wickedly rocking in the manner of many of the 80’s rockers but adds his own original twists.  They are both talented individuals and their sound is very big and very tight.

“Eye to Eye” verges on blues but really is more aptly classified a rock ballad.  The title cut is rock that has a bluesy tinge, but again it’s very cool rocker. “Got To Have You Baby” has some call and response, but in a rocking setting.  “Rock Me Right” (another nice song written by Tom Hambridge) opens with a blistering rocking beat and atmospheric vocals which continue into “Hypnotized”.  “Knock On My Door” goes more in a Journey/Heart does rockabilly direction, but it’s cool with a bit of a blues rocking boogie beat.  “Myrtle Beach” is a mid tempo rocker that Angeletti also handles well. Angeletti wrote or co-wrote the rest with Korona and delivered a nice set of rocking tunes.

There are a lot of contributors on this CD adding to the big, rocking sound.  Ted Wert’s keyboards added some nice depth and sound to the album and the two “Polish Pauls” (Dawicki and Dabrowski) are super in their rocking back line support.  Produced by Jim Fogarty (who also appears on piano, acoustic guitar and backing vocals), the CD has a nice balance and mix.  The only complaint is that it is just 7 songs covering a meager half hour.  It is a wild half hour ride as Angeletti delivers her blistering vocals with an equally burning guitar and supporting cast.  Hot, rocking stuff for fans of that genre!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Tales from Lenny's Diner reviewed by Rick Davis

Tales from Lenny's Diner
Sabrina Weeks & Swing Cat Bounce
Self released
11 Tracks

If you haven't heard Sabrina Weeks & Swing Cat Bounce prepare yourself for the most dynamic west coast swing blues band of the year and a blues voice that will capture your soul! Sabrina is on of those gifted blues singers that could successfully handle any tune written. She has been performing professionally over 20 years. At live performances, Sabrina is a natural entertainer captivating her audiences with her stage presence. She has shared the stage with such performers as Colin James, Powder Blues, and Steppenwolf. Their debut CD Tales from Lenny’s Diner reached #1 (#12 overall) on the Roots Music Report Blues Music charts. "Top of the Charts" report rated the CD in the top 100 new releases in 2010/2011. The CD is currently receiving airplay throughout the world. The rest of the stellar musicians on this album are Mike Hilliard (lead guitar), Ed Hilliard (drums), Ken Sell (bass), and Bill White (rhythm guitar). These artists are all very well known both locally and nationally, and have at least 30 years each of musical experience. Additional artists include, Dave Webb (keyboard), Linda Kidder (BG vox), Vince Mai (trumpet), and Jerry Cook (saxes).

From the opening track, "Boogie Downtown" to the closing notes of the last track, "Independent Woman", Tales From Lenny's Diner delivers some of highest caliber tunes that I have heard for a long time especially for a debut album. The production of the CD was handled quite well , by Jack Lavin, of the Powder Blues Band and recorded at the Crying Light Studios in Vancouver. "Boogie Downtown" and "Fingers In My Pocket" deliver a high-spirited, commanding set of swing numbers guaranteed to keep your feet moving in every direction. "Something's Got a Hold On Me," an Etta James tune, opens with a great gospel sound, sliding smoothly into a rollicking tempo. "Thinking Of You" features some of the best guitar solos on the CD, combined with Sabina's irresistible, alluring vocals. Sabrina & Swing Cat Bounce will send a shock wave through you as they open with "Bad Boys" showcasing this powerful swing blues band. Sabrina slows it down with sultry, steamy, vocals captivating you with "Detour" along with a torrid sax solo and background vocals. The band delivers a stormy big band blues sound on "Ain't My Time To Sing the Blues." Sabrina returns with seductive vocals on "All That Love." She captures the female audience belting out tunes "Wrath of Mom" and "Spend a Little Time" completing the album with the female anthem "Independent Woman."

I think you will agree that this swinging boogie blues band stands out as one of the best in the blues world today. It is easy to see why Sabrina & Swing Cat Bounce is receiving the national recognition after listening to Tales From Lenny's Diner.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If I Don't Got You reviewed by Steve Jones

If I Don’t Got You
Matthew Curry
Self Released
9 tracks

Every time a new teenage act comes around with any sort of talent, the blues world seems to get all agog.  Few of them really inspire me to spend more than a passing moment listening to them, or if they achieve their potential they transition over into the rock scene and forget the blues that made them famous.  In this case I think we really have something different.  Matthew Curry transcends the hype and performs, sings, and writes extraordinarily well.  He and his team produce music like highly talented and seasoned professionals.  To use a perhaps over-used expression, I really think he IS the real deal.

What I like about Matthew Curry is pretty much everything he does; a mere 16 years old yet he has great “feeling” to his work.  He does not overstate his case.  The guitar notes have air and space between them, even when he goes out on the big, solo riff.  The vocals are gritty yet tight and precise.  He has soul and really feels the blues.  And added to all of that are the arrangements; they include a brassy horn section and keyboard that add depth and richness to the overall sound.  Seven great originals followed by two stunning covers make up this CD.

The CD opens with the title track, a rocking song with a funky and soulful sound.  Curry shows us he can sing, play and arrange great songs right off the bat and sets the stage for an exceptional introduction to his music.  The horn section adds a lot to this track, making it sound even better but not over the top.  Curry next moves into “New York City Blues”, where he trades some licks with the keyboard and delivers some extremely awesome guitar solos while delivering very nice vocals.  “Storm’s a Brewin” is a hot instrumental track where Curry channels a little of the Allman Brothers’ Dickey Betts sound (or maybe even some classic Marshall Tucker Band-styled licks), but he is original and creative; this is not a “copy cat” sort of track.  He is showing us what he does best- write and play awesome songs built on a theme and then takes them in his own original direction.  He gives us some big riffs and licks but (as I stated before) they are not overdone.  The restraint and artistry comes into play and we see talent that truly belies his age.

“Walk Out The Door” is next up, and Curry again treats us to some atmospheric stuff yet remain bound in the blues and not in some mega-rock sort of mode.  The organ here plays a nice counterpoint to Curry’s guitar and the song just rocks from beginning to end.  Matthews’ vocals are also tight- he sells the lyrics with his great intonation and fire in his voice.  On “Hear The Highway” Curry takes us on another fiery ride, where he tells us the story how he wants to hit the road and bring his blues to the world, and I believe him.  This kid is committed to his craft and his roots in the blues sound deep and firm.  The guitar here is driving and flaming hot.  The tone and timber slow way down on the next cut, “Blinded By The Darkness”.  This is the longest track on the CD by far at over seven minutes.  What is cool is that the song does not drag- Matthew delivers slow blues to us in a manner that makes you just sway back and forth to and ask for more.  The horns play a big part again, adding their charm and depth once again.  The tenor sax solo is poignant, and the organ solo is also super.  Doug Daniels provides support is on sax just for this tracks and he is just great.  Curry’s vocals and guitar are truly “real”, too.  Slow blues done wrong can be just awful; here we have slow blues done right, with a great mix of musicians who support each other quite well.

The last original cut is the song “Dancing To The Blues”, with a driving beat and wickedly hot guitar solos.  The first seven cuts were all originals and are exceptionally good.  The last two songs are covers and they also amazed me.  Curry delivers a spectacular take on Charlie Patton’s “High Water Everywhere”, giving it a New Orleans sort of sound with slide guitar that immediately made me think of Sonny Landreth.  The almost demonic drum and bass lines are in the style of Landreth’s “Congo Square” and the slide work is just impeccable and impressive.  Curry amazed me even more here with this creative cover than on his original cuts with his unique approach to Patton’s song.  The last track is a more straight-up cover of Warren Hayne’s “Soulshine”.  It is done in more of an Allman Brothers/Government Mule style, but Curry gets creative with the horn section adding a great dimension to the cut.  Curry sells the vocal solos with a strong showing and his guitar work emulates the style of Haynes, but his delivery is in a slightly more up tempo mode than the original, which gives us Curry’s unique spin on this while paying homage to the original at the same time.

Curry’s band “The Fury” are exemplary.  Randy Hoffman on guitar, Greg Neville on drums and back-up vocals and Jeff Paxton on bass and back-up vocals are superb support for this young star-to-be.  They are flawless in their work with Curry.  Erik Nelson on keyboard and organ is also outstanding.  I noted Doug Daniels’ support on sax on the one track above, but Jim Kozak plays the sax on the rest of the CD and he is no slouch, either.  Mark Babbitt on trombone, and Greg Hensel and Charlie Mueller on trumpet really add to this body of work, and backing vocals by Karyl Carlson, Nel Erikson and Robin Willis all make for a great sound.  Nelson and Carlson also serve as the CD’s co-producers and, as I’ve noted, do a stellar job making the sound and blend of musicians seamless and full bodied- well done!

I usually try to give constructive criticism when I hear new artists.  In this case I am somewhat speechless.  All I can say and hope is that Matthew Curry stays true to himself and his blues back ground.  He is real, he is good, and he is not some Stevie Ray Vaughn wanna-be.  I thoroughly enjoyed this album and I highly recommend it! I can’t wait to see this great young artist live!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Monday, September 19, 2011

To Behold reviewed by Steve Jones

To Behold
Monkey Junk
Stony Plain Records
10 tracks/43 minutes

What would happen if you took the smooth funkiness of John Nemeth and mixed it with the raw, primal energy and sounds of Lightning Malcolm and Cedric Burnside?  Why, you would, of course, get Monkey Junk.
Three guys from Ottawa, the home of the Senators and a traditionally rabid hockey town.  They came together in 2008, produced a first CD in 2009 and now this new one from June 2011.  Monkey Junk is Steve Marriner (vocals, harmonica, keyboards, guitar), Tony D (lead guitar),  and Matt Sobb (drums).  Monkey Junk is hot. Screaming hot.  White hot.  I love these guys and the sound they have.  I am so glad to have finally discovered them and I want to hear more.

The CD opens to a driving beat that perhaps hearkens even as far back as to prehistoric times.  Driving, throbbing drum beats, big guitar sounds, scorching harp and poignant vocals; "Mother's Crying" grabs your lapels and says "Dammit- listen to me!" and you just have to, over and over again.  It is a call to arms and just great stuff.  They change up the tempo with Hank William's "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)", and, while slower, the swamp gets thicker and grabs you some more until you just can't get out.  And where else have you ever heard the word "peaved" used well in a song if at all?  Seminal stuff.  I love this song and it's tribal thumping, exceptional vocals and lyrics, hot guitar and harp; as Keith Jackson used to say, "Whoa, Nellie!"

Did I mention there is no bass player?  A little baritone guitar is thrown into the mix, giving a deep resonant sound to back things up, but like Hounddog Taylor no bass is needed.
Track 3 is funkier, darker, some what brooding, and just impressive.  "Right Now" is one of nine originals here. "Let Her Down" follows and if the last song was brooding then this one is downright depressing, yet one just gets caught up in  the emotion.  The feelings these guys express in their music are superb and sublime. In "With These Hands" they stay in the swamp but take things up into the world of the living.  A love song, done in a style that really reminded me of John Nemeth.  Classy vocals, packaged nicely and professionally with the band's outstanding backing work.  

"You Don't Know" is big, driving and rocking blues.  It builds and builds into a finale of cajun hot stuff. Then comes "While You Are Mine", a swampy ballad served up like it should come with cornbread on the side. They give us "Running In The Rain" next, another driving, throbbing tune.  It's sort of a mix of country, blues and maybe even a little Gospel sound served up with Spanish Moss dangling down the sides. "All About You" is a gritty, slow cut showing the band's "tender" side.  As if Marriner's vocals were not enough, the guitar and organ sell this one big time.  They finish up with "The Marrinator"; it begins as a stripped down, acoustic piece with raw harp, then it goes over to the electric side for a rousing run to the finish line.

I'm sold- these young guys are great. I want to see and hear them play live.  You do, too.  Trust me on this.  They are a great band who will be taking the blues world by storm!  Kudos to Stony Plain for promoting this great band and their hot blues sound!!!