Monday, May 23, 2011

Five Horses, Four Men reviewed by Steve Jones

Five Horses, Four Men
Jeff Turmes
Fat Head Records
13 tracks

Jeff Turmes has a strong foundation in roots and blues music. This CD perhaps leans more toward the folk side of roots music, but there are some straight up blues songs here. The good news is that there are 13 original tracks and every one of them is well crafted and performed in an even better manner. Musically speaking, this is a solid set, but don’t expect every track to be heavily into the blues.
No less than 18 musicians join Jeff in this endeavor. Jeff plays guitars, banjo, some acoustic bass, a little bariitnoe sax, and the bass clarinet and dumpster (yes, a dumpster for percussion) each on a track. He is a multi-talented musician who sings on all but the final instrumental track. Jeff Turmes has been a superb sideman and songwriter for many a year. He toured in his early days with James Harmon and Gary Primich. He is married to Janiva Magness (who records his compositions but the two tour separately to keep their marriage healthy). Magness does backing vocals on “Honey Man”, a slow and wailing number with a neat snare drum giving the tune a downbeat marching rhythm. He backing vocals wail in an almost funeral-like manner as Turmes delivers the lyrical message to the honey man where he wants to buy some honeycomb so he can draw his baby home.
Since 2007 he’s toured with Mavis Staples, playing slide guitar and bass. Her 2008 CD “Hope at the Hideout” was a 2010 Grammy nominee, where Turmes was joined by longtime friends Rick Holmstrom and Stephen Hodges to play on this acclaimed set. He’s been a sideman for Tom Waits (on the Tonight Show), Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ronny Earl, Billy Boy Arnold, Robert Gordon, Duke Robillard, James Cotton, Jody Williams, Canned Heat, Pinetop Perkins, Koko Taylor, James Gadson, Mike Finnigan and recorded with Richard Thompson, R.L. Burnside, Gatemouth Brown, Peter Case, Norah Jones, Eleni Mandell and Jake La Botz. Check out his web site for the discography of discs and songs he’s written for others- amazing!
Turmes bio calls this CD, “less ironic, more contemplative but no less intense” than previous ones. I would have to agree; the songs are not so ironic but they all make you think/listen closely. The CD opens with electric blues on “Something Must Happen” with Hodges and Holmstrom on drums and guitar. The songs’ got a great groove with a little dirtied up and minimalistic guitar solo. Nicely done. “Give Satan a Chance” is roots and blues all rolled up together. “Weeds Like Us” is a folksy acoustic blues with an interesting cello solo and backing added by Tania Magidini. “Hew to the Roadside” is a little more acoustic blues with Turmes picking out a mean lead and blowing bass clarinet and baritone sax. “Jack-A-Hammer” alludes towards the blues in an almost James Taylor “Steamroller” manner, but it’s dirtier and a lot more rootsy with a heavy percussive beat. “God Came Down from Heaven” approaches blues on some levels. There is a haunting accordion backing Turmes done by Stephen “Doc” Patti making this track especially cool. More dirty percussion is offered up on “When My Baby Wakes Up”, with Turmes baritone sax blurting out a deep backing beat in this bouncing cut.
The rest of the tracks are mostly folk and country. That’s not an accusation, just a point of fact- they are all well crafted cuts. From the title track to the final instrumental “Iron City” we get a very folk-oriented set of roots tunes to accompany those that are bluesy. “Don’t the Moon Look Real” is a jazzy country song with a deep, twangy guitar style that will impress.
Turmes is a talented musician and song writer. The lyrics grip the listener and make one want to hear his stories. His vocals are clean and even maybe a little subdued, leaning perhaps towards more of a folk styled delivery than a blues sound, but never the less delivered with a cool style . I was very impressed with this CD. While the blues purist may shy away, music fans will love the diversity of sounds and instruments and the melding of instruments in this 13 song album. It’s a well done CD delivered by a man with a keen musical sense.

Reviewed by Steve Jones

That’s What I’m Talkin' About reviewed by Mark Thompson

That’s What I’m Talkin' About
Bill Edwards
10 tracks/38:39

On his debut recording, Bill Edwards gets the opportunity to showcase his fine singing voice as well as his abilities as a songwriter. In the liner notes, Edwards thanks the late James Brown and Tower of Power for their life-changing music. While he doesn’t get as funky as the legendary Brown, Edwards comes up with an exciting mix of blues, r&b and soul.

“Twelve Step Program” is an Edwards’ original that finds him pleading for help to escape a bad love affair. Another stellar tune is “Powered by Patron”, with Edwards describing how a few drinks causes a transformation from wallflower to ladies man. The horn-driven track is stronger because Edwards ignores the humorous aspects of the subject in favor of a straightforward description of the liquor’s benefits. The proceedings take a darker turn on “Oh No No” with Donald Benjamin sharing writing credit with Edwards and providing most of the instrumental backing, including slide guitar. Edwards describes a failing relationship while Corrin Huddleston lies down some fine down-home harmonica licks.

Edwards hits the mark again on “Your Presence is Requested”, his voice soaring over the horns and  Nick Moroch’s taut guitar playing.  On “Love Oughta Come With Instructions”, the leader delivers a strong performance that typifies blue-eyed soul.
His cover of Denise LaSalle’s “Steppin’ Out” takes a harder edge as Edwards declares his freedom from a cheating woman before he trades vocals with Eve Soto on the closing passage.  Soto and Vaneese Thomas provide the backing vocals on “Be Careful What You Wish For” in support of another intensely soulful vocal from Edwards,

A couple of tracks miss the mark.  The lyrics to “Customize My Love” are too simplistic and wordy to make an impact despite another quality vocal effort from Edwards. The cover of “Rocket 88” is taken at a rapid-fire tempo that doesn’t seem to play to Edwards’  strengths as a singer.

Another plus is the strong support of musicians like Moroch on guitar and bass, Mennonna on keyboards and horns and Pete Generous on drums & percussion. They bring life to the musical  arrangements and Edwards has the savvy to know exactly what to do as well as the vocal skills to pull all of the pieces together. If you are looking for more than the standard 12-bar blues progressions, you should give this one a listen.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Love To Beg reviewed by Mark Thompson

Love To Beg
Dana Fuchs
Ruf Records
13 tracks/50:56

It is rare to get an opportunity to review a recording by a singer who has starred in an off-Broadway production as well as starring in a major motion picture. Dana Fuchs has both accomplishments on her resume, playing Janis Joplin in the Love, Janis musical. She also had a featured role in Across the Universe, a film based on the music of the Beatles, with Fuchs singing four cuts on the soundtrack including a raucous version of ”Helter Skelter” as Joplin might have done it.

Fuchs possesses a husky voice that is a perfect match for the material on this disc. Most of it bears a heavy rock influence with some blues licks occasionally creeping into the mix. There are also some soul elements, particularly on her tribute to her favorite singer, Otis Redding, on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. Glenn Patscha’s Hammond organ work steers the arrangement of “Summersong:” into Al Green territory.

Fuchs unleashes the full power of her voice on “What You See” and really cuts loose at the end.  “Golden Eye” channels Aerosmith as Fuchs’ majestic vocal is surrounded by swirling guitar chords courtesy of Jon Diamond.  Her sassy, vocal channels Joplin over the steady-rolling groove on “Drive” while she belts out the lyrics on ‘Faster Than We Can” over the driving beat from drummer Carter MacLean and Whynot Jansveld on bass.  The title song features Diamond on slide guitar and harmonica as part of a full-blown arrangement with Fuchs belting out the lyrics.

“Nothing’s What I Cry For” is another rocker with Fuchs once again singing with power but showing restraint, avoiding the temptation to pepper her performance with an overdose of needless vocal gymnastics. The closing track, “Superman” employs a familiar blues riff and finally gives listeners a glimpse of what Fuchs can do in a more traditional blues setting. “Keepsake” is a gentle ballad that allows Fuchs to showcase her sensitive side. Even better is her tender, yearning vocal on “Keep on Rollin’ “ with Jenny Douglas and Vivian Sessions helping out on background vocals.

If you appreciate a great singer, take the time to listen to Dana Fuchs. While blues takes a backseat to rock for most of this disc, the consistently strong singing from Fuchs will quickly win you over. While there could have been a few more “shake your soul” moments, this recording provides ample proof of her vocal skills.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Just My Luck reviewed by Mark Thompson

Just My Luck
Terry Quiett Band
Lucky Bag Records
13 tracks/49:53

There are plenty of releases flooding the market due to the inexpensive costs of manufacturing a release on your own, without the backing of a record label.  The internet has provided a wealth of opportunities to promote your product without spending a fortune on advertising. The difficult part for serious fans of any musical style is how to navigate your way through all of the recordings to find the ones that are worth your time and attention.

One listen to this new release from the Terry Quiett Band will be all it takes to let you know that this is a special recording.  The leader handles the lead vocals and guitar with Aaron Underwood on bass and Rodney Baker on drums.  Keyboard help comes from Rick Steff and Beau Jarvis. Bringing all of the pieces together is the legendary producer Jim Gaines.

The all-original program illustrates Quiett’s skill as a creative songwriter.  The tight rhythm on “Some People” frames Quiett’s urgent vocal while the swinging tempo of “Work for It” shows the lighter side of the leader’s guitar work. “Big Man Boogie” is a shuffle with an attitude and rocking guitar. The ominous tale of a lover’s betrayal on “The Woodsman” opens with acoustic slide guitar before the band kicks in and Quiett switches to electric guitar for a frenzied solo that mirrors the anguish in his singing. 

The up-tempo bounce on “Karma” is a launching pad for more energetic guitar from Quiett as he hopes to be there when the tables are turned on his ex-lover. Another highlight is the brooding “Judgment Day”, with Quiett going solo on a resonator guitar, his voice crying out a warning about the future. “Pound of Flesh” features ringing guitar chords and a strong beat from Baker.  Quiett lays out the heavy price to be paid for missing the “Signs of Decline” in his relationship.  “You’re My Kind” features a Hendrix-like riff as Quiett works hard to impress a member of the opposite sex. And “Getting Through to Me” has a strong blues influence with more stinging guitar. Quiett dials back the energy on the closing track, “Close to You”, his voice pleading for the attention of his love interest.

Quiett’ songs and vocal tone often remind me of Jonny Lang, if Jonny had continued to explore the blues/rock mixture on his initial recordings. The songs hold your interest, the guitar work is consistently satisfying and Quiett’s vocals breathe life into his ruminations on life. He has a knack for writing lyrical phrases that you’re your attention. What more could you ask for – a disc to be savored.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection reviewed by Rick Davis

The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection
Various Artists
Alligator Records
38 Tracks

The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection is a tribute to a generation of blues artists who have dedicated their lives to the music that we all have enjoyed for years and in particular, Bruce Iglauer's inspiration for starting Alligator Records in 1971, Hound Dog Taylor. This collection pays homage to past legends of blues performers, musicians, and songwriters of all blues genres who have forged classical blues tunes as well as inspiring a new generation of talent so well showcased on this two-record collection. From that first recording of  Hound Dog Taylor And The Houserockers to this current 40 year blues tribute, The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection, Iglauer has become a household name in the blues music world.

It all started in January, 1970, at a little neighborhood bar called Florence's Lounge on Chicago's South Side. A young blues fan named Bruce Iglauer dropped by to see a local artist the fans called "Dog" aka Hound Dog Taylor. Bruce was so inspired, he became booking agent, business manager, roadie, promotion man, and publicist for Hound Dog. It was then that Alligator Records started as a one-man operation in his small apartment filled with record cartons and a shipping table beside his bed. That first promo piece to promote the very first Hound Dog Taylor album was headed "Genuine Houserockin' Music" which is still the Alligator slogan today. Artists such as Big Walter Horton, Son Seals and Fenton Robinson all contributed to the growth of this small record company. Today, since Alligator Records has a catalog list of almost 300 titles, it is the largest independent blues label in the world. The Alligator recordings have received many accolades over the 40 year period. Iglauer states that "Alligator should be the label that's exposing the next generation of blues artists and bringing their music to the next generation of blues fans. I want the future of the blues and the future of Alligator Records to be one and the same."
The two-CD collection is 160 minutes of re-mastered music with 38 tracks of recordings released from 1978 to 2011 including a 32 page booklet of short biographies of the artists. Disc one includes artists and tunes Koko Taylor "I'm A Woman," Albert Collins "I Ain't Drunk," Michael Burks "Strange Feeling," Michael Burks "Strange Feeling," Tommy Castro "Backup Plan," Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials "Icicles In My Meatloaf" Guitar Shorty "We The People," Rick Estrin & The Nightcats "U B U," Marcia Ball "The Party's Still Going On," Roomful Of Blues "That's A Pretty Good Love," Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King "Have Blues, Will Travel," Son Seals "Going Home," Buddy Guy & Junior Wells "Give Me My Coat And Shoes," Janiva Magness "Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love," Johnny Winter "Mojo Boogie," Coco Montoya "Last Dirty Deal," Corey Harris "Fish Ain't Bitin'," Luther Allison "All The King's Horses," Anders Osborne "Echoes Of M y Sins,"  and Lonnie Mack W/Stevie Ray Vaughan "Double Whammy."
Artists on disc two are Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland "T-Bone Shuffle," Lonnie Brooks "Don’t Take Advantage Of Me," Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater "A Good Leavin’ Alone," Hound Dog Taylor "Sitting At Home Alone," Elvin Bishop & Little Smokey Smothers "Roll Your Moneymaker," James Cotton "With The Quickness," Shemekia Copeland "It’s My Own Tears," Professor Longhair "Red Beans," Charlie Musselwhite "Where Hwy 61 Runs," Roy Buchanan With Delbert Mcclinton "You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover," Mavis Staples "Step Into The Light," Tinsley Ellis "Speak No Evil," Eric Lindell "It’s A Drag," Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women "Going Down To The River," The Holmes Brothers "Feed My Soul," Katie Webster "Two-Fisted Mama," William Clarke "Daddy Pinocchio," Buckwheat Zydeco "When The Levee Breaks," and Jj Grey & Mofro "The Sun Is Shining Down."

We can only hope Alligator Records will continue promote blues artists like this for another 40 years producing quality recordings like those sampled in this their 40 year anniversary collection.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

It's A Sin reviewed by Rick Davis

It's A Sin
Cousin Harley
Little Pig Records
13 Tracks

Cousin Harley a.k.a. Paul Pigat can play a Gretsch with the same conviction as Brian Setzer in any given genre. Playing bebop, rockabilly, jazz, blues, western swing, West Texas surf music, and juke joint jump on any of his albums makes a person wonder why his name isn't a modern guitar legend. Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, Pigat is one of most versatile guitar players in the Northern Hemisphere!
He has an extensive music education, attending the Claude Watson School of the Arts and graduating from the University of Toronto in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in music theory and composition. He then taught at the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy in Toronto while continuing to explore live performance work with various bands. He moved to Vancouver, B.C., in 1994, where he continued to build a reputation as an extremely talented and versatile guitarist.
He has done songs from jazz standards like 1933 song "Moonglow" by Will Hudson and Irving Mills to the western swing classic by Adolph Hofner "I'll Keep My Old Guitar." Paul started playing at the age of 11 and had steady gigs at 12 in Toronto. His dedication to live performance, recording, and studying music has allowed him to develop into a accomplished guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and instructor. He developed his style from guitar legends like Les Paul, Merle Travis, Link Wray and T-Bone Walker. Pigat has recorded and toured with artists like Neko Case, Michael Kaeshammer, and Carolyn Mark and has shared the stage with Taj Mahal, Mae Moore, Lee Aaron, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Joshua Redman, Big Sandy and His Flyrite Boys, Aaron Neville, Jim Byrnes, Ndidi Onukwulu, Zubot & Dawson, and many more.
Three of his previous CDs include Hillbilly Madness,  Jukin, and Boxcar Campfire. After listening to his latest studio recording It's A Sin, you can understand why the rocking hillbilly trio Cousin Harley is considered western Canada's premier rockabilly and roots band. The trio, Cousin Harley, consists of Paul Pigat on vocals, guitar, and steel guitar, Keith Picot on bass, and  Jesse Cahill on drums. All but two of the tunes are penned by Pigat.  He opens It's A Sin with "Conductor Man" running the fretboard of his Gretch which in my estimation is the best rockabilly number on the CD. He follows with a juke joint jump blues number "She's Coming Back," displaying the versatility of Paul Pigat as guitar virtuoso. For the remainder of the CD, he has written a rockabilly or jump blues instrumental number on every other cut starting with "Beaver Fever" and continuing with "The Ballad of El Swartho" (with steel guitar solo),  "Hoss' Hoedown," "Swingin' Like A Mofo," "Spooks," and ending the collection with "Spaghetti No Sauce." The title track "Its A Sin" has some guitar influence from the legend Link Wray. "2 Bottles Of Booze" (A. Mclaughlin/P. Pigat) is hard-driving number featuring the gritty vocals of Pigat once again. The western swing classic by Adolph Hofner, "I'll Keep My Old Guitar," is an up-tempo version done in a Paul Pigat style. The last two numbers featuring Pigat on vocals, written by Pigat, is "Red Hair Baby," a jump blues/jazz style number and rockabilly tune "Sweet Little Angel" with Paul once again on steel guitar solos.

This CD has an endless number of guitar styles that will captivate you as you listen an over and over again. You will be astonished at the speed of Paul Pigat's fingers as he runs the fret board of his Gretch guitar!

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Big Rockin' Boogie reviewed Rick Davis

Big Rockin' Boogie
Becki Sue & her Big Rockin' Daddies
Underworld Records
13 Tracks

Becki Sue & her Big Rockin' Daddies call themselves a "high-energy, low-down, powerhouse, hip-shakin' blues band." After listening to Big Rockin' Boogie, that sounds like an accurate description.  Becki Sue has been compared to the legendary Texas blues singers Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. Hailing from the state of Washington, collectively, the entire band has won numerous regional awards as well as performing as part of The 2007 International Blues Challenge competition in Memphis, Tennessee at The Hard Rock CafĂ©. Becki Sue is backed by seasoned veterans like Tom "T-Boy Neal" Boyle on guitar, backing vocals, and percussion, Jim King on Tenor Sax, blues harp, vocals, and backing vocals, Les "WildChild" White on upright bass and backing vocals, and Jeff Hayes on drums, percussion, and backing vocals.

Big Rockin' Boogie is the third and latest cd from Becki Sue & her Big Rockin' Daddies. Get ready to move your feet as you listen to this collection of high-powered blues numbers! Becki Sue's fuse is lit as she belts the blues in the (McAlpin-Logsden) tune "Rocket In My Pocket" along with Jim King wailing on sax and an all-star performance by other members of The Big Rockin' Daddies. If that isn't enough to get your mojo movin', the group's own (Hayes-Boyle) "Mr. Lies" will make you a believer! Becki Sue's desire to own a Harley was inspiration for her gritty vocals on "Fat Boy Blues" penned by the group's bass player Les "WildChild" White. The title track, (Hayes-Boyle) "Big Rockin' Boogie," features the superb guitar licks of famed Tom "T-Boy Neal" Boyle shared with some of the best harp action you will ever hear by Jim King once again backed by this all-star band. They slow things down with a page out of Angela Stehli's songbook with Becki Sue sending chills through your spine on "Can't Stop These Teardrops." Tom Boyle is featured on the guitar instrumental "Meat On Toast" written by Boyle himself. Becki Sue has some good advice and she belts out the lyrics to the Huey Meaux tune "Neighbor Tend To Your Business." Becki Sue & her Big Rockin' Daddies are absolutely superb on the Magic Sam song "What Have I Done Wrong" and the Jeff Turmes tune "How Much Longer." The band returns to tunes penned by its members to complete this blues collection soon to be on everyone's shelf. "All My Money," a Jim King tune, features King once again on harp. Becki Sue returns to the spotlight on the Tom Boyle tune "I'd Walk A Mile" as she vows to "walk a mile just for you." The CD concludes just like it began with the foot stompin' Hayes-Boyle tune "Hillbilly Blues Ball," finishing with a short swamp boogie King-Boyle number "Where My Money."
Becki Sue & her Big Rockin' Daddies is one group you'll want to see live and Big Rockin' Boogie is one cd you can't resist. This group takes the blues to a whole different level! It is truly one of best blues groups that I have had the pleasure to review!

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Boxcar Campfire reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Boxcar Campfire
Paul Pigat
Little Pig Records
12 tracks/ 44:29

Paul Pigat’s new recording, “Boxcar Campfire”, is very interesting to me. Pagat, AKA Cousin Harley, presents a different side of his talent on this project. This is a big step away from his hard charging Rockabilly Cousin Harley show. This CD showcases his acoustic style with a less edgy performance.  Paul Pigat is a very talented guitarist, song writer and vocalist from up North in Canada. Up until now I have never heard of him. He has been touring Canada and Europe but is touring the USA in 2011.

After listening to “Boxcar Campfire” quite a few times and realizing that it is not what I consider to be a “true” blues CD, I asked myself, where am I going to go with the review of this recording?  This fact is not meant to mean that I do not like “Boxcar Campfire”. This is one fine bunch of tunes performed by an accomplished musician and his band. Paul Pigat expertly hits many genres of music and does a great job of it.

The opening tune of the CD is “Johnny’s Poorly” which features some of Pigat’s catchy finger picking guitar playing. He is very interesting and enjoyable to listen to. His vocals, on this tune, gives me a feel of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waite.  “Johnny’s Poorly’ is a good swing type tune with good bluesy lyrics. This is a real tune to start a CD with. It got my attention.
“Dig Me A Hole” sticks with the Cohen style of vocals, which suits me just fine. This song features lyrics about digging a hole to place all those memories, lies and untruths in. Again this is a kind of bluesy tune. Pigat’s guitar playing again stands out on this song. I guess that this CD is becoming more blues to me as I go on.

Moving on to a bouncier, upbeat tune, Paul presents us with “Corn Liquor”. Just the title gets us thinking blues here. This tune tells us about the virtues of drinking corn liquor from the general store. As the lyrics tell us, “corn liquor is sweeter than wine, gets us there but in half the time”. Maybe some of us can relate to this. This is a true blues song with more of Pigat’s lyrical skill and talented acoustic guitar picking.
In the end, I find Paul Pigat’s, “Boxcar Campfire”, to be a very interesting and enjoyable CD. Do I consider it to be a blues CD? It may not be that but there is enough there to make one take a chance and listen to it for the talent presented to us. Also you may want to check out the Cousin Harley, “It’s A Sin”.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe