Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An Evening with Eric Bibb reviewed by Steve Jones

An Evening with Eric Bibb
Eric Bibb
M.C. Records
14 tracks/64 minutes

I became very intrigued with Eric Bibb a couple of years ago at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. On stage, all alone with his acoustic guitar , standing lean and tall, he presents a stark appearance. When he begins to play the stage transforms and fills with the presence and timbre of this man who is cool, comfortable and immensely talented. He grew up in NYC in a musically blessed family and the great music DNA continues with Eric.

The CD, released in September, presents Eric live and paints a great picture of the this folk blues artist and his abilities. Recorded live The Basement Night Club in Sydney, Australia back in 2002, it captures the soul and heart of the artist. Most of the tracks are originals and the few covers offer up a great mix.

The CD features Eric on acoustic guitar and Dave Bronze on bass. The pair of stringed instruments weave a seductive and appealing web of roots music. Whether he is strumming out a soulful, folksy ballad and getting down to it, Bibb’s music truly captivates the soul.

Whether secular or sacred, his vocals and guitar work portray a man who is in tune with his music. “Panama Hat” is a cute little finger picking tune about a fixated but patient guy breaking in a new hat. The Reverend Gary Davis’ tune “I Heard the Angels Singing” was the show’s encore and is the last track on the CD. Eric’s version is a moving piece of music.

“Don’t Ever Let Your Spirit Down” and “Right on Time” are also powerful, spiritual numbers that evoke emotion and fire. “Sebastian’s Song” is a tight little instrumental he wrote for his then 10 year old Son; the fingers seem stroll across the strings effortlessly in this cool track.

Acoustic music is always best in a live environment. Studios often do not adequately showcase the feelings that emanate from the music. This live set aptly capture Bibb and his repertoire as he moves back and forth from silky and sultry ballads over o bouncy finger picking and then to fiery spirituals with ease. He is an exceptional artist and this CD is a must for fans of acoustic music.

Ghost Kings of Beale Street reviewed by Steve Jones

Ghost Kings of Beale Street
Chainsaw Dupont
Blue Warrior Records
15 tracks w/interactive materials

Chainsaw Dupont is a “Delta-born and Chicago-made” guitar slinging bluesman who has put out some really interesting music and lyrics. With this album, Chainsaw has completed his trilogy of “Blues Street” CDs. This CD was preceded by Lake Street Lullaby and Bourbon Street Breakdown, so Dupont has now covered the Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis styles, the triad of blues music capitals and styles.

Recorded in Memphis’ legendary Sun Studio (and partly at Delmark in Chicago), the album really hearkens more to the sound produced over at the other old famous studio in Memphis– Stax Records. This album is truly a mix of the styles and genres around Beale Street. Soul, rockabilly, R&B, blues, jazz, funk, rock and inspirational music are all represented in this 15 track effort (13 plus 2 bonus tracks), but the big musical backdrop here hearkens to the R&B and Soul sounds that made Memphis famous. One can almost taste the smoky, dry rubbed barbeque as you listen to this music.

The sound is very-Memphis like and it is quite the ride down Beale Street with a plethora of good backup artists and guests on the CD. The Blues Warriors backing Dupont are Jack “Jungle Dog” Baker on bass, Christopher Robinson on drums, Patrick Dugan on piano and guitar, and the “Chain Gang” horns of Brennan Connors on tenor and alto sax and Julian Harris on trumpet and flugelhorn. Other artists drop in for support on various tracks.

“Sinners or Saints?” is a rockabilly take off on a gospel-like number asking whether many music legends are sinners or saints. This is probably my favorite track on the CD as it assaults the inspirational in both a somewhat-reverential and off beat way.

Another hot track is the instrumental “Funky Foot” where Chainsaw stirs up some great blues and rock licks on his guitar. Dupont follows this song with more great guitar and some mean BB King-like licks in a slow blues duet number with Patrick Dugan called “When It’s Sweet.” The two of them trading licks makes for some down and dirty music. If you need to find a blues guitarist to learn from, these two tracks will tell you that this Chicago bluesman is right there ready to school you with the best of them.
Dave Specter parries with him on guitar on “Never Know,” a choral blues-rock number that Dupont calls “existential,” and later on in “Bluesomatic,” a self-proclaimed blues infomercial. Probably the most whacked out numbers on the CD, we get to see Chainsaw pushing the musical limits yet making the ride fun and enjoyable.

I loved the entire set of songs , but one other bears some mention. “Flame of Love” hearkens back to 70’s R&B with some heavy horns and bass sounds. The whole CD is filled with the deep dark bass and horn arrangements but it really comes out and grabs you by the scruff of the collar on this track.

Dupont becomes Otis Redding, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, Wilson Pickett, Sam without Dave, Duane Allman and other “ghosts” of Beale Street in this exceptional Memphis music ride. I expected this to be a mix of music, but I got even more than I bargained for in listening to it. Soup to nuts, we see all of Memphis and it’s musical style in one man and his music. Chainsaw Dupont is quite the multidimensional man and this CD is proof positive this artist will be making an impact on the blues music scene for years to come!

Alley Cat reviewed by Steve Jones

Alley Cat
Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band
False Dog Records
14 tracks/52 minutes

It’s tough to review a disc from a band that has three front men who routinely play the role with a fourth behind the drum set. It’s tough to review a disc where the band seems to just be having fun and exhibits a true “joie de vivre” in their music. It’s tough to review a disc like this.

No it’s not. It is a wonderful thing, actually.

Andy, Mel and the rest of the band are guys who are just doing what they love to do– make great music. They’ve done that for fourteen years now, a feat unto itself. Most of the Crossroads members know these guys from up the road in Madison.

For those of you who may not know them, let me have the honor of introducing them to you. Westside Andy Linderman is the harp player, Mel Ford plays guitar, Jim Voegeli is on keyboards, Tony Menzer is on bass and Steve Dougherty is the drummer. Andy, Mel, and Jimmy are vocalists and songwriters, and Steve provides backup vocals. Any of these guys could be the front man for the band full time and succeed. When you have all that talent and fourteen years of friendship and camaraderie you get music that is spectacular.

Whether it’s Mel picking away on his guitar to a rockabilly tune or Andy wailing on harp and bending notes to the nth degree or Jimmy tickling the keys, we have here a band that delivers a sound and style of music that is impossible not to tap your foot or get up and dance to. And Tony and Steve provide a superb backbeat that allows the other three to move off into their worlds and come back in without worry.

The CD opens with a catchy rockabilly number of Mel’s that is the title track. The tune opens like a Fabulous Thunderbirds like manner with the beat and guitar and harp wailing away. I was almost ready for Kim Wilson to jump out and start singing and Mel was there. These guys are cut from the same cloth and the bands play with the same reckless abandon. In fact, the only track that was not penned by the band is Kim Wilson’s “She’s Hot,” which the band grooves impeccably.

Voegili’s “Can’t Be True” features him on vocals and B-3 organ. His organ playing is gritty and funky and his vocals and interplay with Ford and Linderman make for a whirling dervish of a track. He is equally comfortable in barrelhouse style piano or laying out hot licks on the old B3. His keyboards are exceptional.

Andy’s harp is equally gritty and gets down to the funkiness that the best harp players bring to their work. The “Gamblin” Woman” track opens with the growling distorted harp sounds that showcase Andy’s talents. Whether down on the low end or squeaking out the high notes, his harp work is equal to anyone out there.

Mel is adept at suave Les Paul sound like “Jobless Recovery” even goes acoustic for us on the final track “Molly’s Rag.” His steady picking and fretwork are just fantastic. He and Andy go back and forth by themselves on the final cut as a super finale to this long-awaited studio album.
Their fans will enjoy this studio set as will folks who are not yet initiated into the following they have built for themselves. No one who listens to this album can escape it’s pull. The rich sounds that these guys produce are infectious. Once they get into your blood you will be cruising the Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois Area clubs to go watch and listen to these guys.

I have no qualms about recommending this CD to anyone who wants to experience the blues being play by men who are so well versed and credible at their craft. And after all that, you even get CD liner notes written by our own Mark Thompson. This CD is a great effort and needs to be in your collection!

Since Way Back reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Since Way Back
Gerry Hundt
Blue Bella Records
13 tracks

"Since Way Back" by Gerry Hundt is a unique blues recording. Gerry has joined in the revival of the blues mandolin blues music. Having only been playing mandolin for about two years, Gerry has already developed his own unique style. With his influences from Johnny Young, Billy Flynn and Rich Del Grosso, he has developed his own style on the mandolin and has not just copied the style of these influences.

On this project Gerry has surrounded himself with some great musicians. Gerry has the ability to play just about any instrument, write his own tunes and sing the vocals. This made it possible to select who he wanted to be on the record with him to blend in on each particular track. With Bill Lupkin on harmonica, Piano Willy Oshaway on piano, Josh Stimmel on electric guitar and Bob Carter on drums, Gerry has formed a great blues band. Joining the group also is Nick Moss on bass and acoustic guitar. Barrelhouse Chuck is a great addition on piano for the final track, "End of the Day Blues".

Gerry, who has been a band member of the Nick Moss and the Fliptops band for the past three years, has joined up with Nick to produce this project. This is a well done recording that showcases Gerry's musical knowledge, song writing ability, vocal talent and mandolin skills. Gerry brings himself to the task and is also willing to take risks to fulfill his musical thoughts.

Having written all but two tracks on this CD, Gerry can show his true feelings and has the ability to express them. There are tales of women, whiskey, sadness, happiness and a true feeling for the blues genre included in this recording. Gerry's tunes have something for everyone. They are up and down and sad or happy." Bad Water" is a true life inspired blues tune. This is the story of drummer, Bob Carter's family experience with a poisoned farm well. It is quite moving. Bill Lupkin's harmonica licks add an eerie mournful quality to the story.

The three instrumental tracks are the place that the mandolin gets to stand out. The mandolin adds an extra uniqueness to the music which makes one pay attention. The sound just grabs you by the ear and gets a hold of you.

Of the two tracks not written by Gerry, "Burning Fire" by Otis Spann is a standout on this CD. With Willie's piano working with the mandolin and Gerry's vocal quality this is a job well done. Gerry has brought maturity and feeling to his vocals at a young age.

I feel that Gerry with the help of Nick Moss and a fine band has done a great job on this recording. He does a good job of showcasing his mandolin playing and brings interest to an instrument that we are not too familiar with. I like that. I don't see him moving back to Rockford as the lyrics on one of his tunes states.

I am sure that we will all be looking for new stuff from Gerry. Maybe he will play tuba blues next. Why not, when one can.

The King Live at AVO Session Basel reviewed by Mark Thompson

The King Live at AVO Session Basel
Solomon Burke
Distributed by MVD Visual
NTSC DVD - 75 minutes
4:3 Full Screen w/Dolby Surround sound

Solomon Burke is indeed the reigning king of Soul - the last of his generation. Burke had a number of hits in the sixties before changing musical trends pushed him to the sidelines for several decades. He had a part in the movie “The Big Easy” and received some attention when the Blues Brothers covered one of his hits, “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”. In the last five years, his career has been revitalized through three new recordings, each one gathering plenty of praise and critical acclaim. One listen is enough to demonstrate that Burke’s voice is still a marvelous instrument that can sing with power in the low register and then soar into the upper end of the scale.

This show from November 8, 2003 captures the full-blown King Solomon show in all of it’s glory. After two instrumentals for the band, Burke arrives on stage and takes a seat on his throne, necessary because he weighs well over three hundred pounds. He quickly demonstrates his vocal prowess on a burnin’ take of “Down in the Valley”, with an animated Burke playing to the audience. He follows with a Tom Waits ballad, “Diamonds in Your Mind”, hitting and holding a note at the end as easily as he did four decades ago.

Other highlights include a soulful “Georgia” with some fine organ work from Will Smith. Burke doesn’t hold anything back as he lays down his personal testimony to love. The super-charged version of “Cry to Me” provides further proof that Burke hasn’t lost a thing. He slows the pace for a heartfelt take of “A Change is Gonna Come”, breathing life into this well-worn classic.

The disc bogs down when Burke turns the mic over to his seventh son, warning him not to do any rap. Instead his son sings “Mona Lisa” and in the process shows he is not in his father’s class as a singer. But he is better than his sister, who follows with a lackluster attempt at “I Will Survive”. Burke probably wanted these performances included but they are a distraction and not up to the quality of the rest of the disc. The set also includes three medleys that include classic rock and soul tunes. Solomon makes each one interesting but it would have been nice to hear him do a couple more of his own tunes instead. Towards the end of the set, Burke invites members of the audience on stage to dance, making sure to keep the entertainment value high.

This disc provides a very solid performance of a giant of soul, still able to rock the house, even if he has to do it sitting down. Some tactful editing could have created a stronger package. But this is the only live show that I am aware of Burke on DVD. He wins the audience over with his spirited performance and his vocal artistry. You will definitely want this one if you are already a fan

Change Our Ways reviewed by Mark Thompson

Change Our Ways
Root Doctor
Big O Records
10 tracks/53:00

The initial release from Root Doctor was a strong collection of blues and soul tunes. Their new recording is more of the same, with six original songs from band members and four quality covers. The band has a solid foundation from veterans James Williams on bass and Rick Bole on drums. Greg Nagy is a tasteful guitar player. Jim Alfredson is a master of the Hammond organ.

Freddie Cunningham is the focal point of the group with his masterful lead vocals. He has a deep, powerful tone that can glide through a love song or dig deep into the emotional well on a scorcher. Listen to him on the opening track, “Blues Will Take Good Care of You”. Alfredson lays down a percolating organ track on his original as Cunningham’s vocal smoothly relates the power of a blues record. The jaunty “Keep Our Business Off the Streets” is a cautionary tale from Nagy and Alfredson that is one of three tracks to feature the Motor City Horns. Nagy supplies a fine guitar solo.

Cunningham co-wrote “Give Me Love” and that may be why he lays down one
of his stronger vocals performances. He is even better on “Lucky One”. Here he shows that he is a skilled soul singer, his voice full of emotion and strength, able to easily soar into the higher end of range as needed.

As good as the originals are, the band once again shows it’s knack for taking well-known tunes and giving them the Root Doctor treatment. Roy Hightower’s “Root Doctor” is a natural choice and Cunningham’s vocal has the right mixture of menace and seduction. The rhythm section gets to strut it’s stuff , laying down a deep groove on a cover of the Meter’s classic “People Say”. Alfredson takes the vocal and dominates the proceedings with his driving organ work.
Even better is a superb version of “Soul Shine”, a classic written by Warren Haynes. Cunningham manages to convey the world-weary resignation in the lyrics while still expressing the hope of a better day. Listen to him testify at the end of the track.

The disc closes with a stunning performance of “I Wish It Would Rain”. Alfredson leads off on piano as the only support for Cunningham’s passionate vocal . The basic accompaniment allows the listener to really hear the superb ability that Cunningham has to generate just the right amount of emotion in his singing. He never shows off or pushes too hard. And just when you expect the band to join in, you instead get a cello and violin plus some subdued backing vocals. The focus is on Cunningham for six minutes and he is up to the task.

Root Doctor should continue to gain national attention from this recording. The talent of Cunningham and Alfredson set them apart from many other bands seeking the spotlight. Go to their website and check this one out. I’m betting that you’ll like it as much as I do !!!

Rocket Number 9 reviewed by Mark Thompson

Rocket Number 9
Jason Ricci & New Blood
Electo Groove
12 tracks/74:11

It has been a long uphill climb for Jason Ricci. After a number of years of constant touring and a series of self-released recordings, the guys have finally have a shot at the brass ring. Electo Groove is a new label, an offshoot of the Delta Groove company. That means better studios to record in, bigger budgets and plenty of advertising in wide range of musical publications. Any of you who have caught one of Jason’s live shows at Big Cities over the past couple of years know that this band deserves wider recognition.
The CEO of Delta Groove, Randy Chortkoff, decided to create Electo Groove as vehicle for musicians that were pushing the boundaries in music, bands that did not fit the more traditional approach found on DG recordings. A fine harp player himself, Chortkoff was blown away by Jason’s talent and equally impressed with Ricci as human being. He hired famed British producer, John Porter, to guide the project. And together, Jason, Porter and New Blood have created a work that explores the depth of Ricci’s musical vision while highlighting the instrumental virtuosity of the band.
“The Rocker” opens the disc with an examination of addiction, Ricci snapping out the lyrics with his hoarse, rough voice. Guitarist Shawn Starsky contributes a brief but powerful solo before Ricci displays some of his fantastic harp work. The next track was written during a stretch Ricci spent in jail. “I’m a New Man” is a tale about unrecognized personal growth. Starsky channels the spirit of Steve Cropper with his chord playing before taking a soulful solo - followed by Ricci exploring the upper ranges of his harp.
In the CD notes, Ricci comments that “Loving Eyes” is his favorite of all the songs he has written. He refers to it as “Junior Kimbrough meets the Byrds”. The song tends to drag a bit until Starsky leaps in with a series of power chords before taking off on a solo flight that confirms that he is a guitar player to reckoned with. Then the band lowers the intensity level before Ricci jumps in with another harp outburst full of inventive lines easily executed at lightning tempos.
The group is joined by Michael Peloquin on sax for the funky Starsky original “Dodecahedron”. Shawn once again steals the spotlight with his powerhouse guitar playing. This recording confirms that Shawn has developed his talent to a level that puts him in the same league as Jason. His efforts throughout the disc always captures your attention and raises the intensity of each performance.
The band finally gets around to playing some blues on tracks like “Deliver Us” with Jason and Shawn trading off leads at a rapid tempo. “The Blow Zone Layer” puts the spotlight on Jason for one of his patented harp workouts that will have you shaking your head in amazement. Starsky jumps in with some rockabilly-style guitar. They follow that with one of the highlights of this disc, the slow blues “The Way I Hurt Myself”. Ricci lays down a strong vocal on the mournful tale. Starsky tears it up on guitar once again and Ricci provides a contrast by staying in the upper of the harp.
“Snow Flakes and Horses” is an original tune that Ricci has already recorded several times. But this version is the final word. Todd ”Buck Weed” Edmunds lays down a booming bottom-end on bass and Ron Sutton on drums supplies a strong beat. Jason and Shawn once again stage a musical dialogue that delights with energy and creativity.
The title track closes the disc. Written by jazz iconoclast Sun Ra (aka Sonny Blount), this cut shows the imagination the group has and clearly shows that Electo Groove is willing to let it’s artists truly push the envelope. This challenging work channels the spirit and irreverence of Frank Zappa, with Jason taking a brief foray on a nose flute before switching to harp.
It is exciting to finally get a recording by this band that fully explores the many facets of their talents. A couple of tracks may be fall into the category of acquired taste. But Jason, Shawn, Todd and Ron did not play it safe. And to their credit, the powers-that-be at Electo Groove gave the band the freedom to put together a recording that clearly demonstrates the incredible musical ability of the entire band as well as the depth of their influences. You can’t stuff this recording into any one category. They are just too good for that !!!

Thirteen reviewed by Mark Thompson

Matt Wigler
Vista Records
10 tracks/41:17

The title of this disc refers to the current age of keyboard prodigy Matt Wigler. I had several opportunities to watch this young man play on the Legendary R&B Cruise in January and let me tell you that he is indeed the real deal. One night he was on stage during a jam with the Tommy Castro Band and a number of other talented players including Deanna Bogart on sax. Wigler wasn’t nervous or star-struck. He simply sat down and played like a veteran, even switching from piano to organ at one point.

Bogart is a neighbor of Matt’s and the two have been practicing together for a couple of years. An accomplished keyboard player herself, Bogart has been a mentor to Matt and serves as the producer of the disc. Her sax playing adds some texture to two tracks on this disc of instrumentals.

The disc gets off to a rousing start with “Track Ten”, a boogie piece that quickly demonstrates the keyboard dexterity that Wigler has already developed. He doesn’t have any trouble with the faster tempo or with negotiating the changes. Bogart takes a brief solo on sax. And Matt’s dad, Steve, adds trumpet on the track. The second cut was composed by another fine blues keyboard player, David Maxwell. Supported by Scott Ambush on bass and Mike Aubin on drums, Wigler shows he has the abilities necessary to hold your interest when all of the focus is on his keyboard work in the trio format.

One of the highlights of the disc is finds Matt venturing into the jazz realm for an inventive rendition of the classic “Summertime”. We have all heard this song hundreds of times but Wigler’s approach features him improvising on the theme over a strong backbeat. His inventive playing has the sense of swing that is a staple of fine jazz performances. The fadeout at the end that came too soon for my tastes.

“Tension Boogie” is a Wigler original that provides some interesting variations on the standard boogie keyboard patterns. It will be interesting to see if Matt can continue to compose pieces that pieces that extend and expand the tradition, rather than simply recreating it. Bogart switches to electric piano for a duet on the “The Chicken”. If this cut is any indication of what it’s like when Matt and Deanna get together, I want to be there for the fun. Using a Nord Electro keyboard, Bogart lays down some funky licks in contrast to Wigler’s piano, the two very comfortable trading off lead lines.

Despite Bogart’s soulful sax, Wigler’s take on another classic, “Georgia”, never catches fire. He follows that track by switching to the organ for a brief workout on “Back at the Chicken Shack”. The pace slows down for an outstanding version of “How Long Blues” that simmers with intensity. Wigler again surprises listeners with a creative approach to a blues standard.

That track quietly segues into the closing number, which came from Bogart’s pen. “thrash Boogie” clocks in at over six minutes and serves as launching pad for Wigler to strut his stuff. The performance comes to a complete halt right in the middle. After several seconds of silence, the drummer hits it and Matt jumps in to prove once again that he can handle the faster tempos without a problem.

You might think that a thirteen year old can’t have enough experience to be the main focus of an all instrumental recording. In this case, you would be wrong. As the producer, Bogart didn’t try to surround Wigler with additional musicians. She knew who she was working with and provided Matt with the space to display his ample talent. Give this one a listen and get to know Matt Wigler. I’m sure that we will be hearing a lot more in the future about this excellent musician .

Live. Love. Learn. Sing. reviewed by Steve Jones

Live. Love. Learn. Sing.
Todd Lorenz
Self Produced
14 tracks

In our last newsletter, we learned about Todd’s new blues CD My Blues. This time we are reviewing the CD that was released concurrently (his other new CD) called Live. Love. Learn. Sing.
Here is what Todd’s website has to say about this CD… “(The CD) is made up of 14 brand new songs that are all deeply personal with diverse subject matter than includes life, death, love, suicide, persistence, self awareness, and fate. The lyrics find a way to provoke thought in the listener, often managing to do so with a dose of humor. The music successfully blends elements of blues, folk, rock, bluegrass, and country, forming what might best be called Americana.”

Having now met Todd, I can honestly say that the CD is truly a labor of his love. Where as My Blues explores Todd’s acoustic blues side, Live. Love. Learn. Sing. is the fusion of blues, folk and other acoustic forms and as stated truly is a bit of Americana and it is Americana at the top of it’s form.
From the opening “The Ballad of Papa Chuck” to the closing “Lullaby,” we see the spectrum of Lorenz’ abilities. His folksy reflections on life, his bluesy tunes and lyrics, and the interjection of a little fun now and then makes for an great CD. Each original song is a reflection of it’s creator’s skills and they are all executed flawlessly. Todd is an extremely talented artist and songwriter.

Live in Chicago reviewed by Steve Jones

Live in Chicago
Rabble Rousers
12 tracks/59:59

If you are looking for hot, driving blues then the Rabble Rousers are the band for you! They have appeared locally in Rockford and are one of the hottest acts out of Chicago right now. Their Live in Chicago CD is a super little set of a dozen tunes, half covers and half originals. I enjoyed this CD thoroughly because of the great energy they put into their music and the talent they display in each tune. 12 live tracks including 2 alternative mixed bonus tracks make up this set of tunes recorded live at Quigley’s Irish Pub and and Orazio’s Pub in Naperville.

The CD features Rich “Rabble” Reminger on vocals, harp and rhythm guitar, John “Chicago Johnny” Spira on lead and slide guitar, Rick “Keys” Forbes on piano and organ, and Mike “Gentle Giant” Maloney on the bass. The drummers are Tommy Rugg at Quigley’s and Aaron Turner at Orazio’s. Rich started the band in 2002 and brought together some extremely talented musicians in the Rabble Rousers.

The covers “Messin’ With the Kid”, “Woke Up This Morning”, “Teenie Weenie Bit”, “Blues at Sunrise” and “My Bleeding Heart” are all great. But what makes this CD even better is the original stuff. “Travelin’ Blues” (my favorite number) on track 2 and “Got Me a Ticket” on track 3 display what the band can do with both fast and slow blues. The guitar and keyboards are impeccable throughout, but these two tracks just seem to demonstrate everything that this band is about. Spira’s guitar and Forbes keys with Reminger’s vocals and the backdrop bass work by Maloney are all great.
From the opener “Messin’ With the Kid” to the closing original tune “Cause I Think I’m Going Down” we have a finely crafted blues album that fans will really enjoy. I recommend you sample the band’s work on the CD; you can do that via the net, but the best way get the CD is to go see them live and buy the CD at the show! You won’t regret it!

25 Years of Chicago Blues: Volume 3 reviewed by Steve Jones

25 Years of Chicago Blues: Volume 3
Barrelhouse Chuck
Viola Records
13 tracks

Barrelhouse Chuck (Charles Goering) has become somewhat of a unique presence in the world of blues keyboard players. No other blues man or woman have the depth and breath of personal experience with Chicago blues keyboard legends like he does. Born in Ohio and transplanted to Florida, Chuck learned piano (a switch for him because he learned to be a drummer at age 5) after hearing Otis Spann tinkle the keys with Muddy Waters’ on ‘Can’t Lose What You Never Had.’ He bought up all the blues records he could find and was he a quick learner (he is self taught, by the way). He followed Muddy around the south and learned from his then-piano player Pinetop Perkins. Chuck got to play with Muddy and eventually opened for him and other legends of the blues world as they toured the south.
In 1979, Chuck drove 24 straight hours to Chicago and walked into B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and told Sunnyland Slim he’d just drive 24 hours to see him. That began a 10 period of tutelage with Slim for Chuck, something one can hear in his music. Pianists like Pinetop and Little Brother Montgomery also befriended Chuck and even brought him into their homes. Chuck nursed Little Brother in his illness and drove him around and in return Little Brother began a long mentorship with Chuck.
Chuck learned at the foot of the masters of Chicago blues piano and in turn has himself now become one of the kings of the Chicago keyboards. Today it is pretty much Chuck and Erwin Helfer (who has been around just a bit longer than Chuck, since Chuck was born in 1958) who are the mainstays of Windy City blues piano. Chuck has become one of the great legends of keyboard blues, a testament to both the men he studied and lived with and to his own dedication to the craft.
Chuck has previously released two volumes of his music to celebrate his first 25 years of the blues. The first featured Chuck on keys with all vocal tracks. The second was an all instrumental CD. This new third set is a mix of vocal and instrumental numbers and it is a superb sampler of the silver anniversary of a great keyboardist’s work. The 13 tracks feature Chuck and a plethora of household names from the blues world whom Chuck has played with.
Kim Wilson. Eddie Taylor, Joel Foy, Calvin Jones and Willie Smith join Chuck on “Sail the Seven Seas,” a funked up soul filled slow blues tune with Chuck on vocals. “That’s All Right” with Willie Kent, Johnny B. Moore, Willie Davis and Merle Perkins is another all star effort. Nick Moss and Anson Funderburgh on guitars with Johnny Bradley and Greg Campbell join Chuck on “Barrelhouse Woman” and Moss returns on the next track (“Porch Light”) with Curtis Salgado, Bob Sroeger and Willie Smith. Chicago guitar greats Steve Freund and Billy Flynn are on back to back tracks (“Goin’ to Chicago” and “Wah-Wah Blues (Part 2)”) giving us some great Chicago blues. 12 great tracks with 12 great sets of artists fill the album, and Chuck adds a 13th home recording as a bonus cut.
Get this CD (and the two volumes prior to it ) if you want to add some superb historical tracks from the last 25 years of Chicago blues to your collection, all brought to you by the Windy City master of the 88 keys, Barrelhouse Chuck! You will not regret it!
Chuck is at Big Cities on Friday, October 5th with Gerry Hundt on guitar/mandolin/harp and John Carpender on drums– don’t miss him!

Black Cat Bone reviewed by Steve Jones

Black Cat Bone
Lee Rocker
Alligator Records
13 tracks

Lee Rocker is touring this summer with Stray Cats. This album is released to synch with the tour and it will please both Rocker and Stray Cats fans alike. Lee delivers 10 brand new sings plus three covers. This album picks up where his last CD left off- in a whir of rockabilly bopping. Some of the songs are familiar sounding, but that is just the nature of rockabilly. Lee is trying to recover the great sound of the Stray Cats in these tunes and he has pretty much succeeded.

To note, the CD is filled with short songs like we had in the old AM radio days before bands had to amaze us for 4 or 5 minutes. A quick intro, a few verses and choruses, perhaps a solo for 12 bars and then it’s done. Clean and even.

I’d have to say “The Highway is my Home” is my favorite song in the mix. Next to last on the CD, it delivers great guitar and bass work along with a good lyrical story. Following it is “Free Bass,” a solo bass effort that is just a beautiful way to close out this CD. Lee demonstrates his standup bass prowess and puts a nice little punctuation mark on his album.
I prefer the more up tempo stuff to the slower tunes. “Gone” opens up the album with a western flair that is pure rockabilly. Then in contrast, the title track “Black Cat Bone” is pure Stray Cats stuff, but slowed up and it just seems to drag a bit. Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway,” “Rebel” and “The Wall of Death” pick up the pace and Lee screams out the vocals in his gritty, driving style.

The CD grew on me after a few plays. My main complaint with it was the tempo of a lot of the songs- things seem just a little too slow here. But this is a well done album; I think “Racin’ With the Devil” is the better of Lee’s two Alligator efforts. It’s not too bad because being number two to a CD that I really, really loved is still a pretty good thing.

Time Bomb reviewed by Tom Dimwiddie

Time Bomb
Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman, Roxanne Potvin
Ruf Records
11 Tracks/40:43

Ruf Records has teamed up three of their Blues artists, Roxanne Potvin, Sue Foley and Deborah Coleman to form the “Blues Caravan”. These three Blues women are currently touring the country in support of their collaborative album “timeBomb”.

The “Blues Caravan” starts with a fast paced romp highlighting the musical diversity of the three Blues Guitar Women with the title track, “timeBomb”, written by Sue Foley.

As the trip unfolds, each woman takes turn sharing their individual style and insight on love and life. Each song portrays a different level of a woman’s emotions. The three blend their harmonies as they support each other throughout this album.

The first stop is Roxanne Potvin’s rendition of Naomi Neville’s “Hittin’ on Me”. In this song, Roxanne makes it clear to her man that she is tired of his broken promises. “You promised me a mink… I ain’t seen mink, rat or rabbit.“ She repeatedly tells him “I’m so tired of your talk, talk, talk, so get your bags and walk, walk, walk.”

Sue Foley takes the wheel with her Pink Paisley Telecaster and distinctive sing/talk style, lamenting life on the road in her song, “So Far”. She moans of “signs tell you where to go, but ain’t no sign can tell you where you’ve been.” Continuing to wail, “My heart is so far from me.”

In a dramatic tempo change, Deborah Coleman picks up on Roxanne’s sediments with her take on James Brown’s “Talking Loud”. Deborah let’s her man know, in no uncertain terms, that he “can’t tell her what to do” or “which way to go”. She also makes it perfectly clear that he is constantly” Talkin’ loud… and sayin’ nothin’.”

The Trio continues, in turn, to take us through two more solo sets. The second set features songs written by the three, Roxanne asks the question “are my arms Strong Enough to Hold You”. Sue takes us to her a bygone era in her song “Show Me”. Again, Deborah picks up the pace with “Motor City”. In this track, Deborah makes you feel like you are on the road with her heroine. “She started to ride without a second thought… Don’t even know what road she’s on”.

In the third and final solo set, the three start to come to some conclusions as to what they want in their lives. Roxanne realizes she has had enough and it’s time to “Get up” and look for peace. Sue pleads for her man to come home in “Two Moons Gone”. While Deborah warns her man “Don’t Start the Car, if you ain’t gonna drive”.

The final track reunites the three in a house rocking party tune. In turn, the three ask, “Where can you go… when the money’s low; do the ‘cuda and Jerk ‘til your feet get sore; for the comforts of home and the nightclubs too; to get real funky like Dr. John? The answer… “In the Basement, that’s where it’s at!”

If you can’t join these three on the “Blues Caravan”, maybe you can get lucky and party with them In the Basement.

Guitar'd and Feathered reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Guitar'd and Feathered
Candye Kane
Ruf Records
13 tracks

For those of you who have not heard of Candye Kane, you are in for a treat listening to her new CD "Guitar'd and Feathered." Candye is really a great blues singer and exciting entertainer who possesses a powerful and versatile vocal quality. She hits all the bases with blues, rock blues, gospel blues, delta blues and country blues tunes showing her ability to sing anything. To say that she is flamboyant on stage would be an understatement.

Candye has used some of the best blues guitarists around to be with her on this CD. She is joined by Sue Foley, Ann Popovic, Bob Brozman, Kid Ramos, Poppa Chubby, Dave Alvin and Junior Watson. Candye's road band is the base for the aforementioned guitar players. Her son, Evan Caleb, is on drums which was a good choice, not because he is her son, but because he is a very good drummer. Evan does the groove with great timing and also does good fills.

Bob Margolin produced this project and added his skills of guitar playing and song writing. Candye Kane was the co-producer, making decisions on mixing and choice of songs besides using her talents in writing or co-writing tunes on the CD.

My favorite song would be "Goodbye My Heart." This is a drag down Janis Joplin type tune which shows off her vocal quality. "When I Put The Blues On You" is another tune that Candye co-wrote. With Sue Foley and Bob Margolin on guitars, this tune is a standout.

As I mentioned before, this CD offers something for every blues lover. The whole mix of great guitarists, great tunes and Candye Kane's vocal ability to sing any style make this CD a winner.

One last word, if you have not see Candye Kane on stage and you have a chance to do so, do not miss her!

Blues Blast reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues Blast
Debbie Davies
Telarc Blues
9 tracks/53:50

It must be nice to be able to get friends like Charlie Musselwhite, Coco Montoya, Tab Benoit and Bruce Katz to come by and help out on your new recording. And one would think that many musicians could easily begin to wonder if they would be able to hold their own in the midst of that talent and experience. If Debbie Davies had her moment of doubt, you'd never know from listening to this smokin' hot new release.

Debbie and Coco come out of the gates firing on "A.C. Strut", a tribute to their old boss Albert Collins. They take turns ripping off one nasty run after another over a churning foundation courtesy of Katz on the Hammond B3. This up-tempo romp lets you know that is won't be any ordinary release.

The pace slows on the second track, "My Time After Awhile", but the intensity level remains high as Davies lays out a pleading vocal turn on this tale of betrayal. Montoya provides support on guitar and sticks around for the third track, which adds Musselwhite's harp to the mix. His inventive harp work reminds listeners that he is truly one of the living masters. Charlie takes the lead vocal on his composition "Movin' & Groovin' ". Davies snaps off some impressive picking before Musselwhite dominates the proceedings with some masterful hard blowing on his harp.

"Crawling King Snake" takes you deep into the swamp with Tab Benoit laying down a taut vocal while trading snarling guitar licks with Davies. One surprise on the disc is the decision to have Debbie handle the vocal on "Howlin' For My Darlin" ". Most versions feature a big, deep voice like Howlin' Wolf's well-known take. Davies refrains from taking that approach and instead uses some sly phrasing to fashion a very credible vocal. The guitar extravaganza continues Davies and Benoit take turns burning up the frets of their guitars.

The steady-rolling groove of "Like You Was Gone " slows the pace a bit and features Musselwhite plus all three guitarists. Montoya sticks around for the Davies original tune, a strong piece with Debbie imploring her man to come home into her arms because that's "Where the Blues Come to Die". Katz fleshes out the performance with his usual dazzling B3 playing. As they do throughout the disc, Rod Carey on bass and Per Hanson on drums provide a solid rhythmic base for everyone.

The closing track is a ten minute instrumental workout. The title, "Sonoma Sunset", might conjure up images of a quiet evening on the beach. Instead, Davies and her fellow guitarist lay down a series of solos that build the intensity level until Musselwhite eases into the mix and blows some gentle tones to calmly lead everyone to the closing.

Davies has put together a very impressive package with phenomenal musicians and a strong, varied track list. Every fan of blues guitar playing is going to want to have this disc. It may be the best work of her career and will be on my personal list of top Blues recordings of the year. What more can I say - get a copy !!!!!

Mojo Burning reviewed by Mark Thompson

Mojo Burning
The Juvenators
10 tracks/40:33
The Juvenators hail from central Mississippi and have been together for the last ten years. The group consists of Virgil Brawley on lead vocals and guitar, Bob "Byrd" Lovell on guitar & vocals, George Vance on bass and Guy Wade on the drums. Their newest release is the third reccording of the band and features numerous guests including Greg "Fingers" Taylor on harp and James "T-Model" Ford on backing vocals on one cut. Eight of the songs are originals with Brawley having a hand in seven and Lovell co-writing on two tracks.
The band settles into a serious groove right from the start with the opening cut "All I Can Do". Taylor blows some hot fills on his harp while the twin guitars lay down a menacing sound over Wade's sledgehammer rhythm. .Brawley co-wrote "Handcuffed to the Blues", which makes a humorous examination of the consequences of love. Fingers Taylor makes another appearance and the track is filled out with some funky Hammond organ. There are two musicians, Joe Rogers and Johnny Young, credited with contributing organ parts to the disc but specific tracks are not spelled out in the notes. "Some People" is another Brawley original that features some fine slide guitar from Lovell.
The Juvenators turn the James Brown classic "This is a Man's World" in a haunting slow blues with some more fine slide guitar. The track suffers a bit as Brawley's vioce doesn't have the range needed to really pull this one off. Of course, it's tough to measure up when you are being compared to the Godfather of Soul music. The other cover falls flat as the band doesn't bring anything new to their version of Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody". Brawley's voice doesn't have the range or power to elevate the track to inspirational heights.
The highlight of disc is "Too Late to Cry", a soulful cut from Lovell's pen. His vocal perfectly captures the sadness and resignation expressed in the lyrics. Taylor lingers in the background with long, mournful tones from his harp to really establish the mood. The quiet nature of this cut is a dramatic contrast to hill country boogie sound of the title track and " Judgement Day", with the guitars laying down the requiste droning pattern and Wade providing the simple beat. T-Model can be heard on "Black Hanna" shouting out a distorted refrain of " the blues" at the key points during the track.
Another strong point on the disc is that the group consistently gets some fine sounds from the guitars. Taylor is delight on every track he plays on. Brawley and Lovell have written some solid tunes that allow the band to create their own identity. If there were more vocal performances like the one on "Too Late to Cry", this release would stand out from the flood of recent blues recordings.

Savage Beauty reviewed by Mark Thompson

Savage Beauty
Perry Weber and the Devilles
11 tracks/39:28
This is the first release for Weber and the Devilles, who got together a little more than a year ago. Weber is the vocalist, wrote eight of the tracks and handles the guitar. The Devilles are Dave Kasik on bass, Benny Rickun on harmonica and Victor Span on drums.The individual members have played with many of the greats, including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Luther Allison, Reverend Raven and Nick Moss. In other words, these musicians have the experience and chops to play on any bandstand in the country.
The opening instrumental, "Gimme Back What I Bought Ya' ", percolates along with some stinging guitar parts from Weber and a tight solo from Rickun. The track gets an added boost from Bill LeClair on his Hammond organ. Next the band settles into a Slim Harpo-syle groove on "I Started Up Again". Rickun blows plenty of tight fills to support Weber's rough-around-the-edges vocal. The rocking "Do Your Duty, Judy" is one of the disc's highlights. On this Weber orginal, Rickun amply demonstrates his creativity on the harp over a big beat from Span. Weber contributes some taut guitar licks.
Another highlight is the slow blues song from the pen of Freddy King, "Lonesome Whistle Blues". LeClair makes another appearance on the organ and helps create the late-night feel on this track. Perry shouts out his tale of love gone bad before adding a superb solo that dominates the proceedings. . "Hot Tongue & Cold Shoulder" features more of Weber's inventive six string work. LeClair gets the opportunity to display his prowess on the Hammond before the track fade away.
The band's version of Hank William's
for me, despite some nice pedal steel classic "Your Cheatin' Heart" fell flat
guitar work from Jim Lombard. Perhaps it is due to the cut being stylistically out of left field compared to the rest of the
Two cuts serve notice that Weber can write with creativity and humor. His ode to his "Big Fat Woman" describes her "..big booty, two axe-handles wide!" Rickun whoops and hollers on his harp to punctuate this tale. On "International Man", Weber tells his baby he doesn't buy off the rack, he's too cosmopolitan for that.
All in all, this is a very strong release for a relatively new band. The quality of the writing and musicianship found throughout the recording testifies to how good these guys are - and bodes well for their future releases. But for now, get yourself a copy, turn it up loud - and let Weber & the DeVilles start the party at your house !!!
Perry Weber & the DeVilles will be appearing at Big Cities Lounge on Friday, Sept. 14.

The Rough Guide to The Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

The Rough Guide to The Blues
by Nigel Williamson
Rough Guides
384 pages/ $25.99

Rough Guides has a series of books on the market that attempt to educate the reader on a specific musical genre or one particular musician. The author is a native of the United Kingdom who, like many of us, discovered real blues music through the work of British bands like John Mayall, the Animals and Cream.

The guide has three sections. The first is seventy-plus page overview of the history of Blues from the shores of Africa to the deep South of the United States and eventually reaching the big cities in the North, where it plugged in and spread throughout the world. The vaious chapters discuss the influences of traditional folk forms like field hollers and work songs as well as the importance of minstrel shows in spreading the new style to wider audiences. Williamson also touches on the distinct stylistic differences that developed in different regions and cities throughout the country. He also discusses the impact of the record companies and the pioneering spirits that operated them. Finally he takes the Blues overseas to Britain before pondering what lies in store for the future of the music.

The playlist concept also makes it's first appearance in this section. Williamson will select a general category - like gambling, red-hot mamas or Mississippi Delta blues - and then list a ten track playlist of classic tunes for that topic. These lists are intended to provide guidance for downloading tracks on the list, so that the listener can explore different types of Blues music they may not be familiar with. This section is a solid discussion of the roots of the music.

The second section is the heart of this publication. It contains a listing of key musicians and singers, providing biographical information and a career overview for each artist. Williamson also selects several recordings for each performer that he feels showcases their best work. For musicians who recorded extensively, he tends to favor compilations rather than individual recordings. But I found myself in agreement with many of his choices, especially for those artists that I am quite familiar with. The playlist concept continues, with reccommended tracks for the likes of Blind Blake to Slim Harpo

The scope of this section is quite wide, as artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and ZZ Top are covered. Williamson incudes many British bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones as well as lesser known acts like the Groundhogs, whose influence was stronger than their recordings.There is also a wide sampling of musicians from Louisiana and New Orleans. Several of these artists definitely stretch the definition of Blues music and/or beg the question of their importance as an innovator.

Devoting space to these groups means other musicians are left out. You won't find sections on Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, William Clarke, Deborah Coleman or Debbie Davies. There is a listing for Shakey Jake Harris but not for George "Harmonica" Smith, both fine players but Smith influenced a whole generation of harp players on the West coast. You will find Bonnie Raitt sandwiched in between Ma Rainey and Jimmy Reed. Despite all she has done, Bonnie's musical contributions are not on the same level as either of these two legends. The key is that Williamson made his choices based on his view of the blues continuim. While one may not agree with all of his decisions, this section still is wealth of information for anyone interested in learning more about the wide range of blues musicians.

The final section - Bluesology - is nine pages of reference information including books, websites, DVDs, compilation cds and magazines for listeners who want more information. The 2 1/2 pages of books presents a solid listing of biographies of key musicians and several titles devoted to record labels. The DVD list has plenty of fine releases but at two pages, only scratches the surface of what is available on the market.

Williamson has put together a package that attempts to look at the wider world of Blues music. How successful he was will be up to each reader to decide. There is no denying that there will be plenty for most fans to learn from this publication.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

This Blue Before reviewed by Mark Thompson

This Blue Before
Smiling Jack Smith
Thunder & Lightning Music
13 tracks/55:28

Every once in awhile, a dedicated music fan will discover an unexpected gem. These recordings have escaped widespread attention despite being innovative or just plain great !! The latest by Jack Smith is just such a surprise. It is a blast of fresh sounds and outstanding musicianship from a cast of unknowns. At least they are until you're done reading this review.
Smith is a former native of New Jersey who now resides in Madrid, Spain after a lenghty residence in Vancouver. He wrote all of the tunes, plays guitar and handles all of the vocals. Jack worked out the arrangements with his Spanish band, then traveled to British Columbia to record with production help from his friend, Pat Coleman. The project certainly proves that blues music has indeed become an international art form.
Several elements contribute to the success of This Blue Before. Smith wirites in a variety of styles and displays a knack for adding humor through a witty turn of a phrase. He sings with deep-toned, powerful voice with a bit of a rough edge to it. The tunes are fleshed out by a phenomenal three-piece horn section consisting of Phil Dwyer on tenor sax, Monik Nordine on baritone and Mike Herriot on trumpet & trombone. The trio play Coleman's brilliant horn charts with gusto and elevate each track with their fine work. Another key player is Miles Black. Whether on piano, clavinet or the B-3 organ, Black fills in the arrangements with inventive and tasteful displays of his keyboard mastery. All of the instrumental solos throughout the disc are compact and to the point - no grandstanding to detract from the proceedings.
Smiling Jack lays down a funky opening track as he tells the sad tale of having the "Deja Blues" all over again. Black establishes the tone on the clavinet with the horn section accenting Jack's vocal and his biting guitar solo. Smith has several tracks that examine different aspects of the blues. "The Blues Comes Back Again" explores the brief escape that comes from playing on stage. Black contributes several rocking piano solos on "The Blues Comes Back Again", which cautions not to get to comfortable with the good times. On "I Could Live with the Blues", Smith offers to make peace, if only "..the blues could live with me." In what has to be a first, Smiling Jack manges to build a song with a boogie beat around the Latin legal phrase "Mea Culpa". The title track closes the disc. It is a lenghty, dark meditation on the trials of life and love that serves as a contrast to the abundant good -time feel to the rest of the disc. Smith unleases a burning guitar solo before Black calms things down with his swirling organ phrases.
You owe to yourself to get a copy of this marvelous recording. It easily surpasses many of the blues releases on larger labels that I have heard in the last six months. Check out Smith's website to get a copy - and to help keep a smile on Jack's face !!!

Steady Rollin' Man and Kidney Stew is Fine reviewed by Mark Thompson

Steady Rollin' Man
Robert Jr. Lockwood
14 tracks/41:06
Kidney Stew is Fine
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
10 tracks/37:31
Delmark Records

These discs are cd reissues of classic material by two giants of the Blues world. The Lockwood disc was his first recording as a leader after years as the first-call studio guitar player in Chicago. His is backed by the Aces - Louis Myers on guitar, Dave Myers on bass and Fred Below on drums. During the 1950's, the Aces were the band on the Chicago scene, backing a young Junior Wells and the legendary Little Walter.
The disc features ten tunes that Lockwood wrote, many of which remained in his repertoire for the rest of his career, like the title track, "Mean Red Spider", "Take a Little Walk with Me", and "Ramblin' on My Mind". Robert Jr. handles the vocals in his distinctive high-pitched voice. The Aces provide solid support with Louis and Lockwood sharing the guitar spotlight. The session never scales the heights of emotional intensity but on tracks like "Blues and Trouble", the interplay between the members achieves exactly what the title promises. This is a fine historical document of Robert Jr. at the start of his own career and gets extra points for including the Aces.
"Cleanhead" Vinson has been one of my favorites for a long time. His vocal style came from the "blues shouter" school. Vinson was also a fine alto sax player who easily mixed blues and jazz for his instantly recognizable sound. His 1969 session is a true gathering of giants as he is joined by T-Bone Walker on guitar, Hal Singer on tenor sax and the great Jay McShann on piano. The disc is a treat from start to finish, with Cleanhead in great spirits, singing with plenty of energy and the sly humor that found a place in much of his work . The introduction to "Juice Head Baby" quickly shows that Vinson was an accomplished alto player.
Several other Vinson compositions are included, tunes he would return to many times like the title cut, "Wait a Minute Baby", and "Old Maid Boogie". He also covers two Big Bill Broonzy songs. "Somebody Sure Has Got To Go" opens the disc with a tale of two-timing love and includes a fine McShann solo. The other Broonzy tune, "Just A Dream", finds Cleanhead slowing the pace as he ponders the possibility of a better world.
This session swings from start to finish. Walker and McShann provide stellar accompaniment throughout the disc. Vinson proves the the years had not robbed him of his talents, singing and playing with his usual high level of exuberance. If you have never checked out the work of Eddie Vinson, this recording is an outstanding starting point. But advised, you may find Mr. Cleanhead to be very addictive !!!

Live at B.L.U.E.S DVD and Gettin' Up DVD reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live at B.L.U.E.S
Jimmy Burns
Delmark DVD
Gettin' Up
Carey & Lurrie Bell
Delmark DVD

The folks at Delmark Records have been very busy documenting the Chicago Blues scene with a series of high quality DVDs that capture members of their roster performing at different Chi-town clubs. Burns was filmed in front of a packed house at one of the best-known clubs. He is backed by Tony Palmer on guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass and James Carter on drums.
Burns has had a lengthy career of over four decades before Delmark "rediscovered" him about ten years ago. His mixture of blues, gospel and soul creates a unique sound that is a breath of fresh air from the typical blues offerings. "Leave Here Walking", is a Burns original and makes a perfect opening track with it's haunting guitar riff and a driving beat. Burns sings with a powerful voice that can easily slide into the upper registers. Another great track is "Miss Annie Lou" which finds Jimmy pleading for a lady's attention before laying down a soulful guitar solo.
Burns wrote ten of the fourteen songs on the disc, with covers of tunes by Little Walter and Elmore James. Burns also covers two tunes by B.B. King. On one of them, "Three O'Clock Blues", the band is joined by Jesse Fortune who turns in a rousing vocal performance. Burns and Palmer provide some excellent guitar work. The video mixes in footage of the crowd, the barbecue and a fun exchange on the quality of the tamales. Burns even breaks out a slide to liven up things up on "Country Boy
in the City" and "Wild About You, Baby" before closing the set with an energetic take on another original, "Stop That Train".
Father and son are the focus on Gettin' Up. Carey Bell left a hospital in North Carolina, where he was recovering from a stroke, to get back to Chicago in time for the first session on this disc. Recorded at Rosa's Lounge, Carey shows no ill effects from his health issues. His vocals ring out with a rough-hewn edge and his harp playing is as strong and inventive as ever. Check out his use of the chromatic harp on "Hate to Leave you Alone", it's mournful tones setting the mood on this slow blues piece.
As good as Carey is, the real revelation is the outstanding guitar playing of the younger Bell. Lurrie contributes one hot solo after another, with one of his most dynamic forays occurring on a cover of "Baby Please Don't Go". On the second set, recorded three months later at Buddy Guy's Legends, there is a cool shot of Lurrie tearing it up on guitar with a mural of Buddy playing guitar visible behind him. Carey looks a bit more frail but he lays down some outstanding harp licks on "Last Night" before breaking into a spirited run through "Low Down Dirty Shame".
The real gems on this DVD are the last four tracks, recorded the day after the session at Rosa's. Filmed in Lurrie's living room, you get the opportunity to hear father and son playing for each other while sitting on the couch. They start with a brooding take of "Broke & Hungry", with Lurrie giving his dad a strong rhythm foundation. Carey lays down a vocal that is low on volume but brimming with intensity. At the end of the track, Carey asks if they got the track recorded. Getting an affirmative answers, he quickly adds that he hopes they got it. He knew how special the performance was. The duo turns in an equally strong rendition of one of Carey's favorite tunes, "When I Get Drunk". And then Lurrie closes out the disc with a passionate version of the gospel standard "Stand By Me" that may be the best piece of all.
Both discs were recorded with 24 bit High Resolution audio and offer a Stereo set-up plus Dolby and DTS surround sound, which make you feel like you are in the middle of the clubs. Both releases offer several tracks not available on the CD versions. The video is top-notch as well, making both of these discs a real treat. With the recent passing of Carey Bell, his dvd may be of more interest to our readership but I encourage you to give Jimmy Burns a chance, too. Thanks to the crew at Delmark and Bob Koester for these marvelous historical documents - and keep them coming !!!!

Miss Blue’es Child reviewed by Mark Thompson

Miss Blue’es Child
Eli Cook
Valley Entertainment
12 tracks/48:12

Recorded in 2005, this recording is Eli Cook’s first acoustic release. It is almost a solo effort with the only support coming from Patrick McCrowell on banjo and harmony vocals. Cook plays slide guitar throughout the recording, keeping the solos to a minimum in order keep the focus on the rhythmic thrust of each track. He also wrote four songs, including the title track.

The disc opens with a burst of snaky slide guitar on the Robert Johnson composition “Terraplane Blues”. When Cook starts to sing, it is hard to believe that the voice is coming from a twenty-year old. Eli has a deep, thick guttural growl with plenty of power. He doesn’t exhibit the range of tone or emotion found in the best singers but that will certainly come as he matures. It took several listens to the disc before I began to appreciate his distinctive vocal style. It certainly is suited to the hill country blues patterns that he favors on this recording. He easily pulls off an effective accapella version of Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face”. The title track is a Cook original wit a foot-stomping beat and slashing slide riffs.

Cook turns in another strong performance on the traditional song “Goin’ Down South”, with McCrowell’s banjo helping to create an eerie aural landscape. “Highway Song” is a deep, brooding piece penned by Cook with some smoldering guitar licks. A couple of tracks disappoint as Eli doesn’t offer a new approach or fresh interpretation on the well-worn standards “Baby What You Want Me to Do” and “Irene”. The disc closes with a rev’ed up version of Booker White’s “Fixin’ to Die” with a tambourine driving the beat.

Cook ventures into the dark places that exist in the human spirit. His intense style may be too much for some listeners. Others will marvel at his ability to sound like a road-tested blues warrior. One thing for sure - Cook has a real passion for the music and this recording marks the start of a very promising career, even if he sounds like he has been at for decades. Check out Eli’s website for links to several live performances to get a better read on this talented young musician.

My Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

My Blues
Todd Lorenz
20 tracks/63:24

Todd hails from Monroe, WI and sent me an e-mail asking if he could submit one of his recordings for a review. He has recently started performing live again and one of his first shows was in Rockford.

This disc is a selection of the best blues material from Todd’s first three discs. All of the cuts were written by Todd, who handles the vocals and lays down a steady stream of fine slide guitar on this solo effort. These versions were recently recorded to give listeners a more current, accurate indication of Todd’s talent and ability.

A solo recording doesn’t leave an artist anywhere to hide, especially when you are working with original material. Lorenz is able to make it work with ease. His slide guitar creates a solid rhythmic foundation throughout the disc, especially on tracks like “Hush Hush” where his rapid-fire licks add to the intensity of the performance. He has good range on the vocals and varies his approach enough to maintain interest.

The same could be said for Todd’s songwriting. He mixes standard blues licks with lyrics that often provide a humorous view of real life situations.
This quality is very evident on “Got Her Gone”, where the woman lays down a list of laws which Todd promptly uses as a roadmap to bring the relationship to an end. One has to wonder about his emotional state of being when he wrote “Even My Shoes Got the Blues”.

I listened to this recording on two long business road-trips. It held my attention both times. The best praise I can give My Blues is that, after hearing the disc, I want to see a live performance by Lorenz. We will all have a chance to do just that when Todd appears at Border’s Books in Rockford on Friday, July 6, starting at 8 p.m. Or go to his website and listen to some samples to see what you think.

10 Days Out reviewed by Steve Jones

10 Days Out
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Reprise Records
CD 15 tracks
DVD 15 tracks
Bonus CD 2 tracks

I’ve heard complaints and criticism about Kenny Wayne Shepherd over the past few years. His last CD was such a departure from the blues and almost seemed like a blatant (failed? attempt at crossing over to pop. But there is also Kenny Wayne Shepherd the blues man. I saw him perform with BB King in San Diego a few years ago and was totally impressed with his unassuming attack on and conquest of 12 bar blues. I was shaking my head in awe, and so was BB King. When I saw he was producing a CD and DVD from his 10 day tour in 2004 where he went to the places where the roots of the blues run deep to capture live performances, I thought that this just might amount to something important. The CD/DVD set is more than something– it is a wonderful musical documentary that make us yearn for even more. Kenny and the boys from Double Trouble take a backseat to showcase a number of great bluesmen and women and have produced a smash hit. Kudos to Kenny for his superb effort.

The CD opens with Cootie Stark and Big Daddy Pattman, with Kenny in support of these lesser known but amazing artists from Tim Duffy’s Music Maker Foundation. Kenny is on their Board and is a major contributor to Music Maker. The train chugging harp sounds and strumming of some beautiful acoustic blues on the first track “Prison Blues” just whets the appetite for more, and Kenny delivers with almost 78 minutes of fine blues. The DVD repeats all but one of the songs and adds Pinetop Perkins with Kenny and the Muddy Waters Band performing “Got My Mojo Working.”

BB King is youthfully captured performing his standard “The Thill is Gone” with Kenny at BB’s annual Indianola MS Homecoming Festival. Hubert Sumlin, Henry Gray and Wild Child Butler lead the Howling Wolf Band with Kenny playing some wicked licks. Bryan Lee’s “Tina Marie” is a New Orleans staple and he and Kenny give the song a great cover. Gatemouth Brown give a classic performance on “Born in Louisiana;” it features Kenny, Double Trouble and some great fiddle work by Jimmy Wallace. John Dee Holeman, Etta Baker and Henry Townsend and Kenny turn out three of my favorite tracks from the set. Kenny respectfully plays along with these guitar pickers, turning in some truly good stuff.

Barnes and Noble also offered a 2 track bonus CD with Kenney and Buddy Flett and then Gatemouth, making this set even better. Get it. You will not regret it– it is one of the year’s best!

Solid Ice reviewed by Steve Jones

Solid Ice
Jimmy Thackery
Telarc Blues
11 tracks/62:52

Jimmy Thackery has spent 40 years on the road but recently spent 6 months off the road to write and produce this latest studio album. Jimmy had a chance to write and reflect on his music at home during this time. Unlike his last Telarc CD, this is a home spun album, recorded in his native Arkansas rather than the slick studios of Nashville. He penned the first 10 tracks, a soulful mix of bluesy, jazzy numbers, and finishes off the CD covering Jimi Hendrix’ “Who Knows.”
Jimmy’s vocals get down and growl for the first half of the opening song “Hit the Big Time;” his guitar solo then fills the second half of the song. “How Long” is the second track, another nice little retro-rocking tune, as is the next song “Fifteen Minutes.” This trio of songs feature a soulfully gruff Thackery on vocals with riffs and chords that hearken from rock-a-billy to some of the 70’s-early 80’s big rock songs.

Thackery then turns things around with a couple of instrumentals, “Hobart’s Blues” and Daze in May.” The former highlight’s Jimmy’s guitar virtuosity in the manner we’ve become accustomed to; it’s a super southwestern styled guitar track that Jimmy he switches gears and gives us a lazy little number that feels like he is shuffling and picking through a warm country day.

Switching gears again, “Blue Tears” is next. It is basically a country tune where Jimmy croons about lost love. He follows that with a song in another vein where he’s testifying and giving the advice to go looking for a “XXX Wife.” “I don’t want no women sharp as a knife...I don’t want nobody trying to change my life…I guess you might say I’m lookin’ for my triple-x wife.” He follows these lines with a jazzy stroll over the frets of his guitar that is just oh-so sweet.
“One or the Other” interestingly bemoans a relationship that has gone bad, a song that very remarkably sounds to me like a Dire Straights song (both vocally and on guitar). He spends over 8 minutes trying convince his love to “Talk to Me” with some amazing, wailing guitar riffs.

The title track is a very jazzy number where Jimmy just lays out some very sweet, slow guitar work for a bit over nine minutes. Jimmy stays slow and reprises “Blue Tears” instrumentally before going totally wild, fuzzed out and psychedelic on the Hendrix instrumental “Who Knows.”

Thackery runs the gamut of musical styles on this CD. He shies away from his typical Nighthawks and Drivers mode of revved up rides and takes a very introspective and fresh approach with the music he crafted during his “vacation” from road. I liked this CD a helluva lot; it shows some sides of Thackery that we rarely (if ever) get to see. Jimmy gives us glimpses of this sort of stuff in his live shows, but while at home and in the studio back in Arkansas he has brought us rock-a-billy, classic rock, soul, jazz, blues and country all in a cool little Solid Ice package

Crucial Blues (3 Releases) reviewed by Steve Jones

Crucial Rockin’ Blues
More Crucial Guitar Blues
Crucial Acoustic Blues
Various Artists
Alligator Records

Alligator has just released a new trio of low priced “Crucial Blues” albums to follow up on and continue in the tradition of the five that they have previously put out. For those who would like to sample from Alligators’ catalogue in a variety of blues styles, these 3 CDs and the prior 5 are great ways to see what Bruce Iglauer and Company have to offer. Cuts range from old to new, and all are true to the form advertised in their titles. And for those with more extensive collections of albums, it brings a great sampler from CD’s you may not have in your collection.
I began listening to the new set with “Crucial Rockin’ Blues.” “Last Dirty Deal,” the title track from Coco Montoya’s latest release, is the opening song and sets the stage well for a total of 12 driving and rocking tunes. The oldest of the selections comes from Lonnie Macks’ “Strike Like Lightening” CD, where he and protégé Stevie Ray Vaughn wail away on “Hound Dog Man.” Dave Hole, Roy Buchanan and Johnny Winter tracks come from Alligator’s younger days while the likes of Tinsley Ellis, Lil’ Ed and Lee Rocker fill out the CD with newer selections. The Holmes Brothers, Shemekia Copeland, Guitar Shorty and the Paladins are also featured on this hot little CD.
A dozen of Alligators kings of the ax are featured on “More Crucial Guitar Blues,” a follow-up to their first-ever “Crucial” series release. From Chris Vachons’ steamy solos in the Roomful of Blues “The Love You Lost” from their “Standing Room Only” album back to Son Seals’ “No, No Baby” from his “Midnight Son” CD, we get a great assortment of guitar tracks from the Alligator catalogue. If the likes of W.C. Clark (“Okie Dokey Stomp”) and Little Charlie and the Nightcats (“You Got Your Hooks in Me”) don’t get you going then Albert Collins, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Elvin Bishop Lutehr Allison, Michael Burks, Long John Hunterand Lonnie Brooks will. You will find it difficult to dislike any of this cuts featuring the best of Alligator’s six string gun slingers.
I saved the CD I thought might be the most intriguing for last. “crucial Acoustic Blues” features a baker’s dozen of selections from non-amped up CD’s that Alligator has given us. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells begin the fun from their “Alone & Acoustic” 1991 CD with a great version of “High Heel Sneakers.” Lonnie Mack with SRV and his brother Billy McIntosh give us a trio of acoustic guitars picking “Oreo Cookie Blues” next. By the time Carrie and Lurrie Bell begin the third track, I knew I’d kept the best for last. I love good acoustic blues and Bruce Iglauer has collected a nice set of songs and artists for this collection. Ann Rabson and Saffire give us one of my favorites or theirs “Sloppy Drunk” from their “Hot Flash” album. Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin with Nappy Brown, John Jackson, Kenny Neal & Billy Branch, Corey Harris, Cephas & Wiggins, Johnny Jones and Billy Boy Arnold, Johnny Winter, Sonny Terry and Koko Taylor round out a nice blues album that does not need a lot of high powered histrionics to make a statement.
These are great set of compilations and a low priced way to build your blues collection plus they are packaged all together on the Alligator web site so you will save even more money. It’s a great deal on some great music!

Live At B.L.U.E.S. reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Live At B.L.U.E.S.
Jimmy Burns
Delmark Records
12 tracks

Delmark Records released "Jimmie Burns Live At B.L.U.E.S." in February of this year. This CD features the recently formed Jimmie Burns Band with Jimmie Burns on vocals and lead guitar, Tony "Fret Burner" Palmer on rhythm and lead guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass and James Carter on drums. The mix of music includes Chicago blues, soul, R&B, and a funky rock-type blues so there is something for all of us to enjoy.
Jimmie Burns has shared the stage with the likes of Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, Billie Branch and Pine Top Perkins to name a few. Although he has played various genres of music including soul, R&B, gospel and rock, he has now returned on this CD to the real deal blues. Jimmie's vocal style is very crisp country blues with easily understood lyrics and a lot of feeling. His guitar style has great tonal quality and ranges from slow blues to boogie type tunes.
Right from the first track of this CD, "Leaving Her Walking," you will know that this is one good recording. Jimmie's vocals and guitar solos grab you and make you listen. What a great tune to start with! Next is an upbeat tune written by Jimmie called "Better Know What You're Doing." This funky type song has some great lyrics and Jimmie's guitar solo will get and keep your attention. "Country Boy In The City" is another standout track. We get to hear Tony Palmer shine on this one with a really good guitar solo. Joining the band on B.B. King's tune "3 O'Clock Blues" is Jesse "Mr. Fortune Tellin' Man" Fortune. This tune is a great addition to this entire CD project as Jesse puts his whole heart and soul into his unique vocal style.
OK, I can't leave out the one harp tune on the CD. Jimmie does a fine job on the Little Walter tune "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" which is a really neat drag down blues tune. Jimmie's harp solo, in my opinion, is fantastic. I would have liked to have heard one or two more harmonica tunes.
If you have not heard Jimmie Burns, I would recommend that you get "Jimmie Burns Live At B.L.U.E.S." It is really one outstanding recording. This live recorded show is also on DVD with two bonus tracks. I would really like to catch this band live on stage somewhere. Jimmie Burns also has three other Delmark CDs: "Leaving Here Walking," "Night Time Again," and "Back To The Delta."

Old School reviewed by Steve Jones

Old School
Koko Taylor
Alligator Records
12 tracks

When I first heard this album I said to myself, “Koko is back.” It’s been seven years since she’s recorded a CD and she had major medical problems in 2003, but Koko is certainly as physically resilient as her music. From her opening holler on “Piece of Man” to the final Willie Dixon cut “Young Fashioned Ways,” I sat and listened intently to this for the first time as I drove in my car. Then I listened straight through again. And then a third time. I didn't stop. Hell, I couldn't stop. This is one fine album and should be listened to uninterrupted from start to finish to appreciate what Ms. Taylor can still do.
Koko returns to the style and sound of her early Chicago roots with this all-star supported CD. She has basically two mixes of artists supporting (her except on the last song). She labels the studio musician lists as “A,” “B” and “C.” The “A” list is Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin and Criss Johnson playing guitar and alternating solos, Billy Branch on harp, Kenny Hampton on electric bass, Jimmy Sutton sometimes alternating with Sutton on standup bass and Willie Hayes on drums. The “B” list also contains Johnson, Hampton, Sutton and Hayes, while adding Brother John Kattke on piano and Mark Kazanoff on tenor sax. The “C” list for the last track is the Blues Machine, Vino Loudin (guitar), Shun Kikuta (guitar), Stanley Banks (piano), Melvin Smith (bass) and Ricky Nelson (drums).
I was intrigued when this album came out as to how Koko would be sounding. That was pretty much addressed at the start with her tune “Piece of Man.” Then she does another upbeat tune that she penned called “Gonna Buy me a Mule.” By the third cut with Margolin’s dirty sounding slide guitar solo with Koko’s gritty vocals on the Lizzie Lawler/Memphis Minnie tune “Black Rat” I was sold that Taylor is as dominant as she ever was.
I will admit it that Taylors’ pipes are perhaps beginning to show her age, but she can still belt out a song with the best of them and she is in no way ready to give up her role as the Queen of the Blues. Whether covering Magic Sam’s “All Your Love” or her own stuff like “Hard Pill to Swallow” she shows us what she can still do.
In the liner notes Koko talks about her roots picking cotton and then her early days in Chicago. This CD musically returns to those early Chicago roots from over 50 years ago. There is a great photo from around 1954 in Sylvio’s Lounge with Koko, her husband Robert and other family members and friends (including Muddy Waters and Otis Spann).
Koko gives us a great mix of covers and new tunes for well over an hour on this CD. She shows us that she can still strut her stuff on songs like “Bad Rooster” and we should be glad that she still can. This is a fine effort from Koko and the folks at Alligator Records and it belongs in your music collection.

Country Ghetto by Steve Jones

Country Ghetto
JJ Grey & Mofro
Alligator Records
12 tracks/

John “JJ” Grey and his band Mofro hail from the swampy outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida. Their music is a fusion of blues, pop, rock, soul, and funk. They have no bass player but use horns and keyboards to infuse a sound unique to them. They are not flashy or urbane. They are pure, unadulterated swamp.
Grey is a great songwriter and the band is tight. The lyrics and music are both top notch. The 12 songs pack a punch that makes the listener sit up an pay attention.
Alligator has done well of late with their CDs from artists on the fringes of the traditional blues. Last years’ Eric Lindell CD and this one show us where the blues can go, having evolved, absorbed and reinvented into a plethora of great sounds.
The title song describes the proud, poor life in the South with lyrics like, “Starve to death before you live by a government handout ⁄ They call us poverty ⁄ ⁄ Life in a country ghetto.” The opening song “War” also has hard hitting lyrics with a driving 60’s-esque beat, which hearkens back to anti-war songs from the Vietnam Era.
The tune “Mississippi” is a funky, swampy sort of adaptation of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” It is a cool little piece and is one of the better cuts on the album.
"Making our latest album was a whole different thing. I finally got the opportunity to get my family's gospel group singing on a track ("The Sun Is Shining Down"). That, along with horns, strings, and some hot female background singers made for some really special moments." JJ made these comments in reference to a tune he crafted. Using the line of lyrics from the chorus of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “Glory, glory, halleluiah,” he opens the chorus of this song; yet it is not purely Gospel nor purely blues. It is Mofro.
Speaking of Mofro, those of you concerned about not being familiar with this word shouldn’t be concerned. It’s really not a word. When asked by Tim Parsons of the Tahoe Daily Tribune how he came up with the name MOFRO, JJ answered, “Just working at the lumber yard. I worked there nearly 10 years and they're all good friends of mine. We would just be like 'What's up MOFRO?,' 'Hey MOFRO,' and all that. I was like, that's a good enough name to call something. It sounded Southern but didn't mean any particular one thing. It could mean a lot of things to anybody. So I said 'OK, I'll just call it MOFRO.'“If I had to find one flaw with the CD, it would be the song sequencing for the last 4 cuts. Grey presents us with a a ballady blues number, the slowed down swamp-a-funk “Mississippi,” the rather slow Gospel/blues song and then concludes with “Goodbye.” “Goodbye” is a great little song and the title and lyrics make it a great way to close the album, but Grey just slows and slow and slows and slows in these four songs and the album just grinds to a halt. That’s not bad, but I might have sequenced a faster tune in between there somewhere. Not a huge flaw from an album that I liked so well I went out and bought a copy for myself before I even wrote the review. It’s a little of the Allmans mixed with Skynyrd and Motown with a little country and Cajun thrown in for good measure. Not a bad recipe for success.

Tell Me What You Say reviewed by Steve Jones

Tell Me What You Say
Fruteland Jackson
Electro-Fi Records
11 Tracks/52:32

Fruteland Jackson is a long-standing friend of our Crossroads Blues Society. He has done many Blues In the Schools programs in the Rockford area and thousands of students and adults in our area have benefited from his programs. Frutelands’ music and blues education along with his talent have been something we have grown to appreciate and savor over the years.
His newest album on Electro-Fi Records features some great new songs and covers, ranging I topics from the sentimental to the hard hitting. From “Happy Birthday Blues” and “You Are My Sunshine” to “Blues Over Baghdad,” we have Fruteland running the gamut of emotions/ He is equally adept at fretting over birthdays (a recurring theme in his music) and covering traditional songs in new ways to lamenting over the war in Iraq. “War is not for those who are right, but for those who are left” is the profound closure to the latter song. He poignantly expresses his feelings over the war as no one else can.
In “The I.R.S.” he has blues over a tax audit, something we can all appreciate especially during our annual tax season. His new songs often describe the blues in the form current topics.
Fruteland’s approach to the blues is traditional yet he always makes his music sound fresh. The sonorous tenor voice with its’ wavering vibrato make any of his songs a joy to listen to. His vocals strongly evoke the sadness of the blues comes out in tunes like “My Baby Left Me All Alone in E Minor.” On the other end of the spectrum of emotion, he brings in the excitement a gambler experiences in “A Gambler’s View.”
Although Fruteland may not take kindly to his middle age, we sense a maturity in his work that evolves from where he is in his life. Frutelands’ newest CD is a great effort and it is worth more than one listen. If acoustic blues is your bag, then this is a CD for you.

Painkiller reviewed by Steve Jones

Tommy Castro
Blind Pig Records
11 tracks/42:51

Tommy Castro is a soul rocker. Plain and simple. He approaches the blues from the rocking edge of soul, and his newest CD “Painkiller” continues in that vein and takes him to new levels of excellence.
The opening song’s initial riffs of “Love Don’t Care” wind you up, and get you to the top of the Castro roller coaster and then it’s non-stop rocking. “I’m Not Broken” is next and it’s off to the races. I think my favorite track is a bouncy number with a lot of horns called “Big Sister’s Radio.” It’s the story of how the tiny, tinny little transistor radio pulled in music from all over and exposed a generation to great music back in the late 50’s and the 60’s. It was not the big fancy stereo that people learned from but the little transistor radio in the evening, pulling in the AM radio waves from hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away. Having my own little transistor radio in my youth, this song brings back fond memories of searching for and finding some great tunes across the dial. It was so cool to find all the big radio DJs dishing out the platters. I almost feel for today’s MP3/Ipod generation; the download is pretty cool and amazing but I don’t think it compares to finding someone blasting out 50,000 watts of AM power with some rock-a-billy or soul tune playing. But I digress…
Castro struts his stuff and his fans will love this album. I think it surpasses most if not all of his CDs in song quality and performance. He’s got some great new material and the horn section just blows you away.
Tommy has a superb supporting cast on this album. In addition to his band mates of Randy McDonald (bass), Keith Crossan (sax) and Chris Sandoval (drums) there are also a lot of great supporting musicians who appear. Angeli Stehli provides exceptional support on vocals in the ballad “If You Believe (In What You Do),” one of only three slower songs on the CD. Coco Montoyo’s guitar and vocals blaze in a duet along with Castro on the hottest number on the CD “A Good Fool is Hard to Find.”
Castro is a hugely talented singer and guitar player who I think has often let his material hold him back in the past. This CD matches his talent with some great tunes, both new and reworked. Not only that, it melds all of this with his soul. rock and blues style into a wonderful CD with a set of tunes you can’t find fault with. I enjoyed this CD immensely and I think you will, too!