Sunday, November 9, 2008

On 80 Highway reviewed by Mark Thomspon

On 80 Highway
Sleepy John Estes w/Hammie Nixon
Delmark Records
www.delmark .com
17 tracks/57:37

This disc captures a previously unreleased session from 1974 featuring two giants of the country blues genre. Sleepy John Estes is a name that should be familiar to most blues fans. His plaintive, high-pitched vocals consistently capture the emotions expressed in the variety of material covered on the disc. His guitar lays down a steady rhythmic foundation on each cut. Nixon may not be a household name but he repeatedly demonstrates his unerring skill on the harmonica. His uncluttered lines dance around Estes’ vocal work, delighting listeners with his imaginative playing.

The duo cover a variety of music ranging from blues to gospel and several songs with strong association to New Orleans. They trade vocals on “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and Estes breathes life into “Corrine Corrina” with his energetic singing, which is one of two cuts that highlight Nixon’s delightful use of the kazoo. The pair continue to share the vocals on two gospel classics – “Holy Spirit” and “Do Lord Remember Me.”

Other highlights include two takes of “President Kennedy”, a somber meditation that reveals the kind of power and emotion that Estes could capture in a performance. Nixon takes the lead on “Potatoe Diggin’ Man”. His deep, powerful vocal demands your attention. The disc closes with an Estes composition, “Brownsville Blues”, that features a spirited vocal from the composer.

At the time this session was recorded, Estes and Nixon had been musical partners for over thirty-five years. The relaxed, easy-going feel of the session is due to their familiarity with each other, as evidenced on two short tracks with the two doing some verbal sparring. There is plenty to enjoy on this disc, especially Hammie Nixon’s outstanding harmonica work.

Whistling in the Dark reviewed by Mark Thompson

Whistling in the Dark
Terry Garland
Silvermoon Records LLC
11 tracks/47:11

This 2006 release is the fifth from singer/songwriter/guitarist Terry Garland. It features nine original songs and two others that he had a hand in writing. Garland works the traditional themes of love, booze, current events and religion while displaying a knack for injecting subtle humor and fresh perspectives into the proceedings. He has a voice with some rough edges to it that fits the material quite well.

Garland is also an accomplished slide guitar player, particularly on “Hard Luck Blues”, which was recorded live in the studio. Terry lays down a driving guitar pattern to support his earnest vocal. That track is followed by the somber “Too Much Blood”, with Garland expressing his disgust with all of the violence in the world. Butch Taylor contributes some fine piano work in support. “Jim Beam & the Bible” describes the struggle between whiskey and salvation to a ringing guitar chord.

“Stumbling in the Dark” contains a frenzied guitar part that echoes the lyrical pondering of the gloom in the approaching darkness. But Garland can have fun as well, cranking up the tempo and fervently singing about his “Vacation Due”. He slows the pace down on the pretty ballad “Without You” that features some more outstanding piano, this time from Bruce Courson.

This is a solid recording from start to finish. Garland has crafted a strong batch of songs that reflect his view of the world. He presents the tunes in a variety of styles with his fine guitar work as the focal point. Add his engaging vocals to the mix and this one is worth a listen.

Live at Labatt reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live at Labatt
Mitch Kashmar
Delta Groove Music
10 tracks/

Mitch Kashmar should be regarded as one of the finest blues harmonica players working today. If you don’t believe me, you will after you hear this high energy set recorded live at the 2007 Labatt Blues Fest in Edmonton, Canada. Whether he is blowing long, mournful tones or upper-end trills, Kashmar delivers a steady stream of creative playing
without a hint of strain on a program that features selections from his previous two release from Delta Groove.

“Dirty Deal” finds Mitch working in the Jimmy Reed-style, working the high notes to great effect. On “Sugar Sweet”, Kashmar dazzles with two inventive solos to the delight of the appreciative audience. He pays tribute to his friend, the late William Clarke, on “Lollipop Mama”, his harp licks dancing over a swinging groove.

Guitarist John Marx was once a member of Clarke’s band, so he knows how to provide support for a harp player. When he gets a chance at the spotlight on “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”, he unleashes a biting solo in tribute to the woman who “..even puts that whiskey behind her ear!” The rest of the band – Jimmy Calire on keyboards, Tom Lackner on drums and Steve Nelson on bass – provide solid accompaniment throughout the set.

Kashmar also demonstrates that he is an expressive singer, particularly on a reworked Bessie Smith tune, “Evil Man Blue”. Two other highlights are his versions of the jazz standards “Song for My Father” and “Castle Rock.“ Kashmar’s skill and impeccable technique are on full display on both numbers as he improvises lines just like a jazz horn player.

Kashmar takes full advantage of the live setting to establish his credentials as a blues harp master. And it’s great to have another opportunity to hear the impressive guitar work of John Marx. This exciting release will definitely merit consideration as one of the top blues discs of the year.

55 Years of the Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

55 Years of the Blues
Various artists
Delmark Records
CD - 17 tracks/66:24
DVD - 10 tracks/over 60 minutes

This two disc package serves as a reminder that the Delmark label remains the preeminent Chicago blues record label . With a catalog includes recordings from legends like Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Carey Bell and Sleepy John Estes, Koester has spent decades documenting the talents of local musicians and providing them with world-wide exposure. He has also reissued recordings done for lesser known labels like United and Regal, giving blues fans another chance to hear forgotten recordings that have laid dormant and ignored. Earlier this year, Delmark received the Grammy Hall of Fame award for Hoodoo Man Blues, the 1965 classic Junior Wells record with Buddy Guy on guitar.

Wells leads off the CD with a live version of “Little by Little”, recorded at Theresa’s Lounge with the late Phil Guy and Byther Smith on guitar. Other cuts include Detroit Junior revisiting his best-known tune, “Call My Job,” with a fine Eric Schneider tenor sax solo - J.B. Hutto’s booming voice and slide guitar on a live “Evening Train” - and the country blues of Big Joe Williams with his 9 string guitar on “Coffeehouse Blues”.

Also featured are the soul-blues of Syl Johnson, female singers Bonnie Lee and Shirley Johnson plus the under-appreciated guitarist Jimmy Dawkins. Koester always loved piano blues and after you hear Speckled Red’s bawdy take on “The Right String But the Wrong Yo-Yo,” you’ll be a fan too !! One surprise was “Fine and Brown”, a track from piano man Roosevelt Sykes that features his engaging vocal and some great saxophone from “Sax” Mallard and Robert Crowder. The cd makes for a wonderful listen from start to finish even with the variety of styles and the span of time covered.

Not content to rest on their laurels, several years ago Delmark instituted a new series of dvds that document the working musicians on the current Chicago blues scene. These recordings are done in local clubs in front of a real audience. The importance of this work hit home when two musicians , Carey Bell and Little Arthur Duncan, passed away after each had completed their project.

The DVD portion of this set gives you a peek at the talents of Tail Dragger, a singer in the Howlin’ Wolf tradition, and the powerful style of singer/guitarist Byther Smith. One sequence captures Carey Bell on harp with his son , Lurrie, on guitar - just the two of them in Lurrie’s living room going deep into the blues on “Broke and Hungry”. Lurrie gets his own feature as do guitarist Dave Specter and Jimmy Burns. Zora Young rocks the house on “Til the Fat Lady Sings.”

Available on line for less than $17, this set is an incredible value economically and artistically. Even if you have lots of Delmark recordings already, you are bound to find something of interest on one of these discs. While the collection only begins to tell the Delmark story, it provides a big dose of high quality blues music that is sure to delight.

Blood & Treasure reviewed by Mark Thomspon

Blood & Treasure
Paul Mark & the Van Dorens
Radiation Records
11 tracks/46:37

Paul Mark is not a familiar name even though his latest release is his seventh on his Radiation Records label. Recorded in Memphis, Mark expertly mixing blues, rock, rockabilly and soul influences on ten original songs to create solid package of American roots music. He handles the vocals, harmonica and guitar parts as well as piano on three cuts. The Van Dorens are James Strain on bass, Harry Peel on drums and Rick Steff on Hammond organ.

The disc bursts out of the gate with “Everything is Nothing”, an engaging rocker fueled by Mark’s driving guitar and Steff’s swirling organ chords. The band switches to a deep soul groove on “Don’t Get Me Started” with Susan Marshall and Jackie Johnson providing excellent vocal support. Mark turns in a strong vocal that captures the anguish of a lost love. Then it’s on to the blues as Steff sets the mood on organ before Mark’s raw vocal tells the sad tale of “Perp Walk”.

Mark injects plenty of humor into the collection. “Lotta Things to Say” is another up-tempo romp that finds the singer bemoaning “ I speak my mind but my mind’s always running away!” Even better is the dead-on description of the aftermath of a misspent evening of drinking and pleasure that results in a day-after to forget on “I’m Still High.”
Steff supplies some fine barrelhouse piano and Mark blows some mournful harp licks.
The closing instrumental track, “Ruf House”, serves as a showcase for Mark’s formidable talent on guitar.

Mark has a musical vision that extends far beyond his home in New York City. His songwriting ably blends a critical view of life with irreverent humor to provide a spark to each track. The Van Dorens easily handle the stylistic shifts, providing solid backing at every turn. Mark has the vocal chops to handle the range of material and his guitar work elevates the proceedings without dominating. This release should gain some well-deserved attention for the talented Paul Mark.

2 Man Wrecking Crew reviewed by Mark Thompson

2 Man Wrecking Crew
Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm
Delta Groove Music
14 tracks/48:17
While walking around on Saturday afternoon during this year’s Chicago Blues Fest, I heard lots of raucous sounds coming from the Mississippi Juke Joint stage. What I heard was the elemental blues of drummer Cedric Burnside and his pal, guitarist Lightnin’ Malcolm. The duo laid down an intoxicating musical mix that was heavy on the Mississippi hill country blues with bits of hip-hop and funk. It was music that demanded a reaction from your body. Their set was the most exciting performance I heard that day.
Their first Delta Groove release captures much of the spirit and grooves of that live performance. Cedric, the grandson of famed bluesman R.L. Burnside, can be counted on for a driving beat and soulful vocals. The disc opens with his heartfelt tribute to his late grandfather. Malcolm shares in the lead vocal chores. He echoes the drumbeat on his guitar, laying down a dense, thick sound with trance-like qualities. Combine the two and you end up with music brimming with pulsating rhythms that refuse to let go. On three tracks, the duo shift roles with Burnside on acoustic guitar while Malcolm takes over the drum kit.
“Fightin’ “ features an incessant beat from Burnside while Malcolm makes liberal use of his effects pedals to push his guitar into overdrive. Burnside turns in an appropriately angry vocal on “Mad Man Blues”, a tale of cheating love that features Jason Ricci on harmonica. Ricci appears on two other tracks, with his harp work really establishing the mood on the quiet country blues track, “She’s Got Something on Me”. Bekka Bramlett and Etta Britt add exquisite backing vocals on this track and four others. “Don‘t Just Sing About the Blues” also has a driving rhythm that would fill the dance floor in any juke joint in the country.
This seemingly simple music requires real skill to execute properly. Burnside and Malcolm grew up surrounded by some of the best blues musicians in the delta. They studied with the masters and now offer up their own version, extending and modernizing the blues tradition without sacrificing their roots. Give this one a few listens - it really grows on you !!!

Crawling the Walls reviewed by Mark Thompson

Crawling the Walls
Dave Gross
SwingNation Records
11 tracks/51:04

Dave Gross continues to stake his claim as a blues renaissance man. This superbly gifted musician serves up another package brimming with exciting performances that are deeply rooted in the tradition. Gross favors the jump blues format popularized in Texas and the west coast. It’s a style that features plenty of horns and Dave consistently proves to be a skillful arranger and songwriter for the multi-instrumental format. He even found time to produce the project, recorded live in the studio.

The disc opens with a cover of “It’s My Life, Baby”, a tune that was a big hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland. Gross turns in a powerful vocal and coaxes plenty of biting licks from his guitar. He rocks at a frantic pace on “Rock in My Shoe” , horns blasting away and Mike Lattrell pounding the piano keys. The pace slows down on an Ike Turner instrumental, “Cubano Jump”, with more stellar guitar work from Gross and the horn section.

Gross has assembled an exceptional group of horn players for this project. They are some of the finest traditional jazz players in the New York/New Jersey area and Gross takes full advantage of their talent. Dave has a deep love for traditional jazz and proves it with several stunning interpretations that evoke the sound of old New Orleans.

On the title track, a slow drag tribute to insomnia penned by Dave, Jon-Erik Kellso blows a superb muted trumpet solo while Gerry Niewood expertly weaves his clarinet into the arrangement. Gross switches to acoustic guitar on “It Was Born in the 20”s”, another original that takes a gentle stroll down memory lane. The focus is on the guitar interplay between Gross and Matt Munisteri. Conal Fowkes adds some fine stride piano.

The real masterpiece is “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home”. It starts at a slower tempo through the first verse and chorus. Then Kellso grabs your attention with another sharp solo. Suddenly Fowkes’ piano picks up the pace to a ragtime beat and Scott Robinson bursts into the proceedings with a masterful baritone sax solo. Munisteri picks a bit on his banjo before Niewood calls everybody home on the clarinet. The piece closes with a group improvisation between the horns that will take your breath away.

Gross channels T-Bone Walker on “Don’t Take Too Long” and he delves deep into the Chicago blues tradition on “Find Yourself Another Man”. Dennis Gruenling contributes his expert harmonica work on both tracks and Latrell’s piano shines on the latter track. Dave’s guitar sports a big fat tone and he fires off incendiary solos on both cuts.

It is amazing that a 23 year-old musician could have such a finely developed understanding of by-gone styles of music. That he is able to single-handedly bring all of the elements of this project together in a fresh and vibrant updating of the tradition is an accomplishment of the highest order. An amazing recording and one of the year’s best !!!

Hey Sugar reviewed by Steve Jones

Hey Sugar
Gina Sicilia
VizzTone Label Group
13 tracks

This is the second release from this lovely young lady with the big voice, and it’s another great album. I had the honor to be the first person in print to review Gina’s first album and am privileged to be one of the first to get to review her new release.

Gina’s style hearkens bygone eras of the blues. Whether she is upbeat and working to a ragtime beat or doing slow blues that evoke pain and dark feelings, Gina is fast becoming a master at her craft. As I listened to each song over and over again I kept telling myself, “This girl is going to make it big!” Hell, she was nominated for a Blues Music Award as Best New Artist last year; she’s already well on her way to making it big!

The CD was again produced by Dave Gross and he provides the guitar work along with Scott Hornick on bass and Chris Rivelli on drums. These guys are great bluesmen in their own right! We are also treated to some ragtime/New Orleans styled backup with David Maxwell on piano/keyboards, Jon-Erik Kelso on trumpet, Gerry Niewood on clarinet and sax. The opening song “Goin’ Home Bay” opens with them giving a delicious intro and fine support to Gina’s vocals. They also are featured on the next track, “So Attracted to You,” where Gina demonstrates some vocal prowess bending her voice adeptly in a vibrato style that is quite amazing. Her vibrato on the title track is also powerful and expressive. The title track is more something one would have heard in a sock hop with the piano and harmonies giving a sound from old tunes like “Earth Angel” and “In the Still of Night.”

In songs like the third track of the CD we see a more traditional, electric Chicago styled blues where Gina sings about “Kissing in the Dark.” Her voice and Gross’ guitar really sell this one!

Sicilia gives us the sound of a funeral march in an acoustic “I Pray Most Everyday”. Keyboard and sax tastefully fill this one out. Gross gives us a mean electric guitar solo in “Jack and Jill.” Gina and Dave go acoustic honky tonk on ”What the Moon Could Never Do” and “Nobody’s Darling But Mine,” showing us with great prowess yet another style of music.

Dennis Gruenling also provides some great harp work on the CD, and nowhere is it better than in “Lowest of the Low,” where we have some mean, low down and dirty blues singing and harp work. Simply great stuff!

The CD finishes with Gina and Dave staying in that honky tonk acoustic mode with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and her own “Plain Apple Pie.” In “Coat,” Gina sings emotionally of her richness while being poor in a patchwork “coat of many colors...that her mama made for me.” She and Dave go it alone for the final track, another emotional cut where simplicity if more. Fine singing and picking.

The album is full of emotion. Gina’s voice exudes so much emotion and pain. Her powerful instrument can is controlled from soft utterances up to blasting out lyrics with the best of them. She is a superb talent that is getting even better with experience. I saw her recently at Buddy Guy’s Legends; as I saw both in this album and in the live performance, she has matured artistically from when she visited Rockford last year.

If there is one criticism of the CD I could offer it is that the album lacks really driving, up-tempo songs. Despite that small criticism, this is a marvelous set of songs, nine of which were written by Gina. She is both a talented song writer and vocalist. Her first CD “Allow Me to Confess” received a lot of praise by music critics and this sophomore release is sure to garner as much, if not more, great reviews. If you love female blues vocals done right, this is a CD you must add to your collection!

No Paid Holidays reviewed by Steve Jones

No Paid Holidays
Watermelon Slim and the Workers
Northern Blues Music
14 tracks

Watermelon Slim has become an icon of the blues scene. With a dozen nominations for Blues Music Awards in the past two years, he has received a level of recognition that no other blues artist has. Only Buddy Guy and BB King have received six nominations in a year, but even they have not done so in consecutive years.

The reason for this was two fantastic CD releases. 2006’s “Watermelon Slim and the Workers” propelled him on to the blues scene while 2007’s “Wheel Man” pushed him to the pinnacle. Where could he go from there? Could he produce a third hit CD in three years? Well, he certainly did. He backed up those two releases with a third consecutive album that equals them, if not even surpasses them in some ways.

Slim belts out his songs from the heart. Here is a man who has lived the blues. He is a disgruntled Vietnam veteran; a man who has worked the fields, driven trucks and done odd jobs to sustain himself. Whether he is doing songs in a field holler style or as a soft ballad, one can feel that he’s often been run hard and put away wet.

“The Burmese Blues” returns us to a day when older readers can remember the troubles of an unpopular war. Slim hollers out, “I’m just an innocent bystander!” and we can feel the emotion of that bygone era still bottled up in the man.

In I’ve Got a Toothache” Slim lispingly recites the words over a mean slide acoustic resonator groove. Here is a man who has had his share of dental problems (anyone who has met him or looked at his smiling photos can attest); toothaches are something we can all relate to and he brings us his pain with real empathy.

The opener “Blues for Howard” is a rocking blues number with a great barrelhouse piano solo and Slim just hollering out the vocals. This is a song that gets the listener up and noticing that the band can really bring it. If your pulse does not rise while listening to this song your may be certifiably dead.

He goes from the Delta and field hollers to smooth Chicago blues and presents the listener with a glimpse of real life in his great songs and delivery. Most tunes are here are originals and demonstrate Slims’ skills in songwriting, but he can even deliver the goods in overdone standards. He blasts out an old favorite like “Call My Job,” giving it an air of freshness .

Top to bottom this is a great CD with no flaws and lots to offer the listener. I went out and bought a personal copy of this disc right after listening to the review copy– it’s that good. Watermelon Slim is a hot commodity and this third CD in three years is sure to garner him a number of new award nominations!

Twenty Aught Eight V1 and V2 reviewed by Steve Jones

Twenty Aught Eight V1 and V2
Todd Lorenz
13 tracks per volume

There are fifty two weeks in a year and Todd Lorenz has established a goal to write a song in each of them for 2008, or as he has called it ‘twenty aught eight’. And so with 13 weeks in each quarter of the year, the year will result in giving him four CDs of 13 songs each. The first two were released to the Rockford area when Todd opened our Blues in the School Evening show at the Just Goods Listening Room on October 21st. I gladly agreed to review them.

Todd is a big man with a big voice and an even bigger heart. I’ve listened to and reviewed his earlier works and enjoyed them all. While his output is not even nearly 100% blues, it is American roots music and it is delivered from that huge heart of his. His compositions reflect his emotions and feelings, from pains and emotion of a lost love to the primal urges between a man and a woman.

Working to a calendar would stifle the creative juices of most songwriters, but Lorenz seems up to the challenge. While all of his songs certainly are not award winners and stylistically there is a little bit of repetitiveness in a few of the tunes that are a bit sing-song, in general his songs allow us to see through the window to a bygone era in music. We have some songs that could easily be work songs sung in the field and certainly all of the songs could be played on the front porch or before a warm fire with family and friends, allowing them to evoke the gamut of human feelings.

Vocally, Todd has a big instrument. He has power and enunciates the lyrics with clarity and a folky tonal quality. His finger and thumb work on the guitar strings are excellent as is his mastery of the slide. Whether bending a note, playing a blues riff or playing accompaniment to a folk song, his guitar play is both precise and colorful. The instrumentals on V1 called “Moonbeams” and “The Meandering Hound” and “Two-Step on V2 are great examples and really highlight his guitar playing.
Examples of the downside of his emotion include the song where he curses God when he sings of losing his wife (“Lost in Pain”, V1) and ponders a failed relationship as a loner musician who leaves his family for the road (“Never Got Along”, V2) . The upside of his feelings are expressed in tunes like “Life is Good” (V2).. He gets a little whimsical yet serious about a woman who is “six feet of her high heels” in “Six Feet of Trouble” (V2) .

There is a lot of music here in these two CDs. While I found a few of them to have similar tempos and melodic lines, they are generally pretty darn good. If you like acoustic music that ranges from a little folk to a little country to a little blues in a traditional sort of way, these CDs will please you. And you can always sample them and the upcoming V3 and V4 on Todd’s website.

Gateway to the Blues by Steve Jones

Gateway to the Blues
Deak Harp
18 tracks

I got this CD to review and had some poorly preconceived notions that needed to be dispelled. I first ran into Deak Harp at this year’s Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in front of the Big City Blues Magazine tent. In between sets at the main stage, Deak was blasting out the same short set over and over for two days near our tent. He overpowered an underpowered amp and was playing some really distorted licks. A couple of the sets overlapped the real entertainment for a few minutes, which concerned me a little. But I said to myself, “He’s a guy trying to make a living. Leave it be,” so I did. After all, the music was pretty much ok from what I made out between distorted licks and I had been forced to listen to it about 25 times.

So when I was given this CD to review I may have had somewhat low expectations. Then when I first played the CD I thought it was just a lot more harmonica overload. The first eight cuts are train sounds and instrumentals of traditional songs and harmonica work. Nice, but nothing really new . Then the title track came on and things changed.

This was the first track with the whole band really playing as band. I enjoyed this song immensely. It was a slow blues instrumental. Very traditional but nice. Deak’s harp punctuated well and carried the song, but the entire band was together and it came off well. So now I was intrigued.

The next song was a shuffle entitled “Yea My Baby”. I was further sold because of the really mean harp Deak played here. Must have been that “black cat bone” his baby had in the song.

The track “Moving Soon” feature some great lead guitar work– I was quite impressed. “Midnight Blues” is a nice, long slow instrumental and a more up tempo “Big Fat Mama” also sounded great.

All in all this is a good little CD. I had trepidation and the first 8 cuts got me a little harmonica overloaded, but they were well done as were the band’s 10 tracks of solid blues following them. This is a fairly nice little CD that harmonica lovers will really enjoy and general blues lovers should find something to enjoy, too.

South by Southwest reviewed by Steve Jones

South by Southwest
Nelsen Adelard
Blue Track Records
10 tracks

The West Coast blues scene has lost a regular due to the departure of Nelsen Adelard for his new home in McComb, Missisippi, but it resulted in an outstanding fifth solo album release that all of us (including the West Coast) can enjoy. “South by Southwest” offers us some insight into Adelard’s feelings about the move and both his old and new homes.

The first two tracks of the CD were recorded live from one of his last LA shows in July 2006 before leaving town. We can see why Nelsen and his band were a staple for LA blues. “One More Mile” is a hot numberswith some great horn accompaniment by Mark Norris on sax and the classic “Rocket 88” is a great rendition, also helped out by Norris’ horn.

The next eight tracks are all originals, covering the move from LA to McComb. He begins his travelogue with “I Ain’t Gonna Miss LA” and ends with “Sweet Home In McComb”, the start and end points of his move. Adelard bemoans missing the nights in Hollywood, his friends, his band and his baby, but not LA in a little West Coat Jump style. The McComb track is a slow, New Orleans styled blues number about his new home in McComb; Nelsen says that, “no matter where I roam, I’m comin’ back to my home in McComb”.

Building a new house gave Adelard the blues and he documents that well with “Contractor Blues.” Anyone who has built a new house or renovated an old one knows what he’s talking about in “needing a house he can use”. Nelson mostly focuses on guitar, harp and vocals, but he gives us a nice little bit of his boogie woogie piano starting in “Do What You Do”and in the next two tracks. “Can’t Get Through to You” is a slow bluesy rock song with song with some nice guitar licks and then Adelard flows that into a more rocking number called “Boogie on Down the Road,” with a big, rocking electric guitar sound and his harp playing back and forth with each other.

This is a solid CD. If you are already a Nelsen Adelard fan, you’ll find this album much to your liking. If you are new to Adelardom, you get a super glimpse of what he can do stylistically; he is equally comfortable with all forms of the blues and shows off his talents well. I’ve listened to this CD a lot in the course of prepping to review it, some from necessity but mostly because I really loved it!

Tales from the Fence Line reviewed by Steve Jones

Tales from the Fence Line
Fontaine Brown
manatee records
12 tracks

I had no idea what I was getting into with this CD but man, was I glad I got into it! Fontaine Brown has been around for decades. He cut his first single at Chess Records in 1962. He worked the Detroit Scene with Del Shannon and Bob Seeger in the 60’s working with rock, punk and Motown, then went on the road living out of his van with his band before settling down to song writing. 200 songs later, with the likes of Dave Edmunds, Percy Sledge, John Mayall, Dave Alvin, Joe Louis Walker, Emmylou Harris and even sampled by Gorillaz, Doug “Fontaine” Brown put a band together and created this fantastic CD of 12 cuts of all the styles of music he’s been around. It flows about nicely and seamlessly despite stylistic changes; there is a natural flow that allows the listener to move from genre to genre smoothly.

The CD starts with “Ain’t No Brakeman”, a rocking number that talks about how he can’t turn around and go back to his former woman because there ain‘t no brakeman on this train.” Good rocking stuff. The mandolin opening the title track “Fence Line” is a bit of a departure, but the solid vocals, harp, and guitar really sell this song. The band is tight!

“Detroit Saturday” is a funked up and fuzzed out number hearkening back to his origins in Michigan. It’s a driving cut that gets the juices flowing nicely. A little organ comes nicely into the next two cuts, “Closer to the Flame” and “Love Come ot rescue Me.” The former uses keyboards in a 60’s rock piece while the latter is more of a soul filled R&B number with B3 organ. He returns to Motown and its sound with “Southside Story”.

“Lost in the Sensation” is a Latin number a la the early Carlos Santana style of guitar and rock, with marimba backing it up nicely. A poppy rock song follows. “Wreck at the Crossroads” offers the listener another look from Brown and somehow you buy it all.

“Just Out of Reach” moves into a John Fogerty and Creedence guitar and vocal style and it’s pretty good. The next song features sitar and and Indian style of music, reminding me of the Beatles’ and other bands who introduced that and blended it into their rock. I didn’t want to like “Pool of Light” at first but about a minute in I was again sold, sitar and all.

Fontaine goes into a Canned Heat mode next with harp and distorted vocals. By now I’m so over sold that this guy can do it all that I believe. He closes out with a highway rock song called “Endless Road;” a dozen songs, a dozen styles, all blended into one CD and it’s cool.

I don’t know how he did it but the production just makes sense despite the consistent style changes. Don’t take my word. Go to CD baby (or his My Space), read about Brown and sample the tunes (in order) and you, too, will know what I mean. When the last song ends it will leave you tapping your foot and asking for more!

Live At The Cadillac Club reviewed by David Stine

Live At The Cadillac Club
Root Doctor
Big O Records;
10 tracks

Shame on me for not knowing about Root Doctor! I am a big fan of “soul blues” and gospel, and Root Doctor’s live CD is a delight. If I did the correct math, this live CD is number three for the band who hail from Lansing, Michigan. Fronted by Freddie Cunningham on vocals, Root Doctor also is blessed with backup vocalists who harmonize so sweetly that you want to say “amen.” Don’t get me wrong: this is NOT a gospel album. It’s funky, slinky, and cool. If you like Syl Johnson, Earl Gaines, Roscoe Shelton (yeah, Artie White, Z.Z. Hill . . .) and others in this genre, you’ll like Root Doctor. Comprising Rick Bole on drums, Greg Nagy on guitar, Jim Alfredson on keyboards, and James Williams on bass, the band kicks off with Booker T and the Mug’s “Hip Hug Her.” At 6:09, this tune runs a bit long. If you were in the audience, you probably didn’t notice, but there just isn’t enough going on to carry this opening instrumental. Song two, Teddy Morgan’s “Walkin’ Out On You,” was a nice surprise. RD take the stripped down original and make it their own. This introduction to Freddie Cunningham‘s vocals, along with Nagy’s tasty guitar playing, had me smiling. There are three band-penned tunes on the CD, my favorite being “Been A Long Time Coming” that captured my favorite-of-the-CD spot. When put up against Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” and Sam Mosley and Robert A. Johnson’s “It’s Too Late To Try And Do Right” (the only slow blues on the CD), this is saying a lot. Johnson and company do admirable jobs with both aforementioned--I liked the self-penned one a bit better. I was slightly let down by Greg Nagy’s reading of Lowell Folsom’s “Reconsider Baby.” Vocally, you could tell Nagy’s been singing with black guys for awhile: he can soulfully float a tone and “gut up” his notes. What let me down, however, was the too-long guitar solo in the middle of the song. Tortured goes to torturous pretty quickly. At 7:40 (yes, I remember this was cut live), half this length could have delivered the goods in my opinion. The album end’s with Larry Graham’s “The Turning Point.” Despite some minor “length” issues, I was sold on Root Doctor and their groove-oriented read of the R&B side of the blues. The addition of the Motor City Horns accentuates the band without distracting; as do the tight back up vocals provided by bassist Williams, keyboardist Alfredson, and guitarist Nagy. This is a band worthy of pursuing, in my estimation: not strictly blues, but a very enjoyable experience! I will be checking out their previous CDs.

The Blues Roll On reviewed by David Stine

The Blues Roll On
Elvin Bishop
Delta Groove Music, Inc.
12 tracks

What’s not to like about Elvin Bishop, the “party ‘til the cows come home” guitarist and band leader with a 45 year career? I admit to being a big fan clear back to the Butterfield days when he stood in the shadow of Mike Bloomfield. I was a little skeptical when I realized that this initial Delta Groove disc was one of those filled with “guests.” My experience has been that these outings are either train wrecks, atypical of the artist or uneven showoff sessions that lose their appeal after a single play. Guests in this case include John Nemeth, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, B.B. King, James Cotton, Angela Strehli, George Thorogood, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Tommy Castro, and others. The disc begins with the title cut, “The Blues Roll On” which features Kim Wilson and Warren Haynes and the rough edged guitar tone Bishop used on his last two Blind Pig recordings. I wasn’t blown away at first, but discovered quickly that there were little gems here and there throughout the disc and that it IS, indeed, an Elvin Bishop album, not a collage of mixed delivery. For me, the gems are the retooled “Struttin’ My Stuff” with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Updated lyrics but the same solid groove, make this not a rehash, but a nice revisit to classic Bishop. Also high on my list are “Black Girl” with R.C. Carrier and Andre Theirry a funky, accordion-driven, raw blues tune. Bishop and Thorogood’s reading of “Send You Back To Georgia” is a Houndog Taylor-eque romp that may make listeners want to check out latter-day Thorogood. Another highlight for me was “Oklahoma” featuring solo Bishop: just electric guitar and floor stomp--who needs a band? The intro to Roy Milton’s “Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket” has Bishop “interviewing” B,B. King before they slide into the song. This is a bit contrived and doesn’t add much, but at the song’s close Bishop asks “Bee” if he’s ever called himself the “king of the blues.” The answer is revealing. Are there any bad, forgettable, or “dogs” on this CD? Not for me. Bishop, with the Homemade Jamz Band, does a knockout version of Junior Well’s “Come On In This House.” “Look On Yonder’s Wall” was recorded live from the 2007 (Pacific) Blues Cruise and features guitar tradeoffs from Bishop, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Tommy Castro and the sound quality is excellent--it doesn‘t stick out as “live” at all. The disc ends‘ with a cover of Jimmy Reed‘s “Honest I Do.” Done as an instrumental, this is the only tune I was disappointed with: with all the vocalists available, why make it an instrumental? .Why not Nemeth with Strehli harmonizing? A sure bet, but I’m not Randy Chortoff, whose production decisions I’ve questioned before. This is a good all around CD; a fine addition the your Elvin Bishop collection; an even outing featuring guests who know how to aid the delivery of a song without taking over and making it about them and not it. Elvin Bishop has his name on it but he, like the others, keeps the focus on the music. At just a little over 45 minutes for 12 songs, there’s not a lot of show off time here.

Overnight Sensation reviewed by Rick Hein

Overnight Sensation
Jackie Payne Steve Edmonson Band
Delta Groove Music, Inc.
13 tracks

Overnight Sensation is the second CD from this San Francisco Bay area band led by vocalist Jackie Payne and guitarist Steve Edmonson. The 13 tracks offer something for everyone: soul, blues, R&B, and more, seamlessly mixed together to give this disc a timeless feel; it sounds like it could be a record from any time in the last 40 years.

The band, along with Payne and Edmonson, is bass player Bill Singletary, drummer Nick Otis, Carl Green on sax, Lech Wierzynski on trumpet, plus special guests.

My favorites include the two straight ahead blues numbers; “Mother-in-law blues”, and “I got a mind to go to Chicago”, the latter featuring Mitch Kashmar ‘s harmonica. These reflect my own musical taste. As mentioned, there is something for everyone here. I am sure others will love the medley “She’s looking good/I’ve never found a girl” showcasing Payne’s vocals, or the guitar and horns interplay of Edmonson’s instrumental “Bringin’ me right back”. Two cuts: “Can I hit it again”, and “Bag full of doorknobs”, went against my musical preference. The disc wraps up with a majestic cover of Charlie Rich’s “Feel Like Going Home”. This simple country ballad is glorified into a full blown soul/gospel classic, and the CD is worth it for this one cut alone.

Overall, an impressive second effort for these guys. Great horns, vocals, guitar, and guest performances. If you like blues, soul, R/&B, any and all of the above, Payne and Edmonson deliver sensationally!

Steady Movin’ reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Steady Movin’
Carlos del Junco
Northern Blues Music
11 tracks

Carlos del Junco’s new release, Steady Movin’, is a very interesting CD. To me, it not only showcases his mastery of the harmonica but also takes the blues to a new level. To blues “purist”, I suppose, to go somewhere else with the blues is just not right. Well to keep the blues alive, in this era of electronic music, we must accept some change. Carlo does present a good step forward for the blues with this CD.

Carlos’ band lineup on this recording is one tight music machine! It is very apparent that his harmonica is the controlling instrument on this project. Do not overlook Kevin Breit’s guitar and banjo riffs and solos. Everythinng that he does is a compliment to Carlos on the harmonica. This is really good stuff.

Jorn Juul Anderson on drums and percussion adds a Latin feel to the music. Add Marc Rogers, on the bass, Denis Kaldie, on keyboards, Matt Brubeck on cello and we have a very enjoyable band to listen to.

With the first tune named “Diddle It”, and the last tune named “Doodle It”, what more can look for in this cd. These two tracks are really well done instrumentals that showcase Carlos on the harmonica. “Diddle It” is a boogie woogie type tune with really good keyboard lines and heavy bass backing. With Carlos capable of doing overblow style harmonica playing, the harp takes on the chromatic sound on the diatonic harmonica. His Howard Levy influence is very apparent on this track.

On “Mashed Potatoes Canada”, attribute to the Godfather of Soul”, John Dickie takes over the vocals. This is a really funky tune.

“Movin’ Down The River Rhine”, a Sonny Boy Williamson tune, to me, brings out the Paul Butterfield influence in Carlos. This is a barebones harp, vocal tune. This is an example of the real blues.

“Paridise” is a great tune with to me a Ry Cooder Latin influence. Kevin Briet does really nice guitar work on this one. Add Carlos on vocals and we have a great tune.

Carlos’ rendition of the Howard Levy inspired version of “Amazing Grace” is just that. Amazing and unique is my description of this tune. Shut your eyes and imagine where this track is going. This is harp playing with a stretched imagination. It is a great piece of work to listen to.

If Carlo del Junco’s “Steady Movin’ is an example of where the blues is going I will take the ride.

The Future of the Blues, Volume 3 reviewed by Harmonica Joe

The Future of the Blues, Volume 3
Various Artists
Northern Blues Music
15 tracks

Northern Blues Music is a Canadian based independent blues recording label. While only being formed in 2000, they have released a great list of fine blues cds. Among thier most well known performers are Watermellon Slim, Carlos del Junco and Mem Shannon. This independent recording label is the kind of company that we need to produce blues artist music and get it out to us blues lovers. They are doing a fine job at it!

I have been a fan of musiic samplers for a long time. These give us the ability to hear artist, not known to us, at a very reasonable cost. Besides being a real bargin, they are also a great tool to promote the blues.

"The Future of the Blues, Volume 3" sampler has a great lineup of performers. Most of us have heard or Watermellon Slim, Mem Shannon and Carlos del Junco. This is a plus because we can now listen to some new music from them. I had never heard of Zac Harmon, Mason Casey or The Twisters, to name a few. With 13 artist on this cd and over an hour of music there will be something new for all of us listening to it. It is really a great project.

"Penny Waiting For Change", by the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, is an outstanding tune by a fine upcoming blues band. Listen to this track and you will be amazed to find out the age of the band members. They range in age from 9 to 16. Where will they go from here! They will help keep the blues alive for the future.

Another outstanding group on this cd is Moreland and Arbukle. With Dustin Arbuckle's strong vocals and harp playing joined with Aaron Moreland on guitar, we are treated to some real Delta blues.

I could go on about the rest of the fine artist on this cd because they are all good to listen to. At about $8, this cd is a great bargain and a very good way to be introduced to fine blues groups. Also we can hear new stuff fron artist that we are familiar with.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blues on the Moon reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues on the Moon
Byther Smith
Delmark Records
11 tracks/65:54

The latest entry in Delmark’s ongoing series that profiles veteran Chicago blues musicians captures Byther Smith in front of an appreciative audience at the Natural Rhythm Social Club on the south-side of Chicago. Like the other releases, there are CD and DVD versions, with the later including an extra track and high-resolution surround sound.

Smith has a commanding presence on the stage with an all-business demeanor that is entirely appropriate for his rough-and-tumble brand of blues. Now 75 years old, Smith retains his expressive and powerful voice as well as his stripped-down guitar style. His band includes Anthony Palmer on guitar, Daryl Coutts on keyboards, Greg McDaniel on bass and James Carter on drums. Coutts tears it up on “Your Mama’s Crazy”, his fingers flying across the keyboard.

The set-list includes four covers and seven songs penned by Smith. Favoring a mid-tempo groove, Byther performs with a sense of urgency that is rare today. Listen to the intensity in his vocal on the title track as Smith describes how he will be paid five million dollars to be the first to play the blues standing on the moon. On the harrowing “Give Up My Life For You”, Smith’s rough-hewn voice cries out for baby Jesus and his salvation. Throughout the disc,

The DVD gives viewers a peek into a neighborhood juke joint. Patrons get up and dance as the spirit moves them. The multi-camera shoot provides close-ups of Smith and the band members in vivid color.

Delmark should be commended for their efforts to document the older generation of blues musicians. Two artists covered in previous issues, Carey Bell and Little Arthur Duncan, have passed away. Byther Smith falls into that category known as a talent deserving of greater recognition. This new release should garner him the attention his talent deserves from the blues community

Live at the Firefly reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live at the Firefly
The Bruce Katz Band
Vizztone Records
12 tracks/65:57

Recorded at the end of a tour, Katz and crew are captured in full flight on an all-instrumental program. Bruce is a master of the keyboard, possessing prodigious talent on the piano and organ. His band includes Chris Vitarello on guitar, Rod Carey on bass and Ralph Rosen on drums. They turn in a road-tested performance that ranges from the funky opener, “Deep Pockets”, to a straight-ahead version of the classic Charles Mingus composition “Better Get It In Your Soul.”

On “The Blue Lamp” Katz follows an incendiary solo from Vitarello with one of his one, pounding out a mesmerizing solo on his piano. He attacks the keyboard on “Norton’s Boogie,” handling the rapid pace with ease. He coaxes dazzling runs and fat chords from the organ on “Ice Cream Man” and proves that he is equally proficient on that instrument at the faster tempos on the burnin’ take of “Jump Start”.

Vitarello shares the spotlight with Katz and matches his virtuosity at every turn. He can squeeze a note for all it’s worth or pick out lines that dazzle you with their complexity. The rhythm section stays in the pocket through every twist and turn.

Full of creative improvisations, this recording delight listeners searching for a more challenging experience than the standard blues licks provide.

Soul Bender reviewed by Mark Thompson

Soul Bender
Matthew Stubbs
Vizztone Records
11 tracks/37:11

Matthew Stubbs is a guitarist who has been steadily building his career, serving stints with Janiva Magness and John Nemeth. He is now featured in Charlie Musselwhite's band, so you can bet that the young man can play.

His first release is unusual in that it contains a batch of catchy instrumentals composed by Stubbs. It places his guitar squarely in the spotlight and Matthew easily handles the pressure. He expertly mixes soul grooves, funky dance beats and high-powered boogie rhythms into a collection of musical highlights. Stubbs gets outstanding contributions from Sax Gordon, who leads the three-piece horn section behind him.

Stubbs proves himself to adept at a variety of tempos, firing off lightning-quick runs on “Sticky Buns” or establishing the smooth soul groove on “Rivelli’s Mood.” Gordon almost steals the instrumental honors with one inventive solo after another, reaching his creative peak on “20 Gallons of Beadle Juice.” He and Stubbs trade licks at a frantic pace on “Stomping on Thru.”

These guys give you an idea of what Booker T & the Mgs would have sounded like if Booker T had been a sax player. “Soul Bender” is a breath of fresh air, an exciting work that establishes Stubbs as a musician to keep an eye on.

Mo' Chikan reviewed by Mark Thompson

Mo' Chikan
Super Chikan
Vizztone Records
12 tracks/60:49

James “Super Chikan” Johnson is a truly unique individual. His guitars are true works of art, crafted by Johnson from gas cans and cigar boxes before being decorated in imaginative designs and color combinations. His music combines common blues riffs with lyrics that reflect Johnson’s life experiences in frank, and often humorous, fashion. He gets support from his regular band, the Fighting Cocks - featuring Daddy Rich on bass, Jameisa “Pinky” Turner on drums and Laura “Lala” Craig on keyboards.

Super Chikan is an adept guitarist, using a variety of effects to keep his sound fresh. “Freddy’s Thang” is a tribute to Freddy King that borrows the famous riff from “Hideaway” that chugs along until Johnson’s guitar unleashes a biting wah-wah workout. He relates the origins of his alter ego on “Crystal Ball Eyes” and gives a comical description of one of his former occupations on “Yard Boy Blues.” Despite the title, “Crying About the Blues”, jumps out at you with energy and hot guitar licks.

There is plenty to like about this recording. Super Chikan has a love of life that injects a joyous spirit into all of his work. Hopefully that spirit will allow him to reach a wider audience.

Live from Bluesville reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live from Bluesville
Fiona Boyes, Mookie Brill & Rich DelGrosso
Vizztone Records
11 tracks/48:47

This delightful recording captures a live studio acoustical performance that features Australian Fiona Boyes on guitar, Rich Delgrosso on mandolin and Mookie Brill on bass and harmonica on the opening track. All three get a chance to take the lead vocal.

Boyes is a revelation with her solid guitar playing and impressive vocal chops. She can adopt a convincing deep-throated growl on “Smokestack Lightning” or fashion a sultry purr for “Homegrown Sin”. Delgrosso is the only musician I know of who is dedicated to playing the blues mandolin. His interplay with Boyes’ guitar creates a musical conversation to be treasured.

Brill injects a taste of rockabilly into the program, slappin’ his bass through “My Baby Left Me.” Boyes contributes a salacious vocal turn on “Two Legged Dog” to close out the disc.

This session brought this trio together for the first time. Without any rehearsal, they are able to fashion a marvelous work of joyful music-making that is highly recommended

Gaye Without Shame reviewed by Mark Thompson

Gaye Without Shame
Gaye Adegbalola
Vizztone Records
18 tracks/73:35

Adegbalola gained attention as a member of Saffire - the Uppity Blues women. For her latest solo project, she has decided to proudly address her sexuality. That is apparent in the opening cut, "Queer Blues", which describes her journey of sexual discovery over a New Orleans style R&B groove. Other tracks are subtler in their approach. Her marvelous duet with Resa Gibbs on Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" gently changes your viewpoint on this classic. Gaye works her magic again on "The Great Pretender", creating an anthem for oppressed people of the world.

Another highlight is the stunning reworking of "Let It Be Me' as the voices of Gaye and Cleome expertly dance around each other in a passionate performance. And there is plenty of humor present in Gaye's work, as evident on the rocking "Hetero Twinges", describing a man so good looking that he turns the head of every woman despite her orientation.

In addition to singing, Gaye adds guitar on four cuts. She is well served by the backing band that includes veteran Bob Margolin on guitar and bass, Roddy Barnes on piano and Jim Brock on drums. Margolin's slide guitar drives "Twisted Mind Blues" while Barnes contributes a jaunty piano part on "Tippin' on the Down Low".

There is plenty of fine music and heartfelt performances on this release. Some listeners might be put off by Gaye putting her sexuality out front. Her response is found in the last track. Joined by the Fredericksburg Freedom Singers, Adegbalola lifts up a moving acapella version of "I Ain't Ashamed".

Orange Blossoms reviewed by Mark Thompson

Orange Blossoms
JJ Grey & Mofro
Alligator Records
12 tracks/53:53

Their second Alligator release finds Grey and Mofro continuing to explore their potent mix of funky swamp rock & soul music that stems from Grey's formulative years in his home state of Florida. Grey has one of those expressive voice that is thick with a soulful feel. He could sing the pages of a phone book and still command your attention !!
Listen to the title track at the open of the disc - Grey's vocal oozes a southern feel over a ringing guitar riff and a driving horn section. The arrangement slowly builds in strength and Grey steadily builds the emotional intensity of his performance, his voice displaying a harder edge to match the music swelling around him.
"The Devil You Know" is a funky workout with a female backing chorus that serves as a fine contrast to another strong Grey vocal. One highlight of the disc is the somber "She Don't Know", a Grey original that features a string section and a more restrained, but none-the-less passionate, vocal from the leader.

Grey is indeed the main man on this project. Besides writing all but one song and handling the lead vocals, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, sitar, piano, clavinet, harmonica and percussion. His compositions continue to prove his skill as a musical arranger. This batch of tunes is not as strong lyrically as previous efforts but Grey makes up for any shortcomings with the sincerity of his performance. Band members Adam Scone (bass & organ) and Anthony Cole (drums) make key contributions by establishing a strong rhythmic foundation throughout the disc.

"WYLF (What Your Looking For)" comes across like a long-lost medium tempo funk workout from Sly Stone. The longest track, "Move It On", is another slow burner with a spooky arrangement that creates a sense of forbidding and doom. Grey reveals his gospel roots on the closing track "I Believe (In Everything)", his voice soaring over a spare accompaniment before the vocal chorus and horn section join in, pushing Grey's voice to even greater heights.

If you have resisted the urge to check-out prior releases from JJ & Mofro, this new release gives you the opportunity to correct your error of omission. Grey delivers another outstanding set in his unique style that aims for your soul and rarely misses the mark.

Feel So Good reviewed by Mark Thompson

Feel So Good
Albert Cummings
Blind Pig Records
11 tracks/58:49

Several years ago Albert Cummings did a set on the main stage at the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest. The intensity of that performance and his mastery of the guitar had fans lined up to get his autograph for over an hour. All of Cummings' fans can now rejoice as his third release for Blind Pig was recorded live at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Backed by Daniel Broad on bass and Aaron Scapin on drums, Albert lights it up on straight-ahead rockers like "Party Right Here" and "Why Me". He fires off one fiery guitar riff after another, to the delight of the audience. The proceedings take a dramatic turn when Cummings tackles the atmospheric original "Sleep". He follows that up with an unusual medley that pairs "Hoochie Coochie Man" with Little Feats "Dixie Chicken". The band's expert segue between the two disparate tunes makes it seem like they are simply two pieces of the same composition. In Cummings hands, the familiar riff from "Hoochie Coochie Man" morphs into something more like the guitar riff from Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky". The concert crowd joins in on the chorus to "Dixie Chicken".
"Barrelhouse Blues" slows the pace down for a blistering guitar tour-de-force and a vocal of equal intensity. Cummings turns in one of the heaviest versions of "Rock Me Baby" that you will ever hear. Try to imagine Led Zepplin covering the blues classic. In fact, Cummings covers Zepplin on the closing track, finishing off with a high octane version of "Rock and Roll".

Fans of the blues/rock power trio format are going to love this one. Blues fans should approach with caution as Cummings indulges more of his rock instincts throughout the recording. But there is no denying that Albert is a musician and performer to be reckoned with. Feel So Good captures him in his element, live on stage.

Full Tilt reviewed by Mark Thompson

Full Tilt
Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
Alligator Records
14 tracks/59:08

The nasty guitar lick that opens this disc serves as a warning for the raucous proceedings that follow. "Hold That Train" is a stomping opener that announces that Lil' Ed is back and taking' no prisoners. The urgency of the performance captures the excitement of a live show by the band, not a easy thing to do in a studio environment.

And the great news is that the rest of the disc manages to maintain the same high level of performance. Some of Ed's previous recordings have been inconsistent efforts that failed to play to his strengths. This time out Ed has a batch of mostly original tunes that place the band in the houserockin' mode that they are famous for.
Tracks like "Don't Call Me" and "Candy Sweet" feature Ed's razor-sharp slide
guitar licks over the driving rhythm section of James "Pookie" Young on bass and Kelly Lttleton on drums. The other band member is Michael Garrett on second guitar. All three have been members of the Blues Imperials for some time, which has allowed the band to test the material on the bandstand before recording these definitive versions. The sound is enhanced by the addition of Johnny Iguana on keyboards and a horn section of Eddie McKinley on tenor and David Basinger on baritone sax.

Despite the strength of the up-tempo material, the real highlights of the disc are the four slower tracks that feature outstanding vocals from Lil' Ed. "Check My Baby's Oil" is a sexually suggestive track that escapes novelty status due to Ed's convincing performance. Ed explores the crushing effects of love lost on "Life Got in the Way", wringing emotion out of every note he sings before breaking into a brief guitar break. The arrangement gets added weight from Iguana on organ. The autobiographical track, "Dying to Live", gives Ed a chance to share his views on his life, punctuated by stinging guitar fills. "Every Man Needs a Good Woman" is more of the same - deep blues sung with conviction and played with the searing intensity of someone who has stared the devil in the face and lived to tell about it.

The band closes the disc with a tribute to the great Chicago slide guitar player, Hound Dog Taylor, ratcheting up the energy level even higher as Ed shouts out the minimal vocal refrain over frenzied guitar licks. It is a fitting end to an hour of outstanding performances that mark this as best recording from Lil' Ed in a long time. This one is made to be played loud on a Saturday night. Get a copy, invite your friends over and let Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials provide the musical soundtrack for a rockin' good time !!!

Midnight Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Midnight Blues
Magic Slim & the Teardrops
Blind Pig Records
13 tracks/47:21

There has been a trend in the music business to inundate an artist with a stable of guest stars in an effort to make the latest recording appealing to a wider range of listeners. These attempts often bury the host beneath the caterwauling of ill-suited guests that have little common musically. When the artist has their own deeply entrenched signature style, it can impossible for all of the elements to come together in a coherent package.

Magic Slim has been a champion of the hard-driving, westside of Chicago sound for over three decades. Once you become familiar with it, his muscular guitar-driven style is instantly recognizable. His new recording features a number of guest musicians but the folks at Blind Pig made some very smart choices, adding other Chicago blues musicians who share the same roots as Slim. Their contributions augment the Teardrops sound with detracting from it. And they leave all of the singing for Slim. The end result is one of Slim's best recordings.

The disc opens with one of the Magicman's original tunes, "Let Me Love You". Slim belts out the vocal with his dark, gruff voice that rides over a surging rhythm from Danny O'Connor on bass and David Simms on drums with Jon McDonald also on guitar. Slim's guitar spits out taut guitar lines that cut like a knife. The next track adds James Cotton on harmonica on the Muddy Water's classic " You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had". I can't remember ever hearing Slim playing with a harmonica. But Cotton fits right in, filling in around Slim's vocal before he lays down a solo that proves that age has yet to rob Cotton of his talent.

Lil" Ed Williams joins the proceedings on "Give Me Back My Wig", his slide guitar giving the band an even tougher sound than usual. "Spider in My Stew" has Lonnie Brooks adding his guitar to the mix while Elvin Bishop raises the energy level on another Slim original, "Cryin' Won't Let You Stay". And the horn section added to the closing track, "Loving You is the Best Thing That Happened to Me", sounds so natural that you might think that Slim has always used them. Otis Clay adds backing vocals on this cut

The rest of disc leaves it to Slim and the Teardrops to do what they do best. They slow the pace a bit on a couple of tracks, giving Magic Slim a chance to demonstrate that his limited range doesn't keep him from delivering a stirring vocal. The Teardrops play as ensemble, their tight sound honed by many a night on stage. Slim's sound has not changed over the years, which is a blessing since there are precious few blues musicians playing his kind of propulsive, unadorned blues. Magic Slim has long been one of my favorite blues artists and his latest set proves that he still at the top of his game.

Treat Me Right reviewed by Mark Thompson

Treat Me Right
Robin Rogers
Blind Pig Records
11 tracks/41:34

This is Robin Rogers first release on a major record label. She has had some success with prior independent releases and has achieved some recognition in the blues community for her work, including a "Best Self-Produced CD" award from the Blues Foundation in 2005.

This effort features her powerful, brassy voice over the standard band set-up of bass, drums and keyboards plus a horn section comprised of Jon Thornton on trumpet and Tony Hayes on saxes and flute. Husband Tony Rogers handles the guitar parts and helped Robin write seven of the tracks.
Originals like "Can You Hear Me Now" provide the opportunity for Robin to display her impressive vocal abilities. She has a husky tone but can easily glide from a deep growl to the upper end of the scale. "Promised Land" is a gospel workout alternating handclaps with the horn section in support another quality vocal from Rogers. She turns the heat down on "Nobody Stays" but her vocal still almost overpowers the late-night jazz feel of the performance. Using a dobro, a march beat and some somber harmonica from Robin, the group captures the haunting emotions of "Color-Blind Angel", a tribute to Viola Liuzzo who was a civil rights worker murdered in 1965. Musically compelling, the track loses some of the impact when Rogers sings lines like ".. the 3 K's took you out."

Rogers shows good taste in the songs she decided to cover. A lesser-known B.B. King number, "Treat Me Right" opens the disc with a booming vocal from Rogers and a smooth sax solo from Hayes. One of the best cuts is "Ain't No Use", from the pen of Rudy Stevenson. Robin's voice glides through the changes, going from a whisper to a near-scream without a hint of strain.

The sound quality on the disc is quite good but a bit too clean for my taste. Rogers has the vocal chops to handle some rough edges if given the opportunity. She is undoubtedly one of those musicians that is best experienced live. This release establishes her as someone worth paying attention to and should introduce her to a wider audience.

Daylight at Midnight reviewed by Mark Thompson

Daylight at Midnight
Travis "Moonchild" Haddix
Earwig Records
10 tracks/39:22

Haddix is not a household name despite the fact that he has thirteen recordings to his name. The Mississippi native will soon be 70 years old but you would never guess it when you hear his latest effort. As the lead singer, songwriter and handling the guitar solos, the focus is squarely on Haddix's shoulders and he is up to the challenge.

Time has weathered Haddix voice, darkening the tone and giving it a rough-around-the edges quality without sapping its strength. It is perfectly suited for slow blues tunes like "Backward Baby," which finds Travis taking a humorous perspective on the breakup of a relationship. When the band breaks into a funky strut on "You Kind of Fool," Haddix voice swells with righteous indignation.

Most of the tracks have a medium tempo groove. The backing band is more than adequate and includes a four piece horn section. Haddix can still coax plenty of fine sounds out of his guitar, whether it's bending a note for all it's worth or laying down fast single-note runs that rival guitarists half his age.

Haddix melds elements of soul with blues and ends up with a sound that may not be original but is definitely worth checking out. As Haddix quotes in the notes, " I am the best I can be -- and since no one else can be me, there's none better."

Stop and Think About It reviewed by Mark Thompson

Stop and Think About It
Chris James & Patrick Rynn
Earwig Records
12 tracks/52:39

Guitarist Chris James and his partner, bass player Patrick Rynn, are currently part of the all-star band that operates out of the Rhythm Room in Scottsdale, AZ. During their career they have played with legends like drummer Sam Lay, Dave Myers and guitarist Jody Williams. James handles all of the vocals and the pair contribute five original compositions to the project. They are backed by an assortment of blues veterans including Lay, David Maxwell on piano and Bob Corritore on harp.

The disc gets off to a rousing start with "You"re Gone." James quickly establishes that he is a guitarist to be reckoned with. That becomes more apparent when he switches to slide guitar on the next track, "Early One Morning," resurrecting the spirit of Elmore James. Chris goes even deeper into the Elmore's legacy on a supercharged version of "Hawaiian Boogie," with several fine piano breaks from Julien Brunetaud. "Got to Move" is a slow grinder that includes a truly evil-sounding slide guitar tone from James.

One of their original tunes, "Mister Coffee," pays tribute to "..the man that grinds so fine" and features some excellent harp from Corritore. On slower tracks like "I'd Like to Write a Letter," James and Rynn are able to maintain the high level of performance. While James' voice has a limited range, it is easy on the ears and he never pushes it too hard. He is up to the task of covering the classic "Confessin' the Blues," his voice powerful yet under control.

James and Rynn have put together an outstanding package that grows on you with each listen. They have captured the style and sound of the blues from those bygone days. And they were able to accomplish it all while using a rotating cast of backing musicians. How good is this disc ??? My answer is that I am buying my own copy -- and you should get one too !!!

Miss Understood reviewed by Steve Jones

Miss Understood
Carolyn Wonderland
Bismeaux Productions
12 tracks/44 minutes

Austin, Texas, has given us a lot of great music and Carolyn Wonderland keeps that tradition alive. Whether she is bluesy, rocking, going country or being funky, she delivers the goods. This is her sixth album and the 20th overall that she has appeared on and it is one I will be adding to my collection. The packaging is pretty well done, too. I rarely comment on the package, but the cool photographs of Carolyn scream “hippy chick” and add a certain charm.
The CD begins with the title rack. Carolyn hammers out some great lap steel guitar and gritty vocals that set the tone for a nice little CD. I was sold with the first few chords of this song that this was going to be a great album and I was correct.
Seven of the cuts are penned all or in part by “Miss Understood” herself. The covers are equally interesting. She shows what she can do with Rick Derringer’s “Still Alive and Well,” a song she and Johnny Winter must have done together numerous times when they toured together.
I Don’t Want to Fall for You” is a particularly touching ballad that Wonderland guts out. She is gritty and breathy in her delivery. An interesting note is that two of the tunes have references to the king of beasts. On the second cut on the album, a cover of “I Found the Lions,” Wonderland sing that you can find her where the lions are and that they shouldn’t be messed with. The final track “Feed Me to the Lions” is a a slow original tune where she asks to be hidden in the jungle before they feed me to the lions.
Some of Carolyn’s older stuff is passionate but it does not have the passion and intensity she displays on this CD. Her vocals are heartfelt and touching. She is far more expressive and effusive in the emotions she displays. If you want to here some blues based stuff that will at times wrench at your soul and at other times make your foot tap, this is a CD for you.

Red Top reviewed by Mark Thompson

Red Top
Liz Mandeville
Earwig Records
15 tracks/59:06

Liz Mandeville (formerly Greeson) has a career that has spanned two decades as a blues road warrior. Her fourth release on Earwig should raise her profile in the blues community. Using a collection of musicians who have been members or currently are part of her touring aggregation, she has put together a strong collection that clearly illustrates the breadth of her talent.

There are a couple of local connections as Brother Dave Kaye handles the bass on six tracks and Rodney Brown, who frequently sits in on area jam sessions, adds his tenor sax to five cuts. Another legendary sax player, Eddy Shaw, appears on two tracks.

Whether it's the horn-driven swing of the title track or the down-in-the-alley "Dog No More," Mandeville has the vocal chops to grab your attention and never let go. She can belt it out with power and grit on "My Baby's Her Baby Too" or be a sultry chanteuse who expertly delivers the sassy lyrics of "Scratch The Kitty," which also features Liz on lead guitar.

"Hold Me" is a remarkable performance of a smoldering soul ballad that finds Mandeville pouring out her hurt in a voice wracked with pain. She explores hurt of a different nature when her leaves her and ends up in Iraq on "Illinois National Guard Blues." But Liz isn't afraid to have a good time and cut loose, as is evident on "Guilty of Rockin' All Night."

The scope of Liz Mandeville's talent really hits home when you discover that she wrote every song in this engaging collection, deftly handling the variety of styles. She gets strong support from veteran musicians but this project takes off due to strength of her contributions. Well worth a listen !!!

Ice Storm reviewed by Mark Thompson

Ice Storm
Scott Ellison
Earwig Records
12 tracks/46:20

Ellison is another musician who has been out there playing and recording without attracting too much attention on the national level, although some of his tunes have been used on TV shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Like Haddix, he handles the lead vocals and most of the guitar parts. Ellison also had a hand in writing each song. More than twenty-five musicians and singers make a contribution to the project.

Most of the material falls into a generic blues/rock mode, with the emphasis on the rock sound. A pounding beat and screaming guitars bludgeon the life out of the blues elements. Ellison doesn't possess a voice strong enough to breathe life into his bland batch of songs.

While there isn't anything horribly wrong with "Ice Storm," it contains little that would distinguish it from a legion of other releases.

Los Fabulocos reviewed by Mark Thompson

Los Fabulocos
Los Fabulocos
Delta Groove Music
13 tracks/46:25

The best American roots music is a composite of a number of different styles that are blended into a savory musical gumbo. Led by guitarist extraordinare Kid Ramos, Los Fabulocos expertly mix strong Tex-Mex influences with blues, rock & roll and Louisiana swamp pop on their debut recording. The band, all veteran musicians, includes Jesus Cuevas on vocals and button accordion, James Barrios on bass and Mike Molina on drums. They create a musical landscape that revisits ground memorably covered by Los Lobos early in their career.

The star of the disc is Cuevas, who dominates the proceedings any time he cuts loose on his accordion. On "Un Mojado Sin Licencia", his fingers dance all over the keyboard, creating exciting runs that serve as contrast to his more serious tone of his vocal done in Spanish. Ramos leads the way with a nasty guitar tone on "Day After Day", but Cuevas elevates the proceedings with more fine accordion over a Hooker boogie beat.

The band takes "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes" south of the border with some fine acoustic guitar and an heart-felt vocal from Ramos. "Educated Fool" finds the group rockin' the Huey "Piano" Smith tune for all it's worth. They cover another swamp pop classic, Rockin' Sidney's "You Ain't Nothin' But Fine", with the guitar and accordion playing off of one another before Cuevas erupts with another exciting solo to bring the proceedings to a close.

Ramos doesn't get the spotlight as often as might be expected, given his stature as a guitar master. He and Cuevas trade licks on a track from the king of zydeco,Clifton Chenier's "All Night Long", which is followed by the instrumental "Burnin' the Chicken". Ramos makes the most of this opportunity to display his prodigious skill on the guitar.

If you are looking for a straight blues recording, this release is not for you. If you are a listener with eclectic tastes, Los Fabulocos will win you over. Their heady mixture of genres and quality musicianship brings a refreshing vitality to every track. This one is highly recommended !!!

One More Again! reviewed by Mark Thompson

One More Again!
William Clarke
Watchdog Records
10 tracks/40:11

This 1993 recording is another archival release from the late William Clarke's widow, Jeanette, and their daughter Gina. They have been keeping his memory alive with a series of recordings from the vault that have shown that Clarke consistently performed high quality blues with a strong west-coast influence. Clarke played his harps like a jazz horn player, playing with power and technical skill. His bands always had that strong swing rhythmic feel that is present in all great jazz recordings. And Clarke needed a strong guitar player that had the talent to keep up with him. Alex Schultz was a long-time collaborator and his work on seven tracks on this disc serve proof as to the tastefulness of his playing.

The disc opens with a rocking untitled instrumental that features Clarke improvising like crazy on the chromatic harp, blowing long sustained notes before blasting out some rapid-fire, intricate lines that lead to him trading licks with Schultz. Two tracks, "Five Card Hand" and "Educated Fool" are alternate versions of tunes that appeared on Clarke's Alligator Records discs. Also included are two distinctly different takes of "Home Is Where the Heart Is", a Clarke composition. Take 1 is an slow blues that provides further evidence of how strong a singer Clarke was. His harp solo expresses the feelings of longing and despair in the lyrics. Take 2 is more than a minute shorter and sports a piano-driven arrangement at a driving tempo that finds Schultz in the spotlight with a fiery solo. Another Clarke original, "When I'm With You Baby", gets a riveting performance punctuated by Steve F'Dor's piano fills.

The sound quality of the disc is quite good - the performances even better. Clarke learned the lessons from all of the great harp players and developed his own original sound. Hopefully there is plenty more material of Clarke's that has yet to see the light of day. Packages like this will ensure that listeners will never forget this dynamic musician.

Skin Deep reviewed by Steve Jones

Skin Deep
Buddy Guy
Silvertone Records
12 tracks

Buddy Guy has been an icon of the blues world for decades. His albums of late have varied a bit, but this one is a winner and is right up there with his “Sweet Tea” CD in intensity and great songs. Susan Tedschi makes an appearance and husband Derek Trucks is on two tracks as is Robert Randolph. Eric Clapton and Quinn Sullivan also make appearances on a track each.

The title track is an interesting mix of slide and acoustic guitar with Buddy and Derek Trucks. “Lyin’ Like a Dog” is a 7+ minute track of Guy doing what he does best- playing dirty, slow blues. I can’t pick a favorite or even a few favorites from this CD. None of the tunes have any big weaknesses and every track seems to have something special in it.
The guitar work is impeccable, the guests add flair to the already flamboyant Guy, making this a great effort overall. He has added another super CD to his legacy of great music. This CD showcases what this septuagenarian can still do at the top of his game. If you like what Buddy Guy can do or mean guitar blues, you’ll love this CD.

Live in Chicago reviewed by Steve Jones

Live In Chicago
Windy City Rev Ups
Independent release
www.WindyCityRevUps. com
10 tracks/41 minutes

Rick Reminger and his band may have changed their name, but the sounds these guys make is still pretty sweet. The Windy City Rev Ups serve up 10 tracks of live cuts recorded at a couple of Chicago area establishments (Antioch and Plainfield). The album serves as notice as to what the band can do with some rocking blues standards and their own stuff.

Rich provides the vocals, harp and rhythm guitar. Rick Fobes on keyboards and George Lempers on lead guitar are steady and able. Dave Steffen also fills in on lead guitar on the last two tracks. Mike Maloney on bass and Frank Laubinger on drums provide a good backdrop for the band.

The CD begins with eight covers. They do standards like SRV’s “Cold Shot,” Elmore Jame’s “The Sky is Crying,” a funked up Memphis Slim’s “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Ronnie Earl’s “Follow Your Heart,” my favorite of the covers. The last two cuts are Rick’s original tunes and serve as a precursor to what’s ahead for the band. They have a new CD coming out in the fall that is all original stuff. This CD whets the listeners appetite for their original music and sets the table for the new release, a good strategy by Reminger and Company. I like the two original cuts alot, “Swing Out Chicago” and “I Should Have Known.” The former is a swinging little number while the latter is more in line with their blues roots

The band is trying to move their image from strict blues to also include R&B, funk, swing, rock and dance. No matter what you label their “style,” they are a great little band who can rock it out and get down dirty with any other band!

nanoswarm reviewed by Steve Jones

Jassen Wilber
Independent release
10 tracks

When I got this CD to review I had some decent expectations. The CD begins with a decent enough jazzy cut featuring Jassen on lead bass and Sue Orfield on sax; the tune is called Dark Matter. The next song, Mellow B, gets all smooth jazzy and features a techno sound mixing the styles of John Tesch, the strong bass lead, a Ron Sutton drum solo and a muffled audio telling you about how killer the drum solo is. Well, it was a drum solo but I found nothing too great about it. By the time the third track hits your senses you realize you’ve now been transported to a bad night at Echo’s on late night Public Radio. Another almost schlocky cool jazz track follows. And then we get to track 5, a song simply called God Great Grace. This track mixes the lead bass line with some interesting gospel-like but fake-organ keyboard by Mike Vlahakis. Interesting, but now I am thankful I did not buy this CD on my own. I did not find, see or feel much different in my relationship to God by listening to this song.

Phage is the next track. I don’t know what a Phage is, but after listening to this I really didn’t care to find out, so you can Google it on your own. The song repeats a variation on a lead bass line; by this point one can appreciate Jassen’s virtuosity on bass but it just doesn’t cut it (at least for me). And then 3 and a half minutes into it, the guitar lead makes it’s way through the same repetitive type riffs for a mere 30 seconds before a 2 minute finale rising to a crescendo of repetitive bass licks.

The Point of Pointless is a mix of funk and jazz, the lead bass leading the way for nearly six minutes. The title track is very 50’s outer space sounding, with the spooky alien sounds of keys mixed with the incessant bass line for a new take on a cheap Halloween sound effects CD. My favorite sci-fi movie of all time lends its’ name to the next to last track (Forbidden Planet). It is punky, driving tune with sound effects and distortion. The line, “Woke up early this morning” blares out about 45 seconds into the cut, and then the heavy, driving beat takes over again. 2 minutes later, “Down the road I go, have no place to go,” is prophetically stated. And then a different deep bass voice finishes the cut with the statement that sounds like, “That them blues singing up one side of the wall.” Hmm, what was that all about? It certainly wasn’t blues. The album concludes with another funky track featuring the big lead bass, guitar and a heavy metal sound overlaid on Spyro Gyra and King Crimson mixed together. It’s called “Kill the Rabbit”, but by now I’ve heard enough just to want this to end, and 3:29 later it finally does.

The musicianship here is excellent. The bass, sax, guitar, keys and even the drums are all technically played quite soundly. What I am lost with is the songs themselves. I expected at least a resemblance to the blues somewhere and never found any. Cool jazz with heavy metal is not something I tolerate well, nor is the poor man’s mix of hard rock and funk. If you want to hear some cool bass sounds and a lot of weird stuff, this is your CD. But there is nothing that resembles blues on any level. I’m sorry, but I just did not get this at all.