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.

Blues is My Life reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Blues Is My Life
Chris Harper and thr Sharade Band
Independent release
11 tracks

"Blues Is My Life" is a very interesting blues project. Having never hearing of Chris Harper or the Sharade Band, I had no idea of what to expect. With a name like Chris Harper and being a harmonica player I assumed that he was a good one. Harper is a harp player from Switzerland and the Sharade Band is from Italy. In the mix for this project, are the Chicago Horns, Billy Branch and Chico Banks. As you can see from this line up we are in for an international treat!

Chris harper was inspired by the likes of Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters at about the age of 12. Good choices they were on his part. Having started to play harmonica at this age has paid off. It is very apparent on the CD that he paid his dues. I would say that his relationship with and learning from the great Sugar Blue is one of Chris' biggest assets. Chris Harper had to have been paying attention!

"Sweet Honey Sunshine," written by Harper, sets the stage for the rest of the CD. It is very evident that the relationship with Sugar Blue was the right choice to make. His harp playing leaves us with a feeling that Sugar Blue is present at the event. The background singers on this tune are a great addition. Gianluca Baroncelli also does one heck of a sax solo for us here.

I have to admit that at first I did not care for Chris Harper's vocals. After listening to most of the tracks five or ten times, I realized that he just has a different quality to his vocals. In the end it was all good after all.

On "Help Me", Billy Branch joins the mix. This is probably my favorite track on the album. The whole band just sounds great. The Chicago Horns are a big plus and bringing in a great keyboard solo by Sharade Band's Giacomo Lauria, makes this tune a step up from the norm.

"Blues Is My Life," written by Chris Harper is maybe the stand out song of the whole CD. It contains everything that this band is about. This is a pretty funky tune. We have great lyrics, the outstanding background singers, Chico Banks on guitar, a sax solo and of course a dynamite harp solo.

"Soul Bossa Nova," is a catchy tune with a Latin beat . This instrumental showcases the Chicago horns, the sax player, Chris' harp playing and the Sharade Bands abilities. This a good closing tune.

This album was produced by Chris Harper and recorded at Delmark Records' Riverside studio. The CD is available at Chris wrote six of the songs on this CD and did a fine job. As you play each track on the record it makes you want to here the rest of it. Sugar Blue's influence on Chris is ever present, but for sure Chris Harper is not a Sugar Blue clone. He is his own musician and one heck of a harp player.

Bluelisted reviewed by David Stine

JW Jones
Northern Blues
14 tracks

JW Jones, for those of you who haven’t heard of him, is a Canadian singer, guitarist, songwriter. “Bluelisted” is his fifth CD. He is aided on this effort by guitarists Junior Watson and Little Charlie Baty, as well as Richard Innes, and Larry Taylor. I had heard “Out of Service Blues” on Bluesville (XM radio) and I was thrilled to receive the disc to review. Even with pretentiously oblique liner notes by Dan Akroyd (still parading as Elwood Blues, c’mon), I discovered that one song does not a great disc make, nor does enlisting the services of a group of well-know Westcoasters.

Don’t get me wrong, the playing on this disc is first rate. That is not the problem. Jones holds his own very well against chopmeisters Watson and Baty. Jones songs, although somewhat pedestrian, are not god-awful like some I’ve heard. It’s just that after several listens to the disc it started to sound samey samey--too many songs in a moderate tempo and Jones using the same vocal techniques and range. On several plays through the whole CD, I swore I’d heard the same song twice on one spin.

The CD is less than 50 min. long but seems longer. Of the 13 songs, two are instrumentals, which takes some of the burden off of Jones acquired-taste voice. He is not a bad singer; his range is a little high, which makes the delivery of some of his lyrics a seem a bit out-of-character. His insistence on vocalizing the held notes gets old about mid way thought the disc. I believe that fans of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Little Charlie and the Nightcats might enjoy this disc.

My favorite song is the swinging “Heavy Dosage,” one of the instrumentals. CD jacket notes list order of guitar players taking solos which is a nice touch. The aforementioned “Out of Service Blues,“ allows Baty to show off his harmonica (his first instrument) chops; and this is my second favorite song on the CD. On “Somebody’s Got to Burn,” it almost seems that Jones is singing in a different key than the band, but it could be that there is no really defined vocal melody line. Jones vocals seem to weave in and out at will.

The song arrangements rely upon lots of standard progressions with some little glimmers of bygone guitarists popping up here and there. Jones has studied his Chicago and West coast heroes. None of the songs jumped out at me as soon-to-be classics, but kudos to Jones or not relying on yet another version of a classic blues song. Jones appears to be a young man; with more vocal chops and in a bigger range of tempos, he may still be a contender in a pretty saturated market. There wasn’t enough variety here for me, but you may want to check him out on line and see what you think

Postmarked Illinois reviewed by David Stine

Postmarked Illinois
Rene Trossman Band
Faust Records
12 tracks

I don’t like giving CDs bad reviews. Honest. When I got the Rene Trossman Band CD, I had high hopes: Trossman, before moving to the Czech Republic, had backed Chicago blues stalwarts Albert King, Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Earl Hooker. With a title like Postmarked Illinois, I thought yeah, Chicago blues!

The CD does start off strong with a great version of Albert Collins’ great instrumental, “Frosty.” Unfortunately, the next song introduces Trossmans vocals. I am still grappling with where the vocal bar should be set with blues singers. The genre began as a vocal medium but has become showoff land for guitar players and harpists giving rise to poorly written “blooze” tunes and so-so vocal chops. Should white guys be given a break? Should “aged in” voices be treated more kindly no matter what color the singer? It’s a tough call.

I will say this, there are issues with Postmarked Illinois that begin with Trossman’s voice. First, he has a very limited range, coupled with intonation problems, and a choked off delivery. All in all, it gives the listener the painful feeling of listening to a heavy smoker in his final gasping days as a singer. Trossman’s guitar playing, however is nicely sedate and tasty. His licks are limited but are nicely augmented by superb keyboarding from Jan Korinek who also produced the CD. The mix of the drums on this disc is a bit overpowering; they are mixed in at the same level as Trossman’s vocals, which sometimes is a distraction. Either because of a poor mic or poor miking, the cymbal crashes sometimes sound like an aluminum pie plate or a chicken being thrown into a big pot of boiling water.

There is no discounting Trossman’s love for Chicago blues, but when he tackles songs like Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby,” it’s clear that Sam (even with his vocal detractors) was a far superior singer. At times Trossman’s vocals are painfully out of his range and the notes just seem to disappear. Examples are the painful-to-listen to “Big Leg Woman,” and “Down and Out.” Trossman covers tunes by Albert Collins, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, James Wheeler and others. His own compositions are plagued by forced rhyme schemes over cloned arrangements adding nothing new for blues lovers. Again, I REALLY wanted to like this disc, but, to me, it was a painful listen.