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.