Thursday, January 28, 2010

Play for Love reviewed by Steve Jones

Play for Love
Dave Keller
Tastee-Tone Records
13 tracks

Vermont. A green and rural state with small and beautiful mountains and serves as a pastoral home to cows, fine dairy products like Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and…the blues??? The blues! Dave Keller lives in the Green Mountain State and brings us a soulful vocal style that lures the listener in for more and he delivers it!

Keller does all the vocals and guitar work, offering up electric, acoustic and National steel guitar on the thirteen original tracks served up here. Dave wrote all the songs except “To the City”, and that one he co-authored with Dylan May. While his guitar work is precise and very good to listen to, it is his voice that first gets the listeners’ interests peaked. Ronnie Earl’s latest release features Keller as both singer and songwriter. In this CD I got to see a lot more of Keller and I like what I saw, or more appropriately, heard.

There is a lot of heartfelt music delivered to us on this CD. The title track is a thoughtful song that was written shortly after the birth of his second daughter when his gigs were limited. He played on the couch at home for an audience of two, which he claims helped him remember why he started to play music in the first place. He sings that money and pride may be fine to play for, but it’s more important to play for family, friends and the glory of God by playing (and living) for love.

The one instrumental on the CD, “Gabriella” (named for his guitar), closes it out and shows us how Keller can get deep down into the blues with his favorite, strat-styled guitar. It is from an impromptu jam at the live studio recording session for the CD, and it really grooves. Dave shows us that this Massachusetts transplant to Vermont can be soulful and bluesy with the best of them.

There are a lot of fine songs on this CD. He writes, plays and sings passionately of his love for his wife and kids, but he also can get down and play blues or funk it up in cuts like “Give it a Rest.” He is a talented singer, musician and songwriter and I was very impressed with this CD from top to bottom.

The CD features Jan Schulz on Fender bass, Brett Hoffman on drums and Ira Friedman on Hammond organ and Wurlitzer electric piano. These guys are as talented as the front man and create a balanced and sonically great backdrop to showcase this artist. I liked this CD a lot from the first play and now after several plays I want to hear more from Keller and his band!

Alchemy of Soul reviewed by Steve Jones

Alchemy of Soul
Jacob Merlin
Backline Records
11 tracks/43:31

Merlin. The name conjures up the images of wizards, hats, castles, and the magical alchemy that is inherent to the Arthurian legend. It is also the name of a talented, young musician whose musical alchemy stirs up a sorcerer’s brew of magical musical treats.

Keyboard wizard Jacob Merlin hails from Portland, Oregon, but his music comes from a deeper and more exciting world of funk, New Orleans jazz, and soul. His songwriting, piano and keyboard playing and use of horns are truly magical. I had no idea what to expect from “Alchemy of Soul”, but it serves up a magical mix of really fine music! Tower of Power’s Mic Gillette adds his trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone to Merlin’s band, which features Michael Suffin on guitar, Erik Mimnaugh on bass, and Jordan Ruback on drums. The horn section is Renato Caranto on tenor and soprano sax, Andy Fuller on trumpet and Rick Tippets on trombone and tuba. Rick arranged all the horns and is Jacob’s father. Background vocals are provided by Kristina Rae, Debra Arlyn and Malia Tippets.

The CD opens with a dervish of a song “Come to Papa” that seems like a New Orleans marching (or maybe even a swinging kelzmer) band backing up Merlin’s soulful vocals. The whirl of the music sets a tone for a really well done album of music. The backing horns and solos are solid and strong here and throughout the CD. The CD touts “Cover Me” as it’s single; this cut is a very soulful and laid back track with breathy and expressive vocals by Merlin and Rae with subdued but moving backup music.

“Madness” gives us grittier vocals from Merlin with some exceptional brass work. “When I See You Again” is almost gospel-like as Merlin and the three women sing, “I finally have an angel watching over me.” “Hammerhead” and “Déjà Vu” give us 70’s styled stuff served up fresh and clean sounding. “Muddy Right Foot” showcases a really hot Suffin fuzzed up guitar solo. All good stuff here- 11 hot and well done tracks.

Orchestrated horn interplay with the keyboards and main band and Merlin’s vocal work and it all works so sweetly. At times one could close their eyes and imagine that this could be the band Chicago playing back in the 70’s (when they were tight, creative and had not become the formulaic hacks that they became in the three decades after that). At other times Merlin and company sound a bit like Steely Dan or Earth, Wind and Fire. Whatever they are doing, they need to keep it up because they have a superb sound and create really impressive music. If you like jazzy, funky stuff with great vocals, keys and horns then do not miss this CD; Jacob Merlin is a man on a mystical mission of musical wizardry!

Seven Moons Live reviewed by Steve Jones

Seven Moons Live

Jack Bruce and Robin Trower
Ruf Records
13 tracks/78 minutes

“Seven Moons” was a somewhat psychedelic rock studio effort last year that Jack Bruce and Robin Trower, along with drummer Gary Husband, created to some decent critical acclaim. “Seven Moons Live” gives us live versions of nine of the eleven songs from “Seven Moons”, along with three Cream tracks and one track from Trower’s and Bruce’s good but somewhat forgettable 1981 “B.L.T.” album. Live albums are always a great measure of how performers really sound and this measures up as a solid effort from these two rock icons. This album was taken from the third stop on their tour, but the chemistry was already firmly in place as Bruce notes in one of his aside comments on the CD.

The “Seven Moons” tracks are all solid. Bruce’s vocals are crisp and compares well with the studio version and showcase that this fantastic vocalist and bass player can still deliver great stuff after four decades of performing. Trower’s guitar work is nothing less than impeccable throughout, giving each track a sense of what a man with equal experience and talent to Jack Bruce can bring to a song. The songs themselves are all very good but not as memorable as some of their earlier work. That does not negate that they are good, it’s just hard to top their extensive library of great songs. They launch the album with the title track, then follow along with “Lives of Clay” and “Distant Places Of The Heart” as in the studio album. This trio of songs is very solid and opens the show much to the crowds’ pleasure.

The covers give us another side of the band to admire. Jack Bruce sings on all tracks, and gives some really great performances on these covers. “Sunshine of Your Love” is next up and it is very interesting to hear Trower’s somewhat restrained but still powerful take on this classic. The B.L.T. track “Carmen” is hauntingly and lamentfully sung by Bruce, and he and Trower play sublimely together on this cut.

They follow with seven tracks from the studio CD and then close with “White Room” and “Politician”. The “Seven Moons” tracks are well crafted stuff, but they seem to turn it up a notch again for the covers. The guitar intro on “White Room” is uniquely Trower giving us his take on Clapton, and Bruce delivers on the vocals and super base line. The tempo is just a bit slowed down here, making the song fit more into the tone of the new stuff. “Politician” gives us Bruce at his best again, even referencing Mr. Obama in the midst of one verse. Solid stuff from two veterans of over forty years on the rock and roll trail, and there is also a DVD of the show available on Ruf Records. Fans of Bruce and Trower will certainly love this set of tunes and those new blues and rock fans needing an intro to these artists can’t miss by listening to this CD!

The Essential Coco Montoya reviewed by Karl Dahlin

The Essential Coco Montoya

Coco Montoya
Record Label: Blind Pig
12 tracks/57:39

Coco Montoya grow up in California and starting out his music journey playing rock and roll on his drums but somewhere along the way mastered playing blistering blues on the guitar. He got a break in the late 70's when Albert Collins asked him to help out on an upcoming tour. This was a great learning experience where he was able to study under the Master of the Telecaster.

He later had an other big opportunity in the mid eighties to play in the newly reform Blues Breakers. The musicians he met in both bands later help out on his first solo releases with Blind Pig Records. The songs on this CD where produced by Coco himself and represent his finest work at a time when he won an award for Best New Blues Artist at the Handy Awards in 1996.

His career has spanned 30+ years and the hand picked 12 tracks on this CD cover some of his handiwork from the mid nineties. Four out of the twelve are originals. All the songs originate from three albums: Gotta Mind to Travel (1995), Ya Think I'd Know Better (1996) and Just Let Go (1997) all with Blind Pig Records.
Coco plays lead guitar and vocals on all tracks but does shares duties with other guest musicians. He has help on four tracks from Debbie Davies on rhythm guitar. She too was cut from the same mold by playing with both Albert Collins and John Mayall.

If you are looking for early solo music from Coco this one CD will fill the spot in your collection.

Tail Dragger Live At Rooster's Lounge reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Tail Dragger Live At Rooster's Lounge
l Dragger
Delmark Records
DVD - 12 tracks/75 min.
CD - 11 tracks/68:21

"Tail Dragger Live At Rooster's Lounge" is Delmark Record's latest release on both DVD and CD. These live recordings at a real blues bar are a great way to present and preserve the real tradition of blue music and the blues artist. Delmark does a fine job doing this. This is Tail Dragger's second recording for Delmark.

Tail Dragger is a great choice for a live recording on DVD. Tail Dragger was born James Yancey Jones in 1940 in Arkansas. He was influenced by the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Jimmy Reed. He main mentor was none other than Howlin' Wolf. Tail Dragger got his stage mame because he had a habit of being late to the gig most of the time. He was also known as Crawlin' James because he would do some crawling on the floor during some of his shows. He does work the audience. After Howlin' Wolf's passing Tail Dragger hooked up with Hubert Sumlin. The two of them played together for some time in the West Side Chicago blues clubs.

We are treated to fine band on Tail Dragger's recording, "Live At Rooster's Lounge". On stage with him is a full blues band with two awesome guitarists, a great harmonica player a hard hitting drummer and a real solid bass player. Add Tail Dragger's gritty, growling, low down vocals to the mix and we are on the road to a fine show. His timing is just outstanding as you watch him on stage.

On guitar we have Rockin' Johnny Burgin, who has been with Tail Dragger for a long time, good or bad. He is an outstanding guitarist with his own tone and style. He is a great compliment to Tail Dragger's vocals. Also on guitar is Kevin Shanahan, a regular member of the Tail Dragger Band. Beside his fine rhythm playing he lays done an awesome solo.

Martin Lang has been the harmonica player for Tail Dragger for a long time. Lang brings the old school dirty harp playing to the mix. His tone is outstanding, his timing is right on and he just flows with each tone that he plays. This is good stuff f you are a harp fan. With the addition of Todd Fackler on drums and Rob Lorenz on bass driving the band we have a quality blues machine going down the blues highway!

Tail Dragger, James Yancey Jones, is a very talented song writer, having written five of the tunes on this recording. "Be Careful", penned by Tail Dragger, is a fine example of his talent to write tunes. This slow blues tune also has an awesome guitar solo by Rockin' Johnny. Johnny looks a lot more relaxed and like he is enjoying the moment now then as I remember him years ago. This is all good to me. Martin Lang's harp playing also really stands out on this track. "You better be careful or someone else will tell on you to' tells the story of this tune. It is too bad that this tune is only on the DVD.

On "Wander", another Tail dragger tune, we are treated to the fine guitar style of guest Jimmy Dawkins. Dawkins has a rich deep tone and great blues licks in his guitar playing. He truly plays the blues. His interaction with Rockin' Johnny's guitar is good on this track. On the DVD version of "Wander” we see Tail Dragger working the audience with his gyrations and awesome vocals.

There is not a track on the recording, "Tail Dragger Live At Rooster's Lounge” that I do not care for. "Louise", a Chester Burnett tune, and "Blues With A Feeling", a Walter Jacobs tune, both stand out on this DVD - CD. Delmark Records has done another fine job with "Tail Dragger Live At Rooster's Lounge". I must say, for me, the DVD is the way to go with this recording. The CD is a great recording, but the commentary by Tail Dragger on the DVD is worth the price of the whole recording. Watching Tail Dragger strut his stuff, work the audience, pump up the band and present his vocals to us is one great blues show. It is really good to see Rockin' Johnny back playing the blues.

Thanks again to Delmark Records and Bob Koester for presenting and preserving the blues as it should be. A special note to my friend, Kevin Johnson of Delmark Records, just for seeing him in the audience enjoying the blues show at Rooster's Lounge.

Stomp the Floor reviewed by Steve Jones

Stomp the Floor

Arthur Adams
Delta Groove Records
12 tracks/46:48

Arthur Adams has been a great gospel and blues man for a long, long time. His current long standing stint as BB King’s house band leader in Universal City has made him a fixture in the LA/West Coast blues scene. He landed in LA in the mid sixties after spending a lot of his early career touring around the south; he released his first album in 1972, which made his smooth voice and guitar picking in demand. He’s done session work with many greats in music and television, but he and BB seem to be joined at the hip for a variety of projects. He appeared on tour with the Mannish Boys after the first Delta Groove release ever in 2004 and then Randy Chortkoff invited him to appear on Mitch Kashmir’s debut album. This is his first album with Delta Groove and it is a very sweet effort.

His voice is a mix of Robert Cray, Bobby Bland and a non-falsetto version of Aaron Neville. There is a smoothness and sweetness to his voice that evokes deep emotion and feeling. His guitar style is more in the BB King vein, with clear and precise notes and phrasing; not too many notes like some gun slinging axe wielders try to use to impress people. He chooses his words and notes with care and warmth and then bundles his music up in a velvet wrapper so the listener is rewarded with a profound listening experience.

I like Arthur at his smoothest. These 12 tracks are all originals and all are quite good, but when he goes to the slow ballad it really, really is nice to listen. “I Know What You Mean” and “Nature of the Beast” are two melodic tracks that are so easy and smooth I felt like I was getting covered in a warm, buttery glow. His slow blues like “Don’t Let the Door Hit You” remind the listener of BB King on guitar, making the frets wail with emotion to match his soulful voice. Tunes like the title track and “Thrive on Your Vibe” give us a soul-filled and funky take on Adam’s music. The instrumental “Around the Sun” also shows us another side of Adams, this time more in the way of a George Benson approach to funky guitar. He closes with a more up tempo instrumental following this one called “Blue Roots”, which is interesting in that he does not sing on the last two songs. It does not matter, because they contrast each other nicely and showcase a man who is at equal ease singing or picking on his guitar.

This is a well done CD that features a man who is superb at his craft. Arthur Adams is a soulful and funky blues man who delivers a sound and style that is rich in style and beautiful to listen to. I recommend this to all blues and soul fans who love a good, funky, original album; this guy’s got a great set of tracks assembled that you should not miss!

Booker’s Guitar reviewed by Steve Jones

Booker’s Guitar

Eric Bibb
Telarc International
15 tracks/49:29 plus 3 bonus tracks

I must begin this review with a little blues history. Booker (aka Bukka) White was well known for playing National steel guitars. His name, much to his chagrin, was misspelled in 1937 by Vocalion, his second record label, and it stuck with him for the rest of his life. The cousin of BB King (who gave BB his first guitar, a Stella) was a consummate blues man and slide guitar player. Eric Bibb met a man named Keith while touring the UK who offered Eric a chance to play Booker’s guitar, affectionately named “Hard Rock” by Booker. Keith and Booker became friends during the American Folk Blues Festivals that exposed the kings of the blues to Europe back in the 1960’s. After meeting and recording Booker on cassette and exchanging countless letters, Booker sent “Hard Rock” to Keith as a gift shortly before he passed away in 1977. Keith has protected and kept the fabled instrument, and even showed it to BB King who remembered it sitting in White’s place in Memphis many years go. Bibb fondly remembered the experience and later wrote the song “Booker’s Guitar” with the intent to record it while playing the guitar, which he has done. Along with the title track, Bibb has recorded 15 tracks along with a second promo CD of 3 bonus tracks (one for itunes and two as bonus downloads for CD buyers). Set for release in late January, 2010, Telarc Records and Bibb join up for their fourth album together.

The title track is an interesting story about the guitar, Booker’s heart shaped charm that he affixed to the guitar, the old dirty brown case it lived in and the scotch taped play list on the case. Bibb sings and plays almost reverently, with the sweet sounding notes coming off this 75+ year old guitar like it was new. Eric is a master at solo acoustic blues and here he gives us a humble and humbling performance. His three decades of experience melt away as he plays this song and Booker’s guitar. I found it quite moving even though it was a studio recording.

So where does that leave us? Well, it is the first song on the CD, so we are girded and ready for 14 more tracks delivered as Bibb only can. He plays with a thoughtful and metered approach to his music. Never showy, his guitar and occasion harp are given to us to listen to, mull over and accept. His voice takes on the same timber as his guitar, restrained yet powerful, in control but with a maelstrom of power and intensity living behind it. Whether it be slow blues, folk, a little boogie woogie, in an old spiritual style or whatever, we are listening to a man who knows his craft well. There is no need for flashiness or bravado; his soul-filled baritone voice and impeccable guitar work speak volumes. He picks and plunks his way through each track like the guitar master that he is, selecting each note as a shrine to the music he plays.

Singling out other particular tracks would be futile. Each delivers to us a story that must be heard, whether he sings of water tasting like turpentine instead of cherry wine or about sitting on the porch in the shade and talking about his new rocking chair, we are listening to a man with a set of stories to tell us and we are compelled to sit and listen to each and every one of them. Folk blues at it’s finest; Bibb and Telarc have produced another fine album here that will be listened to over and over in sublime and utter joyfulness as Eric lives his

Fire It Up! reviewed by Steve Jones

Fire It Up!
Laurie Morvan Band
Screaming Lizard Records
12 tracks/54:30

Laurie Morvan and her band were finalists in the 2008 IBC both as a live band and for the best self-produced CD for “Cures What Ails Ya” (her 3rd CD), the only act to become a finalist in both categories.  The reason for this is quite simple and obvious when you hear them- they are a truly great band with truly great songs!

Laurie wrote all the cuts again on this new 4th album; she has a keen edge to her lyrics, both in the serious and lighter veins.  “Skinny Chicks” sings of the up sides of skinny girls, something Morvan thinks important because of all the time spend by blues singers focusing on big legged women and such.  “Come Over to My BBQ” is also lighter in tone, filled will double entendres like she’s “gonna put up her tenderloins” and that “your cold cuts will never be the same”.  It’s nice to see these sorts of blues songs from a woman’s perspective, especially one as talented and confident as Morvan.

The opening and closing tracks are cut from similar molds, with fiery hot licks and a driving blues rock beat.  “Nothin’ But the Blues” offers up a testimony to her love the blues genre and “Café Boogaloo” sings of a jumpin’ juke joint.  The former features some really hot guitar and piano solos while the latter offers steamy guitar and organ solos.  These songs seem to hearken a bit to Stevie Ray Vaughn in being bigger, production number blues rock songs.  Morvan also sizzles on her slow blues in cuts like “Livin’ in a Man’s World” and “Good Girls Bad Girls”.  Her vocals remind me a little of Marcia Ball and her guitar is as fluid and smooth as anyone’s.

In addition to Laurie, the band consists of Pat Morvan on bass. Kevin Murillo on drums, and Lisa Grubbs and Carolyn Kelley on backing vocals.  Sammy Avila fills in on B3 organ on several cuts while David Matthews also does B3 and piano on a few others.  They are a tight, focused and closely knot band playing solid, hot road house style blues.  Hailing from Illinois , they are now touring more widely and are gaining fans across the nation with their outstanding play.  Highly recommended!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Live in England reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live in England

Hamilton Loomis
Ham-Bone Records
14 tracks/72:50

Local blues fans have been able to watch the growth of Hamilton Loomis as a musician and a performer through his frequent appearances at Big Cities Lounge over the last few years. Loomis proved he could handle the larger stage with his dynamic set on the Left Bank stage at last year’s On The Waterfront festival. Now all of his fans can have a prime example of Loomis and his band in full flight from recordings done at two venues in England.

The band storms out of the gate with the instrumental “Pull Strings”, with Stratton Doyle heating up the crowd with his outstanding tenor sax solo followed by Loomis firing on all cylinders on his guitar. The rest of the program features highlights from Hamilton’s last three studio recordings and a tribute to his mentor, the legendary Bo Diddley.

Highlights include a rousing version of “Workin’ Real Hard” with a shout-out to Stevie Wonder – and the funky humor of “Best Worst Day”. Loomis displays his skill on harmonica on “What It Is”, an extended piece that features some nice harmony vocals from the band and another sweet sax solo from Stratton. “No No No” slows the pace but Loomis lays down an impressive, heartfelt lead vocal that maintains the emotional intensity.

The band turns in another lengthy performance on the crowd-pleasing cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s classic track, “Bow Wow”, which keeps the funk quotient at a high level and provides Loomis the opportunity to showcase his prodigious ability on guitar.

The Bo Diddley medley rocks hard thanks to the pounding beat from drummer Jamie Little and Kent Beatty on bass.

The set closes with “Get My Blues On”, a tune that really epitomizes what makes Loomis such a special musician – funk and blues expertly mixed into a tight package, delivered by a soulful singer with the vocal range to do whatever he wants to. The added bonus track reaches back to Hamilton’s first recording for “Turnin’ Heads”, with Loomis singing the praises of a woman beyond compare.

Released without any touch-ups or overdubs, Live in England serves as a fine career summation for Loomis and his talented cohorts. The cuts crackle with extra energy and excitement. And Loomis once again proves that he is a rare performer, able to captivate an audience while offering a new perspective on the blues tradition.

* Don’t miss Hamilton Loomis – appearing on Monday, Jan. 25, at Big Cities Lounge.*

Hey Jodie! reviewed by Mark Thompson

Hey Jodie!
Quintus MCCormick
Demark Recods
15 tracks

Having been given this CD to review by Big Brother Mark at the recent West Side Andy show on my Birthday (he took advantage of me during a weak moment), I feel a bit pressured having to live up to the standards he & others from CBS have set for reviews but I will give it my best shot. Quintus was born in Detroit in 1957 & moved to Chicago in the late 70's. His grandma bought him his first Strat after he'd only been playing for 7 months. He attended Columbia College in Chicago ( a Major School for the Arts) & graduated in 1994 with a music degree. When in school, he was a sideman for Lefty Dizz, James Cotton, A.C. Reed & Otis Clay earning spending money while in school. He was influenced by Hendrix, Jimmy Page & Humble Pie before turning to pop music. His intro to the Blues changed him forever.

This is his first Delmark release that delves into the real roots of R&B more so than just Blues. The voice & lyrics are THE mainstay with the music taking a second seat. Not that you don't hear the band (bass, drums, keyboard, harp, trumpet, tenor & baritone sax) but it supports the songs rather than dominates them. Quintus has strong vocals that evoke emotions & remind one of the Otis Redding / Marvin Gaye days of old. He is also an accomplished guitarist but chooses few occasions to showcase as again, the band lays the groundwork for the vocals to shine.

“Hey Jodie!”, the title tune (oh yeah - dictionary definition is a ‘Back Door Lover’), starts us off with what you'd expect from a true R&B artist with horns & all reminding one of Otis Redding days gone by. “Get Some Business” starts off with a traditional blues lick, a driving bass line & keyboards backing the vocals. “What Goes Around Comes Around” begins with a lengthy guitar solo leading into your typical down & dirty blues tune with all the fixins'. “You Should Learn From This” made me think, "Fool Me Once - Shame on You: Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me" with it's upbeat tempo while the horns spicing up the tune. 50 / 50 - a smooth easy offering with horns, harp leading us down the music road. “You Got To Do Me Better Than That” - a Joe Louis Walker sounding offering. “I'm Alright Now” made me think I'd gone back to the 60's at the instant it began, I heard “She Likes Bread & Butter” (that's the lick) but it works. Get That Money - a rockin' up tempo tune that adds backing vocals for some spice. “Hot Lovin' Woman” is a very soulful offering. “Plano Texas Blues” reminded me of a W.C. Clark offering (I do like him). “I'm a Good Man, Baby” is more of what you'd expect from a current blues-man. “I Wasn't Thinking” is where we get a bit funky (probably his 70's Pop influence coming out). “There Ain't No Right Way To Do Wrong’ is the lone laid back tune on the CD with life's lessons the centerpiece. “You Got It” gets back to the funk, he was in the mood to get down. “Let The Good Times Roll” is the only thing left was to get rolling, here the piano taking center stage (what else!) for some boogie woogie,

If you're tired of being overpowered by the music & long for the days of real R&B, Quintus has given a good shot at reviving this genre. He has learned from some of the best, his talents are on full display with this release & he would be someone to see live for the full experience.

Neighborhood Sweetie reviewed by Rick Davis

Neighborhood Sweetie
Saturday Nite Mojo
Professor Records
9 Tracks

Saturday Nite Mojo was formed in 2002 by four musicians coming from different backgrounds. Each one contributes their own unique style of the blues to the cd Neighbor Sweetie. The group is a blend of rock, southern rock, and blues with a sound all their own.

Inspired by Hendrix, "Neighborhood Sweetie" is about a girl they knew when they were in high school who is really ready to rock and roll. Fueled by the hot guitar licks of Denny Klisuric and Joe Piete, this tune has real driving beat throughout the whole song. The guitar work is superb!!!! Rounding out the band is drummer Ed Durma and Ray Fisher on bass. The follow up cut "Just the Way We Like It" rocks equally as well and the title cut. Ed Durma makes an additional contribution with his great harp solo. "I Ain’t Lyin'" is a lowdown slow blues shuffle with fuzz guitar leads right out the 60's. "Fool No More" is a slow blues tune with some great slide leads. I was a little disappointed with the vocals on this cut. They sounded like vocals you would here on a Frank Zappa album and didn't seem to fit the song. "Boston", written in a minor key, is another great rock and roll number about returning to rekindle a relationship after being away so long. "Nobody Got Dem Blues" is a shuffle stating the anybody can get the blues but nobody has the blues like the artist himself. "Ashtabula Blues" a slow blues cut opening with an unequaled harp solo and continuing with superb guitar solos through out the entire song.
The last couple of songs were written collectively by the entire band. "Old Black Moe" has unique galloping beat and some humorous dialogue in the middle of the song. The final tune "Never Givin' Up" is a rock and roll instrumental with some influence from the Allman Brothers era. The band made the statement that "Never Givin' Up" has been played in a few stadiums and arenas around the United States including Fenway Park, Classic Park, UIC Pavilion, & Cleveland Browns Stadium.

If you are looking for a rock and blues CD with some great 60's rock influence, pick up Neighborhood Sweetie.

Combo Classics reviewed by Steve Jones

Combo Classics

Barrelhouse Chuck

Viola Records

13 tracks/44:34

When I was growing up a lower middle class Irish-Italian kid in New York City, few families could afford big Wurlitzer or other in home organs. Much to their chagrin, many an Italian kid who had aspirations to play something with a keyboard were awarded an accordion. But then came the combo organ. Vox, Farfisa and others took the concepts of the organ, accordion, transistors and bright colored plastic to create a portable organ that musical combos could use. Those were heady days; with the advent of the transistor replacing the old vacuum tubes, equipment and electronics got lighter and easier to move and transport. No longer would keyboard players have to rely on the old out of tune house piano at their gigs. A new age was upon us musically.

Blues musicians embraced and adopted this new fangled device as did the rockers like the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, the Doors and others. In the liner notes Chuck comments on the fab song of his youth, ”96 Tears”, by ? and the Mysterions that he played in every juke box he saw. Later on, Otis Spann became his Farfisa role model with his recording of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” with drummer S.P. Leary. Chuck includes a passionate and lilting version of this (with S.P. again on drums!) on this album.

Barrelhouse Chuck pays homage to that 1960’s classic instrument by packing up all his great songs featuring the combo organ and giving us this great new CD “Combo Classic”! A very 1960’s looking photo of a combo organ adorns the CD cover, and inside and on back we have a beautiful, bright red compact combo organ of Chuck’s. Behind the CD in the jewel box we have a classic advertisement for “the new Rheem stereo compact combo electronic organ.” What a cool package, but cooler yet is what’s on the silver disc inside the package.

Chuck offers up thirteen prime and classic cuts of his combo organ virtuosity. He’s got hot newer stuff along with some of his older works on the combo and they are all hot stuff. The Spann classic includes Billy Flynn on guitar along with exquisite vocals by Chuck and Bethany Thomas. He lends his unique Farfisa sound to the Ventures “Walk Don’t Run 69” where he, Flynn and Kenny Smith give us that beach classic Lake Michigan styled!

“Depression Blues” gives us some relevant commentary on today’s economic woes, where Chuck laments about people being laid of by the thousands as he makes the Farfisa sing also to us. Backing him again are Flynn and Leary along with Hash Brown on guitar, Todd Levine on harp and Rick Holmes on bass. He offers up the Farfisa on two newer cuts with the Swedish Trickbag group to open the album. Earl Hooker’s “Hot and Heavy” and what I like to call an original Swedish-Chicago surf tune called “Pacific Blue”. Good stuff just oozes from all over this CD.

The Goering-Flynn original “Chuckabilly-Live” features two amazing instrumentals where the instruments actually seem to talk to us. Chuck’s organ and Flynn’s guitar seemingly sing out to and grab us in this cut. Chuck goes to the Lowry organ to do the “Bright Sound of Big Moose”, a super Johnny “Moose” Walker cut. Nick Moss joins Chuck on three tracks and sings on two of them, his own “Porchlight” and James Cotton’s “Slam Hammer.” Curtis Salgado’s wicked harp adds so much to these tracks, too. Lynwood Slim does the singing on the other song, the J. Haliday-Ray Charles classic “I Choose to Sing the Blues”. Chuck hits us with an R.M.I. and Rheem on the first two and a Vox on the third. Classic stuff done by a man who has exerted full mastery over the combination organ, perhaps even more so than he has the piano! Space does not permit comments on every track, but suffice it to say all thirteen are equally special. I do have to mention, though, the Barrelhouse Chuck tribute to the great Stevie Winwood that he closes with, where Chuck plays the Farfisa on his “Farfisa B3 Boogie for Winwood”; classic stuff!

Run, do not walk, to the CD store (or even faster, run to your computer) and get this CD today. You won’t regret it. This is blues and early rock organ at its’ finest and no one- NO ONE!- does it better than Barrelhouse Chuck!

Memphis Livin' reviewed by Rick Davis

Memphis Livin'

Billy Lavender

I55 Productions LLC / TuneCore

14 Tracks

While growing up in Memphis, Billy Lavender was influence by artists like Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. Learning from some of the masters, he developed one of the best blues and R&B guitar styles in town. He recently joined with his friend Steve Bryson of I55 Productions LLC to produce one incredible cd with an all-star cast.

Joining Lavender are Brad Webb on rhythm and slide guitars, dobro, sitar, and backing vocals, Tony Adams on drums, percussion, and vocals, Dan Cochran on bass, Maria Spence on back-up vocals, Russell Wheeler on the Hammond B-3 organ, piano, and strings, Reba Russell on vocals and back-up vocals, Blind Mississippi Morris on harmonica, Ken Dinkins on vocals, Vince Johnson on harmonica and vocals, Mike Stoker on bass guitar, and JoJo Jefferies on back-up vocals.

The opening number "Singing The Blues" now gets air time, featuring Tony Adams on vocals and Lavender and Webb tearing it up on guitar. "Let's Party" really rocks with Reba Russell, one of the hottest blues singers today. You can get a sample of just how good Billy Lavender can play guitar on this number with Blind Mississippi on Harmonica. Ken Dinkins steps up to the microphone on the next R&B smash "Tonight" with a sweet blend of Lavender's guitar and Wheeler's B-3 organ. Vince Johnson is featured on harmonica on the funky original "Just Chillin". Johnson continues on vocals with "Cold As Ice" sounding like the great Sugar Blue on harmonica. "Get Along" is one of the few cuts featuring Lavender on vocals with Webb backing him with his boogie woogie style piano. This one will get you on your feet in a hurry. The next number "Blue", one of the best cuts on the cd, features the sultry voice of Reba Russell blended with the sound of Brad Webb's sitar. Vince Johnson absolutely smokes on harmonica and vocals on the shuffle "Shake It" with Lavender coming in on guitar and Dan Cochran keeping a strong bass technique throughout. The band slows things down again with "Bottom Line" featuring the powerful voice of Reba Russell. The entire band is very strong on this song as they are throughout the entire album. Tony Adams comes right back growling on vocals with almost a swamp boogie opening on "Bad Boy" with Lavender hotter than ever on guitar. Johnson steps back to the microphone with the minor key blues number "3AM" forlorn because his "baby" has not returned home. Russell Wheeler brings out his incredible talent on the B-3 with Billy Lavender playing his lonely guitar solos. Lavender returns to the vocal mic in "All The People" with a host of back-up vocals. With Brad Webb playing the dobro and Lavender again blending his vocals with other back-up vocals "If I Could" almost sounds like a number written for the Fab Four. This remarkable cd closes with Tony Adams belting out "Delta Time" much like an early Cream blues number with Billy Lavender matching an Eric Clapton style guitar solo.

This Memphis style album of soul, R&B, and blues would get my nomination for best blues album of year! I would have to say this one sizzles!!!

My Lady Don’t Love My Lady reviewed by Mark Thompson

My Lady Don’t Love My Lady

Bryan Lee

Justin Time Records, Inc

12 tracks/67:31

The last time I caught Mr. Lee live, I left convinced that I had just witnessed his best performance of the many times I have seen him and his stellar backing band. The primary reason I was so impressed was the quality of Bryan’s vocals that night. He sang with a powerful, expressive voice that expertly captured whatever feeling each song was going for. With his new recording, Bryan proves that what I heard that evening was no fluke.

Lee gets the star treatment on this project with Duke Robillard once again in the producer’s chair and special guest appearances by Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He is accompanied by an all-star group of musicians including Boston Blues award winner David Maxwell on piano, Marty Ballou on bass, Gordon “Sax” Beadle on tenor sax, Doug James on baritone sax and John Perkins, Lee’s regular drummer. Some musicians might be overwhelmed in the middle of all of this talent but Lee thrives on pressure, not afraid to share the spotlight but always bringing the listener’s attention back to his own contributions.

Big Bill Broonzy’s “When I Been Drinking” sports a late-night feel punctuated by Maxwell’s sparkling piano licks. The Beadle/James horn section provides a marvelous backdrop for Lee, who sings the tune like someone with first-hand experience on the subject matter. Lee turns the Willie Mabon classic “I Don’t Know” into a raucous rocker, with Maxwell and Beadle turning in strong solos before the leader finishes the cut with some stinging guitar work. The opening number, “Imitation of Love”, finds Lee voice soaring over hard, funky beat punctuated by the horns. Buddy Guy appears on a cover of a tune penned by his old partner, Junior Wells. Lee sings with conviction while Guy’s biting guitar tone and inspired playing serve to remind us why he is the dean of the Chicago electric blues guitar style. A quick run-through of Shepherd’s tune, “Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough”, gives Kenny Wayne a chance to show off his impressive talent on guitar. The band manages to breathe new life into “Reconsider Me” with another stirring vocal performance from Lee and another magnificent arrangement for the horns.

There are three tunes penned by Lee on the disc, starting with “Too Many Wolves”, which finds Lee describing his attempts to deal with the current financial mess our country is in. Maxwell gets plenty of solo space and Lee closes the piece with his guitar ringing out over the riffing horn section. The title cut finds Lee in the midst of a losing battle, trying to make peace between his wife and his guitar. “Me and My Music” is a jump blues tune about a former girlfriend who suddenly reappears now that the singer has a big hit record. Lee shouts out that she can keep on knocking on the door “..but the fat boy don’t live there no more!”.

Lee has numerous moments to showcase his guitar work but it’s his superb singing that commands your attention. And he wisely gives his cadre of veteran musicians plenty of room to stretch out. Robillard keeps everyone focused and delivers a package with clean, crisp sound. I thought one of Lee’s prior releases - Six String Therapy - was the pinnacle of his recording career. But this new release now takes that honor thanks to Lee’s impassioned vocals and the fine ensemble work by the band. You don’t hear many recordings this good from start to finish !!!

Live at Rockford's Big Cities' Lounge 1/19/10!!!!