Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Better Off Now reviewed by Mark Thompson

Better Off Now
The Kilborn Alley Blues Band
Blue Bella Records
11 tracks/47:33

It is rare for a blues band to get much attention at the beginning of their career. Many blues musicians have to pay their dues, following a steady career arc that eventually earns them some level attention from the buying public, magazines and cd reviewers. Kilborn Alley managed to get a steady stream of acclaim right from the start, marked by their first two releases receiving nominations for Blues Music awards. The group also received the “Sean Costello Rising Star Award” at the Blues Blast awards ceremony last October. With their newest project, the band serves notice that they have honed their ensemble playing and original tunes into a tighter, tougher sound that melds the traditional electric blues tradition with the realities of the modern urban environment.

The band draws it’s strength from several sources. Andrew Duncanson’s gritty voice can tear into the low-down shuffles or shout out with heart-breaking intensity on the soulful ballads. Joe Asselin is an inventive harp player with a huge sound. The twin guitar partnership of Duncanson and Josh Stimmel brings a razor-sharp edge to every track while Chris Breen on bass and Ed O’Hara on drums are the rock-solid foundation that fuels the band’s propulsive sound. The group used a collaborative approach to writing nine of the cuts, with help on three of them from their original drummer, Anthony Decerbo.

The disc opens with “Nuthin’ Left to Stimulate”, an indictment of the current financial situation set to driving beat with Asselin’s wailing harp driving the point home. The band finishes the disc with a bruising version of John Brim’s classic “Tough Times” with Nick Moss on guitar and Gerry Hundt sitting in on drums. In between those bookends, Kilborn Alley delivers one highlight after another , whether it’s Duncanson ‘s gripping warning about “Foolsville” or the funky strut of “Train to Memphis”. Moss wrote “Watch It”, featuring a surging rhythmic thrust plus the taut interplay between the guitars of Stimmel and Duncanson. The instrumental ‘Bubbleguts” offers a change of pace, driven by the roller-rink sound of Gerry Hundt’s Farfisa organ.

The title track is one of Duncanson’s finest moments. He delivers his vocal with the fervor of the classic soul singers, pushing his voice to the breaking point at the end as he testifies with unrestrained passion. Moss adds his guitar and Ed Michaels sets the mood on organ. Michaels swirling organ is featured prominently on “Tonight”, a late-night lament to too many nights away from home. Duncanson shines again on the harrowing slow blues “Keep Me Hangin’ “, the intensity of his performance matched by Asselin’s mournful harp and Stimmel’s jagged guitar lines.

There is no doubt that this recording will continue to bring well-deserved attention and praise to this outstanding aggregation. Kilborn Alley has managed to integrate all of fine traits of modern electric blues into their sound while avoiding the pitfalls of endless solos and tiresome boogie beats. You shouldn’t be surprised to see this recording nominated for a blues Music award next year - and here’s hoping that they finally win one. In the meantime, this is one release that you can’t afford to miss. Highly recommended !!!

Reform School Girl reviewed by Rick Davis

Reform School Girl
Nick Curran and the Lowlifes
Eclecto Groove Records
14 Tracks

Nick Curran has been labeled as a "twenty-first century hybrid of Little Richard and T-Bone Walker". Curran has recreated that early sound of the classic, exciting, dawn of the rock 'n' roll era of the 50's into his own tunes. With the use of special recording equipment and live one take recordings, he has captured the "spirit" of a bygone era in music history. He grew up in Portland Maine and at age of 15 he played with his dad's blues band Mike Curran and the Tremors. At the age of 18 Curran was playing in a local rockabilly band when he met the legendary Ronnie Dawson. He began his first national tour with Dawson's band as a guitar ace. When the tour ended, he joined the Texas rockabilly queen Kim Lenz as a guitar player in her backup band the Jaguars. When he wasn't on the road, he played in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with local blues bands.

Curran focused on the blues scene in the Dallas area and roots music in Austin. He even toured with retro-country sensation Wayne Hancock for a short time. Being a long time admirer of Duke Robillard and Roomful of Blues, he had his sites set on forming a similar band. In 1999 he moved from the rockabilly scene and start concentrating on blues and writing his own material. He recorded his debut album, Fixin' Your Head, on the Texas Jamboree label. He followed up with cds Nitelife Boogie and Dr. Velvet.

After he performed a solo show in November, 2008, Nick formed the rock 'n' roll roots band, The Lowlifes. Reform School Girl, his latest cd, has all of the excitement of early rock 'n' roll era with Texas blues and rockabilly guitar typical of Nick's style. He opens with an Etta James, Joe Josea rock 'n' roll explosion "Tough Lover". Curran really rocks, rolls, and shakes on "Reel Rock Party" Chuck Berry style with Jason Ricci on Harmonica. The title track "Reform School Girl" takes us back those days of groups like the Shangri-Las. Curran's guitar style and retro vocals really rock on "Kill My Baby" and "Psycho". Tunes "Sheena's Back", "The Lowlife", and "Baby You Crazy" capture the essence of Little Richard's vocals with backup harmonizing vocals and rockin' guitar licks to match. Curran's guitar and Billy Horton's bass are a perfect match on "Ain't No Good". Curran switches completely to a dramatic soulful voice in the blues number "Dream Girl". Nick is joined by The Blaster's Phil Alvin in the rockin' duo "Flyin' Blind". Curran returns to the Little Richard style vocals joined with Derek Bossanova's piano style to match on "Lusty Lil Lucy" and "Filthy". Reform School Girl concludes the way it started with the wild, explosive guitar and rockin' vocals Curran does so well in the B. Scott, M. Young, A. Young tune "Rocker".

Join Nick Curran as he rocks and reels his way through this electrified collection of contemporary 50's sounding rock 'n' roll tunes that is simply irresistible.

For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen reviewed by David Stine

For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen
Samuel James
Northern Blues Records
14 tracks/48:08 min.

This is Samuel James second CD for Northern Blues and his follow-up to 2008’s Songs Famed for Sorrow and Joy. I should note that this CD and James have been nominated for best acoustic blues artist and best acoustic blues album of 2009.

The reviews of James work are quick to compare him to old timers like Charlie Patton, Son House, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. James is an acoustic player of definite skill on guitar, banjo, harmonica and piano. Bedsides his finger-picking ability, James is a quirky and clever songwriter-something sorely missed in today’s blues market. Rather than the standard love lost, late night, bar room, lonely road story lines, James, as you can tell from the CD title, populates his blues with women with unusual names, plots that mention murder more than heartbreak, and titles that look like they’d introduce the next scene in a Quentin Tarantino film.

The CD kicks off with “Bigger, Blacker, Ben” (see what I mean?) the story of a KKK hanging gone wrong. Now here’s the rub for me with James: his voice. He sings/talks in the vein of, well, remember Leon Redbone? For some, his voice may be off-putting and make this fairly short CD seem longer than it really is. Charlie Patton had an unusual voice; so did Son House, but... James also tends to slur into little asides as he moves from one verse to another. In a live show, this would probably work better. The listener without the aid of headphones is going to miss a lot of this. I guess, you’ll either like it or not.

The CD stays pretty mid tempo until track 9-“Miss Noreen.” Moving from guitar to banjo, this song quickly became my favorite for its speed and novelty. Followed by the instrumental “Trouble on Congress Street Rag,“ I found the second half of the CD more satisfying. The songs had more variety, instrumentally, tempo- and theme-wise. Much has been said about James novel-like writing style and it seems the song order is more literary than the typical ebb and flow of most CDs. If you can hang until track 9, you’re in for a treat. Up to that point in time James has a tendency to sound repetitive, no matter how odd the lyrics.

What did I like about the CD? The songs are quirky and well played. What didn’t I like? James voice and the pace of the CD. With songs like “The Water’s Always Changin’ But The River,“ “I’ve Haddock Up To Here,” “A Sugar Smallhouse Valentine,” and “Darlin’ Maeve,” James is sure to catch the attention of many. His Northeastern landscape populated with killer women and danger is a nice alternative to blues from the southern climes. Does he blow Keb Mo’ out of the water (as stated in several online reviews)? No. Or Corey Harris or Alvin Youngblood Hart? No. Yet James is a new and clever voice and whether he gets best acoustic album or best acoustic performer, he will be around for awhile.

Privileged reviewed by Steve Jones

Nick Moss
Blue Bella Records

Nick Moss appears to be an angry man. He’s given us an emotional and quite different take on his talents in this brand-new release. Politically charged, the album bristles of the tension of the late 1960’s. Moss’ distaste for current politics shines through, and he takes this anger and amplifies it angry and bitter songs of our society and lost loves.

Nick sets the tone for this album with a very angry cut about a “Born Leader” whose goal is to lead all us blind little lambs. It’s a driving rock song with nice lyrics, appropriately coarse vocals and a hot hand on guitar. There’s a really sweet guitar solo by Nick in the middle of this one. A few tracks later he gives us another dark and original track called “Privileged at Birth”; here he talks to us about what life is really all about and worth. Moss has another big solo here, as does John Kattke on organ. Moss covers the Cream classic “Politician” to add to his political commentary. It’s a bit darker than the Bruce and Clapton version, but it’s also filled with a lot more emotion than the super group original. Nicely done! The original “Tear Him Down” describes how we love our cultural heroes when they do well but we enjoy it even more when they mess up and we can tear them down. Stephen Still’s “For What It’s Worth” is a very cool cover. Moss gives the song a big funky sound doing all the guitar work while Bob Carter growls out the lyrics. “Why Should I Care” completes the social and political commentary; here Moss talks to us about losing everything we have in this new song. This is a hard driving, rocking cut.

On “Your Love’s a Lie” we get Nick in his angry mode again, singing slow blues about his lover’s lies. The “perkiest” tracks here are Howlin’ Wolf’s “Louise” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “She’s So Fine (Born Blind). “Louise” is done in a jumping, rocking style with Moss’ solid guitar blazing a sweet path while

Moss goes acoustic on “Georgia Redsnake”. On “Redsnake” he does all the acoustic guitar work while Gerry Hundt adds some very well done mandolin. It is a driving and vibrant song. They finish up the CD with a funky instrumental called “Bolognius Funk”.

This CD is more rock than straight blues, but it gives us a great appreciation of how in the early days that blues got transformed into rock. Moss’ work here verges on genius, giving us an emotional and dark look at our world. The guitar is impeccable– no one out there can beat this man at his craft. The notes effortlessly flow off his frets into his pickups/mikes. When this is released for sale I am buying my own copy. If you like rock done in a dark and bluesy style, you’re gonna love this one!

Feed My Soul reviewed by Mark Thompson

Feed My Soul
The Holmes Brothers
Alligator Records
14 tracks/49:47

On their tenth recording and the fourth for Alligator, the Holmes Bothers continue their winning formula of mixing their influences - gospel, soul, blues, rock and country - into another collection brimming with spirit and energy. Unlike previous efforts, this one features a wealth of original tunes - two by Sherman Holmes and six from his brother Wendell, who also co-wrote one track with Paul Kahn. The burst of creativity stems from Wendell’s recent bout with bladder cancer, which gave the siblings a new appreciation for life. They are joined, as always, by drummer Popsy Dixon and their friend, Joan Osborne, handles the producer’s role as well as adding backing vocals on seven tracks. Another long-time collaborator, Glenn Patscha, is prominently featured on keyboards.

The disc opens with “Dark Cloud”, with Sherman’s pleading vocal over his strong bass line and some tasty Hammond organ from Patscha. The social commentary continues on one of Wendell’s tunes, “Edge of the Ledge”, as he attempts to make sense out of a financial situation so dire, “..they even repossessed my bed.” “You’re the Kind of Trouble” rocks hard and Wendell’s lead vocal gets plenty of support with Osborne and Catherine Russell on backing vocals.

Switching from guitar to piano, Wendell delivers a poignant look at his battle with cancer and the reaction of people in his life on “Fair Weather Friend” with Sherman, Popsy and Osborne laying down an exquisite backing vocal . The band dips into the Beatles catalog one more time, with Popsy’s soaring falsetto voice reworking “I’ll Be Back” into a yearning lament on love lost that achieves an emotional level that surpasses the original. Another cover, “Pledging My Love”, features more of the band’s superb singing, the three voices harmonizing in superb fashion. Wendell shares some sage advice on life on the country-tinged “”Living Well is the Best Revenge”.

“Feed My Soul “ is a song Wendell wrote for his wife, a gentle love song with a gospel flavor. Brother Sherman wrote an equally touching piece, “I Saw Your Face”, with a beautiful guitar solo from Wendell .

Popsy closes the disc by taking listeners to church on “Take Me Away”, his stately voice lifting up the song of praise in magnificent fashion, accompanied by Wendell on piano.

Long-time fans will delight in the stunning vocalizing from Wendell, Sherman and Popsy throughout this release. Kudos to producer Osborne for capturing their voices in all of their glory. The band celebrates life, love and family with a renewed sense of purpose and outlook on life. You can hear it in the lyrics - and in their heart-felt singing. This is certainly one of the Holmes Brothers best recordings - and a joy from start to finish.

Hell and Back reviewed by David Stine

Hell and Back
David Gerald
David Gerald Enterprises
10 tracks/55:41 min.

Evidently Stevie Ray Vaughan still casts a might big shadow over blues men of all color. David Gerald’s Hell and Back oozes with Vaughnisms. I should have noted how much the CD cover resembles Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand The Weather. For those of you, who back in the day whished Stevie had covered “Red House,“ you’re in for a surprise on track 10.

This ten-song CD captures Gerald both live and in the studio. The live tracks tend to be more raucous and over-the-top. Also, the live stuff is all cover material. “I’ll Play The Blues For You,“ Thrill Is Gone,“ “She Caught The Katy,“ “Cold Shot,“ and “Red House” are all covered here by Gerald and his band. The Albert King cover nods both the King and his best disciple, SRV. “Thrill Is Gone” starts out as a subtle B.B. version with keys playing the part of the string section but blasts off about halfway into it with Gerald’s Stratrotechnics (my term). The crowd eats it up. “She Caught The Katy” is treated to an up-tempo and pleasant modernization. “Cold Shot” is almost note-for-note Stevie. And here’s the little secret: Gerald SINGS just like Stevie. He has an uncanny knack for mimicking Vaughan’s vocals. Check out the last song, “Red House,” which guitar-wise isn’t all Stevie but the vocals sure are. Eerie.

Before you dismiss Gerald as just another guy with a Strat (and sometimes a hat-see CD art), you need to hear the non-live songs, written by Gerald. Here is his future. Song one on the CD is a fairly non-memorable tune called “My Guitar.“ The theme and the playing don’t stand out, but provides a foundation to see were Gerald is coming from. He has been making a living as a guitar player who sings and now writes. Hidden behind the I-wanna-be-just-like Stevie is an artist trying to break out and find his voice. With “How I Feel” we hear an unrecorded SRV tune--not really but you’ll believe it. It DRIPS with scary Vauhanisms. Don’t give up yet, reader. “Postman” the third Gerald-penned tune exposes a bit more of David Gerald and a bit less of his hero. Not much, but enough. The next song “Hell and Back,“ my favorite on the disc is pure Gerald. Gone are the Stevie Ray trappings--vocally and guitar wise. This song alone pulls David Gerald out of the sound-alike and wannbe pile of copycats. Here is a good song, well delivered, and one that will stay with the listener as long as some lesser known Vaughan.

My end complaint is that David Gerald needs to come out from behind Stevie Ray Vaughan’s shadow and do his own thing. He has proved, here and there, on this CD that he has his own voice and talent. I look forward to his next disc.

Medford and Main reviewed by Rick Davis

Medford and Main
Matthew Stubbs
Blue Bella Records
11 Tracks

A new soul and blues instrumental pioneer has arrived on the scene. At 25, Matthew Stubbs is currently sharing the stage with the Charlie Musselwhite band and well as performing with his own band. He has just finished the follow up to his debut album "Soul Bender" with the new CD "Medford and Main". As a composer and performer, Matthew is known as a well established blues and soul instrumentalist. Along with touring with Charlie Musselwhite, Stubbs has also toured and recorded with many top blues and soul acts such as Junior Watson, John Nemeth, Janiva Magness, Lynwood Slim, Brian Templeton, and Sax Gordon.

Stubbs opens "Medford and Main" with the soul explosion and title track "Medford & Main" and follows up with "Pistol Whip" echoing the 60's surf and rock era. "Uncle Sonny" opens with Matt's original guitar sound blended with an all-star horn section headed by Sax Gordon. He slows thing down the soulful tune "Sleepy Eyes" showing his versatility. Combine the versatility of the late Danny Gatton on guitar and the Memphis horns and you have a sound much like Matthew Stubbs has created with the next tune "Double N". He keeps that unique soulful influence with "Tube Top Temptation" and "Yikes Ike". Stubbs once again slows the tempo down on the tune "Mangos". "Waffles" with its great trumpet intro and "Rug Burn" really showcase the guitar of Matthew Stubbs and his explosive soul band. The CD is concludes with a rockin' soul number "Fazzo Beans".

What a great follow up to his debut album! An original instrumental album of this caliber has finally hits the charts. With the guitar prowess of Matthew Stubbs and a band to match, he has set the standards very high for the future of the music industry.

Bare Knuckle reviewed by Rick Davis

Bare Knuckle
Guitar Shorty
Alligator Records
14 Tracks

Growing up in Houston Texas, young Guitar Shorty, aka David Kearney went to school in the day and performed at night. His show was billed on one gig as "The Walter Johnson Band and Guitar Shorty", which stuck with him for life. His career continued with an opportunity to join Ray Charles and his band at the age of 16. Under the guidance of Willie Dixon, he recorded his first single at 17 on the Cobra Label. During his long career he performed with the legendary Guitar Slim, T Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, B.B. King, Little Richard, The Eagles, Steely Dan, and Sam Cook. Shorty was been credited with influencing Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy before becoming a legend himself.

His new CD, "Bare Knuckle", is non-stop high-energy, powerful blues vocals, and searing guitar licks from beginning to end.

The CD opens with his political statement "Please Mr. President" and really hits home with "Slow Burn" making a statement about those who served. "Too Hard To Love You" sends a message about the high cost of love! He once again delivers his "punch" with superb guitar licks in "True Lies", treasures those special "Texas Women", and sends a message to his baby in the tune "Too Late". His use of the wah wah pedal and Rickey Rouse on rhythm guitar stand out in "Never Land". Wyzard on bass along with Guitar Short's soulful vocals and slashing guitar blend well on the next cut "Betrayed". "Get Off" begins with a great piano intro from Tadashi Namba followed once again by the guitar and vocals of Guitar Shorty. He starts with a Hendrix style intro on "Bad Memory" and finishes with that familiar Guitar Shorty guitar style. He saves the best until the last with "Temporary Man" but lighting up his guitar for the last time.

His blistering guitar, incredibly soulful voice, and experience in the blues world makes "Bare Knuckle" one of the hottest contemporary blue cds on the charts today. It is easy to see why he is a giant in the blues music industry.

I94 Blues reviewed by Steve Jones

I94 Blues
Cash Box Kings
Blue Bella Records
15 tracks

I met up with harp player and vocalist Joe Nosek from the Cashbox Kings last year and told him how much I enjoyed their 2009 “Cuttin’ Heads: Live” CD and he told me if I liked that then to just wait for their new studio release in 2010. Well, it’s here and he was right: it’s even better than their live release!

The CD is filled with 15 of the 17 tracks that the band laid down in a single day at Madison’s Smart Studios. Recorded mostly live (there are a few vocal overdubs and an added guitar track in one cut), it is the band's first release without Travis Koopman. Filling in here on guitar are Joel Paterson, Billy Flynn, and, on one track, Chicago veteran Steve Freund. Paterson takes the lead on most tracks with Flynn on the remaining except for the one by Freund. Flynn also fills in on mandolin and banjo on a half dozen tracks. Remaining with the band along with Joe Nosek are Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, Oscar Wilson (who shares the vocal work), and Chris “CB” Boeger on bass. Other welcome guests are Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Mark Haines on drums and acoustic guitar, and Jimmy Sutton on upright bass and also backing vocals on one track.

The CD begins with a jumping, post recession cut called “Default Boogie”. The song gives us the blues delivered up with some appropriate lyrics about today’s economic times. Here Wilson bemoans the bank action against him:
“Before I could move
They changed the locks
They even took the check
Outta my mailbox...”
Flynn on mandolin and Chuck on piano give this a great depth of sound. It’s a great start to a CD with 10 solid tracks written by the band and their guests along with 5 great covers. They slow it down on St. Paul Wintertime Blues, with Nosek comparing the St. Paul winters to the cold in his bedroom. Paterson’s guitar lays down a solid lead line that drives this from start to finish. Flynn’s banjo leads on the title track with a nice acoustic guitar solo and fill in by Joel, more solid vocals by Nosek, Jimmy Sutton on bass, and piano by Barrelhouse Chuck. We are transformed back to juke joint days with this cleaver original tune; it’s one of my favorites. “Quesadilla Boogie” is another of my faves from the album. Penned by most of the band members, it opens with a great Barrelhouse piano solo lead in, and then we are treated to the full instrumental boogie treatment. Paterson’s guitar, Flynn’s mandolin, Nosek’s harp, Boeger’s bass and Smith’s skin work are tight and flowing. Flynn’s “Second Chance” gives us some more great slow blues, with Wilson back fronting the band and Freund in the lead and Flynn backing him on guitar.

The covers also include some very strong songs. Muddy’s “Hard Days” gets royal treatment here with Wilson’s smooth vocalization, Chuck tearing up the keys, Flynn’s lead mandolin and Nosek blowing hot harp. Water’s “Country Boy” cover slows it down and gets all greasy and dirty with the same cast, except Paterson twists notes away on lead guitar and Flynn adding his banjo. Two Muddy Waters covers you hear from so many bands, yet here we get them played almost reverently and ever-so-freshly! The surprising cover is Jim Croce’s “Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, an over played 1972 pop number that used to bore me to tears but here it gets a complete facelift. The song is done with a slightly up-tempo, syncopated beat, some sweet guitar from Paterson and nice vocals by Wilson. These guys can take pre-chewed bubble gum and turn it into brand new and clean gum! They finish the set with Blind Willie McTell’s “Warm It Up to Me”. Sutton backs Nosek up on vocals quite nicely, and the band builds this acoustic number up to a rousing finish that perfectly closes things.

Space precludes me mentioning every cut, but suffice it to say that you will love them all! These guys play Chicago blues the way they were meant to be played. The Cashbox Kings and their friends are in synch and play together with reckless abandon. This is a great album and it needs to be part of your collection if you want to hear the best of today’s Chicago blues!

Flood reviewed by David Stine

Moreland and Arbuckle
13 tracks

By my count this is the fourth album from these Kansans. Shame on me for missing the first three. If it weren’t for this CD popping up in the review rotation the same night I heard about a rave show at Kryptonite in Rockford, I might still be in the dark on these guys. The CD kicks off with a rockin’ cover of Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go.“ Right from the get go, we get introduced to Aaron Moreland’s cigar box guitar/bass thingy. Open tuned, it allows Moreland to play bass and slide guitar at the same time creating a deep and eerie sound we would associate with the Deep South. Dustin Arbuckle sings, play harmonica and is given writing credit. Most songs here have drums added by Brad Horner. There is a sprinkling of guests adding a bass part here, guitar there, piano, but the heart of this disc is Moreland and Arbuckle.

This CD is not for the faint of heart. Song two is an almost over-the-top reading of “John Henry” that may make you forget about all other versions. Song three “Before The Flood,“ begins with some psyche sliding (my word) shenanigans before evolving into “18 Counties” something closer to a North Mississippi All Stars-type one chord jam. “Your Man Won’t Ever Know” is a slower and subtler acoustic guitar/harp story of infidelity. Song six, “Don’t Wake Me” is from the Elmore James school, although it starts with some nice honky-tonk piano. The lyrics and Arbuckle’s delivery keep this one from being filler. “Bound and Determined” is a poppy number featuring slide guitar and banjo that work well together. Before you get too comfortable, however, there are shades of the Jack White’s White Stripes off the radar playing here making the song less conventional that one would expect. “Can’t Get Clear” is another one chorder that is both hypnotic and deep. Imagine if R.L. Burnside had been white. Songs nine “Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone,“ penned by Ryan Taylor sounds more like traditional up country blues. Here, I should mention that M&A seems at home in many styles of acoustic blues styles. “In The Morning I’ll Be Gone” is another song that proves M&A can get along just fine without a full-time bass player. Another hypnotic romp. “What You Gonna Do” is almost “Got My Mojo Workin’” and I mean that with the most respect. Propelled by drums, piano and Moreland’s guitar the song reaches the same sort of hand-clapping fervor. Song twelve, “Red Moon Rising” is, again, a fooler that could have been written 80-90 years previous. The CD closes with a banjo version of song eight, “Can’t Get Clear.” I like albums that sort of fade away rather than just end; this reprise is a nice touch.

It is unique spanning styles from the 20 to now. It is hypnotic, evocative and well produced. In the hands of others one chord songs can wear on you. Moreland and Arbuckle have enough savvy and skill to avoid getting mired in their own a grooves. I will definitely seek out more Moreland (no pun) and Arbuckle. This disc may not be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.

You Might Just Win reviewed by Steve Jones

You Might Just Win
Julie Black
BOJA Records
15 tracks

Julie Black is an up and coming vocalist with a mighty fine voice. In this, her second CD overall on BOJA records, we hear this gritty and powerful singer deliver the goods with 15 great original tracks to appreciate. A cut from her first album (“Love This Mama”) was featured on the final 2008 sampler CD from Blues Revue magazine. The CD also features guitarist Dave Eichenberger, Michael Johnn on keys, bassist "Father" Bill Spicuglia and “Jungle Denny” McCarthy and Mike LaSala sharing the drum work, along with a host of backing vocalists and Aaron Rutter on violin; they do a great job backing her up!

I liken her voice in some ways a bit to Bonnie Raitt, in others a bit to Janis Joplin, and in others even a bit to Ella and Etta, but she is uniquely herself in her singing and equally good songwriting. Some of the songs have for me a Carole King feeling of forthrightness and confidence in their approach to words and music, which is a huge compliment because as a 60’s and early 70’s songwriter there may have been few better. This is a great package that showcases a talented young gal’s talents!

She opens with a haunting “Under the Gun” with beautiful and sultry vocals and some sweet guitar backing her. She goes into the pensive and thoughtful “After Falling Out” after a great piano and guitar intro by Johnn and Eichenberger that shows the care these artists have for both the material and each other. If I had to pick a favorite it might be “Both of Us”; this is a gutsy and emotional cut that talks of relationships gone bad and just tears at the soul. Cutting vocals and guitar make this a great song. “Blues in My Blood” give us some gutsy vocals, guitar, piano and really nice organ work. She gets a bit whimsical in a duo of songs, first in an almost Lennon and McCartney-type way in “Cajun Coquette” and following that with a rockabilly country way with “If Love is Kind (Why You Tryin’ to Kill Me?)” (they are listed backwards on the CD from their play order). She closes in a jazzy number entitled “I Got Love” that is an outstanding punctuation mark to a wonderful set of tunes.

What a great CD we have here; jazzy, soulful, rocking, bluesy and oh, so special! I was really impressed with this effort and it got better and better after each play. Julie is the real deal and I think the blues and cross over world may hear a lot more from this fine artist! I give her songs, her voice, her band, her CD and her production the highest marks here- this is one you have to listen to!

Sugar Lips reviewed by Rick Davis

Sugar Lips
Murali Coryell
Murali's Music Records
12 Tracks

It's not often that I have the pleasure of hearing an artist live before writing a review. I had no concept of the potential of Murali Coryell's musicianship until I heard Murali live at Big Cities Lounge in Rockford, Illinois. With his red hot guitar style merged with a incredible soulful voice and impeccable writing ability, he had created one chart topping cd in "Sugar Lips", his sixth since 1995. His new cd "Sugar Lips" was currently #5 on The Living Blues Radio Chart"

It seems Murali Coryell was destined to continue the musical legacy established by his father, jazz guitar legend Larry Coryell. He was introduced to music at an early age by meeting music legends like Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Bruce, and Miles Davis just to name a few. His new cd "Sugar Lips" features the all-star lineup of Larry Coryell on guitar, Reese Wynans on keyboards, and Joe Lewis Walker on guitar and Harmonica.

Murali opens with a hard rocking number "Blame It On Me" featuring his father on guitar. This number also features Reese Wynans, Tom Hambridge on drums and background vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, and the strong horn section of Dennis Taylor on saxophone and Quentin Ware on trumpet. Coryell follows with "What You Gonna Do About Me?" with really captures his dynamic guitar style and riveting soulful voice. The next number "Closer To You Baby" shifts to the R&B sound that is accentuated by Murali's versatile guitar style. He really slows things down with the song "Mother's Day" written after the unexpected loss of his mother Julie Coryell. "What Works On You" is great blend of musical talent shared by this all-star cast. The title track "Sugar Lips" will captivate his live audiences nation wide. He reflects on his life with the smooth flowing tune "I Could've Had You". "Still Rockin'" again really shows versatility of Coryell with this rock n' roll great! He continues to display his wide range of abilities with the funky number "Minor Funk" featuring the legendary Joe Louis Walker. Walker is also featured in the next blues song "I Still Do" on both guitar and harmonica. "Music Sets You Free" says it all about the passion of music and it's driving force in all of us. Murali Coryell concludes his musical collection with the spiritual sounding tune "Where Is The Spirit".

I highly recommend "Sugar Lips" and encourage everyone to see Murali live the next time he performs in the area.

Last Train to Bluesville reviewed by Mark Thompson

Last Train to Bluesville
The Nighthawks
Rip Bang Records
10 tracks/40:28

The latest from the Nighthawks is an acoustic recording done in 2009 at the Sirius/XM Studios and features founding members Mark Wenner on harp and Pete Ragusa on snare drum. They are joined by Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass. Both are veteran Washington D.C. musicians who have been in the band for the last four years. All four members contribute vocals to the project.

The stripped-down format works exceptionally well for the band, every track brimming with energy and superb musicianship. Opening with “The Chicken and the Hawk (Up Up and Away)”, Ragusa and Castle lay down a tight, swinging beat for Wenner’s enthusiastic vocal while Bell picks an intricate solo passage on his acoustic guitar. The rest of the setlist finds the band revisiting tracks from previous releases or covering classic songs like “Nineteen Years Old” with Wenner’s harp lines playing off Bell’s slide guitar. Their version of “Rollin’ and Tumbling’ “ harks back to Leroy Foster’s original with the moaning vocal chorus and insistent rhythm from Ragusa using a tambourine as a drum.

Another highlight is “I’ll Go Crazy”, with Ragusa taking the lead vocal on the James Brown tune and the rest of the band supplying a doo-wop vocal chorus. Wenner gets the chance to show off his skill on the harp and makes the most of the opportunity. The band shows they can rock unplugged with Castle on lead vocal for a rousing run-through of Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”. Bell contributes some more excellent slide work on “I Can’t Be Satisfied”. And Wenner blows his heart out on “Mighty Long Time”, adding an equally strong vocal.

The sound on this disc is superb, with the vocals having warmth and immediacy while the instruments are clearly defined. The band is inspired throughout and the members clearly revel in the acoustic format. After hearing Wenner’s stellar contributions on harp, one has to wonder why his name is not mentioned more often in discussions about the best harmonica players. All four members of the Nighthawks were on top of their game for this session, which ranks as one of the band’s finest efforts in it’s 35-plus year career.

Stealin’ the Soul reviewed by Rick Davis

Stealin’ the Soul
Will Tucker
Will Tucker Music
9 Tracks

Tommy Peters, the owner of B.B. King's Blues Club in Memphis discovered 16 year Will Tucker in 2008. Will has been following the blues scene around Memphis most of his life. Since being discovered in the summer of 2008, he has performed with several veteran bluesman including Charlie Musselwhite, G. Love & Special Sauce, Tony Coleman (B.B. King’s drummer), Billy Gibbons, and the Beach Boys with John Stamos. Collaborating with Grammy nominated producer Paul Speer and Ardent Studios he recently released his debut CD “Stealin’ the Soul”.

“Your Sacrifice”, his original tune on the cd, is proof that his song writing equals his guitar playing ability. At the early age of 16, Tucker plays guitar like a 20 year veteran.

He covers titles like Muddy Water’s “Walkin' In The Park”, the Willie Cobbs, Elias McDanial tune “You Don’t Love Me”, “T-bone” Walker’s “Stormy Monday”, and the Booker T. Jones hit “Born Under a Bad Sign”.

The last segment of the cd is live from B.B. King’s with his own band and Memphis musicians Joe Boogie on keyboards, Randy Middleton on bass, and Pete Mendillo on drums. He opens with the Dennis Linde hit “Burnin’ Love”, continues with the Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy tune “When the Levee Breaks”, and finishes the four tracks with a strong version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Goode” and the Jimi Hendrix guitar classic “Little Wing”.

After listening to this, his first CD, I think you will agree that it sounds like Will’s guitar experience far exceeds his age. His voice has also developed to a maturity level well past the age of 16. I think we will hear more and more from this young guitar prodigy for years to come. As a blues fan, it is great to see young artists so dedicated to the music that has influenced generations.

Songs From The Road reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Songs From The Road
Luther Allison
Ruf Records
2 disc set : CD - 19 tracks - 71:52 minutes
DVD - 8 tracks 56 minutes of show

The new release, from Ruf Records, of Luther Allison’s performance at the 1997 Montreal Jazz Festival is really outstanding. This show was the last recorded performance of Luther Allison. Four days after this show Allison was diagnosed with cancer. About a month later, on August 12, 1997, he passed away.

Luther Allison's show on July 4th 1997 was recorded by Canadian Television. This recording, "Songs From The Road", is a piece of blues history. It has been packaged by Ruf Records as a 2 disc DVD/CD set at a very low price. It sells for about $15 and is quite the bargain.

Luther's music career was long and productive. Starting at 18 and playing with his own band he just went forward. He moved to Chicago and jammed with the likes of Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Freddie King. He played with his band in the 60's and also made a recording, "Love Me Mama" for Delmark records in 1969. In 1972 he signed with Motown Records. He felt that his music was more appreciated in Europe and stayed in Paris for years. He also released a dozen albums there. In 1994 he released "Soul Fixin' Man" for Alligator Records.

Luther Allison was a great stage performer, song writer, guitarist, and singer and had the ability to grab an audience; He was a perfect blues machine. Watching the DVD from "Songs From The Road" just shows who and what Luther Allison was! "Songs From The Road", to me, is maybe the ultimate preservation of Luther Allison's style and presentation. There is not a moment during this show that the audience is not involved and wanting more of Luther's music.

Luther's band for this recording included Luther on guitar and vocals, Ken Faltinson doing a fine groove on bass, Mike Vlahkis on keyboard and organ, Rob Stupka on drums and James Solburg on lead and rhythm guitar. This is a great interacting stage band to say the least.

"(Watching You) Cherry Red Wine", an Allison, song is an outstanding performance to watch. Luther's intensity and feeling for the music is very visible here. With an awesome guitar solo and his playing off of Solburg, some kicking organ and a great bass line this is a very powerful tune. On "Low Down And Dirty", a Benard Allison tune, Luther showcases his slide guitar style. There is plenty of Solburg and Luther playing off of each other on this tune. Good stuff!

For me, Luther's rendition of "It Hurts Me Too", also with the slide guitar, is very emotional and heart felt. The crowd is brought into the lyrics as the music is taken way down. This is a very intense performance by Luther Allison. Watching "It Hurts Me Too" on this video is probably worth the whole cost of the set.

The DVD includes an interview with Luther plus a video tribute to him that includes him playing with his son, Bernard. The CD has a couple tunes not on the DVD. "Living In The House Of the Blues" and "What Have I Done Wrong" are included.

Luther Allison was true blues legend and performer and is and will be missed. With the release of "Songs From The Road", we have a great memory of him. Luther Allison was truly a Soul Fixin' Man. "Leave your ego, play the music, love the people" as Luther said, is what he did.

Smokin’ Joint - Vol. 2 reviewed by Mark Thompson

Smokin’ Joint - Vol. 2
Kim Wilson
Rhythm Room Sessions
13 tracks/65:55

Blues music doesn’t get much better than catching Kim Wilson live, backed by one of his aggregations of all-star blues musicians. This live recording captures Wilson in his element, his commanding lead vocals and virtuoso harmonica playing constantly eliciting shouts of approval and encouragement from the audience. Wilson favors a two guitar line-up and you don’t get a much better pairing than Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn. The interplay between these two masters is a constant delight, particularly on a rousing rendition of “Gumbo Blues”. Larry Taylor on bass (Canned Heat) and Richard Innes on drums form the rhythmic engine that powers this high-octane blues machine.

This collection of veteran musicians form a powerful ensemble that pushes Wilson to be at his best. And he delivers, whether it’s blowing a stellar harp solo to open “Take a Little Walk With Me” or shouting the blues on “I’m Leavin’ You”. The up-tempo “Date Bait” is another high point with it’s churning rhythm and an expressive vocal from the leader. The band slows the pace on “Please Come Back to Me” and Wilson turns in another convincing lead vocal performance while the two guitarists create plenty of six-string fireworks.

“I’m Going Home” is done in the swinging west-coast style with Zinn tearing it up on guitar. The closing medley starts with a high energy version of “I Hear You Knockin’ “ before easing into “Bring It On Home” with Wilson’s harp echoing his vocal lines.

The recording quality and volume vary a bit from track to track but the sound on all of the cuts is quite listenable. The sleeve lacks any notes save for the lists of song titles and the band members. But the disc rocks from start to finish and provides another testimonial to the power of Kim Wilson’s musical vision. The crowd that packed Big Cities at Wilson’s recent local show certainly had a experience that was similar to the inspired performances captured on this disc. Available at Wilson’s live shows, this one is worth tracking down. Just make sure you invite your friends and play it loud !!!

Holdin' Court reviewed by Rick Davis

Holdin' Court
Debbie Davies
Little Dipper Records
11 Tracks

At an early age, Debbie Davies was constantly exposed to music growing up with parents who were professional musicians. At the age of 12, Debbie was drawn to the blues after listening to her father's Ray Charles record collection. It was then that she was attracted the roots music and to the guitar as her form of musical expression. After listening to British blues-rock bands, particularly the electric guitar of Eric Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, she decided to pursue her passion to play the blues. Davies began her career playing in blues and rock ‘n roll bands in the San Francisco Bay area before she returned to Los Angeles in 1984, where she got a lead spot in the all-female band Maggie Mayall and the Cadillacs led by the wife of British blues legend John Mayall. After touring with Albert Collins in 1988, and gaining several years of valuable experience on the road, she came out with her debut release, "Picture This" on Blind Pig Records which featured Collins on the tune “I Wonder Why”. Since then, she has soloed or performed with other artists on 12 albums. Her twelfth and latest cd is the long awaited instrumental cd titled "Holdin' Court". After 26 years of perfecting her craft as a leading contemporary blues guitar artist, and numerous requests from her fans, she has blended the guitar styles of some her influences like Albert Collins, Freddie King, and Kenny Burrell into a showcase of 11 solo instrumental tracks.

She opens along with her band featuring Casandra Faulconer on bass, Don Castagno on drums and conga, and Paul Opalach on organ, guitar, and bass with a funky Duke Robillard tune "Fishnet"...and what and opening it is! Hold on to your chair and turn up the sound! How can this get any better? She rips into her version of Bill Dogget's dance hall prototype "Honky Tonk" with "Down At The Honky Shack". "Tryin' To Keep It Real" starts with a great funky intro and transitions into one of the best blues tunes on the cd. "Okie Dokie Stomp" takes you on a jump, jive 'n' swing guitar revival done Davies' style. "Percolatin", "So What", and Atras De Tus Ojos" are the three instrumentals recaptured from her earlier albums. "So What" captures that Albert Collins influence that is distinctive in Debbie's style. Her influence from the legendary Kenny Burrell can be heard in "Atras De Tus Ojos". The title track "Holdin' Court" parallels blues guitar giant Ronnie Earl. Davies is superb bending notes on Earl Hooker's tune "I wonder Why". She keeps it funky using guitar wah-wah on Albert Collins' "If You Love Me Like You Say". The cd concludes with a surf instrumental "Zoom-in" reminiscence of 60s surf music of the Ventures.

"Holdin' Court" is one of those cds you won't be able to stop playing over and over again! It is a great addition to everyone's blues collection. Thanks for 26 years of incredible blues!

The Sojourners reviewed by Steve Jones

The Sojourners
The Sojourners
11 tracks

Canadian bluesman Jim Byrnes contacted the Vancouver-based Marcus Moseley to get some other Canadian singing friends together to work on an album about three years ago. When the three men opened their mouths it was obvious that something special had been put together. Mosley, along with buddies Will Sanders and Ron Small, refined their stuff in the churches down south in their original homes of Ralls, TX, Alexandria, LA and Chicago, IL, respectively after the Byrnes session and then recorded a 2007 CD with producer Steve Dawson. Their second CD was recorded two years later and is just released here; it features Dawson playing a smoking variety of guitars with a deep blues sound, a warm and soulful Mike Kalanj on Hammond B 3 organ, Geoff Hicks and Keith Lowe on drums and bass and a guest appearance by Jesse Zubot on mandolin in “By and By” to round out the wonderful sounds.

This is serious Gospel music sung by talented men with truly superb musicians backing them. These guys are standouts and have a sound and spirit that just beckons one to listen over and over again. The first time I listened to this was in my car, and when I got home I immediately listened to it three more times on my stereo; I was singing along with each track by the time I finished. It is moving music that grabs the listener with their exceptional renditions of songs of sin and redemption. They also weave in so many related styles of music to their Gospel and blues sound that makes it so beautiful that the listener cannot break away from it.

Dawson’s dirty and greasy slide guitar work is a wonderful addition to the Gospel sound. He’s featured in tracks like the jumping praise song “Great Day. If one has any ties to a military member, the Violinaires’ “Another Soldier Gone” is given a moving rendition that will just give you chills. “Lead Me Guide Me” is a Doris Akers classic that plays out like sacred slow blues, with the organ work and electric guitar filling in the blanks between vocals ever so sweetly. Los Lobos “(Peace in) The Neighborhood” brings us back to the headier days of the civil rights movement in a driving, forthright cover. The Reverend Guy Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” gets a big transformation from its’ Grateful Dead cover days, poignantly melancholy yet moving. The set closes out with the traditional “By and By”; uplifting vocals and some mean finger picking on the guitar leave one revived but wanting more.

I can’t say enough good things about this. Suffice it to say that if I had to buy one Gospel CD released in the last few years, this would be it. It is that good. If you have any love at all for Gospel, this CD must be in your collection.