Thursday, December 27, 2012

Root Walking reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Root Walking
Big Walker
BKW Records
12 tracks/46:04

Derrick Big Walker’s “Root Walking” is a unique collection of 12 American blues and roots music. Featured on this re-cording are African-American poems from the 17-1800’s put to music plus original tunes from Walker. Most of these songs tell the story of the black peoples struggle due to slavery and being brought to a strange land by force. These are poems telling of the situation that they had to endure. Walker has also added some of his own lyrics to them to show his feelings on this matter. Every track on this CD can be listened to reflect and try to understand where the blues came from and the people that they tell about.

Big Walker is truly a harmonica player who has honed his licks to create real a blues sound with deep feelings for the genre. From the lessons that he took from the great Paul Butterfield, he has created and nurtured his own style. He is also a solid saxophone player as you will hear on several tracks on “Root Walking”. Along with all this talent he also adds all the lead vocals. The band for this project includes James Bradley and Fredrick Hellberg sharing the drum beats, Surjo Benigh adds guitars and bass as Stevie Klasson joins the mix with slide and acoustic guitar. Also included are several fine piano and organ players as well as great back-ground singers. This makes up a very strong group of blues artist for this CD.

“Can’t Take No Train” is a true saga of trying to ride the train without any paper money. Walker inserts strong and thought provoking lyrics into this story. “Can’t take no train, the conductor told the strong man I had to go, they hit me till I was black and blue, their dog bit me.” This story is a poignant look into what we hope is in the past. Featured on this track are some of Walker’s outstanding harmonica playing, Slim Natini’s piano plus some awesome slide guitar from Stevie Kallson. This up-beat tune with powerful lyrics is a standout tune on “Root Walking”. Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s “Midnight Special” is an excellent addition to this CD also. Walker throws in a very strong harp solo on this tune.

“Thirteenth Full Moon” is a tribute to guitarist and friend of Walker, Ollie Boson, who passed away in 2009. Derrick’s lyrics and saxophone playing here create a strong example for his true love and feelings for the blues. Slim Notini’s piano is present throughout the song as well as the guitars of Klasson and Maxie Dread. This is another strong track on this re-cording.

“Root Walking” is what Americana blues and roots music is about. Big Walker has done a strong job of presenting and preserving the poems of the 17-1800’s while creating a fine example of musical blues. The struggle of the blacks in the past and now are not overlooked here. Every tune here is different and thought provoking while being very enjoyable to listen to. Derrick Big Walker is a for real talented blues artist that we should get to know and listen to.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Detonation reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Dave Fields
Field Of Roses Records
12 tracks/63:13

“Detonation”, Dave Fields’ 3rd CD, is correctly named because it explodes with his powerful guitar style. Fields has packed 12 self written, lyric filled, and full of hot guitar solos tunes, backed by a strong band into over one hour of awesome music. Dave’s style of guitar playing reflects a strong influence from both Jimmie Hendricks and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He incorporates very strong rock and psychedelic elements into much of his guitar playing. His band is one fine group of musicians that includes Vladimir Barsky on keyboard, Andy Huenerberg playing bass and Kenny Soule adding drums to the lineup. Doug Hinrichs also adds percussion on most tunes.

Opening “Detonation” with “Addicted To Your Love”, Dave Fields lets us know that he is a strong Hendricks-SRV rock filled guitarist. His vocals and lyrics are excel-lent on this track. Barsky’s organ stands out and is a great addition to the mix of this tune. This full blown rocker is a great way to open the set. “Doin’ Hard Time” which features the great blues artist, Joe Louis Walker, is a really neat blues song. Fields and Walker trade off slide guitar solos as well as vocal verses. This mix is great to listen to and takes in the talents of these two artists. The lyrics tell the story of a lost love and leaves us with the thought of “ I’m doing hard time but I’ve committed no crime – but I admit to be guilty of lovin’ you”. The chorus seems to tell the whole story. This is another really good tune.

The best blues track, by far, on “Detonation” is “Pocket Full Of Dust”. This is another one of those love that’s gone astray and the pain that follows story. Dave shows us the true story of the blues with the lyrics on this tune. He tells us the tale of “since I lost my baby, I ain’t got nothing but a pocket full of dust”. Fields’ blues guitar stands out as he takes his time going into this tune along with a very tasteful organ line filling in the spaces. “Pocket Full Of Dust” is truly a full blown blues track that is a highlight for this re-cording. Going in a completely different direction Dave takes us to the reggae world with “Bad Hair Day”. This is one of those fun to listen to songs with great lyrics. Here his guitar work is complimented by Delmar Brown’s organ and a neat vocal rap. This is all good stuff that shows us another side of Fields’ music skills.

Detonation” is a solid showcase of Dave’s ability to play many genres of music along with a strong blues influence. He seems to be more of a blues “ROCKER” guitarist that writes strong lyrics, surrounds himself with quality musicians and presents his style of music well. As a blues recording it may not stand up to the genre but it is one very enjoyable CD to listen to. This is all good.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

….First Came Memphis Minnie reviewed by Steve Jones

….First Came Memphis Minnie
Maria Muldaur & Others
Stony Plain Records
13 songs

Memphis Minnie Is one of the all time great blues persons. She stands out among contemporaries like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey and Sippie Wallace because she accompanied herself on lead guitar while they appeared backed by bands led by Louis Armstrong and other New Orleans greats. Her style of country blues was dubbed the “Memphis Style” and set her apart from the jazzier New Orleans’ style.
Minnie first gained fame performing with Willie Brown and Willie Moore, who also help Robert Johnson come into his own. Later, she performed with and married with guitar player Kansas Joe McCoy and the two eventually wound up in Chicago. She and Joe broke up and she performed in a trio much like later rock bands. In 1941 Minnie switched to electric guitar, further serving even more as a proto-rock figurehead. Her career spanned a half dozen decades and her notoriety as a female beating men at their own game was second to none. Maria Muldaur produced this CD to pay tribute to this extraordinary pioneer woman of the blues.

Muldaur has now recorded 40 albums over her illustrious career. This latest effort is an outstanding homage to Memphis Minnie, with Maria at the mike for 8 of the 13 tracks. Also appearing are Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor. The latter two artists appear courtesy of their 1976 Sony and 2007 Alligator recordings of “In My Girlish Days” and “Black Rat Swing.” “My Chauffeur Blues” opens the album. This is the tune she and her later husband Ernest Lawler recorded and was the song she beat out Big Bill Broonzy in a “cutting” contest on guitar. Her frenetic playing purportedly went on for 20 minutes to a wildly ecstatic crowd and she was declared winner, taking the prize of a bottle of whiskey home. Roy Rogers backs Muldaur on this cut and goes acoustic, in contrast to Minnie’s 1941 recording. Muldaur’s vocals are sweet and earthy and Roger’s picking is excellent. Muldaur's voice quivers and is so expressive. Roy Saly provides the bass backdrop to this great opener. Bonnie Raitt and Steve Freund team up for the next track, “Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’” and the two hit a home run. Raitt’s vocals are what we expect of this fantastic singer and she and Freund tag team the melodies and chords oh-so-well together.

Muldaur and Alvin Youngblood Hart pair up next in “I’m Goin’ Back Home.” Maria and Alvin trade lead vocals and Hart finger picks with great musicality and dexterity. Nicely played and sung country blues. “I’m Sailin’” features Muldaur in a gritty slow blues with Del Rey and Steve James on the guitars. Rory Block goes solo on “When You Love Me” picks acoustically and also does slide in this very beautiful track. Muldaur, Rey and James “Long As I Can See You Smile” is big time country blues with two guitar pickers blending so well together. “Lookin’ The World Over” opens with a nice Rey guitar and Muldaur with a mean, down and dirty approach to her vocals.

Snows’ track is next. She is backed by Dave Bromberg on guitars and mandolin; other artists were not captured for the recording. Snow’s approach is exceptional and she delivers a memorable vocal performance here in her inimitable style. Muldaur and Hart return for “She Put Me Outdoors” and the duet is quite well done. Dave Earl adds a spicy mandolin to the mix, too. Ruthie Foster adds “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed” and Steve Freund’s guitar along with her vocals show us what this talented young singer can do. Muldaur and Del Rey are together on the next two, with “Tricks Ain’t Walking” and "Crazy Cryin’ Blues” featuring Earl and James on mandolin respectively. The CD closes with Koko’s track, which was Minnie’s unofficial theme song. Bob Margo-lin slips and slides up the frets sweetly and Brother John Kattke adds his ivories, but Koko blows us away here.

All I can say here is that this is an outstanding production and set of performances. To gain an appreciation for the longevity and continued relevance of Minnie’s songs one has but to sit and listen contently. This is is a great tribute and fine set of performances! The CD is well worth adding to your blues library!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

At Home Next Door reviewed by Steve Jones

At Home Next Door
Al Basile
Sweetspot Records
2 discs, 14 and 13 tracks

Al Basile is the cornet player whose rise to fame came via New England’s Roomful of Blues. At Home with the Blues is a celebration of Al Basile and his 15 years on Sweetspot Records. The 13 remastered tracks here are from Al's 1998 to 2010 Sweetspot releases, featuring with Duke Robillard and many of the best blues-men from the Northeast. Also included is a new acoustic blues song called “80 Bells.” On the new track we have Al on vocals and Duke soloing on acoustic guitar. I sall not belabor reviewing previously released cuts– the 13 remasters are excellent songs from The Tinge, Blue Ink, Grovin’ In The Mood room, Soul Blue 7, Down on Providence Plantations and Shakin’ the Soul Tree; these are mostly straight up and cool blues done in Al’s soulful style. The added cut is just Al and Duke, bare bones singing and strumming and it sound beautiful, a fitting close to a CD of other great blues tunes.

The second CD is Next Door to the Blues, a collection of 13 new roots and soul songs with what is touted as a “60s Memphis R&B flavor.” Also featured are Duke Robillard, the Duke Robillard Band, the Roomful of Blues alumni horns, and special guest Scott Hamilton on tenor sax. This is a great group of songs done by this exemplary vocalist and cornet player!

Al opens with “Too Much Like Fate”, a swinging song that features the horns and has some campy, fun lyrics. Gospel references in “Stony Ground” are intentional; or are they? Maybe Al’s just telling it like it is. “Only Jodie Knows” is Al’s take on a “Jodie” song, many of which have been written over the years; this one has a nice little swing to it. “A Mystery to Me” is a lamentful, sad ballad of lost love where the horns and organ set the tone.

“She Was Sayin’ Giddyup (I Was Sayin’ Whoa)” is all about the woman wanting things to progress faster than Al desired and vice versa. Duke lays out a nice solo here. “A Little Too Far” features a nice cornet solo with Duke coming in smoothly afterward. It also features a distinct, groovy bass line. “Miss Dissatisfied” sings of the chic who never is happy even when she gets her way all the time. A husband and wife have it out over an errant butt call on his cell phone exposes some potential wrongdoing in “My Phone’s Got a Mind of Its Own.” Lot’s of nice brass and organ on “The Streak,” a song about being confident when you know you’re on a streak. Lots of good songs with some touching and some tongue in cheek topics are featured here!

I’ve been trying to come up with a vocal style to compare Al to. Maybe if Louis Prima was born a half century or so later in Massachusetts, attended school in New England and took a less comical approach to his music, you would perhaps have Al Basile. While they are not altogether similar, I get a lot of that breathy vocal approach, with the end of each vocal line tailing off just a bit. In any case, this is a very nice pair of CDs. Two for the price of one: a retrospective and some new stuff. How can you miss? Fans will enjoy this and new comers to Al’s music can gain an appreciation for his blues and see what else he can do stylistically! I recommend this album!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Sleeper reviewed by Rick Davis

The Tall Paul Band
11 Tracks

Tall Paul Webner, originally from Canada, is a seasoned 20 year bluesman. He grew up in Washington D.C. with a passion for learning guitar. After finally ending up in Tucson, Arizona, he formed the Tall Paul Band with Kevin Heiderman on bass and Les Merrihew on drums, in 1998. The band has made an appearance at both the Chicago Blues Fest as well as Buddy Guy's Legends. He has backed bluesmen like Sam "The Man" Taylor and opened for blues legends like Studebaker John and the Hawks, covering obscure venues for over twenty years.

Sleeper, the debut album for this power trio, features nine original tunes in addition to cover songs "Matchbox" (Ike Turner) and "Come To Papa" (Willie Mitchell/Earl Randle). "Come To Papa" is a tune trans-formed from the blues classic "Come To Mama" by Koko Taylor and Etta James with a strong baseline and soulful vocals from Webner. The CD opens with the original tune "Sleeper," allowing Paul Webner to vacillate between lead and rhythm guitar with ease and is driven by a highly charged, electrifying bassline. "Space Race," one of two instrumentals, is a throw back to an intergalactic '60s instrumental with the other being "Don't Leave" a smoother jazz tune with a rumba beat. "Ridin" is a great shuffle giving you the sense of rollin' down the highway on a Harley without a care in the world. Bass and lead guitar are in perfect unison on the hard-driving, blues-rocker "Something Special." "That's For Sure" is smooth shuffle with Paul flooding his baby with adulation. Move over Elvis for the rockabilly infused original "199 Days" penned by the base player Kevin Heiderman. "Goin Back Home" delivers guitar solos reminiscent of The Georgia Satellites "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" with an added harmonica solo from Paul. "No More" is a nice mix of jazz and funky rhythm guitar flowing throughout the tune.

Tall Paul Webner is able to produce a multitude of sounds from his ES-355 Gibson creating a great collection of musical styles. His debut album is a masterpiece, hopefully with much more to follow.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Blue reviewed by Dennis Barker

Cassie Taylor
Hypertension Records
10 Tracks/32:47

Just 25 years old, Cassie Taylor has put together an impressive resume with 10 years of touring, per-forming and recording with her father, blues man Otis Taylor. She appeared as a vocal-ist on Gary Moore's 2008 release "Bad For You Baby",was part of RUF Records's "Girls With Guitars", with Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde, is a featured vocalist on "Bluesmasters Vol. 2", served on the board of directors of The Blues Foundation, and recently released her solo debut CD "Blue". Although not pure blues, some of the tracks are closer to pop, "Blue" is well done and worthy of a listen.

The sultry voiced and multi-instrumentalist Cassie lays down the bass groove and piano on all 10 of the self written tunes. Auto-biographical in nature these songs contain some very interesting lyrics. In "Make Me Cry", a tune about a no good lover, Cassie takes the direct approach with the opening line "Hey asshole, I wrote you a song". Later in "Waste Of Time", a lament about the last year of a failed relationship, Cassie says "the only thing harder than leavin' would be stayin' with you", she then adds "sure a beautiful waste of time", some of the best lyrics I've heard in a long time.

Another note worthy tune, "Spoken For", a dark bluesy song about discreet flirtations, features a twangy guitar complimented by some nice blues harp. "Goodbye" and "Make Me Cry", 2 very well done songs with interesting guitar, both lean more toward pop than blues.Next follows an interesting late night bluesy ballad "Haunted" by your love".

The closer, "Waste Of Time", has Cassie at her piano singing perhaps the best track of them all. "Blue" is not going to wow you the first time you listen, but it is a good effort by Ms Taylor. She is a rock solid bassist, an accomplished vocalist, and a better than average songwriter, but, as Cassie says, "Blue ain't no old mans blues".

Reviewed by Dennis Barker

Missed Train Blues reviewed by Steve Jones

Missed Train Blues
Joe Filisko & Eric Noden
12 tracks

Not everyone I meet in my blues travels is an acoustic music fan. Festivals sometimes tuck away the acoustic acts earlier in the day, often off the main stages. I find this a bit wrong. The blues began acoustically, both on the plantations and in early recordings. The desire to make louder music and adding rock-like tempos keep the fans loving the blues, but it is in the roots that we must go back and remember where this music began.
Not only do Eric Noden and Joe Filisko write new and play acoustically, they make pre-WWII roots music that sounds fresh and vibrant. Each of these gentleman from the Chicago area have written a half dozen songs (Joe sharing authorship with his wife Michelle on one of them) and they bring them to life together on this CD.

For any of you new to Eric and Joe, Eric Noden is a superb guitar player and Joe Filisko is one of the most profound and proficient harmonica players I have ever heard. I have listened to these guys for many years, both together and individually. As solo artists they are excellent, but the synergy of the two together is much more than the sum of two musicians added together.

One of my favorite tracks is the opener, “Bird Song.” Noden writes and sings of what he’d do if he were an eagle, owl, rooster and other sorts of birds. The guitar and harp blend into a whirl and swirl of country blues, with Filisko chugging, blowing and bending while Noden sings and picks. “If You Call Out” is a Filisko tune sung in duet that takes us to church and the harp replaces the organ in the church mu-sic. Half way through Noden come in on the kazoo and one just wants to jump up and dance for the Lord! He continues in a duet with Joe on vocals and he on Kazoo. “Fat Cats and Thin Dogs” is a commentary on Wall Street moguls looking down on broken men rooting through garbage cans while thin dogs bark. Noden has penned a topi-cal song done in the style of many years ago that one can appreciate in today’s situation. And the Filikso harp solos just ring out spectacularly. The title track is a cool Noden number, and what would a period album like this be without a great train song? It is followed by “The Grind,” a driving and nicely done Filisko piece, and his “Ballad of Peg Leg” is a semi-humorous musical story. Space precludes commenting on each song, but I must note the closing instrumental “Roo Chase (Jumpin’ Joey)” is a great ride!

Whether you are new to Joe and Eric or veterans of their music, this is a great follow on to IC Special, their last CD (which was equally fantastic). This is a super example of modern acoustic blues, taking the pre-war genre of music and updating it with modern themes. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

The Bluesmasters – Volume 2 reviewed by Mark Thompson

The Bluesmasters – Volume 2
In Memory of our Dear Friends Pinetop Perkins & Hubert Sumlin
Direct Music Distribu-tion
12 tracks/41:48

The brainchild of guitarist Tim Tucker, this collection prominently features the names of two legendary musicians, pianist Pine-top Perkins and Howlin' Wolf's guitar player extraordinaire, Hubert Sumlin. They are listed on the cover of the disc along with Cassie Taylor, Hazel Miller, Eric Gales and Mickey Thomas. In the band listing on the back cover, the men are again listed. While several other musicians have notes attached detailing which tracks they appear on, there aren't any notes for Perkins or Sumlin. That is problematic as the duo appears on a total of three tracks.

Cassie Taylor, the bass-playing daughter of Otis Taylor, receives a healthy share of the spotlight starting with the opener, “Bring It Home to Me” (not to be confused with the Sam Cooke classic). Her saucy vocal injects some life in a song that suffers from weak lyrics. Even better is her performance on the Don Nix tune, “Same Old Blues”. Ric Ulsky's lush organ chords surround Taylor's emotionally-charged singing. She doesn't fare as well on “Talk to Me Baby” as her attempts to sound like a tough blues mama come up short but she recovers to give “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” a sensual reading. Taylor makes a valiant effort on Robert Johnson's “32-20 Blues” but is undermined by a rocked-out arrangement that features British blues legend Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Doug Lynn, who blows a lot of harp with really adding anything to the cut.

Taylor and Gales tackle Studebaker John's “Fine Cadillac” with Gales' shimmering guitar licks underscoring the dynamic vocal duet while Taylor and drummer Larry Thompson providing a pounding rhythm for Gales final guitar-melting solo. Thomas gets paired with Taylor on “I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water” with Rusty Anderson added on guitar. Taylor exercises restraint and develops some sense of intimacy while Thomas turns in a blustery performance that builds to a unhinged screaming conclusion. It is hard to believe that this is the same vocalist who hit the charts with “Fooled Around & Fell in Love” as a member of the Elvin Bishop Band.

Hazel Miller regularly performs as a member of Big Todd & the Monsters. She unleashes her powerful voice over the slinky, organ-drenched rhythm the band lays down on “Tangoray”, exhibiting a gritty spirit missing from much of the disc. Lynn and his harp make a solid contribution on the track as well as Miller's other feature, a heavy-handed rendition of “Big Boss Man” that finds Miller succumbing to the temptation to shout her blues away.

It isn't until the ninth track that Sumlin finally surfaces on “Red Rooster”. His understated guitar licks are overpowered by Thomas, who seems to think this is a Jefferson Starship record. Perkins settles into the piano chair on “Get Me a Car”, his customary rollicking piano lines almost drowned out by one last heavy-handed vocal from Thomas. Things quiet down a bit on the closing number, “Honest I Do”, with Perkins efforts taking a backseat to Taylor's robust singing and Tucker's aggressive playing.

As a tribute, this release veers far from the traditions that Perkins and Sumlin helped establish. There is little of the subtlety, playfulness or deep understanding of blues music that were a hallmark of their careers. But if your tastes learn towards the rock side of the blues world – and you have a high tolerance for boisterous performances – then this one will bring you plenty of listening pleasure.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Layin' Down the Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Layin' Down the Blues
Pett Crow
11 tracks/45:58

Being the opening act for a major blues festival can be a nerve-racking experience. The task becomes even more daunting when the other acts on the bill include Paul Thorn, Curtis Salgado, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Ana Popovic and Delbert McClinton. But Pett Crow took the stage and won over a sizable portion of the audience at this year's Sarasota Blues Fest.

One other thing – lead singer and guitarist Wes Crow is a high school freshman. His sister, Julia, is an eighth-grader who han-dles the bass, keyboards and washboard. Drummer Brandon Pettiford is in seventh grade. He also contributes on backing vocals and bass. The band was selected to play this year's festival after a representative saw them perform in the Youth Showcase that was part of the 2012 Inter-national Blues Challenge sponsored by the Blues Foundation in Memphis.

Their debut recording shows that the band has tapped into the roots of blues music. The title cut opens the disc with a fat-bottom Mississippi hill country-styled stomp with Wes Crow barking out the lyrics and adding some seasoning with his harmonica. The song is one of six originals from the band. “Ain't Lovin' on Me Anymore” provides ample proof that the band can handle a slow blues shuffle.

Another highlight is is the downcast “You're Not Around” that gives Wes a chance to stretch out on guitar while convincingly singing about the travails of love that he probably has yet to experience. Julia supplies the walking bass line on “None to Soon” as her brother once again sings with insight beyond his years about women and cheap wine with Pettiford urging on. “Buskin' on Beale Street” pays tribute to the band's experiences in Memphis.

Their covers are a mixed bag. The straight-forward rendition of the Otis Rush classic, “All Your Love” gets a jolt from Pettiford's aggressive stick work. “Help the Poor” is a showcase for Wes as his anguished cries are underscored by his wistful guitar phrases. The trio displays their versatility on “How Long Blues”, switching to an acoustic format with Julia on washboard and Wes blowing more harp. The acoustic format continues on the instrumental “Locomotion”, giving Wes a chance to demonstrate his skills on slide guitar. Their version of “What'd I Say” misses the mark due to Julia's rudimentary keyboard playing.

At the Sarasota Blues fest, Pett Crow showed that they continue to develop and mature. They handled their set like seasoned pros and added new layers of flavor to the material on this release. It will be interesting to see how far they can take their career if they decide to stick with it. If our Blues in the Schools programs ever produce musicians of their caliber, all of hours and funds Crossroads has invested in the programs will have been well worth it. Check them out and give them some support if you like what hear. And be looking for their upcoming new release, which will mark their continued growth as a legitimate blues band.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Better Place reviewed by Mark Thompson

Better Place
Billy Seward with his Memphis Brothers
SoulFonic Records
10 tracks/44:23

My first encounter with Billy Seward hap-pened in June at the Suncoast Blues Society's 15th Anniversary party, held at the famous Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa, FL. Billy and his Soulfonic band open the evening with a fine set of music featuring Billy's rich vocals and fine guitar playing. Several months later I ran into Billy at the Sarasota blues fest. We had a nice conversation that centered on our mutual admiration for the work of legendary soul singer O.V. Wright. Later in the day Billy stopped by to give me a copy of his CD that was released last year.

While I certainly enjoyed his live show, that experience did not prepare me for what I would hear when I first listened to the recording. Seward and his musical cohorts have crafted a stunning disc that at times recalls the glorious sounds of the Hi Record label and at other times focuses on the grittier music that made the Stax label a household name.

The recording sessions were held at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis. The backing musicians are some of the finest that the city has to offer including Jim Spake on saxophone, Mark Franklin and Scott Thompson on trumpet, Landon Moore on bass plus George Sluppick on drums, Al Gamble on the Hammond B3 and keyboards and Joe Restivo on guitar. The last three are the members of the City Champs, a funky instrumental group that uses the Booker T & the MG's sound as the foundation for their free-wheeling jams.

Leading off with the title track, Seward's stirring voice immediately grabs hold of you over the riffing horns and the organ-drenched arrangement. Even better is the slow-burning “Two Things We Did Right”, with Seward's son, William, handling the lead guitar role in support of his father's gripping vocal. The band captures the Hi Record sound on “Love for Money” with Gamble's swirling Hammond organ chords punctuating the propulsive rhythm track. Seward voice has a fitting hurtful edge to it on one from the Stax files, “Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need)”. He pays tribute to O.V. Wright with a swelter-ing take of “Drowning on Dry Land”, incorporating some touches of reggae to spice things up.

Other highlights include Seward's lamen-tation “Blues Don't Bother Me” with the band once again in a deep funk mode while “Take Me for Granted” takes a momentary detour south for some robust New Orleans R&B with Gamble shining on the piano. Susan Marshall and Gamble supply the backing vocals to compliment Seward's voice crying out in anguish on his downcast original “Walking the Streets at Night”. His compelling singing on “You Don't Have To” offers up a plea for under-standing that would be hard to resist.
The pensive instrumental, “Soulfonic”, closes the disc in meditative fashion. The soulful ending is perfectly tuned to the rest of the project, which establishes that Billy Seward is a noteworthy talent as a singer and songwriter. His distinctive voice crackles with vivid emotional intensity without losing control. Mixed with strong, original tunes and a superb cast of musicians, the end result is a disc that deserves repeated listening. It is one of the best recordings I have heard in a long time – and comes highly recommended!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Pickin’ High Cotton reviewed by Steve Jones

Pickin’ High Cotton
Memphis Gold
Stack House Records
11 tracks

This is a dark and deep in the blues album. Memphis Gold takes us track by track through a life of picking cotton by hand in Mississippi, homelessness, poverty, drunkenness, and other tragedies that have filled his live and given him the blues just like the forefathers of the blues. He expresses his feelings deeply and with a true sense of the blues. This is a down home and dirty blues CD of all original tracks.

While the lyrics and beat sometimes seem to be overly simplistic and they deliver some riffs we’ve heard before, Memphis Gold is writing and playing in the style of years past. He is one of the last true links to Delta blues played by a man who lived in the style of the originally recorded bluesmen; he gives us a 21st-century take on the tradition.

Dark and dreary times get the treatment in tracks like “How You Gonna Play The Blues?”, “Don’t Take My Blues Away”, ”Homeless Blues”, and “Pickin’ High Cot-ton”. One can feel and understand the suffering men and women went through in the Delta when listening to this man. He emotes the blues in a straightforward and blunt manner- no questions asked.

There is some variety here, too. “Back Po’ch Tennessee” is a cool and jumping instrumental song, while “Ice Cream Man” (not a cover) gives us a different take on the blues where he and MMM want to be their baby’s ice cream man. “John Brown” is some more deep blues, but it hearkens to times a century and a half ago in a fresh manner. The closing track “Standin’ By The Highway” gives us more of Gold’s blues, but the rhythm and beat are funked up and grooving.

The CD insert materials is lacking some of the guitar credits on some tracks, but the players here support Memphis Gold 1000% with their efforts- they are tight and quite in synch. The packaging and insert show the pride Gold has in his recognition and success. There are the Living Blues and Blues & Rhythm magazine covers he was featured on, sponsorships, and gratitude for a flag he received that was flown over GITMO.

The CD is fun to listen to. It may seem at time to be stuff we’ve heard before, but that is what the early blues were all about. Memphis Gold takes us back and helps us recognize we are not far removed from the days of the plantation and share crop-ping. All that has saved men and women the labor of picking cotton are huge machines that have taken their jobs away, menial as they were, but perhaps making for a new future generation’s take on the blues where even King Cotton cannot provide a meager sustenance for small farmers.

Reviewed by Steve Jones

All Hooked Up reviewed by Rick Davis

All Hooked Up
John Lee Hooker, Jr.
Steppin' Stone Records
12 Tracks

John Lee Hooker Jr. has more life experiences than one could imagine. Born in 1952 in Detroit, he began performing on the local radio station WJBK at the tender age of eight. He started at the age of 18 recording with his father John Lee Hooker Sr. on albums like Soledad Prison (1972). Up until that time, he performed in various Detroit blues clubs. His life took the wrong path until his father died in 2001, when he made a come back.

At the age of 52, he was able to get his life back on track and released the award winning CD Blues with a Vengeance (2004). He followed up with three more CDs until the release of his current CD All Hooked Up, hosting numerous musicians throughout a dozen original tunes. Backing Hooker on his new CD are the spec-tacular Hot Sauce Horn section, standouts John Garcia on guitar, and Dave Barrette on harp. His life experiences certainly offered a lot of material for writing the lyr-ics on these 12 new original tunes. There is a thread of funk heard throughout the CD especially on the opening tune "Tired Of Being A Housewife," "It Must Be The Meds," "I Know That's Right," and the title track "All Hooked Up" which sounds like a synopsis of John Lee Hooker Jr.'s life. "You Be My Hero" is his tribute to the armed forces. "Hard Times" opens with stellar guitar licks from Garcia combined with the gripping vocals of Hooker to paint a vivid picture of life on the streets. "Listen To The Music" adds in some Bourbon Street keyboards and Mardi Gras style vocals to the collection. Hooker brings in Betty Wright for a duet on "I Surrender" surrounded by a full horn section extravaganza. The Hot Sauce Horns also take center stage on "Let Me Be" along with the blazing guitar of John Garcia and convincing vocals of Hooker himself. The hard drivin' guitars on "Tell It Like It Is" is indeed one of the strongest blues tunes on the CD. All Hooked Up concludes with the jazz infused tunes "Pay The Rent" and "Tears In My Eyes."

John Lee Hooker Jr.'s vocals seem to fit any style of blues or jazz with excellence. This CD, with its variety of blues and jazz, will satisfy your musical appetite for hours. As a bonus the CD/DVD combo includes the animated video of "Dear John."

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Recorded Live From The Throckmorton Theatre reviewed by Rick Davis

Recorded Live From The Throckmorton Theatre
The Blues Broads
Delta Groove Music, Inc.
CD 10 tracks, DVD 11 tracks

The Blues Broads represent more than two centuries of expertise as singers of blues, country, gospel, and rock. Collectively they have been referred to as a "super group" of roots music. Individually, Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Annie Sampson, Deanna Bogart, and Angela Strehli have experienced successful careers in the music industry. Each one brings a unique vocal style to the group, bringing unsurpassed talent to the stage.

Dorothy Combs Morrison, a gospel music singer from Longview Texas, began sing-ing at the age of 13. She gained exposure as a singer in church events, bringing her talents center stage and gaining her notice in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay area. She joined the Edwin Hawkins Singers in the '60s and was lead vocalist on the Grammy Award winning, Hall of Fame hymn, "Oh Happy Day."

Annie Sampson developed her unique approach to music singing in a Bay area church and school choirs. After securing a role in the musical Hair at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco for a period of time, she joined the popular rock group Stoneground for a series of national and international tours.

Tracy Nelson grew up in Madison, Wisconsin where she sang folk music with The Fuller's Wood Singers and was lead singer in a band called The Fabulous Imitations. In 1964 Nelson recorded with harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite as a guest in her backup band. The album was recorded in Chicago where she met blues legends Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Otis Spann. She moved to San Francisco in 1966 where her band Mother Earth played the Fillmore Auditorium, along with the bands like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.

Angela Strehli from Lubbock, Texas first learned bass and harmonica before be-coming a vocalist in the '60s. In her final year in college, she formed the Fabulous Rockets with Lewis Cowdrey. After that she sang backup for James Polk and the Brothers and then worked with The Storm which was formed by Cowdrey and Jimmy Vaughan. By 1972, she was a member of Southern Feeling with W. C. Clark and Denny Freeman. Her recording career began in 1986 with Stranger Blues (EP), which launched Clifford Antone's record label. She has since been on six more albums.

On Recorded Live From The Throckmorton Theatre, The Blues Broads' new release, the members of the group complement each other extremely well on stage. The new release contains the show at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley, California, November 4, 2011 on CD and DVD. Included on the CD are all of the tunes that are on the DVD with the exception of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Bob Dylan) performed by Annie Sampson on the DVD and complimented with a saxophone solo by Deanna Bogart. Sampson takes her powerful vocals to a whole different level on this number. The legendary singers take turns on center stage, while the other four provide backup vocals throughout the show. Tracy and Angela trade lead vocals on Tracy's tune "Livin' The Blues." Tracy takes the lead on her song "Walk Away" belting out the blues with her powerful, soulful vocals that only she can deliver, with Gary Vogensen providing lead guitar solos. The lead vocals change to Annie Sampson on "Bring Me Your Love." The incredible gospel voice of Dorothy Morrison will send you reeling on the Ike and Tina Turner tune "River Deep, Mountain High," The Spinners hit "Mighty Love," and her own number "Oh Happy Day." The fabulous Texas blues artist, Angela Strehli, is stellar on her classic blues tunes "Two Bit Texas Town" and "Blue Highway." Morrison, Nelson, Sampson, and Bogart share the vocals on the tune "It Won't Be Long." All five singers harmonize making "Jesus, I'll Never Forget" the highlight of the show.

This one unforgettable night with five of the best female singers brought together for one fabulous performance. It is a live concert that can truly be enjoyed for years to come.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Keep the Fire Burning reviewed by Mark Thompson

Keep the Fire Burning
Barbara Carr
Catfood Records
11 tracks/40:29

Not too long ago, Barbara Carr was a star on the southern soul/blues circuit with ribald hit records that left nothing to the imagination including “Footprints on the Ceiling” and “Bone Me Like You Own Me” for Ecko Records. After years of toiling in relative obscurity, and despite a contract with Chess Records, it had to be gratifying to finally catch the attention of the listening public. But in recent years, her career has slowed with this project only her second in the last five years.

Perhaps the slowdown is due to Carr now being in her seventh decade of life. But you would never guess that as you listen to her latest release. Right from the start, her husky voice digs into “Hanging On By a Thread”, making a plea for the return of her lover over a muscular, percolating rhythm. “Back Together Again” celebrates yous strut. Carr testifies to standing resolute on “I Got the Blues”, relating how she came to understand what the blues is all about.

The co-producer of this project, Johnny Rawls, has had some hits of his own. He joins Carr for a riveting duet on “Hold on to What You Got” as both singers slowly build the intensity without losing control. Catfood owner Bob Trenchard also helped with the production. Rawls and/or Trenchard had a hand in writing all but one track.

Musical accompaniment is supplied by the Rays, who backed the dynamic singer Kay Kay Greenwade before she suffered a stroke that lead to her passing early this year. The Rays are now the house band for Catfood productions and often hit the road to back Rawls on his tours. Trench-ard is on bass with Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Richy Puga on drums & congas, Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet and Robert Claiborne on trombone. These road-tested veterans know how to infuse the proper amount of zest into each arrangement.

“Come on Home” finds Carr once again left alone and pleading for forgiveness for past sins. It is one of the songs that benefit from the presence of the Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – on backing vocals. Carr supplies some idea of what might have caused the break-up on “Moment of Weakness”. The standout track is “We Have the Key”, as Carr delivers a moving performance that digs deep into the emotional well in praise of the man she loves. The title track finds Carr in familiar territory, vouching for what she expects her man to provide when it comes to lovemaking in a more subdued fashion than her earlier material.

A couple of songs - “You Give Me the Blues” and “What You Gonna Do” - are more generic and too similar to stronger material on the disc. On the closing number, “Sweet Talkin' Snake”, Carr refuses the advances of a no-good man with some fine accompaniment from Ferguson on piano and back-up singers Monica Guitierrez and Candice Reyes.

All in all, a very solid effort from Barbara Carr. It is nice to have her back and kudos to Rawls and Trenchard for making sure that she had a sympathetic band and a solid batch of material. The lady can still sing, so be sure you give this one a listen.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Delta Bound reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Delta Bound
Mississippi Heat
Delmark Records
14 tracks/61:33

Pierre Lacocque’s, Mis-sissippi Heat, has been playing the blues for twenty years now in an ever changing style of their own. Having produced ten CDs with a varied group of musicians this band has developed a powerful sound with much emotion included. There is truly a deep feeling for the blues in all of the bands recordings. “Delta Bound”, released by Delmark Records, is the latest creation from this awesome group.

As a harmonica player Pierre is a very creative, tone filled and powerful example of what one should be. He has learned the styles of the masters, Sonny Boy William-son, Little Walter and others and has created his own unique sound. He is truly one great harmonica player. He has also developed talent for writing strong blues tunes. Along with these talents he is capable of putting together the musicians needed to perform the blues as he sees them.

“Delta Bound” is filled with a great mix of 14 tunes written by Lacocque as well as 2 written or arranged by Inetta Visor. Joining Pierre and Inetta on this recording include drummer Kenny Smith, Billy Satterfield on guitar, Joseph Veloz on bass making up Mississippi Heat at the present time. Also in the mix for this outstanding recording, Pierre has brought us many guest per-formers. Deitra Farr brings her powerful blues vocals into the mix of things on three tunes. Other guest players include Billy Flynn and Carl Weathersby on guitar, Chubby Carrier with the accordion and “Hambone” Cameron with the piano and keyboard. Also included are other fine musicians adding their touch to the great sound of this blues CD.

“Delta Bound” opens with an upbeat tune, “Granny Mae”, which features Lacocque’s harmonica and Chris Cameron on key-board trading really strong licks along with Inetta Visor’s bluesy, throaty and raspy vocals. Billy Satterfield and Giles Corey provide us a rousing guitar line on this tune also. This opening tune presents a great example of Pierre’s harp playing and Mississippi Heat’s full, rich and unique sound. “New Orleans Man” takes us on a trip down South for tale from Inetta Visor about her man. This track features Chubby Carrier’s accordion which just creates a great feel to this upbeat song that is accented by a strong drum line from Andrew Thomas. This is the type of song that will drag many dancers to the dance floor.

A special treat on “Delta Bound’ is the re-turn of vocalist Deitra Farr to sing on three tracks. “Sweet Ol’ Blues” is a standout tune with Dietra sing a true blues song with her powerful vocals. This is quite a treat to listen to. Billy Flynn puts out his great sound on the guitar along with La-cocque’s harp playing. This is one blues filled song! “Lemon Twist”, an instrumental tune, showcases Lacocque’s mastery of the harmonica. He has such a great tonal and dynamic quality to his playing that your ears will just reach out to take the sound in. He is truly one of the best harp players out in the blues world today. Joseph Veloz adds a strong bass line to this track as Johnny Iguana fingers the key-board and Giles Corey also plays a swell guitar solo to round out the sound. This is really a listen to tune on “Delta Bound.”

Mississippi Heat is forever changing but always holds on to the unique blues sound they are known for. The players, in the band, become different but always keep a high standard of presenting the blues to the fans. We can give Pierre Lacocque credit for keeping this high level of perfection in all of Mississippi Heat’s recordings and performances. “Delta Bound, on Del-mark Records, is right on the mark!

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Almost Always Never reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Almost Always Never
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Ruf Records
12 tracks

Joanne Shaw Taylor has just released “Almost Always Never” from Ruf Records. This is her 3rd CD which is quite an accomplishment for bring only 26 years old. Taylor, from England, has been playing guitar, singing, writing lyrics andperforming her music for well over 10 years now. She has received rave reviews in Brit-ain and also has won several awards for her music. In 2010 she won the best female vocalist award at the British Blues Awards and in 2011 she won best female vocalist and song writer for her song from “Diamonds In The Dirt” also at the British Blues Awards. Her main guitar influences are Albert Collins, Jimmie Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and BB King. The Hendrix effect is very noticeable in her music. Joanne has one of those voices that has all the elements present to sing the blues with feeling, realness and meaning. Over the years she has paid attention to the greats of the genre while developing her own style, lyrics and sound.

“Almost Always Never” is filled with 12 tracks with lyrics from Joanne. These hit on a di-verse range of subject matter but have been said before. Recorded in Austin Texas, Tay-lor enlisted the talents of Davis Garza on keyboards and mandolin, J.J. Johnson on drums and Billy White playing bass and slide guitar. Put this mix together with her guitar playing and voice and it is a very strong mix of musicians.
Opening the CD with “Soul Station” Joanne puts forth a strong example of her lyrics, raspy, sultry vocals and powerful ear grab-bing style of guitar licks and runs. By all standards Taylor is an awesome guitar player. J.J. Johnson pounds out a strong, noticeable drum line that takes this tune down the road. David Garza adds some catchy keyboards to the mix also. This tune, about pulling one’s self up and going on from your problems, is perhaps the most blues filled track on this CD.

With “Army Of One” we are taken into the world of the acoustic side of Joanne Shaw Taylor. It is a pleasant trip as she does play swell acoustic guitar here. A good addition to this track is Garza chirping along on the mandolin behind her. Her lyrics here take us on a trip that tells us we should keep on marching past our trials. She also states “Don’t mount the devil’s back if you’re not ready for the ride” These lyrics are pretty deep and open up your head.

“Almost Always Never” is a strong statement of the direction Joanne may go with her mu-sic. She is a powerful guitarist, vocalist and song writer. After listening to her 2 previous CDs and watching many You-tube videos of her doing blues tunes such as , “Blackest Day” and, Jimmie Hendrix’s “Magic Depres-sion” there is evidence that Taylor to be go-ing in a different direction. Although this CD is strong, powerful and well done it seems to lack the qualities of a deep rooted blues recording. It tends to be more of heavy rock or British rock blues recording. This can be left up to the fans of Joanne Shaw Taylor to decide.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe

BamFest Volume II reviewed by Steve Jones

BamFest Volume II
Various Artists
Self Released
11 tracks

This BamFest album commemorates the second BamFest event in Wisconsin. Only available from itunes or CD Baby as a download, the proceeds from the album go to Gulf Relief efforts.

The album kicks off with “Get Your Blues On” and Larry McCray’s infectious guitar style and vocals are a fantastic way to start off this sampler. The funky twang of his guitar and soulful voice are well represented here. “I Know the Reason” features Birddog and Friends. The song features a driving groove and beautiful harp over blows that are just fantastic. Chris Duarte is next and he sets the place en fuego with his “Let’s Have a Party.” The beat is 100 mph and the guitar is aflame in a whirlwind of fire and rocking blues.

Eric Sardinas and Big Motor follow and the track chosen for this live album here is “Worried Blues.” Instead of a huge electric sound we are served up a dobro slide piece with Sardinas growling out the lyrics. He then transitions into the song’s bridge which is in an electrical storm of sound. But then he returns to acoustic and it is just impressive stuff. The evening crowd is quiet behind him, obviously impressed by his per-formance. “Holdin’ Ground” is next. I’ve joked that Bobby Messano is the best guitar player no one has heard of. This guitar star gives it up in this huge guitar piece where Messano demonstrates his craft as few can, the title track from his 2003 album. Beautiful stuff! Wayne Baker Brooks is offered up with “Sooner Or Later,” a great original from his Mystery album. It is a driving, hot tune where Baker shows what he has learned from his musical family.

Sonny Landreth plays “Blue Tarp Blues,” a song about Hurricane Katrina, and “Back to Bayou Teche,” the 125-mile waterway that was an original path of the Mississippi River. The former is a social and political state-ment, the latter a love song asking his chere to pass by the Bayou Teche. Landreth is at his best in these songs, showing off his six string prowess where he can be dark and ominous or light and frivolous. Robben Ford is next in “Lateral Climb” where he shows off his guitar and restraint. This is great show-case of Ford with plenty of air between his notes and superb tone.

Closing things out on the album Is Jeremy Spencer. “Bitter Lemon” is a down tempo piece where this former “Fleetwood Mac” star picks out a soulful sound with individual notes fluttering about like a butterfly. He and the pianist trade off from time to time, tinkling and trickling off notes and riffs together. He and the album close with “Psychic Waste,” another great slide piece where he and the harp player trade off solos nicely.

Great stuff, highly recommended whether you were there or not–this is a great album for a great cause!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Crossing The Line reviewed by Rick Davis

Crossing The Line
Simon McBride
Nugene Records
11 Tracks

Keeping in good com-pany with his Irish blues predecessors Rory Galla-gher and Gary Moore, the new kid on the block, Simon McBride, seems to be taking the European blues-rock scene by storm. Simon hales from Belfast, Northern Ireland, the hometown of the late great Gary Moore, where he started playing at the young age of 10. Completely self-taught, he entered and won Guitarist Magazine’s Young Guitarist of The Year competition performed at Wembley Conference Centre. Shortly after turning 16, he toured with the Belfast-based pioneering metal band Sweet Savage. In 1998, McBride changed his style, joining with fellow Irish-man Andrew Strong. The contrasting change to soul, R&B, and some pop allowed him to gain experience to align with blues and rock artists in developing his solo career. He established himself as a sensational blues-based guitarist releasing his debut album, Rich Man Falling on Nugene Records in 2008. By the time the follow-up CD, Since Then (Nugene Records), was released in 2010, he was opening in the UK and Ireland for Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks, and Joe Satriani. After touring the UK in 2011, McBride's third CD, Nine Lives (Nugene Records), was released with nine in-concert and four acoustic tracks. After the release, Guitarist Magazine was convincing with the statement "Compelling evidence that McBride is now among the best players in Blues-rock anywhere in the world."

His newest release on Nugene Records Crossing The Line is a testament to his abil-ity as a singer, guitarist, and song writer. All but two of the tunes are original, opening with the original "Lead Us Away," echoing his thundering vocals and his blazing guitar. His raspy vocals and superb, fiery guitar licks lend themselves well to the David Clay-ton-Thomas classic "Go Down Gamblin'." He takes a slower more deliberate approach as he delivers the tune "No Room To Breath" with Mia Simone backing him on vocals, Paul Hamilton on drums, and Carl Harvey on bass. His guitar solos on this tune, "One More Try," and "Starve This Fever" are both haunting and precise much like Gary Moore's approach to blues. "Don't Be A Fool" is a hard drivin', rockin' masterpiece. "Alcatraz" introduces a powerful horn section driven by Davy Howell on saxaphone and Linley Hamilton on trumpet showcasing Simon's explosive guitar solos. In contrast, "A Rock And a Storm" is an acoustic ballad similar in style to a David Crosby and Gra-ham Nash tune. "Heartbreaker" and "Down To The Wire (Revisited)" capture both Simon's speed and control as a guitar player as well as his riveting vocals. "Home To Me" is the other cover song showcasing both the vocals and guitar of this talented young Bel-fast star.

Simon Mcbride represents the next genera-tion of superstars emerging in blues world today. His name will appear at some point in time on a list of legendary bluesmen.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Close To The Bone reviewed by Rick Davis

Close To The Bone
Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King
Delta Groove Music, Inc.
14 Tracks

Smokin' Joe Kubek hails from Irving, Texas and Bnois King from Monroe, Louisiana. Smokin' Joe played with the original Texas Cannonball, Freddie King as a teen before fronting his own band. Developing a lightning guitar style, earned him the nickname "Smokin' Joe." His style has been compared to the same aggressive guitar styles of Ste-vie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter. In the '70s and '80s he backed names like Al "TNT" Braggs and Little Joe Blue just to name a few.

Bnois King was influenced by an earlier gen-eration of legendary blues artists with a smoother guitar style like T-Bone Walker and B.B. King. He was captivated with the jazz and soul sound prevalent in the '50s and '60s. With Bnois fronting his own band in the '80s, they met backstage at another show, joined together and the rest is history. With Bnois providing the jazz and soul guitar style guitar along with the deep roots vocals and Joe contributing the high energy guitar style, they have formed the perfect team for over twenty years.

Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King fans are in for a pleasant surprise with their latest re-lease Close To The Bone. It is a 14 track, unplugged treasure chest of all acoustic tunes. Since this is an entirely different direc-tion for both artists, is an absolute must for all blues fans to hear. Along with this dy-namic duo, is a list of guests including fellow Delta Groove artists Big Pete, Lynwood Slim, Bob Corritore, Shawn Pittman, and Kirk Fletcher, keyboard man Fred Kaplan, former Red Devils guitarist Paul Size, Randy Chortkoff on harmonica, Willie J. Campbell on bass, Jeff Scott Fleenor on a suitcase foot drum, and Jimi Bott on drums.

The CD opens with "Poor Boy Blues" a tune by the duo that could be paralleled to the guitar styles of Rodrigo y Gabriela. "Can't Let Go" engages all three guests guitar play-ers Kirk Fletcher, Shawn Pittman and Paul Size. "My Best Friend" is one of the smooth-est ballads on the CD. "Keep Her Around," with its driving beat, blends the expertise of the three guest harmonica players, Randy Chortkoff, Bob Corritore, and Pieter "Big Pete" van der Pluijm, as well as Willie J Campbell on bass, and Jimi Bott, completing the rhythm section. "Yankin' My Chain" has guitar solos similar to tunes done by Eric Clapton's live '92 release "Unplugged."

"Drowning In Red Ink" with Fred Kaplan on piano, is reminiscent of the tune "Key To The Highway" co-written by Big Bill Broonzy. "My Hats Off To You" has a superb blend of acoustic solos with King's vocals being a perfect match. "No Good Could Come Of This" moves with lively guitar solos teamed with the duo of Chortoff and Corritore on harmonica. Bnois King makes his political statement on the slow blues tune "Ordinary Man." With a Spanish guitar style from Kubek, King warns of a failed marriage looming near in his lyrics on the tune "She Got Rid Of Me." "Jump The Moon" takes you down highway 61 going from one blues fest to another. The slow Delta blues tune "Mama's Bad Luck Child" takes you home with the with the roots blues guitar solos from Smokin' Joe and lazy harmonica of Lynwood Slim. King and Kubek capture the essence of spectacular acoustic guitar work with the final tune "Baby You're The One" as it fades in the end.

This legendary blues duo has accomplished a milestone by completing this project in splendid fashion. Close To The Bone is a totally different type of release for these two veteran bluesmen. We can only imagine what could be next.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fun on Saturday Night reviewed by Mark Thompson

Fun on Saturday Night
The Blasters
12 tracks/35:42

Over thirty years ago, the Blasters burst on the scene with a potent blend of rock, blues and country influences that the band injected with a hard-rocking sound. Led by the Alvin brothers – Phil and Dave – the group was at the forefront of the American roots music movement that continues to this day.

Their fire burned bright over five years with four highly regarded studio recordings and one live album. Then it fell apart as Dave decided to pursue a solo career and Phil did post-graduate work in mathematics. Phil reformed the band a few years later and it has endured with a variety of line-ups, including a couple of brief reunion tours with Dave back in the fold.

It’s been eight years since the last Blasters studio recording but they quickly establish that they haven’t lost a thing as they open with a spirited take of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well”. Phil’s voice rings out loud and clear with the usual level of barely contained excitement. Guitarist Keith Wyatt rips off the first of his nimble-fingered solos while original members John Bazz on bass and Bill Bateman on drums keep the beat rolling along. Next up is the country music classic “Jackson” with Exene Cervenka – punk band X – joining Alvin for a lusty duet with Wyatt supplying the requisite twangy guitar. “Breath of My Love” is a ballad with outstanding backing vocals from Eddie Nichols and Jeff Neal. The doo-wop style masks the torturous saga of a domestic dispute gone terribly wrong.

Then the band reverts to its blues roots with a high-octane rendition of the title song with Wyatt once again playing with distinction while Alvin shouts the blues like one of his hero’s, Big Joe Turner. Wyatt delivers some blistering guitar on Magic Sam’s “Love Me With a Feeling” while Alvin’s robust vocal on “Rock My Blues Away” is memorable moment. All the members had a hand in writing “Penny”, a raw worrying blues that owes a debt to the Howlin’ Wolf legacy. Alvin’s finest moment occurs on Sonny Boy Williamson’s (Rice Miller) “No More Nights By Myself”. With sparse accompaniment, his intimate lamentation on heartache is punctuated by mournful tones from his harp, connecting with listeners on a primal level.

Other tracks include a crackling version of “I Don’t Want Cha”, with more harp from Alvin, and a brief run-through of James Brown’s “Please Please Please” sparked by a gritty vocal from the leader. “The Yodeling Mountaineer” offers a dramatic change of pace. Yodeling isn’t for everyone but Alvin quickly shows he has mastered the style.

The final track is an acoustic re-working of one of the Blasters best-known tunes, “Marie Marie”, with Kid Ramos on bajo sexto adding to the south-of-the-border feel. Written by Dave Alvin, the song is retitled “Maria Maria” with lyrics in Spanish over a languid pace to create a more pensive approach compared to the original.

The only issue with this one is the relatively short playing time. And, while it falls a bit short of the high points of the Blasters earlier recordings, this one proves that the band can still rock the house in addition to energizing their forays into the blues idiom. Buy a copy but don’t wait for the weekend – put it on, turn it up and dance your blues away!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson