Monday, January 9, 2012

The Best Of Kay Kay and The Rays reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

The Best Of Kay Kay and The Rays
Catfood Records
15 tracks/64:13

“The Best If Kay Kay and The Rays”, released by Catfood Records, 15 tracks from three CD’s they previously released. These recordings, “Kay and the Rays featuring Abner Burnett”, “Texas Justice” and “Big Bad Girl” contain a swell mix of Texas funk, soul and blues. The Rays were formed in 1997 by Abner Burnett and Bob Threnchard. Soon they discovered Kay Kay Greenwade, a big bad girl with a powerful vocal presence, and the band name was changed to Kay Kay and The Rays. The first recording was more or less a demo and the other two were released after Johnny Rawls joined the group.

Kay Kay and The Rays grew to be a band with eight musicians which created a powerful full sound. When you add the big vocals of Kay Kay Greenwade to the mix you have one awesome force of music. They played their music in a big club in Texas and toured California, Florida and then in Chicago. “Texas Justice”, produced by Johnny Rawls, got the group a lot of attention and respect. Then “Big Bad Girl”, produced by Grammy winner Jim Cannis, let us know that Kay Kay was the big bad girl. This lady has the pipes to belt out a song but can also bring it down and make one pay attention. This CD got very good reviews for the whole band. When things were really going good for this group, family tragedies caused the band to break up. Soon after, Kay suffered a stroke and other medical problems. It is unlikely that Kay Kay and The Rays will ever reunite. The Rays still backs up and records with Johnny Rawls.

This CD contains all of the talent that they put into releasing their three CD’s. The Ray’s have a large sound that showcases the guitars, keyboards and horn players as well as a fine bass and drum line. Add Kay Kay’s huge vocal input and they create a real force in the music world. This recording has too many musicians to give them all due credit here. You can go to www.catfoodmusic for more info.

The lyrics from some of the tunes hit hard upon social problems and injustices in the World and Texas. Some of the lyrics on “Lone Star Justice”, Enron Field” and “Texas Justice” are so hard hitting that the tunes were banned from airplay in Texas. I guess that this is part of the blues also. One should take a hard listen to these tunes written by Bob Trenchard, the bassist and leader of the band.”Hold On To What you Got”, a Johnny Rawls tune, is a standout track on the CD. This song features a great duet from Johnny Rawls and Kay Kay that really show off both of their vocal talent. This track brings out strong emotions and deep feelings from both artists. Rawl’s guitar skill also is high -lighted here. Another tune , Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” lets Kay show that she can put her own take on a song and make it work.

“The Best Of Kay Kay and The Rays” is funky, soulful and bluesy making it just the best of Kay Kay and The Rays.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Blue Skies Calling reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blue Skies Calling
Boy Wells
Marcel Marsupial Records
12 tracks/44:24

Mark Schultz is a veteran of the Washington D.C. music scene, spending a lot of time playing southern rock including membership in Southern Legend, an Allman Brothers tribute band. Going by the stage name Boy Wells, Schultz was also a friend and student of the legendary guitarist Danny Gatton. Wells moved to Austin, TX in 2006 after a family tragedy, where he spent several years dealing with a debilitating disease. Finally healthy, Wells uses his new disc to showcase his skill as a guitarist and songwriter.

“Mr. Coluzzi” is a funky instrumental that opens the disc, Featuring a strong bass line from John Prevetti who once was a member of Gatton's band. Bill Watson blows some hot sax and Brian Simms helps keep the dance groove going with robust work on the organ. Wells shows he is no slouch on guitar on “World Weary & Blue”, his razor-sharp slide playing and robust vocal working well with Jimi Lee's strong harp work.

From there, Wells offers a program as eclectic as what Gatton was known for. “Bring it Back” is a rocker with Allmanesque- guitar sounds while the title cut combines rock with country influences, powered by the ethereal sounds of Rickie Simpkin's violin. Wells turns in a fervent vocal on “Love in Vain” before digging deeper for “Devils Backbone Blues”, done on acoustic slide guitar. The instrumentals “Tin Water” and “Traveller” are hybrid tracks that expertly mixes rock, country jazz and bluegrass elements with Wells laying done a strong solo acoustic solo on the latter track. Simpkins  and Becky Taylor on banjo are key contributors on both songs. “Mon Angel” is a gentle love ballad with a convincing vocal from Wells.

A truly special bonus included with this release is a CD-Rom portion with an actual lesson that Wells had in the late 70's at the Gatton house. You get to hear the two musicians interacting, discussing various chords and techniques. The real thrill is hearing Gatton cut loose in comfortable surroundings, showing once again why he achieved legendary status for his abilities and skill on guitar.

While this release offers only a sampling of blues, there is plenty of good music to enjoy. Wells has crafted a diverse batch of original material that refuses to fit into any particular genre. With the help of his expert supporting cast, he makes the music come alive. Go to the website and see for yourself.

- reviewed by Mark Thompson

Tempered in Fire reviewed by Mark Thompson

Tempered in Fire
Lisa Mills
10 tracks/49:33

Born in Mississippi and now residing in Alabama, Lisa Mills had to travel to the U.K. and Europe to jump-start her career. She has a powerful, sultry voice that drips southern soul, leading some writers to liken her as a female version of Otis Redding. Mills does her best to validate that comparison on her cover of Redding's “These Arms of Mine”. Her immaculate phrasing  and pleading tone are guaranteed to grab at your heartstrings. Equally fine is her version of the Wet Willie hit, “Keep on Smiling”. The rhythm section of Ian Jennings on double bass and Eric Hughes on drums set an appropriate groove while Nick Payne on saxes and Matt Winch on trumpet add an extra boost of energy to the track.

Mills explores her country roots on “Blue Guitars From Texas”, a smokey ballad that features the massive tones from Andy Fairweather Low, who should be familiar to blues fans as a long-time member of Eric Clapton's band. The tension builds throughout the song until Mills cuts through it at the end with brawny vocalizing that demonstrates why Sam Andrew selected her to be the lead singer for a three year stretch in Big Brother & the Holding Company. The title cut is another masterful performance as Mills uses her impressive vocal range to express a love that has stood the test of time.

“I'll Never Fall in Love Again” is a rockabilly rave-up powered by a driving beat from Hughes and  ringing chords from Low's guitar. Mills turns a weaker track, “Why Do I Still Love You?”, into something worthwhile with a closing segment that features more energetic vocalizing. The smoldering emotions revealed on “My Happy Song” are a far cry from those indicated by the title. Mills once again impresses with passionate singing that never goes over the top.

The opening cut, “Tennessee Tears”, is a slower-paced tune about leaving home. “Countryside of Life” is a rocker that takes a while to build up some steam but once Mills cuts loose, it is clear why she was a worthy successor to the Janis Joplin legacy. At one point, she suddenly unleashes a stirring cry that signals the depth of her feelings.

There are plenty of female vocalists out there vying for your attention. Lisa Mills is one of the best that I have heard. Besides her magnificent voice, this release features an impressive batch of songs, strong support from the band and top quality sound. Take the time to check this out !!!

- reviewed by Mark Thompson

Classic Moments in Jubilee Showcase reviewed by Mark Thompson

Classic Moments in Jubilee Showcase
Independent DVD release

Every Sunday morning for over twenty years, WLS Channel 7 in Chicago ran a pioneering program dedicated to gospel music called Jubilee Showcase. Hosted and produced by Sid Ordower, the Showcase brought the best gospel singers and groups into the viewers homes. For many African-American families, the show helped them get in the proper state of mind for their real Sunday church service. Some of the greatest names in gospel music appeared on the program, including James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, the Mighty Clouds of Joys and the man who defined Gospel music, the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, writer of classic hymns like”Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “Peace in the Valley”.

This new DVD release scratches the surface of material from the long-running series by presenting the musical performances from four separate programs without any commercial interruptions. The first episode may be in black & white but the music is exceptional, starting with the Staples Singers doing “Wish I Had Answered”. Roebuck “Pops” Staples lays down the rhythm on his reverb-drenched guitar while his children – Mavis, Cleotha and Pervis – sing for God's glory. Mavis takes the lead with her powerful voice, which also gets a workout later on a stirring “Hep Me Jesus”. Pops laid back vocal style is featured on “Gambling Man”. The other famous group on the bill was the Soul Stirrers, who once featured a youthful Sam Cooke on lead vocals. James Phelps does his interpretation of Cooke's style on “Resting Easy” while Billy Arthur impresses on “Looking Back”. The show also features a fixture on the Chicago gospel scene, the Norfleet Brothers, whose close harmony vocalization is spotlighted on “My Lord is Waiting All the Time”.

The second show switches to a color broadcast and provides a glimpse of the joyful noise raised by the New Friendship Inspirational Choir. Inez Andrews shows why she was one of the music's most popular singers throughout her career as she testifies on “Lord, Don't Move the Mountain” and “Toiling”. The Soul Stirrers return with a new line-up, this time featuring the brawny voice of Martin Jaycox on “Resting Easy” and an exquisite lead vocal from Willie Rogers on “Oh, What a Meeting”.

The third program features the pioneering Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. Crouch caused a revolution in gospel by incorporating pop and soul music elements to highlight his positive message. While the presence of horns and strong bass lines had purists ringing their hands in consternation, the groups performances show that Crouch was pushing the evolution of the music in an attempt to reach beyond the faithful to those in need of God's healing power. His songs and performances are inspirational, making it clear that his heart was in the right place.

The final installment focuses on two singers who had ties to James Cleveland, Jessy Dixon and Gene Viale. The Jessy Dixon Singers feature the leader backed by three female vocalists. They open with a rousing “Wait On Jesus”. Viale was a solo performer with an emotive style highlighted on “He's Wonderful”, an approach that undoubtedly served him well in his later career as an ordained minister.
The Salem Travelers were a quartet backed by a band with guitars, bass and drums. Both Robert J. Dixon on “Tell It Like It Is” and Arthur Davis on “Things I Used To Do” deliver commanding lead vocals. Another high point is the rave-up at the end on “I Know What Prayer Can Do” as all of the cast joins in, constantly switching the lead as the song steadily grows in intensity.

The DVD can be ordered directly from the website for $20 plus s&h. Included on menus that give additional information on the main performers, a complete listing of the songs from each show that details who was singing the lead vocal and a brief history of Jubilee Showcase. The only issue that one might have is that there isn't more of this great material included on the release. Hopefully this is the first in a series of discs. Once you get a chance to see this volume, you'll know that there has to be treasure trove of other amazing performances waiting to see the light of day. Don't delay – grab a copy of this one and enjoy the majesty of voices raised in celebration !!!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Memphis Mojo reviewed by Steve Jones

Memphis Mojo
Louisiana Red & Little Victor’s Juke Joint
Ruf Records
12 tracks

Red’s going to be eighty years young in a couple of months.  He’ll be touring a heavy set of dates in Europe when he turns eighty, and he still sounds and acts fresh as a gnarly old daisy; well, bluesmen and daisies may not go together but hopefully you get the picture.

This is a dirty old, down home sounding album, focusing on straight up, traditional Delta blues.  His life has been a blues song.  His mother died a week after he was born, his Dad was murdered by Klansmen when he was nine, and his first wife died of cancer just as he was about to be rediscovered n the 1970’s.  He spent a lot of time in Europe and was rediscovered in the US again in 1997.  He followed up his 2008 blues and Greek bouzouki CD  with the award winning You Got to Move in 2010 and this CD last year.  He’s as hot as he ever was!

Surrounded by Little Victor, Bob Corritore, David Maxwell, Mookie Brill, and others, Red put out a great set of tunes here.  He penned all but one– Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”.  A haunting hollow electric guitar sound by Red graces this track; that and his authentic vocals make it a winner.  Even more impressive is that he’s created 11 new songs and all are pretty damn good.  I’ve listened a dozen times and can’t pick out a favorite because they are all intriguing and well-done.

This is a great album.  Red’s vocals and guitar and Little Victor’s guitar are so well done and Corritore’s harp is a great accompaniment. I loved this one as will all traditional blues lovers!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

THE Real Deal reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

THE Real Deal
Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire
Delmark Records
13 tracks/60:22

“The Real Deal”, released by Delmark Records, is Sharon Lewis’ debut CD on her own. Previously she was a guest vocalist on Dave Spector’s “Live In Chicago” CD/DVD. On this recording Sharon was a powerful standout addition. Lewis’ upbringing in Texas exposed her to gospel music as a choir member. Another influence to her music knowledge was Tina Turner’s great R&B style. Moving to Chicago put Lewis in touch with the blues scene which in turn resulted in her forming her own band, Texas Fire, in 2005.

The list of tunes on “The Real Deal” includes seven songs written by Sharon Lewis. Her lyrics take us into her world and also touch on social issues of the times. Lewis’ vocals are of the type that we want to hear on a true blues recording. There is the presence of that raw blues feeling tempered by the gospel go to church quality. Lewis has a powerful and raspy sound that adds her flavor to her songs.

Joining Lewis on this recording are the members of her band Texas Fire. On lead guitar is Bruce James doing a swell job on most tracks of the recording. He is a real compliment to Lewis’ vocals. Adding the drum line and backup vocals is the very talented Tony Dale. Melvin Smith stands out on bass while Deitra Farr adds some really fine background vocals. Roosevelt Purifoy is a huge plus with the organ and piano. I must mention that the Chicago Horns also add a lot to this great bands sound.

Guest guitarist Dave Spector, on three tracks, brings his outstanding talent and sound into the mix of this recording. This is very evident on “You Can’t Take My Life” which an outstanding track on the CD. With lyrics such as “I’ve got a lot of living to do, you can’t take my life –I’m going to find a new man – you go back to your wife” tells us that this is really about the blues in our life. I guess we can also say that it is a social statement.  Take a good listen to this tune. By adding Roosevelt Purifoy’s piano talent along with Spector’s guitar work this tune makes for some great listening.

“Mojo Kings” is an upbeat song with some racy lyrics about mojo kings. On this track special guest Billy Branch treats us to a taste of his awesome harmonica licks. This tune is a welcomed plus to “The Real Deal”. This recording is a good mix of styles of songs that showcase Sharon Lewis’ vocal as well as lyrical talent. It also lets us see that here band is a very compatible mix for her style. I really did not care for the addition of the tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, but this is only my personal opinion.

“The Real Deal”, with Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire is all that and more. It is the real deal. Truly this is one recording that you can kick back and enjoy.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

The Skinny reviewed by Denny Barker

The Skinny
Ian Siegal & The Youngest Sons
Nugene Records
11 Tracks/55:09

Here's the skinny, the lowdown, on British bluesman Ian Siegal's sixth studio album that is somewhat of a departure from the norm. Recorded in North Mississippi, without his regular band, Siegal collaborates with The Youngest Sons who are, literally, the youngest sons of local blues legends, Garry Burnside on bass (son of RL Burnside),Robert Kimbrough on guitar (son of David Kimbrough Jr), Rodd Bland on drums (son of Bobby Blue Bland), and Cody Dickinson producer (son of Jim Dickinson).

The CD opens with the Siegal penned title track "The Skinny", an easy going tune featuring Siegal on slide, guest Alvin Youngblood Hart on second guitar, and The Youngest Sons. The vocal is raw, the lyrics clever, with Siegal on top of his game. Makes me want to dust off the Conrad and fire up the Kustom. Following is Tony Joe White's very cool "Stud Spider", a funky blues tune with some intense vocal, nice wah wah guitar from Siegal, and a firey solo from Robert Kimbrough. If I had any doubts about this CD, they are rapidly disappearing.

Moving on  "Hound Dog In The Manger", co-written with British guitarist Sam Hare, is a dark, brooding, sinister tune with more good guitar work from Robert Kimbrough. "Picnic Jam" is a sweet, simple, easy going tune, with some great slide guitar, that has the feel of a lazy, sunny afternoon in the park. Sounds good to me as my outdoor thermometer shows 19 degrees.

Another highlight is "Moonshine Minnie", a nice, funky, groovy tune that is well done with both Siegal and Kimbrough on guitar. Next is Gary Burnside's "Garry's Nite Out", a country blues tune featuring Garry on guitar with Ian adding some great slide. The closer, "Hopper", is a tribute to the easy rider actor Dennis Hopper, featuring Siegal on lead guitar, a nice way to bring it to a close. "The Skinny" is a good album that is raw, intense and at times just plain
fun. Siegal and the Youngest Sons have given a strong performance that is entertaining and  enjoyable to listen too. If you like something a little out of the norm, this is it, "The Skinny" by Ian Siegal and The Youngest Sons. Good stuff! 

Reviewed by Denny Barker

Kid Man Blues reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Kid Man Blues
Bert Deivert
Bert Deivert/Hard Danger Studio
12 tracks/45:41

Bert Deivert’s approach to the blues is definitely different than the mainstream blues player’s. He takes the blues somewhere else but remains bluesy. Originally from Boston, Bert has made Sweden his home base for now. This CD, “Kid Man Blues”, was recorded in Sweden, Bangkok, Thailand and Mississippi. Just hearing this fact lets us know that the music is going to have many influences. Deivert’s knowledge of guitar came from Skip James, Son House and Sleepy John Estes to name a few. Adding the mandolin to his repertoire also increase the vast knowledge of the blues that he has attained. Yank Rachell and Carl Martin style of mandolin playing are very evident in Bert’s music.

“Kid Man Blues” is really a treat for us that enjoy hearing the mandolin in blues. As Bert mentions the mandolin is a understated instrument in this genre of music. There does seem to be a resurgence going on with the fine players such as Rich DelGrosso, Billy Flynn and Gerry Hundt. “Kid Man Blues” is a good collection of tunes done by Sleepy John Estes, Son House, Carl Martin and other traditional blues artist.  Bert also added “Lulu” that he wrote. Deivert has taken each of these tunes made them his own musically and lyrically. He is present with both his mandolin and guitar on some tracks.

“Kid Man Blues”, the title track, gives us Bert’s mandolin skills on a fine slow tune by Carl Martin. This song also showcases Janne Zander adding his guitar to the mix of things. Listen carefully and you will also catch the fiddle of Steffan Jonsson in the background. This adds a diverse touch to the tune. The lyrics tell of a young man caught up with a older married women which is a real tale of the blues.

Included in the mix of songs are two outstanding instrumental tracks. “Lula” is a straight forward blues tune that has the late great Sam Carr on the drums. Bill Able and Fredrick Karlsson add their guitars to Bert’s mandolin playing making this tune a very pleasurable ride into the blues. “Nong-Harn Blues” features Dulyasit “Pong” Chandravuth on the Republic Resonator guitar. With Deivert’s mandolin chattering away in the background and the guitar playing from “Pong’ this tune picks up an Asian influence to it. This tune still retains a blues base to it while you listen to both musicians. RL Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South” is taken down a whole different path by Deivert. Here he plays both the mandolin and lap steel guitar, adds Janne Zander’s guitar and Nina Perez’s violin. This tune also treats us to Suchet Malhotra with his cajon, a box like drum, in the background. This track took me some plays to get into it but it is worth the trip.

Going into Bert Deivert’s world of blues is an experience that will grow on you. If you are stuck in the genre of pure full blown blues do not overlook a listen to “Kid Man Blues.”The mandolin is an instrument that has a big place in the blues genre. Thirty years of performing and 12 CD’s later has also earned Bert Deivert a place there.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Leaving Mood reviewed by Mark Thompson

Leaving Mood
Toronzo Cannon
Delmark Records
14 tracks/60:19

In today's edition of the Chicago Tribune, one of the featured articles was the last in a series by music writer Howard Reich on Blues music in Chicago, a piece entitled “Is this the twilight of blues music?”.
Reich identifies a number of serious issues including the continued loss of legendary musicians like Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith as well as a suffocating lack of exposure in major media outlets even in the city that claims the music as its own. The writer also comments on the difficultly that newer musicians have in gaining a foothold in the blues clubs, even though it makes  sense for the clubs to nurture new voices that might catch the ear of a new generation of listeners.

If blues music is dying, you would never know it after you listen to the first major label release by Toronzo Cannon. Schooled in southside clubs like Theresa's Lounge, Cannon has been honing his craft in Chicago clubs for over a decade as a leader and a sideman for artists like Wayne Baker Brooks and Joanna Connor. Now his blistering guitar work, knock-out songs and soul-wrenching vocals make it clear that Cannon has the ability to help keep the blues tradition alive and vital.

Check out  “Chico's Song”, Cannon's celebration for the late Chico Banks with a foot-stomping rhythm, sweet guitar licks and Matthew Skoller's superlative harp playing. On the opening cut, “She Loved Me”, Cannon explores the darker side of life with a guitar tone that harks back to Hound Dog Taylor. Special guest Carl Weathersby shares the spotlight with Cannon on “Hard Luck”, both men laying down incendiary guitar solos, with Weathersby breaking a string in the process.

Cannon gets first-class support from Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Larry Williams on bass and Marty Binder on drums. Rhythm guitarist Lawrence Gladney co-wrote seven tunes with Cannon and contributed two originals - “Come On” finds Cannon bemoaning his fate after the end of a relationship and pleading his lover to return home while “Baby Girl” has a funky, strutting beat that underscores Cannon's exuberant performance. Weathersby returns on “Earnestine”, handling the lead guitar parts while Cannon focuses on singing while Purifoy dazzles with a brief solo on the organ.

On the title cut, Cannon slows the pace to describe a man losing control of his life, taking the song to an unexpected conclusion. He avoids making the vocal too strident, which adds to the sense of despair. Another highlight is “Open Letter (To Whom it May Concern)” that finds Cannon using a distorted vocal to comment to on the sometimes cutthroat nature of the Chicago blues scene. The song features an insistent guitar lick and more stellar harp accompaniment from Skoller. Cannon displays his soul  influences on “You're a Good Woman” with Purifoy on the Rhodes electric keyboard. Another highlight is the smoldering rendition of Nina Simone's “Do I Move You”, with Cannon's earnest vocal matched by his impeccable guitar work

Delmark Records deserves praise for continuing their tradition of releasing recordings by working Chicago blues musicians. While some fear for the future, Toronzo Cannon uses  vibrant material coupled with his unbridled enthusiasm to provide ample evidence that the blues tradition is safe in his hands. His energetic approach is sure to connect with blues lovers all over the world. Expect to see this one on some of the lists for top Blues recordings for the year!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

At His Best – Live reviewed by Mark Thompson

At His Best – Live
Sean Costello
Landslide Records
17 tracks/71:36

At the time of his tragic death just before his 29th birthday, Sean Costello was touring in support of his new recording. That Delta Groove release, We Can Get Together, confirmed that Costello had finally developed vocal skills equal to his undeniable ability as a guitarist. Coupled with powerful new material, all the pieces were in place for Costello to grab a bigger share of the spotlight. Now all we can do is savor the second compilation from Landslide Records that reminds us of what a loss we suffered three and a half years ago.

The tracks on this disc stretch over a seven year period, documenting Costello's growth as an artist. The earliest cut is from a June, 2000 show at Upfront & Company in Marquette, MI. Costello tears through an energetic version of “San-Ho-Zay”, showing that he was always a compelling guitarist. Costello returns to the same venue ten months later for a spirited rendition of “Reconsider Baby”. Two performances from Buddy Guy's Legends in 2002 expose some of Costello's vocal limitations at the time but his fiery string-bending make “Blue Shadows” and Magic Sam's “All Your Love” worth a listen. When you compare these cuts with “Check It Out” from France late in 2007, one quickly hears the maturation in Costello's singing. His approach is more confident, his voice more flexible and able to generate an emotional response, which you can clearly hear from the audience reaction at the conclusion of the track.

Other highlights include three tunes from what was obviously a killer evening at the Double Door in Charlotte, NC. Costello covers his soul influences on “Can I Change My Mind” before digging deep into Johnny Taylor's “Doing My Own Thing”, his vocal steadily building in intensity until he switches over to guitar for a rousing conclusion. Next is a stirring run-through on the instrumental “The Hucklebuck” with Matt Wauchope on organ sharing solo honors with the leader. An unknown venue in Richmond, VA was the scene of a blistering guitar work-out on “Motor Head Baby” while a  2007 show in Tallahassee, FL produced a dark rendition of “The Battle is Over But the War Goes On”. An uncredited date from Boston is probably from the later part of Costello's career. The sizzling performance of Robert Ward's “Peace of Mind” features Costello's tough vocal over Melvin Zachary's throbbing bass line.

Part of Costello's success was due to the fine musicians who backed him night after night on stage. In addition to those mentioned, band members included Paul Linden on harp, piano and organ, Aaron Trubic on bass plus Terence Prather and Roy Hangen on drums. Sound quality varies a great deal between the various shows. Some of the dates have a muddy sound with limited range but everything is listenable.

If you need any more encouragement to check this one out, you should know that part of the proceeds from sales of this release will benefit the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bi-Polar Research. What a great way to honor Costello's legacy and get yourself over an hour's worth of his knock-out live performances!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Red Roots reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Red Roots
Andy Poxon Band
Eller Soul Records
13 tracks/56:28

Andy Poxon’s first CD release comes at the young age of 17. So here we go again with thoughts of a kid over playing guitar licks and singing blues lyrics without meaning in a falsetto style voice. Well to be honest, this was my first thought when I took a look at the cover of Red Roots.  It is a good thing that I went beyond the cellophane wrapper.

Andy’s CD debut, on Eller Soul Records, is a mix of 13 tunes written by him. He also is the producer of this project. This young artist seems to be much more advanced than his age implies. As you can tell already I am impressed by his talent. Joining Andy on Red Roots are very capable older musicians that include Russ Wasson playing bass and Mike O’Donnell on the drums. Both of these men have a long list of credible credentials. Also joining in on the mix of this recording are Ray Tilkens on keyboards and Zach Sweeney with rhythm guitar. This makes for a solid band backing up Andy’s guitar and vocals.

The opening tune on Red Roots is “Hottest Thing In Town”. This tune starts out with a rock solid bass line from Russ Wasson which leads us into an introduction of Poxon’s musical talent. His vocals on this tune are strong and his lyrics easy to follow. Listening to his guitar licks on this upbeat swing type tune will make one aware that this “kid” has paid his dues at a very young age. I am sure the best is still to come! This song is a great way to open a debut recording.

“I’ll Sing The Blues” presents some of Poxon’s very blues solid guitar playing. H e seems to take his time and leave space to create a great blues feeling to his playing. “There is only one thing he can do when he comes home to an empty home – go to his room and sing the blues” is an example of Andy’s lyrics. They are well rounded and blues based. Where he found out so much about love, girls, hottest thing in town and pretty baby is scary in itself but it is the blues. This CD is mostly blues with some rockabilly, some soul and a little jazz.

Andy Poxon Band’s CD, Red Roots, is one of those examples of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. At first glance, I said to myself “where is this recording going to take me?” Well to my surprise it has been a great trip into the blues. This young man, Andy Poxon, should go a long way into the world of the blues. Take a listen to Red Roots.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Jederman Remixed– The Soundtrack reviewed by Steve Jones

Jederman Remixed– The Soundtrack
Hans Theesink
Blue Groove Records
18 tracks

Hans Theesinks last CD made it’s way through our reviews to high acclaim. When I saw this album was the soundtrack to a morality play I must admit that I was more than a little concerned about what I might have bitten off to review.  No worry, though.  Theesink remains a great bluesman, acoustic (and electric) guitar player and interpreter of roots music.

His deep bass voice with a bit of a cool vibrato warms the soul as he delightfully plies the strings of his guitar.  He opens with a super Tom Waits cover, “Way Down In the Hole”, singing about keeping our devils way down in the hole.  I was sold.  A cool start to an interesting and impressive CD.

Not having seen the movie, I can’t see the visuals that these songs were chosen to accompany.  The mix is eclectic, somewhat dark, and somewhat witty.  Jederman means “Everyman” and this is an old English morality play from the 15th century.  Everyman tries to convince everyone in the play to accompany him and improve their lot.  One can see the good versus evil line played out in the songs selected; the delivery is very interesting.

Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” follows, again dark, yet hopeful. “No Expectations” and “Sympathy For The Devil” get a down tempo acoustic treatment in Theesinks dark tones, showing a side of these songs the Stones did not.  A dark and mournful “Mother Earth” cover is another striking song, with vocals shared with Terry Evans.

He gets almost upbeat with Joe South’s “Games People Play” which closes the album, but his mournfulness “shines” through with a cool backdrop of accordian accompanying him.  Hank William’s “Angel of Death” gets treated to a dark down tempo and is also quite interesting.

Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” is the most positive note on the CD, not that the downtrodden sounds are bad.  The other covers are also well done as are original tracks he chose.  If you like the darker side of the blues, done mostly acoustic, you’ll enjoy the heck out of this.  Quite interesting and quite well done!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Four reviewed by Mark Thompson

Kilborn Alley
Blue Bella Records
11 tracks/49:04

Now operating as a quartet, Kilborn Alley serves up another batch of tunes that hit home with a cutting edge that honors the blues tradition while mixing in some of the soulful seasoning that has always been a distinguishing element of the band's music. Andy Duncanson handles the lead vocals and guitar with Josh Stimmel also on guitar, Chris Breem on bass and Ed O'Hara on drums and backing vocal. The group gets help from several special guests including Gerry Hundt on harmonica, Vince Salerno on sax and Travis Reed, a member of the Nick Moss Band, on organ and piano.

Duncanson has a marvelous voice that is rough around the edges, yet also capable of expressing breathtakingly deep emotions that hit hard at your soul. His yearning, pleading vocal on “You Were My Woman” drives home the pain of a love lost. The band channels the sound from the glory days of labels like Stax and Hi Records on “Good Advice”, with Reed on organ providing the perfect backdrop for Duncanson as the singer pours out his feelings in soul-wrenching fashion. Duncanson's finest moment comes on the opening two lines on “Going Hard”. The lyrics “Whiskey bottle, on my bedside table..” don't seem like much until you hear his spine-chilling delivery that immediately transport you to a time when each of us has stood alone, late at night, battling our demons. Later in the track, Stimmel matches the singer's intensity with a lengthy guitar solo that showcases his distinctive style.

Breem and O'Hara lay down a driving shuffle on the opening number, “'Rents House Boogie”, with Stimmel's taut rhythm guitar part serving as a counterpoint to Hundt's harp. “Wandering” is a joyous romp with Hundt blowing in the upper register of his harp ala Jimmy Reed. The tough groove on “Fast Heart Beat” returns the band to the traditional Chicago sound while the instrumental “Argyles and a Do-Rag” celebrates Stimmel's sense of style with both guitar players trading the lead position. “Sitting on the Bank” employs the classic riff from “'Rolling & Tumbling” with Hundt once again making a key contribution. Another highlight is Duncanson's moving rendition of “Couple of Days (Change My Ways)”, a song that illustrates again how well the group can handle gentler, soulful material.

Kilborn Alley continues to impress with their outstanding musical interplay and knock-out vocals. If you are looking for some blues music worth spending your hard-earned dollars on, I strongly suggest that you start your search with this release. It comes highly recommended !!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Here I Am reviewed by Mark Thompson

Here I Am 
Nick Moss
Blue Bella Records
11 tracks/71:59

Nick Moss continues his exploration of the music that moves his soul. On his last release, Privileged, Moss made it clear that he was moving beyond the traditional blues format, incorporating elements of  the rock music he grew with and also using his songs to express some of his views on the state of our nation. On his new recording, Moss takes another step forward by disbanding the Flip Tops and forming a new band of younger musicians who have the chops to keep Moss operating at the top of his game. The members include Travis Reed on keyboards, Patrick Seals on drums and Nik Skilnik or “Stumpy” Hutchkins on bass (note: Matthew Wilson is now the bass player for the band).

The title cut is a hardcore rocker with Moss revisiting the “don't judge a book by its cover” theme and making it clear that he doesn't want to be pigeonholed or categorized. Nick wrote “Candy Nation” after watching an endless stream of drug commercials on TV after being unable to sleep after a late-night gig. He ponders our reliance on “miracle” pills despite their often serious side effects. “Why You So Mean” is a ferocious boogie tune that features excellent interplay between Reed's piano and Moss on slide guitar. The plight of middle class families is covered on “Blood Runs” with the heavy riffs from Moss's guitar giving voice to the anger of working families struggling to get by.

Moss lays down a plaintive vocal on “Here Comes Moses”, a song that finds him mixing biblical images in attempt to understand life and his attempts to live it on his own terms. Moss gets help from Michael Ledbetter on backing vocals. Ledbetter's singing on the sessions created such a strong impact that Moss decided to add him to the band. Ledbetter, Shuree Rivera and Jennifer Evans bring a gospel intensity to “It'll Turn Around” as Moss shares a soulful expression of his hope for the future, punctuated by a biting slide guitar solo. “Katie Ann (Slight Return)” is a simple love song that serves as a launching pad for Moss to pay homage to the Jimi Hendrix legacy with an extended guitar workout.

The disc comes in an attractive gate-fold package designed by Nick's wife, Kate at Moonshine Designs. Included are comments from Jimmy Thackery as well as a booklet with complete session notes and lyrics for each song. Blues purists will have a hard time with this one. But there will be plenty of listeners who can relate to where Nick Moss is coming from. He continues to expand his horizons and we should be thankful that he refuses to get comfortable. His restless soul conjures up powerful emotions in his music and guitar work remind us once again that he is one of the best in the business.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Nothin’ But Trouble reviewed by Steve Jones

Nothin’ But Trouble
Kathi McDonald & Rich Kirch
Tear Drop Records
9 tracks

What do you get when you take two veteran blues musicians, nine classic tacks, and a backline of two of Chicago’s best?   You get a great little CD that is a lot of fun!

Kathi has performed in some legendary bands and recordings, including being an Ikeette with Ike and Tina Turner’s Las Vegas shows, Leon Russell’s “Shelter Peole” recordings, The  Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street” and replacing Janet Joplin in Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Rich toured with Jummy Dawkins and Jimmy Rogers while in Chicago, then moved out west and played with John Lee Hooker for 13 years.  They bring their decades of blues and music experience to the mix for this record.

Frank Bandy is on bass and Marty Binder is on drums.  This is one of the top backlines one can get in the Windy City, and then Brother John Kattke adds his great Chicago keyboard work to the mix.  This is a great accompaniment to Kathi and Rick and they are all solid throughout!

They open with “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” where Kathi screams and growls and Rich wails on his guitar; it is a moving performance. Elmore James’ “Talk to Me Baby” has McDonald in the stratosphere while Kirch is steady and firm on his axe work.  Up next is “Trouble” where the duo slows things down, but it is still hot stuff.  A wicked guitar solo opens up the cut and then McDonald gives it her all as the band burns through great slow blues.

Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” gets a nice, gritty cover, and then they lay into “Big Leg Woman” before Jimmy Reed’s classic “Baby What You Want Me Me To Do”.  These are some tracks that defined the Chicago blues scene and they do them justice here.  Kirch has spectacular tone and Kathi lays her soul out on vocals.

Ray Charles’ “What I Say” goes to a bluesier sound with McDonald and Kirch, nicely done, including the big guitar solo.  McDonald sings to “Shake that thing” and testifies here nicely, and then the last two cuts are movers and “shakers”, too: “Shake Your Money Maker” and “Shake your Hips” close the set. Hot stuff!

I recommend this for blues fans who want to hear things done in true Chicago style with electrically charged  female vocals.  Top notch guitar work is quite solid and impressive, too.  Go give this a listen!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Shine reviewed by Denny Barker

Dani Wilde
RUF Records
11 Tracks/52:32

For the second time in recent months I have had the pleasure to review a solo CD by one of the participants of RUF Records "Girls With Guitars". The first was "Runaway",  from Kansas City native Samantha Fish, and now "Shine", the latest release by British born singer , writer, guitarist, Dani Wilde. Produced by blues veteran Mike Vernon (Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall) "Shine" features eleven tunes, nine of which were penned by Wilde. The CD opens with the title track, an upbeat toe tapper, with passionate vocal from Wilde and impressive harp work from Will "Harmonica" Wild (Dani's brother). Next, one of my favorite cuts, "Some Kinda Crazy" is an easy going tune with a hot guitar solo from Ben Poole and great vocal from Wilde.

A fine cover of the Stones "Miss You" fills the third slot, complete with a horn section, organ, and once again, some fine harp work from brother Will. Moving on to another of my favorites you"ll find Dani giving a strong
performance on "Red Blooded Woman", a well written tune that is a bit of a rocker. Up next, the mournful and dark "Don't Give Up On Me", is an interesting tune with a great solo from Stuart Dixon on guitar.

Dani then changes pace on "Abandoned Child", a slow bluesy tune featuring Laura Chavez on guitar, that was inspired by Ms. Wilde's visit to an orphanage in Africa. Up next is the upbeat "Born To Love Him' with Wilde delivering a fine vocal performance to go along with her unique finger picking guitar work. "Where Blue Begins",yet another of my favorites, has Dani delivering another great vocal performance, complemented with solid guitar work from Stuart Dixon, and
nice sax from Martin Winning.  Dani gives her all on this CD, and the result is, impressive vocals on well crafted tunes that you will listen to over and over. If you are not familiar
with Ms. Wilde, do yourself a favor and get a copy of "Shine", an apt title for a well done CD.

Reviewed by Denny Barker

Leave the Light On reviewed by Rick Davis

Leave the Light On
Sena Ehrhardt Band
Blind Pig Records
10 Tracks

Sena Ehrhardt grew up with blues music in the Minneapolis-area. Her greatest influence was her father, a local blues guitarist extraordinaire playing in the area. Ed Ehrhardt recognized Sena's potential so they decided to establish the Sena Ehrhardt Band. Sena chose to record ten compositions that she co-wrote with her father for their debut album Leave The Light On. This dynamic father/daughter duo of Ed and Sena Ehrhardt teaming up with bassist Steve Hansen and drummer Tim Hasler are currently touring the midwest to promote their new album. Sena's vocals are sharp, articulate, and incisive, belting out all ten numbers on the CD. Ed provides smooth rhythm guitar and fiery guitar solos throughout the entire album.
Sena will make you a believer on the opening tune "My Bad" with straight ahead traditional hard driving blues. The title track "Leave the Light On" is a mixture of blues, funk, and jazz driven by the sultry, seductive vocals from Sena. "On the Clock" opens with an extraordinary guitar solo combined with the best vocals on the entire CD. You can hear the strong persuasion in Sena's voice on tunes "Lovers Can't Be Friends" and "The Best Thing" as she sings straight from the heart! Ed adds some powerful guitar solos on both tunes. The band delivers some steady rollin' blues on "Same Team" with Sena offering good advice. "Last Chance" is tune with a slow Texas beat as Sena lays it on the line by stating "this wasn't your second chance it was your last chance." Ed follows with some down and dirty guitar riffs. Once again that strong conviction can be heard in her voice as Sena convinces her audience "you are the one that sustains me" on the tune "Hear Me" backed once again by a terrific performance by the band members. "Hear Me" opens with a boogie woogie beat and then explodes with Ed's searing guitar solos and Sena's gritty, soulful voice. Leave The Light On concludes with a funky tune "Fool Out Of Me" with Sena echoing the warning "don't make a fool out of me."

If ever there was a lady born to sing the blues it is Sena Ehrhardt! This is an album I would have to file as one of the best of the year. Ed Ehrhardt is one of the most impressive  guitar in the business! This is one of the hottest bands performing today. Their debut album tells the story.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

Gimme the Jimmys reviewed by Mark Thompson

Gimme the Jimmys
The Jimmys
Brown Cow Productions
11 tracks/48:47

This one gets off to a rockin' start as our favorite band from  Monroe, WI delivers a high octane performance on "HaDaya HaDaya" that illustrates everything that makes this band special – tight musical interplay, a blazing hot horn section and Jimmy Voegeli's spirited vocals and keyboard work.  Drummer Mauro Magellan was an original member of the Georgia Satellites - his fellow band member, Dan Baird, adds his guitar to the track along with Warner Hodges of Jason & the Scorchers fame, who lays down a brief but incendiary guitar solo.

Voegeli wrote all of the songs for this project. He recorded two of the songs during his lengthy stint as a member of the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band. The latest version of "Girl All Woman" emphasizes the New Orleans R&B elements of the song, with the tenor sax solo from Bryan Husk driving home the point. Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick contributes some cowbell to the track. "Love Will Find a Way" has a driving rhythm from Magellan and bassist Johnny Wartenweiler. Voegeli plays some rollicking piano lines and Ken "Birddog" Olufs gets a chance to showcase his skill on the harmonica. The horns bring an extra layer of liveliness to the track.

The pace slows on "Baby's So Fine" with Voegeli's compassionate vocal one of the disc's highlights, surrounded by the majestic sounds of his Hammond organ and a sympathetic alto sax solo from Peterson Ross. Baird's slide guitar on "She Don't Love Me" has the band sounding like the classic version of Little Feat. The instrumental "Jimmys Groove" establishes a blue-funk feel with the band's guitarist, Dave Potter, playing some of his always tasteful licks. Voegeli stars again on the organ as the horn section blasts away in the background and Carlos sits in on drums. "JiMo Boogie" features Magellan as the sole support for Voegeli's extended piano solo that again highlights the influence of the New Orleans piano tradition on his style along with a few hints of ragtime piano. Voegeli switches to the Rhodes electric piano on "All I Ask" and Potter gets a another chance to shine.

There are two songs that show the group's versatility as well as proving that they aren't afraid to move beyond more traditional material. The soulful "Hell or Heaven" has a mainstream rock sound with soaring vocals, a dynamic horn chart and a miin-guitar army comprised of Baird, Hodges and Billy Flynn. Baird plays a succinct solo at the mid-point before Flynn brings you home with some exquisite playing that captures the B.B. King sound. There is a second, shorter version of this track at the end of the disc, intended for radio play. "The Tree" is a distinct departure from the rest of the disc. Voegeli and his wife, Laura, often visit her mother. There is a small cemetery nearby that the couple often strolls through. They always pass by a grave that sits under a Yew tree. The song is Voegeli's imagining a possible storyline that ties together the departed soul and the tree. His dark, gloomy vision tells the tale of a father's love and sacrifice for his daughter, that later brings additional tragic consequences. The string section comprised of Chris Wagoneron on violin & viola and Mary Gaine on cello and parlor bass help establish the haunting mood. The Amateur Horn Stars - Husk, Ross and Chad Whittinhill on trumpet & flugelhorn - also make key contributions.

If you have caught one of the Jimmys live shows, you know what to expect from this disc - and you won't be disappointed. There is plenty of the band's upbeat, good-time music that they are famous for. Some might be slightly disappointed at the number of high-profile, special guests. But they all make solid contributions without impacting what the Jimmys are all about. And every band needs to find an edge that helps with their marketing. When you have a collection of musicians this talented, and a frontman with the charisma of Jimmy Voegeli, you are guaranteed plenty of musical fireworks. This is a fine first effort and has me already anxiously awaiting the next Jimmys recording.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

The Moon Is Rising: Songs of Robert Nighthawk reviewed by David Stine

The Moon Is Rising: Songs of Robert Nighthawk
Donna Herula
Self produced
12 tracks/38:15

I first encountered Donna Herula at the solo/duo shootout at The Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn a couple years ago. She stood out not as the only female to show up, but as a confident and deliberated interpreter of old time blues music. Relying on her voice and a couple metal-bodied guitars, Donna held her own against some pretty darn good competition.

This second CD finds the Illinois native covering the earlier songs of Robert Nighthawk. Most were written by Nighthawk with a couple that he covered. Herula is accompanied by her husband Tony Nardiello on guitar on several tracks, as well as the harmonica of John Jochem. Occasionally she employs a Porchboard and tambourine for drum effect. Herula has performed these Nighthawk songs at blues festivals in Chicago, Helena, AK, and on King Biscuit Time.

First time listeners might find Herula’s voice slightly “little girl,” and too articulate. She pronounces every syllable. Where most blues singers use "goin, you can hear Herula's "goinG." There’s no little girl behind the big sound she gets from her national guitars though. This is the Donna I remember from the shootout: she can really dig into a resphonic guitar.

“Take It Easy Baby” starts the disc and sort of sets the tone for the CD. One can easily imagine this rendering as a set started as well. John Jochem adds nice harmonica accents and holds things down while Herula solos. This delightful song is the longest of the CD at 4:36. Song two shifts the mood into a Herula-adapted, dreamy take on the title cut.  Herula employs electric violins near the end of the song to great effect turning a blues song into a near-classical piece. The deft-fingered portrayal of “Return Mail Blues” brings up the third slot. One of my favorite cuts, both vocally and instrumentally, is song four, “I’m Getting Tired.” Herula takes gender liberties with both the last song  as well as “Jackson Town Man,” making them her own. Song six “Lonesome World” is another toe tapper and slide marvel. “Crying Won’t Help You” is a nice choice for this age of role reversals, and Herula does justice to the song by playing, singing and adding her own percussion. “Bricks In My Pillow” also moves along nicely, again with John Jochems on harmonica. “Gonna Move To Kansas City” is another favorite of mine. “Gonna’ move to Kansas City, baby, where they don’t like you . . . .” Yes. It’s a Jim Jackson song covered by Nighthawk and now Herula, and a song that deserves being heard again. “Friar’s Point” allows Herula to intertwine finger picking and slide work - something she does quite well. “Maggie Campbell” is a song Robert Nighthawk covered, providing a beautiful format for the interplay between Herula and Jochems - another album standout cut. The CD concludes with “Every day and Night” which seems to encompass the best elements of almost every tune on the CD.

My only slight complaint with this CD is, at times, Herula plays so fast that she has to rush certain vocal phrases. Word constraints keep me from too many accolades, but I think this CD deserves your time and money, especially if you like older blues with some slight modern updates. Herula bravely takes on a male icon, makes his music her own. In this age of overwrought electric blues, this alone is quite an accomplishemt. She plays well, she sings well, acknowledges her predecessors, and brings the best part herself into what she does. Amen, Donna.

Reviewed by David Stine