Thursday, July 26, 2012

Double Dynamite reviewed by Rick Davis

Double Dynamite
The Mannish Boys
Delta Groove Music
26 Tracks

The Mannish Boys are back this time with a two new blues CDs with their star-studded   core band comprised of  Finis Tasby and Sugaray Ryford on vocals, Kirk Fletcher on lead and rhythm guitar, Frank Goldwasser on vocals, lead, rhythm, and slide guitar as well as harmonica, Randy Chortkoff on vocals and harmonica, Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums on the first disc. With the foregoing band on disc one titled Atomic Blues, there are an additional 14 guest musicians. This 2 disc set is a festival of blues stars you won't hear anywhere else! It opens with the Son House number "Death Letter" with Sugaray Rayford belting out the vocals, also handling lead vocals on Robert Nighthawk's "Bricks In My Pillow," the Randy Chortkoff tune "Please Foregive Me" and Otis Spann's "The Hard Way." Finis Tasby takes over the lead vocals on the Little Walter songs "Everybody Needs Somebody" and "Mean Old World," as well as Frank Frost's "Never Leave Me At Home." Randy Chortkoff adds his lead vocals on the Cortkoff/Kashmar tune "You Dogged Me." Frank Goldwasser handles the lead vocals on Willie Dixon's "Bloody Tears." Guest artists delivering vocals include James Harman on his self penned song "Bad Detective," Jackie Payne on the Muddy Waters tune "She's Nineteen Years Old/Streamline Woman," and special guest Mud Morganfield, oldest son of Muddy Waters, singing the Sonny Boy Williamson tune "Elevate Me Mama" and finishing with the world famous London/McDaniel/Morganfield tune "Mannish Boy." What a finish to an all-star production!

Round two titled Rhythm & Blues Explosion is equally as star-studded, this time with the addition of a superb horn section. The Mannish Boys stay with the same core band members with an additional 23 sensational guest artists on disc two. Finis Tasby opens on lead vocals with the Bell/Jones song "Born Under A Bad Sign" and continues with vocals on "Later On" by Jimmy McCracken, the Walker/Young tune "You Don't Love Me," and "Woke Up Screaming" by Willie Headen. Sugaray Ryford delivers lead vocals on the McCoy/Toombs number "That Dood It," the Brown/Terry tune "You Got The Power" along with Cynthia Manley, the Jones/Gregory R&B song "Drowning On Dry Land," James Brown's "Why Does Everything Happen To Me," and the James Cotton blues tune "West Helena Blues." Guest artist Mike Finnigan takes the lead vocals and keyboards on the Ray Charles jazz/blues song "Mr. Charles Blues," and the Brown/Ellis tune "Cold Sweat." Jackie Payne takes center stage with lead vocals on the Jeffrey Monjack song "Bed For My Soul." James Harman finishes the CD with vocals on his song "Hittin' The Groove."

This is an extraordinary collection of talent featuring different contemporary West Coast musicians on vocals, strings, keyboards, horns, harps, drums, and handclaps on each and every of the 26 tracks, delivering some of the best blues, soul, and R&B tunes you will ever hear on one double album. It is really a top gun blues release!

I Belong To The Road reviewed by Rick Davis

I Belong To The Road
Rory Block
Stony Plain Records
11 Tracks

Rory Block continues with her extraordinary "Mentor Series" with previous tributes to Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and now Reverend Gary Davis. This is a tribute series of blues legends she has met at some point in her life. Others for possible tribute CDs are legends Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bukka White. Earlier she did a tribute to Robert Johnson who was someone she never has the pleasure to meet. That CD, according to Block, inspired her to begin the tribute series project that she hopes to market as a box set later.

The tribute to Reverend Gary Davis, the legendary blues/folk/gospel pioneer, titled I Belong To The Road, was deeply inspired by the memories she had as a very young aspiring artist and her visits with Reverend Gary Davis who at the time had migrated to New York. Davis was known for his unique finger-picking style on both the acoustic guitar and banjo. She recalls those visits riding the subway in 1964 at the age of 15 for guitar lessons with her friend Stefan Grossman. "I dabbled in several songs but not really. I went in the Mississippi slide and strumming styles, but not in that super high intensity picking style of Reverend Gary Davis."
The tribute CD has captured a guitar style very close to that of Davis's throughout the entire song list. Rory is quoted as saying "My area of focus was the Delta styles from day one. I never considered myself an expert in Davis's style." After listening to Block's tribute CD, you will find that glorious gospel sound echoes out much like it would from the vocals of the Baptist minister, Reverend Gary Davis himself. All of the tunes can be heard on Davis's Harlem Street Singer recorded during a three hour session on August 24, 1960. Block opens as did Davis with a version of Blind Willie Johnson's "If I Had My Way I'd Tear That Building Down" renamed "Samson and Delilah." Rory's joyous shouting of "Goin' to Sit Down on the Banks of the River" absolutely explodes with emotion along with her superb back-up vocals. Her powerful vocals and slide will have you clapping and stomping on "Let Us Get Together Right Down Here." Those powerful back-up vocals ring out along with Block rejoicing with Hallelujah on "I Belong To The Band." The gospel revival continues with "Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin' On," "Great Change Since I've Been Born," "I Am The Light Of This World,"  and "Twelve Gates To The City," once again with the strong coral back-up vocals and Block's rich vocals and remarkable acoustic and slide guitar. It is understandable why she has been called one of the most acclaimed female acoustic blues artists today when you listen to the remaining Reverend Gary Davis tunes, "Lo, I Be With You Always," "Pure Religion," and "Death Don't Have No Mercy."

Rory has done an extraordinary job of delivering the gospel music and country blues of Reverend Gary Davis with her powerfully emotional vocals and equally spectacular guitar work on this collection, her tribute to one of the greatest blues/gospel legends.

Black Eye Galaxy reviewed by David Stine

Black Eye Galaxy
Anders Osborne
Alligator Records
10 tracks/55:01

Anders Osborne’s 2010 American Patchwork seems to be the storm before the quiet. Where Patchwork was raw, disturbing, angry, and loud, Galaxy has many moments of Paul Simonesque love and introspection. I’m not saying one album is better than another, just that Osborne seems less angry and more mature AND more in love on BEG. “Send Me A Friend,” hits like early Led Zeppelin, however, with its primitive beat and over-the-top guitars. This is one of many “cry for help” tunes on the album. The semi-reggae styled “Mind Of A Junkie” which follows is disturbing in its exposure of, well, the subject matter. Song two is one of several where Osborne stretches out on guitar. His solos can be sometimes arty, sometimes annoying, and sometimes brilliant.

“Lean On Me/Believe In Me,” cut three is one of the “lovey dovey” songs herein and is maybe the closet I’ve ever hear Anders come to a country/pop sounding song. “When Will I See You Again,” could be Paul Simon except it rock out a bit more. “Black Tar” which follows is a return to Zep and an angry shaked fist BP for the oil spill.

The 11:15 title track “Black Eye Galaxy” is radio friendly and hummable until about mid-point where Osborne takes off on a psychedelic journey that sounds like good Dead on bad acid or bad Dead on good acid. You decide. After what sounds like maybe you CD skipped the refrain returns and we’re back to familiar and safe ground. I DO NOT recommend listening to this song under the influence! “Tracking My Roots,” is another folksy song of Osborne’s real and symbolic return to sobriety and the roots that matter. ”Louisiana Gold” is the most Paul Simon sounding track on the CD. There’s nothing wrong with Osborne’s becoming more of a folkie, but those used to the fiery and angry Anders may wish for more of an electric guitar approach than is provided here. “Dancing In The Wind” is a love song and if I needed to choose a B side for radio, this would be it” its simple and infecting. The Cd ends with the tolling of faraway church bells and “Higher Ground” stands, with its string arrangement to the resilience of both Osborne (his subject matter) and New Orleans itself.

This CD is a lovely if a bit mellower follow-up to American Patchwork, yet shows the same passion and commitment songcraft that has brought Osborne into the Alligator records fold. Nice job.

By the way, Osborne plays a bunch of the instruments aided on percussion by Eric Bolivar and Stanton Moore. Carl DuFrene (formerly of Tab Benoit’s band) plays bass.

Just a Little Bit More reviewed by Mark Thompson

Just a Little Bit More
Gary Primich with Omar Dykes
Old Pal Records
Disc 1 – 12 tracks/45:51
Disc 2 – 11 tracks/42:43

This release is designed to rekindle the musical legacy of one of my favorite blues harp players. Gary Primich followed a familiar career arc – born in Chicago, developed a love for blues music and hung out in the clubs, learning how to play the harmonica by studying the masters like James Cotton and Billy Boy Arnold. After graduating college, Primich grew tired of the Chicago scene and relocated to Austin, TX where he hung out with musicians who shared his passion for authentic blues. He released nine recordings under his name, marking his development as a harp player, band leader and especially as a singer. But Primich also had demons to deal with. In September of 2007, he died of an accidental overdose as he struggled to handle the effects depression.

His family has put together this tribute to honor his memory. The two discs feature cuts from five different Primich titles. And things start jumping right away as Primich gives you a taste of his abilities on the instrumental “Satellite Rock”. Next up is a Primich original, “Sweet Fine Angel”, that clearly illuminates his understanding of the Chicago blues style. The heat gets turned up on “Boogie Woogie Baby”, complete with a horn section and an incendiary guitar solo from Shorty Lenoir. “House Rockin' Party” is a dynamic shuffle with the leader's understated vocal fitting perfectly. Primich's phrasing on “School of Hard Knocks” bears a resemblance to Mose Allison's vocal style but his brief harp solo packs a wallop.

Seven tracks were pulled from various collaborations Primich did with guitarist Omar Dykes. They do a fine cover of  “Caress Me Baby”, with Primich showing his mastery of the upper register Jimmy Reed harp style. “Midnight Ramblin' Man” sports a familiar boogie riff, Dyke's gruff voice and some more splendid harp from Primich.  Highlights from the second disc include a rousing :Dangerous Man” with Primich getting a fat tone on his harp. They deliver a scorching version of “One Room Country Shack” that allows the leader to demonstrate his mastery on the chromatic harp. For “Down in Mississippi”, it is Dykes on acoustic guitar and Primich blowing some sweet country blues.

Several instrumentals show another facet of Primich's musical universe. He plays inventive lines on the swinging take of the jazz standard “Indiana” while Duke Ellington's “Caravan” has Rob Stupka providing the big beat that Primich's harp dances around. But he is really in his element on the title track of one his releases, “Mr Freeze”, steadily building his solo as he moves up and down on his harp until he eases his way back to the melody to finish things off.

Tracks like “Jenny Brown”  and “Put the Hammer Down” on the second disc show the maturity of Primich's vocal skills later in his career. Another standout performance can be found on “Pray for a Cloudy Day” with the Primich promising to play it cool, live right and die old.

If you have never had the chance to listen to Gary Primich while he still walked this earth, this release is a golden opportunity to rectify that deficiency in your musical education. I guarantee that you will find many enjoyable moments on these two discs while quickly learning that Gary Primich was one bad-ass harmonica player.

Grim Reaper reviewed by Steve Jones

Grim Reaper
Rockin’ Johnny Band
Delmark Records
15 tracks

This album should be entitled, “The blues are alive and kicking!”  Rockin’ Johnny Burgin returns and delivers some fresh and cool new songs.  His youth and energy make him appeal to a brand new generation of blues fans along with the more seasoned blues fan veterans.  Delmark has helped him produce an outstanding new CD, packed with 15 cuts, mostly new.

The CD commences with the title cut and it’s a good one, with Johnny debating with the man with a sickle.  Very old school sound with Johnny’s standout vocals.  Billy Flynn’s “Don’t Mess With Me Baby” gets a groove on and Burgin runs and runs with it vocally and on guitar.  “My Baby’s A Good ‘Un” also gives us the trademark vocals and he des the Otis Rush cut justice with his interpretation.  “Window To Your Soul” is another great original and Johnny and company give it their all; vocals and guitar by Burgin are spot on and Big D Erickson’s harp her and throughout are just so hot.

Others in the band are Rick Kreher on rhythm guitar, John Sefner on bass and Steve Bass on drums.  These guys are solid in their support. “It’s Expensive” adds Dudley Owens on tenor and Jerry DiMuzio on baritone saxes.  This new tune is slow and moving and at the 2 minute mark Burgin is testifying oh-so-well on guitar; the saxes are there for effect but are not used out front, which might have made this even better. Di Muzio also fills in on “My Sweet Baby” and has a more forthright presence and blows out some mean sounds.

Johnny ends with a Christmas tune, “Party This Christmas”.  He picks out the melody and sings while the jingle bells fill in tambourine-style.  A fitting end and it makes this release an “all season” album.

I enjoyed this CD a lot.  I saw Johnny live recently for the first time and was impressed.  This CD impressed me even more– solid stuff done in a traditional Chicago manner while sounding fresh and clean and exciting.  I think most lovers of the Chicago blues will find something here to entertain them!

What The Hell Is Going On? reviewed by Steve Jones

What The Hell Is Going On? 
Paul Thorn
Perpetual Obscurity Records
12 tracks

I am making amends in reviewing this CD.  In our November-December 2010 issue of our Newsletter I wrote a short, sweet, to the point review that “Pimps and Preachers,” Thorns last album, was not a blues album and did not spend much time extolling that it was a damn fine CD.  Well, here we are again, another CD that really isn’t a blues album in a strict or even loose sense, but it is another damn fine CD.

Thorn has visited Rockford twice since “Pimps” was released.  I missed the first show, which was scaled down and low keyed in its’ approach.  I caught him amped up and with the whole band at the New American Theater and was witness to a revival, rock concert, circus tent, and who knows what the hell else?  It was great.  “Pimps and Preachers” was a great CD and so is this one.  I think I already said something to that effect already, but I am making a point here.

The difference between then and now is minimal.  Thorn wrote all the songs on the previous album and this is all covers.  Does it matter?  Hell no.  This is cool stuff.  Lindsey Buckingham, Allen Toussaint, Elvin Bishop, Rick Danko, Eli “Paperboy” Reed and others have their songs taken to new levels or depth, depending on the topic presented.  Thorn is able to be serious or tongue in cheek, presenting topics ranging from the Texas swamp (Ray Wyle Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”) to  Sothern rock anthems  like “Don’t Let Me Down Again” (Buckingham) and “Small Talk Town” (Danko).  It is always a fun ride with Thorn. Elvin Bishop joins Thorn on guitar on the title track (that Bishop also wrote).  This one is a rocking good time!

Toussaint’s “Wrong Number” gets Thorn’s treatment in a slow and thoughtful cover.  The final track is perhaps the coolest, with a big intro and then a rousing and bouncing cover of Paperboy Reed’s “Take My Love With You.”  Delbert McClinton joins Thorn on “Bull Mountain Bridge,” a Wild Bill Emerson song.  The two of them ham it up and trade off vocals and do the choruses together.  All in all, this is a great CD top to bottom!

Thorn has picked a dozen masterfully crafted songs and put his down home and authentic sound to them, making them his own even though he is just borrowing them. Joining Thorn are Bill Hinds on guitar, Michael Graham on keys, Ralph Friedrichsen on bass and Jeffrey Perkins on drums and percussion.  A great front man, a great band and great songs add up to a great CD.  If you want some rocking southern rock with a blues and go-to-church influence, then run right out and get this one.  It’s a great album and showcases what Thorn can do to make covers sound original.  These are cuts he features in his live shows and they are an excellent compliment to his own songs.  Don’t miss this one.

Living the Dream reviewed by Steve Jones

Living the Dream
Albert Castiglia
Blues Leaf Records
12 tracks

Albert Castiglia is the real deal.  If you have not heard what this guy can make a guitar do, then this is the opportunity to find out.   His vocals and songwriting are also up to snuff and he presents a nice mix of originals and covers in this new CD that will get your blood flowing!

The CD opens with the title cut and from the start we can see this is going to be a really fun ride.  Catchy lyrics tell a good story and the stratospheric guitar solos get you primed for a super CD.  He follows that up with another original, “The Man,” where he gives us a tale about how the country was taken hostage by a handful of suits. Well done musically and from making a statement.

“Freddie’s Boogie” lightens the tone and moves at lightning speed.  Organ work by John Ginty along with Castiglia’s guitar really sell this one well. Castiglia finally gives us a rest with the slower “Directly from My Heart to You”; again we get some nice work by Ginty (on piano this time) and soulful vocals by Albert.  “Public Enemy #9” features a shift to acoustic guitar and it is a nice original cut.  Paul Butterfield’s “Loving Cup” gets a loving treatment and we are only half way through.  Space precludes comment on al tracks, but suffice it to say that he plies though slow and fast cuts with equal aplomb.

I really think this is a well crafted album– Castiglia impresses me with his tone and prowess.  His trio includes Bob Amsel on drums and A.J. Kelly on bass.  Sandy Mack on harp, Juke Joint Johnny Rizzo and Emedin Rivera are featured on “I Want Her for Myself”, another nice original cut.  His fans will eat this up and newbies will get a great intro– recommended!

Still Called the Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Still Called the Blues
Quintus McCormick
Delmark Records
13 tracks/60:19

Singer/guitarist Quintus McCormick has been on quite a roll over the last few years. While he has been playing in clubs in Chicago for several decades including stints backing James Cotton, Otis Clay and A.C. Reed, McCormick hadn't received much acclaim in the blues community until his initial recording for Delmark Records in 2009. That title, Hey Jodie, garnered plenty of praise from the critics as well as a nomination for the title song for the 2010 Blues Blast Music award in the Song of the Year category.

On his third Delmark release, McCormick continues to mine his potent blend of blues, soul and r&b influences for a heady mix that spotlights his versatility. The title track is a gripping slice of life with an emotionally charged vocal and some nimble-fingered guitar playing from the leader plus a notable contribution from Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards. Johnny Taylor had a hit with “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” but McCormick offers a lusty version with an sizzling, extended guitar solo. Drummer Pete Thomas provides a memorable kick on B.B. King's “Woke Up this Morning”while John Chorney's dazzles on piano with Lovely Fuller on bass. McCormick's voice is filled with aching regret on a stunning cover of the Beatles “Oh! Darling”. Dudley Owens' tenor sax solo provides a punctuation mark. The closing number, “Old Time Rock and Roll” never quite catches fire.

What moves this one ahead of other recent releases are the seven distinctive original tunes penned by McCormick. The opener, “Gotta Go”, establishes a solid funk vamp while “That's My Baby” is a breezy love song with Jerry DiMuzio's flute echoing McCormick's wistful vocal. “Searching for Your Love” is done in a contemporary r&b vein and once again the leader's rich tone carries the day. The horn section of trumpeter Kenny Anderson, Owens and Dimuzio on baritone sax spice up “I'm in Love With You Baby” as McCormick articulates his passionate feelings for the woman tugging at his heartstrings. “What Am I Gonna Do?” sounds like one of Tyrone Davis' s hit songs.

It's hard to believe that McCormick can maintain such a high level of quality in his songwriting after three releases in three years. But the proof is here for all to hear. Expect this one to get serious consideration come awards time. But don't wait for accolades from the experts. Grab a copy and enjoy the jubilant exploration of Quintus McCormick's musical universe!

Royal Southern Brotherhood reviewed by Steve Jones

Royal Southern Brotherhood
Royal Southern Brotherhood
Ruf Records
12 tracks

I’m struggling with this album.  We have Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, and Mike Zito, all stars in their own right, along with a great back line of Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott.  The sound is good.  The musicality of this is all well done.  The problem I am having with it is that it sounds either familiar or not so inspired.  There have been a few “all star” albums in the past where there were perhaps too many cooks spoiling the broth.

The songs all have a good groove.  Scott and Wooten are solid.  It’s the song writing– they are trying to be superstars and craft the next big southern-Cajun-blues-alternative rock song.  That is where this lets down.  The solos are all nice.  The vocals are all without any fault.  It’s songs that hearken to the genres and fall flat.

I’m keeping this short because there is not much else to say.  Fans of the band or it’s members will perhaps find some nuggets to enjoy.  It will not be on my summer travel list of CD’s not to forget to take on trips.

Bad Neighborhood reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Bad Neighborhood
Dan Treanor and Code Blue
Plan-It Productions
11 tracks/ 53:54

In the short period since 2004 Dan Treanor has released 6 CDs. In 2012 he won the "Keeping the Blues Alive" award for doing his blues education programs including blues in the schools. Treanor is a powerful highly skilled harmonica player as well as a top notch songwriter besides playing his other instruments. As he goes down the road of blues, he is inventive, creative and takes chances with the genre. These qualities give his music a different and unique sound. Joining him on “Bad Neighborhood” is his band, Code Blue, which performs real blues that have a rich, funky, soulfull tone while being true to the blues. Dan is featured on blues harp, guitar, Khalam, diddley bow and also keyboards. Marc Bilker takes on the roll of lead singer while Kyle Roberts fills the background with drums, dejembe and conga drums. Steve Mignano covers the lead and slide guitar for the recording. This group has a solid song and is very capable of performing blues as they should be.

“Bad Neighborhood” is a solid mix of 11 songs written by Dan Treanor. Every single track seems to take a different path down that old blues highway. In some cases this may not be the way to go but Treanor seems to be able to pull it off. “On Fire’ opens this project with some strange African instruments that make our ears perk up and pay attention to this tune. Steve Mignano’s guitar solo also reaches out to get you. With his really solid blues style he is joined by Dan jumping in with harp playing which is also rock solid. Marc Bilker is a unique vocalist who seems to play many roles as a singer. His voice may be gritty and hard, deep and harsh and then be mellow to mild. These traits are all good for this CD. This song has a story to tell of  being on fire, swimming to dry land but stepping on your own feet. These lyrics need to be listened to as the tune goes on. Going on to “Sea of Tears” Bilker treats us to his deep toned vocals and Steve Mignano plays outstanding guitar on this track that has somewhat of a Santana – Rob Thomas feel to it.  Teaanor also adds his harp to the mix here. This is good stuff for the ears.

“Ole’ Mama” is more of an upbeat rocky type blues tune featuring really strong guitar solos and more harmonica from Dan. “Deep Sea Fishing” is a full blown blues tune like we all like to hear. Here we go with solid 12 bar blues  that are harmonica based and telling a tale of fishing with shine, tobacco weed and fried catfish eating. It just can’t get any more  bluesy  than this. Maybe it can, when the piano of Jim Beckstein is put into the mix of things a new level is reached.

Dan Treanor and Code Blue have down a great job of representing the blues with their release “Bad Neighborhood.” This CD is filled with 11 solid blues songs that should be check out and listened to.

Highway Sixteen reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Highway Sixteen
Dan Treanor
Plan-It Productions
16 tracks/66:43

Dan Treanor’s “Highway Sixteen” features 16 songs from 6 previously released CDs that he has recorded since 2004. All but two of the tunes were penned by Dan. This is a vision of the blues as he sees them. He also adds two classic tunes to the mix , “Motherless Child” and “Tumblin’ Blues”, which he has taken to a new direction that is fine with me. This whole recording is a showcase for his unique form of blues that he has labeled as the Afrosippi sound. He has created this mix of music with his strong harmonica licks, outstanding guitar work and the addition of African instruments. Because this recording is based on tunes from six CDs it is not easy to mention all the fine musicians and singers involved. Among the people involved are African Wind, Jack Hadley, Richard Ray Farrell, Creighton Holley, Frankie Lee, Rex Peoples, The Afrosippi Band and his new band, Code Blue. For more info on the players you can check this out at

Throughout “Highway Sixteen” Treanor’s awesome harmonica talent, guitar skill and his ability to write blues lyrics that tell tales of toil, troubles and life are ever present. There is just so much going on in this collection of songs to give everyone the credit they have coming. I will hit upon a couple of the tunes that I really enjoyed and the rest is up to you,

“Hard Luck Child” opens with either a banjo or some type of African string instrument that has a strong drum beat going on in the background. We are treated to some of Treanor’s talent on the Mississippi saxophone as he puts his blues lick into the mix of the tune. This track is one of those straight forward blues songs with the strong guitar solos and a story of the hard luck child trying to make it on his own. “Field Hollar No.1” is a call and response type tune with electric guitar and African percussion heading us down the road. This is a different but interesting way of interpreting the old blues. This track is a good one to take the time to listen to. “Tangled Road” also takes on a call and response theme with a fiddle and rousing  African rhythmic background.

Dan Treanor’s “Highway Sixteen” takes us on a road, trip that introduces us to his form of blues that he calls Afrosippi blues. This is a unique collection of tunes that you may or may not like as a true lover of the blues. Dan’s talent as a harp player, guitarist, lyric writer and producer of music is very apparent on this recording. He also surrounds this all with a powerful list of musicians and singer that have made this an outstanding recording.

Make It Good reviewed by Mark Thompson

Make It Good
RJ Mischo
Delta Groove Music
13 tracks/44:28

Twenty years ago, critics were singing the praises of a recording by a tight ensemble out of Minneapolis, the RJ & Kid Morgan Blues Band. By that point in time, RJ Mischo had already been playing blues harmonica for fifteen years, getting schooled by George “Mojo” Buford and Lynwood Slim. With nine other releases under his belt, many for the fine German label Crosscut Records. Mischo still remained under the radar for many blues fans. But with the full weight of the Delta Groove label behind his latest project, this outstanding artist has a chance to make some noise.

And that's exactly what he does right from the start as he steamrolls his way through “Trouble Belt” with Nick Curran and and Johnny Moeller turning in impressive guitar work. Mischo is limited to a vigorous lead vocal but he lays down some robust harp work on the second cut, “Mr. Freeze”, one of six instrumentals on the disc. Whether he is whoppin' over a chugging train-like rhythm on “Papa's S.T. Special”or establishing his credentials as a master of the chromatic harp on the two part “Arumbula”, Mischo's creativity and formidable tone make his playing a joy to listen to. The latter tune is powered by Wes Starr's rolling drumbeat and Ronnie James Weber's deep bass line as Nick Connolly's deft organ swells nearly steal the show. “Elevator Juice” is a fast-paced romp with Connolly's pumpin' piano setting the stage as Mischo digs into the upper register on his harp while Curran takes over the drum kit.

Other highlights include  “Minnesota Woman”, with the familiar can't-wait-to-get-back-home theme done in the classic Chicago style complete with RJ's robust description of his special woman and an incendiary solo from Curran. “The Biscuit is Back” is a swinging tribute to the famous King Biscuit Blues fest while “Not Your Good Man” finds Mischo willing to be a back-door lover if that's only way his lover will see him. Jeremy Johnson's grungy guitar ignites the sweltering version of “Make It Good” and on “Up To the Brim”, he overdubs his contributions on guitar, bass drum and high hat while Mischo blows long mournful tones with his usual flair.

This is one of those harder-to-find, dyed-in-the-wool blues recordings done by a veteran roster of musicians who treat the music and its traditions with the respect it deserves. And RJ Mischo is out front, leading the way with a vibrant collection of tunes, lively vocals and  his exuberant harp work. With a push from Delta Groove, Mischo should hopefully receive the level of attention that a recording of this quality deserves. This one comes highly recommended!

Out Of The Box reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Out Of The Box
Guitar Mikey And The Real Thing
Earwig Music Company
15 tracks/70:32

Earwig Music’s release of Michael “Guitar Mikey” McMillan’s “Out Of The Box” is a showcase of this artist’s many musical talents. Guitar Mikey, originally from Canada, has settled in Clarksdale, MS via Boston and Chicago. This CD features 15 tracks Mikey and co-writers Doug Carter and Peter Nunn. These songs all have a very solid blues base with some heading into funkiness and rock. Joining Mikey for this project is his fine band, The Real Thing, all awesome players, Billy Gibson blowing harp, guest guitarist Super Chikan and Bob Margolin and Nellie “Tiger” Travis adding her awesome vocals to the project. When the Hammerhorns and the Stingrays, plus the sax of Alphonso Sanders join in, we have all the elements in place for an outstanding blues recording.

The lead in track on “Out Of The Box”, “Back To You”, shows us Guitar Mikey’s many talents as he takes on the vocals, guitar, mandolin and the banjo. This tune is upbeat; rootsy as well as rocking and at the same time makes you listen to all the instruments involved. Mark Yacovone and Peter Nunn toss in solid organ playing while John Allouise thumps out a solid bass line. There is a lot going on in this first tune that gets you ready to listen to the next 14 tracks. “The Bigger Fool” is a great slow blues tune featuring guest guitarist Bob Margolin. Billy Gibson walks us into this tune with his strong blues harp playing. Mikey’s vocals are strong and edgy with somewhat of a Buddy Guy quality to them David Maxwell lays down some piano work that is a big plus for this tune. This is almost for sure my favorite song of the recording. Could it have something to do with the solid harmonica solo from Billy Gibson?

“Blues Head” is another true blues tune about a blues player out all night playing music etc. and going home to his lady. This can be a bad deal. Nellie “Tiger” Travis, on vocals, banters back and forth with Super Chikan about the blues head story. With Super Chikan’s guitar, A. Sander’s saxophone added to Mikey’s vocals we have a powerful music filled tune. Another stand out track is “It’s Going Down” which gives us some acoustic guitar playing plus Mikey playing bass and mandolin.

“Out Of The Box” lets us know what Guitar Mikey is all about, a multi talented blues man with a great blues band. These 15 songs, over 70 minutes of music, are really a mix of tunes that showcases the talent of all the musicians involve in this recording; this is all very enjoyable to me. Good luck to Guitar Mikey And TheReal Thing.

Soul Shot reviewed by David Stine

Soul Shot
Curtis Salgado
Alligator Records
11 tracks/46:05 min.

Curtis Salgado should need no introduction to blues fans his having been part of The Nighthawks, Robert Cray, and Roomful of Blues bands over the years. With Soul Shot, Salgado delivers a great soul album. In my mind the ingredients for such are great pipes, a crack band and good arrangements. It's all here on Soul Shot. Aided by most of the Phantom Blues Band and others too many to name, Salgado has created a magnificent CD.

From the get go, song one, titled “What You Gonna Do? Soul Shot gives it up. It’s hard to believe that Salgado survived both cancer and a liver transplant! His voice has never been stronger. “Love Comfort Zone” with its infectious groove will bring a smile. “Getting To Know You” could easily be an Al Green tune. That’s all I’m going to say except that Salgado lays down some nice harp in the middle break. “She Didn’t Cut Me Loose” is maybe my favorite cut on the CD. It’s groove-a-licous and clever. “Nobody But You” lets Salgado “take it to church” with his compliment of background singers. “Let Me Make Love To You” is a blast right out of the late 60s/early 70s soul catalog and Salgado nails it with aplomb. “Love Man” is right out of Otis Redding’s past and into YOUR now. Cut eight, “He Played His Harmonica” is, for me the weakest cut on the CD. It’s just too talky and choppy just OK, lyrically. “Baby Let Me Take You In My Arms” redeems the CD and gets things back on track. Johnny “Guitar” Watson is always welcome and Salgado’s reading of “Strung Out” is right on the money. “A Woman Or The Blues” takes Salgado back to church and you WILL be clapping!

Besides the slight blip of the “harmonica” song, this is a first rate soul CD. If you love Reverend Green, Otis, and any number of soul/blues stars, you’ll want this CD. Although Salgado’s signature harp playing is slight here, his voice and command of the material make up for any shortcomings. This is a must buy if you like your blues soulful. If this doesn’t get him a best soul/blues award, there’s something wrong in someone’s judgment!

Smartest Man in the Room reviewed by Steve Jones

Smartest Man in the Room
Paul Mark & the Van Dorens
Radiation Records
12 tracks

Manhattan-based Paul Mark is quite the controversial artist.  He gives us a bluesy rock album, his ninth offering, which he co-produced with Jeff Powell (who also produced Stevie Ray Vaughn, BB King and others) on Paul’s own indie label.

Taken casually at face value on this CD, we get an apocalyptic man who is at odds with religion and society  The nuances here are not religious intolerance (that’s not to say Mark is also not perhaps commenting on religion and our culture) but an intolerance for a record industry managed by god like moguls who feed the public crap and the public is glad about it and trained to beg for more and more.  He uses god and the devil to represent  an industry that creates Justin Biebers and Lady Gagas for us and jam them down our throats and we just wait joyfully for the next wave of the same or gobble up the next instant star created for us on the myriad of TV shows  who promote a lack of hard work and experience being required to “make it.”

“When God Finds the Time”  is a nifty tune with some telling lyrics.  He alludes that musicians are reduced to a bunch of headshots begging for a chance while the gods of the industry appear at things like the Kentucky Derby for show and then return to their lofty day to day unapproachable status.  The title track gives us the industry mogul point of view, because, after all, they are the smartest men in the room because fear, money and power rule.  “One More Coat of Paint”  gives us the story of foreclosure and lost love– it will only take one coat of paint to hide the blemishes of a broken home and a broken relationship.  “Wrist Rocket”  is a grooving’ and fiery instrumental with some rapid fire and well-done guitar and organ with some take off on the mid-60’s “Big Spender” and other tunes.  “Time Will Tell” let’s us know the truth eventually gets out and it is just a great little shuffle.  This and the rest are all great cuts.

This CD is a great commentary and a really good set of tunes.  Recorded in New Orleans and Memphis, it is quite raw and real.  While it’s dark and down on the industry, it’s also done with sarcasm and humor.  If you like tunes that tell a consistent story with some driving guitar and rough sandpaper grit vocals, then this CD is for you,  It’s a great way for Marks’ fans to enjoy his work and for neophytes to get familiar with him, too!

Soul Survivor reviewed by Steve Jones

Soul Survivor 
Johnny Rawls
Catfood Records
10 tracks

At 61 Jonny Rawls continues to tour heavily and push out quality albums every couple of years. Spawned from the O.V.Right and Little Johnny Taylor line of soul music, Johnny Rawls has a captivatingly smooth and easy approach to his tunes. At times and in a good way it’s almost like a sedative that just woos you into a captivating trance, where you just listen and feel good from a subconscious level. He learned well as bandleader to some of soul’s great men, and his solo work is also pretty damn good. He got 3 BMA nominations for his last CD and while the competition to win is tough to win he is certainly in the mix!

We have nine original cuts here, written by Rawls, Bob Trenchard (his bass player) and other band members along with one cover of his original mentor’s works, O.V. Wright; “Eight Men, Four Women” isa very soulful ballad where O.V. did and now Rawls bemoans the guilty plea he has to submit to his jury of love. It’s a nice tribute and Rawls is convincing. Jessica and Jillian Ivey are great on back-up vocals.

I would have to say my favorite original cuts are the first one and last two. On the first, Rawls gives us the title cut and describes soulfully how he is a “Soul Survivor” in the biz. The instrumental cut “J.R.’s Groove” features Rawls on bass and Johnny McGhee on guitar. Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet and Robert Claiborne on trombone also stand out as does Dan Ferguson on keys. Richy Puga on congas and drums is also featured. It is a cool and driving groove. Lastly, “Yes” gives us Rawls on bass and guitar here. It’s more of a rough and tumble slow soulful bluesy tune with an acoustic opening and a strident vocal by Rawls- really nice stuff.

The rest of the CD is also well done, a Soul Survivor working his craft.  I enjoyed this CD a lot as will any soul music fan looking for traditional stuff done professionally and tastefully. Rawls is a steady fixture on today’s scene and it’s nice that he continues to produce really good new stuff for us to enjoy.

Boston Blues Works reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Boston Blues Works
Various artists
Boston Blues Works
11 tracks/43:19

“Boston Blues Works Volume 1” is right out of the wrapper a recording that one cannot put away after just one listening! This CD contains 11 great old blues tunes interpreted by 11 different singers. Add 14 instrumentalists to this mix and we have almost 45 minutes of blues to remember. This format just gives a reviewer in a spot where he can’t give all the players the credit that they all deserve. This recording is really well produced, well arranged and highlights all the artist involved. There is a feeling that you are listening to a live blues show also. It seems amazing that this CD was recorded in just three days.
f you really like female blues singers, check out Rebecca Muir’s rendition of Willie Dixon’s classic tune, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”. Her vocals grab at you with that raspy, heartfelt sultry quality that we all want to hear with a blues tune. A big plus on this track is Marty Rowen on organ packing the background with a whole bunch of awesome blues organ. You can kick back and enjoy this track over and over.

For the harp enthusiasts, “Boston Blues

Works” features two talented players, Ryan Hartt and Mike “Shark Bite” Ableson. On “Good Lovin’” Shark Bite fills the background with his mournful sounding harp and throws in some fine solo work for Cheryl  Aruda’s great vocals This tune is really a standout for me! Elmore James’ “Sho Nuff I Do” takes a different trip with Ryan Montblieau’s vocal rendition of this old blues classic. This is all good. Mike Ableson adds some harp solos to the mix of Jason Cohen’s piano and the strong bass line from Matt Giannaros. Milt Reder treats our ears to some really neat slow blues guitar also on this outstanding track.
“Boston Blues Works Volume 1” is a neat blues project crammed full of awesome blues. All 11 singers and 14 musicians are give their spot to showcase their abundant talents. They present the songs with the feeling that this is the way that I want to present it the blues fans. This is all good. Take the time to check out this CD. 

“Boston Blues Works Volume 1” will stick with you for a long time after you listen to it. Great job on this recording! The only complaint is that it is way too short, I want more.

Walking And Talking The Blues reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Walking And Talking The Blues
Big Shoes
Dolly Sez Woof & Mug-Shot Productions
15 track / 67:09 CD – 90 DVD

Just the name of the band, Scissormen, opens our mind to the fact this CD/DVD, “Big Shoes : Walking and Talking the Blues”, is about to take us to a new world of the blues. The Scissormen Band is made up of Ted Drozdowski on slide guitar, vocals and awesome lyric writing. Sharing the stage with Ted is R.L. Rob Hulsman on drums, percussion and some background vocals. This combination creates a solid base for some real stripped down blues with feeling and meaning. Ted’s list of his main influences for his music includes R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill and Son House. Check out www.scissormen for complete biography and more info about the band.

The DVD disc of “Big Shoes” takes us on blues road trip to several venues in Indiana and Ohio, including the Slippery Noodle and the Key Palace Theatre. Also included are stops at Ganett Records and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is all very interesting and of historical value for true blues lovers.

The first show on the DVD is a stop in Red Key Indiana at the Key Palace Theatre. Ted enters from the rear of the room as the blues fans are treated to some slide guitar as he approaches the stage. Rob Hulsman follows up playing some percussion as he heads to his drum set. “Unwanted Man’” is a stripped down solid blues tune with great lyrics. “I’m an unwanted man with no place to call my home, it’s a desperate life I’m living I’m so tired of living alone.” are some of the lyrics to deal with here. I would say that is a real blues story. On this tune Ted gives us real insight into his ability to play a mean slide guitar while venturing into his own version of how the blues should be played now and into the future.

At the Slippery Noodle Ted gives a mini slide guitar workshop that is very interesting as well as entertaining. The style of playing from Ted and Rob with just a guitar and a drum set fills the room with a sound that makes you listen to the words and all the music. Loud and heavy is not the way for the blues to go on this trip. Ted will on several tunes take us into his world of almost psychedelic blues slide guitar. Usually I do not like this direction but Drozdowski has his way of going there while maintaining a true but different blues quality.

I guess that I could go on and on about this DVD from “Big Shoes” just because it is so interesting and entertaining. These two performers bring to us their love of the country blues while giving them a modern twist that keep the blues on the road to the future.

The CD part of this set gives us 15 tracks which contain some tunes not on the DVD. With titles such as “Tupelo”, “Jessie Mae”, “RL Burnside” and “Whiskey and Maryjane”, written by Drozdowski, we know that we are in for an earful of the blues. The tune that tells us a big story is “Big Shoes”. Ted has big shoes of the size 12 and shining purple type. “Somewhere down the road the blues went wrong with ten thousand bands playing the same old songs” Ted states also “When somebody ask me, you got the right to sing the blues? – I say it’s a free country man, I’ll sing anything I feel – I’m a grown ass musician and I feel my own big shoes.” Ted and his music do exactly this.

The Scissormen and their DVD/CD set, “Big Shoes : Walking and Talking the Blues”, make a big statement about keeping the blues alive, being true to the roots while taking steps into the future at the same time. To me this is really a good recording.  Since the DVD/CD has been finish Matt Snow has returned on drums to tour with Ted replacing R.L. Hulsman.

Shanachie Days reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Shanachie Days
Grady Champion
GSM Music Group LLC
17 tracks/68:53

Grady Champion is a former boxer who has ventured into the genre of the blues. As we all know both of these endeavors are a tough road to success. Outside of the ring Champion seems to have made the trip down the road in good fashion. Besides being a genuine performer on stage, Grady is a very versatile song writer, awesome harmonica player and has the type of voice that makes you want to listen to his blues. Grady is also the winner of the 2010 International Blues Challenge Band winner and a 2012 Blues Music Award nominee.

“Shanachie Days”, Champion’s latest release, is a collection of 17 tunes that he wrote. These songs come from two previous CD’s, “Payin’ For My Sins”(1999) and “2 Days Short Of A Week (2001). The band for these recordings included Duke Robillard, Mike Turner and Ben Peeler on guitar, Richard Cousins and James Itveld on bass and Lee Spath on drums. Add Grady Champion’s harmonica and his unique vocals plus some sax from Alan Mirikitani and there is a nice mix for the blues.

As I listened to the tunes of Grady Champion on “Shanachie Days” I realized I was going into the world of some real blues artistry. Grady takes a step forward by putting his true feelings into the lyrics of all his songs. He is not afraid to touch on tough subjects of the world without inciting anger in people as some writers seem to like to do nowadays. “Policeman Blues” hits upon racial profiling and police violence. This tune gets to the point on the subject and makes us think about it. The rap vocals included grabs at you for attention also. This is a very interesting track. “Lady Luck” starts out with a strong piano intro and eerie guitar work on this minor key tune. I always enjoy hearing minor key stuff. The lyrics go into the subject about counting on luck to make your world go around. Grady hits us with the line, “Oh Lady Luck isn’t nothing’ but a hoe, oh Lady Luck, why you tease me then go.’” This sounds like the real deal to me.

Roberta” takes us down the road of some country blues which starts out with some harp playing in the style of Sonny Terry and some dobro playing from Ben Peeler.  Grady’s vocals have a twang to them as well as a Little Arthur Duncan tone to them on this track. This is some laid back country blues down well.

With 17 tunes to choose from on “Shanachie Days”, we get to know where Grady Champion is coming from. Each tune is not just a bit of fluff to sell recordings but they contain lyrics that have meaning and make us listen. He hits upon issues facing us all and puts his thoughts out there for us while we are entertained by his music. His vocal range treats us to so many different qualities that some tracks let you think there is someone else singing the tune. His harmonica skills are really top notch and blues based.

“Shanachie Days” is filled with some shuffles, R&B,  country blues and rocking blues that create a powerful mix for this CD. This whole recording is a great way to introduce blues fans to Grady Champion and his music. This recording is well over an hour of powerful blues stories of life.

Damn Good Time! reviewed by Mark Thompson

Damn Good Time!
The Nighthawks
Severn Records
12 tracks/42:18

After forty years, and a number of line-up changes, the Nighthawks continue to be one of the hardest working bands in the country. They zig-zag their way across the nation, regularly playing 250+ shows per year, serving up a heady mix of roadhouse blues and pulsating rock&roll. Last year they were honored when their Last Train From Bluesville recording won the Blues Music award for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year.

Now the band has plugged back in and they are rockin' with a vengeance! The lone remaining original member, Mark Wenner, has recovered from some health issues that haven't impacted his formidable chops on the harmonica. Guitarist Paul Bell and bassist Johnny Castle have spent more than a decade in the band, forming a string section that can turn up the heat without sacrificing their impeccable phrasing. Making his recording debut with the band, drummer Mark Stutso came aboard after a lengthy stint with Jimmy Thackery. Adding his honeyed voice to the mix gives the group the versatility of switching between three distinctive lead singers and, with Bell's contributions, allows them to create some impressive harmony vocalizing.

They shuffle Elvis Presley's “Too Much” through the allay with Wenner blowing some high, reedy harp licks. “Who You're Workin' For” is a stark number memorable for Wenner's wiry vocal. Bell's hypnotic solo sets up Wenner, who's frenzied solo has him attempting to blow the reeds out of his harp. Castle takes the lead on his original, “Bring Your Sister”, a good-time rocker with brief, nimble solos from Wenner and Bell. There's a back-porch feel on “Damn Good Time” that stems from Stutso's trademark soulful vocal surrounded by sterling backing vocals.

“Night Work” is a gritty tribute to bands that earn their living on the road with Bell supplying some
 supple guitar. The band's aggressive approach on “Let's Work Together” combined with Stutso's impassioned plea for unity make this track a highlight. Wenner deftly navigates the swinging beat on “Smack Dab in the Middle” while Stutso's raw vocal and Bell's slinky slide guitar turn “Heartbreak Shake” into a barn-burner. They slow the pace for a languid rendition of “Send For Me”, a tune popularized by Nat King Cole. “Down to My Last Million Tears” crackles with energy from Stutso's emotionally-charged singing and slow-burn solos from Bell and Wenner.

With this release, the Nighthawks serve notice that they are ready, willing and able to build on their recent success. They continue to tap deep into the roots of the American music traditions, using their unrelenting devotion and impeccable craftsmanship to carry the day. This one delivers exactly what it promises, a “Damn Good Time!” - and comes highly recommended!

Late In The Lonely Night reviewed by David Stine

Late In The Lonely Night
Tommy McCoy
Earwig Music Company
11 tracks/41.06

Tommy McCoy spent time working with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Commander Cody before moving to Florida. Running into Michael Frank from Earwig proved fortuitous for both and thus this CD.

Although not earth shattering, “Late In The Lonely Night” is a solid outing for McCoy. Cut one, the title track introduced us to McCoy’s singing, songwriting and axe handling. You may not run out and tell all your friends about McCoy, but there is nothing here that is offensive or substandard. McCoy plays nice subdued guitar and knows how to float a tone with his voice. He also avoids many of the well-trod and predictable themes and rhymes in his lyrics. Song two, “Angle On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back” is a good example of what I’m talking about. Not a show boater, McCoy allows for some tasty piano and organ work in his songs. Karen Denham takes over vocals on cut three “I Never Should Have Listened” with McCoy adding the response –a nice touch. Cut four is a nice surprise: a reprise of the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now.” McCoy stays pretty true to the original arrangement only adding tasty guitar. “Space Master” is more of a guitar romp than great song but that’s OK. “Language Of Love” allows McCoy to get “sexy” with its staggered funky rhythms and female backup vocals. He may not be Barry White, but McCoy handles himself well on songs of this ilk. “Cars, Bars, And Guitars” kind of says it all. He spent it all on them. “Life’s Tides” is a love ballad that’s really outside the prevue of the blues genre and more suited to “entertainers” like John Davidson. I suppose McCoy is flexing the breadth of his songwriting here and I won’t attack him because so much of this CD is “blues.” “Dance Your Pants Off,” is a not-so-subtle double entender that, well, maybe was better left to the live McCoy show. Some will like it; others, like me will go URGH. “Treat Her Like A Lady” borrows again from The Cornelius Brothers and here is given more fire thanks to McCoy’s hot arrangement and guitar treatment. The last cut “My Guitar Won’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues” is kinda undercut by McCoy’s soul and pop wanderings, yet the blues is the basis for most of this CD.

All in all this a very listenable CD; the kind you would buy after seeing McCoy live. He sings well, plays well and avoids, for the most part, simplistic and cloying writing. McCoy also avoids the pitfalls of many bluesmen out there and limits his guitar playing to what is called for and no more. In a blues world packed with guitar heroes, McCoy’s adherence to “the old way” is very commendable. Give “Lonely Night” a listen.

Crazy Sun reviewed by Rick Davis

Crazy Sun
JT Coldfire
Entertainment One Music
13 Tracks

Another Texas guitar slinger has hit the blues scene. JT Coldfire, not really new to the blues world, has been playing professionally for over 15 years across the United States and Europe. Born in Corpus Christi in 1980, Coldfire became a blues fan at an early age. He has gained the reputation in the blues world of being one of the most dedicated musicians in Austin. JT has been known to play three shows a night, never repeating the same song in a nine hour stretch. His experience as a singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer has gained him recognition as one of the standouts of the new blues generation. He has been compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King, but has really developed a style all his own.

His previous CD title was Coldblooded released in 2010. JT has since released his most recent CD titled Crazy Sun, a superb collection of his riveting vocals combined with lightning and acoustic guitar styles. The CD also reflects a wide range of different blues tunes from acoustic style "Pistol Lead," "Lower The Ladder," "Mr. Jones," and "Sweet Little Isa" to the jazz piano style tune "She's Crazy." His versatile guitar style and songwriting changes with "White Collar Street Life" blending well with Banzai LARocca on harp. The title track "Crazy Sun," and the tune "I Won't Never Go" shows Coldfire's ability to tear up the fretboard much like the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. He includes the hard drivin' Texas style shuffle "No Time For Sleepin" midway through the CD. "Johnny's Gone," "Hangin' Tree", and "Lee Malone" best express JT's incredible versatility as both an accomplished singer and guitar player. He even includes the honky-tonk blues number "Bad Day" to add a little more variety to a captivating collection of blues.
Crazy Sun is one of those blues albums you simply can't stop playing. No two songs sound the same. You owe it to yourself to put JT Coldfire in your blues collection!

One Wrong Turn reviewed by Mark Thompson

One Wrong Turn
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Alligator Records
12 tracks:50:01

Holy harmonicas – the merry hipster of the blues is back with another intoxicating brew that contains equal parts humor, infectious rhythms and top-drawer musicianship. Rick Estrin has the coolest persona  in the blues world. Famed for his witty songwriting and mind-blowing harmonica playing, Estrin gets rock-solid support from his long-time rhythm section comprised of Lorenzo Farrell on bass and keyboards plus J. Hansen on drums. Guitarist Chris “Kid” Andersen has chops to spare and shows his versatility by making contributions on keyboards, bass and backing vocals.

Highlights abound as the band delivers one masterful performance after another. The opening track, “D.O.G.”, sports a slinky rhythm as Estrin takes a back-door man to task for his low-down ways, then emphasizes his feelings with a gut-busting harp solo. He is just as good on the chromatic harp on the forlorn tribute to the brokenhearted, “Callin' All Fools”. Farrell adds an extra later of flavor on the organ. Jack Sanford's sax spices up the New Orleans R&B groove on “Movin' Slow”, with more impeccable harp from the leader.

The organ-drenched “Broke and Lonesome” is a slow, worrying blues with Estrin's woeful tale underscored by Andersen's jagged guitar lines that burn with bone-chilling intensity. Hansen takes over the lead vocal on the rocked-out “You Ain't the Boss of Me” wit Andersen adopting a shimmering guitar tone that recalls the legendary Lonnie Mack. Estrin is alone in the spotlight on “Old News”, his stark lamentation on life's contradictions set off by a foot-stomping' beat and his dazzling harp playing. The focus shifts to Anderson on “The Legend of Taco Cobbler”, a breakneck surf guitar rave-up that shifts through musical genres as fast as Andersen's fingers fly up and down the fretboard. The title cut renders a cautionary warning about life's shifting currents while “Desperation Perspiration” establishes a funky mode while Estrin's wry humor details  some issues associated with man's desperate pursuit of women.

The track that has already attracted plenty of attention is “(I Met Her On The) Blues Cruise” ( go to the Alligator website to watch the hilarious video for this song). It's a side-splitting tale of a late-night rendezvous on the high seas derailed by the woman's unusual collection of tattoos. The horn section of Doug James on sax and Chris Barnes on trumpet add to the merriment while Estrin and Andersen trade licks on a track that will delight anyone who has been a part of the blues Cruise experience.

You end up with a perfect balance between the band's flamboyant style and their off-the-hook instrumental prowess. The unique talents of the leader gives the band a decided edge. Devoid of a weak moment or false sentiment, this release makes it abundantly clear that Rick Estrin and the Nightcats are one of the premier bands on the blues tour circuit. Don't miss this one!

Cotton Field of Dreams reviewed by Mark Thompson

Cotton Field of Dreams
Albert Bashor
Earwig Music Co.
14 tracks/57:59

It took nineteen years but Albert Bashor finally has a recording out on Earwig Records, Michael Frank's label. The two had discussed the possibility of working together in 1993 when Bashore
 was a member of the acoustic duo 32-20. But the plans never came to fruition and Bashore went on to a career that ranged from playing drums for Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band to doing session work for blues producer Bob Greenlee at his King Snake studio.

The setlist is comprised of original material by Bashor, who handles the lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar. One song, “Rockin' Red Rooster”, was recorded by Lonnie Brooks for his Alligator release Roadhouse Rules. The songwriter's version features Forrest Rodgers on slide guitar and Ron Holloway on tenor sax with Bill Payne of Little Feat fame adding some spice on piano. Payne switches to organ on “Tater Diggin' Woman”, creating a funky mode for Bashor's exuberant vocal. “So Blue” features a sultry duet with Bashor sharing the spotlight with Shay Jones on a acoustic number that displays some jazz influences, a point driven home by Holloway's blistering solo.

On the title track, Bashor makes an attempt to imagine the thoughts of early bluesmen has they struggled to plot a way out of the back-breaking manual associated with King Cotton. The dark, harrowing tone generates the appropriate backdrop for Bashor's melancholic singing. The leader gives listeners a glimpse of his storytelling skill on “Poodle Ribs Story”, guaranteed to give you pause the next time you contemplate ordering some BBQ. The associated song has a jaunty rhythm and more fine work from Holloway.

Some of the tracks have a strong musical foundation but suffer from generic lyrics. The opener, “Jukin' Down on Johnson Street”, has Bashor looking back seventy-five years to the day David “Honeyboy” Edwards first met Robert Johnson. But the promising storyline line never really goes anywhere with the second verse simply a roll-call of famous blues singers. The band digs into “Fetch Me”, with rocker Pat Travers delivering a meaty solo. But the repetitive lyrics diminish the impact despite Bashor's energetic attempt to make them relevant. “No Place Like Home” is a travelogue that mentions the familiar spots like New Orleans, Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. Bashor regains his footing on the humorous “Seeing Eye Dog Blues”, featuring some outstanding country blues harp from Michael Frank.

Three songs - “One Last Time”, “High On Your Love” and “Lucky Man” - are love songs that fall into a gentler folk-rock vein. I found myself picturing Ricky Nelson – Garden Party era - singing the first tune. Nothing wrong with the performances but they are a marked departure from the rest of the cuts.

Besides the previously mentioned musicians, additional help comes from Mike McConnell on guitars, Larry Jacoby on bass and Willie Hayes on drums. The varied, well-played program shows that Albert Bashor refuses to be plugged into some narrow stylistic vein. Time will tell how listeners will respond to this solid representation of his musical vision.