Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Between Time reviewed by Harmonica Joe

In Between Time 
Al Miller Chicago Blues Band
Delmark Records
17 tracks/72:41 

Al Miller’s, “In Between Time”, released by Delmark Records, was recorded in 1999 and originally released in 2000. Miller is an outstanding harmonica player, singer and guitarist who has been playing Chicago style blues since the 1960’s. In the past he has moved to California, returned to Chicago, left the music scene to raise a family then came back to the blues scene with the release of “Wild Card”. Then after several years with health problems he came back and recorded “In Between Time”. The play list for this project includes relatively lesser known tunes by BB King, Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor and Walter Jacobs. Also added to the list are 5 songs written by Miller which make this CD over 73 minutes of strong Chicago style blues.

Miller has a large group of very talented musicians, that we are all aware of and embrace,  joining him for this recording. “In Between Time” features Billy Flynn, Dave Specter, John Primer as well as Miller playing guitar. Harlan Terson takes on the job of bass player for most tracks while Barrelhouse Chuck and Ken Saydak are at the piano while Willie and Kenny Smith and Mike Schick share the drum rolls on different tracks. All this plus several other fine musicians just enhance Al Miller’s ability with the harmonica, guitar and vocals. This man presents his music with much feeling and a great feel for his love of the blues.

“In Between Time” is a strong example of Miller’s tune writing and ability to sing some real slow Chicago blues. The lyrics tell us the possibilities of life that may come to us. Al states “In between times of sickness and in health, darkness and light, when shadows capture the night and when I don’t know right from wrong”. These are all examples that state that we all have a lot going on in our life. Miller on guitar along with Billy Flynn’s slide guitar is really a treat for the ears. Joe Filisko steps this tune up a notch by playing his style of electric harp while the addition of the piano (I do not know who plays here) really makes this tune a hit. Johnny Young’s tune,  “ I Got It”, is a swell instrumental tune showcasing Miller on the harmonica. Al plays with strong tone and a feeling for the mood of the tune. Ken Saydak shows off his stuff on the piano as Billy Flynn solo’s away on the guitar. This track is like a full blown blues jam highlighting the massive talent of these musicians on “In Between Time”.

Al plays his great style of harp on the cover of Willie Dixon’s “Dead presidents”. With John Primer singing the vocals and the saxophones of Berry Winograd and John Brumbach plus Harlan Terson and Mike Schlick leading the way, Miller is allowed to treat the ears to a swell harmonica solo. Also, if you have never heard of a tune called “1839” by Elmore James you will enjoy listening to it. John Primer again sings the lyrics and play guitar while Miller stands out on the harp. This tune has it all as blues tunes go.

With 17 solid tracks and almost 74 minutes of awesome Chicago style blues on “In Between Time” it is very easy to recommend that you take the time to check out the music of Al Miller and the Chicago Blues Band. Miller does not allow himself to change the blues to fit into something other than what they should be. He and the band are a true example of what the Chicago blues are.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Cell Phone Man reviewed by Mark Thompson

Cell Phone Man
Willie Buck
Delmark Records
17 tracks/59:31

Veteran singer Willie Buck adds another chapter to the resurgence of his career with a recording that builds on the momentum generated by his 2010 release on Delmark Records, The Life I Love. His latest mixes seven original songs with a variety of covers that include five written by Buck's greatest influence, the legendary Muddy Waters. After raising his family and supporting them primarily as an auto mechanic, Buck is ready to share his talents with a wider audience. He did make an occasional club appearance over the last three decades but only the most die-hard blues fans had ever heard of him, let alone actually heard him singing live or on record.

If it is true that we are judged by the company we keep, Buck scores high marks for the outstanding group of musicians that help him out on this project. Every one of them is well-versed in the traditional Chicago electric style, starting with the twin guitars of Rockin' Johnny Burgin (who co-produced the disc with Delmark’s Steve Wagner) and Rick Kreher (who played in Muddy Waters’ band). Barrelhouse Chuck Goering studied with all of the great Chicago blues piano players and his playing testifies to the fact that he learned his lessons well. The rhythm section of John Sefner on bass and Steve Bass on drums is rock-solid. Bharath Rajakumar and Martin Lang may not be names that spring to mind when you think about harp players, but both offer proof that they deserve wider recognition.

Buck's voice rings out loud and clear throughout the disc -- gritty one moment before slipping into a soulful lament the next. His feelings of resignation are apparent on the opener, “Doin' Good and Bad at the Same Time” while the title track finds him attempting to incorporate modern technology in his pursuit of a love interest. Other originals like “I Want My Baby” and “Two Women Talking” find Buck applying new lyrics to familiar blues progressions. He sings with unerring frankness on the first tune while Barrelhouse Chuck's hands dance across the keyboard. The second number finds Lang and Goering weaving together rich fills behind Buck's powerful voice.

The longest cut, “Strange Woman” is the first of the Muddy Water's tunes that the band tackles. Buck adopts some of his mentor's vocal qualities, Rajakumar wails on his harp and Burgin impresses with his distinctive guitar playing. Goering’s spirited efforts on “Going Down Main Street” are another highlight, followed by Buck's emotionally-charged rendition of “Streamline Woman”. Burgin switches to acoustic guitar for a stripped-down version of “Two Trains Running” that keeps the focus on Buck's raw voice. A second acoustic track, “I Wanna Talk to My Baby”, is in a similar vein with another potent effort from the singer. The disc closes on a high note as once again the band unites as a tight ensemble behind Buck for a hearty run-through of “Blow Wind Blow”.

Add this one to recent recordings from Mud Morganfield and Taildragger that show there is still plenty of life left in the old-school styles, especially when the music is entrusted to musicians with a deep love of the roots. Willie Buck understands because he was there back in the 1950s, experiencing the power of Muddy Waters, and other pioneers, live in the flesh. He honors their legacy with this unembellished update that never strays from the traditional sound – and is well worth a listen.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues Beyond the Borders; Live In Istanbul reviewed by Rick Davis

Blues Beyond the  Borders
Live In Istanbul
Mitch Woods
VizzTone Label Group
21 Tracks

Mitch Woods and Rocket 88s have delivered music that transcends cultural boundaries as they embarked on their recent five week trip to the Republic of Turkey. Blues Beyond Borders–Live In Istanbul, resulted from a live recording at the Efes Blues Festival, October, 2010. The Vizztone label made the CD/DVD combo possible for release, selecting this memorable show, which was one of twenty-six shows in twenty cities over this five-week period. Mitch Woods, the New Orleans style boogie woogie piano man from California, with his booming vocals and all-star band, keep the crowd entertained with a retrospective collection of Mitch Woods classics and cover songs from a vault of treasures.

The Rocket 88′s absolutely radiate with Amadee Castenell on sax and background vocals, Cornell Williams on bass and vocals, Adam Gabriel on guitar and background vocals, and Larry Vann on drums. The CD/DVD combo share Mitch Woods tunes "Solid Gold Cadillac," "Mojo Mambo," "Boogie Woogie Bar-B-Q" "Queen Bee," and "Long Lean & Lanky." Other common cover songs include "I Got A New Car" written by Erin "Big Boy" Groves, Jr., "What Can I Do" by Roy Milton, Rene Leon's "Crawfishin'," the Henry Glover and Fred Weismental tune "Down Boy Down," the Eddie Boyd and Willie Dixon classic "Third Degree," Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88," Roy Byrd's "In The Night/Lambaya Puf De" (an American and Turkish tune combined), and the closing track, the old time boogie woogie classic "House Of Blue Lights" written by Don Raye and Freddie Slack. The DVD includes videos of their journey, exploring the Republic of Turkey, the culture, adventures on the road with the Kenny Neal band, Turkish Independence Day at Izmir, introduction of the Pozitif Crew, and a slide show of the scenes from Turkey. 

Mitch Woods remarks about the reception they received throughout the country. The Istanbul concert was filled with predominantly young college age fans. With Wood's charisma, he brought the house down during the concert. Founded in 1989, Pozitif, based in Istanbul, Turkey, is an independent leader in music dedicated to bringing a wide range of music to audiences with the following mission statement: "changing the way people perceive life through music." Judging from the response of the audience, this mission statement was met. Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88s are truly ambassadors of the blues. This tour really brought the two countries together using the common tread of music, proving the real emotional power of the blues.

Review by Rick Davis

Live Blues Protected By Smith & Wilson reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Live Blues Protected By Smith & Wilson
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson
Bluestrom Records
12 tracks/66:23

“Live Blues Protected By Smith & Wilson” is a read deal acoustic blues CD featuring two outstanding blues artist. The late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, long time drummer for the Muddy Waters Band, plays blues harmonica as well as giving us his vocal take on blues tunes that we all know. Joining him on this live show recording is Roger “Hurricane” Wilson. Roger is a very proficient finger picking guitar player as well as being very capable of carry out vocal duties on several tunes. Both musicians on this CD write very interesting and heartfelt lyrics on several tracks also. The 12 tracks on this recording are a mix of Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo tunes as well as Smith and Wilson songs. There is something for everyone mixed into this CD. These songs all feature both artists doing their best blues vocally and instrumentally.

Opening the set with Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To The Blind”, “Big Eyes” blows solid blues harp with great feeling and  timing as well as inserting his own style to honor previous masters of the harmonica. His vocals also have their own qualities which have that certain roughness and grittiness that we want to hear with the blues. Roger shuffles along with his guitar picking his way down the blues highway with Willie. This is an ear opening tune that takes us into the world of real acoustic blues. Willie’s “Born In Arkansas” is an upbeat tune with more awesome harmonica playing which shows a different dimension of his harp style. Willie states, “I was born in Arkansas,  raised on a country farm and had to work my way up North to make good.”  This is the blues. Wilson also plays some strong finger picking guitar for us.

“You Do Your Job” is a fun tongue in cheek song written by Roger Wilson. He states that he has been doing his job for a long time and that I don’t tell you how to do yours, so don’t tell me how to do mine.”Big Eyes” chugs along on harp as Roger is picking his guitar. The harmonica solos on this track are very interesting as well as unique. This is a real strong tune on the CD. A favorite track on this recording is “Dreamin’” which is an instrumental featuring Willie’s chromatic harmonica talent. This is a real deep slow blues number played with strong emotion and great tone as well as timing. This is a track for you harp fans to listen to. “Hurricane” rides along on this one on his guitar paving the way for Big Eyes’ blues. This is really a strong tune for the CD.

With tunes such as “Scratch My Back”, “Can’t Be Satisfied”, and “Long Distance Call” included on the play list as well as tunes from both Wilson and Smith this is a CD to be listened to over and over. Both of these blues artists brought their own take and feelings to all of these tunes making them stand out even more.  For acoustic blues fans and blues fans not really familiar with them, “Live Blues Protected By Smith & Wilson” is a powerful recording to listen to. This live show is truly a hit and a great tribute to Willie Big Eyes” Smith. Thanks to Roger “Hurricane” Smith for putting this recording together and preserving it for all of us blues fans.  www.cdbaby  or www.hurricanewilson for CD.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

The Road To Mississippi reviewed by Harmonica Joe

The Road To Mississippi
J.P. Reali
Reali Records
12 tracks/35:29

J.P. Reali is an outstanding example of a very talented resonator slide guitar blues artist.  For over 30 years he has shaped and nurtured his music while playing several genres of music. During this period he also developed his vocal skill as well as a strong lyric writing ability. He has won several music honors over the years also. He was the winner of the DC Blues Society’s Battle of the Bands category in both 2010 and 2011. “The Road To Mississippi” is Reali’s third blues album to be released. All of the tracks on the CD were written by J.P. except for “Jefferson Lament” penned by Chris Reali and “The Book Or The Bottle” by J.P. and Chris. All of these songs have good lyrics in them. Joining Reali on this recording are Pete Regusa playing drums on 2 tracks, John Previtti on upright bass on 1 track and Mark Wenner (Nighthawks) playing harp on 4 tracks. Other than these musicians Realli does a fine job as a solo blues artist for the rest of the CD.

“Jefferson Lament” quickly lets us know that we are about to hear some serious country acoustic blues. Realli gives us a large dose of powerful resonator guitar playing as he does a great job on vocals while adding a thought provoking field holler for the lyrics. There is some swell call and response with the vocals and guitar here. “Time to get your boots on, it’s time for work” starts the tale of the workers enduring tough times in the fields. J.P. seems to bring this tale to life for us as he performs.  Chris Realli did a fine job writing this tune.  It is refreshing to hear someone play the really old style acoustic blues as well and heartfelt as well as J.P. Realli does. This style of playing seems to be a dying form of the blues. We should not be willing to let it be hidden away or just disappear. This is where the blues came from.

Besides the serious blues that Reali takes us to, there is also a lighter side of the blues from him. With tune such as “Biscuit Baking Mama”, featuring Mark Wenner on harp, and “Cold Steel Blues” we are in a happier place of blues. These tunes definitely show a good, free and loose side of Reali’s music style. You may want to take time to listen both his finger picking and slide work on the resonator guitar. This is some really good stuff.

“The Road To Mississippi” is easy to listen to, memorable and grabs at our senses as to what the blues are all about.  Except for the fact that the opening and closing instrumentals are just a short tease of J.P.’s guitar playing and should have great stand alone tracks on the CD, there is nothing bad about “The Road To Mississippi.” Being only about 36 minutes in length we are left hanging wanting more J.P Reali’s blues.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe Poluyanskis

Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey) reviewed by Mark Thompspn

Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey)
Mighty Sam McClain
City Hall Records
14 tracks/48:27

When he first came to prominence in the 60's, Mighty Sam McClain joined a long line of talented soul and blues singers like Solomon Burke and Bobby “Blue” Bland. He scored a major hit with a cover of Patsy Cline's “Sweet Dreams” along with several records that made a dent in the charts. But McClain wasn't able to keep things rolling along and he eventually slid into a hand-to-mouth, homeless existence until the Neville Brothers reached out a helping hand and started McClain on the road recovery. Since 192, the singer has released more than a dozen recordings that consistently garnered effusive critical praise and numerous blues award nominations.

His latest project continues the winning combination of McClain's passionate vocals complimented by his razor-sharp band that excels at a variety of styles. The band's leader, guitarist Pat Herlehy, wrote all of the arrangements and collaborated on the horn charts with sax player Scott Shetler. Herlehy is a multi-talented musician as witnessed by his contributions on tenor sax, flute, Clavinet, Hammond B-3, and percussion. He also co-wrote all but one song with McClain. The other band members include Chad Owen on bass, Rick Page on drums, Joe Deleault on keyboards, Russell Jewell on trombone and Grayson Farmer on trumpet.

McClain has always had a creative vision that allows him to concoct engrossing frameworks for his on-going exploration of of the familiar themes of love, loss, God and maintaining a caring spirit. The funky “Rock My Soul” finds McClain excitedly expounding about his new love interest. Herlehy's taut guitar opens “Stand Up” over a strong horn chart before McClain issues to rousing proclamation for everyone to reach out a helping hand. “Wake Up Call” centers on  the need to get things right before God's return. As you listen, notice the expert phrasing McClain utilizes as he easily switches from a sweet plea to a gritty shout without missing a beat.

Other highlights include the riveting ballad, “Tears”, with McClain making a stark plea for forgiveness with special guest Conchetta on backing vocals and “Real Thing”, which McClain wrote with Allen Toussaint that is sparked by some muscular sax from Shetler. The title song is potent admission that a measured approach is best in all things. Equally fine is the swaying rhythm on “I Wish You Well” and McClain's sorrowful confession regarding the end of a relationship on “ Missing You”. Even a generic number like “Dance” will have you up and moving in short order as the band sets up an infectious groove.

Mighty Sam has not lost a thing over the years. He remains perhaps the finest living soul singer from a by-gone era. And don't be put off by the religious references. McClain is one of those vocalists that could sing the phone book and make it exciting. With the support of his fine cast of backing musicians, he has fashioned another in a long line of soul/blues gems. Definitely recommended!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson


It Ain't Easy reviewed by Rick Davis

It Ain't Easy 
Corey Lueck and the Smoke Wagon Blues Band
Self Released
15 Tracks

Canada produces some of the finest blues artists in the blues world. Names like Colin James, Powder Blues, Jeff Healy, The Downchild Blues Band, and contemporary artists like Sue Foley and JW-Jones have become prominent figures connected with the blues scene.

Flying under the radar since 1997, the Southern Ontario group Corey Lueck and The Smoke Wagon Blues Band has released their third CD It Ain’t Easy. Of the 15 tracks, Corey has co-written all but one with the guitarist Mike Stubbs. The cover song on the CD is the slow blues tune "Ain't No Use" by Rudy Stevenson, featuring a superb piano performance from Jesse O'Brien and equally good guitar riffs from Mike Stubbs. The rest of the songs are all original tunes played by a seasoned group of blues veterans. Corey's vocals have that gritty, smoky, raw sound of Joe Cocker or Murali Coryell.

The steady rollin' tune "Devil Got My Woman," the funky original "Drinking Hard And Steady,"  and New Orleans tempered song "Tongue Tied" feature superb cameo performances on saxophone by Gordon Aeichele. Aeichele also has solo saxophone spots with a complete horn section background on "Fine Furred Momma." "Where Did I Go Wrong" is a special treat, featuring the sweet vocals of Robin Banks complimenting the entire band. Guitar solos, keyboards, harp, in addition to the full horn section of the Kingston St. Quartet, make "Down Hearted Blues" one of the standouts on the album. Lueck blends both vocals and harp into a slow, symphonic background on the tune "Hold On To You." "Josephine" is a blend of funk, with the ambience of the delta created with a dobro guitar from Mike Stubbs. The tongue-in-cheek "Hen House Hopping" is a little more on the lighter, humorous side. "That Voodoo" will find you deep in bayou, this time with Robin Banks and Corey Lueck sharing the vocals on this swamp blues track. The title track "It Ain't Easy," "Some Other Fool," and "Damaged Time" are a slower tunes with smoother vocals about a relationship in the past. It Ain’t Easy concludes with a very roots sounding tune with Mike Stubbs again on the dobro guitar and Corey wailing on his harmonica, echoing blues artists Moreland and Arbuckle.

After listening to this CD, you will find Corey Lueck to be a very accomplished harp player with a perfect, whiskey soaked blues voice. It offers a multitude of blues styles created by an all-star cast of Canadian artists.

Review by Rick Davis

Thirteen reviewed by Harmonica Joe


Willie May

Booman Records

10 tracks/40:44

Willie May's new CD, “Thirteen”, is a very intriguing recording. It is the 13th CD to be released by this very talented guitarist, singer, song writer and performer. Over the years he has played at many types of venues including bars, festivals, concert halls and even Attica prison. Willie's music can also be heard on blues radio stations in Europe, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and back to Buffalo N.Y. At this time “Thirteen” is on the NY Roots Music (blues) list at #10 and the Roots Music Report at # 34. Willie infuses roots, country and some reggae - Cajun in with his blues. Besides playing dobro and guitar on the recording we are also treated to the different sounds off a kalimba and acarina.

Performing along with May on “Thirteen” are Doug Yeomans on guitar, Evan Laedke with piano and organ, Jim Whitford playing upright bass and Josh Meyers and Randy Bolam sharing the drum tracks. The mix of sound on the CD is also enriched by the addition of Kevin Espinosa playing harmonica, Leeron Zydeco's accordion and several background singers. All of this group together make for a strong lineup on this CD. Yes, we have a lot to listen to and for with “Thirteen”.

The cover art work may just scare the heck out of you if you think about it. You can just take it for what it is or read what you feel like into it. With tunes such as “”Dealin' with the Devil”, “Devil's Daughter” and “I'm a Tragedy” the mind may wander freely on the subject. “Dealin' with the Devil” is a strong example of Willie's fine dobro playing ability. This track features some really powerful sounds from the instrument and is good to listen to. May's has a rough, unpolished, gritty nature in his vocals (not being derogatory here) that just enhances the quality of his blues. He does sing with much emotion and feelings for the lyrics that he has written. He tells us that “you can't outrun the devil” and telling the devil that you've got Heaven on your side. This tune is a story that we should listen to.

“Smile” takes us to a more upbeat place with  a down south Cajun type tune. Infused into the lyrics we hear Willie playing electric guitar featuring a real strong solo. This is another solid track from “Thirteen”. “I'm a Tragedy” is a bluesy, rock almost Rollin' Stone type tune. “Take a look at me. I'm a tragedy”, Take a good look, I was once like you” tells us of the trials of life to look out for. Willie seems to have taken the time and effort to write lyrics with meaning and the strength to make us listen to them. Every track on this CD is different, easy to listen to and make one feel like you are on a musical adventure.

Willie May and his recording, “Thirteen”, are both unique and interesting. May's is a talented guitarist, writer and singer who has place his heart and feelings into his music. He seems to be willing to venture anywhere to tell his stories with his music. “Thirteen” may go in many directions as far as being an all out blues recording but it still remains as a fine example of good music to listen to.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe