Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas for Wounded Veterans - Vol. 2 reviewed by Mark Thompson

Christmas for Wounded Veterans - Vol. 2
Westchester All Stars and Friends
15 tracks/

With the holiday season upon us, we will soon be inundated with the usual overdose of holiday music that seems to crop up everywhere. If you’d like a break from the standard holiday fare, this project from singer Bill Edwards and friends deserves some attention. Edwards dedicates the disc to his father, a veteran who served in WWII and the Korean War on the USS New Jersey battleship. Edwards Sr. passed away before the project was completed. Proceeds from the CD sales will be donated to numerous veteran organizations.

The all-original program is one reason why this disc merits consideration. Edwards had a hand in writing five tunes and takes the lead vocal over the funky strut the band lays down on “Santa’s Gonna Fly”. His duet with Jessica Lynn on “Celebrating Christmas” injects a touch of heartbreak into the holiday mood as the pair shares their feelings in the aftermath of a divorce. Edwards alter persona – Big Willy WE – brings the hip-hop spirit to “Love and Family” with backing from The Funky Herd on a tune that gets to heart of what the season is really about.

Edwards adds a touching vocal to “Santa I’m Writing this Letter”, written from the perspective of a young boy asking Santa to bring his Mom home safely from the war. Former major league baseball star Bernie Williams accompanies him on guitar. Another special guest, Earl Slick, once backed up David Bowie. He fires off a feisty guitar solo on “Presents”, a hard-driving number with Edwards blowing some fine harp.

“Rockin’ Soul Christmas” is just that, a powerful horn section blasting away behind Jon Cobert’s boisterous singing. Equally memorable is Eden Riegel’s bright tribute to man with the presents, “Oh Santa (We Love You)”, again with the horns filling out the arrangement. Tom Dudley – the Blues Buddha- takes over “Santa Claus is Comin’ Tonight” with a powerful voice that dominates the guitar-driven tune that rocks with a vengeance. The mood shifts to a sultry, jazzy vein as Duchess Di announces on “Twelve Santa Babies” that she wants more than one Santa this year, with Dave Keyes helping out on piano.

“Christmas Prayer (It’s in the Giving)” sounds like a traditional hymn that quickly becomes a highlight once Chuck St. Troy wraps his wondrous voice around the lyrics. Mia Staton’s “little girl” voice on “Hey Hey Santa” is a perfect fit for a cute song that has a youngster reflecting on the quality of their life.  The Renovators bring an easy-rolling feel to “Old Fashion Christmas Eve” while Johnny Feds & Da Bluez Boyz closes the disc with the sinister roadhouse shuffle “Bad Case of the Christmas Blues”.

There is plenty to enjoy on this project that examines the holiday season from a variety of heartfelt perspectives utilizing a variety of musical styles. Many of the artists involved will gather on Friday, December 6, at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, NY for a gala concert that honors our nation’s veterans. Once again, the proceeds will be donated to help our wounded soldiers get the care they deserve.

You can lend a hand by purchasing a copy of the CD through the website and let Edwards & the Westchester All Stars brighten up your holiday season with this fine collection.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dangerous reviewed by Mark Thompson

Sugaray Rayford
Delta Groove Music, Inc.
14 tracks/67:48

In a June posting on Facebook, Randy Chortkoff, owner of Delta Groove Music, mentioned being in the final stages of mixing the tracks for an upcoming release and added, “…by far the best album I’ve produced to date.” His ringing endorsement was directed at the label’s first solo effort from singer Caron “Sugaray” Rayford, who garnered acclaim for his contributions to the award-winning Mannish Boys Double Dynamite project. Chortkoff was so impressed by Rayford’s talent that he made the decision to give the singer featured billing in the group.

Many artists would fade into the woodwork while recording with top-rank blues veterans like Kim Wilson, Sugar Ray Norcia, Monster Mike Welch, Kid Andersen, Anthony Geraci and Fred Kaplan on keyboards, Willie J. Campbell and Bill Stuve on bass with Jimi Bott on drums. Rayford sounds right at home; his mighty voice riding any rhythm the all-star aggregation throws at him. He never overplays his hand, proving to be equally adept at rendering a downhome blues or letting his voice ring out on an up-tempo barnburner.

“Country Boy” bursts out of the gate with Rayford’s dynamic vocal commanding your attention. Taking his time on Pee Wee Crayton’s “When It Rains It Pours”, Rayford generates a slow-burning heat that contrasts nicely with Franck Goldwasser’s fluid guitar picking. One of Rayford’s originals, “Stuck for a Buck”, has him taking a bemused look at his precarious financial status with Rob Dziubla doubling on tenor and baritone sax plus Mark Pender on trumpet. Norcia joins the host for a duet on “Two Times Sugar” as the duo slides effortlessly through a celebration of their good lovin’ ways.

Chortkoff penned two of the highlights. “Goin’ Back to Texas” gives Rayford the chance to slow the pace while waxing nostalgic over the land where he grew up. Kim Wilson’s harp echoes the singer’s every move and Goldwasser adds to the country-inflected feel with some biting slide guitar. Wilson’s harmonica mastery is on full display on “Surrendered”, establishing the moody atmosphere while Rayford utilizes a gritty edge with his meticulous phrasing to testify to power of the human spirit.

The enormous depth of the singer’s voice is showcased on “Depression Blues” and Junior Parker’s “In the Dark”, capturing your attention over the combined weight of the horns and Andersen’s distinctive fretwork. On the latter cut, Chortkoff gives listeners a taste of his reed-bending skills. Another Rayford original, “Need a Little More Time”, has a stripped-down acoustic arrangement with Goldwasser on a National Steel guitar supporting the singer as he pleads for some relief from life’s pressures.

The tougher side of Rayford’s nature comes out on “I’m Dangerous” and “I Might Do Somethin’ Crazy”, the second cut a Wolf-like primal declaration of warning ignited by Andersen’s scorching licks. “Keep Her Home” sports a raging boogie beat with Big Pete on harmonica. Rayford finishes with “Preaching Blues”, a song from Son House. His forceful interpretation, over Goldwasser’s dancing slide guitar runs, highlights one last time the power of his voice in addition to his uncanny ability to capture the emotional heart of each song.

One listen to this recording makes it clear that Chortkoff wasn’t indulging in some form hyperbole with his praise for Dangerous. This disc is full of scintillating performances, particularly from the big man pictured on the cover. It took a while for Sugaray to get to this point in his career. It was time well spent as he is in full command of his voice, delivering one stirring moment after another on a disc that will undoubtedly receive plenty of attention come awards time. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Account to Me reviewed by Mark Thompson

Account to Me
Hank Mowery
Old Pal Records
10 tracks/38:12

This recording revives the legacy of the late Gary Primich, a brilliant harp player, exciting singer and skilled songwriter. Hank Mowery has always had a deep respect for Primich and his music. In recent years, Mowery has developed a friendship with JV & Darsha Primich, Gary’s parents, who came to him to suggest making a recording that would include a handful of Gary’s songs. Two of the songs had never been recorded. JV had found them among Gary’s personal effects.

Mowery is a fine choice for the project. His smooth vocal style easily captures the essence of the Primich sound, as you can hear on “Put the Hammer Down”. Troy Amaro lays down a swinging guitar line that is full of twist & turns while Mowery blows some country-style blues harp. On  “My Home” , Mowery once again treats us to some dynamic harp playing while Amaro again impresses with a succinct, flowing solo with Junior Valentine on rhythm guitar. Primich incorporated elements of jazz into his material and the band shows they can nail that style on “Pray for a Cloudy Day”, with Mowery’s resonant voice riding the mellow shuffle beat.

The title track is the first of the unrecorded songs. Mowery’s soulful singing grabs at your heartstrings as he pours out his plea for honesty while John Large on drums and Patrick Recob on bass & acoustic guitar lay down an understated rhythm while Chris Corey adds some piano accents, making this track a definite highlight. Corey’s rolling, New Orleans-style piano is featured on “Tricky Game”, the second new tune. Mowery utilizes a reflective vocal tone to ponder to intricacies of human relationships.

The rousing opener, “Spend a Little Time”, is a Mowery original that mixes Corey’s acoustic piano with a distorted Wurlitzer electric piano, creating a hard-driving sound devoid of guitars. Mowery blows up a storm on his harp, then goes deep into the traditional style on another original, “If I Knew What I Know”, a gut-bucket blues full of outstanding reed-bending from the leader.  Mowery and Corey on organ shine on the instrumental “Banana Oil” while Recob handles the singing on one of his songs, “Target”, a chilling portrayal of a down-bound life punctuated by the thick tones Mowery pulls from his harp.

Rev. Robert Wilkin’s “That’s No Way to Get Along” gets an acoustic performance featuring Jimmy Stagger on vocal &National resonator guitar with Mowery pulling train sounds out of his harp. It is a fitting ending for this fine recording that reminds us of Gary Primich’s talent while serving as Hank Mowery’s coming out party. Make sure that you check this one out. Between the powerful material, Mowery’s inspired performances and the strong ensemble work from the band, there is plenty to enjoy through repeat listens. Strongly recommended!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson


Birds Above Guitarland reviewed by Mark Thompson

Birds Above Guitarland
Pete Anderson
Little Dog Records
11 tracks/43:03

There are a lot of great musicians that most people have never heard or heard about. It is rare to be a musician that most people have heard without realizing who they are listening to. Pete Anderson falls into that category. He is a household name despite the fact that he spent seventeen playing guitar for country superstar Dwight Yoakam, appearing on recordings that sold millions of copies. Anderson also helped with the arrangements and production as the duo brought the traditional twang back to country music.

But Anderson loves blues music, a passion that started when he attended the 1968 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. Hearing Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf created an indelible impression on the young musician. Since he left Yoakam’s band, Anderson has been cutting solo records that find him digging deep into the music that once captured his heart.

On his latest, Anderson handles the vocals and guitar parts in addition to playing bass, harmonica and percussion. Michael Murphy plays keyboards. Key bass, strings and adds some harmony vocals. Five different drummers are used with Herman Matthews appearing on five tracks. The horn section is comprised of Lee Thornberg on trumpet, French horn & trombone plus Ron Dzibula on saxophones.

With the horns urging him own, Anderson shows he learned plenty of lessons from T-Bone Walker on the smoldering “I Got Mine”, laying down a magnificent guitar full of deft improvisation. He delivers a gripping confession on “Rock in My Shoe”, his voice full of heartache. The horns ride the loose-limbed rhythm on “36 Hour Day” as Anderson provides another brief glimpse at his prodigious guitar skills. He stretches out a bit on “Talkin’ Bout Lonely”, mixing blue notes with his trademark twang in a solo of mesmerizing beauty.

“Red Sunset Blues” comes across as a Duane Eddy meets the spaghetti western soundtrack with a little surf action thrown in to keep things interesting. And right in the middle is another guitar solo full of exciting twists and turns. Murphy turns an equally interesting jazz-influenced solo on piano. Anderson breaks out the shuffle rhythm on “Outta The Fire”, his voice taking on a harder edge over the blaring horns. His meticulous phrasing is highlighted on the swinging “Talkin’ My Baby Done” as he wrings pure magic out of his instrument. Jake Maeby’s swirling organ chords set a moody tone on “For You”. Anderson twists a haunting solo out of his fretboard over an arrangement with a hint of reggae.

Things shift south to Louisiana on “Empty Everything” with Anderson crying the blues accompanied by Dennis Gurwell on accordion and Steve Nelson on upright bass. The bonus track at the end of the disc is a reprise of “Rock in My Shoe”, this time with the soulful Bekka Bramlett on lead vocal. Her stirring performance points out Anderson’s limits as a singer. But his calling card is his inventive guitar playing. He never overplays or falls victim to the “faster-louder” school of indulgence. He succinct solos avoid clich├ęs in favor of refreshing, playful that leave wanting to hear more. And that is reason enough to check out this little gem!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

Mule reviewed by Steve Jones


Port City Prophets
Self released
10 tracks

I try not to prejudge a CD by it’s cover.  Just like a book, you don’t really know what’s inside until you listen.  Well, I set myself up with this CD.  A huge mule nostril stares at you on the cover of this CD and I must say I had low expectations.  When I played it, things rapidly changed.

The band starts out with a driving swing song called “Close Your Eyes.”  Stinging guitar, great lyrics and vocals and a big back beat told me maybe I should not have pre-judged this.  When the slide guitar lit off to open “Jesus Saved My Soul But…” I knew  that  certainly had been hasty.  A gritty, slow and mean  slide song with equally dirty vocals.  The “but” is that, “Jesus Saved my soul, but my money belongs to my wife.  It’s a good thing that heaven’s free because that lady she sure is tight.”  Tim Kirkendall’s testifying and Troy Tolie’s guitar made me a believer.  Maybe mule nostrils aren’t so bad...what a cut!

Organ work added by Bill Nance takes us a little bit to church as “I Already Know” begins.  A slow and quiet song that builds and build so well, it really displays soul-felt emotions. “Mule In A One Horse Town” is some rocking blues.  More grit and dirt in the vocals and a big guitar and organ sound make this one really sweet.  “When The Lights go Down in St. Louis” may hearken back to bassist and vocalist Tim Kirkendall’s home town, but these guys are low country blues men with the port and swamps of South Carolina percolating in their souls.

The trio and occasional friend sitting in continue the charge with “Done Changed My Mind.”  A blistering guitar opens the song and then Kirkendall continues his vocal onslaught by giving us the blues done so convincingly right.  Henry Ancrum’s drums here are simple yet effective.  The beat makes the tune feel much more earthy and gusty. On “Let Me Breathe” we get more beautiful and soulful blues with thoughtful organ and guitar work. “No Time” is more rocking and has some more passionate vocal work.  “I Used To Love You” opens o some bass licks and cool keys and then the guitar and drums add to the primal nature of this.  More deep gutsy blues with poignant lyrics delivered extremely effectively.  They close with “Pluff Mud,” the only light and airy number on this otherwise down and dirty blues CD.  Light and airy as it starts, at least, with a good little minute intro before the band hits it hard and drives the CD to a rousing finish on a super instrumental.  Guitar and organ trade the lead, the bass and drums again go beyond worldly and they deliver a remarkable finish to a remarkable album.

I loved this CD.  It has songs with great lyrics, great vocals, and great musicianship.  I want to see these guys live– the unleashed version would have to be even more amazing.  Most highly recommended!!!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

Come On Down reviewed by Rick Davis

Come On Down
David Gogo
Cordova Bay Records
11 Tracks

David Gogo met Stevie Ray Vaughan backstage at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, British Columbia at the age of 15, which was one of the events that inspired him to pursue a career in blues. By the time he was 16, he had assembled his first band called The Persuaders. His band had shared the stage with blues legends Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Otis Rush, and Bo Diddley, and opened for George Thorogood, ZZ Top, The Tragicially Hip, Buddy Guy, Little Feat, and Jimmy Vaughan. After performing in support of The Fabulous Thunderbirds in Europe, he was able to sign a solo record deal with EMI Records. It was shortly after that he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival with B.B. King, Otis Rush and Blues Traveler.

For his critical acclaimed debut album in 1994, David Gogo, he received his first nomination for a Juno Award. The Juno Awards, presented by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, has nominated Gogo for a total of four times. The Maple Blues Awards honoring, the best in Canadian blues, nominated David 14 times, with him winning guitarist of the year in 2002 and 2004. He was also nominated twice for the INDIE Music Awards, happening in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week,  twice for The Western Canadian Music Awards ceremony for music in the western portion of Canada, winning in 2012 for his album Soul Bender, once for the Great Canadian Blues Award, winning Best Canadian Blues Musician in 2004, and once for the West Coast Music Awards, winning Musician of the Year in 2000.

With credentials like that, it is easy to see why David Gogo is one of Canada's rising stars in the blues world. His 13th album titled Come On Down features 12 tracks with six new original tunes and six classic covers redone with his own signature, as a result of a recent trip along the "Blues Trail" in Memphis, Mississippi and Alabama. The album is a collection of both his rollicking music with a tribute to traditional blues and a stronger influence from the early rock 'n' roll. Including himself, David calls on the expertise of 15 singers and musicians throughout the 12 tracks. Gogo opens with some blistering slide guitar and solid vocals on "Bad 'n Ruin," a tune written by Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan and lead singer Rod Stewart. Gogo's lyrics and guitar solos are very strong on the title track "Come On Down," with gospel background vocals added on this haunting original song. "Call Your Name," the second original number, is another tune showcasing Gogo's superb guitar work, vocals, and songwriting expertise. He slows things down on the soulful, original tune "Worth It," a song co-written by David Gogo. More of the Louisiana Delta comes out on the original tune "Natchez Dog" in both Gogo's guitar riffs, Shawn Hall's harmonica, and the addition of superb keyboards. Gogo really explodes on guitar with his rough, roadhouse rocker "Kings," another original tune added to this new release. On a lot of the tunes on Come On Down, he blends his vocals and background vocals extremely well. He follows up with series of covers starting with an extraordinary version of "So Into You," one of best tunes written by the Atlanta Rhythm Section keyboard player Dean Daughtry, Buddy Buie, the band's manager and producer, and Robert Nix, the drummer. The last original tune on the album is a high powered, no holes barred rocker "Blue Eyed Daisy" and as the lyrics indicate, he put the petal to the metal much like the legendary Jimi Hendrix. The album continues as Gogo shifts gears with the classic R&B tune "Let's Go Get Stoned," a tune often performed by Ray Charles and written by Josephine Armstead, Nicholas Ashford, and Valerie Simpson. Gogo's vocals and guitar riffs are some of the best of the album on this tune. David continues with the Robert Palmer song "Looking For Clues." The album concludes with a Christine McVie tune "Spare Me A Little Of Your Love" and "World Turning" a song co-written by Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

If you have ever heard one of David Gogo's albums, you will understand why he has been labeled the hardest working blues artist in Canada. You will find Come On Down, his latest release is no exception to that statement.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

What’s The Chance reviewed by Steve Jones

What’s The Chance
Paul Gabriel
Shining Stone Music Group
13 tracks

The disciples of Duke Robillard continue to grow and produce interesting CDs for the blues world to enjoy.  Robillard has produced this CD and appears along with Mark Naftalin on piano, Steve Pastir on guitar and the Roomful of Blues Horns (Rich Lataille and Mark Earley on sax and Doug Woolverton on trumpet.  Hailing from Connecticut, this guitar player is also backed by a band comprised of Billy Bileca on bass, Nick Longo on drums and Larry “Buzzy” Fallstrom on keys.
A local success, Gabriel emerges on a grander scale with this release.  Having played and recorded with Harry Chapin, Rory Block and Michael Bolton, Gabriel is the real deal.  He has been associated with Duke for twenty years and the styles are certainly similar as he learned at the feet of his master, even working together for long periods at Duke’s house.  Mixing the blues with R&B and jazz, Gabriel has a cool and effusive style of play. He also wrote all but two of the tracks here and covers one song.

I really enjoyed the guitar interplay and the bigger band feel of this CD.  These guys are great accompanying each other and are very together. They seamlessly trade off solos and blend together beautifully.

Gabriel opens with a swinging jump blues that feature Gabriel, Robillard and theHorns prominently.  It’s a great starter.  Following that is “Ride, Ride, Ride” with more great guitar,Folstrom on piano and a driving beat,

The covered song is Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got,” a Big Easy classic where Gabriel and Duke both put on a show.  There are a couple of very cool instrumentals here, too.  Gabriel ‘s “328 Chauncey Street,” a jazzy and swinging cut where he picks out some great solos along with the Duke and Bruce Bears impresses on organ.  “C.M.C.” is the other instrumental in a similar vein, but this time with Fallstrom on B3 and Bears on piano.  Very thoughtful and jazzy.

Two of the tracks are a bit tongue in cheek, :Devil’s Daugher” and “Fine At’tire.” The former describes the women he tenuously got involved with and the latter is a trendy throwback with Gabriel singing an Naftalin on piano without the rest of the musicians.  Well done! 

I enjoyed the CD overall.  One area that I was least impressed were the vocals.  The delivery is sort of monotone at times, where Gabriel gets a bit nasal and breathy.  It’ not bad, but it just doesn't vary a lot in his approach to singing.  But other than that minor criticism, if you are a Robbilard/Roomful of Blues aficionado then you will enjoy this CD.  Gabriel gives us some great new songs and guitar work and the backing players are all in synch and support each other to the max.  Another New England jump blues success story!

Reviewed by Steve Jones