Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Angels & Clowns reviewed by Steve Jones

Angels & Clowns
Nuno Mindeliis
Shining Stone Records
13 tracks
The guitar great Nuno Mindelis is a fixture in the Brazilian music scene and with this first US release his music is now readily available to listeners here.  Although Portuguese is his first language, his lyrics and vocals are solidly Americanized.  Born in Angola, his family fled to Brazil when he was 17 and the civil war took everything they had.
He released his first two CD’s with Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s inimitable back ups and has released several more. He was named top guitar player at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2001 and was named one of Brazils 30 top guitarists by their edition of Rolling Stone magazine.
After learning all this, the bar was set pretty high for me and Nuno did not disappoint me.  Backed by Duke Robillard’s Mark Teixiera on drums, Brad Hallen on bass and Bruce Bears on keys, this is a solid and enjoyable album.  Duke makes a guest appearance as does vocalist Sonny Crownover. He penned 9 of the songs  with a little lyrical help from fellow songwriters Stephen Barry and Mike Bowden.
The opening song is a good hook– “It’s All About Love” feature Sonny backing Nuno with Duke on rhythm guitar (and one solo).  His Portuguese accent adds a neat and mysterious flavor to his vocals, and his guitar work is impeccable (here a Gibson SG, but a couple of Telecasters in most of the other tracks).  It’s a sweet musical ride and sets the tone for a fine album. Duke is also backing on “It’s Only a Dream” which is a swinging and driving track with a vibrant and up front guitar sound.  The pace slows for the title track, a thoughtful and interesting ballad.
He shows he can do traditional Chicago blues in tracks like “Blues in My Cabin,” with a big and rousing guitar lead.  There are also two sweet instrumentals here, the first being a nice slow blues “Tom Plaisir” which has him “singing” with his guitar.  He concludes with a swinging jazzy track, Jazz Breakfast at Lakewest” that is a rapid fire course in Brazilian jazz.
This quite well done and it is worth picking up and listening.  Mr. Mundelis is a great guitar player and musician whom I would enjoy seeing and listening to live!
Reviewed by Steve Jones


SIng and Never Get Tired reviewed by Steve Jones

Sing and Never Get Tired
The Sojourners
Little Pig Records
12 tracks

This is the Sojourners third album and it fully maintains the high standards these gentlemen have set in producing their music.  Filled with Gospel and blues songs depicting the social injustice of our society and times, this album travels where few traditional Gospel albums tread. Mixing new songs with great works from the Staple Singers, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Sista Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone and Stephen Stills, it hearkens back to the 1960’s yet it is also is modern and timely.

The Sojourners are Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders and new member Khari McClelland.  The sound is definitely more bluesy and raw, with both angry emotions and hope depicted in their songs.  With every listen I became more and more enthralled with this great CD.

They open with Pops Staples “Don’t Knock” and Paul Pigat’s lead and rhythm guitar intro tell us from the start that this album  might be a bit edgier.  The beautiful harmonies come right into the mix and the trio grabs the listener and make them listen to their forthright testifying.  Steve Marriner blows some mean harp to set the tone for “Christian’s Automobile,” a Dixie Hummingbirds classic from 1957.  This interpretation is bluesier and more urbane than the original and they do the song justice. Still’s “For What It’s Worth” follows and by this point we feel are firmly entrenched into the 1960’s movements. Marriners’ harp again plays a big role along with the vocals– well done!  The Gospel traditional “Ezekial” follows and the harmonies are again exceptional.   Michael Van Eyes piano introduces “Milky White Way” as the boys slow the pace down and praise the Lord sweetly. “Dressed for Heaven” is a fellow Canadian Brandon Isaak song; Brandon is a member of the Twisters who, like the Sojourners, are Vancouver-based.  It’s a sweet up tempo Gospel cut.

The Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad” is a minor key and down tempo song that brings things down from the frenetic pace for a few moments.  More well –done harmonies here.  “Hiding Place” is an original  by Marcus; the tempo remains down and mood is darker here.  Marcus tells us in the lyrics that he does find respite in the Lord’s arms.  The traditional “This Train” brings things back up with some rousing vocals and guitar and the same is true of the next traditional cut, “Welcome Table.”  These guys can hold their own with any Gospel group!

Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” gets covered next.  Pigat again adds two throwback guitar lines that round things out nicely with the spectacular vocals.  They close acapella with “I Ain’t Got No Home” using hand claps as percussion.  Woody Guthrie’s folk classic is a great addition to the set and is a nice way to close out a fantastic album.

Also appearing are Rob Becker on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums.  Produced by Paul Pigat of the band Cousin Harley, the Sojourners demonstrate their craft with even more emotion and edge.  I think the album is a huge success and great follow on to their super 2010 release.  If you like Gospel with a bluesy and updated flair this will really be a treat for you.  These guys are a wonderful trio of harmonizing vocalists who deliver power and emotion with each line.  Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

That’s When The Blues Begins
Ruff Kutt Blues Band
Vizztone Records
14 Tracks

When I first saw this CD, I thought it may be a European blues band, but when I saw Anson Funderburgh’s name on it I got very excited.  His Texas blues playing recently resurfaced with Eric Lindell.  I saw them in New Orleans during Jazzfest.  Vocalist Finis Tasby, combines with Anson and Zac Harmon on guitar and James Goode on bass to lead this ensemble.  They play Texas blues, which has a special place in blues lovers hearts.  Goode wrote or co-wrote the entire CD.  He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.  So on to the music!

The opening cut is “Deep Elam Blues”. Gives a slow churning groove of blues.  Some tasty guitar licks support Finnes Tasby’s vocals.  “Blues In My Blood” follows with a bit more funky groove.  I liked the lyrics, and the overall feel of the song.  Song 3 is “Don’t It Make You Cry” continues with good vocals by Tasby.  It remains in a slow Texas groove.  The next cut “Oh Woman” has some nice sax support by Ron Jones, including a great solo.  “Down So Low” switches to Zac Harmon on vocals.  This is another slow groovy tune that hit on all cylinders.

Finnis Tasby comes back to vocals on “Bare Foot Blues” picks up the beat.  Nice guitar work by both Harmon and Anson.  Gentleman John Street supports it with some nice keyboards.  Zac Harmon does
the remaining vocals except for track 13.  “Blues Ain’t A Color”  is up next.  It is a mid-tempo soulful song, with nice keyboard support.  “That’s When The Blues Begins” gets back to some soulful blues, with a hint of gospel harmonies, a nice touch by the band.  Up next is a New Orleans influenced intro this uptempod  song “That Woman Gives Me Fever”.  Track 9 is “I’m Over You Woman”  This song is fine, but not great.
“Going To Bluesville” is a soft rocking hard peace.  It has a nice tempo jam, and is likely at on stage.  Zac Harmon gives a gritty vocal on “Touched By Her Flame”.  It is a solid more down home tune.  Finis Tasby returns to vocals for the last time on the CD on “Let’s Dance” with great guitar and sax work here.  I can see people grinding it out on the dance floors of Texas to this tune.  The closing cut is “When A Bluesman Goes To Heaven”.  I really like this.  Great reference to past Texas bluesmen who would be in the heaven blues band.  Good vocals by Zac Harmon.  This one is sure to be a crowd favorite.
Overall a fine CD has been made.  I love to see Anson back.  The only sad for the future is the Finis Tasby had a big stroke post this recording.  We all wish him luck in his recovery.  This is one to buy!
Reviewed by Mark Nelson



Barrelhouse Stomp Reviewed by Steve Jones

Barrelhouse Stomp
Chris James and Patrick Rynn
Earwig Music Company
12 tracks
Partners in the blues for over 20 years, guitarist/vocalist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn wear their love for traditional Chicago Blues on their sleeve. After all, the duo first teamed up in the Windy City, and went on to back local harp player/band leader Rob Stone in his blues band, the C-Notes, before going off as a duet. All three ex-Chicagoans have since relocated to Southern California. They may have left the snow and cold behind, but they took the city’s music with them.
This is Chris and Patrick’s third Earwig release and, like the first two, it is an outstanding album!  In order to avoid re-making the same type of CD repeatedly, the songwriting partners have changed a few things in the studio this time. In keeping with the title theme they have added some spectacular piano players in this “barrelhouse” effort, and it comes from three different acclaimed artists: Henry Gray (still feisty at age 88), Aaron Moore (who just passed away on Nov. 27, 2013 at age 95) and, for over half the tracks, David Maxwell who has won awards for his Otis Spann-worthy piano work.  The result is a fantastic album that will win them many new fans while extending their relationship with existing fans.
Also appearing on tenor saxophone are a trio of superb horn men: Eddie Shaw, Johnny Viau and Norbert W. Johnson. Willie Hayes does most of the drumming; Eddie Kobek also appears on three tracks and the inimitable Wilie “Big Eyes” Smith also appears on a couple of cuts.  Chris’ and Patrick’s buddy Rob Stone appears on harp for a couple of tracks and Jody Williams adds his guitar on four songs.  Stone also helped out in penning seven of the tracks with the featured duo.   James sings on all cuts (except of course the instrumentals) and plays lead on most tracks and adds harp on another.  Rynn is the bassist for all of the cuts.
The opening cut features Stone on harp and Maxwell on the piano.  “Goodbye, Later for You” grabs the listener and gets the dance party started.  It is quite the swinging number with some wicked guitar work by James, and Maxwell’s piano adds a great layer of bounce and fun.  Stone’s harp is also solid and James vocal s really sold me (as they always do).  “Just Another Kick in the Teeth” follows and all three horn players are there to help make a statement while Williams takes the guitar lead and Maxwell is on piano.  The horn work is great, Maxwell tinkles the keys sweetly and Williams picks out a great solo.  Rynn provides a cool bass solo while the sax players fill in, and then it’s Shaws’ turn to impress.  Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good” is next; Smith is on drums here with Viau offering up some really dirty horn work.  Moore is featured on the keys and he stridently fills in well.  James vocals are emphatic and grab at you to listen for more.  Nice work!  “Messin’ With White Lightnin’” is a sweet little an instrumental with Maxwell filling in around James’ distinctively impressive guitar; he also offers up a poignant piano solo.  Hayes gives the cymbals a real workout as he keeps up a frenetic beat as the boy’s blast out a great barrelhouse cut.  I loved this track- it really gets the juices flowing!
On “Before It’s Too Late” we have Moore’s other piano effort and Smith’s other appearance on drums.  James again offers up convincing vocals as Moore is emphatic on his piano work to help make the point- the piano solo here is top notch! Slide guitar, the dual horns of Viau and Johnson, and Henry Gray beating out the piano line make “A Fact is a Fact” a track that is hot as hell.  James burns up the strings and the band is in full swing here.  James adds some harp for us on “It Can Always Be Worse” where he tells us how we can always find someone far less  blessed than we are.  Straight up blues, a very fun cut. On “I’m Gonna Stop Foolin’ Myself” we have James telling us he needs a switch in relationships.  The two horns and Maxwell’s piano drive this one nicely as do James’ vocals and guitar.
“Vicksburg Blues” is a great old cut which features Eddie Shaw, Rob Stone and Jody Williams.  Slow blues with real depth and effect here- another winner!  “Bobby’s Rock” brings Henry Gray back for this Elmore James instrumental.  The guitar is featured with the horns and piano in support.  Chris unleashes the slide about a minute into this and it is a thing of beauty.  While this is a guitar centered piece, the horns and piano really keep up with James and make it special!  The band swings with “Take It Easy” as they pay homage to Pinetop Perkins.  Maxwell lays it all out on piano as they swing through this in a wild but controlled manner.  The piano gets all the big solos and they are very sweetly done.  The album concludes with “Last Call Woogie”; Henry Gray is featured on this new cut that sends us off in style.  James screams and growls and he and Gray trade off solos.  Another great little cut!
What are my favorites here?  Everything!  This is a beautiful mix of covers and new music and I enjoyed it all from top to bottom.  James and Rynn know their stuff and are totally in synch.  The supporting cast they have assembled works well with them and vice versa- they all checked their egos at the door and worked in total synch.  I truly enjoyed this CD and would rank it near the top for blues albums for 2013.  I’m a sucker for great piano in my blues and Aaron Moore, Henry Gray, and David Maxwell deliver the goods as do James and Rynn and the rest of the cast here.  Most highly recommended!!!

Reviewed by Steve Jones


Remebersing O.V. reviewed by Mark Thompson

Remembering O.V.
Johnny Rawls
Catfood Records
10 tracks/34:45
If there is anyone qualified to do a tribute to the legendary soul singer O.V. Wright, It would be singer Johnny Rawls. He played guitar in Wright’s band and eventually became the musical director. The two men were friends and it was Rawls who was with Wright when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1980.
Backing up Rawls are the usual suspects from the Catfood band featuring Producer Bob Trenchard on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, and Richy Puga on drums & percussion. The horn section consists of Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, and Robert Claiborne on trombone.
The opening track, “Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose)”, starts things off with a surprise. The first voice you hear belongs to Chicago soul legend Otis Clay. He trades gritty lead vocals with Rawls as the pair bemoan being in the clutches of a love that leaves them helpless, framed by the potent backing from the band. Clay appears on another Wright classic, “Nickel and a Nail”, his distinctive voice full of heartache compared to Rawl’s earthy charm. 
Rawls brought in noted engineer Jim Gaines to remix three songs that appeared on his prior three CD releases. “Eight Men, Four Women” gets a dramatic reading from Rawls with the Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – adding sweet backing harmonies. A strong rhythm guitar line and blaring horns on “Ace of Spades” draw an energized performance from Rawls before he stares deep into the well of despair on “Blind, Crippled and Crazy”.
Rawls gives one of his strongest performances on “Poor Boy”, a lesser-known tune from early in Wright’s career. “Precious, Precious” is a ballad with an irresistible lilt. The band swaggers through “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”, giving Rawls the chance to show his seductive side. Clay returns on the lone original song, “Blaze of Glory”. Both singers offer robust promises to stay true to the music right up to their last breath.
Recently, Rawls received two nominations for prestigious Blues Music Awards, one for Soul Blues Male Artist and the other for this recording in the Soul Blues Album category. Here’s hoping that his project will encourage listeners to check out the O.V. Wright legacy. It is a truly fitting tribute, done with much love and respect.
Reviewed by Mark Thompson


Black Wind Howlin' reviewed by Dennis Barker

Black Wind Howlin'
Samantha Fish
Ruf Records
12 Tracks/54:22

Samantha Fish, the effervescent young singer, songwriter, guitarist, first became known beyond the Kansas City area in 2011 with the release of "Girls With Guitars" on Ruf Records. She soon after released her first Ruf solo CD, "Runaway", for which she was awarded the 2012 Blues Music Awards "Best New Artist Debut". After two years of nearly non-stop touring, Samantha has now released her second solo album, "Black Wind Howlin'", a collection of 12 tunes, 10 written by Fish, one co-written with Mike Zito, and one well chosen cover, that will almost certainly garner even more awards.

The CD opens with a fast pace blues rocker, "Miles To Go", a tune borne from endless touring, that sets the scene for the high energy, intense, guitar driven songs that follow. Next is "Kick Around" an upbeat, uplifting tune with some great guitar from producer Mike Zito, just one of the many great tracks on this disc.

"Go To Hell", a good tune co-written with Zito, is a powerful male vs female duet between Fish and  guest vocalist Paul Thorn. Track four, "Sucker Born", features dirty slide wah guitar from Fish, and some great wailin harp work from "Jumpin Johnny Sansone". Next comes "Over You", one of the lighter tracks, a slow ballad with nice guitar complimenting Samantha's voice.

The only non Fish penned song on the disc, "Whos' Been Talkin'", written by Chester Burnett, aka "howlin' Wolf", is another of the many highlights on this CD. With excellent guitar from Fish and more heavy harp from Jumpin Johnny Sansone, this great cover of a classic blues tune is sure to please fans everywhere.

On a CD full of great cuts #7, "Lay It Down", may possibly be the best of them all with a driving beat, superb dirty-grungy guitar, lyrics that paint great mental images of "just another Saturday night", and a super vocal performance from Samantha. It also has a clever lyrical reference to a previous effort, "just a reckless little runaway, got something to prove", evidence of Samantha's considerable lyrical skills. Next a change of pace with "Lets have Some Fun", a nice, sexy, laid back little blues ditty that stands tall with just Samantha's vocal and a single acoustic guitar-she just keeps getting better.

A couple of killer blues rockers, "Heartbreaker" (a Fish original, no relation to the Zeppelin tune of the same name) and "Foolin Me", both well done tunes, are followed by the title track "Black Wind Howlin'", a solid blues effort with some smoking guitar that rocks from start to finish. The surprise closer, "Last September" is a straight up country song that features the fiddle of Bo Thomas. A nice way to end a collection of upbeat, guitar driven blues rock tunes, the change of pace demonstrates  the versatility and depth of Ms. Fish. "Black Wind Howlin'" is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Dennis Barker