Blues Bytes

January 2003

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What's New

Bernard AllisonBernard Allison hadn’t quite developed his own style at the time of this recording Hang On! (Ruf Records). Still the suave exhibition bears enough to foreshadow the contemporary blues brilliance that was to come. Chicago-born Bernard apprenticed under blues heavyweights Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon before relocating to Paris. While overseas, he triumphantly toured with his father, Luther, while making a name for himself. He returned to the States in the late '90s and quickly became modern blues’ best crossover artist. The 12 track, 63 minute disc was recorded live at Ferber Studio, Paris in 1992 using most of his father’s European band. Young Bernard wrote four of the songs and another two with Luther. On this re-release, BA tackles everything from blues standards ("Cadillac Assembly Line") to today’s pop ("Voodoo Thang") and everything in between. All throughout he adds a little blues to his rock and roll playing. Since an audience cannot be heard on any of the tunes, the listener presumes this to be a live-off-the-floor recording. Heavy electrics ignite on opener "Mai" and "Looking Beyond The Past". The popular rock anthem "Going Down" gets funkified thanks to the tone of BA’s guitar and pulsating horns. No one is credited with performing horns so perhaps they were synthesized. In either case, Michel Carras’ keyboards are impressive. "Voodoo Thang" rolls with the force of a freight train. Here, Thierry Menesclou’s harp rocks. This time the keyboards sound too pop and take the raw edge off of the song. Don Torsch adds snarling fills with his Hammond organ on "Action Speaks Louder Than Words". The song showcases Bernard’s expressive vocals which also emerge on the romantic ballad "You’re Hurting Me". With the aid of his proud papa, BA honors the artists that got him enthused about the blues on "Idols In Mind". Further influences loom on the outright storming rock and boogie number "Rockin Robin" via an impromptu jam of Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin riffs. His flair for Jimi Hendrix presents itself on a couple tracks. The title tune sounds as if it could have been penned by Jimi and includes lyrics such as ‘Jimi still lives on’. "Voodoo Chile Medley" combines 4 tunes and is the cure for a Hendrix fix. As if trying to say, ‘hang on a wild storm called Bernard Allison is coming’ the cover depicts Bernard hanging onto the fretboard of his now infamous map of the U.S. guitar. Although he gets labeled as blues due to his royal bloodline, this six-string sorcerer won’t be pigeon-holed into any one genre. If you want to experience the aggressive energy of today’s blues youth which appeals to a new generation, check out Bernard Allison and Hang On! For more information contact: Ruf America, 162 North 8th Street, Kenilworth, NJ 07033 USA Phone: (908) 653-9700 Website: Artist website:

Live AA (Eastlawn Records), from Alberta Adams, is Detroit’s Queen of the Blues at her boisterous best, live! The CD’s seven songs were taken from two gigs at almost opposite sides of North America. Recorded in Birmingham, MI and Salmon Arm, BC throughout 2001 and 2002, the 40-minute rambunctious disc features regular numbers, including three originals from two rousing performances. The five songs from Birmingham were recorded on tape, while the two Salmon Arm songs were recorded on a mini-disc player that was plugged into the soundboard. Unlike the royal heritage of the blue blood monarchy, this grand lady did not become a Blues empress overnight. In a laborious and ambitious career that spans seven decades, Ms. Adams has sung with everybody who's anybody, including Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, Louis Jordan and Duke Ellington. Her two previous Cannonball releases stirred up plenty of momentum. With the collapse of Cannonball, Adams’ manager did not want to lose any of this established driving force. So he put out this live disc independently. It is only available off the bandstand. That, combined with hissy sound, are the only pitfalls of this CD. AA begins with "Say Baby Say," where keyboard player Shawn McDonald is at his rollicking best. "He May Be Your Man" is one of her signature tunes. Here, she boldly states, "...I’m a dirty old lady..." while singing about a no-good man. The rejoicing mood becomes somber as Alberta recalls being on tour in San Francisco at the time of John Lee Hooker’s passing. She then dedicates "Reconsider You" to the fellow Detroit legend. Throughout, the Queen is very appreciative of her stellar backing band, the Rhythm Rockers. She introduces them repeatedly and demands the crowd to applaud after their exquisite solos. One such deserving member is guitarist Paul Carey. He plays melodically and ferociously smooth licks throughout. The rest of the group is made up of RJ Spangler on drums and Tim Marks and Dale Jennings, both on bass. Alberta Adams has always had the gift of interacting with her audience and making them feel and participate in her performance. This is a traditional blues disc with plenty of focus on Alberta’s commanding and definitive voice. Let the good times begin, as AA is in the house! For CDs, booking and information, contact Eastlawn Records, P.O. Box 36487, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236, or Spangler Blues Productions, phone: 313-881-3005, e-mail:

The CD cover of Pain (WIT Records), from the Luck Brothers, is simple and basic, but the musical arrangements contained within are intelligent and complex. Since the 1980s, session musicians Tim Gleeson (lead guitar/keyboards/vocals) and Art Austin (lead vocals/percussion) have been performing, writing and recording together throughout Philadelphia. For their sophomore release they are assisted by Bob Allen (bass) and Kathy Sledge/Donnel Farrow (background vocals). "That’s Life" deals with the harsh realities of living. Here, a rebellious youth is subjected to his father’s advice, only to end up giving the same guidance to his son many years later. The liberally played piano is essential to the tune. The title track has an adult contemporary jazz feel and a soothing sensation. The background vocals are heavenly. A string section and a xylophone can be heard. The credits do not list anyone on strings, so it is assumed to be the work of a synthesizer. The same goes for the drum tracks. The sexy and steamy guitar on "Like I Never Did Before" warrants airtime on late night pillow talk radio. "Shake Your Boom Bottom" is very danceable. Here, the vocals are skillfully used as another instrument. The disc’s most interesting timing and drum sequence features on "Comin’ Back Home." The acoustic "Little Things" has the feel of the Delta. On the song, Art’s harsh and scratchy voice contrasts with delicate and moving lyrics. There is plenty of blues guitar on the deep funk groove "The Train That Never Comes In." On, "I Can Never Win", the tune has a different title and arrangement, but it is really a reprise of "The Train." You won’t find 12 bars on this 43-minute disc, but you will encounter sensual rhythms and soulful vocals. The lyrics speak volumes concerning how to feel good about oneself and why it’s important to have hope. All 10 songs (nine are originals written by Tim/Art) are radio-friendly, but not in a commercial way. Musically, the guitar and piano work impresses the most but never in a flamboyant fashion. These brothers stand out because their rhythms are not typical for either blues or soul. It is refreshing to hear a group whose music is difficult to classify. Blues purists and contemporary blues fans may not be attracted to their genre-bending ways. However, if you enjoy accomplished musicianship, touching lyrics, bounteous vocals and borderless grooves, come and feel the pain. For CDs, booking and information, contact: WIT Records, 456 East Third Street, Moorestown, NJ 08057, phone: 856-231-1251 website:, email:

Kick In The EyeRock and Roll Needs A Kick In The Eye is a five track genre-bending EP featuring 16 minutes of country-fried boogie from Kick In The Eye. The band consists of a husband and wife team based in British Columbia, Canada. They bill themselves as a good time country rock band. Donnie Lochrie (guitar/vocals) and Marian Lochrie (bass guitar/vocals) combine honky tonk shuffles with Beach Boys vocal arrangements. The EP comes with three original songs, two covers, and drums courtesy of Jerry Adolphe. There is plenty of energy to be found on the opening number, "Shake Yer Hips," where Donnie’s guitar rocks. However, the Cyndi Lauper-tyled vocals don’t befit the tune. With one listen of "Hurricane," images of surfing will come to mind. And I’m not talking about surfing the Internet! Here, Donnie’s vocals are reminiscent of early '80s punk. This feel continues on "Stop Messin My Heart Around." On this catchy rhythmic tune, the couple’s vocal harmonies mesh nicely. "No Depression" is real boppy with some twang. The vocals have a country flavour, but they don’t sound natural. Like most independent released debuts, this one appears to have been funded on a low budget. The cover and liner is in black and white and the CD itself is a Maxell CD-R. Still, Donnie and Marian are to be applauded for their creativity, which required thinking outside of the box. Blues music fans will not find anything to be attracted to here. The EP will appeal to roots music fans who like to try anything once. For booking and information, contact:, 604-878-5425, PO Box 3192, Mission, BC V2V 4J4.

--- Tim Holek

Quick, name the two biggest cities in Connecticut. The Connecticut Blues Society, you’ll note, lists the whole state in its proud banner. The musicians gathered for this 17-track sampler Local Flavor (Silk City), presumably represent areas beyond just Hartford, Bridgeport or New Haven. From the first bars of Blues Steele’s “Hold On My Soul,” it’s apparent that this is not blues backwoods by any stretch. An electric blues band with a bite, they open the door to the quick shuffle of Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze’s “Sweet Tooth Mama,” the Patty Tuite Band’s Sunday afternoon jazzy blues groove of “Red Light” and Johnny Vibrato & The Razorbacks’ surfy sounding “Vibrato” (look out Dick Dale). Before it’s over we’re introduced to the big band groove of The Hornets’ “Ain’t Done Yet,” one of the highlights of the set, along with Garry & The Moondogs’ “Too Close for Crying,” a harp-driven breakup song that benefits from fine vocals. Better Off Blue brings a Bo Diddley beat to their “Ain’t Your Business” and D. Smith Blues Band utilizes a greasy organ groove on the evil “Playing In The Dark.” Dan Stevens has a fine acoustic Allmans-style feel on “Drivin’ Fool,” Gina Gunn & The Bullets do the well-written environmentally-conscious “Nuclear Blues,” XY Eli Band incorporate a modern edge, Ryan Harris and the Blue Hearts play a straight ahead blues harp version of “She May Be Yours,” and the Pete Schelps Band’s “Time Will Tell” is a piano-led original blues. Johnny & the East Coast Rockers’ “’55 Chevy” is a rockabilly raveup that’s pretty fun. Bluzberry does a 12-bar “Crying In My Keyboard,” that has to do with computers and not a B3, Chili Blues Band’s “Am I Wrong” has a jazzy groove and the final number from the Cobalt Rhythm Kings is a piece of down and dirty back alley blues. As you might expect from a collection that attempts to introduce so many different artists, delivering a number of styles at varying levels of proficiency all in one place, the results are mixed. Still, I’m a big fan of independent blues and this is no doubt a pretty fair representation of what’s going on in Connecticut. And you can’t beat the $10 price. Get it from the Connecticut Blues Society ( or Silk City (

Gary Primich is a superb harmonica player and expressive vocalist who writes intelligent, well crafted and tantalizing music. From the hipster-rockabilly opener on Dog House Music (Antones), “Mr. Lucky,” to the full-throated harp work on the closing instrumental, “Texas Love Kit,” this latest offering satisfies and sometimes mesmerizes. The appeal of Primich has always been that refusal to be pigeonholed. Based out of Austin, Texas, one of the most musically diverse chunks of real estate on the planet, he just naturally believes that music doesn’t have to come with labels like Blues or Jazz or Country stamped on it. If it’s good music, it’s good music. Gary Primich and mates play damn good music. There’s not a lot of commercial potential worked into the game plan. There are jazz flourishes here and there, shades of classic soul (“That’s What Love Was Made For”), some swamp, and even a bit of Tex-Mex (“Angeline”). Still, the blues is the anchor. Our hero was born in Chicago, after all, and even hung a bit on Maxwell Street before moving to Austin. Chicago’s in the tone (Big Walter looms large), but the attitude is all about those miles and miles of Texas. The late night barfly meets the swamp groove of “Brown Derby Liquor” is chilling. The stark honesty of “I Know It’s Wrong,” with its New Orleans shuffle beat, is scary. “Elizabeth Lee” is a hard strummed slice of wild jealousy gone awry. “I Can’t Stand You When You’re Drinking” (“...and I can’t please you when you’re dry...”) has the uncomfortable feeling of walking into the middle of an argument that you can’t comfortably extricate yourself from. Primich wouldn’t know a cliché if it bit him. Gary Primich is a fine singer and an awesome harmonica player. Fortunately, he’s surrounded himself with an ace band, too. Chris Masterson’s guitar shines throughout, and Randy Glines (bass) and Jim Starboard (drums) bring the solid rhythm to every tune. Guitarist Jon Moeller sits in on a few, and organ, piano and horn fills spice up a few more tunes. Basically, this is barebones Texas blues, Gary Primich style. That’s about as impressive as it gets.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Vargas BrothersI have to say that, previously, I've always been a bit ambivalent when it came to the Vargas Blues Band. I've liked some of their stuff, but never enough to go out and buy a CD. However, I'm always open to change, and this CD, Last Night (DRO East West) is absolutely superb --- it just has to be the best thing that they've done. Not only that, but it comes packaged with a DVD, too!! Although the release date was in 2002, the CD set was recorded live at Buddy Guy's Blues Legends back in November of 1999, and it was the band's first live appearance in the USA. The 12 tracks on the CD feature a nice mix of originals and covers (six of each) --- just the way I like it --- and there are some special guest appearances sprinkled in as well (Larry McCray and Sugar Blue). Amongst the covers, there are excellent versions of Albert King's "Can't You See" (with both Larry McCray & Sugar Blue guesting), Jimmy McGriff's "All About The Girl" (a real rocker of a track with Sugar Blue making another appearance), and Little Walter's "Last Night" (one of the best covers of this track that I've heard --- full of emotion). Javier Vargas' own "Black Cat Boogie" is an absolute cracker. If you don't tap your feet to this one, then you shouldn't be listening to music at all. Bobby Alexander's vocals hit the spot every time. It's very difficult to place any one track above any other, but if forced into it I would pick "Last Night" as king of the covers and "Make Sweet Love 2 U" as best original. However, I'm not finished yet --- there are another 13 tracks on the DVD!! The only track that appears on both CD & DVD is "Black Cat Boogie" and probably deservedly so. The DVD gives you the chance to see the band in action, and there is also the opportunity to see the band perform with flamenco singer Elena Andujar on two of the tracks, "Back Alley Blues" and "Illegally." There are 10 originals and two covers on the DVD, the covers being "Mannish Boy" and John Lee Hooker's "Chill Out." The DVD opens with the band playing "Mannish Boy," whilst the movie sequence shows a cab ride through Chicago to Buddy Guy's Legends Club, and then goes into a live session at the club with the band faultlessly playing their own "Black Cat Boogie." From then on it's just great blues all the way through, with the two tracks featuring Elena Andujar showing just how close flamenco and blues can be. This set has completely sold me on the Vargas Blues Band, and I'll be watching out for live dates from them in Spain!

Jim SuhlerSometime member of the George Thorogood band, Jim Suhler has released his first solo album, Dirt Road (Top Cat Records), although he has previously released three albums with his own band, Monkey Beat, and one with Alan Haynes. The album is a very laid back mix of acoustic country roots blues, very different from the Jim Suhler who plays tremendous guitar licks with the Thorogood band. Amongst the 15 tracks on the CD are five covers sprinkled in with the Suhler originals. The mix of covers ranges wide, from Leroy Carr to Johnny Winter via Leadbelly. There's also a track claimed as a Suhler original, "High Cotton," which is fairly obviously based on Tampa Red's "Things 'bout Coming My Way." If you like gentle country blues, then you certainly won't be disappointed by this offering, and Jim Suhler gives some nice insights into just what a superb guitarist he is. I found it very difficult to decide whether I liked the covers or the originals the most. One thing's for certain though, this is all good music. I always try and pick a favourite from a CD, and on this occasion I originally picked "Trying To Get Back Home," one of the Suhler written tracks. However, it was a close run with Johnny Winter's "Dallas" almost coming out on top, and "High Cotton" right there, too. Then I listened to the album again and found a huge lump in my throat whilst playing the track "My Morning Prayer" (shades of Ry Cooder). this number is so full of emotion that I just had to promote it to favourite track! This CD is one that deserves a good day with the headphones on.

--- Terry Clear

Long associated with B.B. King, Calvin Owens has made a name for himself with several wonderful releases of brassy urban blues since the mid '90s. Owens’ career in music dates back to the mid '40s, when he started his own seven-piece band in Houston. He also played with Puma Davis in the early '50s. Davis’ band later backed Gatemouth Brown for his quintessential Peacock recordings, and Davis himself penned “Okie Dokie Stomp” and later appeared on Bobby Bland’s Two Steps From The Blues album. Owens played off and on with B.B. throughout the '50s and also served as Peacock’s A&R man. He returned to play with King and also served as music director from 1978 until 1984, even directed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra horn section during that time. Tired of the road, Owens moved overseas to Belgium, got married, regained his health, and started playing again. In the mid '90s, he released True Blue, with a massive 24-piece band and guest stars like Johnny Clyde Copeland, B.B. King and “Fathead” Newman. Subsequent releases, all for his Sawdust Alley label, have featured that same big band sound with the occasional modern touch thrown in. His latest release, The House Is Burnin’, is another great effort. It opens with an instrumental, “Opus In Sawdust Alley,” then quickly segues to a slow-tempo burner with passionate vocals by Trudy Lynn (“Don’t Walk Away”). Ms. Trudy returns and threatens to kick somebody’s behind in “Stop Lying In My Face” (I honestly don’t think there’s anybody out there right now who brings everything she’s got to every song like Trudy Lynn does). Owens takes the mike for “Coffee Man” and adds a hot trumpet solo. Owens sings on four of the 12 tracks here, and his vocals have a gruff, but charming quality. He doesn’t overstep his boundaries. He has no boundaries on the trumpet, however, going from swing to jazz with no problem. Other contributors to the fun include Houston local legend Gloria Edwards who sings the title track (with assistance from Grady Gaines on tenor sax), a zydeco romp. Another Houston legend, singer/guitarist Leonard “Low Down” Brown, lends his pipes and string-bending talents to the next two tracks, B.B.’s “Please Love Me” and Guitar Crusher’s “Message To Man.” Closing out the festivities is another instrumental, “Woman Hollering Creek,” the jazziest number on the disc, and two Christmas songs, the Charles Brown chestnut, “Merry Christmas Baby,” and Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” both featuring Owens on vocals and trumpet. Guitarists Charles Davis and Corey Stoot also deserve a moment in the spotlight, along with the monstrous horn section. The house may be burnin’, but this disc is definitely smokin’. It can be purchased at, along with the rest of Calvin Owens’ impressive releases.

The first time I heard the Holmes Brothers, my first thought, besides “wow”, was how much they reminded me of the Chambers Brothers. In the 1960s, the Chambers Brothers were comparable to what the Holmes Brothers are today. Originally a gospel group from Central Mississippi, the Chambers Brothers became popular and helped usher in the psychedelic soul scene of the mid '60s, peaking with their 1968 hits “Time Has Come Today” and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” They were a potent mix, as they combined tight Southern gospel-based harmonies with raw-edged blues/rock, and even threw in covers of soul standards. Lester Chambers has recently resurfaced with a CD on his Explosive Records label. This self-titled disc is as musically diverse as the Chambers Brothers’ efforts of the '60s. Chambers dives into the blues, mixes in some reggae, a bit of jazz, and it’s all brought together with his soulful voice, which effortlessly goes from a husky whisper to a full-throated scream just as if 30 years hadn’t passed. The disc is a mix of covers of soul standards (Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me,” done with a reggae beat, “Clean Up Man, a reworking of the Betty Wright classic, Otis Redding’s “Dreams To Remember") and some nice originals, including the opener, “You Give Me Love.” There are some blues here as well. A cover of Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” an eight minute slow blues workout with Chambers’ most impassioned vocal, is noteworthy, as is an original, “Evil Woman.” The biggest highlight was the appearance of the rest of the Chambers Brothers, George, Willie, and Joe, lending background vocals to two tracks, “You Give Me Love” and “Dreams To Remember.” Listening to this disc brought back fond memories, and hopefully the brothers will decide to team up for an entire disc soon. Meanwhile, you can purchase this exceptional disc at Lester Chambers’ website,

Noah Zacharin hails from Canada and has just released his fifth disc, Big Daddy Z. Zacharin is a wonderful, adventurous acoustic guitarist, and is an engaging vocalist to boot. This disc is a mix of blues standards and some interesting original compositions which are not all necessarily what you might consider traditional blues. They are more of a contemporary look at the blues, with traces of folk, even some jazz. The tracks are mostly recorded live, with some accompaniment on a few tracks. My favorites of the original tracks were the smoldering “(Gotta) Cool Down” and “High Lonesome Sound,” my favorite track on the disc, which is lent a country feel thanks to John Showman’s fiddle. My favorites of the covers were his version of Bob Dylan’s “Tom Thumb’s Blues” and his perfectly edgy read on Gregg Allman’s “Whipping Post.” Also included is a hidden 11th track, so don’t miss it. I enjoyed Zacharin’s intimate songwriting and his compelling guitar work; I think you will, too. For more information on purchasing this disc and on his other releases, just go to his website,

The Screaming Bluedogs are back with another high energy release, Take What I Find. Though this disc starts with a rather subdued acoustic instrumental, it quickly kicks into a higher gear with “Don’t Say One More Word,” then jumps into “Trust All The Wrong People,” complete with some tasty slide guitar. The band’s name might make you automatically assume that they’re just your basic fun-loving bar boogie band, but these guys mean business. There’s a cover of Les McCann & Eddie Harris’ soul/jazz track, “Compared To What,” with some revision of the lyrics to reflect the world, post 9/11. “Cross My Mind,” with its minimalist approach (other than the slide guitar) reminds me a bit of some of the recent work coming from north Mississippi via Fat Possum. “Great Big Gump” creatively mixes the Delta and a few 21st century bells and whistles before jumping into “I Wanna Know,” a slow blues with horns. The modern touches continue through the remainder of the disc, but there’s nothing here that distracts from the blues and that’s what we have here. The band sounds great and the production gives you the feeling that you are watching them perform. Jeff Noble’s vocals are right on the money and so is lead guitarist Kevin Maring, especially his slide work. The rhythm team of Chris Maring (bass) and Ken Stefans (drums) keep it all together. This is an album that rewards with repeated listens, and can be picked up at the Screaming Bluedogs website, or at

--- Graham Clarke

Shootin the Groove is the self produced debut CD from Little Luke and the Loose Cannon Band, a tight, polished band from Casper, Wyoming. This isn’t blues in the classic sense, but blues lovers will find a lot to like in the funky grooves driven by the capable work of Jeff Lucas on the Hammond B3 and keyboards and punctuated with the unmistakable tenor sax of guest “Sax” Gordon Beadle. Six out of eight cuts are originals penned by either Lucas or bassist Amy Gieske, or both, and offer a nice taste of originality. Lucas and Gieske also handle most of the vocals and offer two very different moods to the music. Lucas’ timbre, like aged bourbon, goes down smooth, then kicks ass, and Gieske’s sultry, smokey voice is a sweet tease that can grab ... well, you know where. As a debut CD, this offers a lot of promise. There are some technical shortcomings, however. A couple of songs get cut on my copy, and the sound quality is a bit rough, causing the vocals to sound like they are coming from behind the music. But all in all, Shootin the Groove is on target. Send inquiries to or

--- Margaret Flowers

Maktub - KhronosOne of the best albums I've heard in the past year isn't really a blues disc. But Khronos (Ossia Records), from Seattle techno soul band Maktub, will appeal to many blues fans. In short, these cats can do it. Reggie Watts is a fantastic soulful singer in an Al Green kind of way, and has the best afro seen since 1977. If you liked the early incarnation of the Bone Shakers, back when Sweet Pea Atkinson was singing with the band, then you'll dig Maktub. They're just a little further out there, but with a real hip sound. Khronos is Maktub's second album, coming on the heels of their 1999 release Subtle Ways, which was voted the Northwest's soul album of the year. Part of what makes Khronos so special is the original composition "See Clearly." Just like a 'perfect storm' is formed when all meteorological conditions come together at one time in one place, all elements combine on "See Clearly" to form the 'perfect song' ... Watts' vocals, sometimes smooth, sometimes growling, but always packed with soul, Davis Martin's complex rhythmic drumming, Chava Mirel's beautifully ethereal backing vocals, Thaddeus Turner's funky guitar riffs, Kevin Goldman's roaming bass accompaniment and Daniel Spils' keyboard and synthesizer fills, the latter growing to a crescendo near the end of this five minute and 45 second masterpiece. I've played it over and over nearly every day for the past month. Another favorite on Khronos is Watts' opus to lost love, "Just Like Murder"; the pain from the singer's heart just flows out of his voice on this slow, heavy soul number until it builds into a display of anger. The singer does his best Al Green impersonation on the album's funky opener, "You Can't Hide"; Watts does his own backing vocals using an old, resonant microphone he calls the regg-a-phone  The only cover on the CD is an extended version of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," which takes the listener on a psychedelic trip back to the '70s. If you're just the tiniest bit adventuresome, then you'll enjoy your travels across the musical map with Maktub. Check them out at

Forrest McDonald may not be a household name to blues fans around the world, but maybe he should better known. He certainly puts out a red hot blues sound on his latest disc, Forrest McDonald Live (World Talent Records), recorded before a live audience in Australia, far from the band's Georgia home. Guitarist McDonald is joined by the fine singer Raymond Victor, and on these recordings the band is "introducing" another very good guitarist, Andrew Black. The sound quality is good and the  enthusiastic crowd of 20,000 is quite obviously into what they're hearing on this night in May of 2002. Victor is at his soulful best on the opening number, a cover of Jimmy Thackery's shuffling "Anchor To a Drowning Man," which also features nice guitar work from McDonald and good piano from Victor. The piano takes the lead on the next cut, an up-tempo original about Victor's second marriage, called "Work Work." McDonald contributes some incendiary guitar licks through the middle of the cut. Black shows his stuff on guitar on the 13-minute slow blues, "Blues In the Basement." If this truly is Black's "introduction," then I look forward to hearing more from him. Forrest McDonald Live is a fun party disc; you'll undoubtedly enjoy it as much as the 20,000 Aussies in the crowd.

Another smokin' live CD, Soul Be It! (Blind Pig), comes from contemporary blues guitarist Deborah Coleman. The Virginia native is one of the more dynamic performers on the scene today. Her studio releases to date have covered a lot of different musical styles, but this one, recorded live at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in California, is all blues. For that reason, I like it better than her other recent stuff. The up-tempo opening number, "Brick," shows why Coleman is quickly earning a reputation as one hot guitar player. She then launches into a slow original blues, "My Heart Bleeds Blue," that is reminiscent of both B.B. King's "Thrill Is Gone" and Robert Cray's "Phone Booth"; the guitar solo here is absolutely incredible. Another nice original composition, "I Believe," shows Coleman into a more jazzy mood, but it's still wrapped into an up-tempo blues shuffle. Coleman doesn't try to break any new musical ground on Soul Be It!, but it sure sounds like she was having a good time. So will you when you pop this one into your CD player.

--- Bill Mitchell

John Lee Hooker tributeAs tribute albums go, From Clarksdale to Heaven – Remembering John Lee Hooker (on Blue Storm Music, a division of Eagle Records), is not bad. It suffers from the usual weaknesses of the genre (lack of unity in sound and performance quality, unwieldy mixture of too-reverent covers and oddly modified re-creations), but has enough strong moments to warrant a recommendation. Among its special features is the final, so-called bonus track, a previously unreleased version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Red House,” performed in 1989 by Hooker with a band featuring Booker T. Jones on organ and ex-Spirit founder Randy California on rhythm guitar, which was planned for a Hendrix tribute that never saw light of day. Needless to say, that song is somehow transformed into pure Hooker meditation. Other goodies include a track by Hooker’s daughter, Zakiya, with Johnnie Johnson on piano, and a new song, “The Business”, that was written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and intended for an album Hooker never had time to record before his death; that song is performed here by a band called Greg’s Eggs (unknown to this writer). Still, the bulk of the record features well-known musicians, mostly British, paying tribute to John Lee Hooker by interpreting his songs, most of them two apiece. Jack Bruce (ex-Cream) teams up with Gary Moore for “I’m in the Mood” and “Serve [sic] Me Right to Suffer,” with Bruce singing lead on the former song and Moore on the latter, which is a little weaker because of a little too much stiffness in the groove. Still, Bruce’s trademark ultra-heavy bass is ideally suited to Hooker’s material. Procol Harum keyboardist Gary Brooker is backed by a band that features guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low (longtime cohort of Eric Clapton) on a rumba-tinged “Baby Lee” that is quite catchy, as well as on an ordinary reading of “Little Wheel.” (As you can see, he gets an extra point for choosing the most obscure songs in the Hooker canon). The only acoustic guitar track is “Ground Hog Blues,” by T.S. McPhee, whose band in the '60s was called The Groundhogs in tribute to that same song. This version of “Ground Hog Blues” is one of the most interesting blues tracks of the millennium so far --- a solo acoustic guitar track, save for jazzy (bop, almost) punctuation by saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, with no other instrument. (McPhee and Heckstall-Smith, backed by a full band, also try their hand at “I’m Leaving,” but fail, mostly on account of horrendous vocals). The only guest who manages two hits in two at-bats is Jeff Beck, who offers a jazz fusion cum gospel version of the traditional “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and a “Hobo Blues” full of low-volume feedbacks; it helps that he’s got the best vocalist of the whole album, Earl Green, who normally sings with Paul Lamb & The King Snakes. Other guests include ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor (with Max Middleton, who played with the Jeff Beck Group, on piano) and Peter Green (with his band, Splinter Group). As you can see, the British blues boom is well represented; after all, John Lee Hooker was, with the exception of Bo Diddley, the biggest influence of British blues musicians in the '60s. It’s nice to see that some of these musicians, even many years after making it big, still think so highly of the original boogieman to pay their respects to Hooker, forever the untouched master.

Gospel and blues are two sides of the same coin. If you agree with that sentence, then you will surely love the ninth album of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, called Goin’ Up Yonder – Jubilation IX (Justin Time). Resistance is futile when you attend a show of this 35-voice strong choir, celebrating its 20th year; Jubilation IX is the choir’s first live album, and it is the best way to experience the power of this ensemble. Save for “Glory Train” (director Trevor Payne invites spectators to come on stage to “augment” the choir, with plenty of laughter and pitiful non-professional singing, making for a memorable moment for all in attendance, no doubt, but hardly for a worthy album track), everything here is superb; the three featured vocalists are excellent, and one of them, Janique Montreuil, is properly astounding. What can I add? I’m speechless.

I was going over the stack of CDs waiting for me at the weekly newspaper where I work when I noticed a new CD by Jonny Lang & The Big Bang. Great, I thought, finally, a new CD by Lang, who’s been very quiet for a few years, save a few guest appearances here and there; his last record, Wander this World, came out in 1998. So I played the new record and liked it, even though I thought the solo acoustic version of “Malted Milk” had nothing to scare the ghost of Robert Johnson; the record as a whole sounded more purely blues, done more for the fun of it, less heavily weighted down by the constraints of modern blues-rock marketing. Then I checked what I had been playing --- Smokin’, on Eagle Records. This is the reissue (but nowhere does it clearly say so) of Kid Jonny Lang’s (as he was known when he was only 14) first record, from 1995, before he signed with A&M Records. Which means that the wait for a new album from now legally-drinking Mr. Lang is still on. In the meantime, I’ll play “Sugarman” again (penned by bassist Jeff Hayes), and wonder if Lang understood every connotation of what he was singing --- “...My love’s so sweet, almost good enough for you to eat…”

The same day I found the Jonny Lang CD on my desk, I also got Fleetwood Mac’s The Vintage Years Live, also on Eagle Records. At least this time I knew right away it wasn’t a record of brand new material. In 1970, Fleetwood Mac was set to record a live album; three sets a night, for three nights (February 5-7) at the Boston Tea Party, everything was taped, nothing was released, as the band lost Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green within a year. Since then, this material has been used countless times for various live packages, including the three-volume Live at the Tea Party. Still, with nine hours of live taping, this vault is a goldmine. The Vintage Years Live is culled from this three-day stay in Boston. It features one of the best blues-rock bands, ever, at the peak of its form, with a close to 13-minute version of “Green Mahalishi” and a 25-minute “Rattlesnake Shake” that are really of their time. Yet every note, every song, is still vitally fresh. Compared to 1999’s release of Shrine ’69, which was recorded live in January 1969, the 1970 tour found a band more confident to stretch out, less reliant on fun but dated covers, and it rocked ten times more. It is still the best way to remember how great Peter Green really was.

Which is not to say that nowadays the ex-leader of Fleetwood Mac is up to no good. In fact, the Peter Green (with Nigel Watson) Splinter Group is under contract with Blue Storm Music (the group contributes a meditative “Crawlin’ King Snake” to the John Lee Hooker tribute album discussed above). Before the disappointing Time Traders, the band released a couple of well-received Robert Johnson songbooks, earning Green a Handy award in the process. Peter Plays the Blues – The Classic Compositions of Robert Johnson is a low-cost compilation of the best of these two songbooks, released on Blue Storm’s parent company, Eagle Records. But because there are no liner notes, the buyer doesn’t know this CD is compiled from two previous ones; he doesn’t even know that the songs culled from the second of these, Hot Foot Powder, feature such guests as Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, Dr. John and Buddy Guy. Yes, the music is OK; the product as a whole is nonetheless a rip-off. Avoid.

There are many ways to be disappointed. In the case of the three-CD set titled Roots of the Blues (Vanguard), the disappointment stems from the fact that roughly half of its tracks could already be found on last year’s three-CD set, also on Vanguard, titled Newport Folk Festival – Best of the Blues 1959-68. (Most of the remaining tracks can be found on the seminal Chicago! The Blues! Today! set, also on Vanguard). Which means that, you know, it all sounds familiar. The few previously unreleased tracks (by Buffy Sainte-Marie (!), Sam & Kirk McGhee, Tony Glover, Josh White and Mance Lipscomb) are not strong enough to warrant buying this set if you own the two above-mentioned ones. Furthermore, tracks 12 and 13 of Disc three are misidentified (Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Blues with a Feeling,” listed as track 12, is really track 13; Charlie Musselwhite’s “Juke”, listed as track 13, is not here --- can you identify the mystery track?), and the liner notes are definitely aimed at the neophyte. So there you have it. If you don’t own any blues compilations from the Newport years, you’ll find a respectable introduction here. If you do, then you don’t need this latest set.

Tim Lee is a guitarist who learned his trade in Southern Ontario before packing up and relocating in one of the coldest cities in Canada, Edmonton, Alberta (the football team there is named The Eskimos, which should tell you something). Along with his band mates, he’s just self-released his first, self-titled record, Tim Lee and the Revelators ( The bonus here is the presence on half the tracks of Mel Brown, playing organ and piano. [A quick note: right now, Mel Brown is the greatest bluesman currently living in Canada. A native Texan, he’s played guitar or keyboards, sometimes even drums, on dozens of albums, blues, country and jazz, cut by artists such as Denny Freeman, Tompall Glaser, Jimmy McGriff and T-Bone Walker. The fact that he’s released relatively few albums under his own name, and most of them in Canada since his relocation there, plus his reluctance to tour, has kept his profile lower than what befits such a great musician. End of note.] Even if Lee sometimes gets bogged down in a swamp of lyrical clichés, there’s plenty to like on this disk, particularly the funky opening cut, the Junior Walker & the All-Stars instrumental hit “Cleo’s Back,” and the two songs that use stop-times to great effect, particularly “The Mess You Made,” which benefits from great percussion work by Murray Campbell. Lee seems to be at his best when he uses his slide, sounding at times like Studebaker John. Aside from "Cleo’s Back," the sole cover is “So Many Roads,” attributed here to Paul Marshall, instead of the usual Marshall Paul [Quick note number two: is this a trend? A recent album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band credited “Milk Cow Blues” to one Arnold Kokomo…]. Of course, “So Many Roads” is the same song that was brilliantly done by Rush Otis… oops, Otis Rush, under the title “So Many Roads, So Many Trains.” Even if Lee’s version is not as poignant as Rush’s, it is to the Canadian guitarist’s credit that he manages to make the song sound like one of his own. The CD ends with a solo, scratchy acoustic recording that sounds exactly as if you were hearing a song copied from an old 78, a nice low-fi touch that shows Tim Lee is aware and respectful of the tradition that preceded him.

Dr. Ika’s Blues is what is written on the album cover. It is the name of the band that features guitarist, songwriter and singer Dr. Ika, and it is the name of the band’s first album (on Blues Matters! Records). What I learned from the notes included is that Irakli Kikadze was born and raised in the Soviet republic of Georgia, where he became a neurosurgeon. Now living in Hatfield, UK, the man has apparently decided to forego medicine in favor of the life of a full-time musician, under his nickname of Dr. Ika. (Hmm. And here I thought I had done a strange career move when I left a prospective career in mathematics to become a full-time copy editor). What I do know from listening to the album is that the guy is a guitar and studio wiz, seemingly at ease in all sorts of styles, from the smooth jazz of “Old Clock” to the appropriately-titled “Ain’t No Blues,” which incorporates jungle dance beats, new age keyboards and foreign-sounding sampled voice lines. (Both titles are originals; in fact, the whole CD is entirely original, save for a misguided attempt to turn Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues” into a disco hit). If you only concentrate on the guitar playing, you can’t help but be impressed, whether you like clean and pure runs, flashy blues-rock pyrotechnics or wah-wah (and other) effects. Similarly, the guy obviously knows his way around a studio, as is obvious from the various sampled sounds, synth effects and especially the various patterns on the drum pads (only occasionally are real drum kits used, if I’m to believe these ears) that are incorporated into his music. As is apparent from the already-mentioned cover of “Crossroads Blues”, what Dr. Ika lacks is consistent good taste, and therefore his CD is a somewhat hit and miss affair, even if you keep a very open mind about it. Best parts --- the funky “Separate Ways,” with very heavy bass lines, the fast dance/blues number “Crook FM,” which does for the dance floor what Little Axe did for the dub on his recent CD, the jazzy (with lots of sustain and echo) “My Li’l Garden” and the straight, quasi-acoustic instrumental “Rainy Morning Blues.” But avoid at all costs the stupid-sounding “Immigration Blues,” with Chipmunk-style voice effects dubbed in. The ugliest cover art I’ve seen in years and the highest amount of typos in the liner notes I’ve ever read are added “bonuses” to this album, definitely one of the oddest things to come across my CD player recently. Check it out for yourself at or at

In the sixties, Barry Goldberg’s name was well-known from blues and blues-rock fans alike. As a founding member of the Electric Flag, and with his frequent work as a studio musician, this native Chicagoan was for a time one of the most sought-after organists in the business, along with Al Kooper. Goldberg’s profile has been relatively low in the last couple of decades, but he was recently featured on the Bo Diddley tribute that came out on Evidence a couple of months ago. With the latter record’s producer, Carla Olson, again in the control room, Goldberg now has a whole CD to offer, Stoned Again, on Antone’s Records/Texas Music Group. It is a concept album of sorts, a whole album of instrumental versions of classic (and more obscure) songs of the Rolling Stones, with Texas legend Denny Freeman, producer Olson and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor sharing lead guitar duties and John “Juke” Logan helping out on harmonica on three tracks. The album is pleasant enough, with Goldberg transforming these rock songs into bluesy/jazzy piano- or organ-based explorations that sound somehow new. But the music tends to fade rapidly into the background, akin to elevator music that one hears without noticing it. A few tracks manage to stand out (the opening “Stoned”, with vocal interjections and handclaps, is a success, and sax man Ernie Watts does make it interesting from time to time), but this is definitely one album for the (admittedly many) Stones die-hard fans.

Speaking of long-absent ex-household names, the folks at Evidence Records and producer Jon Tiven are to be commended for bringing back long-time producer, acclaimed songwriter, one-time saxophonist for the Mar-Keys and occasional recording artist, Don Nix. The occasion is an album credited to Don Nix and Friends, called Going Down – The Songs of Don Nix. Although Nix has produced albums and written tracks for Freddie and Albert King, his music is not pure blues, but rather a sort of variant on Southern rock --- riff-heavy rock that is equally close to blues-rock as it is to country-rock. Except for a song co-written with Tiven and two more with Gary Nicholson, the rest of these tracks have been recorded before, by Nix himself (who released five albums between 1971 and 1975, then dropped out of the surface of the earth for 10 years, and then came back to release records in 1985 and 1993) as well as by Albert King (“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” done here somewhat faster), Freddie King (most famously “Going Down,” recently reprised on the SRV boxed set, with Stevie Ray Vaughan dueling with Jeff Beck, but also “Same Old Blues,” which was covered last year by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown), Jeff Beck, John Mayall, etc. The “friends” advertised are equally famous --- singers Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie, singing on three tracks) and Dan Penn, guitarists Steve Cropper, Brian May (of Queen), Tony Joe White, Audley Freed (of the Black Crowes), Leslie West (of “Mississippi Queen” famed Mountain) and others, harpists John Mayall and Billy Lee Riley (of Sun Records fame), organist Bobby Whitlock (Derek and the Dominoes), pianist Max Middleton (ex-Jeff Beck group), etc. A star-studded affair for a classic-songs collection, all done with class and reverence, though never as vitally as the original stuff. Still, it’s one of the most “listenable” tribute records to come out recently, and it serves its primary purpose well --- to reacquaint us with great (and sometimes forgotten) songs. Let’s hope there are more to come from Nix’s pen.

--- Benoît Brière

It is rare for blues to fuse with world music. It's a huge musical challenge and it's tough to think of lyrical themes appropriate to such a stylistic merger. Clarence Bucaro does it naturally, smoothly, and to the delight of this critic on Sweet Corn (Burnside Records). He's a real mutt, a blues guy, but largely laid back country, with some ragtime thrown in. He sounds like Paul Simon, and then he sounds like Ray Davies. He sits at his kitchen table and writes about sitting at his kitchen table. Yup, it's formica dinette kitchen table, splintery front porches, warped rocking chairs, some friends with mandolins and washboards, the smell of a lumber mill down the road, sink and tub enamel permanently yellowed from all the sulphur in the water 'round here, and that old, cataracted hound that hasn't moved for hours. Then, suddenly, it's Latino ballad, dusty throated, too hot even for sex "Streets of Juarez," with flamenco flourishes and a hint of classic Dylan in both lyrics and delivery. After awhile, after a couple of beers and maybe a shot of George Dickel bourbon, it's back to the porch where the friends feel a little guilty about all this hellraising on a Sunday, so they do a short spiritual, Son House's "John the Revelator," and then they feel better. It's stuck windows and blowing, unraveled screens letting fat, lazy flies in and some other chores he'll get to as soon as he runs out of E strings and excuses. When the house gets so ratty that something absolutely has to be done, it's a trip to New Orleans with a frantic, trumpet-driven parade beat, where folks party like mad even though their houses are in even worse shape and the flies are even fatter. Oh yes, and Bucaro never gets far from social commentary during all these rambles and shuffles down the dirt roads of America. "Ol' Gutbucket" is as thoughtful and ambitious a use of a musical toolbox as one can find outside major label recording budgets. Playing's solid throughout, too, and Sweet Corn will remind you of that local songwriter you admire so much and think should have made it in Nashville or L.A. long ago.

Hmm mm. You know that brassy, sorta coarse, lotsa fun blues bitch that comes to your town every couple of months? Like Janis Joplin if Janis had stuck to blues and booze instead of branching out into rock and heroin? The real belter? Well, that's what Duffy Bishop has sounded like through several records. Outrageous and outrageously entertaining the way we like our bandstand blues mamas to be. The kind of performer that would invite a friendly reviewer like me into the ladies' room for a shot of Jose Cuervo between sets. The Queen's Own Bootleg (Burnside Records) is different. It's got some of that banter, some of that larger than life thing that the best blues performers have, but it's also got one of the best captures of live music I've ever heard. In addition, it reveals the secret that takes a local blues scene to the next level --- some of Ms. Bishop's players are jazz players. I remember when I was hipped to the trick of incorporating jazz players into a blues act. I learned that bassists and drummers could solo, too. Duffy Bishop seems to be attempting to share the feel of one of those discovery nights with her audience on this "bootleg," and she comes very, very close to succeeding. Very, very close. Honestly, there are two problems. First of all, she too often relinquishes the audio spotlight to the jazz-competent players, and no blues singer of her caliber ever needs to do that (let me refer you to Bobby "Blue" Bland). Second, CDs are sterile --- they're digital, and they have X number of increments per second. Humans can almost hear the little bits of silence between the little bytes of sound on a CD. Similarly, houseflies, with their compound eyes, can almost see the strobe effect of AC (alternating current) light bulbs, and it confuses them, and a household hint from this reviewer is that flies are easier to swat if you turn your kitchen lights on. The Queen's Own Bootleg is an outstanding record that would have been better had it been recorded with the technology of a quarter century ago. Recording live is one thing; capturing live is another. I know of few acts that could perform Duffy Bishop's live set list, ranging as it does from Charlie Christian to Willie Dixon to Johnny Adams to Johnny Mercer, and I know of no other act that could come as close to capturing live sound with digital technology as Duffy Bishop. This release comes mighty close. You can almost smell the stale beer and Winstons. This one's for blues musicians and primary users of live blues. All of you.

Telarc samplerTelarc, Telarc, Telarc . . . What is it with this label's obsession with anthologies? They have a stupendous catalog and as good a talent roster as any blues label. Their single-act releases are reliably fine. They're just hooked on themed collections. They're so hooked on themed collections that Now This Is What We Call Blues actually includes material that's been released before on other themed collections. This one's supposed to present songs that really nail the essence of the blues. Most of the artists contributing to this 13-cut release do that perfectly well on separate records of their own. Many of the backing musicians (including Double Trouble, Levon Helm and David Maxwell) do that perfectly well on separate records of their own. Colin Linden's version of the Beatles' "Blackbird," included on this record, does not. No offense intended to the Beatles, who demonstrated understanding of the blues on many tracks, but "Blackbird" does not belong on an anthology called Now This is What We Call Blues, because "Blackbird" is not what we call blues. It's here because it is in the Telarc catalog, and its presence there makes it probable that it will appear on an anthology. Similarly, Annie Raines and Paul Rishell, who deserve even more awards and accolades for sharing the blues than they have received, should not be represented by the spiritual, "I Shall Not Be Moved," on a blues anthology. The other 11 cuts are good, but not as good on this sampler as they would be in the context of separate artist releases.

--- Arthur Shuey

Upon a quick glance while passing through your local record store's blues section (if they have one), you'll notice a compilation that seems to stand out as being misplaced since the cover accurately depicts the NOW series of all-pop tunes (currently in it's umpteenth incarnation) that demand our hard earned bucks. On closer scrutiny the word BLUES, in the usual big block format, materializes along with the volume number as an outrageous #420. Then the tag line, "13 songs that never went near a chart," appearing on the bottom clearly proves the tongue-in-cheek attitude Telarc has taken for their latest blues collection assembling all the truly fantastic releases from the past year. Now This Is What We Call Blues - Vol.420 (Telarc) is power packed with every style and nuance of blues you can think of and more. Telarc takes quite a progressive and intelligent stance in signing their blues artists, mixing strong, seasoned, generation defying legends with contemporaries that are changing the way we think of the blues, both of which are represented here. All songs are highlights. But to mention some of my favorites, we find Tab Benoit coupled with Jimmy Thackery on a remake of a Benoit tune, "Nice and Warm," showing off their incomparable guitar talent. One of the best from the past year include Joe Louis Walker's blend of soul/gospel blues-inspired music that makes me glad I'm alive on every listening, nicely supplied with the title track from In the Morning. Harmonica purists take note, two of the greats show up here with Charlie Musselwhite's cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River," beautifully rendered, and James Cotton's sprightly bouncing instrumental, "The Creeper." Acoustic lovers look no further, with wonderful tunes by the likes of duo Annie Raines and Paul Rishell's church standard, "I Shall Not be Moved," and Colin Linden's melodic-laced version of the Beatles (dare I say McCartney's) "Blackbird." Genre crossing guitarist Ronnie Earl plays the blues on his self-penned instrumental "Twenty-Five Days."  Now This Is What We Call Blues is definitely one collection you do not want to pass by. Available in most stores in late January.

From our colder northern neighbor, Canada, comes Sunny Fournier, producing enough blues heat to warm any frigid winter day or night. Just take a listen to the leadoff title tune on My Kind of Blues (SAR), and you'll see that Fournier's triple threat of vocals, guitar and harp take us on a musical blues journey as varied as one can get. The second solo on this high-energy instrumental features producer Ken Whiteley on mandolin, an instrument not usually associated with the blues. Colleen Allen is featured on a blistering alto sax solo. You'll find many gems throughout, like the second track, "You Don't Love Me," with a nice acoustic feel and super harp work by Fournier. Pianist Michael Fonfara provides some great sounding piano on the gospel-influenced "See You in My Dreams." Slow cooker "Tired" is wonderfully embellished by Fonfara's Hammond B-3. Fornier penned all songs, showcasing his apparent influences from B.B. to Clapton's Cream years to legendary harp players like James Cotton and Little Walter. The sound quality is exemplary, thanks to multi-instrumentalist and producer Whiteley. To order the CD and find out more on this solid blues artist, click on

--- Bruce Coen

Many years ago Sam Phillips proclaimed “If I could find a white man that sings with the negro feel, I’ll make a million dollars.” In later years everyone assumed he was talking about Elvis Presley. Phillips, who had always had an ear for what was then termed “black music,” had recorded guys like Howlin’ Wolf and other non-mainstream acts long before he recorded Elvis. Personally, I think the gentleman he was looking for when he made that statement went by the name of “Harmonica” Frank Floyd, who cut some sides for Phillips in 1954, then vanished. He resurfaced in 1979 to play a few shows at Memphis area schools that were fortuitously recorded by Jim Dickson and Memphis International co-founder David Less. Harmonica Frank who? My reaction was the same when I first heard his name, having no idea who he was until I had the pleasure of hearing this fantastic recording entitled The Missing Link (Memphis International). These recordings are a combination of those live performances, some studio takes and one of those original sides he cut for Phillips, entitled “Rocking Chair Daddy,” that starts this record off and gives you a tremendous insight into the sound Phillips was striving for at the time. Frank Floyd was born in 1909 Toccopola Mississippi, raised in the backwoods of Arkansas and left home at the age of 14 to explore the world. He often sang for his supper and spare change at carnivals and county fairs, slept in ditches, barns and any place that was relatively dry. In other words, he lived the life of a hobo or wandering minstrel, however you choose to define it. Along the way he absorbed every musical style and tune he could find, like a sponge, which is highly evident throughout this superb record. ”Harmonica” Frank lives up to his name on his own “Married Mans Blues” and a distinct cover of “Sitting On Top Of The World,” allowing his prowess on the harp to say it all. Floyd touches on some traditional blues such as “Deep Elum Blues,” and a scorching rendition of “Howlin Tomcat Blues,” letting his country persona shine through by introducing the latter as “blues, like colored people used to play.” Keep in mind this was 1979 and political correctness hadn’t been invented yet. An appealing mixture of traditional country, bluegrass and, of course, some downhome blues are vividly represented on traditional pieces such as “Moonshiners Daughter,” “Step It Up And Go” and “Sweet Farm Girl.” All of these are made to sound like original works which can be attributed to this man's feel and passion for his material. Speaking of originals, they are more than plentiful and infused with a wit and humor that brings to mind what type of songwriter Mark Twain might have been had he chosen another profession. A few prime examples of this can be found on Floyd’s “What Are You Squawkin’ About,” the somewhat silly “Shoop-A-Boop-D-Doodler,” the hilariously funny “Swamp Root,” and a special mention to “The Great Medical Menagerist.” A smoothly executed cover of Roy Acuff’s “You Don’t Know My Mind” wraps things up rather nicely and is somewhat biographical. Floyd’s guitar work is concise and clean throughout, alternating between finite picking and chording, blended fluidly with plain old harmonic back porch strumming and wailing country harp licks that quite possibly might set your mind to wandering along those same roads that the artist you are listening to traveled. To give Frank Floyd one musical label such as blues, country, bluegrass is damned near impossible to do as his music is all of those. So I guess he’ll just have to fall into that all-encompassing and vast category of “American music,” but, then again, how else do you categorize a truly American original? If the rest of those sessions from Sun Records exist anywhere, I would surely like to hear them, as I am sure they are as dazzling as this fine collection. It’s evident that Mr. Phillips had what he sought the whole time.

The musical community has seen many great front men throughout its history but none more electrifying or more fun to sing and dance along with other than Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band. Though labeled a rock and roll / boogie band, they started out and remained (if you listen very closely) a powerhouse blues band. When they disbanded, Wolf embarked on a solo career that has never quite achieved him the fame and fortune that he realized with his former compadres, but has been just as musically exciting and his to call his own. His latest release, Sleepless (Artemis), continues in that same vein, with Wolf exuding a more mature poise as a songwriter, At times it's stunning yet not surprising, as his last two releases exhibited the same quality, only to a slightly lesser degree. Wolf cleverly paces the 12 mostly original tracks brilliantly, with a combination of styles that stir your musical taste buds in several different directions at once, but never quite settles into the one genre that would give it definition. While this classifies as a blues recording, it is much more than that in the sense that it incorporates a bit of rock, Motown, Memphis, country and soul into a very tight fabric that fits Wolf like a satin glove around his versatile throaty vocals. The interesting title of the album's opening number, “Growing Pain,” sets the tone of what’s in-store with its thoughtful reflective observations set against tight and subdued, yet flowing, rhythms and soft harmonies that quickly suck you in. Following up is a duet with a fellow front man by the name of Mick Jagger, entitled “Nothing But The Wheel.” Wolf explains in the liner notes that this tune reminded him of something that could have been on Exile On Main Street. One listen to its country-ish flavor and drawling harp, fiddle and pedal steel licks, coupled with the two different vocalists, and you will agree. “A Lot Of Good Ones Gone” is a moving ballad that pays tribute to the many blues greats that Wolf has felt himself fortunate enough to have shared a stage with in days past, but is really dedicated to John Lee Hooker. The boogie machine gets switched on directly into high gear, with a sparkling cover of William Bell’s “Never Like This Before” that finds Peter letting his R&B influences tear loose alongside the blaring brass of The Uptown Horns and soul-soaked harmonies. Otis Rush’s “Homework” is no stranger to Wolf, as he recorded it with The J. Geils Band; this version happened by accident, as it was originally intended as a level check in the studio and tape was rolling. Wolf had to be convinced into using the resulting track, but is glad he did. The funny thing is it’s one of the albums best numbers. Wolf’s alter ego, “Woofer Goofer” from the Geils Band days, drops in for a visit on a slick take of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Too Close Together” that is old home week, with former fellow band mate Magic Dick supplying his distinctive harp chops and Keith Richards contributing some jazzy guitar runs and vocals for a number that starts off cooking and hits the red hot boiling point very quickly. “Oh Marianne” is a completely enjoyable number that lulls you with it’s soft, almost calypso-ish, rhythms and tight harmony that is augmented by the big bass voice of Milt Grayson. The title tune closes this finely constructed album and is heavily influenced by Roy Orbison ballads, and seems to pour right from the depths of Wolf’s artistic soul. This is by no means the high energy, explosive Peter Wolf album that one might expect from him. It is way more eclectic than anything he has ever done before, and is more of an arrival album of a very intuitively deep songwriter whose emergence bears close watching. Oh, the bad boy of old is very much present, but he has grown up quite a bit and co-produced an album that satisfies on many different levels mainly because of its flowing arrangements and thought provoking lyrics. While not a pure bred blues album, the roots run very deep and wide here. Peter Wolf has never failed to deliver a good time, and this album delivers just that. It ranks as his best to date in my opinion. Don’t miss out on this one.  

--- Steve Hinrichsen

A Tribute

The Tall Cool One
Rich Dangel 1942-2002

Rich DangelRichard Dangel died on December 3rd of a stroke, just after marking his 60th birthday Sunday before. It was a devastating blow to music fans in the Northwest and beyond. Probably best known as a founding member of the Fabulous Wailers in 1958 and composer of the hit “Tall Cool One,” Rich Dangel was a gifted and respected guitar player who influenced a generation and is credited for pioneering the “Northwest Sound” and is credited with turning the song into a rock anthem by composing the historic guitar lick for “Louie Louie,” later made famous by The Kingsmen. Even rock guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix acknowledged Rich as a major influence. While Dangel would only stay with the band until 1963, he would again gain National attention when he put together the renowned Floating Bridge with another regional guitarist, the late Jo Johansen in 1968. The band had all the makings for superstardom in the Psychedelic 60’s but was derailed by inter-conflict among the members and broke up in 1970. Rich formed another ground breaking band called Sledgehammer after the split. In the mid '70s, Richard brought together Seattle cream of the crop and put together a group that would become the Reputations. With Tim Scott on bass and vocals (former member of Tower Of Power) and Jimmy Holden (brother of Ron Holden) on keyboards and vocals, the group combined funk, blues, and R&B with a fierce attitude and a razor sharp sound. By the 1980s, Rich was playing with two top drawing bands in Seattle, The Reputations and The Dick Powell Blues Band. However, the success was a double edged sword and soon he found himself cocaine to keep up with his busy schedule. The 1990s started out worse than Rich could possibly imagine. Both groups, The Reputations and Dick Powell, were on the downslide while Richard’s cocaine use was consuming him. Finally, after almost a decade of abuse, Rich Dangel decided to get clean. Not only did he get clean, but he also got his certificate as a drug and alcohol counselor so he could help others who had fallen victim to the disease. While the Wailers had teamed up for nostalgic reunion shows throughout the years, in 2001, Rich reunited with the original members of the Fabulous Wailers and release the acclaimed Cadillac To Mexico CD. The new material invigorated the band and they set out on a successful tour of the East coast. Rich’s last band was Butter Bean, with Northwest Legend and WBS Hall Of Fame inductee, Buck England, on Hammond B3 and Michael Kinder on drums. The group performed their last gig the night before Rich died. Rich Dangel's genius was his ability to adapt to any genre. Like a classically trained virtuoso, he played with a seemingly effortless grace. While Rich’s time in the national spotlight was fleeting, the tall cool one in his trademark cap was a welcome site in the Seattle area and he will be missed by friends and fans alike.

--- Tony Engelhart  

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