Blues Bytes

What's New

January 2013

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Gary Clark Jr

Magic Slim

Buddy Guy

Tim Lothar

Dave Widow

Jason Vivone

Colin Linden

Big Frank and the Healers

Red Lotus Revue


Gary Clark JrOver the past few years, Gary Clark Jr.’s profile has increased considerably. The guitarist has been making a lot of waves in the Austin, TX area for the past decade, but reached a higher measure of popularity when he appeared in John Sayles’ 2007 film, Honeydripper. He was also selected by Eric Clapton to perform at Clapton’s 2010 edition of the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Clark’s appearance on the DVD of the festival led to his signing to Warner Brothers Records, and the release of a 2011 EP. Blak and Blu is Clark’s first full length release for a major label (fifth overall) and debuted on the Billboard Top 200 Pop Charts at #6, which is unheard of for a blues artist.

However, Blak and Blu is not exclusively blues music. There are several blues songs on the disc, among them the Hendrixian “Numb” and “When My Train Pulls In,” which features two especially torrid guitar solos. The melding of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” and Little Johnny Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say” is pretty creative, and the closer, “Next Door Neighbor,” is a stripped-down, acoustic workout.

The opening cut, “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” and “Things Are Changin’,” both mix blues and soul effectively, and “Travis County” is a raucous rocker that brings to mind Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. “Please Come Home” is a nice slice of doo wop with a strong vocal from Clark, while the title track and “The Life” combine blues and hip hop with modern-based lyrics. “Things Are Changin’” and “Bright Lights” are both reworked tunes from Clark’s EP.

A lot of the tracks feature guitar-based rock with lots of Hendrix/SRV-based guitar work, which might lead blues fans to believe that Clark’s focus is toward the more mainstream rock audience. Considering his crunching guitar attack, his soulful vocals, and his rapidly developing songwriting skills, that may be the case, but it’s obvious with every track on Blak and Blu that the blues continues to be the foundation for all of Clark’s music and he will never drift completely away. If this is what the future of the blues looks like, everything should be just fine.

--- Graham Clarke

Magic SlimNow 75 years old, Magic Slim shows no signs of slowing down. He’s still unleashing that fierce guitar and those growling vocals at a moment’s notice. Well into his third decade with Blind Pig Records, Bad Boy is his tenth release for the label, counting a live CD/DVD and a compilation CD released a few years ago. Though The Teardrops have undergone personnel changes over the years (the current band is Jon McDonald on guitar, Andre Howard on bass, and B. J. Jones on drums), this edition is as razor sharp as any previous.

Longtime fans of the Magic Man know exactly what they’re getting with this release….a gritty set that will mix an amazing mix of cover tunes done up “Magic Slim style,” plus a few choice original cuts that compare favorably to the chosen covers, which include the title track (Eddie Taylor’s classic tune), Denise LaSalle’s “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” which features Howard sharing lead vocals with Slim, Detroit Jr.’s “I Got Money,” Roy Brown’s “Hard Luck Blues” (heard on previous Slim albums as “Highway Is My Home”), and Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer.”

There’s also a frenetic take on J.B. Lenoir’s “How Much More Long,” a sharp “Matchbox Blues,” and a nice version of Lil’ Ed Williams’ “Older Woman” that simmers and stews at a relaxed pace. Slim’s originals include the laidback shuffle, “Sunrise Blues,” “Gambling Blues,” and the closing “Country Joyride,” which gives Slim a chance to lay down some of his extensive fretwork.

There’s nothing new or revolutionary to be found on Bad Boy, just the basic Chicago blues that Magic Slim’s been putting out there since the 1960s. If you’re a fan….well, you probably already have this. If not, this is a great place to get on board.

--- Graham Clarke

Buddy Guy2012 has been a pretty big year for Buddy Guy. He performed at the White House in February for the President, he released his autobiography, When I Left Home, during the summer, and he was one of the recipients of the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in December. To cap off a successful year, Guy has released Live at Legends (Silvertone/RCA), which captures one of Guy’s last live performances at his now-closed original Legends blues club in Chicago.

A couple of things to point out in advance of the review……1) the “live” portion of the disc is only about 38 of the 54-minute running time. The remainder of the disc is devoted to three previously unreleased tracks recorded during Guy’s last studio release, Living Proof. 2) Don’t plan on listening to this with your small kids or your Bible study group in the room because there are several colorful words thrown about during the live portion, including the introduction.

Now with that out of the way, let’s proceed. The live portion of the disc is pretty much what you would expect from a Buddy Guy show….a crack support band (Rick Hall – guitar, Marty Sammon – keyboards, Orlando Wright – bass, Tim Austin – drums, and producer Tom Hambridge on percussion), out of this world guitar playing, sheets of metallic guitar sound, sudden stops that move from a scream to a whisper to a scream again, Guy’s on-the-edge-of-bursting vocals, etc….. all of that is here. The set focuses mostly on Guy’s newer material (’90s onward) with songs like his anthemic “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” “Best Damn Fool,” and a moving “Skin Deep.”

There’s also a couple of Muddy Waters’ classics covered as well, a raucous version of “Mannish Boy” and a sensual take on “I Just Want To Make Love To You” that interestingly segues to Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads.” Closing the live set are a pair of medleys, one mixing “Voodoo Chile” with “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the other joining “Boom Boom” with “Strange Brew,” both of which are fine as is, but it would have been nice to have each of them fleshed out a bit more instead of just snippets. Personally, I would rather hear Buddy Guy do Buddy Guy instead of doing artists who were influenced by Buddy Guy. Your mileage may vary and, if so, you will love this portion of the set.

Closing out the disc are the three aforementioned unreleased studio tracks from Living Proof. These are all quality songs and would have fit perfectly well on the album for which they were recorded. “Polka Dot Love,” is a scorching slow blues tribute to Guy’s familiar spotted Stratocaster. “Coming For You,” penned by Hambridge, Delbert McClinton, and Gary Nicholson, is a funky rocker that features the Memphis Horns (Jack Hale – trombone, Wayne Jackson – trumpet, Tom McGinley – tenor sax). The closer is another Muddy Waters tune, a stunning remake of “Country Boy” that brings it all back home, with Guy’s blues-drenched leads mixing with Sammon’s piano and Reese Wynan’s B-3 backdrop. Hambridge plays drums and percussion on these three tracks and is also joined by Sammon (keyboards), Wynans (keyboards), David Grissom (guitar), Michael Rhodes (bass), and Tommy Macdonald (bass).

Live at Legends is not the quintessential Buddy Guy “Live” disc, but it captures the sound and feel of the legendary guitarist in action and is a fine addition to the Guy catalog. It should satisfy listeners until his next release in 2013.

--- Graham Clarke

Tim LotharTim Lothar spent 25 years manning the drums for various Danish groups, most recently Lighnin’ Moe, but several years ago, he began teaching himself to play acoustic guitar and working on his singing voice in order to explore the Mississippi Delta blues. By 2006, he had released his first solo CD, Cut To The Bone, which was received enthusiastically. In 2008, his follow-up, In It For The Ride, was one of the better acoustic blues CDs released that year, as Lothar mixed his interpretations of classic Delta blues standards with his own powerful, personal originals. That disc won the award for Best Danish Blues Album and Lothar was selected as Blues Artist of the Year in Denmark for 2008.

After a 2009 collaboration with harmonica player Peter Nande, Lothar has released his third solo effort, Stories. It consists of 12 highly personal tracks taken from his personal life and experiences. As with any personal work of this nature, it’s obvious Lother has poured his heart and soul into this project. Songs like “Traveler,” “25 Places” (the number of places he’s lived over the years), and “Coming Home” describe the restlessness and weariness of his life as a traveling bluesman.

“Ride Train Ride,” another in the long line of blues train songs, is filled with vivid imagery, and in “King’s Harbor,” about his new home, Frederickshavn, you can feel his longing to get back to his family and to find “some peace of mind.” There are also songs that cover love and passion (“Lover”), making love work (“Www”), and even the prospects of losing love (“Troubled,” “See What You Have Become”).

Throughout, Lothar’s guitar work is just amazing and his vocals are excellent, providing just the right amount of sentiment and emotion. On the opening cut, “Papa Told Me,” Lothar sings that his father told him, “Just go for what you love.” Listening to Stories, it’s obvious that Tim Lothar did just that.

--- Graham Clarke

Dave WidowCincinnati native Dave Widow made the move to Los Angeles some time back to pursue his musical vision. That vision involves a blend of the blues with R&B, funk, soul, and rock. Over the years that vision has been reinforced by his relationship with musicians like Buddy Miles, Bonnie Bramlett, Bill Champlin, Lonnie Mack, and his mentor, the late Roger “Jellyroll” Troy of the Mike Bloomfield Band.

His band, The Line Up, consists of some of the most renowned musicians in the City of Angels, including drummers Gary Mallabar (“Fly Like An Eagle,” “Moondance,” “Two Tickets to Paradise”) and James Gadson (Marvin Gaye, Paul McCartney, Bobby Womack, B.B. King), bass players Reggie McBride (B.B. King, Elton John, Keb’ Mo’) and Gerald Johnson (Steve Miller, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Mason), and keyboardist David Morgan (Ricky Nelson, The Nelsons). Also lending a hand are Mike Finnigan (keyboards), Barry Goldberg (keyboards), and a horn section of Marty Grebb, Paul Lidderal, and Paulie Cerra.

Widow’s new disc, Waiting For The World To End, is a fulfillment of his musical vision. Consisting of 14 tracks written or co-written by Widow, the disc is a showcase of his musical gumbo version of the blues, throwing in a little rock with a dash of soul and R&B, with extra heavy dose of funk. Highlights include the brassy opener, “Bluesman,” the soulful “Piss You Off,” “Baby Wants To Rock,” and the funky “Nothin’ On You” and “I Look For Things Like That.” The title track is a humorous jab at the recent turmoil over the Mayan calendar punctuated by Finnigan’s gurgly keyboards.

While not all of this is straight blues, “Picture of You” is more of an Americana piece, “Long Gone” has smart pop sensibilities, “Second Hand Love” is a strong blues rocker, and “Sweet Janine” has a country-soul feel, the blues influences permeate throughout the disc, just like the work of Widow’s inspirational sources.

If there’s any justice in the world, Waiting For The World To End should be the vehicle that propels Dave Widow to bigger and better things. It’s chock full of great songs and performances (Widow is an excellent guitarist and first-rate vocalist) that will please just about anybody that likes blues or R&B.

--- Graham Clarke

Jason VivoneI’ve seen a lot of words used to describe Jason Vivone, among them “idiosyncratic,” “wild,” “eccentric,” “humorous,” and “seriously warped.” Permit me to add a couple more…..“creative” and “entertaining.” Vivone and his band, The Billy Bats, have created one of the most unique blues CDs that I’ve listened to in a long time in Lather Rinse Repeat. Sticking closely to the music of his mentors and influences (Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, and Son Seals), the young singer/songwriter/guitarist/harmonica player blends the blues with his own highly original lyrical perspective and the results make for compelling listening.

Let’s face it….you don’t often hear blues tunes with lyrics like “Lose your shoes, lose your socks, lose your hand on the grandfather clock, lose the dog, lose the cat, but please don’t lose that baby fat” (“Baby Fat”), or an Elmore James-like tune that compares a woman to Christopher Columbus’ nautical journey (“The Nina, The Pinta, The Santa Maria”), or a song about a love affair with a woman’s picture (“Photograph”), but that’s what you get with this disc.

It all works amazingly well though, because Vivone and the band have the musical talent and chops in a dazzling variety of blues styles (Chicago, Tex-Mex, old style hokum, Bo Diddley beat, and even jazzy blues on the haunting closer, “Medusa Blues”) to pull it off. Other standouts include “I Hear a Heartbeat,” a wonderfully grungy boogie tune that would make John Lee Hooker smile, the funky “One Hot Mother,” the hilarious “Liquid Diet,” a drinking song like you’ve never heard before, and “The Nod,” a tribute and jibe to the numerous “dance” tunes of the ’50s and ’60s.

Vivone is an ideal frontman, ripping through vocals and guitar solos with equal vigor. The Billy Bats (Matt Bustamante – drums, Jeremy Clark – bass, Paula Crawford – vocals, guitar, Imani Glasgow – vocals, percussion, and Ben Hoppes – vocals, banjo) are first-rate support as well. Every time I listen to this disc, I find something else to like about it and, more than likely, you will, too.

--- Graham Clarke

Colin LindenSince he met his musical idol, Howlin’ Wolf, as an 11-year-old in the early ’70s, Colin Linden has never strayed far from the blues when concocting his musical gumbo of blues, soul, gospel, and rock. He’s a living legend in Canada, having served as a performer, songwriter, and producer with artists like Robert Plant, Colin James, Bruce Cockburn, Gregg Allman, The Band, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, T-Bone Burnett, and many more.

Linden’s first solo release, way back in 1980, was called Live!!!!!. It seems only appropriate that his newest release, another live album, is called Still Live (Yellow Dog Records). The set, recorded at Nashville’s Douglas Corner Café, finds Linden in a comfortable setting with fellow Canadians John Dymond (bass) and Gary Craig (drums), plus the legendary Memphis keyboardist/songwriter Spooner Oldham.

The set consists of Linden tunes like the comic opener, “Big Mouth,” the inspirational “Between The Darkness and the Light of Day,” “Smoke ‘Em All,” a tribute to his close friend, pianist Richard Bell, who passed away in 2007, the slide guitar showcase, “Sugar Mine,” and a rousing version of “Remedy,” which was originally done by The Band. Oldham, whose sublime keyboard always makes great music even better, stands out on the album’s lone cover, the Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking.”

“From the Water,” the title track from his previous CD, has a light, danceable New Orleans rhythm to it, and “John Lennon in New Orleans” is not far behind it, though taken at a more slow and soulful pace. Continuing on that theme is “Dark Night of the Soul,” which sounds like a delicious slice of Memphis soul. The three tracks that close the disc include the rowdy rocker, “Too Late To Holler,” the mournful dirge, “Sinking Down Slow,” and “I Give Up,” a countrified slide workout.

If you’re familiar with Colin Linden’s work, you’ll find that Still Live is a great addition to his catalog. It’s also a great starting-off place for newcomers. If you’re a music fan at all, you’ve no doubt already heard him on somebody else’s recording, but this disc proves beyond a doubt that he’s the real deal on his own, too.

--- Graham Clarke

Big FrankBig Frank & The Healers’ latest release, Sparky’s Lounge (Lost World Music), offers 50 minutes of the real blues, the genuine article. Frank Mirra, a native of Staten Island, learned to play guitar at Sunday mass, but once he was exposed to Rock ‘n Roll, he quickly traced its steps back to the blues and he’s been there ever since, offering up some of the hottest slide guitar you’ll hear. The Healers, with Margey Peters (bass) and Bill Rankin (drums) serving as an immovable force of a rhythm section, and Kid Java wailing away on harmonica, mesh with Mirra’s guitar and vocals like peas and rice.

Produced by legendary keyboardist “Chicago” Carl Snyder (who also plays on the disc), Sparky’s Lounge offers 11 tracks, ten originals and one cover (the swinging “Your Red Wagon”). The originals range from the hot electric boogie of “Tell Me How You Feel,” to the scorching slide workout, “I Love You Baby,” that surely would have earned an approving nod from Elmore James, to the smoky title track.

“Simple Man” has a Crescent City feel, while “Ride This Bus” swings hard with some great harp from Kid Java. “Ferryboat Blues” is a rocking blues about the perils that many New Yorkers face twice daily when traveling to work. “Oh Yeah Oh Yeah” is a classic old-school number with sweet chick vocals and Matt Cowan’s honking sax. The closer, “Toll Booth Woman,” allows Mirra to show his chops on acoustic slide as he extols the virtues of his would-be paramour, while grumbling about the outrageous amount of money he has to pay for the toll.\

Sparky’s Lounge is a great set of traditional blues that reflects on modern situations and circumstances. There’s no bells and whistles here….just pure, unadulterated blues by a group of vets who know how to do it.

--- Graham Clarke

Red Lotus RevueFourteen Stories, the debut release of the Red Lotus Revue, is exactly that….14 tracks split between the band’s versions of classic blues tracks and a fine set of original compositions from band members Jimmy Zollo and Karl Cabbage. The band was founded in 2010, but its members have been active on the San Diego blues scene for longer, with all the band members having competed in previous IBC finals in Memphis. Zollo and Pete Fazzini hold down guitar duties, while Kurt Kalter mans the drums. Cabbage, formerly of the group West of Memphis, sings and plays harmonica.

RLR’s original tunes range from the rough and ready opener, “Suzanne,” to the acoustic “Pass This Way,” to the splendid “Barkin’,” and the rousing “River.” The group also covers seven Chicago-flavored tunes by Johnny Shines (a rocking version of “Please Don’t” and an unplugged “Fish Tail,” featuring some edgy slide guitar), Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers’ shuffle, “Drinkin’ Muddy Water,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “You Can’t Be Beat (Go To Sleep),” and a fine take of the standard, “Ain’t Got You.”

Best of all is a slow-as-molasses reading of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” with Cabbage wringing every ounce of emotion possible.

Zollo and Fazzini complement each other perfectly on guitar, exchanged tight, economical but potent fretwork. Kalter is a rock-steady force on the skins, and Cabbage is an excellent harmonica player and charismatic frontman. The production reminds you of the classic ’50s Chicago sides for Chess and Vee-Jay, the band playing as a cohesive unit….no lengthy solos or overshadowing.

If Chicago blues from back in the day are your cup of tea, you will certainly enjoy Red Lotus Revue’s Fourteen Stories, and they will not be Southern California’s best kept secret for much longer.

--- Graham Clarke

Jake LearJake Lear was born in Vermont, but migrated to Memphis to hone his blues chops. 2008 saw the release of his debut recording, Love and Charm, which saw Lear draw comparisons to Bob Dylan vocally and Stevie Ray Vaughan with his guitar work. Lear’s sophomore release, Diamonds and Stones, finds the Dylan and SRV comparisons still legitimate, but the disc also has a bit of a rawer, edgier fell than its predecessor.

To me, Lear’s rugged vocals are actually an improvement from Dylan’s and his guitar work has gone beyond the SRV influences to include some hypnotic hill country blues (“Going Back Home (North Mississippi Bound)” and the title track), Hookeresque boogie (J.L.H.’s “Jack O’Diamonds), and a few tight shuffles (a double-time take of Junior Wells’ “Work Work Work” and “Quit You”). Tracks like “Strange Things” and “Wasting Time” lean more to the rock side of the blues most effectively, while “I See A Train Coming” recalls the stinging lead guitar of Chicago West Side, and runs a close second to the closing instrumental, “Boogie Time,” for best guitar work on the album.

Backing Lear are Roy Cunningham (drums) and Carlos Arias (bass), who are up to every challenge Lear throws their way. Diamonds and Stones is an excellent release that spans a wide range of styles and proves Jake Lear will be a force to be reckoned with as a composer and performer that deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott RammingerScott Ramminger is a Washington, D.C. area sax player who was raised in the Huntsville, Alabama area. While he typically appears with his own band, the CrawStickers, for his new album, Advice From a Father To A Son (Arbor Lane Music), Ramminger assembled a couple of high profile groups of studio musicians to back him on this disc containing 10 original compositions. It's an enjoyable collection of soulful, funky blues, although Ramminger is sometimes overshadowed by his more talented accompanying musicians.

Most of the album was recorded in New Orleans with an all-star cast, featuring Shane Theriot (guitar), David Torkanowsky (keyboards), Johnny Vidacovich (drums), and the world's greatest bass player, George Porter, Jr. Not surprisingly many of these cuts have a distinct New Orleans beat, most notably the opening cut, "I Really Like Your Smile," and the title cut, which features quality baritone sax from Ramminger, nice trumpet accompaniment from Vince McCool and backing vocals from Etta Britt.

"The Other Man's Shoes" has Ramminger pairing with Nashville's Regina McCrary, one of three McCrary sisters on the album, on vocals. It's a good, soulful number with strong guitar from Theriot, although the two vocalists don't quite connect like they should.

Ramminger moves back to his home base for the last three cuts, with a backing band made up of solid D.C.-area musicians. The highlights from this trio of songs is the funky "More Than One Flavor," with more good trumpet from McCool, and the uptempo shuffle "Must Be True," with strong guitar from Dave Chappell and organ from Tommy Lepson.

While Advice From a Father To A Son has its highs and lows, overall it's an enjoyable album with a lot of good performances. For more info on Ramminger, check his CrawStickers website.

--- Bill Mitchell

Walkin Cane MarkWalkin' Cane Mark has been a fixture on the Phoenix, Arizona blues scene for nearly 20 years, with frenetic Wolf-style vocals and a sometimes "over the top" live show. His latest disc released in 2011, Tryin' To Make You Understand (Enable Records) shows that he's toned down his act in recent years but is still trying to capture the rawer, earthier side of the blues.

Backing WCM is a solid group of Phoenix-area musicians, highlighted by the consistently strong guitar of Kirk Hawley, who also shares producer credits. Other backing musicians include Brenden McBride and Gordon Lynde Jr. (bass) and John Rumbaugh (drums).

The album kicks off with a very good version of "Somebody's Walkin'," a dirge-like blues that displays Walkin' Cane Mark's vocals at their best, complete with Howlin' Wolf-style howling. Mark also contributes good harmonica riffs. The harp also starts the mid-tempo title cut that also includes good, basic blues licks from Hawley.

It wouldn't be a Walkin' Cane Mark album without a tribute to one of the departed bluesmen who influenced him, and here he includes a version of Chico Chism's "Arizona Woman." The vocals aren't as strong here but the emotion and respect for Chism come through.

Another strong original number is the Chicago blues shuffle "Let Me In While You Can," especially later in the song when Mark puts a little energy and power to the vocals and Hawley rips off a nice guitar solo. Mark's best harp blowing comes out on the intro to another original, "Freight Train," and then later on the closing blues number, "Eddie's Boogie."

Walkin' Cane Mark's act isn't for everyone, but he's done something right to attract a loyal following over the last two decades. There's no denying the passion and energy the man puts into his music. Tryin' To Make You Understand is available from CDBaby.

--- Bill Mitchell


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