Blues Bytes

What's New

January 2014

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

John & Sylvia Embrey

Delmark 60 Years

Tinsley Ellis

Annika Chambers

Hard Garden


Jim Gustin & Truth Jones

Bob Lanza Blues Band

Halley DeVestern

Cary Morin

Jeff Strahan


John and Sylvia EmbreyOne of the lost gems of ’80s Chicago blues recordings was John & Sylvia Embry’s After Work, released by Razor Records in 1980. John Embry, who passed away in 1987, was one of the unsung guitar warriors of the Windy City and his ex-wife Sylvia, who played bass and sang with Lefty Dizz and the Shock Treatment for a number of years in the ’70s, was rapidly making a name for herself with her powerful, gospel-influenced vocals.

In a move that will please longtime blues fans from all over, Delmark Records has repackaged the sought-after album, added a few previously unreleased tracks from the session, and changed the title to Troubles, making the complete package available on CD for the first time.

Sylvia Embry takes most of the vocals and her wild, passionate style will raise the hairs on the back of your neck at times. John Embry’s guitar work is sharp and economical, all killer no filler. They are backed on selected tracks by some of the Windy City’s finest: Riler “Iceman” Robinson on rhythm guitar, Woody Williams on drums, Ollie Moore on drums, Dino Alvarez on drums, Jerry Porter on drums, Thomas Landis on bass, and Robert “Dancin’” Perkins on bass.

Nine of the tracks make up the original After Work LP, and they include three tracks written by Sylvia Embrey (the opener, “Wonder Why,” the new title track, and “I’m Hurtin’”), and several familiar R&B/soul tunes from the era (“I Found A Love” and “Mustang Sally,” both associated with Wilson Pickett, and Brook Benton’s “Lie To Me”). Drummer Williams, Lefty Dizz’s brother, shares lead vocals with Sylvia Embry on several tracks.

John Embry’s wondrous guitar work takes center stage on a pair of instrumentals, the previously unreleased “Razor Sharp," the slow blues instrumental, “After Work,” where he’s backed by Moore and Perkins, and the unique “62nd Streeet Luau.” “Iceman” Robinson, who plays rhythm guitar on most of the album, takes lead guitar and vocals on a standout version of the B.B. King classic, “Worry, Worry.”

The unreleased tracks (“Razor Sharp,” and Sylvia Embry’s tunes “Gonna Find My Baby,” Early Times Blues,” and “Blues This Morning,” which she later recorded for Alligator on Living Chicago Blues) are all fine and were probably not on the original release because there wasn’t enough room for them, given the LP format of the time. The Roosevelt Sykes tune, “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” was the first track recorded and the vocals are too far back in the mix, but the musical quality is fine.

Both sides of John Embry’s single from the same time period (Freddie King’s “I Love The Woman” and the instrumental “Johnny’s Bounce”), which is also out of print and highly sought, close the disc in excellent fashion. He takes the lead vocal on the King classic and acquits himself quite well.

It easy to see why the earlier release is such a collector’s item, because it captures the spirit and excitement of the Chicago blues. For a vivid picture of what the Chicago blues scene was like in the late ’70s and early ’80s, look no further than John & Sylvia Embry’s Troubles.

--- Graham Clarke

Delmark 60thDelmark Records recently celebrated its 60th anniversary and is currently the oldest existing independent record label, an impressive feat given the business environment of today. Since 1953, Delmark founder Bob Koester has released some of the finest blues and jazz recordings and played a huge role in developing the blues album as it exists today.

As part of their celebration, the label sponsored several shows featuring their recording artists, past and present, and they’ve also released a special compilation, 60 Years of Blues, that is not your ordinary “best of” retrospective. This collection mixes songs from some of their current roster of artists with previously unreleased performances from some of the blues legends who recorded for the label in the past, a novel approach that works very well.

Regular Delmark listeners will be familiar with the offerings from their current stable of artists, which includes Studebaker John (“When They Played the Real Blues”), Linsey Alexander (“Raffle Ticket”), Quintus McCormick (“Fifty/Fifty”), Eddie C. Campbell (“Big World”), Sharon Lewis (“Blues Train”), Lurrie Bell (“She’s A Good ‘Un”), Mississippi Heat (“Let’s Live It Up”), Tail Dragger (“Tend To Your Business”), and Toronzo Cannon (“John The Conquer Root”). There’s also a sneak preview track (“Oh, Mademoiselle”) from Chicago guitarist Giles Corey’s upcoming release. These tracks show that the Delmark’s current line-up is as formidable a group as the label’s ever boasted.

The unissued material ranges from an outtake from Junior Wells’ highly underrated South Side Blues Jam album, featuring the harmonica legend with Otis Spann, Louis Myers, Earnest Johnson, and Fred Below, to an unreleased gem from Little Walter’s first recording session as a front man (featuring Muddy Waters and Baby Face Leroy), to intimate recordings from Detroit Jr., Big Joe Williams, and Sleepy John Estes. There’s also a track from the recently released Magic Sam live recording from the Avant Garde in Milwaukee.

60 Years of Blues is essential listening for fans of both the legendary and current Chicago Blues scenes. For those who thought the Windy City blues scene was fading away, these tracks will prove there’s still plenty going on.

--- Graham Clarke

Tinsley EllisTinsley Ellis recorded his first all-instrumental album, Get It!, in 2013 and received rave reviews. The Georgia-based guitarist follows up with Midnight Blue (Heartfixer Music), which features Ellis with Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Lynn Williams (drums), and Ted Pecchio (bass) working through ten powerful original tunes. Ellis has always mixed the blues with the flavors of southern rock, soul, and R&B, and this new release is no exception and, by focusing more on the blues side, it certainly ranks with his best work.

The opener, “If the River Keeps Rising,” starts with a fairly serene acoustic guitar, but quickly tears into a roaring electric fest with some serious slide guitar. The intensity continues with “Mouth Turns Dry,” a relentless, raucous rocker, before moving to the R&B-based “Surrender,” which includes a nice soulful vocal from Ellis, and the second-line stomper, “It’s Not Funny,” which give the guitarist plenty of room to display his sizzling slide guitar chops.

“See No Harm” is a defiant blues ballad where Ellis shows no regrets for loving another man’s woman, and is followed by the crunching boogie track, “The Only Thing,” and the groovy, retro rocker “Peace and Love,” complete with shimmering wah-wah effects and optimistic lyrics. With the moody “Harder to Find,” Ellis struggles to save a failing relationship. “That’s My Story” follows a similar theme, but with tongue-in-cheek and with more of a driving rock soundtrack. Ellis saves the best for last, however, with “Kiss of Death,” a slow blues with some of the best guitar on the album and a hearty vocal performance as well.

I’ve been listening to Tinsley Ellis for over 25 years. For me, Midnight Blue is his best recording yet, just a great all-around performance. Fans of southern-styled blues/rock should agree wholeheartedly.

--- Graham Clarke

Annika ChambersAnnika Chambers is a Houston native and one of the rising stars in that city’s rich musical scene. She always wanted to be a singer, having started in the church at a young age, but put her dreams on the backburner to serve an eight-year stint in the Army. After leaving the Army, and starting work toward a college degree, she’s begun to focus on a singing career, embracing the blues after appearing in a talent contest while on duty in Kosovo.

Chambers has taken the Houston scene by storm in a hurry, resulting in an opportunity to record a demo with many Houston-area musicians backing her. The demo turned into a full-fledged album, billing Chambers with the Houston All-Stars, titled Making My Mark (Montrose Records). “All-Stars” is an appropriate title, given the background of most of the musicians, many of whom have won Grammy Awards for their previous efforts.

Chambers is a versatile singer, moving from the funky blues opener, “Move,” and “That Feel Good,” to double entendre-laced romps like “Barnyard Blues” and “Lick ‘Er,” to stirring soulful workouts like “Down South,” “Guitar Boy,” and the old Stax Records classic, “Love’s Sweet Sensation” (with guest vocalist Brad Absher). She really shines on a sultry cover of former Crusaders ( and fellow Houston native) Joe Sample’s “Put It Where You Want It,” and on the B.B. King tune, “Let’s Get Down To Business.”
The All-Stars, naturally….they’re “All-Stars,” after all, provide wonderful backing and include bassist/producer Larry Fulcher, keyboardists David Delagarza III and Skip Nalia, drummers Samantha Banks and Tony Braunagel, saxophonist Kyle Turner, and guitarists Absher, Corey Stoot, and David Carter.

While Making My Mark may be the first you’ve heard from Annika Chambers, rest assured that it won’t be the last. This young singer already sounds like she’s been at it for years and, more than likely, the best is still yet to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Hard GardenMake no mistake, Hard Garden’s new release, Blue Yonder (Hard Garden Music), ain’t your Daddy’s blues album. It’s a nice refreshing splash of originality in the blues genre, mixing the traditional sounds of Mississippi Delta and Hill Country blues with modern touches, such as digital beats, sequencers, and remixed tracks, with traces of funk and hip-hop thrown in for good measure.

You might be familiar with some of the band members. Seattle-based Son Jack, Jr. (guitar, bass, vocals) has released a pair of well-received solo CDs. Michael Wilde (harmonica, vocals) has been performing for over 30 years and previously joined forces with Jack for a 2010 release, Walk The Talk. Drummer Garrett Williams is a veteran musician equally versed in blues, jazz, and funk.

Blue Yonder starts off calmly enough with the somewhat ominous shuffle, “I Feel Evil,” before moving to the lone cover on the album, Son House’s “Depot Blues,” opening with some nice guitar work from Jack, then the track jumps into the 21st century with some fine harp work from Wilde mixed in. “Hey Now Mary” has more of a Hill Country feel with the almost hypnotic guitar and percussion. The rock-edged “Papa’s In The Juke Joint” is next, with Jack rapping the lyrics, followed by the Latin-flavored “I Can Tell.”

Wilde takes the mic on “The Valley,” a positively chilling song about a youngster kicked to the curb by his parents that oozes with suspense and swampy atmosphere. “Dangerous” is the most “modern” track on the disc, with a wall of electric slide guitar and thumping bass, repeated at the end of the disc in a “Remix” version. “Pour Me Another” is a wild and humorous track about a talking dog, narrated by Jack, and “Maximum Security” offers Wilde narrating another witty track, backed by some tasty slide guitar and percussion.

Blue Yonder is a pretty fun listen. It’s always interesting to hear musicians take the blues into new directions and Hard Garden is highly effective in their efforts to do so. It will be interesting to see where they go from here because the possibilities are limitless.

--- Graham Clarke

ShebaSheba, The Mississippi Queen, was born in Mississippi, and she and her twin sister initially followed in their gospel singing father’s footsteps. After relocating with her family to Florida as a teenager, Sheba (born Martha Booker) worked as migrant worker and formed a singing group that sang in the fields during work and on the bus back and forth from work. Eventually, she migrated to New York, where she sang big band music and fell in love with the music of Billie Holiday, before eventually returning to the blues of her native state.

On Sheba’s latest recording, Butter on My Rolls (Sheba), she wrote or co-wrote all 13 tracks, and she’s backed by a strong ensemble that includes George “Chocolate” Perry (strings, horns, drums, bass), Michael “The Dog” Gauthier (keyboards, horns, strings), Warren “Roach” Thompson (guitar), and Chuck Juntzman (slide guitar). The highlights are many, ranging from the tasty opener, “Dance Jump & Shout,” to the blues-infused “Real Good Woman,” to “Can’t Help Lovin’ My Man,” where the Holiday influence really comes through.

“Oh So Good “ really swings and is backed by some scorching slide work from Juntzman. The title track is another standout, a slow burner with some fine keyboard work from Gauthier and guitar from Thompson. The centerpiece of the disc is the change-of-pace track, “Blues of My Soul.” This autobiographical track is a spoken-word piece from Sheba, relaying her life experiences, backed by only guitar accompaniment.

Butter on My Rolls is a sterling example of downhome southern soul/blues, and Sheba appears ready to claim her place among the genre’s elite with this exceptional effort.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott Ellison had a pretty successful 2013. The Tulsa guitarist was inducted into the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame earlier in the year, and released this single at the end of the year. The song “Jesus Love Me (Baby Why Don’t You)?” is featured prominently in the new movie, Homefront, which opened in theatres on Thanksgiving Day. The track teams the former Gatemouth Brown sideman with several members of Eric Clapton’s band (Charles Tuberville – rhythm guitar, Walt Richmond – B3, Gary Gilmore – bass, and Jamie Oldaker – drums). It’s a catchy tune and Ellison does a great job on vocals and guitar. The second track is “Elevator Man,” a funky side that features Ellison with his touring band (Matt Kohl – bass, Robbie Armstrong – drums), along with Richmond on B3 and long-time Clapton back-up singer Marcy Levy. Both tracks will appear on Ellison’s upcoming CD, Hit It, Get it, and Go, on JSE Records, and if the rest of the album is as good as these two tracks, blues fans are in for a treat.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim GustinSouthern California singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Gustin has been playing around the L.A. area for over 30 years and his life experiences provide the material for his songwriting. Some of his songs are basically inspirational with a blues/rock backbeat, always focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel, and makes for some emotional listening at times for those who have dealt with similar issues in their lives.

For Gustin’s debut release, Can’t Shed a Tear, he’s backed by the talented band Truth Jones (Jeri Goldenhar – vocals, Chris Baurer – guitar, Burke Greer – bass, Jim Sipotz – drums, Jessica Baurer – vocals, Chuck Goldenhar – harmonica). The disc was produced by music vet Terry Wilson (who also contributes bass, guitar, keys, and vocals), and features appearances from Wilson’s wife, Teresa James on vocals, keyboard aces John “Rabbit” Bundrick and Ed Winquest, bass player Richard Morrison, and Jim Scimonetti, who adds horns to several tracks.

Gustin has a voice tailor-made for the blues and he roars through songs like the exuberant opener, “I Gotta Sing,” “If God Made Something Better” (a song written for Gustin’s wife), and the blues rocker “Why Why Why?” He has a good time on the Crescent City-flavored “My Baby Just Left Me,” and his performance on “You Never Gave Up On Me,” will encourage most to place that call to Mom that they’ve been putting off. “You Answer Me” is an inspirational rocker that will raise goose bumps.

Jeri Goldenhar handles lead vocals on several tracks, including a duet with Gustin on “No Faith In Forever,” the ballad, “What Do You See In Me,” and the sassy “Good Bye.” Her measured performance on the uplifting “Fill Up My Soul” is also a highlight, as is Gustin’s heart-wrenching performance of “Beauty For Ashes,” where he recounts his battle for healing after the tragic death of his son.

By the time the closing track rolls around, the uplifting “Say Amen,” you will be saying “Amen” to this exciting and emotional set of blues/rock and wanting to hear more from Jim Gustin and Truth Jones.

--- Graham Clarke

Boib LanzaThe Bob Lanza Blues Band is a New Jersey-based band that specializes in a mix of Chicago, Texas, and Kansas City-styled blues. Lead singer/guitarist Bob Lanza served as bandleader for local legend Floyd Phillips’ band, the Mudflaps, for several years. Lanza and band have backed James Cotton and Nashville guitar titan Dave Perkins. Their second release, ‘Til the Pain is Gone (Bob Lanza), is a smoking hot set, with Lanza and the band working through a dozen exciting tracks of originals and well-chosen covers.

The set consists of mostly cover tunes from a pretty wide-ranging list of artists. Mike Bloomfield’s “Maudie” opens the disc and features Lanza’s son, Jake, battling with Dad on guitar and Joe Cerisano taking lead vocals. Lanza takes vocals on the next few tracks, doing a fine job on the Bobby “Blue” Bland vehicle, “I’ll Take Care of You” and the standards, “Outskirts of Town” and “I’m Ready,” and matching his soulful vocals with some impressive guitar work.

Lanza and the band also cover Magic Sam’s “Every Night & Every Day,” Pat Ramsey’s “Build Me a Woman,” and a pair of Chicago classics, “Sugar Sweet” and “Got My Mojo Working,” breathing new, invigorating life into these well-worn tunes. Another highlight is a country blues take on “Lonesome,” a song associated with Memphis Slim from back in the day with some nice keyboard work from guest artist, Ed “Doc” Wall and a lead vocal from David “Snakeman” Runyan.

The band’s originals are also top notch. The title track is a strong boogie track with Lanza and Runyan sharing the spotlight. The pair is showcased again on “Our Life,” an acoustic guitar/harp duet that’s a fresh take on pulling yourself out of a rut. “Snake Byte” is a hard-driving instrumental shuffle.

Combining a refreshing take on classic blues tracks with some above average original material makes ‘Til the Pain is Gone a disc worth searching out. The Bob Lanza Band handles this material like a well-oiled machine.

--- Graham Clarke

HalleyHalley DeVestern possesses a set of pipes that have been compared to Janis Joplin, and she did tour with Big Brother & the Holding Company at one time, at their invitation. Her band features David Patterson on guitar, Rich Kulsar on drums, and Tom Heinig on bass. Her latest release, Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho!, is a powerful mix of blues, funk, rock, and R&B that grabs you from the get-go and hangs on.

DeVestern works her vocal gymnastics through eight irresistible tracks that range from the funky opening tracks, “Muscle Memory” and “Kangaroo Mama,” to the slow burning R&B ballad, “Money Ain’t Time,” to the funky blues number, “Tore Up From The Floor Up,” to the gospel-flavored “American Pain.” She’s not afraid to tackle touchy subjects as well, giving it to money grubbers (“Money Ain’t Time”), racists (“Boil”), Big Brother (“Code 9”), and religious hypocrites (“The Jesus I Know”).

An amazing singer who hits everything that comes her way out of the park, DeVestern also shows that she’s equally gifted as a songwriter, and the band is just a force of nature in support (with guest musicians Mark Mancini and Edd Kalehoff on keys, and a dynamite horn section that includes Thomas Hutchings on sax, Indofunk Satish on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Matt MacDonald – trombone).

Fabbo! Boffo! Smasho! is a disc that will get you to your feet, give your ears a treat, and give you something to think all at the same time --- not a bad way to get 2014 started.

--- Graham Clarke

Cary MorinColorado has a very vibrant blues scene and one of the very first artists I went to see here in Fort Collins was Cary Morin. Originally from Montana, Cary is a Native American who has been a part of several very influential bands here in NoCo and is an outstanding solo artist is his own right. I must have walked half of Old Town before I finally found where Cary was performing since he’d been moved from his intended destination.

I bought his last disc, Sing It Louder, and am fortunate enough to have a copy of his current release, Streamline. Cary is this year’s Colorado Blues Society’s Blues Challenge Solo/Duo winner and will be representing CBS at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in about 10 days. Streamline is a very organic record, just Cary and his guitar, so let’s give it a listen.

Cary opens with a tune called “Here and Now”. In it, he sings of troubled times and coping with the chaos. “Sunday morning…and the cold settles on the neighborhood…everything around me…burning down in flames…just like I knew it would…in the here and now…there are troubled times…and they won’t let go.” Our next tune, “Family Ties,” finds Cary appreciating his partner in this life. “If you ever feel lonesome…just look this way…and remember…your family ties.” Cary’s an excellent fingerpicker and his Taylor T5 is succumbing to his every wish as he plays this tune for what has to be his wife, Celeste.

Moving on to the tune, “Tulsa,” Cary evidently has family there and is a frequent visitor to the city. “Think I’ll go back down to Tulsa…got some people down there…I have a place to lay my head…and live among some people who care.” Tulsa is his preferred destination and he’s leaving in the early morning to get there.

Up next is Cary’s admonishment to “Live a Little.” “This could be…the best day of my life…I’m going to stand in the water…this could be the last ray of celestial light…I’m going to stand in the water…live just a little.” Cary’s lesson is well intentioned, tomorrow is not promised to it might be a good idea today to just “stand in the water…and…live a little.” Cary moves on to “Between You and Me,” a tune that recognizes that he’s in the middle of something he needs to figure out. “I want to sit in the warmth of the sun…dark sunglasses on…and a bottle of rum…so many things I want to do…and then there’s this thing between me and you.” I have no doubt that Cary will figure it out and as he says, “I’m hopeful enough to write down this song…and I think everyone can see…that there’s something between you and me.”

“Tennessee” finds Cary in a darker key as sings of a woman in his past that is waiting for him. “Dreaming is for dreamers…something you can believe in…you don’t like your reality…but at least you’ve got faith…something to hold on to.” Cary might someday revisit this woman but for now it’s her faith that will have to get her through.

“Thunder” finds Cary reflecting on the life that is his. “I’m a creature of habit…a student of the human race…living here in paradise…where I’ve learned to keep an even pace…nothing here is easy…in the cold wind of the coming fall.” Cary’s reflections find him wondering what his father would do in these tough times and he finds that “he’d try to do his best for the family…and that still works for me and it works for you.” The next tune Cary tackles is the Barry Gibb tune, “To Love Somebody.” “Baby you don’t know what it’s like…to love somebody…the way I love you.” To hear Cary’s stark, acoustic version of this tune is indeed a rare treat. Tennessee seems to be a recurring theme in Cary’s thought process and his next tune is a cover of the song, “Tennessee Jed.” “Rich man step on my poor head…when you get back…you’d better butter my bread…well you know, it’s just like I said…you’d better head on back to Tennessee, Jed.”

Cary’s next tune, “Elizabeth,” finds Cary coming upon a groom serenading his new bride on the mountain trail he was hiking. “The song that he played…adrift on the breeze…she smiled and swayed…as the day turned to eve…he played with finesse…in a masterful way…to the words that I listened…I recall to this day…Be here with me Elizabeth…and I will always be with you.” “Wolfman’s Brother” finds Cary in trouble with a suitor of his sister’s. “Wolfman’s brother…wolfman’s brother…coming down on me!” Hopefully Cary will be able to talk his way out of any trouble he might be in.

The final tune on Streamline is an ode to Cary’s instrument of choice, “Old Guitar.” “I got this old guitar…and I cannot put it down…we need each other…we won’t make a sound.”

Cary’s an accomplished picker and a very good wordsmith when he puts his mind to writing songs. He and Celeste are somewhere in North Carolina before they turn to head to Memphis where Cary will compete against the world’s best. It’s probably a good idea to order a copy of Streamline from his website. But if he shows up anywhere near you, go see the amazing Bluesman from the foothills of Colorado.

--- Kyle Deibler

Jeff StrahanSeems like I’ve known Jeff Strahan forever. Many moons ago Jeff appeared at the IBC in my venue, the Rum Boogie, and we’ve been good friends for years now. Jeff is back with what I think is his best disc to date, Monkey Around, so let’s give it a listen.

Jeff and the band, Chris Compton on drums and Jimmy Hartman on bass, kick this record off with “Don’t Get Too Low.” Jeff grew up in Lamesa, Texas and the itch to see the world came early as Jeff chose to leave home at 18. Jeff’s a pretty even keeled Bluesman and his advice to us on this tune is to stay in the middle and roll with what life might bring. “Don’t be bitter…give love a chance…let ’em hear you sing boy…let them see you dance…give them a big smile…wherever you go…don’t get too high…don’t get too low.”

A mournful tone emanates from Jeff’s guitar as he chooses to talk to us about the next stage of his life before it comes to an end in “Curtains.” “Let me…see the ocean…let me feel…the tide…let me climb a mountain…a mountain…way up high…let me hold her close…just one more time…let me feel her lips…softly touching mine….give me a little bit…just one more time…don’t draw the curtain…on this life of mine.” “Curtains” is a beautiful look at the road ahead and all that Jeff is hoping for in the next stage of his life. Well done and hopeful, this is one of my favorite tunes on Jeff’s disc. It wouldn’t be a Strahan record without at least one discussion of women on it and we get that in our next tune, “Dangerous Curves.” “Ought to be a warning…on a woman like that…break your heart in two or three seconds flat…somebody ought to tell you…before you lose your head….Dangerous curves ahead.” This beauty’s a knockout and quite capable of laying waste to the male population if we’re not careful!!

The title track, “Monkey Around,” is just playful Strahan. Chris is hitting the pots and pans as our tempo picks up behinds Jeff’s vocal, “If I were a dog…I’d have it made…wouldn’t have to worry…just sleep all day…spend my life running…all over town…if I were a dog…I’d monkey around.” Safe to say, if Jeff were a dog, he’d most definitely monkey around.

Up next is the tune lovingly dedicated to Jeff’s mother, Lillian Strahan, who left us in July of 2012. The tune, “The One,” is my favorite tune of this disc by Jeff. Here we find him at the piano while he sings of his memories of Lillian. “And I don’t want to be the one…I don’t want to be the one…the one to say…goodbye…when we’re done…I don’t want to be the one.” Losing family is never easy and Jeff’s love for his mother is heartwarming and heartfelt. Just a really beautiful tune from this Texas Bluesman. So of course Jimmy’s bass is at the forefront of our next tune, “Can’t Change Me,” as Jeff unflinchingly tells the world just how stubborn he is. “You can’t change…no you change me…can’t change who I am.” Jeff is open to new tricks but only to better his life, not change it.

At this point, another discussion of women is in order and Jeff obliges with “Hard-Headed Woman.” “I got a hard-headed woman…head just as hard as a rock…I got a hard-headed woman…head just as hard as a rock…you know the more I talk…the less she wants to stop.” Love Jeff’s B-3 playing on this tune and it sounds like he’s definitely met his match with this one. And yes, Lois, I know that can’t be you.

The final three cuts on Monkey Around are: “4:20,” “Baptist Bootleggers” and “Two Shades.” An ode to the need for cannabis, “4:20” is a tongue in cheek look at why everyone needs to “smoke some weed.” With a New Orleans flair Jeff tells us about his day, “I woke up this morning…with a bad case of the blues…pulled myself out of bed…put on my working boots…I got to work three minutes late…and the boss just yelled at me…I said to myself…you really need to smoke some weed.”

“Baptist Bootleggers” is a tale of Jeff’s youth in Lamesa, which is located in a dry county in Texas. I like Chris’s beat to this tune and hear Jeff kicking in with his piano as he starts to tell this tale. “I grew up in a small town…where liquor was illegal…where do you go…where you’re in a bind?...You need an ice cold beer…maybe a glass of wine…you go down to the Flats, where those Baptist Bootleggers…sure can jive.” Jimmy’s bass again is setting the course for the final tune on the record, “Two Shades,” and here we find Jeff lamenting his broken heart. “They say the time…will heal the hurt…I say they’re wrong…but I hope it works…time better hurry…before I kill it all with booze…cause I’m two shades away…from forever blue…I just want my heat to be happy…I don’t want to be…forever blue.”

I honestly feel like this probably Jeff’s best record to date and I’ve heard them all. Chris and Jimmy provide the perfect back end, Jeff’s guitar and keyboard work is spot on and Monkey Around features some of his best songwriting to date. The entire disc is dedicated to Jeff’s mother and “The One” is a beautiful tune in her memory.

Unfortunately for Jeff Strahan fans, Jeff contracted double pneumonia prior to his New Year's Eve gig at Sealy Flats and went on to face an array of medical issues that unfortunately took this Texas Bluesman to heaven to be with his mother, Lillian. Monkey Around is the final testament to the legacy of Jeff Strahan. Jeff was a longtime friend of mine personally and his passing leaves a huge void in the lives of his beautiful wife Lois, their extended family and the many folks around the country who were exposed to Jeff's many talents. All of Jeff's music is available from his website, Go with God, my friend, you left us way too soon.

--- Kyle Deibler


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