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January 2021

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Order these featured albums today:

Sonny Green

Johnny Iguana

Sam Joyner

New Moon Jelly Roil Freedom Rockers

Johnny Rawls

Tom Gilberts

Jim Diamond Revue

Mark Telesca

Albert Castiglia


John Blues Boyd

Victor Wainwright

Gerald McClendon

Lisa Mills

Peter Veteska

David Rotundo Band

Miss Emily


Sonny Green2020 wasn’t a good year for many things, but it was a great year for soul music fans. There were several great releases that were guaranteed to satisfy fans of that genre. One of the best of the lot came from Sonny Green. The Louisiana-born singer has been singing since he was a teenager and has been a part of the Los Angeles scene for over 40 years, releasing a handful of singles in the late ’60s/early ’70s, but he’s only just released his first full-length album, Found! One Soul Singer (Little Village Foundation) at age 78.

Green has a robust and distinctive soul voice, but you can hear the influences in his style and his song selection. The opener, “I’m So Tired,” and “Blind Man” are from Bobby “Blue” Bland’s catalog, with Green paying tribute to Bland while giving the songs his own unique, slightly rawer interpretations, both of which work superbly. Even better is Green’s cover of Little Milton’s 1970 hit, “If Walls Could Talk,” where his own intensity matches, and maybe exceeds, that of Little Milton’s original. His read of Syl Johnson’s mid-’70s Hi hit, “Back For A Taste Of Your Love,” is magnificent, down to the Hi-like musical backdrop.

Willie Nelson’s “Are You Sure” gets a tough but tender performance from Green, and his delivery proves that the line between country music and soul music is a razor-thin one. Green also reprises one of his single releases, the silky mid-tempo ballad, “If You Want Me To Keep On Loving You,” from 1971 on the Hill label (owned by Matt Hill, Z.Z. Hill’s brother). Meanwhile, on Ted Taylor’s classic “Be Ever Wonderful,” Green pulls out all the stops, really giving us a taste of his range with this excellent take.

Green recorded this session at Greaseland Studios, with Kid Andersen contributing guitar on all tracks, and co-authoring several tunes, including the humorous “Cupid Must Be Stupid” (co-written with sax man Terry Hanck and Jojo Russo), and the funky “Trouble,” where Green shares lead vocals with Alabama Mike (who co-wrote the song with Andersen and Russo). Rick Estrin contributes a pair of songs as well, the slow blues “I Beg Your Pardon” and the brand new, powerful “I Got There” (written with Andersen).

In addition to Andersen and Hanck (who solos on “Cupid Must Be Stupid”), the band includes Jim Pugh (Hammond B3), Chris Burns (clavinet, piano), Endre Tarczy (bass), Ronnie Smith and D’Mar (drums), Mariachi Mestizo (violins), Mike Rinta (trombone), Jeff Lewis (trumpet), Aaron Lington and Gordon Beadle (saxes). They are as successful at replicating the feel of those vintage soul blues hits as Green is with his force-of-nature vocals.

If you are a fan of old school vintage soul and soul-flavored blues, you most definitely need Found! One Soul Singer in your collection, and you should be most grateful that Sonny Green is still with us, hopeful that he will bless us with even more of his great music in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny IguanaAs far as these ears go, any release by Johnny Iguana has always been a barrel of fun. The Chicago piano man grew up on Chicago blues, playing gigs in his native Philadelphia as a teenager before being hired by one of his idols, Junior Wells. He spent three years playing and recording with Wells, settling in the Windy City, where he’s played and recorded with everybody who’s anybody on the Chicago blues scene. His instantly recognizable piano work also propels the endlessly creative band, the Claudettes, who’ve released several “gotta hear ‘em” albums over the past few years.

Iguana’s latest project is centered on the blues --- the Chicago variety, of course. Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular! (Delmark Records) is just that --- spectacular! Over the course of a dozen tracks, four original instrumentals and eight tasty covers, Iguana’s dazzling work on the 88s is augmented by a host of Chicago’s favorite sons, including John Primer, Billy Boy Arnold, Lil’ Ed, Bob Margolin, Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, and Kenny Smith.

Iguana breathes new life into these classic tunes with his bold arrangements and his diverse, and propulsive piano work. Primer sings Roosevelt Sykes’ “44 Blues” and Willie Dixon’s “Down In The Bottom,” backed by Margolin’s guitar on the first track and playing guitar himself on the latter. Arnold also sings on a pair of tracks, Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson’s “You’re An Old Lady” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hot Dog Mama," and Billy boy is backed by Flynn and Smith on his two tracks. Lil’ Ed shines on vocals and guitar with Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker” and Otis Spann’s “Burning Fire.”

Other guests include harmonica player Matthew Skoller, who does a fine job on harp and vocals with Williamson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down” (backed by Flynn and Smith), and Phillip-Michael Scales (B.B. King’s nephew), who does a fine job on vocals and guitar with Gil Scott-Heron’s “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” an interesting jazz-flavored selection that nevertheless fits the set like a glove.

Iguana’s own contributions (backed by Michael Caskey – drums and Bill Dickens – bass) are the Mose Allison-inspired “Hammer And Tickle,” the kinetic, frenetic “Land of Precisely Three Dances,” the funky Crescent City-fueled “Big Easy Woman,” and the madcap “Motorhome.” If you dig these tracks (and I don’t see why on earth you would not), then you definitely need to check out Iguana’s work with the Claudettes.

Also included in the liner notes are brief biographies by Bill Dahl of seven Chicago piano legends: .Josh Altheimer (who played with Broonzy, Williamson, Lonnie Johnson, and Jazz Gillum), Johnny Jones (who played with Elmore James, Tampa Red, Muddy and the Wolf), Big Maceo (who backed Tampa Red and recorded the classic “Worried Life Blues”), Memphis Slim (who replaced Altheimer before going on to a long successful solo career), Sunnyland Slim (who played with and mentored scores of Chicago artists), Otis Spann (who played behind Muddy Waters for years and was considered THE Chicago blues piano man, and Johnny “Big Moose” Walker (who backed Lowell Fulson, Earl Hooker, and Elmore James).

If you’re a blues fan, especially a Chicago blues fan, and most especially a fan of piano blues, you NEED Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular! in your collection. Johnny Iguana is proudly carrying on the tradition of the great Windy City piano men and he’s also carrying it to the next level with his own adventurous playing.

--- Graham Clarke

Sam JoynerSam Joyner was born in Chicago, but spent his summers in Mississippi. In the tiny Delta community of New Africa, where his father served as a preacher. Joyner was immersed in the country life, with mules, roosters, and family. He’s advanced to the I.B.C. finals in 2017 and 2018. As an adult, he’s traveled all over the world, playing with a host of blues men including Benny Turner, Larry Garner, and members of the Neal family, but based on the music on When U Need A Friend (Sam Joyner Music), his heart lies on the path between New Orleans, Mississippi, and Chicago. This most excellent release features 10 songs, nine written by Joyner.

Joyner opens with “Must Be Jelly,” a funky R&B-based blues. The title has been used a few times for other songs, but this is a Joyner original. It has a smooth, sexy feel which sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly. “Goin’ To Chicago” is a New Orleans-flavored track singing the praises of the Windy City and it’s rich blues history that really puts the spotlight on Joyner’s skills on the keys, while “Hard 4 Tha Money” is a mid-tempo blues adaptation of Frankie Paul’s reggae tune “Work Hard,” and features Lil Ray Neal’s crisp guitar work.

“Them Bluez” is an energetic traditional-yet-modern blues with more inspired piano from Joyner, and “Breakin’ Up Our Happy Home” is a splendid slow blues, again featuring Neal on guitar, with a terrific conclusion. “Nothin’ You Can Do About Luv” brings it back to the Crescent City with that irresistible second line rhythm provided by New Orleans drummer Mayumi, and “Natural Born Luvah” really swings. “Onions Ain’t The Only Thing” is a strong soul-blues track, previously appearing on the 2018 I.B.C. #33 CD.

“Sam Joyner In Tha House” is a fun song about the Vicksburg I.B.C. (who Joyner represented at the Memphis competition in 2017 and 2018) that surely had the audience on their feet dancing in the aisles. The mellow and soulful title track wraps things up with a warm vocal from Joyner and some tasty slide guitar backing from Marc Stone.

Joyner is joined on several of the tracks by members of his own band (SunDanze – guitar, Spencer Williams – bass), along with members of Benny Turner’s band (Turner, playing bass on a couple of tracks, plus Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander – drums, and Keiko – keyboards), guitarists Seizo, Mr. Kool, Harry Sterling, and Dan Aguilar, bassist Miguel Hernandez, drummer Gralin Neil (of the aforementioned Neal family), and backing vocalists Sue Ann Carwell, Karin Danger, plus horns, strings and keyboards from Spring and Kevin Hayes.

When U Need A Friend has been a favorite of mine since I first plugged it in. It captures a little bit of all the things I really like about the blues, whether mixing blues, soul, and R&B or even the regional flavors (a bit of New Orleans, a bit of Chicago, and a bit of Malaco). I certainly hope to hear more from Sam Joyner in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

New Moon Jelly RollThe New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers came together during a Charlie Musselwhite/Mavis Staples tour. The North Mississippii Allstars served as the house band during the tour. Musselwhite and Luther Dickinson bonded on the tour bus while discussing the blues. The group name came about before the album or the band. In 2007, the Dickinsons (brothers Luther and Cody) invited Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, and their dad, Jim to the party at their Zebra Ranch studio, along with Chris Chew (bass) and Paul Taylor (tub bass), calling it a “potluck” recording session.

Stony Plain Records founder Holger Petersen found out about the session and inquired about releasing it to the public, so Luther Dickinson and engineer Kevin Houston finished up production on the set. Stony Plain has released Volume 1 of the set with a second volume to be released this spring. Volume 1 is a ten-song set of mostly familiar songs that have the feel of a loose jam session that should bring a smile to any blues fan’s face over the joy and exuberance that can be heard, and felt, through each tune.

Each artist brought a couple of songs to the proceedings. Musselwhite’s contributions include a pair of originals, the boogie shuffle “Blues, Why You Worry Me” (originally recorded on his 1993 album, In My Time) and the intense “Strange Land,” which he wrote at age 18. Great guitar work by Luther Dickinson on this track, by the way. Musselwhite also tackles the Memphis Jug Band standard “K.C. Moan,” a languid country blues take with harmonica, banjo, and backing voices.

Mathus does his original tune, “Night Time,” a swampy, funky slow burner that generates plenty of heat and humidity, and a wonderfully wild take on the pre-war classic “Shake It And Break It,” which sounds like it would have been a ball to watch being recorded. Hart tackles another tune associated with Charley Patton, a gritty take on“Pony Blues” (how I wish he’d grace blues fans with another recording), as well as the Mississippi Shieks’ “Stop And Listen Blues” and a terrific bluesified reading of Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free.”

The late Jim Dickinson (Luther and Cody’s dad) passed away about two years after this session. Long regarded as a roots music icon, he does little to dispel that notion with his two tracks, the rowdy barrelhouse oldie, “Come On Down To My House,” a track that, more than any other on the disc, reflects the genial, good-natured tone of the session. His other tune is Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together,” a wild and wooly cover carried by Dickinson’s raw vocal and the raucous musical backing.

Listening to Volume 1 of this fantastic jam session, one has to ask two questions. One, why did this sit on the shelf for so long, and, two, when is Volume 2 being released?

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny RawlsWhere Have All the Soul Men Gone is the third release by soul/blues stalwart Johnny Rawls on Third Street Cigar Records. For this release, Rawls traveled to Denmark (where he recorded his recent Live In Europe album, released by a Dutch label) and is backed by the Ozdemirs (Kenan Ozdemir – guitar/vocals, Levent Ozdemir – drums/vocals, and Erkan Ozdemir – bass) and keyboardist Alberto Marsico. Overdubs were added in Waterville, Ohio by Marsico, Larry Gold – guitarist, and the Waterville Horns (Travis Geiman – trombone, Mike Williams – alto sax).

Rawls wrote all ten tunes and, as always, the songs and his arrangements have the knack of sounding vintage and contemporary at the same time. The title track finds the singer lamenting the passing of his heroes Z.Z. Hill, O.V. Wright, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and others, but declaring that he’s still doing his best to “keep the dream alive.” The uplifting “Bottom To The Top” tells of a woman who’s turned his life around for the better, and “Can’t Leave It Alone” continues the theme with Rawls declaring he’s in it for the long haul.

Fans of old school soul can breathe a sigh of relief with “Keep On Doing My Thing,” as Rawls lets us know that he’s not going anywhere and plans to play and sing for the duration. Meanwhile, the slow burner “Love, Love, Love” features a splendid blues guitar intro (Geiman’s trombone is prominent here and on other tracks and it adds a nice dimension to these tracks. I wish more artists featured this instrument), and “Money” is a profound track --- it’s the root of all evil, but you gotta have it.

The up-tempo “Town Too Small” describes “the strange situation we livin’ in today,” which is something everyone can relate to right now. On the reflective “Time,” Rawls ponders its inevitable passage, despite our best efforts. The upbeat “Baby, Baby, Baby” is a declaration of love for his lady, and on the jubilant closer, “Calling On Jesus,” Rawls and company take listeners to church with a tune that will have them dancing in the aisles.

Thankfully, there are still a few soul men helping keep the genre alive these days, of which Rawls is one of the standard bearers. His mentors of the past would be proud that he’s taken over for them in keeping the music alive. Where Have All the Soul Men Gone is must-listening for soul/blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom GilbertsTom Gilberts’ second release on Polymerase Records, Old School, finds the Oregon-based guitarist teaming up with Brian Foxworth (drums) and Cave Captein (bass) for an engaging set of blues and blues rock originals. Gilberts’ guitar work is front and center on this set, which consists of mostly instrumentals that prove he’s one of the finest guitarists currently practicing in any particular genre. One would be hard-pressed to disagree after listening to this marvelous set.

Opening with the magnificent slow blues, “’Lady’ Luck,” which would only work if you were the kind of guitarist that Gilberts is. He really takes his time on this track on guitar and with his smoky, soulful vocal. What a start! The swinging instrumental, “Zoot Suite Shuffle,” could have continued far beyond its two-minute running time, and the funky “Ass, Gas or Grass” is a laid-back blues rocker with a cool slide guitar run, while the melodic instrumental “Sun Vibe” is first rate, subtle with an Americana feel.

The lively title track is a brisk shuffle with more tasty slide guitar, with Gilberts singing of the virtues of doing things the old-fashioned way. The acoustic instrumental, “Dark Clouds,” adds a bit of jazz into the mix with the rhythm section really locking in behind Gilberts’ skillful fretwork. It’s followed by “My Paper Bag,” a blues rock instrumental with a Texas feel, and “The North Fork,” another jazzy instrumental but completely electric this time around. “You Missed Me” is a mid-tempo shuffle about a broken relationship.

“Brown’s Camp” is a rootsy instrumental piece with a bit of a southern rock vibe, “Nighttime” is another slow burner with an understated vocal from Gilberts and a jazzy Latin tinge in the melody, and on the rock-edged closer, “The Fuzz,” the guitarist pulls out all the stops with loads of Hendrixian distorted guitar tone as the album goes out in a blaze of glory.

If you’re a blues fan, or a blues rock fan, Old School deserves a spot in your collection. Tom Gilberts is an incredible guitar player who knows his way around both genres, and is a great singer and songwriter to boot. Producer Terry Robb gets the absolute best out of Gilberts and the excellent rhythm section. This is a great set from start to finish.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim Diamond RevueThe Jim Diamond Revue is an offshoot of Jim Diamond & the Groove Syndicate, one of the leading blues bands in the Ohio/Tennessee Valley for over 30 years. The Revue expands the Groove Syndicate’s traditional five-piece setup to include a host of musical guests that really opens up the band’s sound more than ever, venturing from their usual soul-blues mix to include influences from New Orleans to Memphis to funk and rock. All of these sounds are perfectly captured on the Revue’s latest release, Friends & Family.

The band certainly knows how to swing, as evidenced on their first few tracks, the rollicking “I’m Cryin’,” the rocking “Dog House,” and the fast-paced “Tight Mini Skirt” (with terrific harmonica from guest Hank Mowery). “Better Way” is a nice ballad with a bit of a gospel feel, similar to the Allman’s “Soulshine,” and “Sometime In June” is a gloriously funky instrumental that moves back and forth between Latin and Southern rock, while “See The Light” is pure unvarnished blues rock.

The swinging shuffle, “Tell Me,” is a real toe-tapper, and “Rock ‘N Roll Over Over You” revisits the Latin rock/blues feel from a couple of tracks back with nice guitar work from Diamond and keyboards from Jon Pleasant. The breathless swinger, “Hot For You,” is a standout, as is “I’m Walkin’,” with it’s funky Crescent City feel. “Hi-Dee-Hey, Hi-Dee-Ho” is straight blues with scorching slide guitar from guest Joe Litteral. “Cannonball” is a horn-fueled instrumental that drives like a freight train, and the closer, “15 Below,” is a smoky slow blues.

Diamond and the Groove Syndicate (Beth Deminski Boyington – drums, Chris Herndon – rhythm guitar/vocals, Mark Wagner – bass, Joe DiGuiseppe (tenor sax), and Pleasant (organ/piano) are augmented on assorted tracks by guests Ray Warfield (tenor sax), Ryan Stiles (tenor/baritone sax), Litteral (lead guitar), Nick Mowery (lead guitar, harmonica, vocals), Rob Brown (piano), Rod Wurtele (organ), and Bob Ramsey (mellotron).

The title Family & Friends is an appropriate one, because these musicians have extraordinary chemistry, as if they’ve been playing together for years, and, truthfully, they have. Their affection for each other, and the music they’re playing, comes through time and time again.

--- Graham Clarke

Mark TelescaIn March of 2017, Mark Telesca was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and endured surgery and chemotherapy treatments, confined to his home for most of that year. The singer/songwriter/guitarist has been in remission for over two years, doing well, and celebrated his recovery in 2020 by publishing a book, Love Music Hate Cancer, and releasing Higher Vibrations, a wonderful set of acoustic blues consisting of nine originals and six blues and gospel covers.

Telesca’s originals include “99 Years,” which tells of an innocent person trapped behind bars, perhaps a metaphor for his nearly year-long exile during his illness, “Black Dress,” which finds him begging his lady to hurry and get ready for a show that they’re about to miss, the hopeful “Looking For Some Gold,” and “Turn On A Dime,” a haunting ballad telling listeners to not take anything in life for granted.

Telesca funks things up a bit on the upbeat “It’s All Right,” paints a vivid picture of Manhattan in “Life in the City,” and ponders his own mortality as he revisits the prison theme of the opener. The somber “Been A Long Time” finds him reflecting on the past, and on the lively closer, “Somethin’ Just Ain’t Right,” he discovers that his significant other has hit the road.

I like Telesca’s choice of covers, from Doctor Clayton’s oft-covered “Murderin’ Blues,” to Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Louise,” Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” a dandy pair from Leroy Carr (“How Long” and “Papa’s On The House Top”), Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burnin,’” and a really interesting read of Al Green’s “I’m A Ram.” While most of the covers are familiar, Telesca’s nimble fretwork adds a nice warm quality to them. His vocals are equal to his guitar playing (he also plays bass and is accompanied on several tracks by Bob Taylor on snare drum).

Higher Vibrations is a most excellent set of acoustic blues that will certainly satisfy any fans of that particular genre. It should satisfy anyone who just enjoys great music. Survivor Mark Telesca has unleashed a beauty that you’ll want to listen to all day long.

--- Graham Clarke

DeltaphonicsIf there were still record stores for us to visit, the New Orleans ensemble Deltaphonic’s music might be a bit of a challenge to track down. Sure, they play blues (mostly of the Hill Country variety), but they also include funk, soul, and R&B, and LOTS of it, in their musical gumbo. The title of their latest album is The Funk, the Soul, & the Holy Groove, which might give you an idea of the direction they are coming from.

Deltaphonic (Andrew T. Weekes – guitar/vocals, Paul Provosty – lead guitar, and Trenton O’Neal and Ciaran Brennan – drums), is joined on these ten tracks by bassist Jerry “Jblakk” Henderson (of Big Sam’s Funky Nation), keyboardist Andriu Yanovski, and backing vocalist Josh Kagler.

The band gets right into it with the opening cut, “Liars,” a deep funk rocker that also serves as a scathing, satirical jab at the music business. “Ghosts” sounds like a mashup of Hill Country, funk, and smooth R&B, with the combination working really well. “Bad People” adds Southern rock to the already percolating mix, while the slow groover “Starlit” sounds like the best ’70s-era R&B. “New Mexican Rockstar” has an old school rock feel with a Latin rhythm, and the multi-faceted “If It Don’t Bleed” revisits Hill Country blues and rock.

The rock-edged “Don’t Have To Be Good” scorches the earth before segueing into the swampy “Mississippi,” which features some tasty slide guitar from Provosty. “The Denouement” settles into a relaxed groove with Yanovski’s keyboards providing a soulful cushion backing Weekes’ expressive vocal, and the closer, “See Red,” mixing hard rocking guitar with that hypnotic Hill Country rhythm.

The mix of genres is never off-putting and the sudden tempo changes in several songs is particularly well done, guaranteed to hold the interest of the listeners, if Weekes’ lyrics aren’t already doing that. There’s a lot of music to take in with Deltaphonic, but it’s all so well-crafted that you won’t even realize it.

--- Graham Clarke

Albert CastigliaAlbert Castiglia’s most recent effort, Wild and Free (Gulf Coast Records), was recorded live at the Boca Raton club The Funky Biscuit in early 2020 in front of an obviously enthusiastic crowd. The Florida-based guitarist and his band (Justine Thompson – bass/vocals, Ephraim Lowell – drums) are joined by Lewis Stephens (B3/piano), along with guests Mike Zito (guitar) and John Ginty (B3) for several songs on this strong 11-track set of originals and covers.

The thunderous “Let The Big Dog Eat” (a highlight from Castiglia’s 2016 release, Big Dog) kicks off the disc and serves notice to what’s ahead. The rocking shuffle, “Hoodoo On Me,” was written by Zito, keeping up the show’s brisk pace. Brian Stoltz’s funky “I Been Up All Night” slows the pace a bit, but not very much, and Castiglia unleashes some serious fretwork on this track, before moving to the ballad, “Heavy,” a Castiglia original with interesting lyrics and fine vocals and guitar. Meanwhile, the next track, the furious and frenetic “Get Your Ass In The Van,” is Elmore James on steroids, so slide guitar fans should love it for sure.

The funky mid-tempo “Searching The Desert For The Blues” is a nice change of pace, leading into Castiglia’s original “Keep On Swingin’,” which picks up the pace and allows for the guitarist to really stretch out and lock in. Zito and Ginty join Castiglia on a wondrous eight-plus minute cover of Johnny Winter’s “Too Much Seconal.” The interplay between the two guitarists is just spectacular on this track, and Ginty’s B3 is typically marvelous. Ginty also guests on a tasty read of Paul Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup.”

The album closes with Castiglia’s “I Tried To Tell Ya,” a muscular blues rocker, and a furious cover of Freddie King’s instrumental “Boogie Funk,” where the guitarist blows the doors off the joint.

Wild and Free is a powerful set of blues and blues rock that will certainly please his fans and should bring a few new ones into the fold who enjoy a rock edge with their blues.

--- Graham Clarke

John Blues BoydEight months ago, Bill Mitchell made What My Eyes Have Seen….(Gulf Coast Records), from John Blues Boyd, his Surprise pick for Blues Bytes’ April issue. In my perpetual state of bringing up the rear, I’m just now getting to reviewing this one in my stack, but be advised that I’m not going to tell you anything different from what Mr. Mitchell said. My big question is “Where in the world did this guy come from????” Though he’s been active for a number of years, he’s certainly seemed to have slipped beneath the radar, which is a shame, because, man, does he have a story to tell!

A Greenwood, Mississippi native (from the Baptist Town area), Boyd moved to Florida at 18 years old to escape the racial tensions that permeated the area. He became a roofer and met his wife, settling there for over a decade before moving to Chicago and, eventually, California. After nearly 40 years, he retired to take care of his wife who suffered from kidney failure. Upon his retirement in 2009, he began to think about music (he sang and wrote songs as a youth before leaving Greenwood), connecting with Kid Andersen and he began performing around the Bay Area while still tending to his wife. After his wife passed in 2014, Boyd traveled with Andersen to Europe and released his first album in 2016, The Real Deal, produced by Andersen at Greaseland Studios.

What My Eyes Have Seen….is the story of Boyd’s life, recounting his departure from Mississippi (“Ran Me Out Of Town”), his later career (“The Singing Roofer”), his journey to the west coast (“California,” inspired by Howlin’ Wolf), his love for his late wife (“A Beautiful Woman (for Dona Mae)” and the mournful “49 Years”), and his love for the blues (“In My Blood,” “I Heard The Blues”). He also discusses events in the world around him that changed his life (the harrowing title track and “Why Did You Take That Shot,” which discusses the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King). He also sings of his determination to make a difference in “I Got To Leave My Mark.” Also mixed into the set are several interludes sung by Boyd that set the stage for the songs to come.

Boyd’s magnificent voice carries the day on these songs, which were written by him with Andersen and Gulf Coast Records head man Guy Hale. Andersen is his usual versatile self, playing guitar and organ and providing the perfect backdrop for Boyd’s performances in a variety of blues styles that succinctly mix jazz, funk, and urban blues. Also contributing are June Core (drums), Jim Pugh (keyboards), Quintae Johnson (bass), and Nancy Wright, Eric Spaulding, and Jack Sanford (saxes), Ryan Walker (harmonica), Ric Feliziano (trombone), and John Halbleib (trumpet).

It took a long time for John Blues Boyd to achieve his musical dreams. With What My Eyes Have Seen…., he is making the most of his opportunity. Hats off to Kid Andersen and Guy Hale for helping this amazing artist get the message out to the audience he deserves.

--- Graham Clarke

Victor WainwrightIf you can’t find anything to like about Memphis Loud (Ruf Records), the newest release from Victor Wainwright and The Train, then you probably shouldn’t be listening to music in the first place. Sure, therels  blues a’plenty to be heard, as is to be expected from the multi-BMA-winning singer/keyboardist, but he deftly blends soul, rock, jazz, and R&B into the mix as well. The fact that Wainwright does this so well, and so effortlessly, explains why he has built such a devoted following over the past 15 years.

Wainwright comes rocking out of the gate with the rousing “Mississippi,” which pays tribute to the Magnolia State, before rolling into the Crescent City-flavored “Walk The Walk,” a tune dedicated to his parents for their love and support. The hard-charging title track is about a train, a musical train, and sounds like one that you might want to ride. The jazzy “Sing” is a really cool track that will take listeners back a century with the horns and woodwinds, and the gripping “Disappear” is a splendid blues ballad with a heartfelt vocal from Wainwright.

The briskly-paced “Creek Don’t Rise,” about a couple rekindling the fire in their relationship, lifts the mood and the tempo, and the funky “Golden Rule” manages to bring to mind Memphis and New Orleans as it carries you away. Meanwhile, on the somber “America,” Wainwright encourages us to come together to achieve a common goal, then lightens things up considerably with the humorous, rootsy “South End Of A Northbound Mule.” The encouraging “Recovery” describes persevering through difficult times and leaving them in the dust, and the lively “My Dog Riley” is a lighthearted tribute to Wainwright’s pup.

The closer is a magnificent soul burner, “Reconcile,” running about eight and a half minutes, but it seems to fly by as Wainwright pours his heart and soul into the performance. It certainly ends the album on a high note.

Victor Wainwright never disappoints with a new release, and Memphis Loud continues that trend. Blues fans, as well as fans of great music in general, will play this one a lot.

--- Graham Clarke

Gerald McClendonIf you happened to hear 2019’s Battle of the Blues: Chicago Vs. Oakland, one of 2019’s best releases, you got to hear Chicago vocalist Gerald McClendon. He contributed only one track, “Cold In The Streets,” but it was one of the best tracks on the album. Fortunately for soul blues fans Delta Roots Records, who released the Battle… CD, has released a complete album of McClendon’s work, Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now, a fabulous set of original songs (written by Delta Roots chief Twist Turner, who also produced the album, wrote all of the songs, and played drums) that prove McClendon is the real deal.

The optimistic title track opens the disc on a positive note as McClendon vows to move forward, leaving his past behind. Next is the simmering soul of “Where Do We Go From Here,” a heart-rending break-up song with smoking sax from Skinny Williams backing McClendon’s heartfelt vocal. Meanwhile, “Groove On Tonight” is a smooth piece of funky R&B, “She Don’t Love Me Anymore” is another heartfelt ballad revisiting the end of a relationship, and “Runnin’ Wild,” has a Stax feel, compliments of the horns, as McClendon calls out his lady for playing the field.

The blues ballad, “It’s Over Now,” would have been a snug fit into Bobby “Blue” Bland’s catalog, and McClendon's sensitive read is sublime. The amusing “Mr. Wrong” is an amusing track with a catchy refrain that will leave listeners smiling, and the redemptive “I Started Over” finds McClendon testifying that he’s a new man. The ballad, “You Can’t Take My Love,” is a standout, maybe the best track on the disc, with the singer delivering a measured yet supremely soulful performance, and the tender “Why Can’t We Be Together” follows in the same vein.

“Cut You Once” is a slightly harrowing tale of a man caught in the act of getting it on by his lady, and the closer, “I Think About You,” is a great slice of horn-fueled southern soul with a moving vocal from McClendon.

Fans of soul music have gotten a lot of bang for their buck this year, and Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now sits near the top of the list. McClendon is a dynamite vocalist who does a fantastic job with this impressive set of tunes from Twist Turner, who does an excellent job providing a superb backdrop for this singer who deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Lisa MillsThe Triangle (Melody Place Music) is the title of Lisa Mills’ new CD, describing the musical triangle where most great music of the south has originated over the past three quarters of a century --- Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi. Mills has recorded 14 classic blues and soul tracks that had their origins in this region, with four songs recorded at FAME Studios, five tracks at Royal Studios, four tracks at Malaco Studios, and a bonus cut from Sun Studios.

The first four, recorded at FAME, include Little Richard’s “Greenwood, Mississippi,” one of the best tracks in a crowded field. Mills really takes this one to the next level with her spirited vocal. There’s a pair of Etta James tracks as well, both sides of her 1967 single “Tell Mama” (taken with a more pop/rock approach than the original) and the B-side, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” These two tracks bookend Clarence Carter’s timeless “Slip Away,” which also features a fantastic vocal from Millsthat really conveys pain and yearning.

The five tracks recorded at Royal include Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” a stellar track that positively drips with Memphis grease funk. Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love” is one of his finest compositions, and Mills covers it about as well as it can possibly be done. The other three tracks are the slow burner, “Same Time Same Place” (originally recorded by Mable John), “A Place Nobody Can Find” (by Sam & Dave), and “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (recorded by O.V. Wright and Otis Redding).

The tracks recorded at Malaco include a feisty take on Denise LaSalle’s “Someone Else is Stepping In,” the superb soul ballad “I’ll Always Love You” (written and originally recorded by Southern rockers The Beat Daddys on Malaco’s Waldoxy subsidiary), the Jackson Southernaires’ “Travel On,” which seamlessly mixes blues and gospel, and a stunning version of the Bobby “Blue” Bland’s classic “Members Only,” which based on Mills’ masterful vocal may become the definitive version of the song.

The bonus cut, from Sun Studios, is just Mills and her guitar. “Just Walking In The Rain” is a beautiful performance, with Mills’ understated vocal and guitar sending the album off on just the right note.

The Triangle is a remarkable album, most definitely Lisa Mills’ best album to date and one of my favorites for 2020. It should remain on your permanent rotation for quite some time.

--- Graham Clarke

Stevie JStevie J Blues recently released his Quarantined album, which we will review in an upcoming issue (spoiler: It’s really good!). The first single from that effort is the album's opening track, “Big Girls.”  A dance party song that celebrates the benefits and pleasures of plus-sized ladies, it’s a tasty combination of blues with ’70s-era R&B and a dash of modern hip-hop. If you like any of those genres, this one, not to mention the rest of the upcoming album (due in mid-January) should be on your must-purchase list. I’m just glad that Stevie J Blues didn’t sit at home and mope around during the pandemic, and you will be, too.

Elektro Horse is an artist/DJ/producer from Chicago who has created a new dance sound called CDM (Country Dance Music). Recently, he collaborated with singer Francesca Capasso for “Walk On Water,” a gospel/blues/country track that’s sure to get the congregations dancing in the aisles. Capasso, a Stage 3 cancer survivor, really belts out this entertaining and inspirational tune that encourages listeners to count their blessings and keep their faith through the hard times that we all face. Elektro Horse is currently working on his debut EP, so this one should please fans of several overlapping genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Peter VeteskaWith this new album, Grass Ain't Greener On The Other Side (CD Baby), the nominal leader of New York-based Peter Veteska & Blues Train takes a shift from his usual funk and jazz recordings to put out a decent but not great album of blues and blues/rock. it meanders around a bit during the collection of six originals and four covers. Veteska is a strong blues guitarist but doesn't have the voice to pull it off, which is why I say the album is good but not great. Quite frankly, what gets this album its recommended status is the keyboard work of Jeff Levine on both piano and B3. He's a very fine player, elevating everything here to a higher level.

Among the keeper cuts are the album opener, "Am I Wrong Pretty Baby," with Mikey Jr. appearing on harmonica and Levine immediately showing us that he's a force on the B3. Levine opens the next cut, a cover of the Dinah Washington and Brook Benton classic, "Baby You've Got What It Takes," with singer Jen Barnes joining the band to share vocals with Veteska. If I had a vote, I would have had Barnes appear on every song. Yeah, she's good. Levine's B3 solo later in the cut is an absolutely killer.

Veteska gets more power into his voice on the up-tempo blues shuffle," You Give Me Loving." Needless to say, Levine provides more solid B3 accompaniment, as he does on the Willie Cobbs original, "You Don't Love Me," one that also gives Veteska plenty of room to stretch out on guitar. Mikey Jr. returns for the 12-bar blues, "I've Been Missing You," with Veteska switching over to acoustic guitar. Another fine cover is Ray Charles' up-tempo blues, "Heartbreaker," with Levine (who else?) opening the song with a B3 intro.

For my money, Levine is the star of this show, but there's enough else to give Grass Ain't Greener On The Other Side a solid recommendation.

--- Bill Mitchell

David Rotundo BandCanadian singer / harmonica player David Rodundo was honored to have none other than Lee Oskar produce his latest album, So Much Trouble (Dreams We Share), billed to David Rotundo Band. The dozen cuts here represent several different styles of blues. I'm a big fan of the blues harmonica so, based on what I read in the accompanying press release, I was expecting to be blown away by the quality of harp work, especially considering that Oskar was involved in the production.

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed. There really wasn't anything that I couldn't hear at the corner bar on jam session night. Rotundo is fine technically on the instrument, but many of his solos sounded similar, and he doesn't have the vocal chops to counter it. This album is also designed to challenge the listener to step outside their pre-determined box of what the blues should be, and I'm always fine with that, but there has to be something outside that box that intrigues my ears. Instead, too many of the songs had the comment of 'No' or '"Meh' in my notes.

There's enough here to make an interesting EP but not a full album. The up-tempo blues that opens the album, "She's Dynamite," gets the blood flowing, with Rotundo playing decent harmonica to carry the tune. The real keeper here is the acoustic Delta blues number, "Hard Times Coming," when Rotundo picks up a guitar to go with his harp playing. His harmonica work is complemented by solid sax and B3 on the novelty shuffle, "Drinking Overtime." I was hoping for a nice closing number with the cover of "Trouble In Mind," but this version lacks energy.

Anytime I give a lackluster review of an album I do so with the caveat that your results may vary. Check out samples before deciding whether or not you want to buy it, but So Much Trouble is not for me.

--- Bill Mitchell

Miss EmilyLive At The Isabel has introduced me to Canadian singer Miss Emily, who I found to be a strong singer with plenty of range. She's got a couple of previous independent releases, earned a Maple Blues Award for Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year, and there's a testimonial from Gene Simmons of Kiss (of all people) in the press material.

Now that I've heard Live At The Isabel, I need to explore more recordings from Miss Emily. There's good stuff here, spotlighting Miss Emily's powerful voice with plenty of range and her tasteful piano playing. She's very talented and could be a star in the making. The reason I want to hear more is that after listening to Live At The Isabel several times through I started feeling like I was missing some of the energy of the live show. The sound is clean, perhaps too clean and not warm enough, and I feel like I bought the last ticket to the show and am listening from the back row of the auditorium.

But my minor complaints about the sound and the overall feel of the music shouldn't diminish my respect for Miss Emily as an artist. She sings her ass off and pumps plenty of emotion into her songs. I'm especially fond of the amazing vocals on her own composition, "Three Words," and then next on a version of "The Letter," on which she also played very nice piano. Jon 'Bunny' Stewart comes in with a strong sax solo. While not a true blues song, "The Letter" may be the strongest cut here.

The Bill Withers song, "Who Is He," gets good coverage here. (Sidenote: I'm hearing more of Bill Withers' material being covered by blues artists lately, and that's a good thing). Miss Emily plays some of her best piano on the slow ballad "Blue Is Still Blue." Her vocals then get a little sassy on "Dear CBC," as she spills out her frustration with not getting airplay on that network's stations. She also shines on an original number, "The Sell-Out," on which she pours out a volcano of emotion, especially as the tune progresses. By the end of the song, I was shouting, "Wow!"

There's a very fine studio album from Miss Emily waiting to happen. I'll be eagerly waiting for it to show up in my mailbox in the future. It took me a few times through Live At The Isabel before this one grabbed me, but now I've claimed my seat on the Miss Emily bandwagon. My patience and perseverance has been rewarded. With a full show of 15 songs here, there's plenty of quality music to enjoy.

--- Bill Mitchell




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