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Order these featured albums today:

Tinsley Ellis

Landslide Records 40th Anniversary

Sean Chambers

Johnny Never

Dwayne Dopsie

Michot's Melody Makers

Robin Kapsalis

Casey James

McKee Brothers

Clarence Spady

Veronica Lewis


Tinsley EllisAtlanta, Georgia bluesman Tinsley Ellis has been around long enough now to put him well into the "veteran bluesman" category. First recording in 1982 for Landslide Records, Ellis' latest, Devil May Care (Alligator), checks in as the 20th album in his prolific discography. He's frequently labeled as Southern blues/rock, but to my ears Ellis leans much more heavily into the blues side of things. He's more of a guitarist than a singer, but his strong voice is well-suited for the heavy blues that he's playing, aptly complementing his guitar work.

Joining Ellis for Devil May Care is a strong group of musicians, notably Kevin McKendree (organ and piano), Steve Mackey (bass) and Lynn Williams (drums), with horn players Jim Hoke and Andrew Carney joining the band for three numbers.

Ellis doesn't waste any time before showing off his guitar chops, with a strong blues guitar solo on the opener, "One Less Reason," a mid-tempo blues shuffle. The 12-bar blues number, "Right Down The Drain," starts a pattern of songs that remind of vintage Allman Brothers, with Ellis playing very fine slide guitar licks on a 12-bar blues that is as much Southern rock as it is blues.

Mentioning earlier that Ellis has improved as a vocalist over the years, that fact is proven on "Just Like Rain," a slow number that could be considered a soul ballad. Then he really sings with conviction on the mid-tempo blues, "Beat The Devil," defying the devil by claiming that he's going to be beat him at his own game. The horn section comes in to add the icing to a very strong piece of blues cake, made even richer with Ellis' stinging blues guitar work.

"Don't Bury Our Love" slows down the tempo, with Ellis' pleading vocals backs by subtle drumming and organ accompaniment before his blues guitar ups the energy level later in the song. The band then gets kind of funky on "Juju," with Ellis singing about his woman's witchcraft and the spell on him that turns him into butter. This one also brings back memories of the Allman Brothers.

"Step Up" is an up-tempo driving song, followed by "One Last Ride," with Ellis sounding like two guitars playing together (it's that Allman sound again). The guitar, organ and piano go so well together on this mid-tempo blues.

Ellis brings this gem of an album home with the rapid-fire "28 Days," with plenty of guitar effects in use while singing about those four weeks of torture and pain, and then emits plenty of suffering on the slow blues "Slow Train To Hell."

With so many fine recordings under his belt, it's hard to say that Devil May Care is Tinsley Ellis' best. But it certainly ranks right up there.

--- Bill Mitchell

Landslide 40Continuing our discussion of the music of Tinsley Ellis, we get a close look at the beginning of his career on the new compilation, Landslide Records, 40th Anniversary (Landslide).

The first cut of this collection dates back to Ellis' debut album, with "Drivin' Woman" showing the formation of his "no holds barred" approach to the blues. Later, we get a live version of Muddy Waters' "Walkin' Thru The Park," featuring the vocals of Chicago Bob Nelson, Ellis' singer on early albums. Ellis and his band, The Heartfixers, also back legendary blues singer Nappy Brown on Roy Brown's "Hard Luck Blues," originally released on Tore Up.

Landslide releases have covered a wide range of musical styles, from blues to jazz to rockabilly and southern roots rock. Also notable is the fact that a number of artists launched their recording careers on Landslide, notably The Derek Trucks Band, Webb Wilder, and Widespread Panic.

Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere teamed up with Washington, D.C. wildman Catfish Hodge to form The Bluesblusters, and from this group we hear "Phone Don't Ring" and "Elmo's Blues," both which have the vibe of Little Feat doing the blues.

An Atlanta legend who played in Underground Atlanta for many years was Piano Red; he's represented here on a live recording of "Rockin' With Red." Prolific New Orleans songwriter Dave Bartholomew also contributed a live recording, "Jazz Fest in New Orleans."

Contemporary southern blues artist Damon Fowler is represented by "Make The Best Of Your Time," from the 2021 release Alafia Moon. The late guitarist Sean Costello, who passed away at the age of 29, is heard  on "Motor Head Baby."

The second album goes in a lot of different directions, with not too much blues to be found. The Derek Trucks Band selection, "Mr. PC," is more jazzy rock than anything else. We also get the chance to hear the group that helped launch the label, the jazz fusion ensemble Col. Bruce Hampton & The Late Bronze Age, with "King Greed" and "Walking Woith Zambi" represented here. It's different, but that was the idea behind Landslide Records. Giving Atlanta artists of all styles of music a chance to be heard.

Landslide Records, 40th Anniversary is a very diverse collection with some good blues to be heard.

--- Bill Mitchell

Grant Dermody

Harmonica ace Grant Dermody and guitarist Frank Fotusky were brought together by their mutual appreciation for the music of the late Virginia Piedmont-style bluesman John Jackson. It's only appropriate that they teamed up for the delightful Digging In John's Backyard (self-released). I don't believe they actually used a shovel to dig around the backyard of Jackson's ancestral home, but instead brought out a lot of old blues songs that would have influenced Jackson, as well as one Jackson original.

Dermody gets top billing on this album, but for my money it's Fotusky's exquisite guitar picking that steals the show, as he shows his immense talents on both Fraulini and Gibson guitars. He's also a nice singer, although Dermody's more raspy voice has a little more downhome blues sound. Dermody handles himself well on harmonica, with the liner notes stating that he uses the more ergonomic Filisko Method on both Hohner Harmonicas and Custom Marine Bands.

But enough of the technical details. Let's talk about the music. Two of the highlights are covers of Blind Blake songs: the opening "Hey Hey Daddy Blues," giving Fotusky his first chance to show his skills on guitar and vocals, and "Police Dog Blues," this one with Dermody singing the blues. The guys are willing to take it to the riverside on a couple cuts, the traditional "You Better Lie Down," with outstanding echo-y harmonica from Dermody, and Rev. Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a slow, more restrained song that gives Fotusky the spotlight on both guitar and vocals.

Dermody was also associated with Bowling Green John Cephas (NOTE: one of my all-time blues favorites!), and he covers "Seattle Rainy Day Blues," one that Cephas & Wiggins did on their Shoulder to Shoulder album.  Both performers stand out on Leroy Carr's "Papa's On The Housetop," Dermody with his harp solo and Fotusky for his vocal work.

You just know that Dermody and Fotusky were going to give a loving rendition of John Jackson's "Boats Up River," with the pair trading vocals and Fotusky playing gentle fingerpicking guitar.

There's really not a bad cut on the album, as the duo also covers tunes from John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson, Carl Martin, Alton Delmore, Charlie Patton, Skip James, and Leadbelly. If Piedmont-style blues is your thing, then you will certainly want to search out the delightful Digging In John's Backyard.

--- Bill Mitchell

Sean ChambersIn 1998, guitarist Sean Chambers was asked to back legendary Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin at a Memphis blues festival. That experience led to Chambers working with Sumlin over the next four years as his guitarist and bandleader (he also appeared on Sumlin’s 2004 album About Them Shoes). Chambers has also carved out an impressive career of his own, releasing nine albums since 1998, the most recent release being a tribute to Sumlin, That’s What I’m Talkin’ About: Tribute to Hubert Sumlin (Quarto Valley Records).

Chambers selected nine classic tunes associated with Wolf and/or Sumlin, adding an original tribute tune to the mix. He receives stellar support from keyboardists Bruce Katz and John Ginty, bassist Antar Goodwin, and drummer Andrei Koribanics. The session was produced by Ben Elliot and recorded at his American Showplace Studios (Chambers’ previous two releases were on Elliot’s American Showplace Music label). Elliot suddenly died a couple of months after the sessions, so Chambers dedicates the album to him and Sumlin.

Chambers starts things off with the Sumlin original, “Chunky,” hewing closely to the original, but adding a bit of a rocking edge to it. Next is “Do The Do,” where Chambers delivers a Wolf-like vocal delivery and scorching slide guitar, and a funky, rocking take on “Rockin’ Daddy.” The slow burning read of “Goin’ Down Slow,” written by St. Louis Jimmy, finds Chambers opening with the spoken-word monologue Willie Dixon delivered on Wolf’s cover, then he lays down some stunning fretwork as the tune progresses.

A rip-roaring version of “Hidden Charms” is a standout with Chambers turning a fine vocal and monster guitar work, followed by a leisurely but driving version of “Forty-Four,” and a fierce blues-rock take on “Taildragger,” where Chambers lays down some of his finest guitar on the album, which is really saying something. “Hubert’s Song,” is the lone Chambers original, but it’s a lot of fun as he pays tribute to Sumlin and recalls some of their adventures together.

The cover of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” an oft-covered tune in many genres from the Mississippi Sheiks, gets a fresh coat of paint from Chambers that’s distinct from the many previous versions. “Howlin’ For My Darling” is a great vehicle for Chambers as he turns in a feral vocal and gritty guitar before he concludes with a terrific rendition of “Louise” (kudos to Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds for recommending this track, and “Taildragger” to Chambers).

That’s What I’m Talkin’ About (one of Sumlin’s favorite sayings) is one of the best blues rock albums I’ve heard this year. The passion and enthusiasm that Sean Chambers puts into this loving tribute to Hubert Sumlin makes it obvious that he holds a huge amount of admiration and respect for the late guitarist.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny NeverOn his latest release, Blue Delta, Johnny Never (a.k.a. John Carleton) offers some dazzling acoustic finger-style guitar work on Delta and Piedmont blues styles. Subtitled “New and Used Vintage Blues,” Never gives us a baker’s dozen tracks, eight originals and five covers, which shake the dust off the country blues genre and give it a fresh coat of paint. Never plays all the guitars on the album, and is ably assisted by John Colgan-Davis (harmonica), Dave Young or Ken Pendergast (bass), Paul Patchel or Mark Shustak (percussion), Mac Given (clarinet), and backing vocalists Holly Hoffman and Shannon Davidson.

The title track, “Blue Delta Blues,” is interesting in that it’s a tribute to the Delta blues, but played in a Piedmont style, reminding me a bit of Hacksaw Harney’s approach to the Delta blues. “Last Fair Deal,” the Robert Johnson classic swings with a Crescent City vibe, accentuated by Given’s clarinet, “Black Smart Phone” is a clever rewrite updating Hop Wilson’s “Black Cat Bone,” and while Never can’t match the intensity of Son House’s singing and playing of “Death Letter” (and, really, who could?), his more serene version has its charms, particularly his nimble slide guitar and Colgan-Davis’ harp.

The Never original “Shake It Up and Boogie” is a jaunty track that does just that, with thumping bass, harp, and sweet backing vocals. It’s followed by “Canned Heat,” a cover of Tommy Johnson’s late ’20s release that hews pretty closely to the original, but Never’s delicate fingerpicking is just wonderful. “Falls Off The Bone (The Blues in 7/8)” is an intriguing tune, with a somewhat disheveled arrangement both vocally and instrumentally, but it works pretty well so much that I went back and revisited the track several times. It also provides a nice segue to Never’s tasty rendition of Roosevelt Syke’s “44 Blues.”

Kids in the south today don’t really understand the struggles of summers with little or no air-conditioning. Never brings it all back to life with his bouncy “Witherin’ Heat Blues,” which also features a clarinet solo from Given. The somber blues “Whiskey Glass,” features the clarinet again, and “Dark Night Blues (Murdoch Blues)” is a gentle folk/blues with lovely, delicate picking. Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey Hey” is a cool driving tune that eases into the final track, Never’s original, “Blue Eyed Girl,” a relaxed country blues which teams him with Colgan-Davis.

Johnny Never’s Blue Delta is a fine set of acoustic Delta and Piedmont blues. I really liked his creativity, interchanging the styles between songs, and breathing new life into the covers he selected with his playing and arrangements.

--- Graham Clarke

Dwayne DopsieOver the past year I’ve been listening to a lot of Zydeco and Cajun music --- a lot of my old favorites and a few impressive new releases. One of those impressive new releases is from Dwayne Dopsie. You can say the music is in his blood. He’s the youngest son of the legendary Rockin’ Dopsie, and taught himself accordion watching videos of his dad and Clifton Chenier, then recording himself on video to work on improving his style. About 20 years ago he started his band, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, and has helped bring the music to the 21st century, mixing in healthy doses of blues, R&B, funk, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, and pop.

Set Me Free (Louisiana Red Hot Records) is Dopsie’s 11th release with the Zydeco Hellraisers and it’s a typical high energy set of songs that may rank with his finest work. Don’t plan to put this one on and sit on the couch because it’s loaded with upbeat, fast-paced tunes. Dopsie wrote 11 of the 12 tracks.

“Take It Higher,” the opening cut, sets the tone for the rest of the album. If you’re not moving something after this one, you might want to call 911. Elsewhere, the irresistible “Louisiana Girl” finds Dopsie sharing vocals with Erica Fox, the reggae-flavored title track encourages us all to pick ourselves up and help each other along the way during these trying times, and “My Sweet Chaitanya” is a rocking piece about a certain girl who drives Dopsie wild.

“DD’s Zydeco Two Step” and “Lafayette Boogie” are a pair of rousing instrumentals that will definitely put a hop in your step and set you up for the second half of the album, which kicks off with a terrific take on Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do,” which is a real family affair, teaming Dopsie with his brothers Tiger, Anthony, and Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. (who also appear on several other tracks) in a tribute to their late father. The boisterous “Shake Shake Shake” is a Creole cousin to John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen,” describing a youngster’s introduction to Zydeco.

The hard-charging “Nobody Gonna Love Me” is another keeper, mixing blues themes with the Zydeco, punctuated by a strong guitar solo from co-producer Brandon David, who shines throughout the disc. The rapid-paced “I Give It To You” kicks the album into even higher gear, and the instrumental “Talk To Me” is tailor-made for the two-steppin’ crowd. Dopsie closes this wonderful disc with biographical “Have Those Days Again,” reflecting on the good times growing up listening to his father play the music.

Set Me Free has plenty of great music for those who love the traditional Zydeco sounds and those newcomers to the music. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers are definitely one of the most talented of the modern Zydeco bands these days and this may be their best release to date, so don’t miss it!

--- Graham Clarke

Willie DurisseauContinuing with the Zydeco/Creole/Cajun theme, if you are a fan of the music (and I can’t imagine you not being a fan if you’ve ever experienced it), Nouveau Electric Records has issued an awesome 45 called Creole House Dance, featuring the late Creole fiddler Willie Durisseau, who passed away in late 2019 at the age of 101. Born in St. Landry Parish in 1918, he and his brother Jimmie made their first fiddles out of cigar boxes and eventually played house dances in the 1930s, usually accompanied by their cousins. All played fiddle or guitar, no accordions.

Eventually, Durisseau married and joined the army, fighting in Okinawa in World War II. After the war, the social gatherings faded as much of the community moved to other places to work and he put his fiddle down to begin working in construction and raising his family of 14 kids. In 2017 one of his family members bought Durisseau a new fiddle and he began playing again at age 99, recalling some of the songs and melodies he played at those dance parties some 80 years earlier.

Louis Michot (singer/fiddler of the Lost Bayou Ramblers and founder of Nouveau Electric Records) sat down with the Durisseaus in April and May of 2019 for a series of interviews. On the two sides, Durisseau and his wife, Irma, recount some of their memories of those dances. He’s only able to play for about a minute at a time (he was 101, remember), but the brief snippets of songs are interspersed with conversations between the Durisseaus, Michot, Zydeco artist Corey Ledet, local cultural enthusiast Robin Miller, and Houston DJ/Creole music afficionado J.B. Adams, who discovered Durisseau had picked up the fiddle again at 100 years old.

While the first side, “Blues a Durisseau,” is Durisseau playing the fiddle solo and talking a bit between tunes, the second side, “Willie’s Zydeco,” features Durisseau playing while Ledet backs him on accordion. Durisseau plays with a fire and spirit that belies his advanced age. Sadly, he was the last known surviving Creole house dance fiddler when he passed away in December, 2019, but fortunately Michot managed to capture this still-potent music with Creole House Dance.

--- Graham Clarke

Michot's Melody MakersMichot’s Melody Makers (Louis Michot – fiddle/vocals, Mark Bingham – electric guitar, Bryan Webre – standup bass, Kirkland Middleton – drums/percussion) recently collaborated with Leyla McCalla (cello/vocals) for a great 5-song EP, Tiny Island (Nouveau Electric Records), which was recorded (and filmed) on a cool, fire lit March night at Michot’s home in Prairie Des Femmes, Louisiana on a, you guessed it, tiny island in a small pond. McCalla previously guested Michot’s Lost Bayou Ramblers’ 2017 release, Kalenda, and Michot returned the favor by appearing on McCalla’s The Capitalist Blues in 2018.

The EP kicks off with a rousing fiddle-driven tune, “Two Step de Ste. Marie,” that just seeps into your backbone and makes you move. McCalla answers with a haunting Haitian folk song, “Latibonit,” where she sings of a beautiful valley on the island, accompanied by the frogs and insects “singing” in the background along with the band’s driving rhythm. Michot and McCallas then share vocals on “Les Plats Sont Tous Mis Sur La Table” an old country-flavored tune associated with Canray Fontenot. "Blues de neg francais” is a lively, almost hypnotic dance tune, and the closer is a boisterous medley of the Creole standard “Bluesrunner” and Michot’s “La Lune est Croche,” which originally appeared on the Melody Makers’ 2018 release, Blood Moon.

Tiny Island combines Cajun and Haitian sensibilities into a heady gumbo of music that sizzles with energy and excitement. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time that Louis Michot and Leyla McCalla join forces.

--- Graham Clarke

Robin KapsalisRobbin Kapsalis & Vintage #18 released Grit in 2017, shortly after representing the Central Virginia Blues Society at the 2016 I.B.C. That album was well-received at the time, thanks to Kapsalis’ sultry, soulful vocals and the band’s immaculate chops. The core unit (Kapsalis – vocals, Bill Holter – guitars, Mark Chandler – bass, and Alex Kuldell – drums) are still in place for their new release, Soul Shaker (Bird Song Records), a rock-solid, ten-song set of blues and soul that shows the band is raring to go after the lengthy pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. Also contributing are guests Ron Holloway (sax), Thomas Williams and Vince McCool (trumpets) on several tracks.

The opening track is a truly funky cover of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ “Shake It Baby,” highlighted by Kapsalis’ vocal, Holter’s sharp fretwork, and the McCool/Holloway horn section. The horns stand out on the briskly-paced “Lost Souls,” this time Williams and Holloway, with superb contributions from Chandler and Kuldell. Kapsalis’s smoky, sexy vocal drives the upbeat, thumping “Boogaloo,” and “Living Large” is a mid-tempo blues from Deb Ryder sung by Kapsalis like she’s lived it herself.

“You Don’t Deserve Me” is a powerful tale of a relationship turned sour. Kapsalis really pours her heart into the defiant lyrics and the band really locks into the groove behind her. The swinging “Jukin’” finds Kapsalis and the band in excellent form, and the understated “From The Heart Of The One” features Kapsalis and Holter in a cool, soulful setting.

“Silver Spoon” is an autobiographical rocking blues where the singer tells of her rough-and-tumble upbringing. The album wraps up in dynamite fashion with a steamy, smoldering cover of “Fever,” a rocking version of Lil’ Ed’s “The Cannonball” and the extended version of the terrific “You Don’t Deserve Me,” presented in an “Extended Groove” version that proves you can’t get too much of a good thing.

Soul Shaker is most definitely a good thing, too. Robbin Kapsalis & Vintage #18 are in the zone for this excellent release, which should get the band a lot of love from blues fans if there’s any justice in the world.

--- Graham Clarke

Casey JamesSince I don’t watch American Idol, my only exposure to singer/guitarist Casey James has been listening to his previous release, 2017’s Strip It Down, which I enjoyed very much, and his 2020 release, If You Don’t Know By Now, which is even better than its predecessor. James’ first release was a country album, but the blues was in him and it had to come out, so his last two efforts have focused on that genre. The blues world is better for it.

James’ vocals and guitar are augmented by producer Tom Hambridge on drums, with Tommy McDonald on bass, Mike Rojas on keyboards, and Rob McNelley on rhythm guitar, along with a horn section (Emmanuel Echem – trumpet, Bryan Maggison – sax, Desmond Ng – trombone) and Wendy Moten on background vocals.

“Live Life,” the opening track features the horns with the rhythm section getting funky, while “Shake Some Salt” has a driving southern rock feel. “Girl’s Got Something” is an irresistible mid-tempo, country-flavored track, and “Real” is gritty blues rock. “Don’t Break A Heart” mixes country and blues quite effectively with country rhythms but a guitar solo from James that’s blues through and through. “Here To Please” is a splendid soul burner that James really knocks it out of the park, and the catchy title track is upbeat, peppy soul that really cooks.

“Wish Me Luck” is a smooth urban blues with nice B3 accompaniment from Rojas and that sweet horn section, who also figure prominently on the Memphis soul ballad “Be Mine” which follows. “Come On Saturday Night” is a nifty slice of New Orleans funk with the horns blazing and maybe the best kazoo solo I’ve ever heard, and “Nothin’ But Time” keeps that Gulf Coast feeling, sounding like a long-lost swamp pop slow dance classic. Meanwhile, the optimistic “A Better Place” revisits the southern rock/country vibe.

The closing two tracks, “Faith” and “(More) Faith,” are really cool. “Faith” is a moody, swampy, atmospheric piece highlighted by James’ spirited vocal and ghostly slide guitar work. “(More) Faith” serves as an instrumental epilogue to the previous track and really kicks into high gear with Hambridge’s driving rhythm and James’ slide guitar leaving scorched earth in its wake.

As stated above, I really liked Casey James previous release, but I absolutely loved If You Don’t Know By Now and wish I’d gotten to it sooner than I did. James is a marvelous vocalist in a variety of genres but has found his home with blues and soul, and his guitar work on this album is equally impressive. If you haven’t checked this release out yet, you certainly need to go back and pick it up.

--- Graham Clarke

The McKee BrothersThe McKee Brothers return with their third release, A Time Like This, an album similar to their two previous efforts in that it contains an enticing set of originals (16 written or co-written by the brothers and keyboardist Bobby West) that cover a wide variety of blues-related styles. Denis McKee leads the ensemble, providing vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion, and he’s backed by keyboardist West, vocalist Maxayn Lewis, bassist Bobby Watson, drummers Steve Stephens and Vincent Fossett Jr., percussionist Chris Stevens, and a horn section consisting of Lee Thornburg and Doug Webb. Guests Larry McCray, Joey Delgado, Stan Budzynski (guitars) and Tim Douthit (harmonica) also stop by.

The opener, “How Can I Miss You,” is a laidback horn-fueled Crescent City blues, while “Whistleblower Blues” is a funky blues rocker with a sizzling guest appearance from McCray, and “It Is What It Is” is a greasy Memphis soul shuffle. The title track is a smooth R&B groover, “Realize,” mixing R&B with gospel overtones both lyrically and musically. “The Legend of Luther Stringfellow” brings a little swamp to southern rock, while the gently swinging “Don’t Cha Let It Go To Your Head” leans toward jazz with nice accompaniment from Webb on clarinet, and the R&B tune “Bluer Than You” revisits New Orleans.

“Miracle” has a sweet Motown-pop-R&B feel that belies the song’s somber message, while “A Scene From Sunday” looks back fondly at days gone by, and “Back To Love” (featuring Delgado on guitar) is an energetic retro pop rocker. “Think It Over” is a soulful ballad with a touch of the islands in its rhythms, “Putt Putt Hustler” is a tough blues shuffle, and “Dawg” is a lively rocker with McCray guesting on guitar along with slide guitar from Budzynski. McKee solos on the moody blues rocker “The Rain,” and the closer “Surreal Love” is a blues/pop confection.

A Time Like This has something for any blues fans, a variety of styles based in the genre, well-crafted tunes, and outstanding performances. The McKee Brothers ably handle them all, with a little help from their friends, and make this an album worth checking out.

--- Graham Clarke

Clarence SpadyI can remember buying a copy of Clarence Spady’s debut album, Nature of the Beast, in the late ’90s and just being blown away by his talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. It was hard to believe that it was his first release. After that, I lost track of him for a few years, with his label, Evidence Records, basically shut down. He released an acclaimed follow-up, Just Between Us, in 2008 for Severn Records, but unfortunately I never got to give it a spin. Fortunately, Spady has returned after another lengthy recording pause with the superlative Surrender (Nola Blue Records) that proves to be well worth the long wait.

Surrender consists of six tracks recorded recently and worked on over a 20-year period, and three previously unreleased live tracks from a 1999 appearance at the River City Jazz Café in Plains, Pennsylvania. There are two songs featuring material or performances from two friends who have passed on in Lucky Peterson and drummer Shorty Parham. There’s also a song written for Spady’s son, Khalique, who passed away at age 25.

The marvelous opening track, “If My Life Was A Book,” finds Spady reflecting on his life and career. It has a distinct Memphis soul vibe, thanks to the B3 from Scott Brown. “Good Conversation” is a smooth soulful track with a hint of jazz in its making, in part due to songwriter Adam Schultz’s Montgomery-esque guitar solo. Spady covers Lucky Peterson’s “When My Blood Run Cold,” a slow burning standout with a powerful vocal performance and masterful guitar solo, and pays a warm tribute to his late son on the funky blues shuffle “K-Man.”

The title track is an emotional, soul-baring testimony taken in a gospel vein. Spady sings this one like he lived it, because he has. It was inspired by a meeting in his church group that discussed the subject. These performances are a trademark of his albums, whether he wrote the songs or not, listeners can sense that he’s actually lived the lyrics at one point or another. Spady also covers Z.Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues,” giving a fresh, acoustic take to the much-covered soul-blues standard.

The three live tracks from 1999 conclude the disc, and find Spady and his bandmates in fine form. “Addiction Game” is as deep and autobiographical as you might imagine, coming from Spady. Mark Hamza’s Hammond organ drives the simmering soulful tune and Spady’s fretwork is sublime, and his late friend Parham plays drums. The exciting “Jones Falls Expressway” is a ten-plus minute instrumental inspired from a near-death experience for Spady and Hamza while driving at that location. Spady, Lamza, and tenor sax player Tom Hamilton all get ample space to strut their instrumental stuff. The closing track, “Pick Me Up,” is a smooth soul-blues number about a failing relationship with backing vocals from Parham.

Clarence Spady doesn’t record very much, but when he does it’s always something special. Blues fans should expect to see Surrender being nominated for, and hopefully taking home, a few trophies come Blues Awards time.

--- Graham Clarke

Veronica LewisThe amazing Veronica Lewis was all of 17 years old when she released You Ain’t Unlucky (Blue Heart Records) last year. The young keyboard prodigy won Blues Artist of the Year at the 2020 Boston Music Awards, the 2020 Boston Blues Challenge, and was named 2020’s Best Young Artist by the New England Music Hall of Fame. She traveled all over the country to festivals and venues, dazzling audiences nationwide with her prodigious keyboard skills and vocals. Her debut album contains eight tracks, six originals and two covers.

The Crescent City-flavored title track opens the disc, an optimistic tune encouraging the need to think positive even when things are not as great as they should be, and it’s a most impressive start. “Clarksdale Sun” is a rollicking breakneck boogie, and “Put Your Wig On Mama,” written by Lewis to her mother, has a Windy City feel. The album’s first cover, Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is My Baby,” gets a complete makeover by Lewis, who transforms it into a splendid slow blues that really showcases her vocal talents.

“Fool Me Twice” returns to New Orleans with a vengeance, with several rhythm changes and some thundering work on the keys. This is one of three tracks recorded at Lewis’ home on her 115 –year-old upright piano, “Margaret,” the other two are a fantastic cover of Katie Webster’s “Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy,” and “The Memphis Train,” another fast-paced boogie track. There’s still a lot of life in “Margaret’s” keys, for sure. The lone instrumental is the appropriately-titled “Ode To Jerry Lee,” which is pure dynamite.

The only problem with You Ain’t Unlucky is that there just ain’t enough of it, clocking in at just over 32 minutes. Hopefully, we will be lucky enough to have a new recording from Veronica Lewis very soon.

--- Graham Clarke




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