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January 2023

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Order these featured albums today:

Tas Cru

Barbara Blue

Diane Blue

Mick Kolassa

Douglas Avery

Mississippi MacDonald

Seth Rosenbloom

Damon Fowler

Blue Largo




Tas CruTas Cru’s latest album, Riffin’ The Blues (Subcat Records), features 11 songs that are based on their own melodic guitar hook, otherwise referred to as “the riff.” Cru penned all 11 tunes, and he’s backed by his usual rock-solid studio ensemble (Bob Purdy – bass, Andy Hearn – drums, Ron Keck – percussion, Mary Ann Casale – backing vocals, with drummer Lenny Milano and organist Bill Barry sitting in on one track), plus guests Mike Zito, who plays guitar on two tracks, and keyboardist Bruce Katz, who plays on 10 of the 11 songs.

Zito plays lead on the title track, which opens the disc. It’s a tough blues-rock shuffle and Zito’s fierce solo works well with Cru’s steady-driving riff. Katz’s sterling piano work accentuates “Brown Liquor Woman,” a lively cut about women who go straight for the hard stuff in life. “Stand Up!” serves as a gospel-flavored encouragement to make things better in the world around us, while “One More Time” is a fine ballad, with nice interplay between Katz and Cru. “Throw It All Away” is a smooth mid-tempo cut with a lot of soul, with Cru’s guitar winding through the song seductively.

“Crazy Getting In My Way” and “Heal My Misery” are both deep and funky, compliments of Katz’s sizzling organ play and Cru’s tasty string bending. “House Of The Blues” is a splendid slow burner with some superb fretwork and a fine vocal from Cru. “Let It Happen” is a fun song about Cru’s doctor telling him to stop and smell the roses and get some stress out of his life, and “Miss This Man” (co-written with Ms. Casale) .is a rollicking boogie tune where Cru warns his significant other that she will regret putting him in the road.

The album closes with “Memphis Gone,” a somber track featuring Zito’s haunting slide guitar and giving the entire band an opportunity to step forward.

Riffin’ The Blues offers excellent songs and stellar guitar, along with overall musicianship. Tas Cru knows his way around the blues for sure, and this ranks with his best efforts to date.

--- Graham Clarke

Barbara BlueAs one might ascertain from the title of her latest album, From The Shoals (Big Blue Records), Barbara Blue made the trip from Memphis (where she serves as The Reigning Queen of Beale Street) to NuttHouse Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals to put together her latest outstanding recording. Enlisting the legendary Jim Gaines as producer, Ms. Blue also brought in an all-star list of supporting musicians, including drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, bassist David Hood, keyboardist Clayton Ivey, guitarist Will McFarlane, trumpeter Marc Franklin, and guitarist Davor “Hutch” Hačić, who also serves as her songwriting partner.

The album contains 13 tunes, 11 written by Blue with Hačić or pianist Mark Narmore, and two classic covers that originated in Muscle Shoals over a half century ago --- a rousing take on the Etta James classic “Tell Mama,” and a smooth reading of Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away.” The opening track, “The Shoals,” is a funky tribute to the region that has provided so much great music to fans for so many years.

“Nutthouse Blues” is a greasy and gritty blues that features splendid guitar and B3 work, and “Severed” is a soulful ballad like they used to turn out at the Shoals on a regular basis.

“Curse of Beauty” is a danceable mid-tempo tune that mixes rock and soul effectively, while “Lost Young Love” ponders the passage of time and what might have been, and “Slide Man” is a cool, sexy tune with superb slide guitar accompaniment from Hačić. “Too Far” is another smoky ballad, this one featuring Brad Guin on saxophone, “Nothing Last Forever” is a funky rocker that quotes Howard Tate, and the slow burning ballad “I Never Stopped Loving You” is a real heartbreaker with a masterful vocal performance from Ms. Blue.

The album closes with two excellent tracks --- ‘Song Of The River” and “Trail of Tears” both tell a tale of the trials and travels of Native Americans forced from their homes nearly two centuries ago, a bit of history that has seemingly slipped through the cracks in recent years. Hačić’s slide guitar punctuates Ms. Blue’s narration on the first track, while the latter track has more of a rock edge as she tells an equally harrowing tale.

As with every other previous releases, Barbara Blue gives it everything she has in the vocal department. A powerful vocalist who’s comfortable in a number of genres, she is in wonderful form on this well-crafted tunes, and the musical support is superlative. Blues fans can’t ask for more with From The Shoals, a terrific release to kick off 2023 in fine fashion.

--- Graham Clarke

Diane BlueDiane Blue has greatly enhanced the last six Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters recordings with her superb vocal contributions. While working as the first female member of the Broadcasters, Ms. Blue has also found time to lead her own all-star band --- guitarist Chris Vitarello, drummer Lorne Entress, and keyboardist Dave Limina.

In late February of 2022, this ensemble (Diane Blue Allstar Band) recorded a live set in Norwood, Massachusetts, Live! At The Fallout Shelter (Regina Royal Records), a wonderful set of seven original songs and two covers that mix blues and soul.

The set opens with “I Got A Good Thing,” an energetic soul burner in the Memphis tradition, with some nice B3 work from Limina. Blue and Limina wrote the solid soul ballad “Crazy, Hazy, Lazy,” which probably would have made the charts back in the days of Stax Records. There’s also a strong version of “I Cry,” a socially conscious number recorded by Millie Jackson back in the early ’70s, with Blue adding a couple of verses of her own, and the funky, simmering “By My Side” was co-written by Blue and Vitarello.

For the slow burner “Leave Me Alone,” dedicated to victims of domestic violence, Ronnie Earl sits in on guitar. As might be expected, Earl is a master at these slow blues tracks, and his guitar work on this track is breathtaking. “Take A Look” is a nice mid-tempo tune where the band really locks into the groove, while “I’m Gonna Get You Back” is a swinging track. “Insomnia” was written during the times of uncertainty and doubt brought on by the pandemic, and the lyrics and music reflect that unease. The set closes with the lively “Push On Through,” about perseverance and determination.

This was a most enjoyable live set. Ms. Blue’s vocals are always a pleasure to hear, her songwriting and choice of covers is first-rate, and the band is fantastic. Blues fans are encouraged to check out Live! At The Fallout Shelter.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaMick Kolassa is a most prolific musician and manages to make all of his albums compelling listening, venturing into different genres at times, but remaining firmly rooted in the blues. His latest release, For The Feral Heart (Endless Blues Records), is his third album from 2022 and consists of nothing but love songs, ten originals from Kolassa and two interesting covers.

Kolassa is backed by the usual cast of characters, including guitarist/producer Jeff Jensen, keyboardist Rick Steff, bassist Bill Ruffino, drummer Tom Leonardo, among others.

The opener, “Running To You,” is a lively blues rocker, followed by “Elegant Angel,” a jazzy blues and one of two tracks featuring Memphis guitarist Mario Monterosso. The album’s first cover is Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright,” and Kolassa gives this track a somewhat slower pace than usual, bringing out the often-overlooked lyrics (addressing divorce).

“Love Ain’t Supposed To Make You Cry” is a slow burning blues featuring Monterosso on guitar once again, and “Easy To Love” is a smoky urban blues. “I Keep Looking” is a gentle, mostly acoustic tune.

“I Left My Heart In Birmingham” is a rootsy ballad about the complications involved with a long-distance love affair, featuring Alice Hasen on violin, “Love In My Size,” a song about an unlikely love affair, continuing in the same musical vein.

“Forever Sometimes” and “Hold On” touch on reggae and calypso respectively, and “Run Away With Me” is a bittersweet song about our wishes that sometimes go unfulfilled. Hasen’s violin is a wonderful complement to the poignant lyrics.

Kolassa wraps up the album with his take on one of the greatest love songs ever, “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca.

As with all of Mick Kolassa’s albums, all net proceeds from For The Feral Heart will go the Blues Foundation, split between the HART Fund and Generation Blues. This is a fine album of warmth and compassion that goes down smoothly.The latest in a set of great albums from Mr. Kolassa.

--- Graham Clarke

Douglas AveryDouglas Avery is known as a photojournalist who covers the West Coast blues scene. Less known is the fact that he is an impressive blues musician in his own right, singing and learning multiple instruments during his early years, including the harmonica in the early ’70s, earning a spot as an honorary member of The Doors and studying with Jon Gindick, Dennis Gruenling, R.J. Mischo, and Zoe Savage.

He invited guitarist Franck Goldwasser, bassist Ralph Carter, and drummer Johnny Morgan to collaborate on his recent release, Take My Rider (Greenwave Music), along with piano man Carl Sonny Leyland, and a horn section that includes Aaron Liddard (sax), Jerome Harper (trombone), and Simon Finch (trumpet).

A funky version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Bad Luck Blues” opens the album in fine fashion. The title track follows, a Delta-flavored blues with slide guitar from Goldwasser. Goldwasser also plays slide on the moody rocker “Malibu Burning,” which leads to a nimble cover of Little Walter’s “Just Keep Lovin’ Her” and “Jelly Jelly,” another dusty Delta track with Avery and Goldwasser.

“Blind Owl Boogie” is an old-school swampy blues boogie, “How Long Can This Last?” is a soulful rocker right out of Muscle Shoals, and Avery’s solo take on “Leaving Trunk” is first rate.

“Good To Me” is a slippery track that finds Avery playing chromatic harp over a funky backdrop. The album’s final cover is a dynamite version of John Mayall’s “Sonny Boy, Blow!,” featuring dazzling piano from Leyland. The shuffle “Safety First” is not a cover, but does borrow from a few blues classic tunes quite effectively, and the toe-tapper “Riding With The Devil” returns to the Mississippi Delta with Goldwasser accompanying Avery on dobro this time around.

Avery also plays flute, which is featured on the jazzy instrumental “Green Wave,” before the album concludes with the romantic ballad, “Looking Over A Rainbow.”

Take My Rider is a fine, well-rounded set of blues originals mixed with a few choice covers. Avery is equally adept when he ventures into other genres as well. This is an excellent album and makes one wonder why he didn’t take the musical plunge a few years earlier. Hopefully, he will be encouraged to give blues fans more soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Lex GreyAn album from Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers always makes for rewarding listening because singer Grey has a most impressive set of pipes that effortlessly spans genres, the Urban Pioneers (Vic Mix – guitar, Ed Wasilewski – bass, Brian Dewan – keyboards, Sonny Rock or Ken Marchesani – drums, plus other contributors) are equally versatile and potent in their attack, and the band offers compelling and distinctive songwriting.

I’ve only been on board for three of the band’s eight releases, but each has been better than the previous. Their latest release, How Many Roads? (lexgreymusic.com) follows suit, with 11 excellent original tunes penned by Grey and the band.

The opener, “In It Together,” locks into a mellow groove, giving it an easy retro soul-pop feel, and Grey sounds marvelous with her “whisper to a scream” delivery. The title track keeps the smooth vibe going, but leans more toward the blues than the opener. “Ain’t From Mississippi” makes the transition toward blues complete, with grungy rock-edged guitar, while the amusing “Old Crookedy Broom,” a bluesy lament about the drudgery of housework, adds horns to the mix. The gospel-flavored “Begin Again” is a strong, soulful ballad about picking yourself up and starting anew.

The blissful “I Believe In You” was the album’s first single, and it’s easy to see why with Grey’s irresistible vocal and the inspiring work from the band in support. “Aches and Pains” is a slow blues that shows Grey’s sense of humor regarding the daily issues everyone faces as they get older, “You Confine Me” is a hearty blues rocker, and “Biker Down,” the tale of the senseless death of one of Grey’s friends, has an Americana feel. “

After A Lifetime” is a straight-ahead rock n’ roller about Grey’s search for and discovery of her birth parents, and the gentle ballad “Angel” closes the album, with Grey feeling that her guardian angel has abandoned her.

How Many Roads? is another standout release from Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers. Grey’s voice never fails to captivate, and the Urban Pioneers are one of the finest bands currently practicing in the blues genre, and probably several others as well. This well-rounded, diverse set of original tunes deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Mississippi MacDonaldIn a month of surprise albums, here comes British-based guitarist/singer Mississippi MacDonald, with his new album, Heavy State Loving Blues (APM Records), being a solid collection of soulful blues. This is a good example of not judging a book by its cover, because in seeing the name of the artist and looking at the cover, I got the wrong impression of what I was about to hear.

Heavy State Loving Blues contains 10 solid cuts, with no weak ones. MacDonald has an effective raspy vocal style, not unlike Delmark recording artist Corey Dennison. A solid horn section gives this album its soul vibes, while MacDonald's guitar playing gives it the requisite blues creds.

Up first is the up-tempo blues, "Howlin Wolf," with plenty of sound coming from the horns and MacDonald's guitar work. The title track is a mid-tempo blues with a soul soundtrack, leading into an up-tempo soulful gem, "Blind Leading The Blind," with Vaneese Thomas coming in to help with vocals.

"Heading South" leans more to the soul side, while "(I Ain't Gonna) Lie No More" heads back to the blues but still keeping one foot in Memphis soul. By this point in the album, MacDonald's voice was really starting to grow on me, with his vocals being effective here as he packed plenty of emotion into this song. It's one of many highlights to be listened to over and over.

One of two covers on the album is up next, with MacDonald showing more power in his vocals on O.V. Wright's "I've Been Searching." Lucy Dearing contributes very nice backing vocals. This one is Memphis-flavored soul at its best, so effective that one can almost smell the ribs cooking in the back room. "I'll Understand" takes us to church thanks to the the backing chorus, and MacDonald later lays down some very strong blues guitar solo. 

"Trouble Doing The Right Thing" was originally more of a country song from Zack Logan, but MacDonald turns it into a mid-tempo blues with strong vocals and guitar playing. "The Devil Wants Repayment" is a slower, soulful ballad with haunting overtones.

MacDonald closes the album with an extended tribute to his guitar hero, Albert Collins, with the appropriately named "Blues for Albert." He makes his Telecaster sing the notes on this instrumental tune, with just a short spoken tribute to the legendary Mr. Collins. It's a very good way to end the album.

If, like me, you weren't previously familiar with the music of Mississippi MacDonald, then Heavy State Loving Blues is a good roadmap to what this cat can do. Check it out.

--- Bill Mitchell

Seth RosenbloomContinuing what is a strong month for new releases, here's a good one from Massachusetts guitarist / singer Seth Rosenbloom. As The Crow Flies (independent) has nine cuts that showcase the guitar skills of this young artist, the follow-up to the 2019 release, Keep On Turning. The media release for this album proclaims Rosenbloom to be a "guitar player's guitar player," with an unlimited ceiling. I can't argue either point.

The knockout tune here is the slow blues, "Blind Eye," carried along by a steady bass drum beat and very good piano accompaniment. This song, more than any others, showcases Rosenbloom's rich vocals as he tells about the distance, both geographically and relationship-wise, between he and his lover. He also shows how adept he is at expressing pain with his voice on another very slow blues, "Give Me The Ring Back," with tastefully subdued guitar and very good organ accompaniment

The title cut, which opens this album, shows that Rosenbloom knows what to do with a slide on this mid-tempo blues, with his voice expressing that he just can't get home to his woman fast enough because he doesn't have wings. On the up-tempo blues, "I Wish You Could See Me now," Rosenbloom tears off one of the best guitar solos of the new year.

Rosenbloom is very good at expressing agony in his voice, as heard on the slow blues, "Did You Try To Break My Heart," and also on the mid-tempo blues, "Set Me Free." When he wants to get the heart pumping faster, Rosenbloom amps it up on the up-tempo number, "Ain't Nothing Wrong," and the rockin' traveling blues, "Gotta Roll."

As The Crow Flies is another strong album from one of the more exciting young artists on the scene today. I agree that he's got an unlimited ceiling, and I can't wait to hear more.

--- Bill Mitchell

Damon FowlerFans of the music of Florida Gulf Coast blues guitarist Damon Fowler should be familiar with the material on Live At The Palladium (Landslide Records) because, as the title suggests, it's a live album with 10 stretched-out numbers from his vast repertoire. Fowler's regular working band (Chuck Riley - bass, Justin Headley - drums) is augmented by a trio of special guests (Jason Ricci - harmonica, Dan Signor - keyboards, Eddie Wright - guitar).

There's plenty of heavy guitar here, so make sure you check your pacemaker and bring your earplugs. Sound quality is very good, which we should now be expecting with any live album. Fowler starts the show with a solid guitar intro to "It Came Out Of Nowhere," and keeps it going. He also repeats his extended tale of the mystical guitar that he found in a guitar store somewhere on the road, aptly named "The Guitar."

"Don't Feel Like Going There Today" kicks off with a reggae backbeat before continuing with Ricci's chromatic harmonica in the higher register of the scale, along with good keyboard work from Signor. This one's different from most of the material here, and I like it.

"Old Fools, Barstools, And Me" is a very slow number, kind of a country sound, with Fowler lamenting a lost relationship. The mid-tempo blues "Sugar Shack stands out for Fowler's slide guitar intro that almost sounds Hawaiian. Fowler gets jangly on guitar on the slow blues, "Tax Man," with Ricci shining on harmonica.

Other signature Fowler songs here include the mid-tempo blues, "I've Been Low," the harmonica heavy "Some Things Change," the too long "Up The LIne," and the old style blues, "Fruit Stand Lady."

If you are a Damon Fowler fan, you will want to add Live At The Palladium to your collection. It's also a good introduction to the dude before you branch into the rest of his discography.

--- Bill Mitchell

Blue LargoBlue Largo is a San Diego-based ensemble led by vocalist Alicia Aragon and guitarist Eric Lieberman, being rounded out by a very fine band consisting of Mike "Sandlewood" Jones (Fender bass), Dave Castel De Oro (sax), Eddie Croft (sax), Marcus Bashore (drums, and Taryn "T-Bird" Donah (piano).

The self-released Got To Believe is part of the band's mission to bring love and harmony back into our world (that statement comes straight from the band).

I like the opening cut, "A World Without Soul," a horn-driven mid-tempo blues with Aragon lamenting the fact that much of our society is addicted to consumerism and technology and not enough attention to the arts. At some point in the song, Aragon adds that "... everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die ..."

Perhaps the best thing here is the up-tempo soul number, "Soldier In The Army Of Love," a protest song that Aragon dedicates to the people of Ukraine, singing "... One man's enemy is another freedom fighter ...". Lieberman lays down a strong guitar solo here. Aragon is also adept at singing in a classic soul sound, heard here on "Rear View Mirror," written by Lieberman as he had moved into his sixties. Another strong soul number is "Soul Meeting," with Lieberman writing about waiting for Aragon to join him in the afterlife in case he meets his maker before she does.

The Blue Largo cats are also adept at working in different styles of music, as heard on the reggae-ish "Disciple of Soul," the calypso sound of "Ronnie," a tribute to a musician no longer with us, and "Gospel Music," starting out with the chords of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" before turning into a rollicking up-tempo tribute to gospel music.

These are the highlights from Got To Believe, but there's more fun music to be heard, all designed to make the listener think. Blue Largo certainly puts on a good show, and we get to hear a lot of thought-provoking music here.

--- Bill Mitchell



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