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February 2001

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Max Weinberg

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Sue Foley

Cyril Neville

Phil Upchurch

Little Milton

More Blues From The South Side

Wallace Coleman

Mojo Mamas

Rosco Gordon

Long John Baldry

What's New

Max Weinberg 7As the song says... Gotta Dance! Gotta Sing! Well... there is a very distinct possibility that's what you'll be doing once you hear The Max Weinberg 7 (Hip-O Records).This is a thoroughly delightful album by Max Weinberg, a.k.a. Bruce Springsteen's drummer, and some old friends that Max has been musically acquainted with for many years. Together, they make up the the house band on Late Night with Conan O'Brian. This is pure jumping-jive swing that takes no prisoners while making you grin from ear to ear with every repeated listen, of which I think there will be many by anyone who has the pleasure of partaking in this shining jewel. There is only one original work to be found among the 17 numbers that comprise this extraordinary recording. But, quite frankly, I don't think anyone is going to take any points away for non-originality. Red hot swing standards of which all but six are instrumentals are what's in store for you on this adrenaline rush of an album. What makes this recording so exceptional from a reviewer's perspective is the difficulty in choosing highlights from it, as the entire package is worth mentioning... but I'll try. "Jumpted" opens things up with an utterly frantic pace that gives way to the swaying bop of the album's first vocal piece "Rock This Joint." A cover of "Baby Workout" rocks like no other version this writer has ever heard, with shouting vocals, courtesy of Jimmy Vivino, that would have made Jackie Wilson proud. The solid boogie woogie piano of Scott Healy is heard throughout the album, but explodes on the pounding pace of "Nervous Boogie" and the mind boggling relentless jump of "Jam Up." My oh my, can this guy play! A couple of classic numbers, "Okie Dokie Stomp" and "Honey Dripper," receive red carpet treatments with both pieces highlighting solos from guitarist Jimmy Vivino and shining a huge spotlight on the splendid horn section (which is such an integral part of this band) of Richie LaBamba on trombone, Jerry Vivino on sax and Mark Pender on trumpet. The one original piece is the humorous "Catch 'Em In The Act," showcasing the one guest star on the album. Contributing piano and vocals --- the one and only Dr. John. After hearing this tune I honestly can't hear anyone else's voice handling this number because of it's sly inflections and double entendres. This review would not be complete without mentioning my personal favorites from this album. "Sincerely" allows saxophonist Vivino to really stretch out, while "Buzz Buzz Buzz" is rich in harmonies similar to the Jordanaires. To not mention bassist Michael Merrit's acoustic and electric work would be shameful, so let's just say "Bravo!" Last but certainly not least is the gentleman whose name is on the marquee ... Max Weinberg himself, who's thundering drumming has been the backbone of The E Street Band for the past 25 years or so. If he has sounded better than this recording I would be very interested in hearing it. The nucleus of this band recorded an album, Scene Of The Crime, about ten years ago under the name of Killer Joe featuring Max Weinberg. This album is long out of print, but if you can get your hands on it you're in for a real treat. Let's wrap this review up before it gets longer than it is by simply saying, this one aims for the moon and the stars. It hits the moon and the stars. Shame on you if miss it!

Zora Young has been singing the blues for a very long time. For those of you not familiar with Zora, she is cousin to one of the legends of the blues, Howlin' Wolf. Besides that rather impressive tidbit of info, Young has performed all over the world to critical acclaim, and is a regular on the festival and club circuit in addition to recording and performing with some of the top names in the business ... Albert and B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, just to drop a name or two. So why is it that this incredibly talented blues diva is only just now seeing her music released on an established U.S. label for the first time? If anyone has the answer to that please feel free to let me know. Although it was too long in coming, Learned My Lesson (Delmark) is without a doubt worthy of the wait. Young is one of those singers whose emotional expressions become her music quite easily. Inter-cutting originals and a few easily recognizable covers, Zora explores every avenue open to a singer of her magnitude touching on the traditional heartbreaks of life lessons with the shuffling title track and the album's opening original groove, "Pity Party." On the wilder side is a cover of Tina Turner's "Nutbush City" that, along with a masterful reworking of Chuck Berry's "Living In The USA," heats things up a few degrees. On the ballad side of things, Delbert McClinton's "Better Off With The Blues" and a stunning version of "Damn Your Eyes" are the plums of this collection. Zora shows off her songwriting skills, penning five originals, with the hysterically funny "Brain Damage" as the standout. Another original number, "Feel Like Stroking," serves as a showcase for the impeccable band of Chicago-based session men that producer and keyboard virtuoso Ken Saydak assembled for this fine project. James Wheeler and Danny Draher split guitar assignments, Johnny B. Gayden and Tim Austin are on hand on bass and drums, respectively, and the aforementioned Saydak on piano and B3. Young's childhood gospel roots shine through brightly on "The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves," and a magnificent rendition of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone To Love" steals the show. Clocking in at close to 70 minutes, Zora moves the listener through a varying program of blues without getting repetitious or monotonous, while at the same time showing off the tremendous vocal range and style of a truly underrated and way underrecorded talents in the blues these days. Zora Young has spent many years in the classrooms of the blues, and proves with this recording that she has indeed learned her lessons well. Educate yourself with this one for a lesson you won't soon forget.

Sue Foley's Back To The Blues (Antone's) is a spirited, retrospective look at her earlier work, with a collection of unreleased tracks culled from the sessions from her first two albums, Young Girl Blues and Without Warning. Sue serves up rockin' Texas blues wrapped around her sweet expressive vocals and slippery guitar riffs that exude ingenuity and originality for 13 tracks. Two pieces, "Me & My Chauffeur Blues" and "Gone Blind," which highlights blazing harp work from Kim Wilson, are both from Foley's debut recording, but offer alternate versions here that I think are slightly rawer and gutsier than the tracks that made the final cut. Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" finds Sue cutting loose vocally with a fervor that is usually reserved for her live shows, giving the classic number a slightly different dimension. Two other covers, "Can't Afford To Do It" and "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor," receive superb arrangements and treatments à la Sue Foley that have made me hit the repeat button several times on my player. A bit of a mystery surrounds "If You Think I've Lost You" as far as who is playing harp on it. No credit is given in the liner notes, but the style has me suspecting it's Kim Wilson. Two of the album's four instrumentals are Earl Hooker compositions, "Guitar Rumba" and "The Leading Brand." The others, "Tanya" and the album's opening "Lightnin' Boogie," are penned by Robert Lockwood and Ms. Foley accordingly. All four numbers prove that Sue can hold her own with some of the best guitar slingers out there. Back To The Blues doesn't break any new ground or set any trends. It is a collection of some great music that otherwise might have remained in the vaults of Antone's, but luckily is seeing release. Good thing too, because it's really good!

--- Steve Hinrichsen

Tribute albums have become commonplace as of late, but they usually are attached to one artist. Neville Brothers drummer and vocalist, Cyril Neville, decided to break the mold by recently releasing a tribute to a style of music. It just happens to be the music he was baptized in as a young boy growing up in New Orleans, and is the foundation for the sound that the Neville Brothers have brought to the world. New Orleans Cookin’ covers great musical ground by including most New Orleans legends, from Professor Longhair (Fess as he’s known to locals) to Fats Domino. The songs range from spirited boogies like the title track, co-written with another superior New Orleans artist, Allen Toussaint, to slow cookin’ blues like the live version of “Fortune Teller,” again featuring the tinkling ivories of Toussaint, who has always willingly attributed his style of piano playing to Professor Longhair. Of course what tribute to New Orleans music would be complete without Neville’s super take on Fess’s “Tipitina,” highlighting the superlative vocals of New Orleans R&B and blues madam Marva Wright. Neville has assembled the cream of New Orleans’ session players, creating a full sound punctuated with superb horn work by pros like James Andrews and Roderick Paulin. This self-produced CD, on New Orleans club Tipitina’s own label Tipitina’s/Endangered Species Records (distributed by local label Louisiana Red Hot Records), percolates with all the right flavoring from the city that constantly reminds one of a musical gumbo. Laissez Le Bon Temps Roule.

--- Bruce Coen

Kristi JohnsonYou're looking at the picture adorning her first CD, and you're thinking this must be one more hot-shot 18 year-old guitar player that can play twice as fast as you can listen. But you're wrong. Kristi Johnston is 28, and she definitely goes for the perfect tone (rough and raw) rather than for flash and speed. The Kristi Johnston Band's album is called That Would Be Fine (Stony Plain Records), but the conditional mood in the title could just as easily be replaced by the indicative. Backed by a small crew (Nenad Zdjelar Keza on bass and George Demeduk on drums, both excellent, with a few guests here and there), Johnston fuses diverse influences (blues, country, rockabilly, some jazz, too) and comes up with one cool and vibrant sound. (Think of a younger and female Duke Robillard, and you get the idea). Her jump-blues treatment of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" makes the song sound fresh anew, while the instrumental "The Moose is Loose" (one of eight originals) is the best fat-guitar sound showcase I've heard in a long time (but the title track is something else too). Since the lady also has a nice voice, sounding at times like Sue Foley or Bonnie Raitt, and is already an imaginative arranger, you gotta figure this ain't the last we'll hear from her.

A small coffeehouse, a dozen or so customers, a guy on stage with his guitar ... music can be as simple and direct as that. A great many singer/songwriters have taken this road to fame and fortune, a precious few have made it all the way. Forty years after Robert Zimmermann, aka Bob Dylan, arrived in New York and showed the way to thousands of hopeful, there are still plenty of worthy authors and poets who put their words to guitar and face the public where they can meet it, in a small café near you. Noah Zacharin is but one example. He lives and performs in Toronto, Canada, at such venues as the Free Times Café, where his latest release, aLive! (on his own Soffwin label), was recorded in front of an attentive and supportive audience (save for the last track, recorded at his home). As Zacharin performs songs he's written over a 20-year period, this one-evening affair provides a nice overview of what his lyrical and musical influences have been. And, yes, though one could categorize him as a folkie, Zacharin is also willing and able to play the blues. Just like 99% of the people on this earth, Zacharin has a voice that falls somewhere between that of Howlin' Wolf and Alan Wilson. Very few will try their hand at "Spoonful" and Canned Heat's "On the Road Again," though. He does, and very convincingly. On his own "Drinkin' Hard Tonight," his guitar is gloomy and menacing, like a typical John Lee Hooker drone, while his "Reflection" is a nice lullaby. Not everything is a masterpiece (lines like "shafts of molten moonlight drip paraffin romance" from "Through an Open Window," are considered a crime in some countries), but there are some excellent moments. For example, the hope and faith that infuse "Are You Ready to Fly" make for a very powerful song. If I were a major artist looking for material, I'd rush to cover this one. All in all, if you dig the sound of the acoustic guitar and go for intimate and honest performances, you should give this CD a listen. Check it out at

The blues world is familiar with Phil Upchurch. But if you don't recognize his name, it's OK, too. Upchurch has rarely recorded under his own name, preferring to work as a session musician. Because he feels at home playing blues and R&B, but also jazz and funk, he has become one of the busiest studio guitarists around, apparently appearing on close to 1,000 records. (Here's an idea to build an instant record library --- start writing Upchurch's biography and ask his manager for as large a cross-section of his work as possible). After a stay at Vee-Jay (he played on Dee Clark's hit "Raindrops"), Upchurch's career really took off in the late 60s, when he was a house musician (playing bass and guitar) at Chess. If you check your Chess collection, you'll find his name on many tracks cut by Little Milton, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and also with the Rotary Connection. Since then, he's played mostly on jazz sessions with Mose Allison, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith and George Benson, among many others. His own style has been compared to that of Benson, bluesy and soulful, yet delicate and just as versatile. Love is Strange was originally released in 1995 on the German label GoJazz, and until now was only to be found in Europe. The label is re-releasing it in America on February 6th (like all GoJazz releases, the CD is distributed by Allegro). It is, you guessed it, a multi-faceted affair, with Upchurch's guitar alternating between bop, soft contemporary jazz, gospel/R&B, funk and "quiet storm" ballad mode, always tasty and never too far from the blues. Even on the blander cuts, Upchurch's guitar is always airy yet crisp, busy yet classy. I only wish that some modern soft jazz tricks, like a tendency to overuse the synth and cute percussion effects, had been kept in check. Guest vocalists Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan are featured on two tracks each, while The Steeles excel on the gospel cut "I'll Just Keep Holding On." Upchurch himself takes lead vocal duties on the funkiest cut, co-written with the Isley Brothers, the mostly instrumental "It's My Thing." He's not much of a singer and he knows it, but he was evidently enjoying this chance so much that you can't help but to sing along and help him out. Recommended for after-hours listening.

--- Benoît Brière

Little Milton - Feel ItLittle Milton's Feel It (Malaco) is a welcome release after Milton's ill-conceived prior release. That release was more concerned with who was doing a duet with him and was very rock-oriented. With that behind him, this new release is back to the tried and true soul/blues formula that has been so successful for him in the past. Almost every track is enjoyable, but it is the country influenced soul that hits home. Tracks like "The Love Of A Woman" and O.B. McClinton's winning "Loveable Girl" both get high marks for being quality songs. The Patsy Cline classic "He's Got You" works well for either gender, and although no one will ever top her original, Milton's very soulful voice works to make this a viable alternative and a track to return to many times in the future. Even the Lionel Richie tune "Lady" succeeds because Milton makes it succeed. Perhaps "Lady" is not an appropriate track for a blues CD, but neither was "The Wind Beneath My Wings" of several albums ago. But like that tune, he makes them an important track on the CD and not just a throwaway. The only duet on this release is the wonderful Jimmy Lewis tune "If You Give Me Your Heart," but this time it is with Dorothy Moore, and is soul heaven. This is a very balanced release with really no poor tracks. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with real musicians and bathed in Malaco's wonderful sound. This is a winner all the way, and the first entry for my top 10 in the year 2001.

--- Alan Shutro

More Blues From The South Side (South Side) features three blues men from California that have not gotten the recognition they have deserved in their careers. They are South Side Slim, Smokey Wilson and Curtis Tillman, and this CD showcases the talents of all three of these men. The first four songs are all written by Smokey Wilson, and the best of these are "Talk To Me," with great guitar by Smokey. As he says at the beginning, it is a Mississippi blues the way it is meant to be played. The next three songs are written by Henry Harris, aka South Side Slim, with a great original song entitled "Country Road," that is just Harris on acoustic guitar and Tetsuyu Nakamura on harmonica. The next two out of three are written by Curtis Tillman. The best of these songs though is a version of the traditional "Confucius," with great singing and playing from the band. This is a very good CD from three of the lesser known talents on the blues scene, and their lack of fame is a shame.

Stretch My Money (Pinto Blue Music) by Wallace Coleman is a great CD filled with down home Chicago blues. If the name Wallace Coleman is familiar to you, it is because he has been the only harmonica player to record with Robert Junior Lockwood. Wallace played on the I Gotta Find Me A Woman CD that won Robert a W.C. Handy Award. Coleman's second CD is totally different than the Lockwood disc, but equally as good. Coleman has formed a band of all musicians from Ohio. And these boys know how to play some rocking Chicago blues. Coleman makes sure that these songs are played right and allows himself and his band the time to show off their skills on their instruments. The best songs on this CD are the cover of Willie Dixon's "Dead Presidents," his own "Stretch My Money," the cover of Earl Hooker's "Off The Hook," and "Strong Love." This is a CD full of great Chicago blues, so if you're a fan go out and buy it.

--- Kris Handel

In recent years, the tireless archivists at Rhino Video have been unearthing tapes of a wonderful TV show broadcast originally during the 60s from San Francisco, and hosted by the late, great music critic Ralph Gleason. As the name Jazz Casual implies, the show was primarily geared towards jazz. Previous releases in this series have included performances by John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Count Basie. But late last year, two additional titles were issued, ones which no blues fan should be without. Jazz Casual: B.B. King is especially welcome, as it features the King of the Blues in his 1968 pre-crossover days. B.B. fronts a small combo of four pieces and runs through five extended numbers, none of which are his tried and true staples. The repertoire consists entirely of more obscure numbers, probably recognizable only to long-time collectors, but delivered with that incredible soul that only King can project. The other video, Jazz Casual: Jimmy Witherspoon/Ben Webster, contains seven tunes, five of which are vocal numbers emphasizing Witherspoon's vocals and two instrumentals from tenor sax giant Webster. All seven tunes are well-known songs from each man's set list ("Money's Gettin' Cheaper" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," for example). All of the videos in this series are about 30 minutes long, include brief interviews with the host, and are inexpensively priced. If you're wondering what to do with the Limp Bizkit CD that your elderly aunt sent you for Christmas (bless her heart), you could do a lot worse than to take it down to the local music store and trade it in for one of these items --- don't wait until next Christmas to put it on your wish list!

--- Lee Poole

Nick Sterling - TenIf you listen to the five cuts on Nick Sterling's debut release, Ten (Desert Dog Records), without looking at the front cover or reading the liner notes, you'll think that it's a nice enough collection of guitar instrumentals by a guitarist with basic skills and a developing style. Then, you realize that Nick Sterling is only ten years old, and you become much more impressed, especially considering that all songs are original compositions by the mop-haired pre-teen. The kid, who was Fender's youngest endorser ever at the age of nine, has some impressive guitar licks, and isn't reticent about showing them off. Right now, his style leans more towards rock than blues, and he's sometimes in too much of a hurry to show off his prodigious skills. But there's a maturity to his playing that belies his age. The only vocal number among the four cuts is on the funky blues of "Walk on Thru," featuring bassist Biscuit Miller handling the vocal work. Sterling will wisely wait until his voice changes before attempting to step up to the microphone. For more info on Nick Sterling, check his web site

One of the potential pitfalls in reviewing CDs is that reviewers have to be careful not to let their mood at the moment affect their opinion of a particular CD. A case in point is the new independent release by Cincinnati's Stacy Mitchhart, What I Feel (Dr. Sam Records). I was having a bad day at work the first time I listened to this CD, and I noted that the singer was very mediocre and the band lacking punch. But I gave it another shot the next day when my mood had improved. This time around, I enjoyed it much better. While not a real powerful vocalist, Mitchhart does a good job on the dozen soul-influenced blues cuts, plus a pair of remixes. His most assured singing is on the funky blues of Mack Rice's "Cadillac Assembly Line." The backing band is also a little punchier on this tune. The horn section gets to strut their stuff on the original soul number "Ain't Nobody For You Like Me." I also liked the stripped-down acoustic version of "Down Home Blues," with tasty resonator guitar from Mitchhart ... very creative. I'm glad I gave this CD a second chance. Check out Mitchhart's cool web site ( for more info.

Mojo Mamas (Blue Chicago) is a very descriptive title for this compilation of woman blues singers who frequent the Chicago club releasing this fine CD. It features 14 songs from eight singers, all who sing in the same powerful, sassy style. There's not a weak cut on Mojo Mamas, as each singer is caught at her best. One of the biggest surprises is on the opening two numbers, from relative newcomer Graná Louise, especially the powerful "Good Woman Go Bad." Shirley Johnson presents a nice contrast when she slows the tempo on Percy Mayfield's "Prisoner Of Love," with subtle guitar work from James Wheeler. Big Time Sarah then turns loose her rawer style on the raucous "Gonna Have A Murder On Your Hands" and "Love Fever." Zora Young, whose new Delmark release is reviewed above, presents the most powerful vocals on the CD on her lone cut, the original "Daughter Of A Son Of A Gun." Gloria Shannon presents a jazzier sound with her only number, "One Eyed Man," with real nice piano from the excellent Kevin McKendree. The best is saved for the end, as Pat Scott cuts loose on the gospel-influenced "Today I Sing The Blues," which also spotlights McKendree's piano work. Other singers on this keeper disc include Maggie Burrell, with a shuffling version of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride And Joy," and Mary Lane. Listening to Mojo Mamas will make you feel like you've just spent a night in Chicago, minus the wind chill factor.

It's great to see that one of my all-time favorite blues guys, Rosco Gordon, is still out there on the blues circuit. The legendary singer and pianist, who recorded many blues classics for Sun and Vee-Jay Records in the 1950s, hooked up with Duke Robillard and band for the pleasurable Memphis, Tennessee (Stony Plain), a tribute to his hometown. While Gordon's voice isn't as strong now, he's still a decent singer, and the band backing him here is as solid as usual. Gordon reprises many of his classic tunes, notably an excellent version of "No More Doggin'" (same great piano chords, but he doesn't bring anything new to the song), "Just A Little Bit" and "Let's Get High" (a different rendition than the original). A few of the songs stretch Gordon's voice beyond its current capabilities, but that's a minor complaint. As an added bonus, there's an excellent 17-minute interview at the end of the disc, during which Gordon reveals that "No More Doggin'" was a big influence on ska and reggae music and that the same song is being used on a soap opera in Hungary(!). I'm glad that Rosco Gordon is still singing the blues, and Memphis, Tennessee does nothing to tarnish his reputation.

Long John Baldry could very easily be called the "Father of the British Invasion," as he played a key role in the early careers of the likes of Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, and even the Beatles. He has been living and recording in Canada for the last couple of decades. Live (Stony Plain) features Baldry with his trio (Baldry on vocals and 12-string guitar, Matt Taylor on acoustic and electric guitar, and Butch Coulter and harmonica and acoustic guitar), recorded in Hamburg, Germany in 1999. The guys are all in fine form through 14 traditional blues and Baldry's unique interpretations of rock classics. One of the strongest numbers is a long, slow blues, "Back Water Blues," with Baldry singing some intense Howlin' Wolf-style vocals. Coulter plays good harp on the very interesting "Moon Dance In Tajikistan," which is a take-off on Van Morrison's similarly-named song. Taylor shows off his skills on electric guitar on a good version of Brownie McGhee's "Walk On." A fun album from start to finish.

While U By U By U (Campache Music) from Southern California band Michael Campagna and The Average Johnsons has been out a while and really doesn't have much blues in it, I found it to be interesting enough to mention in this column. The Average Johnsons play in a funky, reggae backbeat, Neville Brothers kind of style. Leader Campagna shows some blues influence in his guitar licks on the funky shuffle "Stone." Another bluesy tune is another shuffle, "That's What Love Can Do." My favorite cut is the catchy Neville-ish number "Oh Didn't They Tell You." Not for blues purists, but worth a listen.

--- Bill Mitchell

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