Blues Bytes

February 2005

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What's New

Artie Blues Boy WhiteResplendent in his powder blue outfit on the booklet of this release, Artie "Blues Boy" White is a bluesman through and through. I have followed his career from the early days on Ronn Records, through a good number of high quality CDs on Ichiban Records, a few on Waldoxy (Malaco), and now this his third self-produced release, First Thing Tuesday Morning (Chill Town Records). There are several cover tunes, three songs penned by excellent songwriter and performer Travis Haddix, and several new ones from his band members. The CD opens with a fine version of Bobby Bland's "Love To See You Smile," which is the equal of the original. "First Thing Tuesday Morning," the first of the three by Haddix, is a slow burner that immediately establishes itself as the class track of this release. Z.Z. Hill's "She Hit Me From The Blind Side" is a worthy song that deserved to be resurrected. "Trying To Hoodoo Me," the second by Haddix, is another slow very deep soulful blues that allows lead guitarist Chico Banks a chance to cook. It is the kind of tune you expect to hear in a smoky Chicago club. An interesting choice is Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," which doesn't really hold up to King's version, but does allow Banks another chance to shine on guitar and White to take a different approach on vocals. My favorite track is "I Promise,"
newly written by band member Stan Banks, but could have come out of one of O.V. Wright's recording sessions. Great stuff on an album that features White's soulful vocals, real musicians and production that is a considerable improvement over his last outing. His best outing in many years.

Beautiful Bobby BlackmonThis has been a good month for new releases, and this new one from Beautiful Bobby Blackmon, Travelin' Home (B3 Records), is right there among the top ones. It's a bluesy Southern guitar and vocal outing, and one that I've listened to many times since it arrived. The opening track, "I Don't Know But I Gotta Go," is an immediate catcher and sets the tone for the 11 great tracks that follow it. Think of Little Milton doing "Walkin' The Back Streets And Crying" and you'll get the feel of this first track, and it only gets better. John Hiatt's "Feels Like Rain" is given a tremendous effort here, perhaps the best I have heard of this Hiatt classic. The humorous "If Mama Ain't Happy" is a good storytelling song somewhat reminiscent of the type of songs Larry Garner writes, and the fabulous "The Bluest Blues," an Alvin Lee tune that lets Blackmon's guitar playing and vocals shine, are both great inclusions here. Another standout track is "It Ain't Easy," a slow blues with a fine spoken intro that immediately catches your attention. I could go through each track and expound on it's merits, but you need to check this CD out for yourself. It is independent efforts like this that we in the blues community should support, so pick up a copy of this great new CD and then email Bobby at and let him know how much you enjoyed his newest CD.

--- Alan Shutro

When two people converse, one adjusts his or her voice toward the pitch of the other's, in a subtle sign of deference to leadership. In wolf packs, only the head wolf keeps his or her tail raised. The chief chimpanzee in a group (the correct term is a “murder” of chimpanzees, as it is “school” of fish, a “herd” of cattle, a “sneer” of butlers, a “frost” of dowagers, a “keg” of garage musicians, etc.) is allowed to sexually dominate and even mutilate members of his tribe at will. Research strongly indicates that identification and acknowledgment of leadership is essential to survival and, thus, built deeply into mammalian hard wiring. Mechanically, said identification and acknowledgment expresses itself through the senses. Longtime leadership in her region's blues community is plainly heard in this debut release, Song Inside Me (Milestone Music), from Michele Lundeen, who has planted and grown a number of blues publication, festival and other seeds way out west. That her set list comfortably flows from jump blues/jazz to torch songs to front porch rollicks to convincing, larger-than-life “Big Blues Mama” biographical sketches is more than coincidence. These sub genres of blues and all the joys and narrative stimuli specific to them have been part of her crusade for decades. She's not just doing these different songs because she can, but because she has been compelled to. Blues is a broad field and, to build a blues scene, one must offer reward to every individual preference and perspective within it. While playing Song Inside Me, one can hear and almost smell Ms. Lundeen's long years of doing so. Festival planners accept responsibility for investing a lot of other people's money in entertainment and culture. Editors match their wits against readers' attention spans and fickleness to obtain and maintain those readers. Regular participants in blues society jams take on the missionary challenge of converting occasional visitors to their bars and bandstands into frequent contributors to same. The shouldering and fulfillment of these responsibilities gives a person the equivalent of an advanced degree from a music school that most professional road and studio players would not dare to even enroll in. Ms. Lundeen's band is straight forward. Playing along with this record would not be a challenge for competent players, but that is by no means to say that many of them could construct this release. Most players simply lack the discipline and vision it takes to concentrate full-time on the audience rather than on themselves. Most players cannot accept the fact that three four-minute songs give them exactly as much playing time as one twelve-minute song, but share three times as many songs with their audience. These 12 songs take the bandstand and the community of a blues scene into the studio in a way that few performers are willing and able to do. Song Inside Me is pragmatic, gut bucket and effective. It is a demonstration, a sermon, a textbook and a rally. It is powerful, lively and humbling. It is a gift of love from a leader to her community.
The stories go back a long way, and most are true. Before there were blues societies and regular blues venues throughout the Southeast, there was singer / songwriter / guitarist Mojo Collins. When people in the region began thinking about forming blues societies, they inventoried the resources with which they could bring America's music to prospective fans, and the name “Mojo Collins” headed their resource inventory lists. For many years now, live blues has been easy to find in the Southeast, and Mojo Collins is exploring some other avenues. World Full of Strange (Pastales Music) is a modern release based on blues based on rock, in sound and attitude somewhat like the classic solo releases of Peter Green and Bob Welch, but with the impressive added facet of Mojo's having played every instrument on the recording. Detached from and beyond the traditional definitions, habits and restrictions of blues form, it puts us in touch with Mojo's past, present and future. As he's developed his own sound independent of the blues form though always resting easily upon it, he has interwoven warm vocals and a light, refined touch on the strings. He speaks to us as screen actors speak over a movie soundtrack. There are political concerns here, alongside rags, ballads of love lost and found, masterful guitar pieces and big, uptown combo pieces. Of the many Mojo Collins recordings released over the years, World Full of Strange impresses as the most individual and mature. Its freedom from any compulsion to make a statement for a single cause or musical statement allows us to go where Mojo Collins has taken himself, down a road along which we have met him many times, either by seeing his performances or sharing his influences. A great dividend and fascination here is hearing where music itself, the blues and live performance have led a dedicated, gifted professional. People who seek live music and good, regional performers set themselves up for disappointment, gambling that the acts they go out of their way to meet will be good acts. Those who know Mojo Collins know that he has never been a gamble or a disappointment. Thank you, Mojo Collins, for being a builder of music appreciation we have always been able to rely on and trust, and thank you for World Full of Strange.
Tommy CastroThe blues is in good hands. This is the person who has the voice, the sound and the right intentions to touch everybody's heart.” - Carlos Santana, commenting on Tommy Castro. An aptly titled release, Soul Shaker (Blind Pig Records) is centerpieced by “The Holdin' On,” a soulful ballad that points out, with concise and absolute precision, the source of the pain that fills and overflows the gap left in one's life by the departure of a lover ... “It's not the letting go ... it's the holdin' on.” There has not been a release like this since Otis Redding's Otis Blue, and even that immortal soul bombshell, with its several classic, irreplaceable moments, lacked the consistent quality of Soul Shaker. Going on at more length about these dozen magnificent tracks would be superfluous. Soul Shaker is a great, great CD.
Yes, there are famous harmonica players. Among them is Carlos del Junco. These days, he's perfecting application of Howard Levy's overblow technique, which gets the chromatic scale out of diatonic harmonicas, thus allowing one to play in every key on a C harp, usually a Hohner Golden Melody, ideal for the task by virtue of being tuned equal rather than just. Blues Mongrel (Northern Blues Music) is, in some ways, a demo disc for the overblow technique. He extends a thoughtful kindness to harp players by giving detailed liner note information about keys and gear used on all 12 cuts here. Del Junco has always been known as a flexible, open minded harmonica player. One should never expect one of his releases to focus on some narrow stylistic definition like “Chicago blues” or “Toronto jazz.” At the same time, variety is a double-edged factor in creative product, detracting from continuity exactly as much as it adds to impact. The one loving tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson II on Blues Mongrel leaves this reviewer hungry for more, but then, so do the several other styles del Junco shares so adeptly on the release. “Let's Mambo” is a great party instrumental, as is the unlikely movie theme, “Our Man Flint.”  This is a strong, honest, loving album, in keeping with this label's standards and those of the artist.

Eddie TurnerEddie Turner's fascinating, in that he's stepped straight into 2005 from 1967. Rise (Northern Blues Music) is psychedelia à la Jimi Hendrix. Not that it sounds like Hendrix; it just shares the same ideas of musical expression. The title track is an acid blues, heavy on droning electric guitar, laid over a New Orleans parade second line percussion beat. That's novel and cool. The fact that Turner covers the Hendrix classic, “The Wind Cries Mary,” and sounds completely like Eddie Turner and nothing at all like Jimi Hendrix is a nice, subtle touch. Acid blues at its best. Thank Eddie Turner and Northern Blues for reminding us how good that can be.

--- Arthur Shuey

Gary KendallBass players get no respect. On his first solo recording, Dusty & Pearl (47 Records), Gary Kendall is out to change that. Having toured and recorded with the Downchild Blues Band from 1979-83, and currently since 1995, Gary Kendall is probably the best known bass player in Canadian Blues. He joined his first band at age 16, and has been based in Toronto since the late ’60s. Kendall’s musicianship and songwriting excels, but his uninspired voice isn’t strong enough for the lead role on an entire album. Musically, this record is rich in roots. How can’t it be when it contains 33 of Canada’s best blues music artists? Like the view from a train window, Kendall gets his listeners to see things in a different manner. Guest vocalist Judy Brown croons like a young Lou Ann Barton on “Lucky At Love.” “Worn In” has a lazy feel. The song features the magnificent harp of Donnie Walsh which carries listeners to the Delta and then dips them in the Bayou. Along with country and folk, “We’ll Be Allright” contains a taste of Cajun, thanks to Richard Bell’s accordion. It’s a fun, happy, and uplifting tune. Here, Kendall’s voice is warm and enticing, and made to sound more confident thanks to Suzie Vinnick’s soothing vocal harmony. This isn’t the only time the backing vocals jump into the forefront. On separate tracks, John Mays and Chuck Jackson do the same thing, with their distinctive vocals. Due to the punchy horns and infused cheer, “All Dressed Up” sounds like a Downchild Blues Band number. Here, a basic rhythm is prominently carried by Brian Fraser’s boasting piano. Due to the song’s structure, “Sumkinda Sumthin” sounds like a Fathead tune. Here, a swaggering organ solo, which whirls back and forth between channels, is delivered by Martin Aucoin. If the soft and romantic jazzy instrumental “Bluesona Slonite” doesn’t put you in the mood, nothing will. On the song, you finally get to hear Kendall’s infectious bass take a solo while Steve Grisbrook’s guitar burns. By far, the most fun and unique song is “Don’t Be Sad,” which combines reggae and other sounds of the islands. It is a song of hope and inspiration, for anyone questioning their self worth. The CD’s other highlight is the slick instrumental, “Thanks A Lot,” as performed by the Maple Blues Band (the prestigious house band at the annual Maple Blues Awards.) With awe, the song injects an edge into your being, via a series of astonishing solos from various musicians. If you like jam songs, this one is for you. The song and album is a fresh showcase for Canadian talent. The latter is a celebration of life by someone who has been kicked around. With all the guests, it is difficult for Kendall’s originality and style to come through on this 55-minute folk/rock disc. Nonetheless, this is a good and solid CD. One has to wonder whether that is a result of the way Kendall got everyone to jive together in the studio, or is it that the guests are simply extremely talented? For more information contact: or by e-mail.

When the blues had its humble beginning in the Mississippi Delta, who would have imagined that its journey would take it to international places like Russia? Arsen Shomakhov is from Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria. His backing band’s name, Ragtime,  implies something they are not. Don’t expect jazz piano from this proficient trio, but rather innovative blues-rock with sophisticated influences. Aslan Zhantuyev (bass) and Sultanbek Mamyshev (drums) are Shomakhov’s constant driving force, while Grigory Martirosyan provides occasional sax. Their independent CD, Troublemaker, cannot be entirely classified as blues, but surely you are not surprised? Throughout 11 songs, you will hear everything from rollicking Texas shuffles ("Don’t Miss Your Train") to contemporary jazz-fusion ("In The Cold Light"). The production is simple and clean, with an emphasis on the drums hitting you where you breathe. Too bad the high hat sounds like tin. Shomakhov’s debut CD focused on covers, whereas his 44-minute sophomore release features eight originals. Only three covers appear. Although Willie Dixon’s "I’m Ready" and Jimmie Vaughan’s "Dirty Girl" have been over-recorded, Shomakhov’s versions are fresh, and welcome you to listen up. The latter is used as a framework to showcase the sizzling guitar. Shomakhov can play guitar, and its oh, so good. He seems less constrained and inhibited on the original numbers. The title track features a catchy guitar hook with a Texas groove. The kicking guitar solo is heavy in the bottom end. Providing impact, and a lasting effect, the tempo and song structure changes near the end. The track is reprised with elements of Euro-pop to close out this great disc. "Tick-Tock" features bop, funk, and a repetitious groove that will have you in a stupor. "She’s Dangerous" was inspired by "Superstition" and "Rude Mood." With five instrumentals, it is obvious Shomakhov is more comfortable just playing his guitar. Yet, his vocals on "Give Me A Sign" are sensitive, but the romantic, pop arrangement comes across as looking/wanting radio airplay. This triad of former cold war foes comes with a refreshing approach. Their primary focus is the enticing guitar and distinctive songwriting of Shomakhov. Perhaps there is too much acknowledgment of Shomakhov’s Texas influences (the Vaughan Brothers, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker), yet you can’t deny his controlled guitar work is full of feeling. This Russian doesn’t impress with muscle, but rather with substance. Over time, you warm to his vocals. The attraction is not as instantaneous as his guitar playing and the group's music. Trying to escape the same old blues? Forget those teenage-brat guitarists, and experience some invigorating blues-rock from the international scene. Missing your favorite Russian NHL hockey stars this season? Let these comrades cure your blues. For more information contact:  or e-mail to

Stephen Barry has been a mainstay on the Montreal music scene for over 35 years. His band’s healthy debut, Here On The Highway, was released in 1994 and it remains a reasonable strong recording to this day even though only one bandmember (Andrew Cowan - guitar) survives in the current lineup. 15 songs are included on the 54-minute disc and nine of them were recorded live at Le Vieux Clocher de Magog in March 1993. The bulk of the tunes are covers from JB Lenoir, Muddy Waters, Holwin’ Wolf, Albert King, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Johnny Shines. The bandleader sings one third of the songs. His voice is a bit deeper than the other singers, but it doesn’t carry the rhythm as well. The number of covers outweigh the originals. On "Home In Your Heart," Robert David’s sax impresses as it keeps the tempo hopping. The bopping turns to gyrations on "Voodoo Music," thanks to John McColgan’s rumblin’, tumblin’ drums which sound more like an entire percussion ensemble. The instrumental "Rockin’ With Hop" is a sock-hop rocker and would have brought dancers to ecstasy in the 1950s. Michael Browne’s vocals sound like a young Pinetop Perkins on "Work For Your Money." The swinging continues on the dangling version of "Natural Ball," where you’ll hear Barry’s string bass, a rich, full-sounding T-Bone Walker guitar, shufflin’ drums and Martin Boodman’s harp fills. "Too Lazy" is a trio sort of piece and thus has a jazzy feel. The melody is more suited to one of the grand ladies of jazz but the words are more typically male: ‘too lazy to work, too lazy to steal.’ North Mississippi country blues is all over the arrangement of "Living In The White House."
The number of originals (five) are few and they are far more folk than blues. "There Was A Time" is really laid-back. This modern, alternative folk-rock composition contains elements of Steely Dan. Sounding more like an East Coast folk song than blues, "More Precious Than Silver" is an ideal pub number. Guest organist Peter Measroch adds crack-free fills to Browne’s sweet lap steel. "I Don’t Have To Worry" is a fun tune with ample opportunity for the horn to blast and the harp to wail. The title track is a low-key ballad, while "Bull Doze Blues" is based on Canned Heat’s "Going Up The Country." The production is a little too polished with not enough improvisation, in particular, on the studio recordings. One of the sidemen, multi-instrumentalist Michael Browne (guitar, mandolin, fiddle) is the CD’s strongest asset. His accentuated artistry shines forth and hints at the greater things that were to come for him. The band really digs into old-style Chicago blues on the 10 covers with their professional musicianship. On these you will particularly enjoy the guitar and sax work. Based on this aspiring CD, it appears that Montreal and Quebec blues artists are worthy of greater recognition.

Clinton, Mississippi’s Billy Gibson is a regular Beale Street performer. He developed his jazz harmonica technique while studying under Pete Pedersen. On this 64-minute disc, In A Memphis Tone (Inside Memphis), Gibson performs diatonic and chromatic harp. The eight laid-back recordings were made in 1996/1997. All are unencumbered instrumentals with an average length of eight minutes. The house band from Memphis’ King’s Palace Café provides stylistic support. The well-known standard "Chicken Shack" is the CD’s longest song, since the main artists each get a solo. "Straight No Chaser" features an additional harp player. Together, they perform like a saxophone in a jazz combo. The most lively and electric song is the ultra-catchy "Shortnin." This is uptown and sophisticated dinner music that is romantic. It reflects a musical maturity well beyond the age of this 30-something artist. The songs are pretty and relaxing. Although, the back cover says to classify under blues/jazz, they should have said to classify strictly under jazz.

Rocky Jr., of Rocky Jr. and the Signifiers, isn’t a blues juvenile – he has been blowing harp for 30 years – but he is the offspring of the Chicago blues greats. His band members have as much experience and all are infatuated with Chicago blues. Harmonica Prayer (Blues Baby) pays tribute to Chicago blues tradition. Some songs are signature tunes from blues’ highest ranking officers. None of the covers offer anything over the original, or most famous version. Although, Jr.’s vocals lack depth and energy, his harp is full of adventure while his guitarists are full of enthusiasm. However, as a group, they sound too similar to the Butterfield Blues Band. This is a very independent release which is evident from the inattentive liner notes to the hallow production. Overall, these 12 (mostly cover) songs lack originality. How many more renditions of "Rock Me," "Crawling Kingsnake," and "Good Morning Little School Girl" do we need? Lots of potential exists. It will come to fruition when the mimicry stops, and conceiving begins.

Without fear, NorthernBlues’ President, Fred Litwin, releases music that he truly believes in. Proudly and openly he states his label’s mission “is to stretch the boundaries of the blues.” He has been doing that for four years, and his novel label isn’t going without notice. So far his 27 releases (not including samplers) have received Juno, W.C. Handy, Independent Music, and Maple Blues Award nominations. Some of those nominations have turned into winners. There are 15 songs by 16 artists on this 70-minute Future Of The Blues, Vol.2 sampler. Interspersed with the familiarity of American Blues, Dan Treanor and Frankie Lee contain the right blend of foreign rhythms and sounds. Treanor plays his hand-built African instruments on their innovative cut. New Brunswick’s Glamour Puss combines their unrestrained talents to create happy, upbeat, groovin’ music that celebrates life. Janiva Magness’ NorthernBlues CD was really Colin Linden’s project. His distinctive production and robust guitar provides strong evidence for this proposition. It is great to see an artist mature with every record. Listeners, who have graduated along with JW-Jones’ previous two releases, experience that when they hear “Let’s Have A Ball.” Incorporating a slew of uncommon instruments (highland bagpipes), Taxi Chain is not your stereotypical roots music band. “Back Water Blues” combines one classy lady, Toni Lynn Washington, with one classy band. The stringed instruments, performed by David Jacobs-Strain, are dreamy. His impressive slide and deep vocals carry his pop country offering found here. Harry Manx’s Eastern music influences are obvious. He and Kevin Breit mix East Indian music with acoustic Delta guitar for an extremely unique sound on the disc’s oldest track from February 2003. Carlos del Junco mixes his hurling harp and uninspired vocals with Breit’s grunge-like guitar. Well into the song, Breit gains control and cranks out an assaulting tone. Charismatic piano and sly organ carry you away on John And The Sisters’ hand-clapping, foot-stomping hoedown. Their unreleased, poignant instrumental is the CD’s highlight. James Cohen’s brilliant flamenco guitar has a feel of vaudeville and the roaring ‘20s. Brian Blain uses an interesting twist on words via his cheeky number. Although the word blues appears in this label’s name, the sounds and rhythms of Litwin’s progressive artists are all over the map. Litwin chose the artists since he felt “they are making music that is fresh, original and simply sublime.” He also challenges the sampler’s purchasers to “open your ears, your minds and your hearts.” Litwin continues to release modern music that no other label will. For blues fans, it looks like the best is yet to come. 2005 will deliver debut NorthernBlues releases by Chris Beard and Mem Shannon. Too bad they aren’t included on this sampler.

Midwest Blues (Diving Duck) proves acoustic music can be upbeat, and fun. With occasional washboard, harp, and bass support, Eric Noden performs guitar, vocals, and piano. His guitar work is heavily influenced by the Delta masters. Noden emulates the finger-picking styles of his influences, Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis, on a couple covers. The majority of songs were written by himself.  "Shelby County Bound," "Cincinnati Flow Rag" and "Key To The Highway" showcases the supreme picker that Noden has become at age 35. His barrelhouse piano shakes on Take A Chance and Chi-town Breakdown. The Latin rhythm on "Black Cat Bone," courtesy of bongos, congas, and guiro, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the vintage album. Ironically, the song has the most commercial appeal. Ohio-born Eric Noden is a solid guitar player who performs country blues that came to the city. On his second release, he exhibits a mastering of the pre-war, acoustic craft.

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist/Photographer

Carl WeathersbyIt's been a tough four years for Carl Weathersby. Coming off four fine releases on Evidence Records, Weathersby suddenly was beset by various health problems that took their toll on him. During this time, when he was sometimes too weak to perform, much less record, Evidence released him and he was suddenly without a label. Gradually he has regained his strength and is starting to play again, making many of his fans happy in the process. Weathersby has also returned to the studio, recording a new CD in Nashville, Hold On (Woodcutter Records). Longtime fans that have missed Weathersby will be pleased to learn that his powerful Albert King-influenced guitar licks, his expressive vocals, and his great songwriting skills are all intact and as formidable as ever. On the opening cut, "I'm Back Again," he serves notice that he's on the road back and takes a swipe at those who "counted me out, said I could not play the blues," then proceeds to prove them wrong.  Another impressive track is a tasty cover of "Angel of Mercy," a soulful, slow burner with some of his best guitar work. There are also two songs reprised from his Evidence albums, a smooth cover of John Hiatt's "Feels Like Rain" (a song he has really made his own over the years) and his own "My Baby," which is a slight improvement over the original version.  "Nothing Hurts A Man (Like A Woman Can)" is a high-energy track with some amusing lyrics. Weathersby shows off his vocal talents on slower, soul-laden tracks like "Willingly" and "Love Ain't Fair" (which also includes some great guitar). Weathersby's compositions are a highlight, ranging from the defiant fire of "I'm Back Again," to the soulful grooves on "Love Ain't Fair" and "Hold On." His songwriting continues to improve with each album. Musically, this disc is geared closer to the Memphis groove of his last studio release, Come To Papa (minus the horns), or to his debut recording, Don't Lay Your Blues On Me, than the releases in-between (Lookin' Out My Window and Restless Feeling), which were sometimes heavier on the rock-based guitar. However, fans of any of Carl Weathersby's previous releases will be pleased to get their hands on Hold On, a disc that shows you can't keep a good bluesman down. Go to or for more information. 

 --- Graham Clarke

Any young boy growing up on the south side of Chicago from the late '40s through today would have to be at least sideswiped by the famous style of blues that was created there, if not hit squarely over the head with it. I¹m happy to say that Oscar Jordan's latest release Eclectic Soul (Big Oscar Music) not only draws from this well but beautifully mixes in soulful, funky, jazzy, rocking R&B solidified with Jordan¹s tuneful guitar. The official name of Jordan¹s band is The Mighty Sons of Hercules, no doubt because of their strong backup. The Sons and one Daughter include Alex Lane on the keyboards, Randal Yamamoto laying down some Masculine Bass, Nick Karvon on the skins and Karen Dilworth lending lead vocals on one track, co-lead on another and background voices on the rest of the tunes. Jordan starts things off pumping hard with the funkified "Never Been Hurt," easily introducing the listener to his tight brand of picking. The funk flavor reappears again on "Morning Affirmation" and "Be Cool." The blues show up on "I Liked You Better When You Were Drinking," with such sweet vocals by Karen Dilworth displaying such a gospel feel that the entire band breaks out in a church moment towards the end. The one instrumental, "Loretta," delivers in grand style with Jordan¹s smooth blues inspired sound filling every inch of his guitar. On "You and I" we get treated to Jordan¹s version of Latin blues. "Rough Neck" deals up some delta blues complete with dobro furnished by T.J. Sullivan. What always impresses me with any artist is not just how and what they play, but if they also composed the music they so passionately play. Such is the case with Jordan where he wrote or co-wrote every tune on this disc. This CD was recorded in late 2003 and released last summer, but recently came to my attention as I was recently surfing the net for blues CDs to consider reviewing, as I¹m prone to do. Jordan and his Sons have put together something definitely worth taking a listen to if like Jordan you have what it takes to fill your Eclectic Soul. Pick up the CD at Jordan's site or at CD Baby.

--- Bruce Coen

Joanna Connor Live & Raw! captures 10 live tracks. Joanna Connor and her band cover the range of modern blues, slide guitar and blues rock with her own compositions and throw in a couple shuffles and an occasional cover. A few of the hot tracks are: “Walkin' Blues” contains Joanna’s best slide work on the CD and a funky bass solo from J.R. Fuller. Lance Lewis’ drumming keeps everybody tied together and a stinging solo from second guitarist Toronzo Cannon makes you appreciate the band’s chops. “Big Girl Blues” is taken from the studio album of the same name. The guitar riff sounds like a nod to Led Zepp's traveling river-side blues. The band is locked and loaded and delivers the goods on this number. On “Dr. Feelgood,” the rhythm section propels this vocal driven song with an uptown rework of the “Stormy Monday” changes. The vocals are playful but filled with earthy desire. If you want to experience modern Chicago blues played by a tight, seasoned musical unit, you need to checkout The Joanna Connor Band.

--- Mike Roberto

Jimi BottJimi Bott is best known as one of the best drummers on the blues circuit today, appearing quite frequently as a member of Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. Thus, it would be easy to mis-categorize this new collection of live tracks, Cheap Thrills (Roseleaf Records), as strictly a showcase for Bott's prodigious talents on the drum kit. Instead, the 11 cuts on Cheap Thrills, consisting of live recordings that Bott made with the Mighty Flyers, Mark Hummel, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, contains more hot guitar playing than just about any CD on the market today. That's not to say that Bott doesn't get to showcase himself on the drums, which he does on the duets with pianist Miss Honey on the Mighty Flyers' "The Bumble Boogie & The Nutrocker" and "Sing Sing Sing," and on his own composition, the seven minute drum solo, "Tribute to Gene, Buddy & Louie," which could be a primer for anyone wanting to learn every great drum beat possible. Among the smokin' guitar wanks are ones from Junior Watson on the 1987 recording of "That's What You Do To Me," Luther Tucker on the instrumental "Peter Gunn," an even hotter instrumental, "Frosty," featuring the talents of Curtis Smith & Mike Schermer, and an extended 1992 Mighty Flyers instrumental, "Jam Up," featuring Alex Schultz. The best vocal performance comes from Kim Wilson, fronting the Fabulous Thunderbirds (with horns added) in a 1992 live performance at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, on O.V. Wright's "I'd Rather be Blind, Crippled and Crazy." Of course, there is also plenty of incendiary harmonica playing, most notably the Mighty Flyers instrumental, "The Eliminator," which opens the CD. Bott provides background information on every single cut, making this disc a valuable history lesson on the Southern California blues scene. It's worth the price just for the music enclosed within --- the rest is just gravy. Buy it!

Uppity Blues Women pianist Ann Rabson's new CD, In A Family Way (Emit Doog Music), has an old-time feeling of talented family members getting together back at the old homestead to make good, comfortable music together. That vibe comes to the listener because that's basically what this CD is all about. Ms. Rabson gathered siblings, daughters, nephews, and in-laws to back her on this pleasant album containing 13 tunes. Most of the songs here are covers of songs that have been around forever, with classics like Georgia White's "Little Red Wagon," Ma Rainey's "See See Rider" (featuring tasteful trombone work from Dave Harris), "Do Your Duty" (again, more nice trombone playing, along with strong acoustic work from Rabson), Leroy Carr's "Midnight Hour Blues," and Willie Dixon's "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy." The latter number is given a very different sound with the backing of daughter Mimi Rabson on violin and Harris on trombone. Ms. Rabson also turns in a rowdy version of Huey Smith's "Little Chickee Wah Wah." One of Ms. Rabson's originals, "Hopin' It'll Be All Right," is a mellow, late night jazzy blues that turns into a showcase for her piano playing brother Steve Rabson. It's obvious that In A Family Way is a labor of love ... love for family and love for the music. It all comes together to make a very pleasant, homespun collection of classic blues.

Is What It Is (Delmark) is an album first and foremost for guitarheads. This inspired outing pairs up a pair of regular Delmark cats in Dave Specter and Steve Freund. While Freund, who handles all vocals on the disc, does a decent job, this one's all about hot guitar playing ... and there certainly is plenty of that. The disc starts with a soulful Chicago blues shuffle, a Freund original "My Little Playhouse"; I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't a Syl Johnson number. It's not long, though, before the listener is taken to this album's showcase number and the one that makes it worth the price alone --- a 6:41 instrumental version of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." This songs starts out quite simply and elegantly, with Specter laying one tasteful guitar solo after another over Rob Waters' Hammond B3 foundation, then transitions into a rollicking gospel celebration. Absolutely incredible! Specter displays the same intelligent guitar playing on George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Harmonica ace Mark Hummel joins the band for the more downhome blues of "Hoverin' Hawk; here Specter shows the complete opposite side of his guitar personality with some mean slide work. Freund really shines on the old Bobby Bland number "Loan A Helping Hand," both with fierce guitar licks and fine vocals. There's a lot of other good stuff on Is What It Is, but I believe you've already got enough reason to add it to your collection soon.

--- Bill Mitchell

I never tire of listening to Ron LaSalle's CD, Too Angry to Pray, because I never tire of being transported, and I never tire of accompanying a fellow traveler on a like-minded spiritual journey. Not to mention, I never tire of pure and soulful rock 'n' blues talent. Ron reminds me of John Hiatt or John Lee Hooker with some Bob Seger thrown in, although I hate to make comparisons because he is his own man with his own story to tell. I feel as if I'm fighting my way through a Southern swamp as Ron begins, sharing his fears in spoken words, and then crying out for help on the title track. 'Throw me a rope sweet Jesus/help pull me back to my feet/I've stumbled on lust and envy/and somehow I lost all belief.' Some songs that follow rock (check out "Bringing Love Back Home"), others are bittersweet ballads ("Take Me Back to Texas"). You'll swear he's channeling Louis Armstrong on "Just for a Second." Ron is a writer, bottom line, and his lyrics are poetry. He takes us through his peaks and valleys of drinking days and love lost and found, and ultimately to his final songs of gratitude and acceptance. Ron has said that his records are like letters to his friends. This musical letter is a story, and it goes full circle. Check out and listen to Too Angry to Pray. After you do, you will feel as if you've met a man who has done his ashes work, and surfaced the depths to share his experience and hope. It is said that where a man's wound is, that's where his genius will be. Ron's words and music move me, and I'm grateful he has used his wounds to create something precious for his listeners. Personally, I am hungry for more. Let's support him and pass his good intentions and spirit on, so that he can keep sharing his gifts with us.

--- Allison McDonough

Corky Siegel's Traveling Chamber Blues Show (Alligator) is a live document of Corky Siegel's lively and spirited chamber approach to blues. "Chamber" because Corky marries rich percussion and a string section to his fiery harmonica jams. The combination as Siegel (Siegel-Schwall Blues Band; Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and his ensemble delivers it is irresistible. This is intelligent blues that is still very hip, progressive blues that still swings.

--- Tom Schulte

Dave RileyIn a paragraph, here is Chicago blues man Dave Riley's story: Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1949, he moved to Chicago at age nine and performed gospel in his father's Church of God in Christ, with guitar lessons from Pops Staples. Visited Chicago's famous Maxwell Street hearing many blues legends live. Head turned by a Jimi Hendrix concert. Combat duty in Viet Nam. He married and had one son, worked a full career in the prison system in Illinois. Overcame addiction to alcohol and drugs. Retired and began a blues band with his son, sidelined by an auto accident and broken neck, recovery and musical comeback into the late '90s. I take special interest in Dave Riley for a couple reasons. Despite cultural upbringings worlds apart, I felt a very good vibe when I met him personally. While discussing life we found philosophical parallels and similar interests. We both like the same musical categories and players. It is also one small town in Arkansas, Helena, that attracted us from different locales at about the same time in the mid-'90s. We both had visited that area during the time of year when the famous King Biscuit Blues Festival was not going on. We were visiting respective friends and relatives. When I finally got to my first Biscuit Fest in 1999, the local superstar, harmonica player Frank Frost, appeared, but was too ill to play. In fact, he died a few days later. Meanwhile, Dave Riley had befriended Frost enough to be invited to play with him locally around the juke joints toward the end. The drummer in that group was Sam Carr, who now employs Riley as guitarist/vocalist in a group that continues playing the huge festival on the main stage each October. It was at one of these we finally met. We ended up gigging together. I was given access to many Riley CD releases, including his most widely distributed, Whiskey, Money & Women (Fedora Records). Though recorded and released in 2001, Dave has independently put out at least three more albums on his son Dave Jr.'s label, Aquatic, not in every record store but always available directly or from the bandstand (inquire by e-mail). Among these is Live In Switzerland, the 2000 Lucerne Blues Festival performance plus Red, White and Blues, and Life, two discs with almost all-studio tracks, probably recorded between Helena, Arkansas, Clarksdale, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. All four records also feature drummer Sam Carr and harmonica man John Weston (of Brinkley, Arkansas). Some feature producer/rhythm guitarist/keyboard man Fred James and most have the bass playing of Dave "Yahni" Riley, Jr. Many selections are re-incarnated among the releases, for example several versions of "Tribute," "The Game," "Living On Borrowed Time" (all Riley originals) and the unlikely John Lennon "Imagine," the same emotion every time. Vocally, Riley sounds like Big Jack Johnson (formerly of the Jelly Roll Kings), husky and gritty, more feeling than perfect pitch. As a guitarist he is equal at lead and rhythm, not requiring a rhythm guitar or keyboard unless he wants it. Albert King is obviously an influence, with a raw, rather than clean, attack. And his recreations of the Jimmy Reed guitar sound is identical to Reed recordings. Tempo is very important; Dave keeps it right there yet lets the other musicians breathe around it. Dave Riley also offers four tracks as leader on the Cannonball Records anthology Blues Across America: The Helena Scene, now out of print.

Dennis RowlandDennis Rowland is best known for his association as vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1977 to 1984. He was thought of as the next Joe Williams. Fast-forward to July 2004, when Down For The Count (Celebrating 100 Years of Count Basie) was recorded and his voice is way beyond any prediction. Dennis is superior to many better-known names calling themselves jazz vocalists and recording internationally. You now hear maturation, relaxed yet confident delivery. More of his own voice, the range better defined, though once in a while he’ll still slip into a Joe Williams nuance. His assurance and unorthodox stage presence work in his favor. He feels it thru and thru. This new Basie tribute disc is all big-band, namely the Extreme Decibel Big Band which by the recording date had been playing every Monday night at a Glendale, Arizona eatery so was in tip-top shape. The program is interspersed with instrumentals, some standards and others arranged by Sammy Nestico. This is obviously not at all Chicago/Delta blues. This is big band/swing dance/shout-vocal/jazz! Blues forms among the CD’s titles are: “All Right Okay You Win,” “Comeback” and “Everyday I Have The Blues” (all Joe Williams/Basie hits), maybe Nat Adderly’s “Work Song,” and for absolute sure Ida Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues,” a crowd-rouser to end most any live Rowland performance (and one he also recorded on his Concord Records CD Rhyme, Rhythm and Reason). The album was produced as a fundraiser for Phoenix NPR/jazz/classical public stations KJZZ/KBAQ and recorded at the world-class Arizona Biltmore Resort during a re-creation of the old Savoy Ballroom days when two big bands competed from opposite stages. Named in the production is the tireless Steve Conrad, heavily involved in the Lindy Hop and Swing dance movements of the area. Besides singing small-group jazz in clubs, Rowland not only fronts but conducts and leads big bands in concert, sometimes preserving the very charts played in the Basie band. This makes him somewhat of an anomaly, at least for our time. In addition, he works with the Arizona Big Band, Big Band Jazz Terrazzo in Spain, the Estonia Dream Big Band there, and most recently the Ken Nosia Big Band in Russia! (Dennis just returned from there in late December). Born in Detroit, Dennis Rowland has been working hard particularly in his current residence of Phoenix in building up a solo career. He has worked as actor and singer both locally and touring internationally. He began recording as leader for Concord Jazz Records in 1995. With first a swing/blues/standards repertoire, Dennis branched out on his second Concord album, Get Here, with R&B touches, including influences of pop and funk. His main strength is still his swinging and appealing voice, which is displayed on his third Concord disc, Now Dig This, a tribute to Miles Davis. Where is the Down For The Count CD available to the public and/or on-line? It’s so new I cannot find it anywhere on the web. Meaning this is the debut review of the disc in cyberspace. I have begun, and would suggest, inquiring thru Dennis’ web site.

---Tom Coulson
(Read my column)

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