Blues Bytes

What's New

February 2007

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Michael Powers

Barrelhouse Chuck

Danny Brooks

Chicago Blues Reunion

JW-Jones Blues Band


The Groanbox BoysThe Groanbox Boys play a highly original mixture of American music styles including blues, rag, and folk, using an unusual array of instruments ranging from accordion, banjo, harmonica, piano, and various percussive items. Their music takes as its source the various and diverse styles of music used in the pre-war years. Back in those days, it was not surprising to hear whites from different parts of the country play the blues, and blacks, particularly from the South, to play country music. It was the fact that so many different people from different cultures played these styles that caused them to continue to grow and develop, and also to absorb aspects of each other in the process.

The Groanbox Boys' recent release, Smokestack Trilogy (Groanbox Records), is a wonderful trip through American music, taking music from 60 and 70 years ago and putting a modern sheen to it. The band consists of two musicians, Connecticut native Cory Seznec, who plays banjo, harmonica, and guitar, and New Yorker Michael Ward-Bergeman, who plays accordion and piano. Both members sing and collaborated on the songs (the lone cover is the Delmore Brothers' "I'm Mississippi Bound").

As might be expected, Smokestack Trilogy consists of three suites. The first suite kicks off with a rollicking "Train Take My Pain Away" that will get your toe tapping for sure and features a blistering harmonica spot by Seznec. "Sea Bone Howl" is a mellower tune that showcases Ward-Bergeman's accordion.

"Hobo Heaven" is an aching, mournful track about broken dreams and hopes, but the mood doesn't stay somber long as the following track, the instrumental "Mount Pleasant Rooftop (AT DUSK)," features a spirited banjo performance by Seznec. The suite closes with the lively "Harefield Hospital Rag...." (The disc was recorded in a 1930s art deco concert hall at Harefield Hospital in the UK, which is where the band is based).

The second suite opens with the bouncing country romp, "Lonesome Traveller," followed by "Home Again," a country blues. "Juliette Red Dress" is an instrumental featuring sparkling interplay between Seznec's guitar and Ward-Bergeman's accordion. "Wham Bam" is a clever, salacious piece about a man who has to "be in love before I make some love." The suite closes with "Harefield Hospital Special....," a brief piano number.

The concluding suite begins with the dark, meditative "Broken Down Bolivian Blues." "Last Call" is a cheerful train song featuring banjo and accordion that begins to wrap up the disc. "Bygone Era" is a pleasant guitar instrumental, while the closing track is the cover of the Delmore Brothers's "I'm Mississippi Bound," which features some nice harmonizing by the duo. Closing out things is "Harefield Hospital Lament...."

Throughout, the interplay between Ward-Bergman's accordion and Seznec's banjo is superb. Smokestack Trilogy has something special to offer fans of American Roots music. The Groanbox Boys touch on a variety of styles with this release and the results are outstanding. This disc can be purchased at For more information on the band, visit their website (

--- Graham Clarke

Tracy ConoverTracy Conover made a few waves over the past couple of years with her CD, Live At The Cactus Moon. A striking mix of rock, blues, and R&B, one came away from that experience hungry for more of her powerful guitar and soul-heavy vocals. Conover delivers more of the same on her latest release, Retrospective 1991-2006 (Guardian Wolf Music), a collection of sides the performer has recorded over the past 15 years.

Conover started playing guitar in her mid-teens, but embraced the blues while studying Voice, Jazz, and Classical Guitar at North Texas State University in Denton, TX. She absorbed the music of artists like Freddie King (whose “Goin’ Down” was a highlight of her live CD), T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, B.B. King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Albert Collins. She moved to Austin in 1991, starting her own band and playing almost nightly. Later, she played with and toured with Earl King, Albert Collins, and opened for a diverse group of musicians, including Dick Dale, Buddy Guy, Charlie Daniels, the Marshall Tucker Band, and B. B. King.

Retrospective features Conover in a lot of different settings, featuring 15 tracks with some stellar musicians pitching in. Among them are former Double Trouble rhythm section Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, Barry “Frosty” Smith (former drummer for Sly & the Family Stone and Parliament), Larry Fulcher (bassist for Taj Mahal), James Polk (former James Brown piano man), Tommy Taylor (drummer for Eric Johnson), Riley Osborne, and Chris Duarte.

Not that Conover needs a lot of help. She is more than capable of holding your attention with her guitar pyrotechnics on tracks like the hectic opener, “Ironhorse,” or the slow burners, “Escape” and “Ladykiller,” or the rock & roller “Bye Bye Baby.” However, there are a handful of R&B-based tracks, like “Help Me Through The Day,” “There For Me,” “Tell Me,” and “Carelessly,” where Conover’s vocal gifts are front and center. As skilled as she is on the guitar, her singing lifts her above the competition. She’s as comfortable tackling a bluesy number like “My Big Rocker” as she is a tender ballad like “I Wanna Be An Angel.”

At home singing and playing the blues, R&B, or rock, Tracy Conover shows with Retrospective 1991-2006 that she’s worthy of more attention. This CD can be found at

--- Graham Clarke

the gonstermachersThe gonstermachers took their moniker from the Yiddish word, Gantseh Macher, which means “Big Shot.” With a name like that, plus their inclination to play instruments like the block flute, tambour, ukulele, and cello along with the usual blues-related instruments, not to mention their occasionally offbeat compositions with lyrics that refer to relics of the past, (one of which, Cazzie Russell, was one of my favorite old-school NBA hoopsters), you have to figure that these guys better be good, right?

The gonstermachers are good, and their self-titled debut release is sometimes hard to classify. It’s not just blues, or roots music, or rock, or even Americana. It’s all those styles, rolled into one. Just call it a musical goulash, an eclectic mixture of genres. You might not know what went into it, but you know it’s tasty. The quartet is based in Syracuse and consists of Leo Crandall (cello, guitar, ukulele, vocals), Curtis Waterman (harmonica, percussion, block flute, vocals), Hymie Witthoft (drums, tambour, gongs, vocals), and Richard Curry (washtub bass, percussion, vocals).

There are ten tracks on the disc, seven of which were composed by the band. The opening cut, “the night sam cooke died” can best be described as a surreal dirge, while the poet Michael Burkard wrote the unusual “my sister she’s not a dollar.” “danse les macher,” is a blues instrument featuring Crandall’s guitar and Waterman’s harmonica, and “cool down there” is a lively number that will get you on your feet.

“left handed man” is a moody Delta blues number that would have been better if the vocal hadn’t been done through the harp mike, and “lowdown on the blowdown” is another energetic instrumental with more great harmonica. “danse les negres” is one of two covers on the disc and it gets a funky reworking by the band.

“saint sebastian” is a mournful ballad which features a ukulele solo by Crandall along with Waterman’s block flute, and “gasstationchickendinnerromance” is a great tune about just grabbing your girl and letting it all hang out. The disc closes out with a nearly ten-minute cover of “st. james infirmary,” another reworking that gets a thoroughly modern makeover.

Crandall does most of the singing and has an expressive style and plays some fine guitar, including some great slide work on “cool down there.” Waterman is a standout on harmonica and Curry and Witthoft are a rock solid rhythm section.

I can safely say that you’ve probably not heard anything like the gonstermachers recently. In this world of homogenized, sterile musical product, their sound is like a breath of fresh air. Breathe deeply; it’s hard to come by these days. If you’re interested in something completely different in the blues world, go to the bands website ( and check them out.

--- Graham Clarke

Michael PowersMichael Powers’ 2006 recording, Prodigal Son, has been nominated for three different awards from the Blues Foundation for 2007 – Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year, Contemporary Blues- Male Artist of the year, and The title track is up for song of the year. In my view these nominations are richly deserved, as this is a superb album.

Prodigal Son is Powers’ second CD, the follow up to Onyx Root, which was nominated for two awards in 2005.

The album is full of influences from the music that I guess Powers grew up with --- Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Jimmy Reed (who, apparently showed Michael Powers how to play his first guitar chord), Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker --- but this guy has enough originality in his music that these influences don’t take over.

He is obviously a man who likes rocking blues, and he can perform it with the best of them, but he is more than that, as the mix of styles and tempos on this album ably demonstrate – just listen to his version of Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain Of Sand.”

There are, in fact, so many changes in style and tempo on this CD that I found it difficult to pinpoint Powers’ own style – that’s not a criticism, it’s what makes this CD so refreshingly different. So many artists produce a great CD but every track sound similar because their own style is so strong that it dominates whatever they do – with Michael Powers, every track is just so totally different from the last.

The songs included on the album are a mix of originals and covers, and the opening track just happens to be a favourite of mine – the Don Nix composition that was such a hit for Freddie King – “Going Down.” There are tracks by Sonny Boy Williamson, Bob Dylan, Arthur Lee, Blind Gary Davis & Tiny Bradshaw (via the Yardbirds & Johnny Burnette) – this will give you an idea of the diverse mix of influences and styles that Powers calls on for his music.

From the originals on the CD, I have to pick the title track as being my favourite – although all of the originals stand up to scrutiny and all are well written and well played.

“White Lightning” was apparently written by Powers way back in the 1970s, but it sounds fresh and alive and could well have been written yesterday.

If I have to pick a favourite from the covers, it has to be between “Goin’ Down” and “Train Kept A Rollin’, “ and I really don’t know which to pick!

I really hope that this album picks up the awards that it’s been nominated for, and that spurs Michael Powers into bringing out more great CDs in the future – this man is a great talent without a doubt.

--- Terry Clear

Barrelhouse ChuckBarrelhouse Chuck came from Florida to assimilate his piano into the Chicago blues community over the last 25 years. On this release, Got My Eyes On You (The Sirens Records), the ghost of Otis Spann jumps out of the speakers from note one, as does the rawness of the classic electric Chicago blues sound. Also from the start, Kim Wilson’s harmonica never discriminates among blues styles, and is also never compromised.

One has to really crack the cryptic coding to follow exact participants from track to track, but if you’d rather freshen your drinks as the album progresses, the program still packs a seamless punch for the most part. For example, the first voice heard on the disc is on track two, a verbal intro by Ella Evans, Detroit Jr.’s companion, who co-wrote the tune in question, “Call My Job.” She expresses gratitude for Chuck performing the tune in Detroit’s memory. The second voice heard is after a few bars of the two-step intro when the leader imitates a female’s falsetto! See what I mean?

Chuck’s vocals continue on “Got My Eyes On You,” an almost-perfect Sonny Boy “Help Me,” nebulosity piqued by Chuck’s “acoustic piano and Farfisa.” On most tracks Barrelhouse’s rhythm section includes Muddy Waters vets Calvin “Fuzz” Jones playing bass and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. Acknowledgement must, however, go to Frank Bandy’s bass and Smith’s drumming son Kenny who replaced the rhythm track parts on a couple numbers for some reason. It is due to Bandy that Blues Bytes and “The Sirens” record label were introduced. (Mr. Bandy has been an active blues bassist in Chicago for some years now, toured with Jimmy Rogers, runs his own “Teardrop” label, and often backs J. B. Ritchie).

Suffice it to say, Barrelhouse Chuck’s musical style is pretty much modeled after personal mentors Sunnyland Slim and the lesser-known Little Brother Montgomery. It is suggested that Chuck’s piano is reminiscent of the former, but his higher pitched vocals remind us of the latter.

It’s definitely a Sunnyland slant on Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth.” Eddie Taylor Jr. plays both bass and guitar, while Kim Wilson and the leader achieve impressive vocal harmony. Then, scrambling personnel again without missing a beat, the leader completely lays out during a funky instrumental much like the old Jr. Wells/Buddy Guy “Snatch It Back.” The Muddy Waters group template, with Chuck’s vocal instead, permeate the next two numbers, snapping with shuffle, then easing down with Floyd Jones’ “School Days.” Otis Spann’s influence is again notable on both.

There’s a Big Moose Walker number included, another of Chuck’s influences. It’s in tribute to the Chicago keyboard man known for organ work, and Chuck plays that instrument here sounding more like Eric Burdon than the Bull Moose. Eddie Taylor, Jr. is again on guitar, Frank Bandy and Kenny Smith again are the rhythm section, grooving tightly on this lone organ entry of the album. Muddy’s “Just To Be With You” is as heavily rhythmic as the original, Chuck’s vocals like early Bob Margolin, and no piano. Eddie Taylor Jr.’s lead vocal sounds good on his dad’s “Big Town Playboy,” Barrelhouse Chuck playing simpler piano here, maybe like Pinetop Perkins.

The next instrumental, “Red River Rumba,” is just that, and is composer and guitarist Joel Foy’s chance to shine. A couple vintage guitar amps are described in the notes which explain the warm, but biting result. Kim Wilson’s harp, plus Taylor Jr.’s guitar and again the leader/pianist solo.

Two unusual entries conclude the CD, as Eiko Izumi-Gallwas is the pianist, in what sounds like a ‘30s-style, in duet with Chuck’s vocal on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Mama You Don’t Mean Me No Good.” It’s described in the notes as “deeply emotional,” but how deep? Then from out of nowhere, an almost Smokey Mountain feel with all-acoustic piano, guitar, and one Gregg Rodriguez playing mandolin and fiddle. The aforementioned seamless punch seems to have run out with the “Rumba.” We’ve gotten just a little too much art-for-art’s-sake at the end right where we needed something profound enough to keep running thru our heads the next day. Grade of A- for the first 11 of the 13 tracks.

--- Tom Coulson

Danny BrooksThe music of Danny Brooks is an extension of his self-acknowledged mentors Hank Williams, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Taj Mahal, Blind Boys of Alabama, and John Lee Hooker. In fact, any of these foot-stomping, hand-clapping, Stax/Muscle Shoals-rooted songs could have easily been hits for any of those legends. Brooks is a Canadian singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonicist who Brownie McGhee once complemented by saying, “Son fo' a white boy, you sho' nuff gotta suntan on the inside.”

The sound of Memphis soul comes alive throughout Brooks' 55-minute disc, Soulsville - Rock This House (HIS House). What are its 13 original songs about? Like a loving and caring parent, Brooks, a former substance abuser, doesn’t want his listeners to make the same mistakes as he has made. The songs bear inspirational lyrics and some are solidly rooted in Christian theology. As example, the title track is a proclamation of Brooks’ faith and what it has done for him. The man simply wants to testify about what he has found.

Perhaps due to Brooks’ own life experiences, the songs have a common theme about losing everything and then finding everything. The best illustration of this can be found on the beautiful ballad "You’ll Find A Way." Lyrically, the rootsy "Can’t Keep A Good Man Down For Long" is similar to George Harrison’s "Horse To The Water." Brooks’ song features a catchy beat, rock ‘n’ soul rhythm, surging keyboards, soulful lead vocals, and the authoritative backing vocals of Amoy Levy.

I strongly believe Brooks has a hit on his hands with "Good Love Is Hard To Find." The rhythm is moving and the lyrics hit home. The song reveals something we all know deep inside but seldom that time to recognize. When good music and thought-provoking lyrics come together to create a jubilant song, it can move you to tears. This is one of those songs.

No single instrument or solo stands out on this second installment in Brooks’ Soulsville Trilogy. It’s the songs, which at times create a revival atmosphere, and their messages that you’ll remember. Like Souled Out ‘n Sanctified, Rock This House was produced by Richard Bell, features The Rockin’ Revelators (an amazing group of 15 musicians and vocalists) as Danny’s backing band, and contains a multi-page liner booklet with photos and song lyrics.

The biggest difference is the addition of a punchy horn section. Unlike Delbert McClinton, Brooks’ vocals aren’t consistently gruff and soulful. At times, they wheeze yet they are always intense. Some listeners may shy away or even get turned off by some lyrics that reveal a deeply convicted man, e.g., "Down On My Knees." Yet, after listening to this CD, you realize you don’t have to face life’s challenges alone. On Rock This House Danny Brooks is all about being part of a solution instead of a problem.

--- Tim Holek

Chicago Blues ReunionBuried Alive In The Blues (Out The Box Records) is a celebration of the first generation of white musicians who openly embraced the blues. They were accepted and included to the point of performing with their black heroes and establishing the first integrated blues band. The generation is now approaching or has already entered their senior years. Like your favorite grandparents, they have a valuable history that deserves to be told and heard.

Chicago Blues Reunion’s members have led interconnected professional lives for the past five decades. Nick Gravenites (vocals/guitar) wrote "Buried Alive In The Blues" for Janis Joplin and "Born In Chicago" – the signature song of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band featuring Sam Lay (vocals/drums). Butterfield’s guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, later joined The Electric Flag, which included Barry Goldberg (keyboards) and Gravenites. Tracy Nelson (vocals) was a fixture on Chicago’s 1960s folk and blues scenes before she founded Mother Earth. Harvey Mandel (guitar), a Bloomfield protégé, was part of Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Corky Siegel (harmonica/vocals) has been a Chicago fixture from his years with Siegel-Schwall. Joining them are Gary Mallabar (drums), Rick Reed (bass), and Zach Wagner (guitar).

Appearing aged and not well preserved, Gravenites states, “We have a history,” while the youthful looking, gray-haired Siegel adds, “We are part of each other’s lives.” In a nutshell, they took black blues out of the black Chicago clubs and introduced it to the world beginning in the city’s North Side. This stylishly packaged DVD/CD combo includes a bountiful 32-page booklet loaded with archival photos. The 80-minute DVD presents six live performances (these plus eight more are included on the hour-long CD), but it also exposes interviews with band members, and Buddy Guy, as well as archival video, and a photo gallery with many never before seen photographs. Especially cherishing is the footage of Electric Flag at Newport and film clips from an early ’70s Soundstage PBS TV show featuring Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Gravenites. The praise-filled interviews have been visually edited to have a retro look. Overall, the DVD unfolds like a well-written special feature in your favorite blues magazine.

Recorded in stereo on October 15, 2004, at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois, Gravenites performs while seated throughout. On "Born In Chicago" Mandel’s guitar screeches as it is yanked in the background. The title track contains a relaxed groove that is welcoming and familiar. At times, as on this song, the tiny stage makes it a challenge for the camera operators to maintain a non-obstructed view.

"Walk Away" exhibits the warbling vibrato vocals of Nelson. During the song, you can tell Siegel loves the performance. This image echoes his interview exclamation, “We love the blues.” The deepest blues emerges on "Left Handed Soul." Here, the electric piano is audacious, while the organ is haunting.

The keyboards punch out and make Slim Harpo’s "Miss You Like The Devil" a rock’n shuffle while Nelson’s vocals command enthusiasm. "Drinkin’ Wine" is an outright fun song that jumps and rocks at the same time. Delbert McClinton’s "I Need All The Help I Can Get" contains the best rhythm and a dose of funk.

"Death Of Muddy Waters" is traditional electric blues performed in honor of its ultimate purveyor. Mandel’s wicked guitar is showcased on "Snake" while Lay kicks out incomparable vocals on a medley of classic rock ‘n’ roll. Additionally, you’ll hear boogie rock and psychedelic blues-rock.

Gravenites’ vocals aren’t strong; Mandel’s heavy guitar is outlandish, while Goldberg’s keys are scintillating.

The title of the virtuous group is a bit misleading since Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Lil’ Ed, and Carl Weathersby are golden era and modern day artists that come to mind when you think of Chicago Blues. It is doubtful the artists who comprise this super group would land near the top of an exhaustive Chicago Blues listing.

The fact remains; they were actively part of the Chicago Blues scene and were mentored by its golden era prophets. After watching the DVD, you walk away with nothing but respect and admiration for these artists. They achieved what no one had done before them and, thankfully, some of them have persevered so a new generation can enjoy them and hear their worthy story.

--- Tim Holek

JW-Jones BandJW-Jones believes in living life to the fullest. This comes across in the delightful music on his fourth CD,  Kissing In 29 Days (NorthernBlues), which can best be described as ’30s/’40s big band swing meets ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. “I hope people hear that I am taking music from that great era, and that I’m breathing new life into it,” explains Jones. Listening to Kissing in 29 Days will transport you to another time while keeping a portion of you in the present. The 14 songs – including three covers – are primarily about love and relationships. Throughout, you’ll hear jumping, jazzy blues, jitterbug jaunts, cool instrumentals, and blues shuffles.

The featured instruments are Jones’ expansive guitar and Brian James’ tooting tenor saxophone. Each of these two 20 somethings interplay with each other as if they’ve been performing together for 20 years. It’s bewildering to learn they have been together for less than five years and Jones has only been playing guitar for a little more than ten years. Although his guitar talent is superior, Jones also handles lead vocals.

The long standing NorthernBlues artist has matured the most among the label’s roster. No wonder he is getting excellent and respected guests to appear on his discs. This time, it’s the distinguished sax player David “Fathead” Newman who guests on three songs. The celebrated Texan is well known for his multi-year association with Ray Charles. There was no better choice than Newman to guest on Charles’ "Hallelujah I Love Her So." Though it’s repetitive, Little Milton’s "Hey Girl!" contains a catchy groove
and lively horns which incite dancing. "Got Me Chasin’" exposes Frank Scanga’s skillful harp, which does not shriek.

His youthful looks may cause some to dismiss or refute him, but make no mistake – this man is musically mature for his age. The self-produced disc contains a rich sound that accentuates the full horn section, drums, and guitar. JW-Jones has the guitar flair of swing masters from the past and a group of supporting musicians, who are developing into a world class band. Jones’ core group is comprised of Nathan Morris (bass), Artie Makris (drums), and Geoff Daye (keyboards). The six-member Wind-Chill Factor Horns are a definite highlight.

Young Jay-Dub is an earnest contender for this sub-genre’s crown. All he needs is an urbane vocalist to elevate him and enrich his music to a higher level.

--- Tim Holek


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]



The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: January 31, 2007 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2007, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.