Blues Bytes

What's New

February 2012

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Too Slim and the Taildraggers

Willie Foster

Amy Hart

Jumpin' Jack Benny

Roy Trevino

Little Le Roy and Le Blue Reys

Christy Rossiter and 112 North Duck


Blind Dog Smokin'I received the Blind Dog Smokin' CD, Up From The Tracks, as part of a deluxe package containing the CD and also a DVD of the band. And it’s a very well-produced package. I first heard of this band when they backed Miss Blues, and I immediately realized just how good they are and what an amazing mix of talent is contained in the band.

The band started up in 1993, and two of the original members are still there, Carl Gustafson on vocals and harmonica and Chuck Gullens (drums and vocals), mixed in with some younger musicians, and backed by an enormous amount of guest artists. Since 1993, the band with its different line-ups has produced eight CDs and has written 41 original songs. Current members and years in the band are: Carl Gustafson, vocals/harmonica, 17 years; Chicago Chuck Gullens, drums/vocals, 17 years; Roland Pritzker aka Junior Bacon, bass/vocals, 11 years; Gino Matteo, Guitar/vocals, 5 years; Mo Beeks, Keys/vocals, 5 years; Chris White, backup vocals, 4 years; Chalo Ortiz, guitar, 1 year; Linda Gustafson, backup vocals 1 year; Rex Amend, Sax, one year. This band has a very distinctive sound, regardless of the lineup, and they produce a variety of different tempos and take on a lot of different influences.

Some highlights to listen to on this album – the guitar work by Chalo Ortis on “Angels At The Crossroads,” Carl Gustafson’s gritty vocals all the way through, Billy Branch’s harmonica on “Bobby Rush’s Bus,” “Just Come Home To Die,” “Miss Peggy’s,“ “Church Of Fools,” and “Cognac and Chocolate” – especially the last one, which is the closing track of the album. According to the CD notes, Billy Branch did this in one take after drinking cognac and eating chocolate, hence the name of the track!

All in all, another very good and varied CD from Blind Dog Smokin’ – I love the story about Miss Peggy’s!

--- Terry Clear

Too SlimI guess there aren’t too many blues bands originating from Spokane, Washington, but Too Slim & The Taildraggers is one you’ve probably heard of --- and you will have heard of them because they are damn good.

Shiver (Underworld Records) is their 16th CD produced over a period of 21 years, although the band actually formed in 1986. As far as I’m concerned, they have yet to produce a bad one! This band is very well appreciated in Europe, as they have toured there extensively, and they have picked up a number of awards over the years.

This latest CD was recorded in 2011, and it opens up with “Stoned Again.”  I was taken by surprise when the track started off with some swampy slide guitar, but it then settled into rocking blues beat with new band members Polly O’Keary (bass) and Tommy Cook (drums) really pushing the number along behind the slide guitar work of Too Slim (Tim Langford), and vocals about the devil drinking whiskey while Jesus drinks wine.

“Daddie's Bones” slows things down and brings out Joe Doria on the Hammond B3 on a sad number about a missing father.

There are 11 original tracks here, all written by Tim Langford, encompassing everything from ballads to heavy rocking blues, via boogie and funk. Guest vocalist Curtis Salgado brings in some gospel-sounding funky soul just to add to the rest.

The band claims a lot of influence from Robert Cray, but there are also flavours of Elmore James, Blind Willie Johnson and Bob Seger mixed in there too, making an original and interesting musical soup. It’s not pure blues, but there’s enough blues content to make it a CD worth listening to, and it’s another good album from a very talented band.

--- Terry Clear

Sista JeanSista Jean & C.B. are a California-based duo that specializes in acoustic blues. Sista Jean (Jean McClain) has worked as a session singer with artists from Cher to Mick Jagger to Tina Turner to Bobby Caldwell. She also recorded in the ’90s as Pepper MaShay. C.B. is Carlyle Barriteau, a native of Aruba who is well-known as a singer/guitarist on the smooth jazz scene and has played guitar for Caldwell, Thelma Houston, and Patti Austin. They recently released their debut effort on Freckled Bandit Records, called Back To The Root, a delightful and intimate set of acoustic blues and soul.

McClain is no stranger to the blues, as she’s provided vocals for several of Joe Henry’s recent productions (Hugh Laurie, Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint). She does an excellent job on a varied set of tunes that touch on blues, soul, jazz, and even gospel. The duo wrote all ten songs and there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Highlights include the funky opener, “Back It Up Train,” the deep soul number “Don’t Want What U Got,” “Wine Me, Dine Me,” the soulful “Love is Callin,” “Speak to Me Lord,” and “You Can Dance To The Bluez.”

McClain’s vocals are smooth and understated, which is perfect for the material. Barriteau’s acoustic guitar is right on the money, right where it needs to be on each number. They play unaccompanied on five of the ten songs, but are joined by Troy Dexter (Dobro, Fender Rhodes) and David Vidal (harmonica, slide pedal steel) on several tracks.

Back To The Root is warm and soulful, qualities that all blues albums should have. This one has been getting a lot of play at my house, and will continue to do so for quite awhile.

--- Graham Clarke

Willie FosterThe cover of Willie Foster’s posthumous release, My Inspiration (I55 Productions) shows Mr. Foster blowing away on harmonica, while sitting in his wheelchair. Foster had lost both legs to diabetes and was nearly blind when he passed away in 2001, but he never wavered from singing the blues, performing a set two days after losing his second leg and even doing a gig on the night he died.

My Inspiration features 11 tracks Foster recorded with a crack set of Memphis area musicians (Mickey Rogers and Skeeter Provis – guitars, Donnie Brown – bass, Mike Dill – drums, Robert “Nighthawk” Toombs – piano, harmonica, Brad Webb – guitars, and Russell Wheeler – B3). There’s plenty of downhome blues to be found on these tracks and Foster shows why he’s one of the best at this particular brand of blues with his free-wheeling, easy-going style, both on harmonica and vocally.

The songs cover familiar subjects, but nobody does them quite like Foster. “Let ‘Em Talk” is a fast-paced tune to the tune of Willie Dixon’s “Hidden Charms.” Other highlights include “Why Babe,” “Born in the Delta,” the instrumental, “Leland Shuffle,” “Wonder Why,” and “Sho Look Good To Me.” The title track is a spoken-word reminiscence from Foster about growing up, working in the fields, and buying his first harmonica.

Simply put, if you like Mississippi Delta blues, this collection needs to be on your shelf. No self-respecting blues fan should be without at least one Willie Foster CD.

--- Graham Clarke

Electro GlideElectro Glide Records, out of Chicago, is a new label that specializes in blues and blues/rock recordings. So far they’ve released discs from Chris Beard, Big Dog Mercer, Brandon Santini, and Danny & the Devils. The label has issued their first compilation CD, The Blues, An Evolution, that will give newcomers a taste of what the label has to offer blues fans. This highly entertaining set features four of the label’s artists, Mercer, Santini, Danny & the Devils, and Tom Holland and the Shuffle Kings, performing three tracks each.

Marty “Big Dog” Mercer has been part of the Chicago blues scene for over a decade. He features a muscular guitar attack (including some great slide) on his three self-penned selections (“Some Other Fool,” “Helpless,” and “Big Dog Blues”) and powerful vocals as well. Harmonica player Brandon Santini fronted the Memphis group Delta Highway for seven years before embarking on a solo career recently. His three selections (“You Ruined Poor Me,” “What Can I Do,” and “She’s Sweet Like Honey”) are straight-ahead blues with some solid accompaniment from an unidentified guitarist.

Chicago group Danny & the Devils has been working the Windy City lately, but has previously opened for Lonnie Brooks, Bernard Allison, Leon Russell, and Brian Wilson. These three tracks (“Don’t Come Back This Time,” “Jealousy,” and “Mama’s Boy”) are very good, and carry a bit more of a rock edge than the rest of the CD, which works just fine. Tom Holland has worked for the past eight years as James Cotton’s guitarist and band leader. Before that, he built his blues resume’ by working with Byther Smith, Eddy Clearwater, John Primer, and L.V. Banks. His selections include “Keep On Playin’,” a Muddy-esque slow blues, “S.A. Blues” and the rousing instrumental closer, “Zeb’s Blues.”

The Blues, An Evolution is a strong set of original blues and blues/rock by four exceptional artists, with nary a bad song in the bunch. If this represents what the future of the blues is going to sound like, please sign me up. I can’t wait to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

Amy HartAmy Hart started out playing the blues at various festivals in the ’80s, detoured toward rock and R&B as a songwriter and performer, and eventually settled down in the Gulf Coast region performing with a band and as a solo until the BP spill forced a move to Nashville. Her latest release, Congratulations, was recorded there on Painted Rock Records.

Hart wrote all ten songs on the disc. The opening title track is a clever track, providing a different spin for those who encounter bad luck and hard times. The music is a bit rock-edged and Hart’s vocal is sweet but tough. Up next is the soulful and sultry “Get Ready,” and “Put Me Back,” a hard-luck tune for women everywhere. The riotous “Rich Ass Daddy” is another highlight, just loaded with grit and attitude, and “Get The Girls Dancing” is pure fun.

Hart gets excellent backing from guitarist Bob Britt, dobro player Gene Bush, bass players Mark Hill and Steve Bryant, drummers Wayne Killius, Mark Beckett, and Ed Greene, and keyboardists Howard Duck and Mike Rojas. Co-producer (with Hart) Wally Hoffmann also had a hand in writing the title track and also plays upright bass on a couple of tunes.

Congratulations is a well-crafted, entertaining set of blues with a taste of rock, country, and R&B mixed in. Amy Hart is a talented performer and songwriter and we should be hearing more from her in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Jumpin' Jack BennyJumpin Jack Benny specializes in relentlessly rocking blues and R&B. Singer/harmonica player Benny Cortez has drawn comparisons to James Brown with his intense and entertaining stage presence, and the band rocks non-stop. Their debut release, on Boppin Records, is called I’ll Be Alright, and offers up 11 killer tracks, six originals and five covers.

The original tracks are first-rate, ranging from the gritty title track, to the soulful “Tell Me Please,” to the humorous slow blues, “Big Woman Blues,” to the rocking “Let Your Love Go,” to the funktastic groover, “Party’s On.” Covers include Ronnie Earl and Darrell Nullisch’s “I Don’t Believe,” which features some nice interplay between Cortez and Noranjo, a rousing take on James Achor’s “Mean Woman Blues,” Koko Taylor’s “Find a Fool,” and Little Milton’s “Take Time Out to Hear Me Some Blues.”

There are also two bonus live tracks (“One More Song” and “You Got Yours I Got Mine”) that show that the ride is even wilder with the band when they’re on stage. Hopefully, these guys will soon give us a complete live disc to go with this fine set.

Jumpin Jack Benny consists of Cortez (vocals, harp), Noranjo (guitar/bass), Eric Tice (drums), Mike Stover (bass), and Kirk Nelson (keyboards). They provide solid and often inspired backing and are augmented by Andrew Jaimez and Steve Roybal (drums), Hank Dardini, Benny Rodriguez, and Tony Miramontes (keyboards), Leo Valenzuela and Frank Viramontes (bass), and Danny Ayala and Betsy Villasenor (backup vocals).

You will be hard-pressed to find a more irresistible, high-energy, just plain fun album. I’ll Be Alright rocks from start to finish and is a guaranteed good time for blues and R&B fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Roy TrevinoBorn and raised in South Texas, guitarist/singer/songwriter Roy Treviño started playing the guitar, and the blues, at a young age, studying with guitarist Ronnie Earl. His blues band, Kingpin, recorded a couple of albums and played with artists like Marcia Ball, Lazy Lester, Chicano blues legend Randy Garibay, and harmonica player Tim Gonzalez, who encouraged Treviño to record an album with legendary producer Jim Gaines. The result is Treviño’s self-titled debut release on Troubadour Records.

Treviño wrote nine of the ten tracks and they are a far-ranging and diverse set. The opening tune, “Gloria,” is a bluesy gospel tune that features some scorching slide work. “The Boy Can Play” is an autobiographical tune, with Treviño spouting a lengthy listing of guitarists who have influenced him. “Hurricanes” is a blazing rock/blues with more impressive slide work.

Treviño’s Latin influences are also highlighted on tracks like “Sin Ella,” the lovely “La Luna,” both of which would be smooth fits on a Santana album with their lyrical guitar work, and the instrumental, “Trinidad.” Treviño even covers a Bob Marley tune, “Lively Up Yourself,” marrying its reggae rhythms with some Hendrixesque fretwork. However, this disc is still rooted in the blues, and tracks like the smouldering slow blues, “Thank You,” and “Going Away,” a tale of a Civil War-era soldier having one last meal with his family before leaving, feature some of his best guitar work.

Treviño gets plenty of able assistance from his band, which includes drummer J.J. Johnson (John Mayer), bass player Chris Maresh (Eric Johnson), keyboardist David Boyle (Robert Plant, Fabulous T-Birds, Patti Griffin), drummer Kyle Thompson, keyboardist Ed Hobizal, and percussionist John Nelson.

All in all, not a bad first effort at all for Roy Treviño. He shows some amazing chops and versatility on guitar and some serious skills as a singer and songwriter.

--- Graham Clarke

Little Le RoyLittle Le Roy & Le Blue Reys play a entertaining mix of jump blues, Chicago Blues, swing, and Crescent City jazz and funk. The New Mexico quintet’s recent release, their fifth, is called Gift of the Blues (Ninth Street Records). The band includes Steven Casto (harmonica, lead vocals), Rick De Stefano (keyboards, vocals), Brad Martin (bass), Sambhu (guitars), and Jimmy Farmer (drums).

The band wrote nine of the 12 songs on the disc and they are strong lyrically. They include “’57 Chevy,” a swinging blues that will bring back memories of cruising downtown for many listeners, the soul ballad, “I Only Cry When It Rains,” “Five Years Ago,” the anti-drinking drinking song, “Gin Sin,” and the ominous “In The Pit,” (in regular and spoken-word versions), possibly the only blues song about being buried alive and Edgar Allan Poe.

There are also four well-chosen covers, including a slow blues version of Mose Allison’s “Fool’s Paradise,” a peppy cover of Little Walter’s “My Babe,” a deeply funky remake of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh. It Takes A Train To Cry,” and a wonderful version of C.J. Chenier’s “Richest Man.”

There’s plenty to enjoy on Gift of the Blues. Little Le Roy & Le Blue Reys are a seasoned set of musical vets who will get you on your feet and ready to dance.

--- Graham Clarke

Christy RossiterOut of Omaha, Nebraska, Christy Rossiter & 112 North Duck play a hard-rocking, guitar-driven brand of blues that’s powered by the powerful guitar work of Michael Beebe and the propulsive rhythm work of Darren Hopson (bass) and J. E. Van Horne (drums). Lead singer Rossiter brings a mix of Grace Slick and Bonnie Raitt to her vocals and is as comfortable singing the roadhouse rockers as she is the smooth ballads. Gone Fishin’ (Applecopter) is their fifth release and serves as a fine showcase for the band’s talents.

Gone Fishin’ features 11 songs (plus an instrumental interlude), ten written by the band. The title cut is a fine slow blues that really gives Beebe room to stretch out with some inspired fretwork. “Throw the Dog a Bone” is a rousing blues/rocker, “Life With You” and “You Make Me Shiver” are rock balladry at their finest, and “Baby I’m Gone” is another great slow blues. Other highlights include the instrumental, “The Man With the Red Guitar,” and an appropriately funky take on Loren Winkler’s “The Louisiana Way.”

Rossiter does a great job on vocals throughout and the band is right behind with steady support. Beebe is a force of nature on guitar. Gone Fishin’ is an impressive, well-crafted effort from an experienced band that knows its way around a blues song.

--- Graham Clarke

Guy DavisAnd now for something completely different ...

Guy Davis is one of the better contemporary blues artists playing traditional blues today . He's also done some acting, in one production performing the role of Robert Johnson in an off-Broadway fictional account of the death of the legendary seminal bluesman.

Davis' involvement in the theater isn't surprising, considering he's the offspring of actors Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee. He also wrote a one-man play entitled The Adventures Of Fishy Waters: In Bed with the Blues in 1994, which he first performed in New York in 1994 and has continued to present in various venues over the years.

Davis now brings the entirety of his musical one-man play to CD, with the two-disc set being released by Smokeydoke Records. Tales of this itinerant musician traveling around the South during the 1930s is interspersed with Davis' original songs. It's a fascinating piece that will make a nice addition to your blues collection, as Davis' excellent storytelling skills paint a picture for the listener and brings Fishy Waters and the people he meets into your home. You'll laugh at the story of the drunken silkworm and will be made sick by accounts of lynchings encountered along the way.

This is not the normal blues CD that you'll pop into the player as background music for your next party. But it's one that you'll listen to intently as Davis regales you with fascinating story after story. Recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell


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