Blues Bytes

What's New

February/March 2017

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Product links coming soon!


William BellI’m almost ashamed to say that I’ve never explored the music of William Bell, though I am aware of his history and musical background as a Stax artist in the heyday of the label. Fortunately his new disc, This is Where I Live, came into my life and I had the opportunity to witness a killer set from William at an E-Town radio taping here in their theater in Boulder, Colorado. William is the consummate performer and deserving of the Grammy he recently received for this disc. Let’s give it a spin and share some of the mojo it imparts.

William opens with “The Three of Me,” and the loss of a love has him examining the man he is as opposed to the man he should be. “Last night I had a dream…and there were three of me…there’s the man I was…the man I am…and the man I want to be.” The man he wants to be is probably the man that could have kept the woman that William unfortunately lost. William continues this self-reflection in “The House Always Wins.” “I thought our love would last forever…we would raise a family…but the cards were dealt against us…it was never meant to be…you may take a couple of rounds…but the house always wins” Producer John Leventhal is a man of many talents and he’s behind the keyboards for this tune.

Every now and then you run into a woman you just to have to have…despite all the warning signs and William relates the tale in “Poison in the Well.” “Like Adam in the Garden of Eden…I climbed the forbidden tree…it didn’t take a snake to make a big mistake…it seemed like paradise to me…she put poison in the well…and I drank it.” This one obviously ended badly and the taste of forbidden fruit was just too much for William to handle. John’s back with the guitar intro to “I Will Take Care of You,” a beautiful ballad by William to the woman he will love through thick and thin. “When the doors are closed…and your dreams have flown..and you’re the last one left…and all your friends have gone…I will help you carry on…I will take care of you.”

William and the band segue to the tune he’s most famous for writing, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which became the signature song by Albert King, Eric Clapton & Cream and hell, Homer Simpson even sold three million copies of the tune. Needless to say, William and Booker T. Have made serious bank off of this great song. “Wine and women…is all I crave….a big legged woman’s going to carry me…to my grave…born under a bad sign…I’ve been down since I began to crawl…boy, if it wasn’t for bad luck…I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” “Who will stand by you…no one…no brother…no cousin…no one…but by now you know it all…but relax now…and recall…all your stories…for now and forever.” These are the words the William sings to comfort a friend in your next tune, “All Your Stories,” and it reflects on the fact that the life you live is the life you have and you alone, are responsible for your story. That’s true of all of us and sound advice.

William is a constant source of support for the woman he loves, covering that in our next track, “Walking on a Tightrope.” “You may have never loved me like you ought to…you may have hung up on me when I called…you can walk from here to Georgia…but just don’t slam the door…cause, when you’re walking on a tightrope…baby, I won’t let you fall.” The title track, “This is Where I Live,” is next and here William speaks to the importance of giving back to the community to you live in. “In a hotel room…I wrote me a song…and it took me all around the world…now I spend all my time…playing music…making rhyme…this is where I live…this is where I give…all my love…all my time…all my money…every dime.” William was recently part of the documentary, Take Me to the River, and it finds him doing exactly that, sharing his time and talents with the students of the Stax Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.

Rick DePofi plays a great baritone sax behind William on our next track, “More Rooms,” and William explores the unfulfilled expectations of a passion that just never blossomed in the love that he expected. “Remember on our wedding day…I carried you in my arms…through the front door of this house…vowing to keep you from harm…in love forever…we’d always be…we had plans for a family…the fire was burning hot…but ashes is all we got…there’s more rooms in the house…more rooms to live in…than the bedroom.” As William traverses from room to room in the house, the pain of the memories he expected to create in each room is real and his regret is palpable. The love he’d hoped would last forever just never made it out of the bedroom.

“All the Things You Can’t Remember” finds William reflecting on the pain the woman he loved inflicted on him before she left, and now she wants to come home. “For you it was so treat me like dirt…did you think I didn’t care…or couldn’t feel hurt…but one day you’ll wake up…to a world of regret…all the things you can’t remember…I’m still trying to forget.” This is one woman that William needs to let go and put behind him in the rearview mirror.

Across the river from Memphis is West Memphis, Arkansas, a city that back in the heyday of Beale Street was the rougher part of the region where many artists of the day ended up for late night gigs after tearing it up on Beale. “Mississippi Arkansas Bridge” finds William reflecting on one of those clubs he used to play back in his youth. “There was a club across the river…across the bridge…to Arkansas…the people there…they didn’t care about the law…I met this girl…she made me shiver…when she danced…all through the night…but when sister Charlie sang…he made everything right…she came up every night…from across the ridge…now I gotta go back…across the Mississippi Arkansas bridge.” You must know that William was 16 years old and his hormones were running high.

An acoustic guitar intro leads us to the final cut on William’s disc, “People Want to Go Home.” “There was a time…when nothing held you down…you wanted it all…from the sky to the ground…now all along…you thought you were free…but that’s not the way…it turned out to be…cause when you’re tired…people want to go home…when you’re weary from your head to your toe…people just want to go home.” Some great horn work from Tony Kadlek fills in the spaces and this is an amazing tune to go out on.

Keep in mind that this is William’s first record in over 30 years and it’s fitting that he’s back on the label where it all started --- Stax Records! At 78 years old he’s still going strong and many of us will be lucky to be that vibrant when we reach his age. William Bell is truly one of the last great soul singers of our lifetime and it’s a blessing to have seen him live and appreciate the stories behind the tracks of This Is Where I Live. The folks at the Grammy’s got it right. This disc deserved a Grammy and I would expect more great things to happen for William at the Blues Music Awards in May. William’s website is --- please search this amazing artist out, read his story and listen to his songs. It doesn’t get any better than this and I don’t know if we’ll ever hear another voice like William Bell’s.

--- Kyle Deibler

Taj MahalLabor of Love is the name of Taj Mahal’s new record, released in vinyl format only by Acoustic Sounds, and it’s a gem. Born out of Taj’s relationship with the Music Maker Relief Foundation and its president, Tim Duffy, Labor of Love is culled from field recordings that Tim made with Taj and some Music Maker Artists while they were on a 42-date tour in 1998. This is truly Country Blues in its barest, stripped-down element, and the record is a delight to listen to.

Recorded after a concert one night in Houston, the material features some of Taj’s favorite songs, and he starts out with “Stagger Lee.” My mind’s eye sees Taj on the back porch, singing and telling tales with his friends, and I appreciate the audio my ears are hearing. “Billy said… to Stagger Lee…man you can’t go with that…you know you done won all my money…and my brand new Stetson hat…talking about the bad man…coming through….Stagger Lee.” Billy should never have gambled with Stagger Lee in the first place, and ultimately it cost him his life. Music Maker artist Neal Pittman joins Taj with his harmonica, and does the vocal honors on the next cut, “Shortnin’ Bread.” Neal’s harp provides the intro and Taj is picking his banjo while Neal sings the lead. “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread…Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.”

Next up is another favorite of Taj’s, “My Creole Belle.” I love the simplicity of Taj with his acoustic guitar as he tells us, “My Creole Belle…I love her well….my darling baby…my Creole Belle.” This Creole beauty definitely has Taj’s eye and I’m sure he will pursue her relentlessly until he convinces her to be his girl. Alga Mae Hinton joins Taj for our next track, “I Ain’t the One You Love,” and it’s her 12-string guitar playing the lead while Taj picks the bass line for the song. “I’m going away baby…won’t be back no more…I ain’t the one you love.” I find it interesting that Alga sings the tune from a male’s perspective and that’s ok, definitely just a bit different.

Taj is back with one of his most familiar songs, “Fishin’ Blues,” and he always finds a way to change things up. “I’m going fishing…yes, I’m going fishing…and the baby’s going fishing too.” John Dee Holeman joins Taj for the vocal honors on our next track, “Mistreated Blues”, and it’s Taj on the piano, supporting John as he sings, “Don’t deceive me darling…I’m my mama’s baby child…I said, please don’t mistreat me darling…I’m my mama’s baby child…if you mistreat me darling…oh, you will drive me wild.” Taj’s work on the piano is impressive and the perfect foil for John Dee’s voice.

“Zanzibar” is a tune by Taj that is usually performed in a band setting. To hear Taj play it strictly as a guitar driven instrumental is to hear the song in all its beauty, and I can picture Taj intricately picking the delicate notes of this tune. Cootie Stark joins Taj with the vocal for our next track, “So Sweet” and really does it justice. “When you see me coming…don’t be so sad…you know, I will always love you, honey…til the day I die…you were always…so sweet to me.” Taj is playing some harp on this tune and I appreciate the solo he provides in support of the love that Cootie has lost. Taj is back with his guitar, picking the intro to “Spike Drivers Blues”. Much of the vocal is spoken word from Taj, as opposed to being sung, and the juxtaposition of the two is very interesting to me.

John Dee returns with a spoken word vocal on “Hambone,” while Taj is busy providing some hand-clapped body percussion behind him. “Hambone…hambone…where you’ve been…all around the world and going back again.” “I woke up this morning…feeling around for my shoes…Baby, now you know I have….have the old walking blues.” Taj woke up feeling the need to get out and get some fresh air and it’s great to hear him telling us all about it on “Walkin’ Blues.”

Music Maker artist Etta Baker joins the mix with some slide guitar on our next track, “John Henry,” while Taj plays rhythm guitar behind her. It’s another well-done instrumental and I can only imagine the joy Tim Duffy must have felt while making these field recordings for posterity.

The final track on Labor of Love, “Song for Brenda.” comes as a complete surprise for me, and it’s definitely an interesting change of pace. Cool John Ferguson is the featured instrumentalist and he’s picking sinfully delightful jazz style notes on his National guitar for this tune. It simply needs to be heard to be fully explained. It’s beautifully done and a real high note to finish up on.

Labor of Love is truly just that. The exquisite care that Tim Duffy took in recording these tunes down in Houston is evident, and the mixing and mastering is beyond reproach. This disc by Taj has been released by Acoustic Sounds on 200 gm vinyl only, and it’s the perfect way to honor the history and integrity of the original recordings. Kudos to everyone involved for a delightful trip back in time to when all a Bluesman or woman had was just their instrument and their ability to sing.

--- Kyle Deibler

Vanessa CollierVanessa Collier’s musical background is impressive. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, it was her time on the road with Joe Louis Walker that whetted Vanessa’s appetite for performing and the personal expression it freed her to reveal. Her newest project, Meeting My Shadow, is her first for Ruf Records and was recorded in Memphis. A very talented array of players from TK Jackson on drums, Daniel McKee on bass, Laura Chavez on guitar and Charles Hodges on keys all lent their talents to the project and it’s a funky disc.

A funky bass line from Daniel and a bit of clavinet from Vanessa give our first track, “Poisoned the Well,” a very dark feel to open and Vanessa sings about a situation that’s just gone completely sideways. “Whiskey lips gone sour…from all the lies you tell…your split tongue…talking from both sides…I knew all your speckled bluffs…and your sickled tells…but I still can’t believe you went and poisoned the well.” The man in Vanessa’s life is trying to manipulate her and she’d rather let the well run dry than to ever trust him again. Vanessa’s an independent woman and her self-reliance is evident on our next track, “Dig a Little Deeper.” “You got to dig…a little deeper…to bring me down and get to me.” She’s an amazing sax player and I’m impressed by the way her playing conveys her mood within the context of the song.

Memphian Josh Roberts lends his slide guitar for the next track, “When It Don’t Come Easy,” and Vanessa’s in her element here. This isn’t an easy world to live in and Vanessa knows that lesson as well as anyone, “when it don’t come easy…the river keeps running downstream.” A heavy backbeat from TK and the bottom heavy bass line from Daniel echo Vanessa’s desperation here, but you know she will survive. “Two Parts Sugar, One Part Lime” is our next track, and it’s highlighted by a bright saxophone line from Vanessa and the piano of Charles Hodges leading the way. Vanessa’s having a day, but it should all work out. “Well, I rolled into the juke joint…headed straight for the bar…I said, hey bartender…I need something strong…somebody careless has gone and sideswiped my car…you won’t believe the day I’ve had…he said I’ve got something so good…it’ll make the stars realign…but watch out…it’s two parts sugar and one part lime.” Vanessa’s a very reliant girl and she’s finding that she’s “two parts sugar and one part lime as well.”

Laura’s guitar is leading the way on “When Love Comes to Town,” and TK’s on the organ here with a very tasty fill as well. It’s the one cover on Vanessa’s disc and she kills it. “When love comes to town…I’m gonna jump that train…when love comes to town…I’m going to catch that thing…maybe I was wrong to ever let you down…but I did what I did before love came to town.” Laura’s fretwork plays the slow intro to the first ballad on the disc, “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” and it’s a beauty. “Love will be here today…it’ll be gone tomorrow…oh, baby…don’t make me cry.” Love has its ups and downs but it’s the emotion that makes us all human and grateful to be alive. Laura’s solo is spot on here and very tasty. I’m glad to hear her fretwork on Vanessa’s disc.

“Whiskey and Women” is a dangerous combination and Vanessa sings about it here. “Everybody’s talking about whiskey…complaining about the women…I don’t like either one…I’m going to live a life without complaining…I’m bound and determined…this I know…I’ve got enough sense, sugar…I should have left you long ago.” Vanessa’s relationship has gone south and she’s determined to move on with her life, a life without him. She moves on to “Meet Me Where I’m At,” and I appreciate the Southern feel of this tune. “Well, it don’t matter where the message comes from…all that matters is that you’re receptive to the lesson…that life is going to keep on…keep me guessing…and you live…like you ain’t got a care in the world…I just gotta say something…reach out and be free…ain’t got a care in the world…won’t you meet me where I’m at.” I’ve enjoyed this tune from Vanessa and appreciate her eye for a great lyric in the songs that she writes. Her next track, “Cry Out,” examines the indifference in the world and our need for change. “Cry out…against injustice…and cry out against corruption…cry out for the better…together, we will never let up.” Her call for unity is contagious and if we all work together, we can make a difference in our lives, in our communities, in our world.

Vanessa segues to her next original, “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air,” and I appreciate its gospel feel. “Up above my head…I hear music everywhere…I really do believe…I really do believe…there’s a heaven somewhere.” It’s almost like being back in church and that’s not a bad thing. Charle’s organ provides the intro for Vanessa’s final track, “Devil’s on the Downslide,” and we find her very reflective about a conversation she had with a stranger in the bar, down on his luck. “Well, we got to talking…all about his fall from Grace…he said, maybe there’s no saving me…all sinners start out trying to be saints…maybe it’s a waste of time…cause the Devil’s on the downslide.” Vanessa leaves this conversation with a sense of strength and purpose to better the human condition “and that’s why…I don’t go…where the light is.”

Meeting My Shadow is an impressive disc from Vanessa Collier, an artist with many musical gifts to share with the world. An excellent songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and fearless performer, I have no doubt that Vanessa is well on her way to forging a bright future for herself in the Blues. Information about Vanessa can be found on her website,, and her new disc is available there as well. I look forward to the day I can catch a live performance from Vanessa and appreciate first hand this artist on the rise.

--- Kyle Deibler

Deep Pocket ThievesDeep Pocket Thieves are one of those Colorado Bands that just seemed to organically assemble itself out of the blue. Fueled by an innate sense of lyrical and musical balance, the DPT is one of our local bands whose future is very bright. Winners of the Mile High Blues Society’s IBC Challenge, the band managed to put together a five-song self-titled EP in time for Memphis, and it’s just a taste of what’s to come.

Jimmy Ayer’s keyboards provide the backdrop for Larea Edwards vocals as the band anticipates performing in Memphis on “Memphis Saturday.” “Just outside of Memphis…got a little ways left still…I can’t wait to see Beale Street…and my name on the bill…pulling into Memphis…seen B.B.’s with my own eyes…JD said you got Rum Boogie…and you know I feel alive…when I play…Memphis on a Saturday.” The back end is held down by Scotty Rivera on the drums with Jodie Woodward killing it on the bass and you can feel their anticipation at hitting the Bluff City. A snare intro from Scotty and the band moves on to “Quarters,” a song written by Jimmy Ayers. “Bring back the quarters….bring back the dollars as well…when the land man came a calling…Daddy wasn’t doing well…we had a promise…that the land would be treating us good…and the bank man was smiling…when he told Daddy it would…bring back the quarters.” Some beautiful violin plays in the background as Larea laments the circumstances that cost her family the land that they cherished so much.

“Loco” is a tune written by the late John Alex-Mason and it’s the one non-original tune on the disc. We hear some sweet violin in the background to go with intricate picking from both Jim DeSchamp and Jimmy Ayers, with Jodie’s bass clearly holding the bottom end. “Locomotive…in my eye…shining bright through…darkest sky…let it ride…let it ride….oh, baby, you got to let it ride.” “King of the Hill” is our next track and it’s an original written by Jim, Jimmy and Larea. Some subtle fretwork from Jim sets the tone as Larea sings about a man determined to become the “king of the hill”. “I gotta climb higher…I gotta go further…I got to go…feel it down in my soul…to the top of the hill.” Jimmy adds in some sweet notes from his B3 and the tonal complexity of this tune is one of the many things I appreciate about it.

The band closes with a ballad, “Last Goodbye,” written by Jim and Larea. “Every time I tried to love you…you told me not to try…every time I cried over you…you said…I shouldn’t have cried…what can I do…when my heart won’t let go…I’m moving on…what can I say…you see, I don’t know…I just want you next to me…I’m going to pack my things and go…cleanse you from my soul…it’s time to be strong…don’t beg me to stay…just pretend it’s another day…you see…that’s just the way it goes…this is goodbye…my last goodbye.” It’s a really beautiful song and probably my favorite tune of the EP.

Another band with a very bright future, we’ve yet to hear the best of what the Deep Pocket Thieves will become, but they’re off to a fantastic start. Their self-titled EP is only an appetizer for what is going to be an outstanding seven-course meal. You can read more about the DPT on their website at, and I look forward to hearing more from them soon.

--- Kyle Deibler

Deb RyderI like the energy of Deb Ryder’s new disc, Grit, Grease & Tears. Ably produced by Tony Braunagel, the disc finds Deb surrounded by an army of outstanding musicians, who give her their all in support of her original tunes. It’s a killer disc so let’s give it a spin.

Deb opens with “Ain’t Gonna Be Easy” and Mike Finnegan’s at the B3 for the intro to this tune. If you’re in the market for a good woman like Deb, she’s available but it won’t be easy. “I’m wild…you can’t tame me…be less than bold…believe in magic…love deeply…drink whiskey…get frisky…if that’s the woman you need…only one thing that’s guaranteed…it ain’t going to be easy, baby…but a whole lot of fun.” Deb’s a woman who loves her pleasures and if you can keep up with her, then more power to you.

Sugaray Rayford joins Deb for a duet on her next track, “Get a Little Steam Up,” and you know it’s going to be hot up in here. “We’re just a couple of walking natural disasters…who cares…that’s all in the past…we’ve got nothing…no place to go…who cares…come on baby, let’s roll….get a little steam up.” I can only imagine the two of them on stage together and I’m sure they’re milking this tune for all it’s worth. Life can be fleeting and Deb covers that topic next in “Blink of an Eye.” “My life’s more than half over and I just started living it…if I could do it all again…I might do it different…in a blink of an eye it’s done…leave you wondering where it’s gone…in a blink of an eye.”

The title track, “Grit, Grease & Tears,” is next and Bob Corritore’s adding his harp to the mix as Deb tells us how life can be. “Grit, grease and tears…smoke in my eyes…I don’t see the danger…behind your disguise…I lead a double life…living a lie…who am I…but a moth to your flame…you won’t try anymore…I can’t cry anymore.” Deb’s suffered enough loving this man and it’s time for her to move on. Tony adds some horns to the mix for an upbeat tune by Deb, “Sweet Mary Anne.” “Sweet Mary Anne…everybody loved you…and all the boys held their breath…when you walked in the room…sweet Mary Anne…no one could hold a candle to you.” Sweet Mary Anne is ultimately Deb’s reflection of herself and the journey to Topanga Canyon where she grew up.

“Lord Knows I Do” finds the shoe on the other foot, and Deb finds herself being the one who’s fallen head over heels in love this time. “Not really sure why you move me…but you do…Lord knows that you do.” It doesn’t really matter what moved her to fall in love in the first place, it’s more important that Deb opens herself up to the possibilities that it brings her. “Panic Mode” brings the band out in full force and Deb’s taking charge in order to bring things back to order. “Look out…mama’s in panic mode.” Times are tough…money’s short…Deb’s ready to dig in and dig her way out…mama’s in panic mode.” I have no doubt she’ll figure it out and come out the other side.

“Just Her Nature” finds Deb telling us the story of a number of her friends and their determination to succeed. “That’s just her nature, boy…the girl didn’t mean no harm…don’t try to change her…rearrange her…and your good thing would be gone.” Deb’s message is to just accept the women for their faults and love them as they are. Our next track, “New Mechanic”, is a tale of a different point of view. Deb’s on the hunt for a new man and her specifications are quite particular. Pieter Van Der Pluum is on the harp for this one as Deb tells us what she’s looking for, “Well, I’m looking for a new driver…someone who can handle dangerous curves…someone who can drive all night long…and leave a little in reserve…yea, I’m looking for a new driver…I’ll see you at the starting line.” Deb needs a man with impeccable credentials and she won’t stop searching for him until she finds him.

“Rivers Forgiveness” finds Deb taking us back to church, and I appreciate the stark nature of this tune. “Going down to the river…deep and wide…left my soul on the other side…down to the river…deep and wide…to wash my sins away.” Bob Corritore’s harp is back in the mix as Deb looks to wash the stain of the world from herself and find some sort of redemption in the process. “This ain’t no rocket science….it isn’t a mystery…make love, not war…if you want to get to me.” Deb tells us she’s a prisoner of war in the tune of the same name and the only way to make her submit is to put her in solitary and do what you will.

“Right Side of the Grass” is our final track and it finds Deb’s lover caught up in the business of living and loving. It will all work out right if he wakes up “on the right side of the grass.”

Grit, Grease & Tears is an excellent disc from Deb Ryder. Producer Tony Braunagel coaxes amazing vocal performances out of her and Deb’s songwriting for this disc is top notch. She just recently performed at an industry showcase in Memphis during the IBC and I’m sad that I missed the opportunity to see her live. Deb’s star is definitely on the rise and you can learn more about this Southern California artist on her website at And while you’re there, grab a copy of Grit, Great & Tears. You’ll be glad you did.

--- Kyle Deibler

Cee Cee JamesI almost felt like I was attending church this morning when I threw the new disc from Cee Cee James, Stripped Down & Surrendered, into my CD player. Cee Cee’s always been one to explore the deepest, darkest, reaches of her soul and she continues to lay it bare here for all of us to see in this mostly acoustic disc. Husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews handles most of the instrumental duties with just a touch of drums and keyboards to spice up the mix. It’s definitely an emotional journey that Cee Cee is about to take us on, so let’s get to it.

They open with the title track, “Stripped Down & Surrendered,” and here we find Cee Cee examining the journey that's brought her to this point in life. It hasn’t been an easy one and Cee Cee isn’t shy about revealing that to us here. “My eyes are clear…my ears can hear…my hands don’t let go…my soul is free…I can taste my truth…I done ate my sins…I don’t know nothing about tomorrow…or where I’m truly going…I just gotta keep on singing…cause I’ve been stripped down and surrendered.” Cee Cee seems to have come out the other side of all this self reflection in one piece with a healthy look toward her future.

Rob’s infamous slide work comes into play on our next track, “The Edge Is Where I Stopped,” and I feel like I’m on my back porch listening to the two of them. Cee Cee’s journey continues and the boundaries aren’t always clearly defined. “All those years…what did I want…from here to there…the edge is where I stopped.” Her introspection kept her from going over the edge and the lessons she’s learned are starting to serve her well. Cee Cee’s spirituality is her saving grace and she conveys that to us in “Hidden and Buried.” “Dig up the failure…the fear…the shame…unbury the guilt…jealousy and pain…dig up the deaf, dumb and blind confusion…Lord, bless my soul with restitution.” Only by digging through all of the issues that she’s facing in her life can Cee Cee truly get to what’s hidden and buried underneath her ground.”

“He Shut the Demon Down” finds Cee Cee giving thanks to the Lord for caring enough about her soul to lead her to salvation. “Gonna take my steps…gonna keep the faith…I’m gonna do whatever the hell it takes….he shut the demon down…and turned my life around.” Redemption continues with our next track, “Glory Bound,” and I’m really starting to wonder how Cee Cee reached this point of desperation. “Trials and tribulations…molding and making me…tell my Mama and my Papa…I’m glory bound.” Cee Cee turns her attention to love lost in “Love Done Left Home” and Kevin Sutton Andrews provides the intricate fretwork for this song. “Rivers don’t go where they can’t run…flowers don’t grow where there ain’t no sun…rocks and walls, so many stones…deep inside the heart it moans...cause love done left home.” Love can truly be an endurance contest and Cee Cee just doesn’t have the strength or energy to try to make it work this time.

“Cold Hard Gun” is probably the most depressing song I’ve ever heard. A man Cee Cee once knew as so full of promise and life, let the demons in his life, including heroin, wear him down to the point that his only solution was the cold, hard gun. Cee Cee’s soul aches for her friend’s life but there was nothing she could do to save him and the end is tragic. Cee Cee segues on to “Thank You for Never Loving Me” and here we find her giving her father the credit for giving her the blues. “Poppa…can ya hear me sing? Let me sing the blues…let me sing the blues for you…and let me thank you…let me thank you for never loving me.” It was a tough life, growing up as an unwanted child but Cee Cee survived and she lives to sing about it.

“Before 30 Suns” is an upbeat tune that finds Cee Cee extolling her virtues as a confident woman and I’m glad to finally be brought into the light. “Go ahead, look around the world and see…if you can find any other woman like me…take your time…take a good look around…you’ll be home before 30 suns go round.” Cee Cee’s got exactly what her man needs and she knows he won’t find it anywhere else. Our next track, “You’re My Man,” is a playful, upbeat song and Cee Cee’s tribute to her husband, Rob. “Oh gee wiz…mercy me…you got me buzzin’ like a bee…my oh my…apple pie…my warm, sweet tasting delight…you’re my man.” Cee Cee hit the lottery when she met Rob and she knows it.

“Miner Man's Gold” finds Cee Cee appreciating the folks that come into your as complete strangers and it feels like you’ve known them for a lifetime from the get go. “They sink right into your bloodstream…straight into your soul…miner mans gold.” Cee Cee and Rob close this disc out on a high note with “So Grateful” and here we find Cee Cee appreciative of everything she has in this life. “So grateful for the love and pain…teaching me and showing me the way…grateful for the lessons learned…I’m so grateful.”

Stripped Down & Surrendered has truly taken me on a journey through the deepest reaches of Cee Cee’s soul and it’s reflective of what I love about her most. Regardless of the topic, Cee Cee doesn’t shy away from exploring her deepest, darkest places and sharing what she finds there with the world. It’s her emotional honesty that makes her the artist she is and I applaud her for that. I like the stripped down acoustic feel of just her and Rob playing their music together and you can learn more about this duo from Washington on their website, If it’s emotional honesty you’re looking for in your music, it doesn’t get any better than this.

--- Kyle Deibler

Austin YoungThose of us who live here in Colorado have literally watched Austin Young grow up before our eyes. His new release on Vizztone Records, Not So Simple, finds a mature tone to Austin’s writing and growth as a performer. Dedicated to his father Tim, who we lost last year, it’s an important step forward for Austin.

Austin’s always been an incredible guitar player and it’s his fretwork that provides the intro for our first cut, “Take Me Home.” Backed by a killer rhythm section, with Forrest Raup on drums and Alex Goldberg on bass, here he’s exploring a feeling of not belonging in his current environment. “This old world don’t seem the same…I’m looking for an angel to save…and take me away.” We’re really not sure where Austin wants to go but it’s apparent he feels the need to be anywhere but where he is. His fretwork continues to shine as Forrest’s drums take us forward to “Barren Road Blues.” Austin’s ready for a change and he’s going to jump a freight train out of town in the morning light. “Don’t got no money…don’t got no friends…I’ve got to live this live alone…walls are falling down…and I’ve got no place to go…this old barren road’s…going to carry me back home. The reason for Austin’s sense of isolation isn’t always clear, but everything is weighing him down and a change will do him good.

Forrest provides a funky beat to “Something More” and there are horns in the background to augment Austin’s traditional three-piece sound. “They say that money makes the world go round…it don’t make the sun come up or go down…I don’t know much…but this I know…I want to work for something more…than money…we could work for something more…and then for love…that’s for sure.” Austin’s got his priorities in the right order and he will find what that “something more” is for him.The title track, “Not So Simple,” is next and it’s a stark ballad with Austin and his guitar to start. “You…keep on pointing fingers…but you’ve only got yourself to blame…don’t you know it’s not that simple…or have the game to play…deceiving hearts…always trying to make amends…don’t you know it’s not so simple.” Love is a battle field that is best played straight up and truthful…any deviation from the truth will cause pain to all those involved and Austin’s right, “Love is not so simple.”

“Set Me Free” finds Austin reflecting on the strength of the woman who keeps him focused. “Don’t you know babe…it’s all your love…all your love that sets me free.” Tom Capek adds some organ and piano to the mix and this is a great song from Austin. Austin’s continues to express his love for the woman in his life in “Heal My Heart” and the tune features some great horns to go with his fretwork. “Come on baby…I really have to know…should I stay…or should I let you go…you make all my dreams come true…tell me, baby…what should I do…yea, you’ve got to help me baby.” Hopefully she stays and helps Austin to heal his heart.

Every relationship one encounters has a definitive beginning and ending, a topic that Austin covers in “Letting Go.” “Letting go…letting go…it’s hard for me, don’t you know…things will change….things will never be the same.” This song reminds me of advice I got from Austin a long time ago in terms of life experiences and their impact on his songwriting. Here he’s able to end a relationship that doesn’t work for him anymore, a valuable lesson in this thing we call life. The lesson continues in “Moving On” as Austin comes to the realization that the relationship he’s in has run its course. “I told you once…told you twice…you wouldn’t look me in the eye at all…I’ve got nothing left to lose…it’s time for you to led me…you led me on…I’m done…I’m done holding on.” Good for you, Austin. Time to let this one go.

It wasn’t that many years ago that the Colorado Springs area was hit by a couple of really wicked wild fires, and Austin reflects on that as a metaphor for a love that is dying in “Mountain on Fire.” “My mountain’s on fire, baby…ashes and timber fall…just like rain…I try to walk away…but I just can’t…my heart burns…I tried to walk away…left in the darkness…oh, how we’ve lost our way…ever, I go….trouble has come to stay…my mountain’s on fire.” Austin’s next tune, “Free,” continues this road of self-discovery as he examines his faith and it’s effect on his life. “Was a prisoner…thought I knew the way…just a wanderer…now I’ve gone astray…I can’t hide it…this life I live…his grace reminds me…of what I have to give…I’m free.”

Austin, Alex and Forrest segue on to “Whirlwind” and it’s a high intensity instrumental that lets the three of them showcase their considerable talents for everyone to hear. The disc closes with just Austin and his guitar as he sings his tribute to his father, “Angel Flying Home.” “I drift away so slow…wish that you were still here…want to hear your voice…want to hug you tight…just close your eyes…know you’ve finished your fight…I just can’t let go…of this angel flying home…I don’t want to let go…of this angel flying home.”

Not So Simple finds Austin Young growing, maturing and ready to venture forth to see what’s next in the world for him and the band. Lessons learned from the past year will serve them well as they plot their course for the future, and I’m excited to see what it brings and where it leads them. You can follow them at and learn all there is to know about Austin, Forrest and Alex. This is an excellent disc from a rapidly evolving band, and kudos to Vizztone for their support of Austin and his band mates.

--- Kyle Deibler

John WeeksIt’s a revamped, recharged John Weeks Band that appears on their sophomore effort, Dark Angel. Paris-native/Colorado resident Weeks returns with his superlative guitar skills intact, but the trio has expanded a bit with a new keyboardist (Danny Haynes), rhythm section (bassist Stephen Whitfield and drummer Robert Florino), along with a new featured vocalist (Stacy Turpenoff). Though the lineup is different, the band’s basic approach to the blues remains unchanged --- traditional blues with a touch of soul and R&B.

The band represented the Colorado Blues Society at the 2017 I.B.C. in January, and the songs on Dark Angel made up their set, including a pair of tunes on their self-titled debut presented in different new interpretations (a spirited “How Can You Love Me,” with vocals from Turpenoff, and a Dixie-fried duet of the previously acoustic “Devil In My House”). Weeks (on guitar) and Turpenoff (on vocals) also click on the acoustic ballad “Impossible.”

“What Does It Take” has an entertaining, funky vibe, and “Closer To Home” is in the same vein, with a nice keyboard turn from Haynes, who wrote the tune and the late night torch song, “The Blues Just Got More Blue,” which also boasts a sweet vocal from Turpenoff. There are also a couple of other interesting entries in the opener, “The Hole,” a redemption tale which describes a lover dealing with an abusive lover, and “Side Number,” an amusing tale about the quandary of a guy’s #1 lady meeting his #2 lady.

Turpenoff’s vocals are a fine addition to the group, and the final two tracks, the smoldering “The One” and the compelling title track, verify this. In addition to her vocal talents, the singer also teamed up with Weeks on writing several tunes, while Haynes wrote four of his own. While the John Weeks Band’s debut release was a first-rate effort, the addition of Turpenoff and Haynes on Dark Angel make a great group even better.

--- Graham Clarke

In the period since the release of its last disc, The John Weeks Band has undergone a complete re-tooling in terms of its band members, with the result being a new disc, Dark Angel. The addition of lead vocalist Stacey Turpenoff, keyboardist and vocalist Dan Haynes and the rhythm section of Robert Fiorino on drums and Stephen Whitfield on upright bass give band leader John Weeks a formidable arsenal of options to work with and the new record is killer.

Dan Haynes’s provides a stellar B3 intro to our first tune, “The Hole,” and here Stacey is singing about a failed relationship that didn’t end cleanly. “I’ve got a body in the backseat…I’m going to move it on down the road…I got a hole with your name on it….way down south in Mexico.” Stacey’s a woman who won’t be mistreated and she’s got a wicked right with her frying pan. Definitely a good reminder to look behind you and beware Stacey’s right hook. John lends an angry guitar solo to the mix to emphasize Stacey’s animosity towards her ex and everything falls into place. Our tempo slows way down on our next track, with a beautiful piano intro from Dan, and Stacey sings her heart out, regretting a romance that didn’t quite work out in “The Blues Just Got More Blue.” Unspoken words and promises of adventures unfulfilled are causing so much pain and regret by Stacey, “You took the best I had…we had so much to do…but without you…the Blues just got more blue.”

Robert Fiorino sets the pocket for our next track, “Closer to Home,” with Dan Haynes taking the microphone. “Nothing that I’ve left unseen…nothing left unsaid…some things I’ve forgiven…some I had to forget…the days are getting shorter…soon the sun’s going to set…the night’s are getting longer…but it’s not dark yet…but it’s all good now…cause I’m closer…closer to home.” I hear Stephen’s upright bass in the background keeping things in order and Dan’s vocal is spot on for this tune. The mood turns very somber with a stark piano intro by Dan and a simple beat from Robert, as Stacey questions her man’s intentions in “How Can You Say You Love Me?” “How can you love me…when you don’t like anything I do or that I say…the only time we get along now….is when you always get your way.” Definitely a one-sided relationship and Stacey’s friends are all questioning her motives for loving a man who treats her so badly. John’s fretwork echoes Stacey’s desperation and it’s clear that this situation has to change.

A light cymbal intro with Stephen’s bass filling up the back end as the band segues on to “Devil In My House,” and here John takes the microphone for the first time. “Devil in my house…he’s coming out to play…I didn’t ask him here…he doesn’t plan to stay.” Every now and then in the far reaches of all of our minds, the devil sits and tempts us with thoughts and feelings we all know we should ignore, but the temptations are great. A very intricate acoustic guitar intro from John provides the mood for our next tune, a beautiful ballad, “Impossible.” “I don’t see things your way…you don’t see things my way…everything seem so impossible…all I do is sit and wonder now…where did we go wrong…I thought we’d come along…you told me…you would never leave me…you were always gone…I had to move along…when you’re alone at night…no, it just ain’t right…everything is so impossible.” A beautiful, simple tune that let Stacey do what she does best --- sing her heart out.

The band moves on to “What Does It Take,” a funky tune with Dan on the vocals. “Today I had a beer for breakfast…I combed my hair…and then got dressed…what does it take…won’t you trade your cake for a crumb…what does it take…won’t you trade your Cadillac for cab fare…tomorrow’s forecast is clear….seems the odds are always 50 – 50…taken that you’ll never miss me.” Dan’s not really sure what it’s going to take to keep the affections of the woman he loves, but his trusty beer will see him through when nothing else will. “Side Number,” an original tune by John is next and he sings the virtues of having a love on the side. “Walking downtown…just messing round…my number one gal…ain’t got time to party down…I’m so poor now…looking for something new to do…then she came walking up…she’s built like you know what…Man, I didn’t know what to do…It didn’t matter anyway…we started to play…my number’s up to 2.” Soon number 1 knows about number 2 and John’s life is turned completely upside down. That will teach him to play.

An up tempo keyboard intro from Dan and the band moves on to our next track, a somber tune, “The One”. Here we find Stacey finding that the relationship she’s in is changing the woman she is. “But I’m the one who loves you…the one can’t help herself…she hasn’t loved before…and she will never…never…love anyone else. Frantic guitar work from John echoes Stacey’s emotional rollercoaster. Somehow you just know this is going to end badly for Stacey.

The band closes out the record with the title track, “Dark Angel,” and some delicate fretwork from John, along with Dan’s piano, sets the mood here as Stacey sings, “My dark angel…stop telling me you think it’s ok…you lied so many times…I can’t believe a word you say…you’re everything I want…you’re everything I will ever need…you make me feel so good…no more pain or misery.” Stacey’s temptation is great but the pain this man can cause is greater, “I just can’t let you through the door.” And with that, a great disc comes to a close.

For a band on a regional level, the John Weeks Band has amazing chemistry and it’s reflected in their live performances. Recent winners of the Colorado Blues Challenge and coming off a semi-final finish at the International Blues Challenge, the JWB is a band on the rise and I look forward to enjoying their performances throughout the coming year. Dark Angel is an excellent disc and you can learn more about the band and the disc, on the band’s website, You’ll be very happy that you did so. Well done, everyone.

--- Kyle Deibler

Peter KarpPeter Karp grew up across the water from Manhattan in a working class town in New Jersey. It was there that his mother made it a point to expose him to all of the popular music of the day: rock & roll, blue-eyed soul, funk and Motown. In Peter’s world that was all that existed until that fateful day when his father was stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Deep in the south, in the town of Enterprise, there existed a whole 'nother world of music that Peter had never heard. It was there that that his exposure to R & B, country, blues and Bob Dylan changed the way he would look at the world. Folks down there told stories, tall tales and everything in between to entertain their friends and family. Peter’s new record, Alabama Town, is an ode to that time. It’s a collection of Peter’s favorite storytelling tunes and it’s a beauty. Let’s give it a spin and let Peter regale us with the tales from his misspent youth.

He opens with the title track, “Alabama Town,” and we’re transported back to the Sun Shade Trailer Park where Peter’s world turned. “Mary serves the best grits around….her perfume smells stronger than the grilled chuck round…and Grandpa’s out back with a bottle of Jack…Corky’s putting pennies on the railroad track…and me, I’m just hanging out in this Alabama town.” It’s just a day in the life and I get the feeling that Peter appreciated the simplicity of rural living back in the day. It’s Peter’s piano that propels the band forward as they tackle our next cut, “Till You Get Home.” “And when your ego is swollen…and your wallet is fat…still you’re going down…shoulder to the mat…when you think you’re protected by mortar and brick…when you find yourself in the think of it…keep keeping on and moving on, till you get home.” Peter’s Roadshow Band excels behind him and they’re just an amazing group of musicians, too many to mention and the results are definitely heard on this disc.

The tempo slows down slightly and Peter proceeds to tell us, “That’s How I Like It.” “And I got some whiskey…and a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup…and I’m going to drink it…right through that DWI stop…that’s how I like it...” A man of distinct tastes, Peter’s going to take the world exactly how he likes it. Dennis Gruenling chimes in with some of his amazing harp fills, and I really like this tune from Peter. A sweet guitar intro takes us on to “Blues in Mind,” and here Peter takes the time to show us how easy it is to get off track when you have the blues in mind. “No matter what they say…it ain’t never going to go away…you got the blues in mind.” The only way forward is to cure the blues that ail you and get back to the task at hand.

Some slow, intricate fretwork provides a more solemn intro to our next track, “I’m Not Giving Up.” Peter’s in love here and he’s willing to fight for what he wants. “I’m not giving up on you baby…I’m not going out…I’m not walking out on you honey…oh, no baby…I’m not giving up…I’m not giving up on you.” His loyalty to the woman he loves is admirable and kudos to Peter for fighting the good fight to the end. We stay in this same vein as Peter segues into “Her and My Blues.” “Well, I am an old bluesman who writes for you…tonight…through the swamps of New Jersey…in an endless plight…so ready to confront…what stands before you…and soon you will find…that battles are over…they’re all in your mind.” Whatever her demons are that need to be confronted, she’s already done the work, she just needs to realize it. An interesting tune from Peter and he’s right in that each of us have unique challenges in our lives that we just need to deal with.

“The Prophet” finds Peter attempting to share his wisdom through prophecy. “Said I’m a prophet…Yea, I can see those blues coming down the line…yea, I can see them coming….before they get inside of your mind.” Peter works a familiar refrain here, man meets woman…man hurts woman…he moves on once he’s taken everything he can get. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know how that story ends. I like the country feel of our next track, “Kiss the Bride,” and it’s a beautiful duet. “Kiss the bride and cut the cake…and there’s more crying eyes than a wake…because its luck she says…its fate…who gives a damn…she found a mate.” Not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the bride and groom, but it will have to do.

Crowd noises are in the background for Peter’s intro to “Nobody Really Knows.” “You think you know me…but in reality…nobody really knows me.” Peter seems to be a man who treasures his idiosyncrasies and he’s prone to revealing exactly what he wants the woman he loves to know. Nothing more and nothing less. I’m not sure why Peter feels the need to be partially isolated here, but it’s the way he’s chosen to relate to anyone within his circle of friends and family. “Lost Highway” finds Peter continuing to analyze the way of the world from his point of view and he’s not bashful about sharing it. “Christ on a crutch, man…what did he say…only a fool would talk that way…he said screw the pooch…make the little bastard pay…you know it’s dog eat dog out there…cause we’re out riding alone on the Lost Highway.” There’s a multitude of ways you can choose to deal with the challenges that life throws at you, but at the end of the day…we’re all just riding on the lost highway.

“Y’all Be Lookin’ “continues Peter’s philosophical bent with a commentary on love. “Well, y’all might be look for a fight...might got your mountain top screwed too tight…baby…y’all be looking for love.” It doesn’t matter where you find it, the key is to just open up your heart and be open to it. Dennis’s harp accompanies Peter’s acoustic guitar intro to “I Walk Alone” and here we find Peter questioning the way he handled a love in his life. “Now, I’m thinking about a young man…and a young girl in their prime…in an interlude…at midnight…underneath the moon lit vine…and I wonder why it ends…I walk alone.” There’s no rhyme or reason to love…to falling in love…to being in love and you have to grab it while you can…before you walk alone.

Our last track on Alabama Town is “Beautiful Girl” and again it’s just Peter on guitar with Dennis on harmonica. “She was a beautiful girl…and to do right by her…I had to let her go.” There’s no doubt that love is hard and to do the honorable thing, by saying goodbye to her, is probably the hardest thing Peter’s ever had to do.

Alabama Town is a disc full of great stories from one of the premier lyricists in blues today. The more I listen to Peter’s work, the more I appreciate his insights into the American psyche and the lessons to be learned. His skill at crafting the pictures in our mind, with his lyrics, is a true testament to his appreciation of the human condition. Peter’s website is, and catch a show from this songsmith when you can. He’ll make you think, he’ll make you laugh and make you glad to be alive. You can’t ask for more than that.

--- Kyle Deibler

Peter Karp has forged a solid career in the blues and Americana fields, first gaining attention for his songwriting collaborations with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, who also toured with Karp during his early career. He’s also collaborated with guitarist Sue Foley for a couple of albums for Blind Pig as the Karp Foley Band. A master guitarist, particularly on slide, and an engaging songwriter, Karp should draw plenty of attention from blues fans these days, thanks to his latest release, Alabama Town (Rose Cottage Rectods).

Karp wrote all 13 tracks, which were inspired by the music he grew up listening in Enterprise, Alabama, where his family moved in the mid ’60s. Born in New Jersey, once he arrived in the south, he discovered the music --- Southern R&B, blues, country, and sou --- that influenced his earlier music heroes. He’s joined by an all-star cast of musicians, including Taylor, Garth Hudson (The Band), Todd Wolfe (Sheryl Crow), Paul Carbonara (Blondie), and harmonica ace Dennis Gruenling.

Karp paints a vivid picture of life in a southern small town with the gently swinging and soulful title track….trust me, I grew up in one of these places around the same time that he did. The busy boogie rocker “Till You Get Home” has a frenzied sense of urgency both musically and lyrically, and the acoustic standout, “That’s How I Like It,” settles in to a nice groove with some tasty harp from Gruenling. “Blues in Mind” is a clever and well-crafted mid-tempo blast that will have listeners nodding in agreement, and “I’m Not Giving Up” is a sterling blues ballad with a touch of gospel thrown in for good measure.

“Her And My Blues” has a swamp blues vibe with Karp getting a lot of room to stretch out on slide guitar, and “The Prophet” is a bare bones jazzy blues with Karp on resonator and his son, James, on guitar. Singer Leanne Westover duets with Karp on the countrified “Kiss The Bride” (complemented by John Zarra’s mandolin), and the lovely ballad “Nobody Knows” puts Karp’s songwriting skills front and center.

“Lost Highway” is loaded with Second Line funk and sass, and “Y’all Be Lookin’” features a nasty walking bass line and some crisp guitar work. The Gulf Coast-styled break-up ballad, “I Walk Alone,” features Garth Hudson on accordion with Karp’s acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals, and the closer is another acoustic number, the reflective “Beautiful Girl,” that features Karp and Gruenling.

Alabama Town should appeal to blues fans. Karp is an excellent guitarist and singer, but his secret weapon is his songwriting, which is loaded with lovely and vivid imagery, emotion, and good humor. Put this one on your “Must Hear” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Popa ChubbyPopa Chubby’s always been a bit of a renegade, and that appeals to me. His latest disc, Catfish, finds him positioned as the catfish, trolling the sounds emanating from his guitar in search of like spirits to reel in for the catch. It’s a fun record --- let’s throw a hook in the water.

He opens with “Going Downtown to See My Old Gal Sue.” Sue’s always been the one to treat Popa right and he’s back for more. Rich Monica is on the drums for this track and he’s keeping it righteous. “Going downtown…going downtown…to see my old gal Sue.” Popa’s playing some blistering guitar and I’m remembering why I am such a fan of his in the first place. The frenetic pace of our first track slows down a bit for the next cut, “Good Thing,” and here Popa is in search of exactly what he likes. “Illusion is just confusion…don’t you know I’ve got to have it my way.” Popa’s pretty specific here and it’s his way or the highway. Dave Keyes is providing some intricate keyboard playing on the track and everything is spot on.

I have no idea why Popa decided to do an instrumental version of the Everly Brother’s “Bye Bye Love” as the next track on his disc but it works for me and we’ll move on from there. Popa’s fretwork provides the intro to his next tune, “Cry Till It’s a Dull Ache,” and here he’s exploring the pain that a long relationship has caused him. “I must have cried a thousand times…a river wept in vain…it did not ease my sorrow…it would not stop the rain…cry till it’s a dull ache.” Hopefully Popa gets this out of his system and can move on from the bitter memories of her in his life.

“Wes is More” is our next cut, and Dave Moore has the brushes out as he plays softly behind the intricate, almost jazz like picking that Popa is sharing with us on this tune. It’s a really smooth instrumental and my ears love it and Popa’s fretwork. Up next is “Motorhead Saved My Life” wtih Popa singing about the influences this metal band has had on his life. “Motorhead saved my life…too damn ugly for the best life…too damn dirty for the real life…Motorhead saved my life.” This seems to be Popa’s song of salvation, and I’m glad he’s still here amongst us.

Our tempo slows way down as Popa uses his weapon of choice to share some very deep emotions with us on the next instrumental, “Blues For Charlie.” We’re never really sure who Charlie is, but this is an emotive tune and I like it very much. Popa’s back grinding it out on our next cut, “Dirty Diesel,” and the band is following behind him in full force. “Well, you look so good…out of control myself…I said…hey, hey baby…tell me what you want to do…I want to make love to you and your sister too.” Hey, nobody ever said Popa was shy and he’s definitely on the prowl here.

A tight snare intro augmented by the trumpet of Tipitina Horowitz provides the backdrop for “Slow Down Sugar,” Popa’s admonishment to his woman to just relax. “I want to hear you laugh…I want to see you gaze…write it all down 'til it fills the page…want to lay you down…on a bed of rose…so you can’t say no more while I take off your clothes.” The interspersion of spoken rhyme with the chorus being sung is an interesting juxtaposition and I’m enjoying Popa’s creativity here.

Popa’s at the B3 playing the intro for “Put a Grown Man to Shame,” and his musical versatility is very impressive. “I asked her for some money…and she asked me what for…I said to play the numbers…and then I asked her for more…she said, Daddy, you’ve got one helluva game…she was big and bad…soft and sweet…from the tippity top…to the bottoms of her feet…she was a lady…put a grown man to shame.” Sounds like Popa’s more than met his match here and she’ll be able to keep a man like him in line.

The title track, “Catfish,” is our next cut and the band is hitting on all cylinders for this one. “I run the bottom of the river, baby…I’m the biggest fish…you know…I’m the catfish…and what I say goes.” Popa’s definitely in charge here and he’s not about to have it any other way. Popa and the band close with a rousing rendition of the Robert Johnson classic, “C’mon in My Kitchen,” and Dave Keyes lends a taste of background vocals to the mix as the band kills it here on Robert’s song.

I like Catfish for a number of reasons and am impressed with Popa’s humility to his fans in the liner notes. His advice concerning this record is direct and to the point, “Listen loud, long and often. I remain your humble servant, hopefully older, wiser, louder, stronger”. He’s done an outstanding job of producing a record that reflects the artist he is and delivers another classic disc. Popa’s website is, where you can get a copy of Catfish directly from the biggest fish in the river himself. Y’all be ordering some Catfish soon, you hear

--- Kyle Deibler

Primarily known as an electrifying live performer, Popa Chubby has nevertheless built an impressive recording catalog in his 20-plus years of playing his unique brand of blues. I counted 17 recordings (not counting DVDs) when I visited his site recently. His influences are a unique and varied lot, ranging from Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy to Hendrix, Led Zep, Motörhead, and the Stooges. All of these influences are present, and more, with his latest release, The Catfish (Popa Chubby Productions).

Popa Chubby’s new disc features a dozen tracks, ten originals penned by the man himself, plus a pair of covers. He gets down and funky on the opening pair of tunes --- the old school opener, “Going Downtown See My Old Gal Sue” and “Good Thing,” which adds some Allmanesque guitar to the funky mix. The pain of ending a long relationship is explored on the mournful rocker “Cry Till It’s A Dull Ache,” and rips into a head-banging tribute to Lemmy Kilmister (“Motörhead Saved My Life”). “Dirty Diesel” is a crunching blues rocker, and “Slow Down Sugar” is an interesting conglomeration that merges Miles Davis (muted horn throughout), an ominous rap, and a slow burning hip hop rhythm.

“Put A Grown Man To Shame” sounds a bit like a long-lost southern rocker, and the rocking boogie title track marries John Lee Hooker and Z.Z. Top with satisfying results before Chubby closes the disc with a spirited acoustic take on Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” There are also three splendid instrumentals included; a decidedly retro reading of the Everly Brothers’ smash hit “Bye Bye Love,” “Wes Is More” (a cool tribute to jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery), and “Blues For Charlie,” a powerful requiem for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan massacres that took place in France.

The Catfish, like Popa Chubby’s previous output, puts his remarkable versatility on display and should appeal to not only blues fans, but also those who like rock, funk, and jazz in the mix as well. There are lots of good times to be had while listening to this release.

--- Graham Clarke

Dawn Tyler WatsonWhile this year’s International Blues Challenges has a lot of amazing moments for me, it was Dawn Tyler Watson’s performance in the semi-finals that made me realize she was the one to beat in the finals at the Orpheum. With roots ranging from blues, gospel and rock to jazz, this chanteuse’s command of the stage was a sight to see. And to know that she was three months removed from triple bypass surgery is just the icing on the cake. I’m anxious to see where Dawn goes from here but her new disc, Jawbreaker, is a good place to start while I wait for the summer festival season to unfold. Let’s throw it in and give it a spin.

Some slide guitar from guest Paul Deslauriers provides the intro for our first track, “Can’t Nobody,” and Dawn’s gospel roots are evident here. “When you’re feeling lonely…think you can’t go on….turn to one and only…he will lead you on…Can’t nobody but God fill it up…nobody but God.” Dawn’s vocal is a force of nature on this first song and Paul’s slide guitar work is spot on. John Sadowy is on the B3 for the beginning of our next tune, “Shine On,” and more of Dawn’s gospel influences are apparent here. “But don’t perpetuate the negative…focus on the positive…look to the light…spread it into the night…shine on….shine on…to the spirit we belong…light will conquer…and we will shine on.” I love the positive, upbeat attitude that Dawn imparts with this tune and it’s easy to see why she’s considered the “Queen of the Blues” in Montreal, where she currently resides.

The horns come into play as lead guitarist, Ben Racine, joins Dawn for a duet on the ballad, “Just a Little Bit More.” Their relationship has ended but Dawn finds herself thinking about what was and what possibly could be again. “But baby, I’ve been thinking about it…and there’s no way I can doubt it…I need a little bit more…just a little bit kissing…there’s a little something missing…there’s a hole you left…in my heart..and in my life…I’m putting my cards on the table…I need to know if you’re able…cause baby, way down deep in my core…fan those flames of my desire…and give me…just a little bit more.” A really beautiful song and I’m appreciating the beautiful tenor sax work of Little Frankie Thiffault.

“Son of Gun” is the next track on the docket and the band shifts into overdrive as Dawn sings about a man who is obviously not good for her. “But when he lands himself in jail…I’m always there to pay his bail…blame it on our love…I can’t seem to get enough…of that lying, cheating…wheeling dealing…two-timing son of a gun.” Ben’s frenetic fretwork echoes Dawn’s crazy, roller coaster life with this man and you just know it isn’t going to end well. Morgan Moore’s upright bass provides the slow, burning intro for the ballad that Dawn tackles next, “Tootsie Roll Blues.” “You’re my hard candy, baby…keep your flavor…all night long…I say your sugar is so sweet, now, daddy…you can never do me no wrong.” Guy Belanger lends his harmonica expertise to the song as we listen to Dawn extol the virtues of her Toosie Roll man. Throw in some amazing keyboard work from John and the picture is complete.

We move on to “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and Dawn’s original tune finds her reflecting on her life and the changes it’s taken. “You think you know your dreams…but they’re not what they seemed one day...they’re like strangers…and I’m falling…I’m falling…I don’t live here anymore.” I imagine Dawn’s recent escapades have caused her to reflect quite heavily on her life, but making music is truly her calling, and we’re lucky she’s still here to share hers with us. More saxophone and piano fill my ears as we move on to a light-hearted discussion of Dawn’s feelings about the man who’s just left her in “Rotten.” “I feel rotten in the daytime…honey, but it’s much, much worse at night…I think I’ll go find ole Johnny Walker…maybe he can shed some light.” Spoiled by all of his love, attention and money…now that he’s gone…there’s only one thing left for Dawn to do, “I think I’ll find myself a new man…better yet…I’ll find me two.”

Dawn changes topics from love to culinary delights as she sings about her love for medium rare burgers in “Smoked Meat.” “A vegetarian…I am not…I like some meat up in my chili pot…and even my momma’s sweet potato fries…only tend to make me realize….that I want smoked meat.” From love to meat to money, Dawn then segues on to our next track, “Greenbacks.” The swing tempo for this track follows Dawn’s discussion of the pursuit of a woman named Flo, by a man, Joe, who obviously has the means to chase her and is looking for a good time. “If you’re in town…looking for a thrill…if Lincoln can’t get it….Jackson surely will.” In the end Flo ran off with Joe’s money, and he kissed Lincoln and Jackson goodbye.

More B3 along with some killer bass from Francois Dube provides the background for Dawn’s next tune, “I See.” I like the upbeat, funky vibe of this tune as Dawn talks about a man who’s just too good to be true. “You were all too good to be true…you took my breath away…and then you went away too…you’re not my savior…nor you my king…not my knight…in shining armor…hell, no…you weren’t much of anything…you were just a player…and I was your pawn…and I see.” Fortunately for Dawn she realized the game she was in early on and was able to extricate herself from a man who was nothing but trouble. John’s amazing keyboard work provides the backdrop for Dawn’s take on a Bob Dylan classic, “Forever Young,” next. “May you stay…forever young…may you grow up to be righteous…may you grow up to be true…may you always be true…and see the light surrounding you…may you stay…forever young.” I love this tune from Dawn and the message it imparts for everyone who will listen.

The tempo picks back with some scintillating B3 as Dawn tackles her next cut, “It Ain’t Elvis.” “Don’t you realize…I can’t live without you…so please, don’t tell me, darling…that you and I are through…it ain’t over til the fat lady sings…it ain’t over til I cut those strings…It ain’t Elvis on the telephone.” If the relationship is to end, Dawn wants it to end on her terms, not his, and she’s definitely not through with his good loving. A simple percussion intro leads us to our final track of Dawn’s disc, “Shine – Rise.” “I been beat…and I been torn…I have been whipped…and I’ve been worn…but deep inside me…My spirit’s strong…and I will always…shine on.”

Kudos to Dawn Tyler Watson for making a killer record. I’ve enjoyed the many flavors of her music that Jawbreaker provides and I would hope that her win at the IBC will expose her to Blues enthusiasts around the world. It’s been said that victory in Memphis is the equivalent of a $100,000 PR budget and I hope she’s able to wring every dollar out of it on the festival circuit this summer.

You can learn more about this amazing artist from north of the border on her website,, and grab a copy of Jawbreaker while you’re there. It’s a delightful disc of music that will show you its many flavors the minute you hit “play” on your CD player.

--- Kyle Deibler

Stevie JStevie J. Blues is Jackson, Mississippi-based singer / songwriter / guitarist / producer Stephen Johnson. The son of a pastor, Stevie J. has been playing music all of his life, beginning in the gospel and soul arenas. He moved to the blues, touring as part of Bobby Rush’s band and appearing on a couple of his recordings, including 2004’s Folk Funk. He represented the Central Mississippi Blues Society at the IBC’s several years ago and he’s shared the stage with an impressive list of artists, including Denise LaSalle, Sir Charles Jones, Dorothy Moore, Shirley Brown, the late Mel Waiters, and many others.

Stevie J. has also released several albums of his own, including 2010’s The Diversity Project, a fantastic double disc set that featured one set of Southern soul and one set of traditional blues. His latest release is the sensational Back 2 Blues (Mississippi Delta Records/PK Music), and it follows that same path with 11 tracks that mix soul and blues in a decidedly modern setting. He’s as good as any current artist in blending blues, soul, and gospel into a potent mix, and he is also a first-rate guitarist and vocalist, easily handling songs in any of the genres mentioned.

The opener, “Lil Mo Love,” is a funky call for unity in a divided world, interspersing dialogue taken from recent and current events. The funk continues on “I Ain’t Gettin’ That,” a tasty mix of traditional and modern influences that swings relentlessly and the soulful “Cradle Robber” finds our hero with his hands full trying to keep up with a younger mate. The irresistible “Come See Me” has a bit of Hill Country percussion with harp from guest Scott Albert Johnson, and “That Party Song” should be a fun track for music lovers who like their blues on the soul side.

“Lights Out” is a smooth soul ballad, and Stevie J. handles these as well as anybody on the current scene, both as a performer and producer. “Good Good” is old school R&B at its best…..Stevie J.’s vocal and the arrangement reminds me a lot of the ’80s. “Another Jody Song” revives a familiar subject on the classic soul-blues topic with a fresh approach, and a nice guitar run.

The excellent “Son of a Sanctified Preacher” is a cool autobiographical track about Stevie J. learning to play blues guitar from his preacher father. Throughout the song, you get a taste of the guitarist’s various influences on the instrument. “Stranger In The City” is a powerful gospel track, guaranteed to raise goose bumps with a verse from Dwayne Watkins and some straight-up testifying from Dr. M.J. Johnson. The disc closes with a wonderful instrumental track, “Blues By The Bay,” that probably brought a smile to B.B. King’s face up in Blues Heaven.

Back 2 Blues is a sterling mix of blues and soul, the traditional and the modern varieties, and deserves a spot in any blues fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Mike ZitoCall Make Blues Not War (Ruf Records) a return to the basics for Mike Zito. For several years, the singer/songwriter/guitarist has focused for the most part on the first two items in that description ---.”singer” and “songwriter” --- through several excellent albums and a brief stint with the supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood. With this thundering new release, Zito shifts focus to the “guitar” descriptor…..and how..

Though he still has a hand in the songwriting, Zito hands over the lion’s share of the songwriting (and producing) to Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge, who collaborates with Zito and/or his longtime writing partner Richard Fleming on ten of the 12 tracks.

As might be expected, there’s plenty of ferocious rocking blues on this set and Zito plays and sings like a man who’s had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and he makes the most of handing the controls over to others. He really cuts loose on tracks like “Crazy Legs,” “Red Bird,” “Highway Mama” (with guest guitarist Walter Trout contributing mightily), and “Route 90,” the Berry-esque closer mined from Clarence Garlow’s catalog.

Zito slows things down nicely, too, unleashing some scorching delta-style slide guitar on the traditional title track, “Wasted Time,” a loping Texas shuffle, the mid-tempo rocker “One More Train,” the slide-driven ballad “Girl Back Home,” the funky “On The Road,” and the reflective “Road Dog,” both of which cover life on the road, good and bad. Zito also turns in an appropriately sizzling take on Luther Allison’s “Bad News Is Coming.”

The coolest track on the disc would have to be “Chip Off The Block,” which tells the story of Zito’s son, Zach --- how he grew up listening to Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and features the youngster playing guitar with his dad and holding his own quite nicely, thank you.

Additional musicians include Hambridge (drums, harmony vocals), Tommy MacDonald (bass), Rob McNelley (guitar), with guest musicians Trout, Kevin McKendree (keyboards), and Jason Ricci (harmonica).

Mike Zito has turned out some amazing recordings in recent years, but Make Blues Not War may be the most fun he’s had on an album in a while. That feeling will rub off on listeners when they plug in this riveting release.

--- Graham Clarke

Sharon LewisIt’s been far too long since we’ve heard from Sharon Lewis and Texas Fire --- over five years since her exciting 2011 debut release, The Real Deal, where the Chicago blues and soul singer proved that she was exactly that, becoming a favorite for both listeners and the critics for her impressive vocals and strong original songwriting. Her long-awaited follow-up, Grown Ass Woman (Delmark) is a good enough piece of work that fans should be willing to forgive the long layover between discs.

Lewis and her longtime collaborator, guitarist Steve Bramer, are joined by an all-star cast of Windy City musicians, including guitarist Joanna Connor on two tracks, harp master Sugar Blue on a couple of tracks, up-and-coming star Steve Bell (son of Carey) on harmonica for one track, along with stalwarts Roosevelt Purifoy (keys), Andre Howard and Ari Seder (bass), Tony Dale (drums), and the Chicago Horns (Kenny Anderson – trumpet/arrangements, Hank Ford – tenor sax, Jerry DiMunzio – baritone sax). The 14 tracks include six written by Lewis and six from Bramer, along with two covers.

Standout cuts include the feisty opening cut, “Can’t Do It Like We Do,” a tribute to the strength and resiliency of the current Chicago Blues scene, the horn-driven party track “Hell Yeah.,” “Chicago Woman,” a strong track that features some scorching slide guitar from Connor, the soul burner, “They’re Lying,” and the blues rocker “Don’t Try To Judge Me.” “Old Man’s Baby” is a sharp original by Lewis that has an old-school blues feel and some fine harmonica work from Bell. The title track is appropriately the centerpiece of the album, placed right in the middle. Lewis sings her song with plenty of confidence and swagger.

Bramer contributes “Don’t Try To Judge Me,” the politically-charged “Freedom,” a couple of tight soul-based blues in “Walk With Me” and “Call Home,” a nice slow urban blues (“Home Free Blues”), and the sassy “High Road,” punctuates each track with crisp guitar work. The album’s two covers are B.B. King’s “Why I Sing The Blues” and a particularly inspired reading of the Allman Brothers’ anthem, “Soul Shine.”

Nothing fancy here, just a powerful and energetic set of two-fisted Chicago blues and soul from a lady who, hopefully, won’t take another five years to get some more of this great music out there for public consumption.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff ChazThe Bourbon Street Bluesman, Jeff Chaz, returns with his second disc of 2016, This Silence Is Killing Me (JCP Records). Much like its predecessor, Sounds Like The Blues To Me, this stellar set is packed from top to bottom with Chaz’s clever and compelling songwriting and his masterful guitar work, which combines traditional blues with a contemporary flair that’s uniquely his own, both as a songwriter and a guitarist. His strong and soulful vocals are more than a match for his other talents, so he’s a triple threat as a performer.

You have to admire Chaz’s creativity on these tunes. The swinging horn-fueled opener, “Saving Everything For You,” sounds like a classic tune with the clever lyrics and Chaz’s pungent lead. The title track is a smooth slow burner that would have been smooth fit in B.B. King’s repertoire back in the day. The feisty “I Ain’t Nothin’ Nice” features Crescent City-styled horn backing with an appropriately gritty vocal and solo from Chaz. “I’m Not All There” has a slippery Latin rhythm and addresses Chaz’s obsession with a certain young lady. As the title of the next tune indicates, the midtempo tribute “The Blues Is My Drug” covers another obsession of Chaz’s.

“Oncoming Train” describes the everyday issues that most of us deal with regularly. One of Chaz’s charms as a songwriter is that he writes from personal experience and his songs hit so close to home with so many listeners. In a perfect world, “Fried Chicken Store” would be a standard that every blues band would cover --- a shining example that one can find love just about anywhere. “Self-Inflicted Wound” is a peppy tune about setting a lover straight, and Chaz unleashes some fierce slide guitar on the amusing cautionary tale “The Backwash Blues.”

There’s also a cool Yuletide tune, “Merry Christmas To You,” complete with sleigh bells, catchy lyrics, a glorious horn chart, and a smooth vocal from Chaz, and a rousing instrumental, “Creole Mustard Swing,” closes out the disc in fine fashion.

To these ears, This Silence Is Killing Me is the better of Jeff Chaz’s two 2016 releases, but only by a razor thin margin. Heck, you really need both of these in your collection if you want to hear some one of the best bluesmen currently practicing at his absolute peak. Just get ‘em both!!!

--- Graham Clarke

Kentucky HeadhuntersThe first time I ever heard The Kentucky Headhunters back in the late ’80s, I was blown away and not just musically. Back in those days, all of my music had to be compartmentalized into nice and neat genres, and I had no earthly idea where to put these guys. They were hard rock, southern rock, country, blues, rockabilly, bluegrass, soul, and probably a few other genres thrown in, and it just blew my mind.

27 years after their Grammy-winning debut release and several personnel changes in the interim, the Kentucky Headhunters are still a force of nature and have just released their 12th album, On Safari (Plowboy Records/Practice House Records). The week that the band was supposed to begin recording, brothers Richard and Fred Young lost their 93-year old father (the album is dedicated to him). Most of the band members are related – lead guitarist Greg Martin is a cousin, so the elder Young’s passing hit the group hard and they poured their emotion into the recording of this album.

The country rocker “Beaver Creek Mansion,” seems to reflect this, as the lyrics reflect on the band members’ memories of growing up in rural Kentucky. The lyrics are poignant and the music behind it backs a punch with Greg Martin laying down some tasty slide guitar. “Deep South Blues Again” is a fierce Skynyrd-esque blues rocker and “I Am The Hunter” has a rock anthem feel with soaring guitar runs. Alice Cooper’s “Caught in A Dream” is transformed into a southern rocker with equal doses rock, blues, and a touch of country mixed in.

“Crazy Jim” is a story song about a local character that some residents of small southern towns can probably recall walking their streets when they were kids (who knows, maybe even now). “Big Time” is a blues rocker with a ’60s feel, and it’s follow-up, “Lowdown Memphis Town Blues” has a slick urban groove with Kevin McKendree’s soulful B3 and some tasteful fretwork from Martin. The laidback “Rainbow Shine,” has an almost island-like rhythm and vibe and will likely put a smile on even the biggest curmudgeon’s face.

The band also does a thunderous cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Way Down Yonder.” “Jukebox Full of Blues” is a honky tonker’s dream with a dancing beat, Martin’s scorching slide guitar, and McKendree’s rollicking piano. The country-flavored “God Loves a Rolling Stone” would have been a hit back in the ’70s, and would be one today if there was any justice in the world. The closer, “Governor’s Cup” is a short instrumental that recalls those great Chet Atkins instrumentals back in the day.

Over a quarter of a century in, The Kentucky Headhunters continue to make some mighty fine music that should appeal to a lot of music fans, be they in the blues, rock, or country veins. On Safari is as good an example of how powerful and compelling this band continues to be.

--- Graham Clarke

Rory BlockGuitarist Rory Block continues her outstanding Mentor Series of recordings with a salute to the Mississippi blues man Bukka White, one of the most influential of country blues artists whose powerful late ’30s / early ’40s recordings for Vocalion Records are the stuff of legend. Keepin’ Outta Trouble (Stony Plain Records) differs a bit from Block’s previous tribute releases (Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, and Mississippi Fred McDowell) in that she includes more of her original songs (five of ten) into the set.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Block’s originals were inspired by White’s intense playing and his highly personal songwriting and she matches his intensity pretty well. The first two tracks, the title track and “Bukka’s Day,” are both originals and focus on the legendary blues man’s life and his struggles, showcasing Ms. Block’s wonderful slide guitar playing. On original tracks like “Spooky Day” and “Back To Memphis,” Block mixes percussion (using guitar, plastic storage tubs, and/or oatmeal boxes played with wooden spoons or plastic forks) with slide guitar, and “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” borrows the guitar parts from White’s classic “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing” to great effect.

Block also does exemplary readings of White’s “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Fixin’ To Die Blues,” the talkin’ blues “Panama Limited,” and “Parchman Farm Blues,” which is the best and most intense of the covers (in a close race), with an excellent vocal performance from Block. “New Frisco Train” is also first rate.

Each volume in Block’s Mentor Series seems to exceed its predecessor in quality and musicianship, and Keepin’ Outta Trouble certainly follows suit. All of these albums are worth having, especially for newcomers to the blues who want to explore deeper into the music. The blues world should be grateful for talented artists like Rory Block, who met White and all of the others as a youngster, for her Herculean efforts in getting these artists the recognition they deserve.

--- Graham Clarke

Monkey JunkTime to Roll (Stony Plain Records) is the fifth release from Canadian blues rockers MonkeyJunk, and features some of the band’s best songwriting to date. The line-up remains the same with Tony D handling the rhythm and lead guitar duties, Matt Sobb on drums, and Steve Marriner on vocals and playing most of the other instruments --- guitars, harmonica, Hammond organ. In addition, the new album is the first to include electric bass on most tracks and one acoustic track.

As on previous efforts, MonkeyJunk’s musical menu combines blues with funk, soul, rock, and Gulf Coast-styled R&B. “Best Kept Secret” is a moody blues with roots in the delta, while the title track flirts with southern rock, as does the catchy “See The Sign.” “Blue Lights Go Down” is a swampy soul burner, and the captivating “Pray For Rain” is a standout, one of three tracks co-written with Paul Reddick.

The Albert King classic “The Hunter” is the album’s lone cover, and MonkeyJunk’s version is one that even the gruff blues legend would surely approve of, thanks to a stellar guitar run from Tony D. “Can’t Call You Baby” is a classic soul ballad and one of two tracks that feature Kelly Prescott’s backing vocals, and the acoustic workout “Undertaker Blues” is the band’s first “unplugged” effort and hopefully will encourage the trio to do it again in the future. “Gone” is a fast-paced boogie rocker, and the last cut, “Fuzzy Poodle,” is a funky instrumental that will remind listeners of the classic Meters tracks from the late ’60s.

MonkeyJunk has a Blues Music Award and several of Canada’s Maple Blues Awards under their belt since their inception in 2008, and have backed it up with some fine recordings in that time span. Time to Roll is another consistently excellent release from one of the toughest blues rock bands currently practicing.

--- Graham Clarke

Jack MackFor over 30 years, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns have been the go-to band on the L.A. Rock and Soul music scene, appearing on seven of their own albums, along with numerous movie soundtracks, guest appearances on other artists’ albums (too many to list here), and hundreds of TV and stage performances worldwide. Their latest effort is the superb Back to the Shack (SSR Freeroll Records), which features ten marvelous tracks, nine originals penned by the band.

This particular release packs a powerful blues punch within the usual soul attack. “Standin’ Before The King” mixes an acoustic intro with a horn-fueled blast of R&B with singer Mark Campbell (with a powerful assist from backing vocalist Melanie Taylor) recounting his first encounter with B.B. King’s brand of blues. Campbell (who performed the “Johnny B. Goode” lipsynched by Michael J. Fox on the ’80s classic Back To The Future) is an electrifying and versatile vocalist who pretty much owns whatever song he takes on.
“Somethin’ in the Water” is a funky soul blues ballad punctuated by guest Mike Finnegan’s keyboards, and “Don’t Let Her Go” has a classic retro Beach sound and could pass for a long lost classic. The horns really get “crunk up,” as one of my co-workers used to say on the sizzling “Never Too Late,” which also features swirling B3 and fiery guitar from Andrew Kastner. Campbell shines on the moody soul ballad, “Somebody To Trust,” a soaring original that would have been a great fit at Stax Records many moons ago, and “Serves Me Right” has a funky Louisiana swamp vibe that’s irresistible.

“Bad Habit” puts the horns front and center again and you can picture singer Campbell trying out some James Brown moves while working this one out. “Change My Ways” is a sweet ballad in the Memphis vein with a splendid vocal turn from Campbell and fantastic support from the horns. The Aretha Franklin oldie “Ain’t No Way” (penned by her sister Carolyn) is the album’s lone cover and it’s a good one, with Campbell giving it all he’s got. The rousing closer “Let Me In” winds things up in fine fashion with a punchy horn chart, gospel-like vocals, and a spirited break on guitar and keys from Kastner and Finnegan respectively.

Back to the Shack is a high energy, blues-fueled delight that should be required listening for fans of blues and soul. Jack Mack sounds like they’ve another 30 years left in the tank, and then some.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy McAllisterRandy McAllister has been cranking out pile-driving, blue collar rocking blues since the ’90s, recording 12 discs for JSP, Severn, and now Reaction Records since 1997. His latest for Reaction, Fistful of Gumption, features McAllister on vocals, harmonica, drums, and washboard on mulitple tracks, along with his band, the Scrappiest Band in the Motherland. A gifted instrumentalist and vocalist, he also shines as a first-rate composer, and this latest release offers some of his best work to date, with nine originals and one cover, a supremely soulful reading of Earl King’s “Time For The Sun To Rise.”

There’s always loads of energy on McAllister’s originals. The opening track, “C’mon Brothers and Sisters,” is a cool rocker that will get folks on their feet in a hurry, as will the churning Cajun-flavored “Ride to Get Right,” which pays tribute to King and Otis Redding, and the southern rocker “My Stride.” “Roll With The Flow” is a stylish midtempo number that flirts a bit with rock and pop, and the jubilant “Background Singer” pays tribute to those often-underappreciated contributors to the music, dropping a few by name on this tune (speaking of which, the background singers on this release, Andrea Wallace and Bernita Arterberry-Burns, do a fantastic job throughout).

The slow, but feisty “The Oppressor” features a fierce vocal from McAllister and some inspired guitar from Rob Dewan and fiddle from Maya Van Nuys. “Leave a Few Wrong Notes” is a strong statement against the sterile perfectionism that permeates the music world these days. The shuffle “Band With the Beautiful Bus” is a track about a traveling blues man that could very well be McAllister himself. If that track was an autobiographical one, then the closer, the spirited “East Texas Scrapper” would surely be his theme song.

Listeners know that they’re going to get maximum effort from Randy McAllister on any album he releases. With superlative songs and performances, Fistful of Gumption stands as one of his best to date. Why he’s not a bigger deal in the blues world is a mystery on a level with Stonehenge.

--- Graham Clarke

Joey GilmoreFlorida-based blues man Joey Gilmore has been active since the ’60s, becoming something of a legend on the Sunshine State’s blues scene, having shared the stage with artists such as James Brown, Etta James, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, and Little Johnny Taylor. Despite his many years in the business, Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records) is only his eighth release, but Gilmore makes up for lost time with this effort, which consists of 11 songs originally performed by many of his musical influences.

Backed by a tight band (Robert “Hi-Hat” Carter – bass, Raul Hernandez or Maurice Dukes – drums, Sonny Boy Williams – keyboards, Ivan Chopik – guitar, with Rockin’ Jake – harp, Drew Preston – guitar, Edilene Hart and Domino Johnson – vocals), Gilmore turns in noteworthy performances on songs written by or associated with Johnny Adams (“Man of My Word”), William Bell (“Can’t Kill Nothin’), Sunnyland Slim (“Brownskin Woman”), Beau Jacque (“A Little Love”), Albert King (“Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home”), and Little Milton (“Room 244”). Regarding the latter tune, Gilmore’s husky vocals and stinging fretwork will occasionally remind you of the late Mr. Campbell.

Not that he requires much assistance, but Gilmore does let Hart and Johnson take the mic for several of these tunes. Johnson take the mic for Lou Pride’s “Livin’ a Lie,” Bobby “Blue” Bland’s hit “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” and “Soul Survivor,” a recent hit first done by Johnny Rawls. Hart ably handles Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools,” and duets with Gilmore on the closer, a stirring take on Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time.”

Arlene Coutee adds additional backing vocals and where heard, strings and horns are handled by Yoel Hyman. Respect The Blues is a robust and reverential set of traditional blues & R&B tunes brought to you by one of the blues’ best-kept secrets, Joey Gilmore. Hopefully, that status will change for him soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Biscuit MillerBiscuit Miller has worked as bassist since the early ’80s for Sonny Rogers, Mojo Buford, Lonnie Brooks, and Anthony Gomes, and has led his own group, The Hot Mix (Bobby B. Wilson – guitars, Alex “South Side” Smith – guitar, banjo, and Doctor Love – drums), since 2000. He is also the winner of the 2012 Blues Music Award for Bassist of the Year. His third album is Wishbone (Bluebass Music) and features a dozen songs written by Miller, who’s joined by the Hot Mix and an assortment of guest stars that include guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks, keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, trombonist James Montgomery, and the late Uncle Jesse Hudson.

Wishbone has a smooth, soulful urban feel on songs like the title track, which features a tight horn section, especially on saxophone, with a funky backdrop, the slowburner “Mr DJ,” which features Baker on guitar and Purifoy on keys, the swinging blues “Lay It On Down,” “Use To Love Me,” a heartbreak tune in the tradition of Robert Cray, and “Monday Morning Blues,” a tune we all can relate to.

Miller does the downhome blues well, too, with tracks like “Down At The Mississippi,” “She Likes To Boogie,” and the acoustic “Let’s Go Fishing.” “Shake It Like Jello” and “Bottle of Whiskey, Bottle of Wine” (which also features Brooks on guitar) show that Miller is equally comfortable on the rocking side of the blues, while the closer, “Going Home,” a duet with Miller and Hudson is a nice understated gospel track.

Wishbone is a well-crafted set of original tunes. Miller has a warm, expressive vocal style, and his band and the numerous guest artists do an excellent job in support. Blues and soul fans shouldn’t let this one slip by. It’s a real treat.

--- Graham Clarke

Starlite CampbellBlues fans who came on board via the British blues artists of the late ’60s / early ’70s will find much to savor with Blueberry Pie (Supertone Records), the debut album from the Starlite Campbell Band that’s as tasty as its title. The band is Suzy Starlite, vocalist/bassist and former member of folk band Megiddo, and her husband, Simon Campbell, vocalist/guitarist, former member of the band Little Brother and nominated as Best Vocalist at the 2011 British Blues Awards for his solo album.

The duo is joined by Danny Boy Sanchez (harmonica), Steve Gibson (drums/percussion), and Jonny Henderson (Hammond/Wurlitzer) on these 11 originals, all penned by Starlite and Campbell. The rhythm team of Starlite, Gibson, and Henderson will at times remind listeners of those classic Stax sides of the ’60s with their funky backing, especially on tracks like the opener, “Walkin’ Out That Door,” the jazzy “I Need A Light,” and the soulful “Guilty.” “Cry Over You” is a delightful slow blues with some fine fretwork from Campbell, and “Say What You Want” is a fine Chicago-styled blues shuffle.

The rocker “You’re So Good To Me” is another standout, with Campbell really tearing it up on guitar, and the title track is a moody ballad that laments the changing times. “Empire” combines rock and R&B effectively, and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” touches on blues and pop. The instrumental “Shimmy” features Campbell’s guitar, but you really appreciate the rock-solid backing from Henderson, Starlite, and Gibson. The after hours “Thrill You” closes the disc with some impressive string-bending from Campbell.

The Starlite Campbell Band’s approach to the blues is not a new one, combining the traditional and urban blues with undertones of jazz, R&B, soul, and even folk at times, but their approach has a refreshing quality to it that makes it seem new. Campbell is a outstanding guitarist and his seasoned vocals work really well. Starlite is a monster bass player and she and Henderson are the secret weapons on this disc, which is as solid and confident a debut release as I’ve heard in several years.

--- Graham Clarke

The JimmysLocated in the historic Transylvania region of Romania, the city of Sighişoara has hosted it’s own blues festival since 2005. The 2015 edition of the festival boasted the Bruce Katz Band, Joe Louis Walker, The Jimmys, and Candye Kane on the roster. The Jimmys’ keyboardist/singer Jimmy Voegeli was struck by the incredible stamina and strength of Ms. Kane, who was in a serious battle with the cancer that took her life just over a year later, but managed to muster up enough energy to carry the day at that year’s festival.

The Jimmys recently released a recording documenting their performance at the festival, Live From Transylvania (Brown Cow Productions) and dedicated the album to Kane’s memory. The band is a smoking seven-piece unit with Voegeli, Perry Weber (guitar/vocals), Mauro Magellan (drums), John Wartenweiler (bass), Darren Sterud (trombone/vocals), Charley Wagner (trumpet), and Pete Ross (saxophone).

The 12-song set includes four songs from their most recent CD, Hot Dish, beginning with the funky instrumental “Jacqui Juice” kicking off the gig, followed by the swinging “I Wonder.” The mid-tempo blues “You Say You Will” and the raucous “Lose That Woman” also appear from Hot Dish later in the set. Two tracks from their 2011 effort, Gimme The Jimmys --- the reflective R&B ballad “Heaven or Hell” and the rollicking “Love Will Find A Way” --- are also featured.

The band also covers “Can’t Hurt Me Anymore,” a rocker from Milwaukee blues vet Jim Liban, a friend of the band, Mack Rice’s “Cold Women (With Warm Hearts),” “Lonesome Whistle Blues” (a nice slow burner associated with Freddie King), and The Band’s freewheeling “Ophelia” closes out the disc and the set.

The Jimmys were recognized as a Top Ten Festival Act in 2015, and the energy and enthusiasm they display on every song of Live From Transylvania proves that they were a wise inclusion to the list. This is an entertaining set and a good place to start checking The Jimmys out.

--- Graham Clarke

Derrick ProcellDerrick Procell was content writing songs with his partner, Grammy-winner Terry Abrahamson for others, but after getting positive feedback from the artists recording his songs as well as other blues artists, he was encouraged to record his own blues album. Why I Choose To Sing The Blues (Hear and Now Music) features a dozen songs written by Procell or co-written with Abrahamson, who brought along a few of his friends --- blues legends Eddie Shaw, Bob Margolin, and Billy Branch lend a hand.

The disc is loaded with standout tracks, including the laidback tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, “The Wolf Will Howl Again,” which features Purcell’s harmonica and his rugged vocals in tandem with Shaw’s. “Trouble Me No More” finds him in a southern rock mode with some dazzling work on the keyboards and a vocal that will remind listeners of Gregg Allman’s solo work. “The Eyes of Mississippi” has a smooth Delta groove and teams Procell with guitarist Margolin, who lays down some serious slide guitar on this track. Procell plays everything on the title track, which should sum up a lot of people’s view of the music pretty well.

“They All Find Out” is a cool swinging blues, and the soulful “Broke The Mold” is a keeper, too. “Who Will Tell Lucille” is a poignant tribute to B.B. King, featuring appropriately stinging lead guitar from Alex Smitha and an inspired vocal from Procell. Branch adds harmonica to the funky “Back In The Game,” and Procell does a standout vocal turn on the superb “Don’t Waste A Wish On Me.” For the closer, “Too Much,” Procell goes blues rock with fiery guitar work from Chris Hanson.

Procell plays keyboards, harmonica, bass, and does the drum programming on most of these tunes, in addition to turning out some great memorable tunes with Abrahamson. This is a solid a set of original tunes as you’re likely to find and should encourage you to not only check out this disc, but track down some of their work for other blues artists. Hopefully, this fine set will also encourage Derrick Procell to return to the studio in the near future himself.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon GindickWhen We Die, We All Come Back As Music (Old Chimney Records) may be harmonicist/guitarist Jon Gindick’s first release, but he’s no novice. Regarded as one of the genre’s harmonica masters, Gindick has conducted harmonica clinics both in Clarksdale, Mississippi and Ventura, California for a number of years, and millions have used his blues harmonica books to learn the craft. With assistance from producer/multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carter, Gindick has released this masterful set of original tunes that combine blues with folk, jazz, and funk.

The gently swinging title track opens the disc on a positive note, and “Wishing Well” has a jazzy vibe thanks to Carter’s cool bass and keyboards. “Bird On A Wire” is not the Leonard Cohen song, but a Gindick original that gently mixes blues, pop, and a little country to boot, and “Ghost Dance” has enough Bo Diddley in the beat that you won’t be able to sit still (nice slide guitar on this track from Chuck Kavooris).

“School” is a Gulf Coast-styled rocker that recalls those long ago days that many of us spent staring out the window of our classroom wanting to get out. The funky shuffle “Maxine” has a relentless groove, “I Love You More” is a stylish, easygoing soulful blues, and “Mystery” has a retro-rock feel, thanks to Gindick’s guitar work. The smooth “Jealous Kind of Guy” marries pop and jazz effectively, and the serene “Easy Come, Easy Go” closes the disc.

Lending Gindick (harmonica and guitar) and Carter (bass, keys, drums, percussion, backing vocals) support on selected tracks are Kavooris (slide guitar), Louie Broussard (drums), Brad Rabuchin (electric guitar), Ken Stange (keyboards), Bill Bixler (sax, clarinet), Bobby Loya (trumpet), and Al Walker (tenor sax).

When We Die, We All Come Back As Music is a well-rounded set of songs that should be a must-have for blues harmonica fans, who will be amazed and impressed at Gindick’s virtuosity.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim KoeppelA veteran of the New York music scene since the late ’80s, Jim Koeppel has led several blues and roots combos, opening or performing with a prestigious list of artists such as Taj Mahal, David Bromberg, Doc Watson, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Rip Lee Prior, Les Paul, Watermelon Slim, Lil’ Ed & the Blue Imperials, Gene Barge, Billy Branch, and Cash McCall. He performs solo or with his acoustic combo, the Delta Coasters, or his electric band, Dust My Blues. He’s also released three CDs of his own, including his recent EP, RSVP to Paradise (Jongleur Music), which was co-produced by McCall.

The opener, “Johnny’s In The Doghouse,” is a smooth shuffle backed by a sharp horn section and Branch on harmonica. McCall’s classic “Hurry Sundown” is next, and Koeppel does a great job on this one, both behind the mic and on guitar. The title track is a funky look at embracing the simple, or at least the simpler life, and “Every Night Without Warning” is a smoky ballad nicely done with a jazz backdrop. The closer, “Let Me Tell You,” picks things up with a driving beat and some slick interplay between Koeppel on guitar and Branch on harp.

Koeppel is a skilled guitarist and has a warm Boz Scaggs-like quality to his vocals. He gets fine backing from an impressive list of musicians that include Branch, Barge (tenor sax), John Christy (B3), James Gadson (drums), Tennyson Stephens (piano), Welton Gite (bass), Ron Haynes (trumpet), and Rajiv Halim (tenor sax). The only problem with RSVP to Paradise is that there ain’t enough of it …. only 21 minutes. Hopefully, Koeppel will remedy that soon enough with a full album.

--- Graham Clarke

Gaetano LetiziaGaetano Letizia & the Underworld Blues Band return for Resurrection (Tom Letizia Records), a noteworthy follow-up to their impressive 2014 release, Voodoo Doll & Other Blues Lessons. As on their previous releases, Letizia and band (Larry Keller – bass, Steve Renko – drums, Bill Ransom – percussion) mix their brand of blues with jazz and funk, but also manage to incorporate a few other genres into the mix, namely pop, reggae, Latin, and rock.

This time around, a three-piece horn section (Tim Keehn – trombone, Mike Fisher – trumpet, Bob Esterle – sax) adds to the fun. Letizia is a master guitarist with a 40+year music career. His influences range from Hendrix to George Benson to B.B. King, and you get a sense of all these influences within the 14 original tunes. He graciously yields the spotlight to his band at various times throughout the disc, however, and they make the most of their time.

Since the album is a bit of a concept album --- Letizia refers to it as a “creative resurrection of that wonderful time when music was a love of the adventure of life, written for all, before the commercial engines stole the music industry from us” --- the songs are divided into three distinct suites by three tracks, “Resurrection,” “Purgatory,” and “Ascension.” The title track, an instrumental blues shuffle, opens the disc, the hearty “Purgatory” recounts Letizia’s dream of a conversation with St. Peter, and the closing track “Ascension” mixes gospel with the blues and optimistically states that “the blues is here to stay.”

The remaining tracks include “Old Guitar Player,” an autobiographical track which finds the veteran musician sharing his views and frustrations with the world, the New Orleans-based, horn-fueled “Hot & Cold Women,” the funky R&B number “Standing By The Door,” “Mr. Bad Luck,” a well-paced slow blues with lots of fine guitar work from Letizia, the Latin-flavored “Sylvester Loved The Ladies” and “Laugh In The Dark,” and “Talk To Yourself,” which has a reggae backbeat.

Resurrection is a fine blues album. Letizia’s blues and jazz guitar background, and his rapport with his talented bandmates, makes for compelling listening, but his sage and profound lyrics will also make you think while you’re listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Cary Morin Colorado-based acoustic guitarist Cary Morin is a Native American and proud member of the Crow tribe. He’s also a wonderful fingerstyle guitarist who plays the country blues, but mixes in folk, country, roots, and even a bit of jazz. At times, he’ll remind you of Mississippi John Hurt, or even Lightnin’ Hopkins, but he’s very much his own man on Cradle to the Grave (Maple Street Music), the third release of a trilogy Morin has compiled over the past few years.

The album features 11 tunes, eight originals and three well-chosen and interesting cover tunes from three very unique sources. Morin’s originals include the reflective title track that opens the disc. Other songs like “Lay Baby Lay,” the lovely “Mishawaka,” and the closer, “Watch Over Me,” like the title track, reflect on this same general theme --- life’s fleeting nature, change, and mortality. “Laid Back” is a lively number that belies its title, with Morin offering some pretty deft picking.

“Dawn’s Early Light” ventures more into folk territory as a show of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, currently involved in a protest of the Dakota Pipeline. “Ghost Dog” and “Trust” also lean toward the folk side of the blues and feature some fine playing and singing. The three cover tunes, as stated above, come from three distinct and unique genres; Phish’s “Back on the Train,” Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the Willie Brown classic, “Mississippi Blues.”

Cradle to the Grave is a beautiful, well-played album of gentle acoustic blues and folk tunes, and one that should be required listening for any music fan who digs acoustic guitar. Cary Morin is a name that these fans should get to know better.

--- Graham Clarke

Huddie Leadbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was born in 1889 in Mooringsport, Louisiana. He is widely considered to be an architect of the blues, but he was more than a blues man. He was at that intersection of folk songs, field songs, and the still developing blues and is credited with either writing or popularizing a number of songs that are classics. The most notable of them, "Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line," "Black Betty," and "(Goodnight) Irene" are part of the 24-song collection Good Morning Blues (Wolf Records) -- all on one CD, to give you an idea of the brevity of songs around the 1930s and 1940s, when these were recorded.

Leadbelly was reportedly in prison for killing a relative when he first heard "Midnight Special." He did additional prison time after he was released and then stabbed another man. When musicologists John and Alan Lomax discovered him in prison, they were able to record, according to Hannes Folterbauer’s liner notes “hundreds of songs,” including his "(Goodnight) Irene." In 1939 he was back in prison for again stabling a man. Though he had killed one man and stabbed two others, he was released a third time from prison. He began touring with the likes of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Woody Guthrie. When he met Blind Lemon Jefferson, he would switch from six to 12-string guitar.

Opening with a previously unissued solo recording of "Daddy, I’m Coming Home" (“I’ve been wandering and worrying and roving around/now I’m going back home to my dad”) from 1935, his powerful voice and rudimentary guitar dominate. Most of the material is solo guitar and vocals, including a medley of sorts of "Looky Looky Yonder/Black Betty/Yellow Woman’s Doorbells (On A Monday)" (“last Monday I was arrested/on Tuesday I was locked up in jail”).

Among those tunes on which he is accompanied by others is the wonderfully metronomic "Pick a Bale of Cotton" from 1940 on which the Golden Gate Quartet shares the microphone. They return to back him up "Midnight Special"and "Alabama Bound" on the same date. The version of "Rock Island Line" with the Golden Gate Quartet is a previously unissued recording.

There are a trio of tunes recorded with Sonny Terry. "On A Monday" and "(Good Night) Irene" are interesting, but don’t seem to have benefitted from the harmonica accompaniment. "Outskirts of Town" is the most interesting of the three. Josh White joins Leadbelly on "I’ve A Pretty Flowers" (not sure if that’s a typo) and "Mother’s Blues (Little Children Blues)," both from 1944. The bulk of this is solo and most is pretty riveting. This really is your father’s blues, or your grandfather's. This is historically significant, of course, but it’s also an enjoyable trip.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Wilie and the BanditsAfter three self-released albums between 2010 and 2013, Steal is Wille and the Bandits debut for the Jigsaw Music label, recorded live at The Grange Studios, Norfolk using only analogue equipment. Currently playing around 200 gigs a year in the UK and Europe, this production captures perfectly the power and energy of Wille and the boys’ charismatic live performances. Partly because of the traditional recording and engineering process, much of the music brings back memories of the late 1960s progressive blues-rock bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and King Crimson. Indeed, Andrew Naumann’s highly elaborate and skilled drumming and his ability to weave seamless tempo change into a piece are reminiscent of Crimson’s Michael Giles. Having said that, the band creates an original and refreshing contemporary sound with politically and socially pertinent lyrics.

Deep Purple keyboard wizard Don Airey joins the power trio for three tracks including the opener, “Miles Away,” setting the scene for the full, formidable, electrifying sound which typifies the album. On “Hot Rocks,” the mesmeric guitar riff underpins Wille’s throaty dynamic voice whilst “Scared Of The Sun” introduces the sumptuous whispering slide tones of the majestic Weissenborn lap steel guitar interspersed by sudden and dramatic crescendos. The deployment of the Weissenborn within blues is a growing phenomenon with leading exponents in the UK including Michael Messer and Neil Warden. Coincidentally both have used their instruments in blues collaboration with Indian musicians.

Matt Brooks’ hard driving six-string electric bass comes to the fore in the intense driving rhythm of “Atoned” alongside Andrew’s fluent stick work. The edgy lyrics are infused with anger: “We bleed countries, we bleed them dry/ We’re locked in the system.” The nostalgia of “Crossfire Memories” and dreams of his motherland inspire Wille to an intensely moving performance and a highlight of the album. The feel-good factor of “1970” with its repetitive lyrics replicates the classic sound and love and peace philosophy of that era.

The mainly acoustic “Our World” with its mood inducing bongo accompaniment and vocal harmonies lulls the listener until the contrast of the strong political message kicks in. The funky “Living Free” with its throat shredding vocals and piercing guitar solos are a precursor to the explosive finale, “Bad News,” with Don Airey’s Hammond organ once again a tour de force of emotion, creativity and technical genius.

Overall an outstanding, original, entertaining, contemporary and provocative album with special significance for blues lovers who still yearn for the progressive rock of their youth.

--- Dave Scott

Zoe SchwarzNever has a title been more apt than This Is The Life I Choose for what is Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion’s fourth studio album since 2012. On top of two other live recordings and a relentless touring schedule, this amounts to an unprecedented dedication to playing the blues. However, it is quality not quantity which counts and this latest release, comprising 11 brilliant original songs and two exceptional bonus tracks, further propels the uniquely talented Schwarz towards the pinnacle of her musical career.

When she started out, comparisons were made with Koko Taylor and Nina Simone, but from the opening bars of “Hold On” the voice is now uniquely and distinctively Zoe Schwarz. The powerful introduction settles into an impeccably phrased story of a broken relationship with an impassioned plea to ‘Reach out, embrace the sun/ Hold on when love has gone, be strong.’ The mood is enhanced by fast and furious, innovative guitar and Hammond organ interludes from Rob Koral and Pete Whittaker, respectively. Zoe’s incredible vocal range and versatility are evident on the contrasting, upbeat “My Baby Told Me So” making it hard to believe it is the same singer.

“People,” with its catchy, driving guitar riff, implores greater unity in today’s turbulent world, Koral’s searing solo capturing the ambience perfectly. Not surprisingly, the peerless “Broken” has been released as a single with proceeds donated to the Crisis charity; this is a tear jerker sung with sincerity and great empathy, Rob’s weeping guitar sound a perfect complement. By contrast, “I Wanna Get Something Started With You” is an optimistic blues shuffle which swings along nicely thanks to drummer Paul Robinson and some incredible four bar fills.

The compelling groove on “Free From You” reinforces the dark message of ending a violent relationship. Rob’s lyrics on “This Is The Life I Choose” portrays in depth the sacrifices of life as a blues woman even though the music brings great joy, reflected in the climactic vocals and guitar. With its hypnotic lyrics and staccato beat, “Exit” is quirky with a soulful ending. The joy of playing the blues is evident on “I Can’t Live Like That” which showcases the flair of saxophonist Ian Ellis and the trumpet of Andy Urquart. “Money In My Pocket” proves that punk rock is well within the scope of the band’s repertoire with Whittaker and Robinson confirming the diversity of their skills and techniques across all genres.

A fitting finale is the moving, balladic “Call Of The Night,” a beautiful poem written by Pete Feenstra and interpreted in her usual inimitable way by Schwarz. Just when it seems it cannot possibly get any better, the imaginative and poignant interpretations of Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong” and Anthony Newley’s “Feeling Good” leave the listener on an emotional high.

--- Dave Scott

Teresa WatsonSurprisingly, this self-titled disc is the Teresa Watson Band debut album even though she has been a mainstay of the UK’s North East blues scene for nearly quarter of a century. Having recently taken some time out from performing, Watson has re-launched her career with some of the best local musicians, namely her long standing keyboard player Paul Donaldson, guitarist, John Whitehill, bassist John Morgan and Barry Race on drums.

Whilst mainly covers, the choice of material is excellent with Teresa and her band adding fresh and original interpretations to some great songs. First up is “Come To Mama’”, its mesmeric shuffle rhythm interspersed with tempo changes the perfect platform for the crystal clear, beautifully phrased vocal delivery. The sheer power of Teresa’s voice comes across on the Bobby Bland classic “You Got Me Where You Want Me,” but she is much more than a blues shouter. Her voice on songs like “Leap Of Faith” keeps the listener engaged throughout, the mood intensified by the tasteful keyboard and guitar solos. John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” is one of the main highlights with its echoes of Beth Hart in terms of passion and intensity the ultimate accolade. Watson’s range is impressive; a softer sound on the balladic “Need Your Love So Bad,” a conversational style on “Down Home Blues” and the full on blues of the cleverly arranged “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.”

Former Paul Lamb and The Kingsnakes award winning axeman John Whitehill is a legend in UK blues and he shows on “Married To The Blues” that he is still one of the country’s leading guitarists. A personal favourite is Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like A Woman” with Donaldson’s sumptuous piano contributions complementing Watson’s burnt honey vocals. Morgan’s melodic bass and the precise, uncomplicated drumming of Barry Race ensure that each song moves smoothly along.

Overall, this is a fine introductory album enhanced by the superb sound balance and quality achieved in its production.

--- Dave Scott

Erja LyytinenThis sensational first studio album in three years, Stolen Hearts, propels Erja Lyytinen into the "A" list of blues royalty alongside Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, although the special talents of the Finnish chanteuse set her apart. The dynamic, high energy, wide ranging sounds are captured perfectly by Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey. Stories of love, morality, consequences and forgiveness ooze passion and sincerity, all underpinned by a solid, innovative blues/rock vibe courtesy of Lyytinen’s own band. This comprises Davide Floreno on guitars, Harri Taittonen, keys, bassist Juha Verona and, sharing the sticks, Miri Miettinen and Kai Jokiaho.

The opening title track is delivered in a relaxed conversational style interspersed with bursts of vocal intensity as hearts get broken, the fiery Hendrix-esque guitar solos enhancing the mood. "Rocking Chair" with its quirky time signature and jazz inflected vocals is critical of obsession with reality TV and money, imploring peace with what we achieve in life. "Love Laboratory" starts softly before sounding like a chemical explosion as Lyytinen explores the source of falling in love, bassist Juha Verona emulating the heartbeat of the song. “Bring me water, make me stronger, find my way back home’ exhorts the singer on "24 Angels," a story which builds dramatically into a crescendo as the final judgment approaches. The slide solo with its Indian scale adds a mysterious ambiance.

The heavy, pulsating groove underlying "Black Ocean" cleverly opens up as it goes into the chorus and the expansive, searing guitar solo. Erja never strays far from her blues roots and is totally immersed in them on "Slowly Burning." The anguished, atmospheric guitar solo matches the vocals as the embers of a broken relationship smoulder. "Lover’s Novels" shuffles along at pace before breaking into Erja’s trademark slide guitar interlude reminiscent of her inspirational, improvised tributes to Elmore James.

"Silver Stones" tackles the often taboo subject of mental illness in a calm and empathetic way which will be reassuring to any listener who has experienced related issues. "Awakening" is a joyful song of falling in love again during a relationship, based on experience. The nature of happiness is explored in "City Of Angels," and the realization that it is linked neither to wealth nor poverty.

Gershwin’s influence is evident on "Broken Eyes, "with its gorgeous melody and frequent chord changes.  and finally Lyytinen’s powerful vocals and harmonies rise above the piano to create one of the album’s most memorable tracks on her most impressive and significant musical statement to date.

--- Dave Scott



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


The Blues Bytes URL...
Revised: March 23, 2017 - Version 1.01
All contents Copyright © 2017, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.