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February 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Ina Forsman

Kevin Burt

Colin James

Kenny Wayne

Cary Morin

Rachelle Coba

Josh Smith

Amanda Fish

Sandy Carroll

Blue Largo

Ron Spencer

Brandi and the Alexanders

Rich Hope

Delta Moon

Bob Margolin

David Julia

Simon Kennedy Band

Lucy Zirins

Sean Taylor


Ina Forsman
It's been two years since I first stumbled onto a link to an album by Finnish blues/soul/jazz singer Ina Forsman --- and my life hasn't been the same since then. I loved, loved, loved that album. A fabulous singer in a retro late-night smoky style and an outstanding songwriter, especially considering that English is her second language and she wrote most of the songs on that album, simply titled Ina Forsman, when she was only 19 or 20. So what was next for Ms. Forsman?

It turns out she had plenty of ideas for her next album, capturing those brilliant thoughts on her cellphone, and then, horror of horrors, she lost her cellphone while on a trip to New York City. (As a database administrator in my past corporate life, I would have lectured her about taking regular backups of her devices, but we won't go there).

Quite frankly, she recovered quite well with her latest album for Ruf Records, Been Meaning To Tell You. What's most impressive is how this young woman has broadened her horizons with the material here. If it took a lost cellphone to get her to this point, then it may be a blessing in disguise.

Ms. Forsman still has those strong pipes, and we hear her loud and clear on the opening number, "Be My Home." with Red Young's gospel piano leading the singer into an inspirational crescendo. She says she's been traveling so long that she is looking for the home she's never known.

Changing the mood completely is the funky "Get Mine," with Forsman scat singing out the lyrics in machine gun fashion while Laura Chavez puts down wah wah guitar licks. She uses the same vocal techniques on the snaky "Why You Gotta Be That Way," with a nice keyboard solo from Young. "All Good" has a lilting, soulful melody with nice muted trumpet from Al Gomez. Just a nice feelgood number all around.

Forsman's voice absolutely soars on the funky, jazzy "Genius," with a big horn section helping to push her voice to new heights. Later, she puts every possible ounce of pain and torture into the slow blues "Miss Mistreated," while Chavez tastefully adds the right guitar licks to complement Forsman's vocals. It's again all about the voice on the sparsely-accompanied "Figure," a soulful anthem that gives her the chance to move around the octaves complemented by Young's subtle but tasteful piano playing.  

"Who Hurt You" starts slowly before Forsman comes in with soulful vocals and then the Texas Horns bring in that big sound behind her. The surprise here is the really nice flute solo by John Mills midway through the song. "Chains" is something completely different, marked by tribal rhythmic drumming, chanting and hand clapping, while Forsman issues the warning that If you wanna chain her then you'll need to change who she is. Lots of energy on this cut.

Closing the album is the very simple à capella number, "Sunny" (no, it's not that "Sunny"). Forsman takes this one to the riverside with gospel-ish vocals about Sunny, someone who's always been there for her.

Been Meaning To Tell You is a very fine follow-up to the self-titled Ina Forsman. It shows Forsman's incredible growth as an artist and songwriter, and she's still not quite 25. Needless to say, Ina Forsman has a bright career ahead of her.

--- Bill Mitchell

Kevin BurtKevin Burt won every award that he could have possibly won at the 2018 I.B.C., taking first place in the Solo/Duo Performer category, the Cigar Box Guitar Award for best guitarist in Solo/Duo category, and the Lee Oskar Award for best harmonica player. As if that weren’t enough, he also released Heartland & Soul (Little Village Foundation) in 2018, a stunning debut recording that will probably earn him a few more awards in 2019.

In addtion to his skill on the harp and acoustic guitar, Burt possesses a wondrous voice that’s equally at home in soul or the blues, a warm and smooth combination of Lou Rawls, with a little Bill Withers, and even a bit of Gil Scott Heron. His songwriting is equally first rate and he’s backed by a superlative group of musicians that include Kid Andersen (guitar/melodica), the legendary Jerry Jemmott (bass), Derrick “D’Mar” Martin (drums), Jim Pugh (keyboards), and Jon Otis (Johnny Otis’ son) on percussion). Andersen and Pugh co-produced the set, which was recorded at Greaseland Studios.

The irresistibly funky “Day Day” kicks off the disc, and there’s no looking back. “Come On See About Me” is classic retro Southern soul (with sweet backing vocals from Lisa Leuschner Andersen) and “Thank You” sounds like it’s right out of Memphis with Pugh’s subtle B3 backing. Burt’s vocals are excellent, but his phrasing is casual, confident, and so comfortable that you just get fully wrapped up in his songwriting. On the up-tempo “Real Love,” the band really digs deep into the funk and listeners get a full dose of Burt’s brilliant harmonica playing.

The album’s lone cover is The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” which blew the audience away at the I.B.C. His reading is a stunner, giving the classic a totally amazing new look. Those who’ve heard both versions may never go back to the original after hearing Burt’s searing rendition. “Makin’ Me Feel” is a sexy slow burner that crawls down your backbone, and “I’ve Been Watching You” sounds like a tasty bit of ’70s R&B with Andersen on the melodica.

“I Don’t Want To See You No More” is a devastating solo blues ballad with Burt laying down passionate vocals and guitar about his woman, who’s left for reasons unknown. “Never” is a smoky after hours blues with powerful vocals from Burt and guitar from Andersen, and “Smack Dab In The Middle” starts out as a Delta-styled blues with resonator guitar that segues into a funk/jazz mix. Any father who has daughters will find the room getting a little dusty (this daddy did) after hearing Burt’s heartfelt “Your Smile,” dedicated to his daughter, and he closes the disc on a rousing acoustic note with the driving shuffle, “Wake Up, Baby.”

After listening to Heartland & Soul, you’ll not only understand why Kevin Burt won all those awards and accolades at last year’s I.B.C., but you’ll probably wonder what took so long for it to happen in the first place. Put this one on your must-have list right now!

--- Graham Clarke

Colin JamesColin James has been plugging away for 35 years, serving as one of Canada’s busiest blues artists. In the mid-’80s, he got a nice boost when he was asked on short notice to open for Stevie Ray Vaughan in Regina, Saskatchewan, when the scheduled openers were no-shows. He so impressed SRV that he was invited to perform during the encore and then asked to serve as opening act for the rest of the tour. He really made a mark on the blues charts in 2016 with his collection of blues covers, Blue Highways, which stayed at #1 on the Roots Music Report’s Blues Chart.

James’ latest effort, Miles To Go (Stony Plain Records), follows along the same lines as its predecessor, consisting of James’ excellent renditions of classic blues tunes, but James also contributes a pair of his own compositions this time around. He opens with a pair of Muddy Waters tunes, “One More Mile,” an energetic take that heavy on soul, backed by horns and Steve Marriner’s harmonica (James reprises the tune at the album’s close in an acoustic, with a more traditional feel), and “Still A Fool,” which plays closer to Waters’ original version, with James contributing some monster guitar work that gives the song a modern bent.

Other covers include Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “Dig Myself A Hole,” a country blues rocker supplemented by James’ sterling slide guitar, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby Hold Me,” which doesn’t stray too far from the original’s funky beat and features some Sumlin-esque fretwork from James, a slow-burning after-hours take on “Black Night,” a wonderful acoustic version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man,’ and a introspective solo presentation of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad” gets a splendid slow blues treatment punctuated by Jesse O’Brien’s piano and Simon Kendall on B3, and Walter Davis’ “Tears Came Rolling Down” gets a raw, electric updating with James playing some scorching slide.

James’ two originals more than measure up to the classic covers. “I Will Remain” had a cool, urban B.B. King quality, thanks to James’ stinging guitar, and “40 Light Years” is a free-wheeling swinger and a nice change of pace midway through the album.

On Miles To Go, Colin James gives the classic blues covers a respectful, yet contemporary-charged updating that should not only appeal to newer blues fans, but should also encourage them to give the original versions a listen. This album more than measures up to Blue Highways --- it exceeds it.

--- Graham Clarke

Kenny WayneFor his latest album, Inspired by the Blues (Stony Plain Records), keyboard master Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne wrote 11 new songs, served as his own producer, and brought in some top notch musical support in harmonica ace Billy Branch, guitarist Duke Robillard, and former B.B. King bass man Russell Jackson. He’s also backed by a sharp band that includes Joey DiMarco (drums), Yuji Ihara (lead/rhythm guitars), Dave Babcock (tenor/baritone sax), Bob Tildesley (trumpet), and Lynne Chwyl (background vocals).

Branch plays on two of the tracks, “I Knew I’d Be Playing The Blues,” the relaxed and reflective autobiographical opener, and the Windy City-styled “That Girl Needs Help,” while “Start Rockin’” sends listeners down to the Crescent City for a delightful romp, and moves to organ for the funky ’70s-era R&B of “How ‘Bout That.” “I Like That Woman” is a jazzy tribute to Ray Charles’ Atlantic period with a superb solo from Robillard, “Jimmy and Johnny” is a rollicking jump blues about a romantic triangle, and the driving blues “Make Up Your Mind” is blues piano at its finest.

“Lake Country Boogie” is a swinging instrumental that showcases some excellent work on the keys from the Blues Boss and an extended solo for Babcock on saxophone. Wayne pays tribute to one of his favorites, Fats Domino, on “Mr. Blueberry Hill,” which resembles Domino’s own stellar sides for Imperial back in the day. “An Old Brick Wall” and “That Raggedy Shack” remind me a lot of those cool Louis Jordan sides, the former is definitely up-tempo and the latter is smooth mid-tempo.

The disc closes with a bonus track, a live performance of “Georgia On My Mind,” recorded in Mexico in tribute to Ray Charles, with Wayne on electric piano backed by a local band. This track really puts an emphasis on the Blues Boss’s vocal talents.

It certainly seems like the primary focus on blues today is on blues guitar, so it’s always nice to hear a new release that focuses on the keys, and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is one of the best. Inspired by the Blues should definitely inspire blues fans, especially those who love piano blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Cary MorinCary Morin’s 2017 release, Cradle to the Grave, earned the Colorado-based singer/songwriter/guitarist numerous awards: the 2018 Independent Music Award for Best Blues CD, an honorable mention at the 2018 International Songwriting Competition, the 2017 Indigenous Music Award (Morin is a member of the Crow tribe), and Native Arts and Cultures as well as First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowships. Those accolades were well-deserved, as Cradle to the Grave was a wonderful collection of gentle acoustic blues and folk music that showcased Morin’s excellent guitar work and songwriting.

Morin’s new release, When I Rise (Maple Street Music), is a bit of a departure from his previous release with the inclusion of some electric instruments into the mix. He’s joined by additional musicians on this 12-track set, including Steve Amedée (drums/percussion), Paul Benjamin (electric guitar), Celeste DiIorio (vocals), Jay Forrest (drums/percussion), Jason Larson (vocals/piano/bass), Dexter Payne (clarinet/harmonica), Kim Stone (bass), Andy Weyl (piano), and Lionel Young (violin). Morin himself handles all the vocals and plays guitar and pedal steel.

The haunting title track opens the disc, a harrowing tale of a man facing punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. “Let Me Hear The Music” has a delightful old school feel punctuated by Payne’s clarinet, and is a definite highlight. “Sometimes,” “My Memories Of You,” and “Devoted One” are wonderful in their subtlety, and all three tracks spotlight Morin’s fingerpicking style. “Dire Wolf” is a fine version of the Grateful Dead’s original, while “Jug In The Water” is presented in two versions, first as a driving electric boogie rocker and as in acoustic format at album’s end.

The album’s other cover tune is Duane Allman’s “Little Martha,” taken at a slightly faster pace than Skydog’s original, with an original Morin instrumental piece, “The Last Pint,” attached to the conclusion that fits seamlessly. “Lay Baby Lay” is not the Bob Dylan tune, but an irresistible country blues that’s a lot of fun, and “Carmela Marie” is a great electric blues rocker, while the somber ballad “We Used To Be” features Morin on pedal steel.

When I Rise should be proof positive that Cary Morin is one of the most interesting artists on the blues and roots scene with his dynamite guitar work and songwriting.

--- Graham Clarke

Rachelle CobaWhen Rachelle Coba turned 15, she got a guitar for her birthday, then her mom took her to see Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan on the same night. Talk about a birthday to remember!! She went to college to study violin and met Buddy Guy around the same time, so the writing was on the wall that young Ms. Coba needed to take a hard look at playing the blues. She started attending blues shows, jamming and sitting in with a few blues legends, switched from violin to guitar and earned a degree in classical guitar which helped her develop her unique approach to playing. She worked with Super Chikan, Albert Castiglia, Grady Champion, and Ray Drew before starting her own band and making the semi-finals at the I.B.C. in 2013.

Coba’s 2014 debut, Mother Earth, was nominated for Best New Debut CD in the Blues Blast Music Awards. Her follow-up, Blink (American Showplace Music), leans more toward the soul side of the blues, running more at a simmer than a boil, which allows listeners to focus on her excellent guitar work and her wonderful voice and songwriting. Joining Coba on these 11 tracks are keyboardist extraordinaire John Ginty, bassist Paul Kuzik, drummer Andrei Koribanics, with Jimmy Bennett contributing dobro on one track.

The opener, “High and Dry,” is a driving blues rocker that features Ginty’s dazzling piano work and Coba’s gutsy vocals and guitar. The mid-tempo “Dance These Blues Away” mixes blues and funk, the wistful “Good Ole Heartbreak” is a very cool retro soul ballad, and the defiant “No Deals,” where Coba stares the devil down at the crossroads, adds a touch of rock to the blues and funk. “River of Blood,” a harrowing tale of the construction of the Mississippi River levee, was co-written with Liz Mandeville and the two also recorded it for Mandeville’s 2016 release, The Stars Motel.

The title track is a lovely ballad with a country soul feel with measured vocal and guitar from Coba and B3 backing from Ginty, while the rock-edged “Bad Reputation” picks up the tempo for a bit. “You Stole My Heart” is probably my favorite track on the disc, a wonderful soul burner with powerful lyrics, which seem almost autobiographical with Coba’s emotional, vulnerable vocal. “Shuffle Ya” is a funky, irresistible delight. The disc closes with a pair of fine ballads, “Maybe” and “Blame It On The Blues,” another one of my favorites.

After listening to Blink, I came away really impressed with Rachelle Coba not only as a masterful guitarist, but also as a supremely soulful vocalist and a wonderful songwriter. Blues and soul fans are strongly advised not to let this one slip by.

--- Graham Clarke

Josh SmithI first read about Josh Smith back in 1997 in an issue of the much-missed Blues Access magazine. At the time, the young guitarist was about 19 and had already released three albums under his own name and his own label. He’d been recording since he was 14! Over 21 years later, Smith is still playing the blues, and playing them about as well as they can be played. He’s recorded ten albums in all, while serving as an in-demand session guitarist and producer, and has backing artists like Taylor Hicks and Raphael Saadiq on their tours.

Even though I’ve read about Josh Smith off and on since then, I’ve never actually been able to catch up with any of his music. That changed recently with the release of his latest, Burn To Grow (VizzTone Label Group), a masterful set of 11 original tunes, which he also produced. I understand what all the fuss is about, for this release proves that Smith is not only one of the finest living blues guitarists, but he’s also an excellent songwriter and vocalist, with a sterling brand of blues that also encompasses rock, R&B, soul, and jazz.

Smith opens Burn To Grow with a steady slow burner, “Half Blues,” that features horns (Janelle Adisa – trumpet, Chris Johnson – trombone, J.P. Floyd – trombone, Matthew DeMerritt – tenor sax, Dan Boisey – tenor/baritone sax), and a grand mid-song guitar solo. “Through The Night” has a smooth R&B feel and features soulful backing vocals from Monét Owens, while “Watching You Go” mixes rock and funk with the blues, and the upbeat soul number “That For You Too” showcases the horn section and stinging guitar work from Smith.

The “Your Love (Is Making Me Whole)” is a perky taste of southern soul that features Ms. Owens on vocals, and the wistful ballad “Look No Further” ventures toward Americana, while “Let Me Take Care Of You” finds a strong soul-blues groove with punchy horns and Smith’s sizzling guitar work, and “What We Need” is a slow blues where Smith’s stinging leads carry a powerful SRV vibe. The swinging “You Never Knew” deftly mixes blues and jazz, and the gentle soul-pop ballad “She Survives” is a standout. The title track, is a blues-rocker with edgy guitar work from Smith, backed by a slow, intense driving rhythm.

Burn To Grow is a powerful, well-balanced album of blues, rock, and soul and further proof (as if it were needed) that Josh Smith is one of the finest young guitar slingers in the blues world.

--- Graham Clarke

Amanda FishBased in Kansas City, Amanda Fish is a powerhouse singer, songwriter, and plays guitar, bass, piano, and mandolin. Her debut release, Down In The Dirt, earned the 2016 “Sean Costello Rising Star” Blues Blast Music Award, and she and her band advanced to the semi-finals at the 2017 I.B.C. in Memphis. If Fish’s latest release, Free (VizzTone Label Group), doesn’t propel her to the upper echelon of blues performers, then there’s no justice in the world. It’s loaded with excellent tunes, penned by Fish, powerful vocals, and a stellar cast of supporting musicians.

The opening track, “2020,” is a funky blues rocker with Dave Hays and Lois Nadal on guitar, and “Not Again” is a gritty, driving blue shuffle with Hays on guitar and Richard Rosenblatt on harp, followed by the soulful ballad, “Anymore,” where Fish coolly sends her lover packing for good (Chris Hazelton guests on organ). Fish plays acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano on the rootsy “The Ballad of Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” which pays tribute to a late night radio DJ (guitarists Bob Margolin and Tyler Morris also provide sparks), and “Blessed,” a soaring ballad about rising up from adversity, includes backing vocals from Sara Morgan and guitar from Ken Valdez.

“Going Down” is a crunching blues rocker with Alastair Greene contributing sizzling slide guitar, and the smoldering ballad, “You Could Be,” slowly builds in intensity and is a magnificent showcase for Fish’s vocal talents (with guitar from Coyote Bill). “Bullet” has a southern rock feel as does the countrified rocker “Here We Are,” with slide guitar accompaniment from Coyote Bill. Meanwhile, Fish turns in her best vocal of the disc on the soul-bearing ballad, “Don’t Mean A Thing,” and the title track, which closes the disc, begins as a somber soul number before transforming into an all-out gospel rave-up.

Free is a fantastic release from Amanda Fish, a talented lady who should be entertaining blues fans for many years to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Sandy CarrollI’ve always enjoyed Sandy Carroll’s music. To these ears, she’s always managed to strike a perfect balance between soul, country, and the blues on the releases I’ve had the pleasure to hear. She’s also a gifted songwriter, having written two of my favorite Luther Allison songs (“Just As I Am,” “It’s A Blues Thing”). She also wrote Albert King’s “If You Got It” for his final studio album in 1989 and has made numerous contributions to albums by her Catfood Records label mates Johnny Rawls, James Armstrong, Barbara Carr and Daunielle Hill.

Blues & Angels is Ms. Carroll’s fourth release for Catfood, and it moves in a different direction from her previous couple of releases which focused on Americana and country music. The new album focuses strongly on the blues and soul side of the musical spectrum. Produced by Grammy Award-winner Jim Gaines (Ms. Carroll’s husband), the album features guest appearances from label mates Rawls and Hill, along with guitarists Rocky Athas, Will MacFarlane, Bernard Allison, singers Reba Russell, Barbara Blue, Nancy Apple, and an all-star cast of veterans from the Memphis and Muscle Shoals music scenes.

The 11 original tracks include the gospel-flavored “Soak Me In The Spirit,” with crisp fretwork from MacFarlane, the smoky soul-blues ballad “Blues All For Myself,” the upbeat “Somebody Gotta Dance,” which mixes country, rock, and soul, and the moody and soulful “Wrapped In An Angel.” “Mama Don’t Like It” a feisty shuffle backed by a chorus that includes Russell, Blue, Apple, Hill, and Lorina McMinn, and the joyful “Love Is A Wonderful Thing,” a superb mid-tempo blues duet with Rawls, are both standouts.

“Slings And Arrows” has a bit of a Native American feel in the melody, featuring excellent guitar contributions from MacFarlane and Athas, while Allison guests on the funky gospel-themed “Headin’ Home” (with great backing vocals from Trinecia Butler and Rachel Robinson), and the edgy “Road Angels” grooves along with MacFarlane’s understated guitar and Rick Steff’s keyboards. The album concludes with the gently upbeat “Movin’ On” and “Mississippi Me,” Carroll’s loving tribute to her husband.

Blues & Angels is a lovely piece of work from Sandy Carroll that will be a good fit in any blues, soul, or even country music fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Blue LargoOn Blue Largo’s latest release, Before The Devil Steals Your Soul (Coffeegrinds Records), guitarist Eric Lieberman and vocalist Alicia Aragon move from blues to swing to jump, jazz, soul, R&B, and gospel. Produced by Lieberman and Nathan James, the new release features 14 tracks (plus a bonus cut), four of which are cover tunes. This is the band’s fourth release overall and their second since Lieberman returned to performing after battling Focal Distonia, which had rendered him unable to play guitar for over a decade.

“Wash Away,” the opener, is a spiritual of sorts, at least a spiritual-flavored song, lamenting the current volatile political and social culture, which is also addressed in “Same Race,” a song abpit the need for peace and unity in the world. “If I Can Make It To Augusta” is a gently swinger in recognition of long-traveling musicians, “Monrovia” is a story-song of betrayal and treachery told with a Latin flair, and the title track is a gospel tune about living your life to the utmost before it’s too late (which also pays tribute to four blues guitarists).

The guitar instrumental, “Bodas De Oro,” might remind some listeners of Ry Cooder’s foray into Cuban music. It’s a dazzling tribute to Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban that features Lieberman on baritone guitar with some beautiful piano from Tayrn “T-Bird” Donath and percussion from Mike Tempo (great name). “I’m Alive” is a testimony to the healing power of music, while “The Long Goodbye” is a somber ballad inspired by the passing of one of Lieberman and Aragon’s friends to Alzheimer’s in honor of those who care for their loved ones suffering long illnesses.

The band’s straight-forward cover of the Jimmy Ruffin classic “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” is very good, as well as their cover of “Feeling Good,” penned by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and covered by numerous artists (most famously by Nina Simone). “Grinder’s Groove,” an original instrumental conceived by Lieberman, is reminiscent of the great blues/R&B/jazz guitar showcases from the ’50s, and the swinging “Five Till Eight” keeps that jazzy vibe going, as does the instrumental cover of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which features two saxes (Dave Castel De Oro – tenor, Eddie Croft – baritone sax). The bonus cut is an acoustic guitar duet with Lieberman and co-producer Nathan James, “Lose Your Money.”

Before The Devil Steals Your Soul is a nice, relaxing set of tunes from Blue Largo. It’s an album that will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will make you think --- something that all good music should do.

--- Graham Clarke

Ron SpencerThe Ron Spencer Band boasts about 180 years of collective experience in the music business. Guitarist/singer Spencer has over 30 years himself, backing Big Time Sarah, Kim Lembo, Backbone Slip, and Joe Whiting. Spencer is joined by bandmates Mark Gibson (vocals), Bob Purdy (bass/vocals), and Ross Moe (drums) on the band’s third release, Into The Blue (Real Gone Records), a rock-solid collection of blues and roots music that includes eight original tunes and two dynamite covers.

The rocker “Closer To The Bone” opens the disc, an interesting look at life in the modern world. “(I’m Doin’) Ah-ight” is a steady-rolling Jimmy Reed-styled shuffle that reminded me a lot of the early Fabulous Thunderbird’s repertoire, “Addicted To You” has a hypnotic swamp blues feel. Moon Martin’s “Cadillac Walk” is a restless, driving rocker, while the O.V. Wright standard “Blind, Crippled & Crazy” gets a funky, soulful treatment.

“So Wrong For Each Other” packs a Latin rhythm, punctuated by Spencer’s fretwork and B3 from guest artist Mike Davis, and “It’s Time” strikes a smooth late-night groove with Spencer’s T-Bone-esque solo and Dan “Cato” Eaton’s keyboard accompaniment. “Callin’ To Me” channels Memphis soul and “Fine, Fine Woman” is an old school rocking boogie of a good time, while the closer, “Cold Outside,” has a touch of New Orleans Second Line in the rhythm and with Eaton’s piano.

There’s nothing fancy with Into The Blue It’s a charming set of well-crafted blues that are a little bit traditional, a little bit contemporary, and a whole lot of fun.

--- Graham Clarke

BrandiAnyone who thinks soul music is on its last legs needs to check out Brandi Thompson, the tremendously impressive lead singer for the New York City group Brandi and The Alexanders. Her voice will bring a smile to the face of any music fan who longs for the salad days of the genre and The Alexanders (Ethan Simon – keyboards, Eric Gottlieb – drums/percussion, Eric Wendell – bass, Nick Fokas – guitar) like to inject a little rock and funk into the musical mix. The band’s debut release, How Do You Like It? (Red Parlor Records), includes 11 songs written by Thompson and the band, along with one very interesting cover.

The funky driving title track kicks off the disc on a feisty note with the singer kicking her man to the curb, while the energetic “Higher” has a catchy R&B/pop vibe with horns from Craig Blair (sax) and John Lake (trumpet), along with upbeat backing vocals from Cherette White, before segueing into the mid-tempo “I’m In Love,” a tasty R&B/funk combination, nicely punctuated by Simon’s swirling keyboards, and the bluesy ballad “Jealousy,” one of several vocal showcases on the disc for Ms. Thompson.

“Running Around” cranks up the funk once again, with splendid guitar work from Fokas and keyboards from Simon (who wrote the song). The tempo slows a bit with “Love Songs,” a soulful ballad with bite, before jumping back into high gear with “Drama Queen,” a rocker with a funky edge which is bookended by another ballad that’s reminiscent of ’70s R&B, “Pulling Me Down.” “Lucky” picks up the pace again with the return of the horns, which also spice up the slinky “Shapeshifter.” Ms. Thompson saves the best for last on the epic closer, “Bad Love,” pulling out all the stops on this heartbreaker of a ballad.

The album’s lone cover is of the Black Sabbath classic, “Paranoid.” Yep, you read that correctly. The band transforms that rip-roaring rocker into a slow burning soul ballad that’s so good, it will make you wonder why no one else has ever attempted it before now.

How Do You Like It? I like it very much and any listener who’s digs soul music with a funky edge will like Brandi and The Alexanders as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Rich HopeSinger/guitarist Rich Hope has been rocking the Pacific Northwest for over two decades, mixing a potent concoction of rock n’ roll, R&B, soul, garage, and the blues. Recently, he released his fourth album, I’m All Yours (Planned Obsolence Recording & Novelty, Inc.), his first full-length effort since 2009. Backed by Adrian Mack (drums/vocals), Erik P.H. Nielsen (bass/vocals), and Matt Kelly (keys), with guest appearances from guitarist Scott Smith, Jerry Cook (sax), and Derry Byrne (trumpet), Hope brings 10 pulse-pounding tunes to the table --- eight originals and two covers.

The disc kicks off with a psychedelic rocker, “It Come Alive,” complete with Kelly’s retro keyboard work and Hope’s unhinged vocal and roaring guitar grabbing your immediate attention. Next is an exuberant, picture-perfect cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Golden Clouds” that is one of the album’s highlights, followed by the ominous garage rocker “Creepstone,” the droning, simmering “La Iguana,” which has a touch of Hill Country in its DNA, and the easygoing “Blow Away,” which manages to blend country, soul, and rock.

“Five Cents A Dance” has a swaggering Brit rock feel with the rocking guitars, harmony vocals, and Kelly’s keyboards, and “Some Kind Of Love” is a horn-fueled slice of rock and soul. The hypnotic “Paranoia Blues” is updated blues from the Mississippi Delta, as is Hope’s raw and ragged “Runnin’ Shoes,” albeit with handclaps, tambourine, and cheesy organ backing. The closer is “Heartbreaker,” a blues-rock ballad that ends the disc wonderfully.

I’m All Yours is my first exposure to Rich Hope. I certainly hope that it’s not my last. This was a wildly entertaining mix of blues, rock and soul that gets better every time I listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Delta MoonBabylon Is Falling (Jumping Jack Records), the tenth studio release from Atlanta-based blues rockers Delta Moon, continues the band’s usual M.O. --- strong original tunes that mix blues with Southern rock and soul, a savvy set of covers, and the formidable twin-slide guitar attach of Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. Also participating are bassist Franher Joseph and drummers Marlon Patton, Vic Stafford, and Adam Goodhue.

The moody opening track, “Long Way To Go,” was written by Gray and is presented in call-and-response style with Gray, Johnson, and Joseph on vocals. It’s followed by the title track, an old Shaker hymn to which the band adds a restless rhythm from Joseph and drummer Patton, along with updated lyrics reflecting the current state of affairs, and “One More Heartache,” the old Marvin Gaye tune which now packs a hypnotic blues pulse.

Johnson wrote the catchy “Might Take A Lifetime,” a lighthearted ramble with country overtones, and R.L. Burnside’s “Skinny Woman” finds the two guitarists trading licks on the delightfully upbeat Hill Country tune. Next, the duo pays tribute to Tom Petty by offering a beautiful acoustic cover of “Louisiana Rain,” from Petty’s Mudcrutch days, and a cool swampy Gray original, “Pink Pistol.”

The traditional gospel blues “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” also gets a fresh and funky updating , and the Howlin’ Wolf standard “Somebody In My Home” keeps the funk going, but retains the hovering menace of the Wolf’s original. The disc closes with the driving boogie “One Mountain At A Time,” and the sweaty, swampy “Christmas Time In New Orleans.”

Delta Moon has been at it for two decades now, and Gray and Johnson’s slide guitar work is still a joy to behold on Babylon Is Falling. Combine that with fine original songs and a wide ranging set of cover tunes, and one can only hope that Delta Moon keeps at it for another two decades or more.

--- Graham Clarke

Bob MargolinBob Margolin’s latest album for VizzTone Records is self-titled because, as Margolin puts it in the liner notes, “I show who I am as a musician. I write songs from my own life and imagination.” He also wants “to honor and interpret great Chicago Blues musicians who befriended me and taught me on bandstands.” Those musicians included Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Jimmy Rogers, Snooky Pryor, James Cotton, and Pinetop Perkins, all of whom are acknowledged on this excellent release. Margolin produced, recorded, mixed, and played every note on the album.

Margolin’s own “One More Day” opens the disc, a upbeat blues rocker where he asks for a little more time in his life. He strikes a mournful tone on Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” a song that Margolin and Dylan played with Waters after The Band’s Last Waltz concert. “Detroit” is a wonderful instrumental that allows Margolin to put his superb slide guitar skills on full display, which he also does on “Mercy,” a searing look at today’s society played in a style reminiscent of Waters’ early solo Chess recordings. The reflective “Best I Can Do” is a fine example of Margolin’s songwriting.

While in Waters’ band, Margolin often played a pair of Leroy Carr tunes, “Blues Before Sunrise” and “How Long How Long Blues.” The former is taken at a relaxed pace, with Margolin providing soulful vocals, and the latter has a lazy, after-hours feel. The two Carr tracks bookend “Dallas,” a reverential treatment of the Johnny Winter song which finds Margolin playing a steel body guitar. Snooky Pryor’s “Peace of Mind” includes more of that splendid slide guitar, and a seldom-heard Waters’ shuffle, “She’s So Pretty,” is pretty cool, too. Margolin even includes that sudden ending from the original version (which was the B-side to “Hoochie Coochie Man”).

Another Waters tune, “Look What You Done,” is taken as a solo guitar piece, and Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby” is given the spare treatment, too. Margolin’s other two originals are “Head Held High,” a gripping look at heartbreak and “My Road,” an autobiographical track that Margolin intended for his previous album of the same title but wasn’t able to complete in time. The album closes with another fine cover associated with Waters and James Cotton, “One More Mile." Both artists played this song frequently with Margolin, and he acknowledges his debt to both with this moving tribute.

“Steady Rollin’” as ever as he approaches his 70th birthday, Bob Margolin gives a nod to his old friends on this great new release, and he also shows that he is continuing to take the blues as they taught them to him into exciting new directions.

--- Graham Clarke

David JuliaA couple of months ago, Blues Bytes editor Bill Mitchell raved about the 17-year-old Florida guitarist David Julia’s latest release, Inspired (VizzTone Records) and even included the album in his Top Ten for the year. Working at my usual snail-like pace, I’m just now getting to Inspired, and I have to say that Mr. Mitchell knows what he’s talking about. The young guitarist has already enjoyed regional success and has even participated in the I.B.C. four times, and if there’s any justice in the world this outstanding album, produced by Mike Zito, should serve as a launching pad for even greater things.

Inspired includes 11 songs, six written by Julia that show he’s as advanced with his songwriting as he is on guitar. “Hey There Sally” is a fun little blues rocker, and the funky “Don’t Get Me Goin’” shows some things haven’t changed that much since we geezers were teen-agers. “Throw Me A Rope” is a slow blues on the perils of drug abuse and addiction. “If Only” is a soulful ballad, while “You Don’t Need No Shelter” is a really cool acoustic duet with producer Zito who also sings and plays guitar. Julia’s last original is the fantastic countrified instrumental “Sunshine Boogie.”

Julia also covers J.P. Soars’ rocking “Somethin’ Ain’t Right,” Tab Benoit’s slow burner “Nice And Warm,” Michael Burks’ “Empty Promises,” Albert Castiglia’s shuffle “Keep Her Around Too Long,” and Matt Schofield’s jazz-flavored “Clean Break.” Each of these cover tunes showcase Julia’s ability to play a variety of blues styles.

Also backing Julia are Elliot Keys (B3), Lonnie Trevino, Jr. (bass), Matthew R. Johnson (drums), and Lewis Stephens (piano). Inspired shows that David Julia is advanced far beyond his years at the age of 17. It will be exciting for blues fans to see what’s to come with this great young artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Simon KennedyThe Simon Kennedy Band is a Scottish power trio comprising Simon on guitar, drummer Richard Kennedy and Hammond organist Mirek Hodun. All Or Nothing is the long awaited follow up to their 2014 debut album Make Up Your Mind which garnered high praise from several UK music magazines and blues legend Paul Jones. The Doors proved that a band could be very successful without a bass player especially when a technically gifted and innovative keyboard player covers the bass grooves and takes up all the spaces. Hodun fulfills this role perfectly having represented his native Poland at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest and with a background that includes music production and award winning jazz performances.

The overture is a funky, jazz infused instrumental, “Jacket Potato,” which confirms instantly that the three musicians have a chemistry between them. The interplay between Simon and Mirek is empathetic as they take turns to solo, each making apposite, tasteful interventions with Richard Kennedy providing intricate percussion which both holds the rhythm and responds to the other instruments. “Without Love”, a gospel-tinged ode to peace and love introduces the glorious vocal harmonies courtesy of a sensational backing trio featuring the soulful, captivating Unoma Okudo. The title track is a catchy, jaunty, beautifully written and arranged song with Simon’s mellifluous vocals complementing those of the chanteuses. Add his sumptuous guitar work and the Manzarek-inspired keys and the outcome is intoxicating.

Kennedy expresses “Love For The Lonely” through his emotive lyrics and piercing guitar interludes. The atmosphere of the slow burning melancholic “Broken Man” is enhanced by the mournful background sound of the Hammond. Multi-award winner Beth Hart’s “Spirit Of God” would appear to be impossible to cover given the inevitable comparisons with the biggest name on the international blues scene. The fact that Glasgow-based Ellyn Oliver nails the song, makes it her own and takes it in a new direction is a phenomenal achievement. The delicate edge to Ellyn’s unique voice adds subtlety to the lyrics and her exquisite timing and phrasing are reminiscent of Eva Cassidy. Above all, Ellyn’s sincerity and belief in the words she sings shine through so when she delivers the lines, “... I know I’m gonna head straight to heaven? Destination straight to the light...,” they are sung with that ultimate conviction.

Moving towards blues/rock territory with “He’s Alright (He’s Alright)”, Richard’s strong, mesmeric backbeat provides the perfect platform. "Justified" and "Brand New Day" are similarly upbeat courtesy of Simon’s compelling riffs and thought-provoking, spiritual lyrics. “Dead End Blues” will also appeal to traditional blues enthusiasts with its gritty guitar and organ interludes.

The album ends as it started, with an instrumental, this time an extended version of Robben Ford’s gospel influenced “On That Morning” from Bringing It Back Home. Kennedy retains the beauty of the original, the melody played in classic Wes Montgomery octave style, but Mirek adds another dimension with his sympathetic keys making this a fitting finale to an inspirational, eclectic musical collection.

--- Dave Scott

Lucy ZirinsOne of the greatest pleasures and privileges of being a reviewer is when an album of quality, integrity and genius like Unfound drops unexpectedly into the in-tray. Lucy Zirins is a serious student of music who started performing in her teens a decade ago, winning numerous awards and building up a loyal fan base en route from Lancashire, UK to her current London home.

The bar is set high on the funky percussive opening track, “One Long Goodbye,” Lucy’s alluring, poetic lyrics setting the scene: “... I don’t want to turn back the time/Maybe it’s the way that I’m made/My life has been one long goodbye...” Crystal clear powerful vocals pierce the heart of the listener on the quasi-religious “Right Side Of Wrong,” the tension rising with the volume of her electric guitar. The incredible range in Lucy’s voice is confirmed on “Stuck In Motion,” her vulnerability evident as she dreams of a sweeter man who will treat her kindly, but in reality she wakes up lonely. “Time To Go” oozes emotion with the acknowledgement that time is definitely up on the relationship rather than saying maybe. The jaunty “Close To The Wire” with its changing tempos and layered crescendos of vocals and instruments is another cleverly arranged song.

Stripped back to Lucy’s acoustic guitar accompaniment is the charming “Clean Condition” with some regrets about not getting her heart torn and tattered like her favourite pieces of clothes. The atmospheric, haunting “Hold The Night Back,” with its strong visual imagery and “scent of summer and the sweet smell of pine,” is both intriguing and enigmatic. The soul-bearing title track with Pete Billington’s sensitive piano accompaniment is a beautiful love song: “... How could you know everything you are to me? You’re my silver and gold ...” The bitterness of lost love is the theme of “The Fall” which acknowledges that the hardest choice is learning when to let go.

“Back To Sleep” confirms the power of the backing musicians, Billington and James Knight, to expand and enhance a song, the special chemistry between the three of them being tangible throughout. When Lucy experiences the heartache of a broken relationship in “Don’t Look Back” she does not seek sympathy: “... Lay down the pain like a gentle kiss/But as you do, I ask you this/Just don’t look back as you walk away ...” The sincerity, strength and depth of Lucy’s solo performance with quiet acoustic backing on this finale is breathtaking and sends shivers down the spine.

Predicted to be ‘a major player’ early in her career by several music journalists, Lucy Zirins has already achieved this goal. Unfound propels this highly gifted chanteuse to the next level as her vocals, guitar playing and songwriting mature and develop alongside her association with a brilliant production team headed by co-instrumentalist James Knight. In a packed marketplace of soul surfing, blues shouting rockers, Zirins offers a refreshing, contrasting style of restrained, folksy tones, raw yet controlled emotions, intelligent reflections and genuine hope arising from adversity, leaving the listener empowered and exhilarated. Whilst not a traditional blues musician, her themes of heartbreak, love, depression, resilience and despair are deeply rooted in the heart of the blues and deserve to be heard.

--- Dave Scott

Sean TaylorIn addition to his blues credentials, Sean Taylor has also forged a considerable reputation as a UK peace and justice campaigner. Indeed the two roles are inexorably entwined which makes the London troubadour one of the most influential musicians of his generation. This latest album, The Path Into Blue (SeanTaylorSongs), tackles contemporary issues with truth and integrity, from Brexit blues to the Grenfell tragedy, but also offers hope in the pursuit of peace and love. On this emotional journey the listener will find many of the themes challenging as they pierce the heart and soul of humanity whilst demanding a response.

The scene is set with ‘”This Is England,” a spoken word stream with evocative piano accompaniment and backing vocals exploring life today and English identity in this broken generation. “... Write me a jingle with a million hooks, WhatsApp me Mr Shakespeare ain’t no time for your books ...” “Lampedusa” is named after the Italian island which is one of the primary refugee crossing points which has claimed over 1,000 lives. Sean reflects on the death of compassion and equality, the anguish evident in Andre Moran’s empathetic guitar interludes.

Taylor highlights the demonization of the working class in “Grenfell” and the harsh reality of “... Cladded towers for wealthy eyes, Follow the money find the lies, Entomb neglect beneath the sky ...” “The Last Man Standing (Merry Christmas)” contrasts the homelessness and freezing for some with the celebrations of others. The trumpets and choir vocals cleverly create the atmosphere of a Salvation Army brass band on this anthemic lament reminiscent of Cohen’s “Halleluja.”

America does not escape Taylor’s wrath on “Little Donny,” the president singled out for rebuke: “... With his tiny hands, Grabs a woman anywhere, He doesn’t need consent, Little Donny doesn’t care ...,” the crescendos revealing the intensifying anger of the musicians.

The tempo might be upbeat and jaunty on “A Cold Wind Blows,” but there is nothing light hearted about sleeping rough on the capital’s streets, a sombre mood skilfully created by Henry Senior’s pedal steel guitar. With its repetitive riffs the pop song parody, “Take It Down To The Mainstream,” lashes out at X factor type shows, karaoke tribute acts and celebrity culture.

Next up are melancholic songs about drink, drugs and addiction. “Tobacco and Whiskey” is well-matched to Sean’s husky tones whilst “Number 49” features a mesmeric suitcase drum beat and timely Hammond organ interludes from Texas-based producer Mark Hallman. Multi-instrumentalist Hallman contributes significantly to the overall brilliance of this CD both musically and through his meticulous production. ‘”In The Name Of God” exemplifies these qualities with Joe Morales’ superb saxophone playing complementing the backing vocals, organ and guitars to educe the sound of peace shining through evil.

“The Other Side Of Hurt” and the title track explore depression, but in the case of “The Path Into Blue” there is also the seed of love and search for truth. Sean delivers effectively on contrasting material because his vocal range and instrumental skills continue to develop exponentially alongside increasingly deft and mature song writing.

It was always going to be difficult for Sean to surpass his critically acclaimed Flood And Burn album, but this latest release propels him further towards membership of that pantheon of elite musicians, alongside Dylan, Cohen, Van Zandt and Martyn.

--- Dave Scott




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