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February 2024

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Order these featured albums today:

Altered Five Blues Band

Sue Foley

Diego Mongue Band

Emanuel Casablanca

Mitch Grainger - Plug It In

Mitch Grainger - Plug It In Acoustic

Lone Star Mojo

Brothers Brown

Jennifer Porter

Hitman Blues Band



Altered Five Blues Band
We've all been waiting for more than a year for a new release from Altered Five Blues Band. Their most recent recording had been the single
"Great Minds Drink Alike," released in 2022 on Blind Pig Records, and weassumed a new album would follow shortly thereafter. But the label went dormant until a recent announcement that the long-time blues company was back in business.

An EP, Testifyin', is coming in late March, but for now we have a couple of singles that show Altered Five Blues Band AND Blind Pig Records are back, and that's good for the blues world.

The first single, "Don't Tell Me I Can't," is big and brassy soulful blues, as the booming voice of Jeff Taylor tells everyone that he can do just about anything he wants to. It's a mid-tempo blues with a taste of funk, highlighted both by Taylor's vocals and the stinging blues guitar of Jeff Schroedl.

Listen to this song one time and you'll be shouting out, "Welcome back, Altered Five!" This very fine number sets the stage for the next single, "Brand New Bone," with release set for mid-February.

"Brand New Bone" opens slowly with just Taylor's voice over Schroedl's restrained guitar and a few harmonica notes from guest artist Jason Ricci, before the rest of the band joins in. Steve Huebler later comes in with a tasty blues piano solo, all while Taylor tells that significant other that like a dog with a brand new bone, he just can't leave her alone.

Testifyin' was produced by Tom Hambridge, who's been behind the helm of some of the best blues albums of the past few years. Check back with Blues Bytes in April for a review of the other three cuts on the EP.

Also, keep an eye on other releases coming from Blind Pig later this year, as they've signed a pair of rising Louisiana blues cats, Sonny Gullage and Jovin Webb. Looks like it's going to be a big blues year ahead for the vision-impaired swine guys.

--- Bill Mitchell

Sue FoleyGuitarist / singer Sue Foley had one of the better live albums in 2023 with her Live In Austin, Vol. 1. When I first saw the email from a publicist announcing an upcoming album by Ms. Foley, I assumed it was Vol. 2 of that live show until I read a little further. It turns out that she'll have a completely new album, One Guitar Woman (Stony Plain) in late March, a concept that pays tribute to the female pioneers of guitar.

This album will be quite a departure for Foley, as she does all dozen songs using just one guitar --- a nylon-string acoustic guitar that she purchased two years ago in Mexico.

So far we only have a single from the album, a cover of Elizabeth Cotten's "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie." If the rest of the album is even half as good as the single, One Guitar Woman will already be a contender for album of the year.

Foley's fingerpicking Piedmont-style guitar work is absolutely exquisite throughout as her fingers fly across the fretboard. Vocally, I've never heard her this strong. It's as if the spirit of Ms. Cotten has taken over her body. Yes, it's that good.

I cannot wait for the full album to come out. In the meantime, and we will have a review of it in the April issue of Blues Bytes. Meanwhile, I'll be playing "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie" repeatedly.

--- Bill Mitchell

Diego Mongue BandHere's a surprise for all of us. I don't even recall who sent me the files for While You Were Gone, the self-released album from Massachusetts-based Diego Mongue Band. Led by the very young drummer Mongue, this unheralded band has produced an intriguing album that's better than most low-budget, self-released discs have a right to be. It's funky, it's jazzy, and it's soulful, each sound infused onto a solid blues base.

The band includes some very fine backing musicians, notably keyboardist Joel Nicholas and guitarist Cameron Bencivenga, but it's singer Chantell McCulloch who puts each of eight songs over the top. Originally from Chicago, the classically-trained McCulloch wound up in the Berkshires, showing the ability to adapt her multi-octave voice to any style of music. She's got star potential.

But let's not overlook bandleader Mongue, who has been on the big stage with past appearances in the International Blues Challenge, both in the Youth Showcase in 2018 and 2019 and also in the finals of the IBC. He puts down a steady beat on drums as well as composing most of the cuts on While You Were Gone.

Every song here is a keeper, starting with the short instrumental, "Intro," that does what the title indicates, introducing each instrumentalist with a very rapid pace, especially showcasing Mongue's solid drumming skills and Nicholas' expertise on the organ. McCulloch then steps to the mic for the funky blues, "While You Were Gone," showing her effective phrasing and range, while Bencivenga lays down plenty of Memphis-style funky guitar licks.

The slower-than-usual cover of "44 Blues" shows that McCulloch can sing a straight blues and do it right, even scatting at one point in the song, with Bencivenga and Nicholas both getting room to solo on their respective instruments. The best song on the album just might be "Give Me Strength," co-written by Mongue and Gina Coleman. It's a funky, jazzy blues, with McCulloch's voice gaining power throughout the song, while Nicholas and Liam Giszter both excel on keyboards.

The traditional blues, "Rollin' And Tumblin'," is brought into this century with this spirited, up-tempo version, as Bencivenga's scintillating guitar solo keeps up with the pace of the song. The tempo slows considerably on the late night, jazzy blues "Sleepless Night Blues," with McCulloch showing the ability to change personas as a singer by becoming a sensitive, tortured torch singer.

She does the same on the slow, jazzy "Find My Way Again," this time demonstrating a bit of her gospel roots. Chase Bradshaw gets his chance in the spotlight with a tasteful bass solo, and keeping it bluesy is the very nice guitar solo from Bencivenga. There's a lot going on in the four-and-a-half minutes of this song, with it all coming together in a delightfully funky package.  

Closing the album is the up-tempo 12-bar funky blues, "Blues All Day," driven along by Mongue's steady drumming and Bencivenga's guitar effects, and taken to another level with Nicholas' very hot electric piano solo.

While You Were Gone is an entertaining album from start to finish. While its length is short, with just eight cuts, there's a lot happening here. This is a band worth following, and, for now, count me as the latest member of the Chantell McCulloch fan club.

--- Bill Mitchell

Bliind Raccoon - Nola BlueBlind Raccoon And Nola Blue Collection, Volume Six (Nola Blue) is another of the compilations of artists represented by Blind Raccoon that have appeared on both the Nola Blue and Blue Heart labels. There's a hodgepodge of artists on the 15 cuts here, so it's not as cohesive an album as the Nola Blue collection featured in our Surprise page, but with some absolute gems that make this a worthwhile addition to your blues library.

Let's start with my favorites. I'm an unabashed fan of Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps, and any new recording from this wonderful singer and her band is very welcome. She does a version of the rollicking "I Do My Drinkin' On The Weekend," a song written and recorded by Big Al Anderson (along with Stephen Bruton) with a band he assembled after his long stint as the frontman for the iconic NRBQ. It was originally released by James and the Rhythm Tramps on the 2007 album The Bottom Line. This one shows a country side of Ms. James but with plenty of blues sass, and her honky tonkin' piano work is the icing on the cake.

Just as essential is a new recording by The Texas Horns, with "Never Buy My Soul" a mid-tempo horn-infused soulful blues featuring Austin singer Ange Kogutz on vocals, and the always outstanding guitar work of both Anson Funderburgh and Johnny Moeller. This song shows that we absolutely need to hear more from Ms. Kogutz, because she's got the soulful pipes to easily compete with the customary outstanding horn work from this band.

There's a heavy Mardi Gras flavor on the back-to-back cuts by Benny Turner and pianist Dave Keyes. Turner does a nice tribute to Wild Magnolias leader Bo Dollis on a song with the long title of "Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right) aka A Tribute To Big Chief Bo Dollis," with Warner Williams and Marva Wright sharing vocals and strong piano and organ from Keiko Komaki. Keyes lays down the appropriate second line piano work on "Pookie Po Po," with a big horn section behind him.

Big Harp George shows up with an unreleased cut, "Struck Out Again," from the 2018 album Uptown Cool, recorded by Kid Andersen at the Greaseland Studios in San Jose. It's a slow blues, with plenty of George's stellar chromatic harmonica, as he sings about all of the women with whom he couldn't commit his love. He's always been good at playing the downtrodden man in his compositions, and that misery comes out of his voice as he lists his problems with each of the prospective women who have come through his life. Andersen plays strong blues guitar throughout. I wonder why this one didn't make the cut for that original album, because it's a keeper.

British blues singer Mississipi MacDonald, along with friends Reverend Shawn Amos (hamronica, vocals) and Lucy Dearing (backing vocals), take a trip down to the Delta wth a tribute to the one of the more mysterious blues cats of the past in "Ballad of Pat Hare." MacDonald has the appropriate raw pipes for this one, along with jangly guitar parts that he shares with Phil Dearing.

One more song of note is the instrumental number, "Tidal Wave," from keyboardist extraordinaire Anthony Geraci. It's both jazzy and bluesy, especially when he gets on the Hammond organ. Barrett Amdeson comes in with a nice slide guitar solo to pack in a bit of a downhome blues sound that blends well when Geraci steps over to the piano.

Those are the hits for me, and that's enough to justify the album. There are also cuts by Kip London ("My Baby Loves Me Like a Hurricane"), Douglas Avery ("Survivor"), Trevor B. Power ("Man Goes Blind"), Terry Wilson-Slesser ("Forever Blue"), Steve Howell and the Mighty Men ("99 1/2 Won't Do"), Kenny Parker ("She Might Meet Me"), Blind Lemon Pledge ("House Of The Rising Sun"), and Reverend Freakchild ("Don't Miss Nothing 'til It's Gone").

--- Bill Mitchell

Emanuel CasablancaBrooklyn-based singer/guitarist Emanuel Casablanca garnered a lot of attention with his 2022 debut album, Blood On My Hands. His sophomore effort, Strung Out On Thrills (Vinyl Recording Group), continues along the same musical path, with 13 gritty and greasy blues-rockers written by Casablanca, joined by guests Laurence Henderson, Joanna Connor, Kelli Baker, Elliot Sharp, and many others.

The opener, “Dogshit,” is a tough tale about an unfaithful woman and features Connor on sizzling slide guitar. It also appears as a bonus track, “clean” version, at the end of the album. The title track is a funky blues that finds Casablanca in something of a rut, and “Visceral” begins as an easy-going soul track before moving to guitar-driven rock with guest guitarist Henderson chipping in. “Conniver” returns to the funky blues mode heard previously.

“The Farm” shows up at an appropriate time on the album, as it’s a less intense track featuring acoustic guitar, a dense, throbbing rhythm, and an almost-pop sensibility. The feisty rocker “King” kicks things back up a notch with some of Casablanca’s fiercest fretwork, before the rumbling, Spanish-flavored “Pistoleró,” a grim Wild West saga which features acoustic guitarist Salvo in support, settles in.

“Lass” is a sturdy blues stomper that again features Connor’s scorching slide guitar plus a guest vocal from New York-based blues belter Kelli Baker. “Bastard” is a rocking blues played fairly straight lyric-wise, with crisp, contemporary blues guitar work from Casablanca. Guest Elliot Sharp contributes slide guitar to the funky “Morning Wood.”

The album wraps with “Pearl,” an interesting concoction which marries blues with a bit of hip-hop. The two bonus tracks include the aforementioned “clean” version of the opening track (“Dogs**t”), and a demo of a track called “My Life’s Fire,” a nice, light tune with acoustic guitar.

Emanuel Casablanca covers a lot of musical ground on Strung Out On Thrills. He’s a powerful guitarist and his vocal style easily adapts to the variety of material he’s put together on this fine effort. He will also be appearing in 2024 as the lead in the feature film "Mookie & Worm," playing a blues musician trying to rebuild his career. Hopefully, the acting bug won’t overcome his desire to be a musician anytime soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Mitch GraingerMitch Grainger got his start playing guitar and harmonica in Sydney, Australia, appearing at most of the major Australian blues festivals before turning 21. He played in multiple bands, including Papa Lips and Grainger (with his sister Kara) before relocating to Los Angeles and immersing himself in the Hollywood music scene and releasing a solo album (The Blues) in 2015. He also invented a new harmonica microphone (Dyna-Mic), which enabled him to play harmonica hands-free.

Around 2020, Grainger started recording singles, deciding it would be fun to have an acoustic version of each of the electric versions he had released. After he noticed that the acoustic versions were getting as much play as the electric ones, he decided to release a double album with one record electric and the other acoustic. The resulting set, dubbed Plug It In and Plug It In Acoustic, features 11 original compositions presented in both plugged and unplugged formats.

The title track opens both discs, a jaunty toe-tapper driven along by Ed Maxwell’s bass, Deacon Marrquin’s drums, and Arlan Schierbaum’s keyboards on the electric disc. The acoustic version is just as lively, with Grainger’s guitar and harmonica driving the song. The funky “Hollywood” paints a bleak picture of the city in both versions, and “Strong Woman” has a greasy, swampy vibe, especially on the electric version.

Mitch GraingerThe moody “Loose Change” leans toward blues rock in both versions. I really like the acoustic version with its lonesome, solitary feel. The languid “Honey Bee” works in the same manner, the acoustic version really conveying the lonesome feelings of Grainger wanting his lover to come back home, but the electric version adds an urgency to the song.

“That’s Alright” is a Hooker-esque blues ‘n boogie that’s six and a half minutes long, but truthfully could have gone on longer in either incarnation. “Let Me In” serves as a sequel of sorts to the previous tune, featuring Grainger’s slide guitar to great effect on the electric version  while the harmonica is featured more prominently on the acoustic version.

On the crisp blues of “Mississippi,” Grainger paints a vivid scene of the state and its music, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of a summer day (or night) in the Magnolia State. “Big City Blues” is an easy-going, front porch blues, and “Shake It Up” is a funky blues boogie that will make your body move,. “Rock The Boat,” is a fun closer that will leave you with a smile on your face.

I would be hard-pressed to tell you whether I prefer the electric or acoustic version of Plug It In. Both discs have their charms and each version gives you a different taste of the same song. The best thing about this excellent set is that I have been introduced to a performer who I would like to hear more from and about. This ambitious and creative collection will make you want to hear more from Mitch Grainger, too.

--- Graham Clarke

Lone Star Mojo

Lone Star Mojo (Joe Splawn – B3/vocals, Mark Snyder – guitar/vocals, Tim Maloney – bass, Barry Sloan – drums) formed during the COVID lockdown, releasing an album about a year ago. These guys liked it so much, as did their fans, that they decided to do it all again.

Their follow-up release, A Shot Of The Blues, includes a dozen original songs, six apiece from Splawn and Synder, plus contributions from Scott Biggs (slide guitar), Doc Louie Luton (acoustic guitar), and Vanity Washington (backing vocals).

The upbeat blues rocker “Good Blues Travels Fast,” written by Snyder, kicks off the disc, a fine showcase for the whole band with Snyder’s fierce fretwork and Splawn’s spot-on B3. Splawn’s “Desolation Blues” is a mid-tempo, urban-styled blues driven by the B3, with both Snyder and Splawn takinge extended solos as well. The raucous “Hey Hey” has an energetic southern rock feel, and it’s followed by the ballad “Thoughts Of You.”

The soulful “What Do You Feel” mixes a bit of reggae with the blues with very satisfying results. Biggs adds tasty slide guitar to the funky blues and rock of “You’re Just A Blur,” while the poignant “So Long Ruthie” pays tribute to a longtime friend who passed away.

The title track and “Corner Boogie are both keepers, a jazzy blues (the former) and a driving roadhouse rocker (the latter) showcasing great instrumental interplay between the B3, guitar, and the rhythm section. The clever “Your Blues Give My Blues The Blues” incorporates a bit of funk into the mix. Biggs returns with searing slide guitar for “She Really Loves The Blues, while the closer, “America’s Got The Blues,” takes a pointed look at the current situation.

Synder and Splawn are both fine songwriters, and the band is a well-oiled machine, rising to the occasion time and time again. A Shot Of The Blues is a powerful sophomore effort for Lone Star Mojo, and chances look pretty good that they will be doing it all again in the near future. I think blues fans will be good with that decision when it comes.

--- Graham Clarke

Brothers BrownIt’s been a few years since their last album (2016’s Dusty Road), but the blues and roots band Brothers Brown is still making some mighty fine music, as evidenced from their latest release, Nowhere Left To Go (Woodward Avenue Records). The two Browns, L.A.-based singer/guitarist Paul Brown and Nashville-based keyboardist Brother Paul Brown, are joined once again by bassist/guitarist/vocalist David Santos and drummer/percussionist/guitarist Peter Young.

The 13 original tunes deftly mix blues with roots, country, and rock, and will be accessible to a host of music fans. The somber opener, “Wrong Side Of Town,” has a smooth country/soul feel, while the ’70s-styled rocker “Junior’s Back” is a lot of fun, showcasing Paul Brown’s crisp guitar work and Brother Paul Brown’s Moog skills. The haunting slow burner “Runnin’ Blues” is a moody piece with a world-weary vocal from Santos.

Brother Paul Brown has enjoyed a 20-plus collaboration with Bobby Rush, with the 90-year-old blues legend joining the band for the funky title track, sharing vocals with Santos. The upbeat “My Baby” is a catchy blues number, and the gentle “High On The Mountain” is a glorious gospel tune, featuring wonderful harmony vocals from the band. The album’s first instrumental, “Chitlin’ Pickin’,” is a tasty Southern rocker and one of the first tunes the band composed.

The splendid slow blues “Brand New Day” takes a sober look at picking up the pieces after the end of a relationship. “Whatcha Gonna Do” continues on the same theme, but picks up the tempo a bit, as does “Give Me One Reason,” with more of a rock edge. Although each tune covers the same subject, all of them have a different approach to the topic, so they blend seamlessly.

“Snakehole Road” is a gritty cautionary tale with a genuine swamp blues vibe, and the grim blues rocker “Black and Blue” tells of a man who’s fed up after being ditched by a contemptuous woman. The album wraps up with the cleverly-titled “Fifteen Minutes,” a superb instrumental that slowly builds in intensity and lasts, well, 15:35, although you really aren’t aware of it.

Nowhere Left To Go is a great set of blues, rock, and roots highlighted by first-rate songwriting and excellent musicianship. This outstanding set will please fans of multiple genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Jennifer PorterJennifer Porter is a keyboardist who possesses an amazing voice and is a marvelous songwriter. Those talents are on full display on her latest release, Yes, I Do! (Cougar Moon Music), a fabulous set of blues and roots songs. Six of the eight tunes were written by Porter, who’s joined by Dana Packard and Jonathan Truman (drums/percussion), Damon Banks (bass), George Naha and Vinnie Raniolo (guitar), Steve Jankowski (trumpets/flugelhorn), Doug DeHays (tenor and baritone sax/clarinet), Randy Andos (trombone/tuba), with special guests Cindy Cashdollar and C.J. Chenier.

Porter opens the disc with the dazzling “Before We Call It A Day,” showcasing her marvelous voice and keyboards, backed by the equally potent horns and rhythm section. The title track is a delightful taste of Memphis soul, punctuated by Porter’s sweet vocal and Wurlitzer and B3, and “Over You” is a haunting ballad that allows her an opportunity to display her vocal range.

Chenier’s accordion teams with Porter’s keyboards to give “All I Needed Was You” a real New Orleans flair, and Cashdollar’s pedal steel is prominent on “Don’t Worry No More,” a mid-tempo blues track that also mixes soulful horns and a taste of funk.

Porter’s read of the Leroy Carr standard “How Long” is an impressive variation from the traditional blues covers usually heard, leaning more toward the jazz side of the aisle with her subtle piano and the horn section with flugelhorn Jankowski. “Lucky Dust” continues in a jazz vein, the New Orleans variety, with shimmering horns and clarinet, and the closer, a cool cover of Stuart Balcom and Bessie Smith’s “Good Ol’ Wagon,” features Porter on piano with Andos’ tuba.

Yes, I Do! is an entertaining set of traditional blues and roots music from Jennifer Porter, a talented performer and composer who deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Hitman Blues BandI’ve been listening to The Hitman Blues Band for well over a decade now and the New York City-based band’s releases are always entertaining. Russell “Hitman” Alexander has proven to be a powerful singer and guitarist, and the band’s support is always first rate. While their original songs are always very good, their occasional covers of classic blues and rock songs have been most compelling. It  really made sense for the band to release a compilation of some of their previously released cover songs, Hey, Can You Guys Play….(Nerus Records).

It’s one thing to cover a classic song, but when a band brings something new to a familiar song is what makes a cover tune extraordinary, and The Hitman Blues Band always adds a twist or two to their interpretations. The opening track, “Hoochie Coochie Man,” was a high point of the band’s The World Moves On release in 2016, setting the table nicely here for the rest of the disc.

There are also three tracks from 2021’s enjoyable Not My Circus, Not My Monkey release, with funky, soulful arrangements of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “John The Revelator,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” both of which have some adapted lyrics that fit with the original lyrics just fine. The new arrangements, incorporating horns and keyboards, are very effective, too.

A pair of these songs previously appeared on Alexander’s acoustic solo album, Playing To The Crowd, with a rollicking take on Wynonie Harris’ ”Good Morning Judge” and the jaunty “Who Put The Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine” from Harry “The Hipster” Gibson.

Another acoustic tune, Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” featuring Alexander on Resonator, appeared on the band’s initial release, 1999’s Blooztown, but the band’s sizzling cover of Son House’s “Death Letter,” from 2009 release Pale Rider is most definitely not acoustic. A live version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” from 2008’s Live At the Stonybrook University really percolates.

The lone new track on the album is a tasty remake of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” which proves to be a solid blues tune.

If you’re not familiar with The Hitman Blues Band, then Hey, Can You Guys Play…. is a great introduction to their musical talents, but listeners are encouraged to check out their original recordings because the original material packs a potent punch as well.

--- Graham Clarke



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