Blues Bytes

March 2002

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What's New

Shawn PittmanOklahoma-born Shawn Pittman is easily recognized as a blues/roots rocker. However, he takes his music beyond this obvious and predictable genre on Full Circle (his third release). Pittman wrote eight of the disc’s 11 tracks, indicating a maturation of an artist still considered to be in his youth. At an early age, Shawn started playing piano and drums. Soon, he bought an acoustic guitar and started strumming along to Jimmy Reed albums. In 1992, at the age of 17, he moved to Texas and began to cut his blues teeth on the highly competitive blues stages there. He has made connections in Austin. With the exception of two tracks, ace rhythm section Double Trouble provide secure support. To his credit, Pittman resists the temptation to imitate SRV. Images of a 1950s era Elvis Presley, racing along Highway 61 in a pink Cadillac, come to mind on the electric country blues tune, "Runnin’ Shoes." However; its infectious rockabilly rhythm repeats once too often. "I Smell Trouble" is a slow blues with an extended guitar solo. Here, Pittman’s notes are pelted off his strings. He intelligently segues to a mellow, soft feel and then frantically quickens the pace. On this song and others, Shawn plays with the energy of a rebel rock 'n' roller, and the depth and soulfulness of a seasoned bluesman. "One Of These Days" has a groove that hooks you and hits you. Riley Osborne adds the proper amount of pulsating chords on organ while Pittman plays so clearly you’ll envision his strings being plucked. "Can’t Take That Away" is solid evidence that Shawn was raised on a few Hi Records and Stax Records. It is a brilliant tune that is sensual and soulful, and belongs in the hit charts. Listeners will undoubtedly request this one to be played on radio and at the gig. He switches to piano on "It Takes A Lot To Laugh…" and kicks out the boogie while vocally sounding like a very young Gregg Allman. "Movin’" is a dazzling instrumental stripped to the basics. The Moeller Brothers (Jon and Jason) join Pittman on rhythm guitar and drums respectively. Together they lay down the elements to pure blues. Pittman combines the carefree intensity of youth with the substance of aged experience. He is a stronger guitar player and songwriter than a singer. That’s alright, as there is plenty of music to shake your body parts to on this energetic Jim Gaines-produced 50 minute disc. It indicates a greater potential in the years to follow as Shawn continues to develop and nurture his sound. The future of Texas blues is in good hands. Please note, this CD is only available through Shawn’s website. For information, contact: To order CDs or book this artist, check out Shawn’s website:

Some CDs require a few spins before you can really get into them. That is not the case with Tommy Castro's Guilty Of Love (33rd Street Records). The grooves instantly get into the listener’s bloodstream and memory banks. Guilty Of Love is Castro’s first collection of all new material since 1999’s Right As Rain. It contains 11 songs which last a total of 52 minutes. Eight of the tracks were written as a collaboration between Tommy and others such as band members Randy McDonald (bass) and Billy Lee Lewis (drums). Songwriting is just one of Tommy’s talents. All tunes feature his signature whiskey-drenched voice and flawless guitar playing that is full of vitality. Things commence with the road-racing title track on which John Lee Hooker guests on vocals. Sadly this was to be the final recording session before his death. Karen Goodman, L.Z. Love and Pamela Rose provide sexy background vocals which are the most enticing on "Stay With Me Tonight." "Blinded In The Face Of Love" is stripped down almost to the point of being unplugged. Soft guitar and sax provides the perfect opportunity for Tommy’s raspy vocals to be the song’s centerpiece. Things break into a shuffle on "Shakin’ The Hard Times Loose." This provides an ideal foundation for Jimmy Pugh/Stu Blank to lay on and rip into barrelhouse boogie woogie piano. The mood created by Pugh’s mysterious and melancholic B3 incites Castro to get passionate with his picking on "Ain’t Gonna Make That Call." In fact, the track contains some of the CD’s best guitar work. "Naugahyde" is a funky instrumental with a taste of 60s soul. Here, Keith Crossan’s sax is inimitable. The James Brown-inspired "If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’" has the assertive rhythm and meaty sax worthy of the Godfather himself. They wrap things up by returning to their roots on "Dirt Road Blues." It is undoubtedly the deepest blues song they have recorded in years. While growing up in San Jose, Tommy Castro was inspired by the likes of Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield. After realizing who influenced them, he became enthralled with the blues. Tommy went on to play with many Bay area bands and in 1991, he finally formed his own group. Since then Tommy and his band have contributed significantly to develop the contemporary roots rock sound of today. Once again Castro has created music to move to on this Jimmy Pugh produced release. His roadhouse voice is second only to Delbert McClinton while his guitar playing is assailing and his songwriting is exhilarating. Surely it won’t be long before another big label offers him a contract. For CDs, booking and information, contact:

Rory BlockWhen you hear the name Rory Block, more than likely you think of the W.C. Handy Award winning artist for acoustic blues and traditional blues. On I'm Every Woman (Rounder), Block does a complete 180 and produces an unprecedented vocal showcase. The CD matches arousing, emotionally powerful versions of classic R&B with stunning gospel and stark, traditional ballads. Rory states, ‘I decided to record a mixture of styles from acapella and acoustic to some of my all-time favorite soul classics.’ On this adventurous 50 minute, 14 track release, Block proves she can competently play many genres.
For this effort, she assembled an impressive group of New York City musicians: Jeff Mironov (electric guitar), Mark Egan and Neal Jason (bass), Richard Bell (keyboards), Clifford Carter (synthesizers/keyboards) and Shawn Pelton (drums). On "Guitar Ditty," Rory begins with what she knows best. It’s an instrumental that displays her mastery of acoustic slide guitar. From here she departs the comfort zone and launches into the title track. It was a hit for Chaka Khan so you know it’s bound to have plenty of danceable rhythm. In fact, on the first spin, you may think that you have put on the latest ‘dance hits collection’ disc. However, Rory’s eloquent voice/guitar makes the tune attractive for even the most staunch roots music fan. Things get deeply sensual on "Fool For You," on which Block’s vocals are so varied and entertaining they are unforgettable! She delivers the lyrics with enough conviction to covert the strongest skeptic. Carter’s synthesizer is no substitute for a beefy horn section on Al Green’s classic "Tired Of Being Alone." However, all other elements match the original, especially those sweet, soulful high notes that Rory is capable of reaching. In fact, she sings as sweet as she looks on the CD’s cover and liner. Several songs feature the greatest instrument, the human voice. Street corner crooning is center stage on "Sea Lion Woman," "Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down" and "Rock Island Line." Rory’s guests provide an added dimension. Gaye Adegbalola, Jordan Block Valdina and Paul Rishell all contribute vocals while Annie Raines adds harmonica. Without a doubt, the best vocal pairings are when Rory teams with Keb' Mo' on "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing" and Kelly Joe Phelps on "Pretty Polly." On these tracks, the voices fit together as comfortably as an old pair of jeans. Listeners rich in taste will enjoy the diversity of mellow, adult contemporary music included on this vocally challenging collection. For CDs, booking and information, contact: Rounder Records  Artist website:

If you enjoy blues-based roots rock that is driving and kicking, then race out to pick up Damn Good Reason To Play The Blues (Proud Cow Records) by Wisconsin’s own Jay Stulo. Born in Milwaukee into a musical family, Jay was encouraged to play at an early age. After moving to Eau Claire, Jay met James Solberg and began playing guitar with many regional and national blues acts. In particular, Luther Allison became impressed with Jay, and it wasn’t long before Jay hit the road as Luther's guitar tech and apprentice. Eventually, in 1995, Luther encouraged the budding musician to start his own group. Jay’s contributions to this disc are elaborate. He wrote 11 of the 12 tracks, produced all but three songs, plays some bass and handles all the guitars/vocals. Drummer Craig Panosh shares the Allison connection. Craig did several tours with Luther's son Bernard Allison. The rhythm section is fulfilled by Victor Johnson on bass. Throughout Stulo plays sharp, biting notes on his Jay Turser guitar, sounding reminiscent of Luther Allison. For example, listen to "Do You Think I Can," which also features the incredibly adept keyboard talent of Mike Vlahakis. A southern rock’n blues rhythm presides over "Meet Me In The Valley," with Stulo letting rip on slide. "Separate Ways" demands radio play. Here, Stulo’s gruff vocals are showcased amidst excellent vocal harmony with Doug Kroening. The soul stirring beat of the music expresses the same emotions of the words which are about a relationship breakup. Next, you will drift to the seaside courtesy of the Caribbean cocktail bar band-sounding "I Found Out." The short and sweet "Big Dog and Little Dog" is the sole acoustic gem amongst the electricity. Some of Jay’s best guitar playing is found on "August One." It's passionate, well-timed and straight up kicking. "L-Mo" is no doubt a tribute to Elmore James. Stulo plays rowdy slide on this Picking The Blues-sounding instrumental. On "Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool," Jay makes his guitar cry and plead in a blaze of fierce, scratchy soul-piercing notes. If Eric Johnson can get a mega hit with a song like this, then why can’t Jay? In a world overrun with guitar slingers it's a thrill to find the genuine deal. This multi-talented artist isn’t out to impress by being brazen or supersonic with his six-string. It’s not what typically comes to mind when you hear the word blues, but it is damn good and will appeal to many listeners. Here is a true crossover artist with a ton of potential. A rare disc that captivates you from the initial note. Expect to love this CD from the first time that you give it a spin. For CDs, booking and information, contact: Proud Cow Records, 306 W 17th Ave., Oshkosh, WI 54902 (920) 231-8674 e-mail:, artist website:

--- Tim Holek

Any fans of Corey Harris who are going through withdrawals while anxiously awaiting his upcoming Rounder debut can take comfort in the fact that Harris has released a great live two-CD set, which is only available at his website. Live at Starr Hill, January 27, 2001 (Njumba Records) successfully captures the many facets of Corey Harris. The first CD is a solo acoustic set featuring songs from all four of Harris's Alligator CDs, plus some never previously recorded by Harris (including Blind Blake's "CC Pill Blues," Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues," Bukka White's "Parchman Farm Blues," Son House's "Walking Blues," "C. C. Rider," and a Harris original, the gentle "Sweetest Fruit"). All in all, it's a very well done set, though a bit short at slightly less than 40 minutes. Harris has one of the most expressive and authentic voices in blues today and his guitar work is simply marvelous to hear. In addition, it's almost impossible to distinguish his original compositions from the old songs that he covers. The second CD finds Harris plugged in with his excellent touring band, the 5 x 5, and kicking things up a notch, mixing funk, world beat, African, and reggae, along with some electric blues. The compositions that make up the second disc are mainly from Harris' third Alligator CD, Greens From the Garden, with the exception of a couple of newer, previously unreleased tracks (including two tunes from his upcoming Rounder CD, Downhome Sophisticate, in May, which indicate that he will be exploring the blues/world beat genre further). The second disc may not completely appeal to fans of Corey's straight blues, but his ability to effortlessly blend all these styles into a cohesive unit is remarkable. Corey Harris fans will be pleased to get their hands on these discs, which are only available at his website,

Acoustic blues artist and New Orleans native, Owen Tufts, better known by as Big Daddy "O", has grown and matured in the musical traditions of both Louisiana and the Mississippi delta. For the past 25 years, he has honed his craft by playing the small clubs in the area around his home in Mt. Hermon, Louisiana. His initial release for the Rabadash Records label, That's How Strong My Love Is, showcases his talents very well. The CD is loaded with 19 tracks, ranging from old traditional blues ("Fishin' Blues," "Hesitation Blues"), a little Beatles ("I Will"), a little Stones ("Spider and the Fly"), some Hendrix ("Belly Button Window"), some old R&B classics (Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love," "Let the Good Times Roll"), some Taj Mahal, some Steven Stills, all presented in an acoustic blues vein. You probably get the idea that this is a pretty wide-ranging album. It is, and O's melodious guitar and his warm vocals fit all of these songs like a glove. My personal favorite is the title track. I've heard many versions of this song in the past from Otis Redding, Taj Mahal, Percy Sledge and O.V. Wright, but this gentle version, done up Louisiana-style, complete with accordion, is more than a match for any previous renditions. O also gets great support from a first-rate cast of musicians and vocalists, including fellow Rabadashers John Autin, who also produced, and Theresa Andersson. This is a very enjoyable CD and is perfect for listening to while sitting out on the back porch on a late afternoon. It can be purchased at

Memphis-based singer Barbara Blue has a hot new CD called Sell My Jewelry (BIG Blue Records) that effortlessly moves between gritty urban blues and smoky Memphis soul. A great vocalist, Blue has been compared with singers Etta James and Janis Joplin (I would lean more toward Etta). Blue handles everything here with ease, be it E.G. Kight's "Trouble With a Capital 'T'," the double entendre-laden "Tool Box Blues," the slow groove "From the Delta to the Golden Gates" (a tribute to John Lee Hooker), the funky "Cheatin' Blues," and even a song from the Janis Joplin catalog ("Turtle Blues"). The highlights for me though were the soulful "Don't Lead Me On," which would to be a hit single in a perfect world, and Lucinda's Williams' "Drunken Angel." Tony Braunagel, drummer for Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band, produced this CD. He is just one of several current and former Phantom Blues Band members playing on the CD, including Mike Finnigan on keyboards, guitarist Johnny Lee Schnell, bassist Larry Fulcher, and the Texicali Horns (Joe Sublett and Darrell Leonard), so, needless to say, Blue has some great support. In short, this is a strong, well-produced CD from a young lady that you'll be seeing and hearing a lot more of. For more on Barbara Blue, and for purchasing information, go to

Skip James first recorded in 1931 for the Paramount label during the height of the Great Depression. James was an excellent guitar player, an interesting piano player, and had a ghostly, high-pitched voice. Those records, mostly comprised of stark images of despair and gloom, sold very few copies, in part due to the financial times and probably in part due to their depressing content. Despite the low sales of his records, James' music was a big influence on several Delta musicians, including a young Robert Johnson. Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail" was based on James' song "Devil Got My Woman." Discouraged by his lost opportunity, James gave up the blues and joined the church, where he formed a gospel group and became a Baptist (and eventually a Methodist) minister. In 1964, he was rediscovered by three record collectors (John Fahey, Bill Barth, and future Canned Heat member Harry Vestine) in a Tunica, Mississippi hospital. What was astonishing was that James sounded as good, if not better, than he did during his 1931 session, especially his vocals. Despite James' reluctance to get involved with music again, the trio persuaded him to make an appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and he became a big hit with the audience, which encouraged him to try other folk festivals. Signing with Vanguard Records, he recorded two classic albums whose contents have been collected into one CD called Blues from the Delta. While the Paramount recordings are considered to be Skip James at his very best, the inferior sound of those sides make these versions much easier to listen to. James' guitar work is simply breath taking and his vocals send chills up your spine. His piano work is more eccentric and will probably take some getting used to. The songs themselves are vivid in their imagery. "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" is a bleak picture of the Depression, and Skip's eerie vocals on his classic "Devil Got My Woman" will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. James also composed some new songs for these albums, the best of these is "Sick Bed Blues," an autobiographical song with the chilling line "...He said may get better, but he'll never get well no more..." Unfortunately, James did not live very long after returning to the blues scene, dying in 1969. Luckily, he did live long enough to enjoy some royalties from Eric Clapton's cover of "I'm So Glad," recorded with Cream in 1967. This is a CD that probably shouldn't be listened to in one sitting, but if you're a fan of Delta blues, you'll want to give it a listen. If you would like more information on Skip James, I would highly recommend Peter Guralnick's excellent book Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock & Roll.

--- Graham Clarke

Duke RobillardHonestly, I think it's genetically impossible for Duke Robillard to produce a bad record. In fact, I think that he, and not John Hammond Jr., should be considered the most important "white blues revivalist", whatever that means. But he's also such a great guitarist, he's always backed by such a crack group of musicians, he's become such a respected producer (on his own records, but also on many other artists'), and his records are always so entertaining that you tend to forget that all this time, while you're grooving with his music and being floored by his guitar technique, Duke is slyly teaching you some blues history. His latest record, Living with the Blues (on Stony Plain), is similar to all his recent Shanachie/Stony Plain releases in that it offers a mix of blues and old-style R&B numbers (a little more blues than usual). Robillard is in top form, backed with his longtime sidemen Doug James and Sax Gordon Beadle on bari and tenor saxes, respectively (and with newcomer Bruce Katz shining on B-3), performing a mix of originals and more-or-less obscure covers. There are a couple of firsts, too. "Hard Road," a Tampa Red song, is the first time we get to hear the Duke playing acoustic guitar (dobro?), with only John Packer's acoustic bass in support. For the first time in his 35 year career, Robillard gets to cover a Muddy Waters tune, the classic "I Live the Life I Love." He does it in a somewhat jazzy way that is wholly different from the version you can probably hear in your sleep. The rest of the songs from the blues' glory days that get revived here are associated with Little Milton, Freddy King, Bobby Bland, Brownie McGhee (the title tune), B.B. King ("Long Gone Baby," a tune I did not know) and one Willie Egans number. They all blend together splendidly, with some new and old Robillard-penned tunes, creating something pretty damn close to perfection --- a smooth but never bland record, a disc where every ounce of showmanship and technique is subsumed in the songs they're supposed to serve … like all Duke Robillard records. 

Even though he's had more than his share of bad luck (his wife shot him in the face at some point and he had a leg amputated due to diabetes), Son Seals keeps on going, and his recent Telarc albums have been widely praised. But it was for Alligator Records than Frank "Son" Seals produced his best work, when he was in his prime; although his trademark screeching guitar sound hasn't changed much, his first records had something else that made him stand out from the rest of Alligator's roster of hot guitarists --- his music was the funkiest blues there is. You'll find ample proof of this on Alligator's eleventh entry in the Deluxe Edition series. Conversely, you'll also come to realize that, by the end of his 15-year stay at Bruce Iglauer's label, this unique quality that grabbed the ear as well as the booty just wasn't there anymore. I suppose the compilers of this CD felt the same way, seeing as they included nine tracks culled from his first four albums, plus the previously unreleased "Life All by Myself," which was cut at the time of Seals' first album, The Son Seals Blues Band from 1972), while there are only five tracks that were culled from his last four Alligator albums. Of course, it goes without saying that, as with all Deluxe Edition releases, you'll get great pictures of "The Bad Axe," including a 14" X 9 1/2" poster, and you'll be pleased by the excellent re-mastering job, which managed to bring that funky bass of Harry "Snapper" Mitchum to life. And wait till you get to the apocalyptic finale of "Funky Bitch" seguing into "Hot Sauce" (from Live and Burning). If you want to hear and feel a singer and guitarist put his whole soul into his singing and playing, this is the place. There is no way you can top these two songs in pure feeling and emotion and still stay alive. In these six precious minutes, Seals achieved immortality. What else could I add?

In September 2000, I reviewed a CD by a trio of Canadian guitarists - Bill Bourne, Lester Quitzau and Ben Randriamananjara, also known as Madagascar Slim - titled Tri-Continental. The diverse sensibilities of these guitarists (Bourne, an ex-member of Celtic stars The Tannahill Weavers, is a devoted student of British, Celtic and North American singer-songwriter folk songs, as well as a folk-blues enthusiast; Quitzau is a master slide guitarist, who's gone from quirky personalized acoustic blues to modern electric boogie-blues; Madagascar Slim is a Madagascar-born and raised musician, well-versed in his island's musical traditions, but he's also a Jimi Hendrix fan and electric guitar blues-rock stylist) made for an interesting and off-the-beaten-path listen. Since that time, these musicians have kept working on their respective solo careers, but they've also found time to tour with the Tri-Continental concept, appearing for example at last year's Jazz Festival in Montreal, where I live. They've also appeared at various European venues, and their latest double album, simply called Live and credited to Tri-Continental (on Tradition & Moderne, from Germany), gives you the full experience, with a cozy and right-in-your-living-room feel and impeccable sound. Aside from the three guitars, which you'll easily identify and differentiate, you'll hear the multi-instrumentalist Bill Bourne plucking a violin as if it was a tiny mandolin, on one song, and blowing his harmonica on a couple of numbers. There is no rhythm section, no accompanist, just three guitarists, alternately taking the lead or adding rhythm guitar parts … no drums either, but Bill Bourne (as seen on the inlay picture) is only wearing his socks, thumping on a wooden board, with the mike apparently set up under the board, creating a soft, muted low beat. You'll pick all this up, because the recording is so crisp. If you have the previous Tri-Continental album, as well as Quitzau's So Here We Are album (reviewed here in May 2001) and Bourne's folkish Sally's Dream, you'll recognize many titles. Even if you're not familiar with the trio's music, you'll find yourself smiling with the good-natured exchanges and vibe. Not a revolutionary record nor extraordinary music, but one of those live albums that make you wish you had been there to witness the show first hand.

Here's another act that I'd like to see live, and the more the better --- the slightly crazier-than-he-should-be-for-his-own-good Chuck E. Weiss, he of "Chuck E.'s in Love" fame. With lyrics like "My baby's got no clothes 'cuz she's cooking chicken soup" and a chorus that goes "Ho-Hi-Hay, Oo-ba Doo-ba-doo," the first song off his Old Souls & Wolf Tickets album (on Slow River), "Congo Square at Midnight," will immediately bring to mind this other zany character and all-around voodoo sorcerer, Dr. John. Weiss and his band (The G-d Damn Liars) will then treat you to a bastard son of boogie-woogie and rockabilly ("Tony Did the Boogie Woogie"), a soft jazz-lounge ballad, a Tom Waits-style crooked shuffle, a hilarious out-of-tune Southern gospel bluegrass-y thing, a great jump blues played at a rockabilly pace ["Two-Tone Car (an auto-body experience)," about exactly what the title describes],  a funeral march tune, and a song called "Sneaky Jesus" that is just plain weird. You get the idea. If ever the phrase "defying classification" was made for something, it was to describe Chuck E. Weiss' music. There might only be one straight blues number on this record ("Down the Road A Piece," recorded in 1970 with Willie Dixon & the Chicago All Stars, featuring Carey Bell and Sunnyland Slim), but there is not one track that is further than one wobbly step from the blues, or some kind of roots music. And all the while, even though you'll smile aplenty and be utterly convinced that the man has a few bolts loose up there, Weiss is never making fun of these various styles of music. He is, however, having the time of his life with them, no matter how warped they come out, and so should you.

I don't think we, at Blues Bytes, have ever reviewed Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise, a Detroit area group that has one foot tentatively in the blues and the other firmly planted in alternative rock. The group was formed when a bunch of young musicians, including drummer Jeff Fowlkes, gathered to practice and record some tracks at a studio in the Motor City. During a break, they overheard a 40-something blind street singer down in the alley, singing and playing the guitar as if he was headlining a show at Madison Square Garden. They listened for a while, worked up the nerve to go and talk to him, finally inviting him up to the studio … and eventually getting him to become their lead singer (and principal songwriter). Stories like that make for a great article. Imagine someone like Ted Hawkins backed by a hot group of trendy musicians, wow! But, I'm sorry to say, what you hear on the band's third release, New Ground (Vanguard), is not as exciting as the story you've just read. Mind you, it ain't bad, either. Just like the above-mentioned Hawkins, Robert Bradley never restricted himself to one musical style. Like he says, you've got to keep your public entertained. If the street taught him (or reinforced his natural inclinations) in variety, it also made him into a prolific writer. Having quickly decided to sing his own songs ("Otherwise you got to know every damn song on the radio"), he challenged himself to make up one new song a day … and kept at it for close to 20 years! So New Ground reflects this stylistic variety; some Motown sound-alike soul, some crunchy pop-rock, some ballads, some dance tunes, a country ditty, a Springsteen-ian confessional folk-rock hymn, etc. All the while using his wizened voice (sounding very close to a younger Ray Charles), Bradley manages to "sound" blues, although he sings very little actual blues. Of course, the rest of the music (the post-grunge guitar attacks, the sound effects and sheen of the keyboards) has nothing to do with blues, and much to do with modern radio esthetics. So, before you buy it, give the record a listen. Who knows, it might have something for you.

If you define yourself as more of a straight-ahead blues fan, chances are you'll prefer Omar & The Howlers' latest to the last couple of entries, although it too fuses elements of "outside" music to the blues. Titled Big Delta, the disc came out last year on the Dutch Provogue label and has just been issued locally by the folks at Blind Pig. Omar (born Kent Dykes) is a Mississippi-born, longtime Texas resident who's strangely more popular in Europe than he is in his country. His appeal to Europeans results from the fact that he looks and sounds like the real thing --- the exotic grumbling-voiced giant who sings about swamps and gators and everything southern, kind of like an American Crocodile Dundee. Europeans go crazy for such exotic fare. To his credit, Omar is not putting on a show --- this is where he's from, what he knows, what he sounds like, and if it works better over the Big Pond, there's nothing he can do about it. Big Delta started out as a re-recording of some of his own favorite songs (no doubt spread out over various labels' catalogues), but in the end Omar and producers Max Crace and Malcolm Welboune (the latter also adding guitar parts) chose to also include an extended jam and two covers: Leadbelly's "Linin' Track" and, ahem, Mountain's "Mississippi Queen," which, if you ask me, is totally out of place here, unless you view all things Mississippi as exotic and awe-inspiring. This blunder notwithstanding, there is much to like in this CD. Omar's raspy voice, at times recalling Howlin' Wolf and a mix of blues with a certain Southern-sounding je ne sais quoi (you'll be reminded of Credence Clearwater Revival's type of swamp-rock), will catch your ear. There are enough excellent songs ("Monkey Land," "Muddy Springs Road," "Wall of Pride," "Low Down Dirty Blues") that you'll keep Big Delta not too far from your CD player, always ready for one more spin.

One of these days, I'll publish a book on how you can describe different styles of music, different shades of the blues, even, using various alcoholic beverages for analogy. For example, the classic jump blues style could be likened to some mixed drinks, while harder-edged blues-rock evokes beer (and I guess its sub-genre, British blues, goes with English beer). The classic Delta blues of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson should be depicted as some potent (and potentially dangerous) moonshine whisky, while the upper society classic female blues singers à la Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey might taste like old wine to some. Using this blues-as-alcohol classification, I would describe Montreal singer and harmonica player Richard LeBlanc a.k.a. Rick L. Blues' latest disc, called Start on the Five… Live (on his own Crystal Blues Records --- see for details), as a late-night glass of cognac. It's smooth and "loungy," you can relax and enjoy it or think of something else entirely and the music won't disturb you. In a sense, Eric Clapton's Unplugged record is the epitome of that vibe, the VSOP of cognac blues. That album made millions of dollars, so the approach has its merits. Unfortunately, whereas his first album contained only original compositions (see March 2000 issue for review), this time out Rick L. Blues has focused on crusty, overused, beaten-to-death classics --- Little Walter's "You Better Watch Yourself," Howlin' Wolf's "Built for Comfort," "Mystery Train," "Key to the Highway" "Everyday I Have the Blues," and "Caldonia." Actually, on the latter Louis Jordan/B.B. King classic, Rick L. Blues and his musicians, including guitarist Henri Breton, manage to make the song sound new, which by itself is no small feat, with ultra-fast verses and superb scat singing. But the rest of these songs, however faithfully done, illustrates the danger of sitting back with cognac --- it'll soothe you to sleep if you don't get up and shake its effects.

--- Benoît Brière

Eddie Leon Mississippi native Eddie Leon is back with his latest release, Let Me In Your Arms Again (Leon Records). Like the earlier release, All Wrapped Up, Let Me In Your Arms Again is a mixture of new sweet Southern soul and soul covers of tunes by the likes of Sam Cooke and Al Wilson. "Show And Tell" is a fine cover of the Wilson original and Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back To You" has Cooke's inflections down pat, and is just a great song that stands the test of time. Both covers are enjoyable, as are the five original tunes penned by veteran singer-songwriter Tommy Tate.  As the liner notes state, Eddie learned his craft opening for the likes of B.B. King, Tyrone Davis, the late Johnnie Taylor, The Temptations and Lenny Williams. As you can se, he's kept pretty good company, and his professionalism shines through on this release. The opening track is an upbeat "Let Me In Your Arms Again," written by Willie James Hatten and Veeta Hatten (Sweet Miss Coffey), the latter of whom has a few releases out under her own name. The horn arrangements by Harrison Calloway and the string arrangements by Freddie Young prove that programming in lieu of live musicians can be tasteful and not overbearing, as are so many of today's new releases. Calloway and Tate co wrote the album's closer, "That's Just A Woman's Way," a song recorded by Johnnie Taylor and re-done by Eddie as a tribute(?) to one of soul music's supreme songsters. Without a weak track on this CD and with wonderfully soulful vocals by Eddie Leon, this is a CD to put at the top of your want list. Order your copy from Frankie's One Stop (800-489-2003) or Gonzales Distributors (800-489-2133) or write to Leon Records, 111 Jenkins Quarters, Pearl, Mississippi 39208. Also order Eddie's All Wrapped Up, with a great cover version of the Darrell Banks classic "Open The Door To Your Heart." You'll be happy you did.

Beautiful Bobby Blackmon's I'm Dialin' 911 (SP Records) is one of those releases that make listening to new artists a delight. This CD is a labor of love and a winner throughout. It is a mixture of contemporary blues and R&B/soul. All the songs are original and, of the nine tracks, five or six are worthy of repeated airplay. The arrangements are top notch with good back up singing, real instruments (although the drums are programmed), and musical influences that give credit to Steve Cropper, Clarence Holliman, Lowell Fulson and the incredible Wayne Bennett. Blackmon's vocals are soulful and his lyrics are meaningful.  The CD opens with "I've Got Blues On My Mind" and sets the tone for the rest of this fine release. "We Don't Tell Motel" is a medium paced tune with a familiar theme. "I'm Dialin' 911 (Somebody Help Me Find My Baby)" has Bobby calling out for emergency assistance. It is a tune with a great hook that will stick in your head for days after your first listen. My favorite track was the country/soul "Trying To Forget About Yesterday," a great song with a message. Another favorite track is the slow bluesy "I Don't Want You To Go," a tune about rediscovering an old love. With so many new releases we listen to bordering on mediocrity, this release is a gem. I wish Beautiful Bobby Blackmon great success with this release. It is well deserved. You can buy this CD on Recommended.

Toni Green Since I first heard Toni Green's earlier release, Mixed Emotions, reviewed in here in January 1999, I have been a fan and eagerly awaited anything released by her. I searched all over when I learned she had three tracks on a 1999 Avanti release, Beauty & The Beast, and when I finally found it, it was well worth the search. So, did I immediately warm up to her new one, Strong Enough (Good Time Records)? Well I must admit, it took a little bit longer than the others owing to the more contemporary feel on this CD. I'm not so buried into "old school" stuff that I can't enjoy this newer sound, it just wasn't what I expected. I can honestly report that once I got into it, this CD and I have been inseparable. It is dedicated to the late great Ronnie Lovejoy, who contributed five songs to this project and shares the production credits. We have previously discussed Ronnie Lovejoy in these pages, and his contributions to the Southern soul market will be sorely missed. The CD opens with his funky "G-String And A Toothbrush," which appears here in a radio mix and also a club mix, the latter adding a rap by Jack Frost which works surprisingly well and does not detract  from the overall feel of the song. The title track, "Strong Enough (To See You Go)," with its memorable lyrics "...If you're weak enough to leave, I'm strong enough to let you go,,," is a winner. The slow burner "No Romance, No Finance" is my pick for the "hit" on this release. It is a Homer Banks and Lester Snell tune, two veteran songwriters responsible for many great southern soul tunes. It is an emotional track that with a few gender changes could have fit comfortably on a Boyz II Men album. "Still In Love," with it's spoken "hey girl" intro, reflects the mood of her earlier releases. It too is a Ronnie Lovejoy tune. Two tracks from the songbook of Mary J. Blige fail to excite me, but I can understand their inclusion in this broader-based package. In summation, I have listened to this CD quite a bit since I received it. It has been in my car with me and at home on the stereo. Everyone who has heard it agrees that this new direction will win new fans for Toni Green and keep her old fans very happy.

--- Alan Shutro

To cover a Beatles tune and make it palatable is not an easy undertaking and few artists do it successfully. To do an entire album’s worth with blues artists of varying styles could prove disastrous if not handled properly. Such is not the case of The Blues White Album (Telarc). The title is exactly what you would expect to find contained within, ten tunes taken from the very diverse Beatles' classic White Album and given some very bluesy arrangements. The suggestive “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” is given a raunchy roadhouse workout, courtesy of Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, to start things off on a high energy note before Lucky Peterson pulls things back a notch or two with his soul inspired version of “Yer Blues.” Anders Osborne’s version of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is very reminiscent of the original, only with a little more drawl to it. “Revolution” is given a funkified once-over by the talents of Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson and Tab Benoit, trading off verses making for a highly interesting listen. The Beatles had a habit of tossing in a couple of numbers that were just for fun on their later recordings, such as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” covered here by the beautiful voice of Maria Muldaur accompanied by a jazzy arrangement. This album’s most poignant moment comes from Joe Louis Walker and his version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that seems to come from the very depths of his soul and is worth the purchase price alone. Canada’s Colin Linden turns in a lovely version of what many folks think was Paul McCartney’s best number during his Beatles era, “Blackbird,” with some lush acoustic guitar plucking and earthy vocals. Linden makes another appearance alongside Charlie Musselwhite for the album’s finale and only instrumental, “Dear Prudence.” Both of these gentleman are at their finest on this piece, complimenting one another’s abilities quite nicely. I always bristle when I see a tribute album to The Fab Four, because usually their work ends up being butchered to death. But this collection is loads of fun, done with the flair and style that was found on the original recording. For a walk on the lighter side of the blues, treat yourself to this one soon.

--- Steve Hinrichsen  

Don WiseIf good sax is what turns you on, then be sure to look for the latest album by Don Wise, the regular horn man with Delbert McClinton's band. Just like his previous effort, On The Verge Of Survival, reviewed here in August 2000, Wise brings in a whole bunch of his musical buddies to help him out on this new one, Genuine Snake (Horn O'Copia). The guest vocalists include George Hawkins Jr., Big Joe Maher, Teresa James, Butler Phil Ayte, Gary Bunton and Steve Bassett. The talented Maher sings up a storm on a nice jazzy tune, "Lots of Flame (But No Heat)," which also includes subtle, tasteful piano from Kevin McKendree. Wise and Ayte pair up on the Tom Waits-ish narrative "Shoppin' For Clothes." No self-respecting album recorded in the state of Texas would not have some hot guitar licks sprinkled throughout, and the best here is the funky "He Had the Shoes," with Texas-style blues guitar contributed by Steve Williams. The inspiring "You Come First at Last" is highlighted by the soulful vocals of Bunton. McKendree returns with fiery piano work on the instrumental "Ride." The consistent force on all 11 cuts is the superb sax work of Wise, who is an exemplary player. His playing on the first number, "No Longer a Part of Your Dreams," lays to rest any questions as to the purpose of Genuine Snake, which is to showcase Wise's talents. For more info, check his web site at

One of the most fun party bands you'll hear this year comes out of Wisconsin in the form of The Groove Hogs, with their newest CD Wrong Side of the Street (Trawf Records) showing that these swine brothers know how to jump and swing with the best of them. The Groove Hogs' sound has a more soulful edge to it than many horn bands, courtesy of the smooth-sounding vocals of Ron Hanson. The five-piece horn section is solid throughout, and guitarist Pat Kiel throws in a lot of serious blues chops. They show they mean business right away on the opening cut "Blues Is My Business (and Business Is Good)," a horn-driven number that will liven up any party. Kiel struts his stuff on guitar on the uptempo, jumpin' shuffle "Baby's Gone" and later on the soulful tune "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'?" The latter cut is the best on the album due to Hanson's great pleading soul vocals. Also good was the funky, James Brown-style tune "Soul Queenie," with dynamite staccato horn riffs. Worth searching out ... check out Trawf Records at

A band with potential for bigger accomplishments comes out of Kentucky in the form of Jim Diamond and the Groove Syndicate. Their independent release, Choices, is a collection of their favorite tunes recorded over the last five years, and shows Diamond to be a strong blues guitarist, obviously influenced by Albert Collins. He plays in AC's style on the instrumental "Ray's Blues (for S.R.V.)," which also includes good keyboard work from Jon Pleasant, and a live version of the slow blues "Sweet Lil Angel." I also like the piano work from Reese Wynans on the head boppin' shuffle "Down So Long." You can learn about the band from Diamond's web site at

A developing artist from Los Angeles, going simply by the name Peach, has a nice live EP out on disc, Live From Riverside (Blues Rock Records). Peach is a strong, yet pleasant vocalist. She's joined in this performance by a tight band, headed by guitarist extraordinaire Joey Delgado (of The Delgado Brothers). The best cut is a cover of "Never Make Your Move Too Soon," containing a hot keyboard solo by Hardy Eason. Delgado plays great guitar on the original composition "Struttin' Joey 'D'." Peach's best vocal work comes on the snaky, jazzy number "The Cure For You," which also features good sax from Paulie Cerra. I look forward to hearing more from Peach. You can learn more about her at

--- Bill Mitchell

Henry CooperEmerging in 1998 as front man after backing Duffy Bishop for 5 years, Henry Cooper has established himself as a viable force in the Northwest Blues scene. With his signature slide guitar technique, Cooper again delivers with stylishness sophistication on his third release Automatic Trouble. Henry Cooper has been playing music for nearly 20 years. Starting out as a blues harmonica player, Cooper hooked up with the Coltrane Blues Band in 1976. However, it was at the height of the Urban Cowboy phenomenon, and Henry found himself wailing Mickey Rafael and Charlie McCoy harp licks in a Country band. He would return to the Blues playing slide on a Fender Jaguar and never look back. Now regarded as a slide guitar virtuoso, Henry Cooper combines the raw energy of Elmore James with the smooth style of T-bone Walker. Recorded live at Seattle's Experience Music Project while opening for Little Milton, Automatic Trouble showcases Cooper doing what he does best --- performing. With clean riffs, effortless solos, and relaxed stage presence, this recording captures Henry Cooper in peak form. Veteran Hammond player Ed Vance is an essential ingredient, and Cooper relies on and features him often. The mid-tempo shuffle "Love The Life Your Livin'" kicks off the disc and showcases Cooper's fierce, yet tempered, slide playing, whereas the track "Baby Please" is more rough and ready. Henry is a versatile player, and the instrumental "King Me" highlights some old school Telecaster picking. Automatic Trouble has Henry Cooper's personal stamp on it as writer, composer, producer, and performer, and proves once more that this guitar slinger cannot only capture the spotlight, but transfix in it.

Mark Riley is not only a connoisseur of the blues, but a well-rounded guitar player, vocalist, writer, arranger and producer. After 35 years of experience, Riley comes full circle from rockin' electric blues to the acoustic Delta inspired sounds of Love & Trouble (Joe Records). Riley is a guitar player, first and foremost, and is able to successfully adapt to any genre with ease. It has been a natural transition for this gifted musician. His first release, Lead Suit, was an electric guitar-driven recording with sax and harmonica thrown in for good measure. Leap of Faith, Riley's second solo release, had a variety of textures with a mix of electric, acoustic, and resonator guitars. When Riley joined Little Bill and the Blue Notes in 1995, Bill encouraged him to experiment with acoustic sounds. Not only did this profoundly help mold the sound of the band from a Chicago-style seven piece to a Delta style trio, but also won Mark Riley "Best Acoustic Guitar" in both 1998 and 1999 at the Washington Blues Society Awards. While Love & Trouble is comprised mainly of original material, Mark Riley pays homage to the legendary Blind Blake with a respectful original arrangement on a version of "Police Dog Blues." With Billy Stapleton accompanying him on slide guitar, the original composition, "Better Watch Out," is chock-full of multifaceted guitar work while Riley's vocals are well-traveled. The guitarist tackles the Memphis Slim tune, "Life Is Like That," accompanied only by an electric acoustic guitar. Harmonica maestro Dick Powell joins Mark on another original composition, "Like Letting Go", which gives the tune an intimate jam session feel. The only song that features more than a duo is "Shot Of Bourbon Street," bringing in Northwest blues divas Patti Allen and Kathi MacDonald on backing vocals and saxophonist Jim Pribenow and trumpeter Haadi Al-Sadoon to add a Louisiana flavor. Love & Trouble is Mark Riley's best and most personally gratifying recording to date. Riley's playing is nothing short of brilliant as he combines elements of blues, bluegrass, folk and country in each song. With all the ingredients of a live performance, each song leaves the listener anticipating the next track.

--- Tony Engelhart

Originally from the city that is always in a party mood, New Orleans, comes Big Al & the Heavyweights issuing forth a directive to stop your complaining and get out on that dance floor for a round of high spirited boogie/blues to rock your soul. On their latest release, Late Night Gumbo Party (Bluziana Music), Big Al & the boys dish out 12 tunes ranging from zydeco-flavored blues packed with accordion frills to swamp boogie to soulful musings on how to percolate your love to the right degree. Most songwriting chores fall to the leader of the band, singer or guitar player, but in this case Big Al (the undisputed leader) happens to take on the duties of drummer. His co-writing partner, guitarist Tim Wagoner, wrote every tune on this disc, quite an accomplishment. This fits beautifully into their game plan, showcasing their abilities with a pen to a fine degree. Rounding out their efforts are Harmonica Red on harp and Calvin Johnson on bass. Guest artist Billy Earheart plays piano, organ and accordion throughout. Some of you might remember Earheart as one of the founding members of the 70s hitmaker Amazing Rhythm Aces. Production is clean and crisp. No wonder. Behind the boards we find one of the most noted blues producers around, Fred James, whose work with legends like Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor and Son Seals truly shines. James' slippery slide guitar on "Love Recall" enhances the essence of this uptempo strut. Other tune highlights features an interesting acoustic sound on "Why Must I Cry," a very spirited "Hey, Hey Nanette," along with the standard slow blues cooker "I Should Have Loved You." To find out more about Big Al & the Heavyweights (maybe you could e-mail Big Al as to the origin of his nickname) click your mouse on

--- Bruce Coen

Too Much Is Just Enough (New Moon Music), the latest CD from Armand and Bluesology, is certainly not too much of this talented guitarist and songwriter (11 of the CD's 13 songs are original compositions). The songs range from the title track with its vintage Fabulous Thunderbirds-sounding intro, to "Come Back, Baby" with its Chuck Berry rock 'n' roll riffs. In between, there's a lot of fine guitar work from Armand Lenchek, whose vocals are as smooth as his guitar. Both his playing and singing at times resemble those of Washington, DC, guitar wizard Tom Principato. And there's a swinging, jazzy sound to a number of cuts, including "There She Is" and "New Kakalaky Blues." The latter is an instrumental with a Pat Martino feel to it. The arrangements here are polished, but not overly slick so as to sound clichéd.

New Jersey may not be the first (or second or third) state that comes to mind as home to the blues, but Blues From River City (Poquois Records) by Ron Kraemer and the Hurricanes is evidence that the Garden State has produced a crop of talented musicians. The group's first CD was taped live in Red Bank, NJ, and this self-produced disc is extremely well recorded. It doesn't suffer from the less-than-stellar sound of many live albums. (The liner notes explain the recording process used and offer "a tip of the hat to Rudy Van Gelder," the legendary New Jersey audio engineer responsible for many classic jazz albums of the 1950s and 1960s). And there's a definite jazz presence on the CD's 11 tracks --- a smooth (in the good sense of the word) sound, helped along by Kraemer's guitar and John "Commodore" Barry's organ and piano and Ralph Liberto's sax. Rounding out the group are Steve Brown on drums and Michael Massimino on upright bass. The songs include standards like "Back At the Chicken Shack," "My Babe" (with a nice swinging organ), "Work Song," "Walkin' To My Baby (the shuffle beat propelled by piano and sax), and "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water." This last song really showcases Kraemer's guitar skills.

--- Mark Miller

Check out Graham Clarke's special report on Chicago blues anthologies

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