Blues Bytes

March 2003

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What's New

John HammondBlues is a feeling, they tell us. There is no better example of this saying than John Hammond’s latest release. In the course of his 40-year career, Hammond has gone from a popular blues specialist among the early '60s folk singers to an acclaimed interpreter of Tom Waits’ songs, his last album, Wicked Grin, being the biggest commercial and critical success of his career. Of course, between these two extremes, the blues community, if not the world at large, knew him as one of the best and most-devoted revivalists around. His latest release, Ready for Love (on Back Porch Records), is a great accomplishment: with it, Hammond manages to build on the sound of Wicked Grin, including two more Waits’ compositions in addition to more traditional material (such as the Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters classic, “Same Thing”), aiming to keep his new-found fans. Yet, with these songs all dealing with the vagaries of love (with the exception of a lone Waits cover, “Low Side of the Road”), he is also back where blues fans love him best --- re-creating the blues of the past as only he knows. In fact, Hammond has obviously learned something from his Waits cover album --- his interpretations are less faithful, more personal than they were on his previous releases. He also ventures outside the realm of traditional blues singers, so as to find (infuse?) the feeling that is the blues in songs associated with other musical genres. With the help of violinist Soozie Tyrell, he tackles three country songs, including George Jones’ “Color of the Blues." If Hammond’s voice has trouble with the high notes, his interpretation is so full of the blues that you’ll wonder why no bluesman rushed to cover it before. Similarly, the jazzy torch song “Comes Love,” associated with Billie Holiday, is here totally transformed in a perfectly natural, organic way. It helps that the musicians surrounding Hammond (long-time Duke Robillard bassist Marty Ballou, Texas legend Augie Meyers on keyboards, Los Lobos’ multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo, producing and playing guitar and mandolin, plus Frank Carillo on guitar and Stephen Hodges on drums, the latter two associated with the Wicked Grin tour) are totally attuned, creating a soundtrack of part menacing, part exhilarating music. And, as an added bonus, the opening track, “Slick Crown Vic,” is the first-ever original composition from Hammond, and a great one at that. In a word, this may be the best record of Hammond’s career.

One cannot overestimate the historical importance of The Fisk Jubilee Singers. Organized in 1871 to help raise much-needed funds for Fisk University, a black Nashville university, the original Fisk Jubilee Singers went on to achieve worldwide popularity within a few years of their formation. This was the first time that a black choir brought ancestral spirituals to white audiences in the Northern United States, but also in Great Britain, Holland and Germany; the choir’s popularity gave birth to a multitude of other Jubilee singing groups, in effect creating from scratch a market for spirituals. Every gospel singer owes this group his livelihood, his sheer existence even. Though there were many incarnations of Fisk Jubilee Singers and Fisk Jubilee Quartets on record in the first half of the 20th century, the release of In Bright Mansions (Curb Records) is source for joy, as there have been few recent recordings from this student choir in recent years (one exception --- a 1993 track on the American Roots Music four-CD box set from two years ago). The record is a beauty --- hardcover booklet and CD case, copious information, lots of photographs in the booklet and on the CD-ROM portion of the disk, plus a complete discography up to 1958 and absolutely superb sound. I understand the actual recording was tricky. Since the group (the 2001-2002 academic year choir was 16-member strong) sings a cappella, with significant pauses and silences, soft whispers and unison shouting all mattering equally, the recording apparatus was chosen so as to let the listener hear the breathing and the faint echo of the room, with no overdubs. (These students are not professionals, and this was their first time in a recording studio. The producers felt that a 'live in a studio' recording would give better results and prove less intimidating.) The material is all spirituals, with none of the rhythmic trust of modern-day gospel; instead, the simplicity of the music lets you focus entirely on the singing, which is, truth be told, very moving. This is church music as the founding fathers of the blues heard it. Wholeheartedly recommended.

After a star-studded but lukewarm CD for Telarc two years ago, Ronnie Earl is back doing what he does best --- instrumental music that starts with the blues and encompasses all sorts of styles and tones. For his debut on Stony Plain, I Feel Like Goin’ On (to be released in the States later in March), Earl got to produce the album and record it the way he wants --- with his regular touring band (keyboards/bass/drums), live in the studio, first takes only. The sole track with vocals is a rendition of the spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” done with The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, a quartet from the Boston area; this track, though fun and charming, is far from a technical masterpiece, but it does let us in on some studio chatter and camaraderie. The only other “guest” is a young San Antonio guitarist by the name of José Alvarez, who takes a solo on an instrumental, smoking version of “Howlin’ For My Darlin’.” Save for this last track, the only cover on the CD is a great but too brief version of “Travelin’ Heavy,” from little-known soul-jazz organ master Hank Marr. This track is a showcase for Dave Limina, who shines throughout whether on piano or organ. Which isn’t to say that he outshines his leader. Whether he goes for the blues, soul jazz or, in a lengthy track called “Blues for the Homeless,” for the jazz blues vibe, whether he goes for fast or slow tempos, Ronnie Earl’s playing is absolutely superb, and not just his solos – when Limina steps forward, he can count on Earl to play superlative rhythm guitar. The only serious mistake, for my taste, is the closing “Donna,” a late night smooth jazz ballad that’s a little on the light side. Blues fans will delight at the chameleon-like ease with which Earl summons up the spirit of three masters in evocative (and consecutive) tributes, “Blues for Otis Rush,” “Little Johnny Lee” (for John Lee Hooker) and “Wolf Dance.” There’s also a track called “Big Walter,” but I’m not sure it’s meant as a tribute for Walter Horton, as there is no harmonica on it. The best compliment I can come up with regarding this CD is that almost all the tracks could have gone on indefinitely and never ceased to have me twist and shake along with the music. Let us hope that the album title is an indication that Ronnie Earl is back to stay, after many years fighting health problems.

I cannot recommend the following record as wholeheartedly as the above three discs, but I think its very concept insures that it won’t be uniformly excellent. I’m talking about the latest from Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, titled More Friends (Warner UK). For those of you who don’t know who Jools Holland is, let’s sum it up by saying that rock fans of a certain age view him as a genius for his work with Squeeze, but that he’s also a very gifted and enthusiastic player of boogie woogie piano and a witty and funny television interviewer/presenter. His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra is a 17-piece big band, sometimes augmented by a large string section, that plays anything in the jazz/blues style, from swing and jump blues to ballads and soul workouts. A year ago, the band released an album, called Jools Holland’s Big Band Rhythm & Blues in America, or Small World Big Band in England, which invited sundry guests to sing, playing house band to the stars. The results were mixed, from the great to the awful, plus a few tracks that had nothing to do with R&B. As you’ve guessed, More Friends is more of the same, with more keepers, including an excellent jump blues from Tom Jones (!!), some very good soul singing from Sam Moore and Edwin Starr, a stellar appearance from the Blind Boys of Alabama (as usual), and great guitar playing from Jeff Beck and George Benson. There are fewer duds (neither Chrissie Hynde nor Huey from rap group Fun Lovin’ Criminals can croon a jazz ballad, and Stereophonics stink up their second effort in as many tries), plus some non-R&B surprises that work, namely a reggae song (with big band!) with Jimmy Cliff singing, and two modern pop songs written and performed by Badly Drawn Boy and Bono of U2, respectively. Whether the blues/jump/soul/gospel content is high enough for is open to debate. But I’m willing to try a Volume 3.

--- Benoît Brière

Robert Randolph - Live at the WetlandsWell, it was only a matter of time before the Sacred Steel sound popularized by the House of God field recordings made its way onto the club scene. My question was how well would the two would mix. After listening to Robert Randolph & the Family Band’s Live At The Wetlands (Dare Records), I would have to say “pretty well.” Randolph, who has appeared on numerous recordings for Arhoolie, on the hit album of a couple of years ago, The Word, and, most recently, on the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Higher Ground, is in top form leading a four-piece band that sounds much bigger. Though the CD clocks in at nearly 70 minutes, there are only six songs, three of which are instrumentals. The fact that you don’t notice this while the music is playing is a tribute to the gifts of this band. There is simply never a dull moment on this CD. The band kicks things off with a scorching “Ted’s Jam” (dedicated to fellow Sacred Steel artist Ted Beard), then jumps into “The March.” The third track is the inspirational “Pressing My Way,” to which Randolph and bass player Danyel Morgan contribute sensitive vocals. The next cut is an update of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” which surely had the crowd jumping, along with the audience participation number “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do.” The closer is a beautiful instrumental, “Tears Of Joy,” which features Randolph’s wonderful slide work. Randolph is a joy to hear throughout the disc with his enthusiastic performance. The Family Band, made up of Randolph’s brother Marcus on drums, his cousin Morgan on bass, and John Ginty on Hammond organ, are outstanding. This is a fun album, maybe my favorite live release in a long time and definitely an ear-opening experience.

Wolf Records recently released a vintage live date from Magic Slim & the Teardrops that is worth a listen. The release, 44 Blues, was recorded in Vienna in mid 1992, and features one of the more potent editions of the Teardrops, with John Primer on guitar and vocals on the opening track, “Big Fat Woman,” Earl Howell on drums, and the ever-dependable Nick Holt keeping it all together on bass. Bonnie Lee also appears on one track, “I’m Good.” The set list is just what you would expect from Slim, good old straightforward Chicago Blues. There are the requisite covers of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Highway Is My Home,” Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling,” Ike Turner’s “I’m Tore Up,” and Roosevelt Sykes’ title track. In addition, there are several powerful Slim compositions, including “You Put It On Me,” “When I Met My Baby,” and “Can’t You See.” One thing you can depend on with a Magic Slim live album is that because of Slim’s vast repertoire, there is little chance of hearing the same songs on different live dates. Fans of pure Chicago blues will not be disappointed with this disc.

Several years ago, Adam Gussow (of Satan and Adam fame), who also wrote a regular column in the late and much-missed magazine Blues Access, penned an article about a mild heart attack he suffered. At the time of his heart attack, Gussow was in Florida jamming with a young harmonica player named Jason Ricci. Gussow mentioned that he had known Ricci for a couple of years and was amazed at his improvement on the instrument since their first meeting. Over the years, Ricci has struggled mightily with personal and substance problems, has lived and played in the North Mississippi hill country with the Kimbrough family, and has put out a couple of independent releases. Most recently, he’s been playing with Big Al and the Heavyweights. With his band, New Blood, Ricci has just released an absolutely stunning solo CD, titled Feel Good Funk, which could end up being one of the best blues albums of the year. Ricci is not only an amazing harmonica player; he’s a very affecting singer as well, and doesn’t try for the histrionics like some younger artists might. The CD is a mix of well done covers (“Shake Your Hips,” done here as “Hip Shake,” “Driftin’ Blues,” “Everything I Do,” and “Scratch My Back”) and moody instrumentals which have elements of jazz, funk, and blues mixed in. My favorite tracks are the instrumental tribute to Junior Kimbrough (“Mississippi Mood”), Ricci’s take on Charles Brown’s “Driftin’,” and the romping, stomping “Hip Shake.” The title cut, in which Ricci raps and blows over a nasty bass line, is also a keeper. The band also provides outstanding support throughout the disc. For fans of harmonica blues, or just fans of great music, this CD is a 'must own.' It can be purchased at

In the mid 1970s, many blues artists were touring in Europe on a regular basis since the blues scene had basically dried up in the U.S. during that time. One French label, Black & Blue, would record albums with these artists in one or two day sessions while they were in the area, and would subsequently release them to the European audiences. The results ranged from good to great (and some are currently available as budget releases on the Evidence label), and it helped these artists greatly to get records in the racks at a time when no labels in their home countries would touch them. Black & Blue has reissued several of these sessions. One of the best is Roy Gaines’ debut album as a front man, titled Superman. The set is a mixture of Gaines’ familiar Texas-via-the-West Coast guitar paired with some heavy-hitting jazz musicians (Gene Conners – trombone, Milt Buckner – organ, Panama Francis – drums). It’s sort of a T-Bone Walker meets Wes Montgomery kind of vibe. Gaines’ guitar is the star of the session though he also contributes some of his gritty vocals on a few songs, such as his own “Got The Boogie” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Once I Was A Gambler.” There are several instrumentals, with two takes apiece of the title track and another original, “Happy Birthday Blues.” There’s also a long cover of Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ At Sunset.” During this European tour, Gaines also appeared on Black & Blue sessions with Buckner & Francis as front men. Maybe these sessions will be reissued soon. Fans of Roy Gaines, or West Coast guitar, would do well to pick up a copy of this one at

Alvin Youngblood Hart is one of the more fascinating “young lions” on the blues scene these days. He has put out three very diverse albums (for three different labels) over the past few years, all of which featured touches of acoustic and electric blues, rock, reggae, swing, even country & western. Though all of his discs are enjoyable, and it’s obvious he loves what he’s doing, one can’t help but feel that his true love is acoustic blues. Hart’s fourth CD, Down In The Alley (Memphis International), would seem to verify this. Though Hart has always performed solo acoustic numbers on his albums, he’s never done an entire album in this style until now. In addition, there are no original compositions present. All the songs are covers of mostly well-known blues songs from the Pre-War era, including songs from the catalogs of Son House (“Jinx Blues”), Bukka White (the haunting “How Long Before I Change My Clothes”), Skip James (“Devil Got My Woman”), Charlie Patton (“Tom Rushen Blues”), Leadbelly (“Alberta”), Sleepy John Estes (“Broke and Hungry”), and Odetta (“Chilly Winds”). Hart’s versions of these songs are faithful to the originals, but he manages to inject his own style into them as well. His spirited vocals and his talents on whatever stringed instrument he happens to be playing at the time make any album by Hart a pleasure to listen to, and this disc is no exception.

Elam McKnight is a rising talent who should garner a lot of notice with his new release, Braid My Hair. A Tennessee native, McKnight is a feisty young artist who specializes in the rough Mississippi Hill Country blues favored by the Burnsides (two of which, drummer Cedric and bassist Gary, appear on this album), as well as the blues from the Mississippi Delta. Supposedly, McKnight picked up the guitar after hearing a Robert Johnson record, and he ably covers Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.” Other than the traditional “Devil Got Religion” (with some tasty harp by Zach Reynolds), the rest of the songs are originals, and are pretty well done, ranging from Hill Country numbers like “Miss Maureen” and “Crying Shame” to the Memphis-based soul of “Sugar Cane” (two versions) to “Bob Zarecor Blues,” a moving tribute to McKnight’s grandfather. There are also two versions of McKnight’s “Three Legged Dog.” One version is a wild Hill Country version which should get you on your feet. The other version is an acoustic number with more great harp by Reynolds. McKnight is a great guitarist and his raw vocals match his guitar and the feel of the disc very well. The entire band is just outstanding. This disc really cooks throughout. Fans of the Burnsides or of the North Mississippi All Stars will want to get this one, but it’s got something for everybody. It’s available at

--- Graham Clarke

One More Bridge To Cross (Mighty Music) will reaffirm to Mighty Sam McClain's legion of fans that he's still got it. After what this reviewer felt was a couple of lukewarm releases on Telarc after many fine releases on Audioquest, the key word is production. With Mighty Sam taking charge of that matter on this self-produced album on his own label, the successful results are apparent from track number one. The vocals are strong right up front. The earlier Telarc releases had a more diffuse sound with the vocals being further back in the mix. Nine of the 12 songs are written by Sam, which is not unusual since he has always contributed strong songwriting to all his releases. The CD opens with Sam pleading "Why Do We Have To Say Goodbye," his voice sounding better than it has in years (not that it was ever bad), but seemingly more inspired here. The horn driven "Witness" follows and takes the mood up a notch, allowing his excellent band to strut its stuff. What a difference a live band makes (we've gone down that path before). The moving "Open Up Heaven's Door," with fine background singing by Conchetta Prio as well as fine keyboards and sax work again highlighting the excellent band and the sympathetic production, as does "If It Wasn't 4 Da Blues," with its fine horns and organ work. Track number five is the beautiful "Most of All," one of the finest songs Sam has written recently. The mood shifts with "Are You Ready For Love," an upbeat change of pace that happily chugs right along. The beautifully mournful "Been There Done That" is the track that should get the most airplay. It's a tune to which we all can relate, a reflection on one's life and experiences. I hit the repeat button after this track ended. More of the same quality of songs follow, offering us mood changes and a palette of colors before it ends with the funky "One More Bridge To Cross." All in all, a fine release. If there is to be any criticism to be had, then perhaps it is the rock-oriented guitar, which although at times sounded soulful and bluesy, tended to be a bit overwhelming. In summation, this is the best album from Mighty Sam in years, and without a doubt one of the best albums I have heard so far this year. Highly recommended. While you're out shopping for this release, don't forget the sensational Papa True Love, the Amy Sessions on Sundazed, and the oh so fine Live In Japan, with the late great Wayne Bennett on guitar. Those two albums are the basis from which legends are created.

Dr. PottsIt's a family affair at Ecko Records. After favorably reviewing two releases by Sheba Potts-Wright, here's a new release by her father, the incomparable Robert Potts aka "Dr. Feelgood" Potts. The good doctor has had a handful of local single releases over the years, and his self-titled release is only his second full length album that I am aware of. There was a 1998 release on RLP Records which had very limited distribution. This new Ecko release has a lot going for it. A party album filled with a groove that will have you tapping your toes and singing along is always a treat to find, and this release could prove to be just what your next party needed. The CD opens with "Here's Your Drawers," a funny upbeat cheating song that is a close cousin to Ronnie Lovejoy's "Sho Wasn't Me." This track has the humorous lines, "...You're trying to tell me they don't belong to you, but you're the only one I know that wears size 52..." With only a few slower tracks, like the soulful "Let's Slip Out Tonight," with its spoken intro, the mood quickly shifts back to the danceable "Let's Get a Quickie," which reminded me of Clarence Carter during his "Strokin'" heyday. The only thing missing was Carter's evil laugh. It is followed by "I Love The Way You Slow Roll That Thing On Me," a dance track with the slow rollin' theme his daughter Sheba introduced on her first album. "One Way Street " slows the pace down again with another fine spoken intro and soulful message from Dr. Feelgood. The pace quickens once again with the Bobby Rush-sounding "You Can't Keep Your Pants Up," a song that brought Rush's classic "Sue" to mind. "Hoochie Contest" sort of speaks for itself, with references to Denise LaSalle, Betty Wright, Millie Jackson, Peggy Scott-Adams and Sheba Potts-Wright. The final track, "Dance Your Rump Off," closes the proceedings with a retro sounding disco-type dance song. It is so infectious that it had me dancing around the room by myself. I mean, it got this old soulster moving. Whew! Shades of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. It had me trippin'. I guess by now you realize that I thoroughly enjoyed this release. I wish Ecko Records and Dr. Feelgood Potts the success this excellent release deserves. Check it out yourself. Not deep, not blues, but an album that will make YOU feel good. It's just what the doctor ordered.

--- Alan Shutro

Jimmy Thackery weds technical mastery with raw emotive power like no one on the planet. Certainly there’s a slew of guitar slingers out there that burn it up, but he’s among the few who would dare cover Stevie Ray Vaughan, Roy Buchanan or Jimi Hendrix tunes, as he has done over the years --- because he’s that good. There have been recordings that have knocked me out (especially 1995’s Wild Night Out ) and a few that have left me less than impressed. This instrumental “best of” package, Guitar (Blind Pig) showcases what has endeared him to fans worldwide (including this one) over the decade or so that he’s been recording under his own name. The opening “Hang Up & Drive,” originally released in 1994 on Trouble Man is an obvious tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan with power chords blasting from lightning fingertips. His cover of Roy Buchanan’s “Roy’s Bluz” (Switching Gears, 1998) is the perfect follow-up tune. As powerful as the opener, it’s the epitome of Buchanan’s subtle blind-siding brilliance. There was a Buchanan tune called “Sneaking Godzilla Through the Alley.” Besides being a great song title, it spoke eloquently to what Buchanan was all about. This is that kind of song. “Sinner Street,” the title cut from his 2000 Blind Pig effort, has a secret agent jazz band groove, thanks in large part to Jimmy Carpenter’s sax.
“Jump For Jerry,” one of the surprise treats on the disc, is an unreleased tune that features fellow guitar giant Duke Robillard sharing space on a Robillard and Roomful of Blues-style swinger. “Blues ‘Fore Dawn,” also from Sinner Street, is a sweet slow blues that showcases Thackery’s tunefulness and tasty lines. For contrast, “Burford’s Bop” (Drive to Survive, 1996) has a jump feel. Though not as slick as the Robillard duet, it’s a solid foot-tapper nonetheless. “Apache” (Drive to Survive), the 1961 Jorgen Ingmann nugget, is given a wonderful, albeit close-to-the-vest reading. It’s followed by the swinging “All About My Girl” (Drive to Survive), one of the coolest shuffles Thackery’s recorded. Mark Stutso’s drums and Michael Patrick’s bass lay a foundation for Thackery to burn up. For the classic Mar Keys “Last Night” (Empty Arms Motel, 1992), one of the great instrumentals of all time, Jimmy and the band turn in a fairly impressive rendition. The last three tunes are from the live sessions recorded at Sully’s in Detroit in 1995. “Jimmy’s ‘Rude Mood,’” his version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s classic piece, is on fire. The audience eats it up. How this managed to remain unreleased is a mystery. As the following "Edward’s Blues,” one of the songs that did get released from that particular wild night proves, it’s just as good as the numbers that made the cut. “Edward’s Blues” turned it down a few notches, much to the audience’s delight. The closing unreleased “Jimmy’s Detroit Boogie” is a straight John Lee Hooker/Savoy Brown-style boogie with side tracks that point out his power and quick thinking equally.

(FYI: Sully’s the landmark Detroit blues club that closed it’s doors not long after Thackery visited to burn up the stage is scheduled to re-open at a new location in April 2003).

With a brand spanking Alligator debut just hitting the streets, Roomful of Blues' fifth re-issue of the inaugural effort, The 1st Album (Hyena), from the group that Count Basie called the best blues band he’d ever heard takes on more interest for those new to the band. Originally released in 1979 on Island (and later on Rounder, Rhino, and 32), this was the band that Duke Robillard formed a decade earlier in Rhode Island. There have been impressive horn bands before and since, from Blood, Sweat and Tears to Tower of Power, up to the Groove Hogs, but RFOB remains the gold standard. Robillard would be gone after the second effort (Let’s Have a Party), replaced by Ronnie Earl. Though the template was cast, Robillard’s mark on this debut is strong. Co-produced by Doc Pomus and Joel Dorn, this was unlike any other album of its time. These unabashed jump blues fans --- Robillard, Al Copley (piano), Preston Hubbard (bass), John Rossi (drums), Rich Lataille (alto), Doug James (baritone) and Greg Piccolo (tenor) --- ate jump blues for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Red, Hot and Blue”, the instrumental kick off piece sets the tone. Lataille’s alto is straight out of the Johnny Hodge book and there’s more than a nod to the Basie big band. Robillard’s vocalizing on “Love Struck” comes roaring out of the Roy Brown and Jay McShann traditions. This is a band that not only paid tribute to the great swing and jump aggregations of the 1940s, they were the equal to any of them. They pay homage to T-Bone Walker with superb versions of “Stormy Monday” (featuring Robillard’s jaw dropping guitar work) and “Still In Love With You” (with even more impressive guitar work). They rip up Big Joe Turner’s classic “Honey Hush” (with some of the finest piano work of the era) and turn in a wonderful rendition of “Texas Flood,” pre-dating Stevie Ray Vaughan’s by a few years. Throughout, the horn section cooks, cajoles and compliments. That this band exists nearly 25 years later (with Lataille still in the lineup!) speaks volumes to both their importance and the amount of enjoyment they’ve provided fans for all these years. This debut remains one of the best of the impressive catalogue.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Pappy Johns BandThe Fort Erie, Ontario-based Pappy Johns Band cleaned house at the 2002 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. They took home highest honours for: Best Male Artist; Best Group/Duo; Best Producer/Engineer and Best Song/Songwriter. That same year they were finalists in the Toronto Blues Society’s New Talent Search. Recently, the band was the surprise smash at the Blues Summit Showcases in Toronto. On their debut 48 minute disc, Blame It On Monday, the band performs two-guitar southern rock, R&B, soul and blues. Throughout 12 gregarious tunes, including five originals, the mammoth pipes of Faron Johns is at the forefront. He is augmented by Lorne Greene and Chris Johns on guitar, Don Powless on bass, and Oren Doxtator on drums. Ace producer Alec Fraser ensured the band’s perplexing sound was captured. "Wishing Princess" whacks you with a rock rhythm, and it feels good. The title track is slow-paced, has a romantic beat and heartfelt words. Al ‘Gator’ Kroll’s sax adds plenty of soul to this sad song (also featured on the Skin Tight Blues - First Peoples Blues Compilation CD) about a breakup. "Where’s My Limo" is a fun ditty with a funky flow. Here, Lorne sings and banters with Don about becoming a movie star and living a life not quite as expected. The radio-friendly groove of "Waiting By The Telephone" is hit material. On it, the twin guitars make a unique rhythm by playing slightly different patterns during the verses. Al’s zestful sax sounds straight from the late 1970s Saturday Night Live house band. The disc’s best number is the instrumental "Rezzanation." Here, the band fuses rock and jazz to a caliber only previously achieved by the Allman’s "Elizabeth Reed." The remaining musical selections are covers, ranging from the rock and boogie of "Shame Shame Shame" to the traditional blues of "Key To The Highway." Chris takes over the vocals on "Walking By Myself." He doesn’t have as much girth as Faron, however, he has more of a rocker’s voice which is well-suited for the blues-rock song. The Allman Brothers similarities emerge again on "Soul Shine." The tune drags a bit, but its inspirational message and mood disguises this well. Overall, the band performs amicable renditions of the previously recorded material. However, a couple, namely "Some Kind Of Wonderful" and "Lenny," do not add value. Given the superiority of the band’s own compositions, this disc contains too many covers. Strangely, the writing credits are missing for the remakes. There isn’t a ton of blues here, but that makes the CD appeal to listeners with many musical tastes. Faron’s voice is not as omnipotent as when you hear the band perform live. Yet with the backing of guitar prowess and the power of their own songs, it's enough to determine you need to watch out for these guys. With a pile of CAMAs under their belts, surely Maple Blues Awards and Junos will be next. For CDs, booking and information, contact Elaine Bomberry: phone 519-445-4497, e-mail, web

--- Tim Holek

I do so hate to use the much over used cliché of mellowed fine wine just continuing to improve with age, but in the case of the latest album from Savoy Brown, Strange Dreams (Blind Pig), I find it impossible to escape that overworked analogy. Kim Simmonds continues to prove, as he did on his last two acoustic solo albums, what an unquestionably amazing and overlooked guitar player he is and continues to evolve into. To put it in a nutshell, this is one damned good record. If you’re looking for a typical eight or 12 bar blues album, then look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a typical Savoy Brown blues/rock/boogie album then you better look elsewhere also because you won’t find any of that here either. What you will find is some beautifully played blues with a modern approach that stretches out into some elegantly lush jams that utilize a slight ‘wall of sound’ effect and allows you to hear just how tight a band Kim has put together this go round. Perhaps the best way to describe this album is to imagine Mark Knopfler, Carlos Santana and Chet Atkins getting together to cut a blues record. Now that is meant as the utmost of compliments to Simmonds’ creative vision in the making of this beauty, as he not only plays his fingers off on it, but co produced, engineered it himself and wrote nine of the ten brightly crafted cuts. This record detonates from the opening notes of the hard driving “When It Rains,” with Simmonds firing off some intricately structured solos that grab you by the ears and pull you not only into the fast paced beat, but the album itself. Pulling back just a bit in pace but keeping the adrenalin up via Simmonds’ razor sharp, clean picking is “Can’t Take It With You,” a number that reaffirms what we all already know. In my mind’s ear I can hear Dire Straits playing. Blind Boy Fuller’s “Meat Shaking Woman” will quickly endear itself to you through its hip swaggering groove overlaid by the ultra fine twanging country blues slide work that subtly pierces your senses to the point of making you hit the return button on your player to hear it again to make sure you heard it right the first time. The mid tempo and somewhat mellow title cut deals with man's nightmares and superstitions in a slightly surreal manner. It's followed by what has become a personal favorite of this collection, “Keep On Rollin,’” a slow bluesy bop that sucks you into its groove and then has Simmonds blow you away with a slick million note solo that will take your breath away while relating the message of keeping your chin up through hard times. “Shake It All Night” gives you a chance to catch your breath with its subdued, 'less is more' approach and Kim’s spooky echoed vocals. “Pain Of Love” is a subject that is familiar to most of us, and is sort of joined at the hip with the following number “(Hard Time) Believing In You.” The plum of this collection, “Memphis Last Night,” brings to the table a funkified driving Memphis beat, flavored with a percussive rhythm that jams for a very solid seven minutes that makes you wish were 14 by the time it’s over. The band simply kicks it out on this piece. As mind boggling as Simmonds performance is on every track, this album is not just only him. No no no, not at all. The rest of this current incarnation of Savoy Brown sound as if they have been working with Simmonds for years. They are David Malachowski filling in masterfully on rhythm guitar, Gerry Sorrentino thumping out the sparkling bass lines, and last, but surely not least, Dennis Cotton, whose work on drums and percussion deserve a standing ovation. But in getting back to that tired, worn out cliché with which I started this review --- yes, indeed, Kim Simmonds has mellowed and gotten better with age. He continues to exhibit it with every passing release. This is more than a very solid album. To put it in layman's terms --- this one kicks ass. Hands down one of the best of this still very young year.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

20 MilesAs a side project for Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s guitarist Judah Bauer and his brother Donovan, 20 Miles is more blues influenced then Jon Spencer. However, this is no traditional blues group. The brothers draw from the late '60s / early '70s Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart’s Faces, as well as R.L. Burnside and the Grateful Dead. With a jam band foundation, 20 Miles could be compared to such contemporary bands as Phish or Blues Traveler. The bands first studio effort, 1998’s I’m A Lucky Guy, garnered great reviews and was a regular spinner on college radio. Their sophomore release, Keep It Coming, maintains a gritty and unpolished sound, but the songs are more complete and the arrangements are tighter. While the group is labeled as a duo, they bring in guest musicians for inspiration, including brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars. 20 Miles' passion for '70s jam rock is apparent from the first track to the finale. Borrowing the awkward rhythm from the Stones “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Silver String” has an overtly political message in contrast to the ‘feel good’ mood of the rest of CD. The band flirts with some down home country pickin’ on “Fix the Fences,” while “Beautiful Dream” has an early Aerosmith-Mama Kin feel to it. Co-written with the Dickinson brothers, “Like A Rock” is a soft acoustic/electric instrumental which blends country and blues.
The appeal of 20 Miles is their ability to take rudimental elements from each genre and create a positive vibe. Just as legends such as Elmore James and Hank Williams, this group’s main objective is to have a good time with their music. Sometimes simplicity works and it definitely works on Keep It Coming.

--- Tony Engelhart

The title of the newest Bob Log III album, Log Bomb (Epitaph / Fat Possum), does not break the trend of albums named after modes of transportation. As Bob explains, "I am now the vehicle." Bob Log III is the vehicle for a hedonist parade of lurid celebration, with such closed-door party anthems as "Boob Scotch" (instructive photos provided), "Bubble Strut," "Drunk Stripper" and "F*Hole Parade." Bob Log III's interpretation of juke joint sounds is through his one-man band approach of slide guitar and kick drum on one foot and cymbal on the other. Loose and raw, this sound incarnates the sounds of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf with a real visitation of the spirit of those raucous roadhouse blues suitable for fans of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Speedball Baby.

Frantic alt-blues solo artist Derek DePrator bookends this seven-song CD, Across the Country (Eleet Tapes), with his arrangements of folk-blues material: "Mr. Tom Hughie's Town/Gallow's Pole" and "Quit Yr. Low-Down Ways." In between are his unfettered romps through the Delta tradition. This is the first release of new material from Derek DePrator in three years. (In the meantime he was playing guitar for Cobra Verde.) The collection of live (soundboard) and four-track recordings is a raw and primitive preview to upcoming releases through Eleet Tapes.

Sonny Landreth plays a varied slide guitar style combining bottleneck slide, palm and thumb-picking techniques for a sound varied texture. The Road We're On (Sugar Hill) is the eighth album from the blues veteran, and features studio recordings of Landreth with a varied cast of backing musicians including keyboardist Steve Conn, Danny Kimball, and Joe Mouton. Engineer is R.S. Field, who first met Sonny when they were recording with British blues legend John Mayall in 1990. The album features a sublimated funk style and a big, booming sound, perhaps picked up from the boisterous music Sonny met with accordionist Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band. Music fans that appreciate not only Chenier, but also Scotty Moore and Duane Allman, will definitely enjoy this rousing electric blues guitar album. For more info, check the Sugar Hill web site.

Immortal Lee County Killers is an explosive alt-blues ensemble that delivers a bold-stroked version of the blues on Love Is a Charm of Powerful Trouble (Estrus). Songs like "Robert Johnson" and "She's not Afraid of Anything Walking" have no soft curves here, they are all rough-edged and jagged like broken concrete. Another side of ILCK is evident in their take on Willie Dixon's "Weak Brain, Narrow Mind." Their measured, paced delivery is in a deep soul groove. The group offers its own originals, as well as other covers from the '60s, like R&B giant Roosevelt Jamison's "That's How Strong my Love Is" and on up to contemporary masters of the undiluted form like R. L. Burnside ("Goin' Down South"). For more info, check the band web site.

M.C. Records celebrates six years of putting out great blues records with The Best of M.C. Records 1996-2002, a compendium of 16 tunes for a budget price of around $10. This is an excellent opportunity to check out Big Jack Johnson (four tracks), if you have not already. There is some excellent representation from some blues legends in songs by George "Wild Child" Butler ("Gravy Child") and Odetta ("Bourgeois Blues"). Modern delta bluesman R.L. Burnside shows up for two tracks. The Best of M.C. Records is an enjoyable parade of the excellent roots blues M.C. Records has made available to the world.

Joel Dorn's Hyena Records continues to reissue exquisite gems from the past. Orchid in the Storm, a true gem of smooth soul, showcases the sweet and dynamic singing of Aaron Neville at a time before he became an over-produced pop product. (though, it would be nice to have a bit less of the string section at some points.) This album is nearly doubled from five to nine tracks with the addition of bonus material that completes Neville's 1986 vision of paying tribute to 1950s Soul, Doo-Wop and R&B. The bonus tracks are "Mona Lisa," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Warm your Heart" and "Mickey Mouse March"(!). Neville's stunning falsetto technique puts him in a league with Sam Cooke and Clyde McPhatter. For more info, check Hyena Records web site.

--- Thomas Schulte

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