Blues Bytes

What's New

February/March 2015

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

 Igor Prado

Blues on Beale Street (book)

Smokin Joe Kubek - Bnois King

Shaun Murphy

Mike Henderson Band

Jeff Jensen

Eric Sardinas

Jorma Kaukonen

Tas Cru

Robin Banks

Blue Lunch

Brad Absher

Mike Osborn Band

Peaches and Crime


Igor PradoWith the wind howling here in Northern Colorado, it seems like a good day to throw Igor Prado’s new record, Way Down South, into the CD player and let visions of Sao Paulo, Brazil dance in my head. The Igor Prado Band has become the go to backing band for artists looking to tour South America and Igor’s relationship with Lynwood Slim led to this production with the Delta Groove All-Stars. It features a who’s who of the Blues world and Igor, with his brother Yuri on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani on bass and saxophonist Denilson Martins are more than up for the task. Let’s give it a spin.

The disc opens up with Sugaray Rayford on the vocals for the tune, “Matchbox.” Sugaray appears to have had enough and he’s straight to the point, “I’ve got my clothes in a matchbox…I’m going to forget about you.” Monster Mike Welch lends his guitar magic to the mix and we’re off and running. Yuri’s pounding the drums and Rodrigo is keeping up on bass as Kim Wilson takes the microphone for “Ride With Me Baby.” “Well, ride with me, baby…ride with me all night long…I’ll take you out tonight, baby…then I’ll take you home.” Kim’s message is clear and hopefully the girl can keep up with his intent. Igor is laying down a frenetic guitar fill and the song is an upbeat and aggressive tune. Ivan Marcio intros our next tune, “She’s Got It,” with a heavy harp fill and Mud Morganfield is at the mic. “Whatever she’s got…I can’t leave alone…oh, she’s got it…she’s got it right from the start…you know she ever leave…. you know, it’s going to break my heart.” Mud's got it bad and hopefully the girl will at least stay around for a while.

We’re lucky to have a couple of cuts with Lynwood Slim at the microphone on this disc, and the first one, “Baby, Won’t You Jump With Me,” is next. “Mama, won’t you jump with me…we can have a good time…. baby, won’t you wait and see?” Ari Boger is killing it on the piano on this tune and I can hear Denilson’s sax in the background as well.

Mitch Kashmar is our next featured artist and he’s contributing his harp to the mix as well as he ponders, “What Have I Done?” “You got me coo coo, darling…. you got me coo coo…in the head…. you got me coo coo, darling…. man, I wish I was dead.” Mitch’s mournful harp fills echo the despair he’s feeling and I’m hoping he finds his way out of this situation soon.

“Shake and Fingerpop” is the first cut on the disc with just Igor and the band and I can appreciate their aggressive approach to this tune. Igor’s fretwork is infectious and he’s encouraging everyone to have a good time --- “get out on the floor now…dance like you’ve never danced before.” The band’s killing it and I can hear for myself why they’re held in such high esteem in South America.

Rod and Honey Piazza are the next Delta Groove All-Stars to hit the mix and Rod’s harp is leading the way on “Talk to My Baby.” “I just talked to my baby…on the telephone…stop what you’re doing, Daddy…. and come on home…I can’t hold out…. I can’t hold too long…I got a real good feeling, baby…. talking to you on my telephone.” She’s clear what she wants and I’m thinking Rod will be home soon. “If You Ever Need Me” is a favorite tune of mine, with Kim Wilson back for the vocals on this cut. “If you ever feel lonely…if you’re ever feeling blue…all you have to do is call me…. and I’ll come running here to you.” The sentiment is clear and all the girl needs to do is call and Kim will come running despite the number of times she’s broken his heart.

Igor and the boys are back on “You Got What It Takes” and I like their matter of fact approach to this tune. “All I know…. is she got what it takes…. to take what I got.” Igor’s a simple man with simple needs and it’s pretty clear here that the object of his attentions can have her way with him. I’d be a little cautious, Igor, but you’re in the big leagues now so good luck. Randy Chortkoff lends his harp fills to the mix as Sugaray Rayford takes the mic to sing to us his “Big Mama Blues.” “My grandmother told me…Son, don’t let the devil steal your soul…. now, I’m a grown man…and my grandma’s gone…but the words she spoke to me child…. hang round my neck like a heavy stone.” It’s about to get dark and rough and the trouble that Sugaray’s grandmother warned him about is heading his way. Good luck, Sugaray.

Lynwood Slim is back with “You Better Believe It” and you can hear the easy camaraderie he shares with Igor and his band mates. “You gotta believe it…yes, I’m in love with you…you gotta believe it…. no one else will do.” Ari’s piano fills tuck in nicely with Lynwood Slim’s vocals and I’m appreciating the tenor sax of Denilson as well. We move on to “Rooster Blues” where we find Wallace Coleman at the microphone and playing a bit of harp as well. “Well, the little red hen told the little red rooster…baby, you don’t come round like you used to.” Seems the rooster’s been remiss in his duties and he should be chasing that little red hen real soon.

The final cut on the disc is an acoustic version of “Trying to Do Right” and features Omar Coleman on the vocals and harp while Igor lends his acoustic guitar to the mix. “Said I’m trying to do right…even though I want to do wrong…I’m trying to do right…even though we’ve got it strong.” I’m not convinced that Omar’s going to be able to keep doing right when it’s so obvious that he wants to do wrong.

Way Down South succeeds on so many levels. There isn’t a bad cut on the disc and the considerable firepower that the Delta Groove All Stars lend to the mix is impressive indeed. Igor Prado and his band more than uphold their end of the bargain, and the result is a disc they can definitely be proud of. The disc information from Delta Groove indicates that the Igor Prado Band will be touring worldwide to support this record and I hope to see them soon on the Blues Highway. Well done, Igor, Yuri, Rodrigo and Denilson.

--- Kyle Deibler

Blues on BealeI’m sure there have been very few book reviews included in the history of Blues Bytes but I’m going to make an exception here and review the book, Blues on Beale Street – Memoirs of the International Blues Challenge, and I do so from the viewpoint of one who has volunteered nationally for the Blues Foundation and was present on Beale Street for the entire period of time this book entails.

The book is the brainchild of Jenn Ocken, a talented photographer in her own right, who owns a very successful photography business in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson, president of the Cascade Blues Association and another key volunteer of the Blue Foundation. The two of them reached out to all of the various constituents of the International Blues Challenge: the Blues Foundation staff; the volunteers who work tirelessly to make the event happen; the artists themselves who competed in the IBC and the fans attending the event to compile their stores and memories covering roughly a decade from 2004 to 2014. The result is an amazing compilation of viewpoints that ultimately pays homage to the entire Blues family who is a part of what’s been called “the largest blues festival in the world.”

The first year that I attended was 2002 and at that time there were roughly 42 total acts in approximately six venues. Today there are over 250 total acts competing between bands, solo/duo acts and the youth showcase that descend upon Memphis and take up over 20 venues in today’s International Blues Challenge. Needless to say, the viewpoints and memories are heartwarming to look back at and appreciate for any fan of Blues who has either attended the IBC or is thinking about doing so for the first time. For the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to meet and congregate with our Blues family, the folks we may only see once or twice a year and cherish the time we do get to spend together.

The stories themselves and the pictures that compliment them are as varied as the storytellers themselves. Zac Harmon tells us “winning the IBC was the equivalent of winning a $100,000 in free publicity” while Eden Brent calls the IBC “the family reunion you actually want to attend.” Both are valid viewpoints, but I appreciate the memories as well of those who are no longer with us: David Johnson, John-Alex Mason, Robin Rogers and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention long time volunteer, R.D. Dill, and my buddy, Jeff Strahan, from Texas who we lost a year ago. I could go on and on about the stories found in Blues on Beale Street but that would spoil the fun. As Val Scott noted, “I have stories to tell but I need to protect the guilty,” and I agree with her to a point. There were a lot of stories that probably didn’t make it into the book for that reason, but there are a lot of amazing stories that did.

Kudos to Jenn and Greg for their painstaking care in selecting the pictures and compiling the stories included in Blues on Beale Street and I encourage you all to grab a copy from Jenn’s website,, or the book can be found on Amazon as well. The book itself is a heartwarming compilation for all who contributed our stories to the project and a significant milestone in documenting the evolution of the International Blues Challenge and a must have addition to the library of any serious lover of the Blues.

--- Kyle Deibler

Smokin Joe Kubek - Bnois KingUrban legend has it that the “Fat Man’s Shine Parlor” was an establishment in the commercial district for the Black population of Dallas. Hear tell it was a place where you could go for a drink, a woman, a friendly gaming table and get your shoes shined to boot. With an eclectic offering like this, the Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, drew Smokin’ Joe Kubek to its doors and the impressions it left on this Texas Bluesman inspired he and partner, Bnois King, to name their latest project on Blind Pig Records after this legendary establishment. Let’s crack open the door to Fat Man’s Shine Parlor and listen to what Joe and Bnois have in store for us.

The band opens with “Got My Heart Broken” and a heavy bass line underscores the pain Bnois is feeling as the result of a relationship with a married woman. “She even told me…she wouldn’t leave her man…I said, not to worry…it’s just a one night stand…. but one turned to two…and on and on and on…I was out of control…by then my mind was gone.” This is going to end badly and the roar of an engine in the background is telling Bnois he should be leaving. He’s stubborn but eventually he got the message and realized it was time to go. The topic switches to food and up next is “Cornbread.” Bnois likes his food the way he likes it and please don’t deviate from the plan. “Never had hog and cheese…I don’t know where you’ve been…you must have been raised in the city…you missed a treat my friend…ah…cornbread.” A meal with Bnois sounds like a good time and this is definitely a man who finds great pleasure in the food he eats.

Joe’s guitar steps to the forefront and plays a mournful lead as we move on to “Diamond Eyes,” a song about a woman who caught Bnois’ eye. “Touched my very soul…she was the one for me…. I felt it right away…she was the one for me…left this world too soon…. my heart is full of gloom.” Bnois was definitely captivated by this one and you can feel his pain of losing her through the mournful fills that Smokin’ Joe is laying down. We’re never really sure what happened to her, but Bnois’ love for her was real. We move on to “Crash and Burn” where we find Bnois describing a woman of a completely different ilk. This one has nothing to her name…nothing to rest her laurels on and Bnois is wise to her game. “Come out every day…. dressed to the nines…I got to admit…you look real fine…I know there’s pressure, babe…. everywhere you turn…I know you’re scared to death…that you’re going to crash and burn.” Her charms aren’t working on Bnois and she’s going to have to find another man to be her Sugar Daddy. “You’ve got to learn…to live with yourself…before trying with someone else…that was the best advice…every given to me…I heard the words long ago…but it took awhile to see.”

“River of Whiskey” finds Bnois reflecting on these words of wisdom and struggling to come to grips with the outcomes of some very bad decisions he’d made. Eventually he hit the proverbial “brick wall” and accepted the wisdom of the words he’s heard a long time ago. So of course we move on to some very passionate fretwork from Smokin’ Joe, and Bnois is realizing he “Don’t Want to Be Alone.” Here he’s living in the moment and needing some loving from a woman who isn’t the object of his desire. She can have his body but not his love; it’s up to her to decide what she wants to do. “If you agree…we can carry on…I don’t hate you…but I don’t want to do you no wrong.” The tune ends before we know the decision that she’s made.

Shiela Klinefelter on bass and Eric Smith on the drums are laying down a heavy back end on our next tune, “Brown Bomba Mojo,” and it appears to me that Bnois has the cure to what ails you. “Push that red button…call for the nurse…. got to make it know….things are getting worse…your mind is drifting….in and out of phase.” Nothing else is working; the patient needs some “Brown Bomba Mojo.” I can hear Bnois’ jazz influences on our next cut, “How Much,” and here Bnois is wondering how much the gig is going to cost with the travel involved. “But what can you do…ride and hope for the best…driver’s going to get that money…you can bet the airline’s going to get the rest.” Between luggage fees, a cab ride, hotel and more…the band is “already in the hole.” Life on the road isn’t easy these days and Bnois is well aware of all the costs involved. And of course the expenses mount given Bnois’s appreciation of women. For some reason, “I just can’t be satisfied…with one girl by my side”. Bnois is realizing he can’t have it both ways in “One Girl By My Side.” “Can’t be satisfied…and I don’t know the reason why.”

Song sequencing brings us to “Lone Star Lap Dance,” a lively instrumental that has my mind drifting back to Texas, a million years ago. The picking is lively, the mood is light, and all of the names have been changed to protect the guilty and we’ll leave it at that. “Done Got Caught Blues” is the closet thing to a ballad that Smokin’ Joe and Bnois have on this disc, and of course it's Bnois that is the guilty party. “This time…. I done messed up real bad…I can’t talk my way out…man, that girl is really mad.” Bnois got caught with his pants down and he’s pretty sure he’s out the door this time. “She’s going to put me out…man, what a bad…bad…day…I cannot believe…I let myself get caught this way.” But you did, Bnois, and its time to face the heat in the kitchen.

The band closes with the primal, “Headed for Ruin,” and the bottle has been the ruin of many a man. “If you don’t watch…going to drive you insane…got it in your mind…you’re going to even the score…. you got it all wrong…you can’t blame nobody…you brought it all on yourself.”

Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is an impressive return to the Blind Pig fold for Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King. The tunes are lively, the playing stellar, and there isn’t a bad cut on the disc. I’m hoping the band makes its way back through Colorado soon. I’d love to hear these tunes up close and personal for myself. Think I’ll head over to the band’s website, and see if there’s a gig near me in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I’m hitting “Play” one more time.

--- Kyle Deibler

Shaun MurphyI’m really appreciating Shaun Murphy’s new disc, Loretta, due out any minute. It’s a departure for Shaun in that it’s a much edgier disc than any of the last three I’ve heard from her and I’m glad she’s rocking my world today. Producer TC Davis assembled a stellar cast of Nashville’s best to back Shaun on this disc and she can come sing on my back porch anytime. Let’s give her disc a spin.

Shaun opens up with an original tune, “Don’t Lie to Me,” and whatever’s going on, just be straight up with her. Jack Pearson’s guitar is providing the lead as Shaun lays down the law, “Tell the truth…don’t make believe…. ain’t no thing…just don’t lie to me.” I think Shaun’s message is loud and clear, here. Up next is “I Pity the Fool” and while Shaun’s through with this man, her heart’s in the right place for his next target. “Oh, I pity the fool…he’ll break your heart and walk away one day…I pity the fool”. Hopefully the next woman to come under his spell will heed Shaun’s words and watch this one carefully.

An original tune, “Kiss Me Like Whiskey,” is next and this is one of my favorite tunes on Shaun’s new disc. The tempo’s a bit slower; the emotions more impassioned but definitely true Shaun. “Kiss me like whiskey…. leave a taste on my tongue…miss me like midnight…when the cold morning comes…leave your fire with me…I know you got to go…make it strong…and sweet…and slow…kiss me like whiskey.” An amazing tune and Mr. Pearson’s riff in the background is lending its credence to Shaun’s emotional plea to “kiss me like whiskey.”

The title cut, “Loretta,” is next and this song has a definitive Nashville feel to it. Loretta is a showroom girl and her gaudy dress and style will get the best of her yet. “Loretta…with all your sneaking around…you better start thinking six feet down…. Loretta…tell you what you’re going to do…you’re going to put that man in the ground.” Loretta’s a married woman with a cheating eye and it will be the death of her man if he finds out. Another original tune, “Strange Life,” is next and Shaun’s reflecting on her memories. “When your past comes back to haunt you…don’t say I didn’t lie…it’s a fate you didn’t pay for…as you spread your wings to fly.” This man had his issues and it was his need to grow but you can’t help but feel as if Shaun might have helped him find his way. Jim Fiano plays an outstanding lead guitar and I’m not sure I have the words to adequately convey the lyrics that Shaun wrote for this tune. That said, I really like “Strange Life.” Well done, Shaun!

Next up is “Hard Working Man” and it seems that Shaun’s man is spending more time on the job than with her. “And finally one day…I happened to discover…that a hard working man…just makes an unfit lover…and that’s why…oh, that’s why…I’m about to sit my baby back down.” I’m sure that Shaun will get her message across and in the end a little more Shaun satisfaction than job satisfaction is probably a good thing. A pounding backbeat from drummer George Lilly and heavy bass line from Randy Coleman provide the impetus for Shaun’s take of “Big Train Stops at Memphis.” “Get yourself a ticket, boy…get your ass to New Orleans…Big Train stops in Memphis…60 coaches down to Santa Fe…get yourself a ticket boy…get your ass to New Orleans.” Shaun can’t be any clearer than that and I’m sure he’s on his way to the Big Easy.

“Should Be Hard to Love You” is another original tune of Shaun’s and I really like her songwriting on this disc. Shaun’s got herself a cheating man she just can’t seem to let go of. “You cheat…and you lie…. you leave…and I die…a little each time…and then you come back…and I let you in…it should be hard to love you…when you treat me like that.” Whatever the magic is that he has, Shaun just can’t seem to resist him and this one sounds like a heartbreaker to me. Shaun admonishes us to be “careful what you wish for” in the next cut, “Careful They Say,” without really telling us if that’s a good or a bad thing. “Be careful what you wish for…you just might just get it someday…I needed your love…prayed for your love…and then your touch knocked me right off my feet…now, I can’t stand back up…you know its weighing too much on me…be careful what you wish for…you might just get it someday.” Seems this love overpowered Shaun and the resulting heartache has her questioning the wisdom of her decision but I’m sure she has no regrets.

The band moves on to “Go Away,” and here Shaun admits to having feelings she’d never had before. “The first time you showed much…how much I had to take…I let you mistreat me…that was my mistake…never again…am I gonna win…it’s time to go away…time won’t heal everything.” His love was a candle at first, but it didn’t take Shaun long to realize the error of her ways and she’s right…”time won’t heal everything.” But she’s still better off without him. “24 Hours From Memphis” is another original of Shaun’s, and again she’s regretting a decision she’s made. “You missed your connection…and your sense of direction…has led you astray…it’s a long way around…got lost to be found…. 24 hours from Memphis.” The bright lights of Beale Street and a man’s love to be found there beckon her, but now it’s time to head back home…”24 hours from Memphis.”

The last tune on Loretta, “How Strong Is A Woman,” finds Shaun questioning the wisdom of who is the stronger sex. “How strong is a woman…a woman is as strong as she needs…for the man she loves.” Shaun would rather be the weaker sex and be in love than to have no love at all.

Loretta rocked my world in a good way. Many of Nashville’s finest musicians lent their considerable talents to this record, the songwriting is top notch and it features some of the strongest vocals I’ve heard from Shaun in awhile. It’s been a treat to see the stronger, edgier side of Shaun come out in this disc and I’m expecting big things from Shaun and her band this year. An early contender for my top ten of 2015 and a disc I will be coming back to all year long. Well done, Shaun Murphy.

--- Kyle Deibler

Mike HendersonYou might not have heard of Mike Henderson, but you have more than likely heard him. The Nashville-based bluesman has worn many hats over his 30+ years in the music business, playing guitar and/or harmonica on hundreds of sessions (including Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Albert King, Guy Clark, Sting, Bo Diddley, the Fairfield Four’s Isaac Freeman, Patty Loveless, Bob Seger, and others), writing songs for various country, blues, and soul artists (including Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Solomon Burke), and also leading several bands, including the SteelDrivers, the Bluebloods, and the Bel Airs.

Presently, he is leading The Mike Henderson Band, and has released a new disc on EllerSoul records, If You Think It’s Hot Here…, which returns him to his roots --- blues and rock --- with 11 great songs. Backing him on these tracks are Kevin McKendree (keyboards/producer), Michael Rhodes (bass), Pat O’Connor (drums), with support from Don Underwood (guitar) and Chris and Morgan Stapleton (background vocals).

Any disc with two Hound Dog Taylor covers is worth a listen and Henderson blows the doors off of “Send You Back To Georgia,” with some wild slide guitar from Henderson and manic keyboard from McKendree. “It’s Alright” is a little less frenzied, but no less intense. Henderson also covers Muddy Waters (a rowdy version of “Mean Red Spider”), Robert Johnson (“If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day,” featuring some nimble slide), and Sonny Boy Williamson (a slow-burning take on “Unseen Eye”). There’s also a rocking remake of “Matchbox,” and a slick shuffling version of “Gamblin’ Blues.”

Henderson wrote or co-wrote four of the tracks, including the reflective title track (co-written with R.S. Field), the opening cut, “I Wanna Know Why,” a swampy, atmospheric rocker, and “Weepin’ and Moanin’,” which has a Windy City feel. The closing track, the instrumental “Rock House Blues,” finds Henderson playing harmonica and backed by McKendree on piano.

Henderson took a recording hiatus in 2011 to raise his family, but with If You Think It’s Hot Here….., it’s like he’s never been away. This is a fantastic mix of blues, rock, and even a little bit of country that you will be playing over and over again. I know I will be.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff JensenWow. If you’re a blues fan of any standing and Jeff Jensen’s new disc, Morose Elephant (Swingsuit Records), doesn’t put a hop in your step, maybe you should seek counseling or head over to the Easy Listening section at wherever you pick up your music these days. I was really taken in his songs and performances on his last release, Road Worn and Ragged, but this disc is even better, featuring seven Jensen originals and four re-imaginations of classics that he makes his own.

Jensen relocated to Memphis a few years ago from Portland, Oregon, and you get a real sense of the city’s musical influence on his style from the soulful and upbeat opener, “Make It Through,” with the funky guitar, Wurlitzer from Victor Wainwright and the churchy background vocals from Reba Russell…..two performers who figure prominently throughout the disc. “Get Along” is a gritty rocker, and “Fall Apart” is a soul-drenched ballad featuring a nice vocal and sweet guitar work from Jensen, backed by supple keyboards from Chris Stephenson.

Another highlight is the Jensen original, “Paper Walls,” which is kind of offbeat, both lyrically and vocally, and even features a toy piano solo from Stephenson. “Ash and Bone” is a lovely acoustic ballad with Jensen, Russell on backing vocals and Anne Harris on fiddle, and “Elephant Blue” is a cool instrumental that blends soul and jazz perfectly. The “Bonus Track” on the disc is a stripped-down blues with Jensen and Gary Allegretto on harmonica.

There’s also a dynamite cover the old traditional spiritual, “Going Home,” with Jensen really stretching out on vocals and guitar that should light your fire even if your wood is wet. Jensen and Wainwright pair up vocally for a fun remake of Memphis Minnie’s “What’s The Matter With The Mill.” The other covers include a mellow take of Amos Milburn’s “Bad Bad Whiskey,” accompanied by Eric Hughes on harmonica, and a swinging remake of the pop standard, “I’ll Always Be in Love With You.”

In addition to the musicians mentioned above, Jensen is assisted by longtime musical partner, bassist Bill Ruffino, drummers James Cunningham and Robinson Bridgeforth, tenor/baritone sax man Kirk Smothers, and Mark Franklin on trumpet/flugelhorn. Morose Elephant stands as Jeff Jensen’s best work to date, effectively capturing the blues and soul that makes up his musical vision.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric SardinasIn the liner notes of Boomerang (Jazzhaus Records), the new release from Eric Sardinas and Big Motor, there’s a dedication from the blue-rock guitarist to “my friend Johnny Winter,” who passed away shortly before this album was recorded. Even though the legendary guitarist had fled this mortal coil, his spirit is felt on every song of this superlative set, which consists of ten powerhouse tracks…..eight originals and two sizzling covers.

Sardinas plays his own customized and sometimes electrified Dobro Resonators, in lieu of the usual guitar fare of most blues guitarists. His frenetic playing style is uniquely his own, both his picking and especially his slide work, and Big Motor (Levell Price – bass, Bryan Keeling – drums) is the perfect rhythm section to back him, just crushing it out of the park. Sardinas has stated before that his musical vision is to bring rock & roll together with blues in his own distinctive mix, which is similar to Winter’s approach, but Sardinas is in a class by himself…..not just as a guitarist, but also as a singer.
Boomerang burns from start to finish, with scorching original tunes like “Run Devil Run,” the title track, “Tell Me You’re Mine,” and “Long Gone.” “Bad Boy Blues” is a fierce, hard-driving shuffle, while the moody “Morning Glory” has more of a deep south Delta feel. “If You Don’t Love Me” will be familiar to Sardinas fans from his live shows, and starts out somewhat subdued, but quickly builds up intensity and is one of the highlights of the disc. Even the acoustic closer, “Heavy Loaded,” with kazoo backing (you read that right) from the Hilo Boy Honorary Brigade, is a barrel of fun.

The covers include Leiber/Stoller’s “Trouble” (Sardinas’ first live show was an Elvis Presley show) and a churning version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years.” Sardinas doesn’t so much “cover” them as he transforms them. When you hear these two songs, you will understand his musical vision completely.

Blues-rockers will definitely dig Boomerang, but it will appeal to blues fans of any ilk, thanks to Sardinas’ awesome guitar chops and his deft merging of blues and rock. Trust me… don’t want to miss this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Jorma KaukonenIn a career that spans over 50 years, Jorma Kaukonen has seen and been involved in a lot of musical history. Not only is he a founding member of two legendary bands (Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna), the guitarist has moved from his impressive beginnings in rock & roll to performing American roots, blues, and American. He’s also considered one of the foremost practitioners and teachers of finger-style guitar.

Though he continues to work and tour with Hot Tuna, Kaukonen has also performed and recorded solo, most recently with Red House Records, who released his latest effort, Ain’t In No Hurry, a wonderful mix of classic blues, folk, and country tunes, along with several insightful original compositions. He’s joined on these tracks by the amazing mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, multi-instrumentalist/producer Larry Campbell, bass player Myron Hart, drummer Justin Guip, and backing vocalist Teresa Williams.

The whole album has a nice warm, lived-in quality, Kaukonen’s guitar interplay with Mitterhoff or Campbell’s mandolin being a key factor on several of the tunes. The opening cut is a splendid, laid back take on the blues classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” with Campbell doubling up on fiddle and mandolin. Next up is a Kaukonen original, “The Other Side of the Mountain,” with more nice string bending from him and Campbell (on mandolin again), and a gently swinging cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me.”

“In My Dreams” is a lovely acoustic ballad, with Mitterhoff on mandolin and Hart on bass, and the Carter Family classic “Sweet Fern” is a standout with vocals from Williams, and Campbell’s lap steel. The lap steel reappears on the title track, forming a great combination with Kaukonen’s classic picking. “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” has a great old-timey feel, and the loping “Where There’s Two There’s Trouble,” ventures close to country territory with the full band in support.

Thomas Dorsey’s “The Terrible Operation” has a Piedmont feel with some great guitar work from Kaukonen. The country-flavored rocker “Bar Room Crystal Ball” finds Kaukonen not only collaborating with Mitterhoff on mandolin and Campbell on steel, but also his longtime Hot Tuna bandmate Jack Casady on bass. The closer is a spare acoustic solo track from Kaukonen, with just vocals and guitar on “Seasons In The Field.”

Throughout the disc, Kaukonen’s guitar work is masterful and his warm, inviting vocals are a plus as well. The appropriately-titled Ain’t In No Hurry is a beautiful, relaxed, and unrushed set that will appeal to fans of multiple genres, but most especially guitar fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Barbara BlueBarbara Blue pulled out all the stops on her latest release, Memphis Blue: Sweet, Strong, & Tight (Big Blue Records). As the title indicates, this one gives a nod to Memphis blues, funk and soul, and the vocal powerhouse is backed by the tightest band on Memphis soil (the Royal Rhythm Section and the Royal Horns) as well as a stellar group of guest stars. Produced and recorded by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell at, where else, Royal Studios, this is without a doubt Ms. Blue’s best CD yet.

There’s plenty of Memphis grease popping in these tracks, especially on tracks like Jay McShann’s “Hands Off,” the Isaac Hayes/David Porter/Steve Cropper-penned “Love Is After Me,” and a handful of originals like “Rudy’s Blues” (where the protagonist’s woman is “three-handed”……right-handed, left-handed, and under-handed), the sassy title cut, and “Memphis Stomp,” a wonderful tribute to Memphis legend Willie Mitchell. Blue also covers the Ann Peebles classic, “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse.”

As mentioned, guest stars abound, with Bobby Rush contributing harmonica to three tracks (“Hands Off,” the rocking “SuperBlues,” and “Memphis Stomp”), and Ronnie Earl accompanying Blue on three tracks: (a bouncy reading of Delta Joe Sanders’ “No Time To Cry,” the funky “Rolling Up On Me,” and an acoustic duet, “800 Miles,” that closes the disc.

A couple of tracks veer from the Memphis vibe a little bit: “VooDoo Woman” and “Coat and Hat” both have more of a Gulf Coast feel with accordion from Sonny Barbato, who plays piano on the lovely gospel tune, “Me & Jesus.” Cody Dickinson adds washboard on “VooDoo Woman.”

The Royal Rhythm Section (Lester Snell – Wurlitzer, Rev. Charles Hodges – B3, Leroy Hodges – bass, David Smith bass, Steve Potts – drums, and Michael Toles – rhythm guitar) are awesome, as always, as are the Royal Horns (Lannie McMillan – horn arrangements/sax, Marc Franklin – trumpet, Joe Spake – baritone sax, Steve Graham – trombone, Jason Yasinsky – trombone, with Derrick Davis – guesting on trumpet for one track). Shontelle and Shareese Norman also add background vocals on a couple of the tracks.

Even with the fine band and guest musicians, this is still all Barbara Blue’s show. She fills each song with so much soul and passion that if goose bumps don’t follow you should probably seek medical attention. This lady feels this music from her head down to her toes, and Memphis Blue: Sweet, Strong, and Tight provides proof positive that she is the Queen of Beale Street and will be for some time to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Tas CruThe title track of Tas Cru’s sixth album, You Keep The Money (Crustee Tees Records), was inspired by a conversation between the  singer/songwriter/bluesman and Delta blues legend T-Model Ford when Cru and his band, the Tortured Souls, were performing a benefit for the ailing bluesman in Clarksdale, Mississippi. When Ford found out that Cru and his band were giving up their pay to help him pay his bills, he told them, “Tonight, just show me the love….you keep the money.”

Cru’s latest effort is a lot like his previous efforts, outstanding songwriting and musicianship while exploring several different styles of blues from traditional blues to blues rock to country and roots., all fueled by Cru’s masterful work on electric, acoustic, resonator, and cigar box guitars. The 12 tracks were all written by Cru, who also produced the disc.

You Keep The Money is loaded with highlights, including the funky title track which kicks off the album. “A Month of Somedays” is a blues ballad that features some nice guitar from Cru and keyboards from Guy Nirelli, and “Half the Time” is a churning blues rocker. Cru also includes a lovely instrumental, “La Belle Poutine,” that’s a mix of “Little Wing” and “Riviera Paradise.”

Other standouts include the clever “Heart Trouble,” the cool shuffles “One Bad Habit” and “Count on Me,” “Take Me Back To Tulsa,” a countrified homage to the Oklahoma city, the funky and salacious “Bringing Out the Beast,” and the rousing closer, “Thinking How To Tell Me Goodbye.”

Backing Cru on these tracks are Dick Earl Ericksen, who provides indispensible harmonica on multiple tracks, keyboardists Chip Lamson and Nirelli, drummers Dave Olson and Bob Holz, percussionist Ron Keck, bassist Bob Purdy, Mary Ann Casale, who plays dulcimer and adds background vocals along with Alice “Honeybea” Ericken.

Tas Cru is one of the most unique bluesmen currently practicing. You Keep the Money finds him at the peak of his formidable talents as a performer and songwriter.

--- Graham Clarke

Robin BanksRobin Banks’ latest CD is a fine self-released effort appropriately entitled Modern Classic, her first release since 2010. The Canadian singer is joined by producer/guitarist Duke Robillard and a wonderful band, including Bruce Bears (keyboards), Mark Teixeira (drums), Brad Hallen (bass), and the Roomful of Blues Horns (Doug James – baritone sax, Doug Woolverton – trumpet, and Mark Early – sax) for a dozen original tunes, all penned by Banks.

Modern Classic really puts Banks’ vocal range on full display as the songs move from jump blues (“You Boogie Too Fast For Me”), funky urban blues (“Bite Your Tongue”), jazz (“Really Dig You,” “Crazy,” “A Little Bit of Heaven,” Tonight”), steamy Memphis-based soul (“I’ll Meet You There,” “A Man Is Just A Man”) and country (“A Place In The City”).

Banks’ vocals are a pleasure from start to finish. She’s sultry, playful and soulful, and she moves effortlessly between genres. Her songwriting was already a selling point on her previous releases, but this may be her best batch of tunes to date.

Combining Robin Banks’ considerable talents with Robillard’s always-excellent guitar and production, plus the sublime support from the band shows that Modern Classic could be the start of a beautiful musical relationship. Let’s hope that the relationship continues for a long time.

--- Graham Clarke

Blue LunchThe Cleveland, Ohio band Blue Lunch’s latest release, Above the Fold, is their second for Rip Cat Records. Well into their third decade in existence, this versatile group spans several different blues styles, from the rough and ragged Chicago style to smooth West Coast jump blues to New Orleans R&B to jazzy blues, and they do them all equally well. The new release offers 15 tracks, 12 originals and three covers.

Blue Lunch consists of Bob Frank (vocals, guitar), Peter London (vocals, harmonica), Chris Burge (saxophones, vocals), Mike Rubin (trumpet), Bob Michael (trombone, vocals), Mike Sands (piano), Ray DeForest (bass violin, bass guitar, bass vocals), and Scott Flowers (drums). Frank proves himself to be a pretty versatile songwriter as well, penning seven of the12 originals, including “Ain’t Trying To Kill Nobody,” the tight boogie “The Long Game,” the soulful ballads “Woman I Bleed” and “Seven Times,” “Where Do You Think It’s Going” (a jumping gospel-flavored track), and the very smooth T-Bone-styled “Venita.”

London composed and sings the swinging rocker “Everybody’s On The Phone” and “Katt’n Around With Moe,” a sturdy Windy City harp-driven instrumental. Burge also contributes three tracks, all instrumentals, with the jazzy “One Fine Day,” “No Time Like The Present,” which showcases the fine horn section, and the jumping “Lake Erie Fireball.”

The band also covers Dave Bartholomew (a brassy take of “Love No More”) and Andre “Mr. Rhythm” Williams (a smoking remake of “Tossin’ & Turnin’ & Burnin’”), and they close the disc on a bit of a different note with an acapella reading of the old gospel standard, “Good News.”

Blue Lunch continues to display their talents and versatility with this latest release. They seem to get better and better with each release and Above the Fold continues their hot streak.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad AbsherIf you’ve got a hankering for some great Gulf Coast blues and R&B, look no further than Brad Absher & Swamp Royale. The Houston-born, Lake Charles-raised Absher’s music was influenced by the swamp pop he listened to while growing up. He came into his own as a guitarist during his time living in Tulsa, and represented Houston as regional winner in the 2014 IBC. He’s released five albums over the past twenty years and has been a festival favorite in the Gulf Coast area and around the country.

Absher’s sixth release is Lucky Dog (Montrose Records), and the 12 tracks include six Absher originals, plus one written by his bass player/producer/ Phantom Blues Band member Larry Fulcher with Tony Braunagel, and five engaging covers. The originals show Absher to be a pretty wide-ranging composer with tracks like “Woman Who Loves Me,” a smooth rocker, the R&B-charged tracks “I Need A Drink,” “I Can’t Wait,” and “Wanna Be Your Man,” Not Tonight,” which has a country feel, and the cool blues of “Memphis on the Way.”

The covers are outstanding, too. William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” leans toward gospel territory, and Absher’s remake of “Jesus on the Mainline” gives the guitarist a chance to show his slide guitar chops. Bill Withers’ “Same Love” is a nice choice as well and features one of Absher’s best vocals, and the New Orleans R&B classic, “Lipstick Traces,” retains its cool Crescent City flair.

Absher’s guitar skills are considerable, and he has a strong vocal style that works smoothly whether singing blues, soul, or R&B. Swamp Royale (Fulcher – bass, Barry Seelen – keys, Mike Patton – drums, Andy Saad – tenor sax, Anthony Terry – baritone sax, Kyle Turner – tenor sax, Samantha Banks – percussion, Nicoya Prolar – vocals, Ed Starkey – vocals) provides excellent support.

Lucky Dog is a powerful set of Gulf Coast blues and R&B from a seasoned vet of the scene. Based on this well-rounded disc, chances are pretty good that you will be seeing Brad Absher & Swamp Royale in next year’s IBC.

--- Graham Clarke

Pete HerzogThe adventurous acoustic bluesman Pete Herzog has previously released some fine recordings of original music, taking the music of those who came before him and adding his own personal touches to it. His 2011 release, Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera, is the saga of a guitar and the musicians who played it, and featured some wonderful original tunes.

This time around, Herzog teams up with producer/songwriter Dennis Walker, three-time Grammy Winner and six-time winner of the Handy Awards for his work with Robert Cray and B.B. King for Waiting for the Rain, an outstanding collection of new tracks with lyrics from Walker and music and vocals from Herzog. The whole set has a relaxed, easy feel, like two old buddies getting together with some friends and playing the music that they love.

Walker hasn’t lost any of his songwriting mojo, for sure, turning out some fine material on this set, such as “I Wish Him Luck,” “It’s Gotta Rain,” “Lotsa Rain,” “That Rainy Day” (FYI, this session was recorded during the 2014 drought in Oregon, which may explain the abundance of “rain” songs), “St. Louis,” “Arizona,” and “Blues Instead.” Walker co-produced the disc with Herzog and adds some sturdy bass work to the mix.

Herzog describes his music as “dirt road style blues,” which is pretty accurate. This is music that sounds best when riding through the country with the windows down and dust blowing everywhere. It’s a mix of country, folk, and blues, but mostly blues. His warm vocals fit Walker’s songs to a tee.

Herzog and Walker get able assistance from several percussionists (Pete Wirts – drums, GT Albright – drums, Antoine Salley – triangle, gourd), Bob Pagano – bass, and Cedric Billings, Jr. – bass. Wating for the Rain is a wonderful release of acoustic blues with great songs and performances.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad HatfieldAfter earning a nomination at the 2013 Blues Music Awards for Best New Artist for his debut release, 2012’s Uphill From Anywhere, Brad Hatfield returns with a brand new release, For A Change, that finds the Cincinnati bluesman in some pretty prestigious company. Award-winning producer/drummer Tom Hambridge mans the board and the drum kit this time around, and Hatfield gets excellent support from guitarist Bob Britt (Delbert McClinton, Paul Thorn), keyboardist Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton), and bassist Tommy MacDonald (Buddy Guy, George Thorogood).

Hatfield, who started out playing guitar at age 10 (his father, Bernie Hatfield, has played keyboards for several Cincy blues acts for many years), was injured at age 25 in a construction accident that left him paralyzed. Fortunately, he was still able to sing and he also picked up the harmonica after his injury. This new release focuses on Hatfield’s considerable vocal talents and features a dozen original songs, mostly penned by Hambridge and associates, with Hatfield bringing two of his own into the mix.

The song list is pretty versatile, with blues rockers like the scorching opener, “That’s My Home” and “Backdoor Scratchin’” with Chicago-styled shuffles like “Behave Yourself” and “So Much, So Little,” and swampy blues numbers like “Smarter Than I Was.” “Devil On Both Shoulders” and “Swamp Poker” both veer toward the country side of blues, and “Never Finished Nothin’” features one of Hatfield’s most soulful vocals.

“Good Love After Bad” has a funky backdrop, with some nice keyboards from McKendree, and the catchy “Drink, Drank, Drunk” (the title cut from Andy T & Nick Nixon’s debut CD a couple of years back) is a lot of fun. The title track is also a highlight, a relaxed ballad with nice interplay between Hatfield’s vocals and the band, and the rollicking closer, “Burbank’s Boogie” should get everybody on their feet.

Brad Hatfield continues to impress with his excellent sophomore release. For A Change has something to please fans of all different styles of blues. However, something tells me that the best is still to come with this talented artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Mike OsbornIn The Dog House (Je Gagne Records) is the second release from Bay Area guitarist/singer Mike Osborn. The Illinois-born Osborn moved with his family to California as a teenager and was playing in a country rock band by the time he was 16, eventually gravitating toward blues and rock after being influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan (who had recently passed away).

The 11 tracks mix and match country, blues, and rock pretty evenly, beginning with the opener, “Love vs Ego,” is a tight rocker with Osborn adding some ringing guitar and country-styled vocals, while the ominous “Company Graveyard” is a rugged Hooker-esque boogie tune. “Lovin’ Time” has a catchy pop rhythm with a nice guitar riff, “Cold Man Cold” is a hip blues rocker with wah wah guitar thrown into the mix, and the potent “Fire and Gasoline” continues the blues rock theme in fine fashion.

Osborn hits the midpoint of the disc with the impressive slow blues, “Tied Up,” a standout with stinging lead guitar and fiery vocals, and then tries his hand at rock and roll with the rollicking “Cheap Women.” “Veteran’s Song” is another standout that highlights the plight of those soldiers who return home. “Satan & St. Paul” has a distinct country feel to it with the twangy guitar work, “Jump In Your Fire” returns to the scorching boogie sound and ups the ante considerably, and the surf guitar-driven title track, an instrumental, closes the disc.

Osborn’s guitar skills are considerable and his vocals mix blues, rock and country pretty evenly, which should help draw fans of all three genres to his music. He gets outstanding support from Johnny Griparic (bass), Lee Spath (drums), Teddy Andreadis (keyboards), and Randy Mitchell (guitar/slide guitar). In The Dog House is a powerful sophomore release from Mike Osborn and there’s plenty to enjoy for fans of all three genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Peaches and CrimeProbably one of the more unusual CDs I’ve reviewed here at Blues Bytes, Do Bad Things from the group Peaches and Crime, on their own Peaches and Crime Records, seeks to replicate the old-time vaudeville variety shows dating back to the turn of the 20th Century, with stories about colorful characters and events tragic, comedic, and tragically comedic, too. The stories are told and sung with a jazzy blues backdrop with traces of other old school musical styles blended in as well, such as polka and klezmer.

The master of ceremonies, Daniel Schwartz (a.k.a. “Danny Black”) also serves as lyricist, keeping things rolling along with a mixture of skits and corny jokes (penned by Charles Berman (a.k.a. “The Professor”) between the songs. Vocals are from Schwartz’s wife, Angie (a.k.a. “Angie Diamond”), with assistance from trombonist Julia Adams (“Abigail Pins”) and clarinetist Cat Macdonald (“Young Catherine”). The band is first-rate in all genres and includes bass player “Honest” Stephen Longfield, drummer Ross Bennett, and pianist Mike Sclafini (“Mikey the Fist”).

The songs are rich tales of revenge, death, prison, and illicit romances, and include the prison work song, “Death Row Swing,” the klezmer narrative “Herschel Ganev,” “Alibi Dancer,” the swaggering blues of “Self Made Man,” the self-explanatory (and fun) “Very Happy Polka,” catchy toe-tappers like “Alibi Dancer” and “You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down,” and the dark and driving tale of revenge “Bringing Hell to Brooklyn.”

Do Bad Things is a pretty neat, and clever, picture of the way folks were entertained a century or so ago …. call it a twisted mix of music, theatre, and comedy that’s definitely worth a listen and will will more than likely lead you to check out more of Peaches and Crime’s recordings.

--- Graham Clarke



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