Rick Holmstrom's Gonna Get Wild (Tone-Cool) is a collection of great music, great lyrics and a few surprises by one of the most versatile guitarists on the blues scene today. A connoisseur of tones and rhythms, Holmstrom serves up an album of twelve originals with an array of varying styles. The zydeco-flavored "Have You Seen My Girl" is a terrific dance piece, while "Phlazzbo" is a mellow latin-spiced samba featuring some very tasty piano licks from Andy Kaulkin. The three best tunes on this flawless CD are "You Missed Your Chance," "I'd Hate To See You Cry," and the CD's instrumental closer "Lost In The Shuffle," the absolute gems of this treasure chest. The biggest surprise of this release are Rick's vocals, which stand alone on their own merits. After holding down the guitar chair in Rod Piazza's Mighty Flyers for the last five years, Holmstrom has not done a whole lot of vocalizing, but is equipped with a very pleasant melodic voice and confident delivery. A cast of superb sidemen lend their talents to complete this smoking album. Fellow Mighty Flyer Steve Mugalian handles all drum duties, Jeff Turmes, who is in high demand these days due to his talents on several different instruments, holds down the bassline on all but two numbers, and the previously mentioned And Kaulkin tickles the ivories on all selections except... well that's one of the surprises to be found. John "Juke" Logan trades in his harp for an organ, and fellow guitarists Junior Watson and Henry Carvajal pop in for a couple of numbers. Johnny Dyer adds some background vocals, and one of the hottest tenor sax players out there today, Steve Marsh, is present. This album doesn't miss a trick. It boogies, shuffles, swings, bounces, jumps, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound. If Holmstrom continues to produce CD's of this caliber, then Mr. Piazza and company may need to start looking for another guitar player soon. Keep a fire extinguisher handy while listening to this one as it may quite possibly set you ablaze.
To find a better powerhouse blues drummer than Sam Lay might be a nearly impossible task, as is evident on his latest release Rush Hour Blues ( Telarc). The drumming force behind The Howlin' Wolf Band's golden era of the 50's and charter member of The Butterfield Blues Band of the 60's, Sam offers us a heaping helping of Chicago shuffles as only "the shufflemaster" himself can. The fine supporting band of Larry Burton (Aron's brother) on lead guitar, producer and Nashville guitar hero Fred James on rhythm, Bob Kommersmith on upright bass and a regular of Sam's road band, the very talented Celia Ann Price on piano, create a certain chemistry that gels ever so nicely. All selections contained on this completely enjoyable album are covers, with two numbers, "Blow Wind Blow" and "Baby How Long," paying homage to the two masters, Muddy and The Wolf. Like any good bluesman, Sam includes several selections dealing with the endless source of blues lyrics .... women. Now these aren't your typical "woman done me wrong" blues tunes, on the contrary the situations are quite the opposite! "I'll Be The Judge Of That" is what most boyfriends and husbands have been telling gals for years when they complain that they are too fat or their looks are slipping, etc., etc. ( you guys out there know what I mean! ). "I Like Women" is one man"s declaration to his complete adoration and enjoyment of the female species, while "I Got Two Women" is the tale of a philandering fella trying to enjoy the best of both worlds and the contrasts he encounters. Sam Lay is one of those unsung giants of the blues that has consistently produced great music over the last four decades without achieving the superstardom he so richly deserves. Rush Hour Blues is an album of toe-tapping shuffles that you'll find yourself listening to time and again, and enjoying it just as much as the first time you played it.
Songstress Toni Lynn Washington has had a much longer career than her three CDs bear witness to. Her third album for Tone Cool, Good Things, doesn't break any major new ground, but it's awfully damn good. Washington has that oh so unique ability to sell a song, any song. This woman could sing the alphabet and make you believe it could be a million seller. Working with lush arrangements throughout this CD, Washington captivates the listener's imagination with her natural easy style and delivery bonded together firmly with a first rate, ultra tight six piece band, along with slick production by Bobby Keyes. The 12 numbers on this beautifully paced disc cover so many different genres of blues that it never really has one specific style in mind, but flows together so intimately that you find yourself hearing only one type of blues, which is Toni Lynn Washington's own. With a voice chock full of sweetness and sensual emotion, Toni takes you on a musical journey through contemporary R&B, ballads, funk and even a bit of gospel seasoning for good measure. The opening number, "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait," kicks off this CD with a funky bop coupled with some sensational background vocals from Ray Greene and Patti Unaitis, who are heard throughout this highly listenable album. Two other very upbeat pieces that smolder from the opening bars are"I've Had Enough" and "Alright, Okay, You Win." Washington shines the brightest on the ballads selected. "Satisfaction" is a tune to snuggle up closely to your honey on the dance floor, whereas "Oh What A Dream" explores the wishful side of a woman's heart, while "I Don't Know Why" examines the broken facets of her soul. The CD's final piece, "You're Gonna Make Me Cry," is a gospel-infused number that is sure to stir an emotion or two in anyone who hears it. After a career that has stretched over four decades it's a pleasure to see this soulfully-gifted singer receive the accolades she has the past few years and is sure to receive in the future to come. Good Things is proof that they indeed do come to those who wait. Thank goodness Toni Lynn Washington had the patience to wait, or the world could have missed out on some truly spectacular music.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
A quality album recorded in Niederglatt, Switzerland in October 1998 and released last year, Larry Burton"s Live at PJ's Blues Stop (Babylon), is a good example of a live performance by Burton and his very tight, international band. The line-up comprises Larry Burton, Kurt Bislin, Benno Rupp & Koni Eisenhut, with a guest appearance by Mojo Buford, who plays some excellent harp throughout and takes the vocals on three of the tracks. One of these, Sonny Boy Williamson's "In My Younger Days," is an absolute gem, with the whole band showing a touch of genius - listen for Kurt Bislin's drumming spurring on the rest of the band. Needless to say, that is my favourite track on the album. But it is very closely followed by the very moody "Stuck In Chicago," a number penned by Burton and showcasing haunting harp playing by Mojo Buford. This is an excellent CD, in a similar vein to the 1997 The Blues Just Stay The Same, and it shows that Larry Burton writes as well as he plays the guitar.
The unusually named Donkey Biters are joined here by a string of guests on a CD recorded in Switzerland and Nashville back in 1995 --- hence, the name of the album Friends (ELA). Kurt Bislin and Benno Rupp, from the Larry Burton band, are joined by Jorg Schapper, Koni Eisenhut and Charly Lenherr, as well as by guests including Chris Gaffney (with some great accordion playing), Lisa Haley (fiddle) and Larry Burton (guitar). All but one of the 11 tracks are written by band members, with seven of them being penned by Kurt and Benno. They show a good range of styles from almost country & western on "Forgive Me" and "I Feel Fine," through to pure blues on "Blue Morning Blues," with lots in between. Kurt Bislin and Benno Rupp shine on guitar, as does Larry Burton on three of the tracks. But it's hard to pick out a member of the band, or a guest, who does not perform magnificently on this album.
Editor's Note: The following CD was previously reviewed in Blues
Bytes, but here's another reviewer's perspective.
--- Terry Clear
Tommy Castro is somewhat of an anomaly: a white blues guitarist who prefers to infuse his brand of blues with a healthy dose of soul rather than over-used rock chops. His Live at the Fillmore album (Blind Pig) offers ample evidence of this. Witness if you will the songs he chose to cover on that night of March 6, 1999: "Can't You See What You're Doing to Me," from the Albert King/Stax songbook, and "Sex Machine," by that man so soulful he became funky, James Brown himself. Even the blues classic "My Time after Awhile," well-known through Buddy Guy's rendition, is given a gospel-tinged finish. But the focus here is on Castro originals taken from his first three albums, which it should be, since the occasion for this live recording was the launch of Castro's previous CD, Right as Rain, in his hometown of San Francisco. Castro aficionados will enjoy this CD. He is clearly enjoying himself and is in fine voice throughout. His solos are nothing if not to the point, and he gives plenty of spotlight to his trusted sideman Keith Crossan, on the saxophone, and to guest keyboardist Jim Pugh, from the Robert Cray Band. And those who do not know Tommy Castro can view this as a sort of primer to his music. The CD comes with a multimedia portion offering a short interview of Castro. Very satisfying.
I wonder if anyone has ever counted how many music critics have used the sentence, "Here is a new Dylan." At least in Mike Younger's case, you can reverse the phrase and say that Dylan is an old Younger. I know the Dylan comparisons are more of a disservice than anything else, but Mike Younger's debut, Somethin' in the Air (Beyond Music/BMG), has a general feel that is very close to that of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. Like Dylan, Younger plays guitar and harmonica, sings with a kind of urgency in his voice and excels at rambling songs; the album was recorded in Nashville with mostly country musicians, just like Blonde on Blonde. Any way you look at it, old man Zimmerman is never very far on this record. But Younger is no mere imitator; he was a homeless street musician living in New Orleans who one day got to sing a couple of tunes during an open-mike radio broadcast. He was lucky enough to be noticed by the right people, and was offered a recording contract. This is the stuff epic tales are made of, and Younger is never better than when he sings about life on the streets, like in "Autumn Wind" or the title track. But he also has a softer side, as evidenced by "In Restless Dreams," where he admits he cannot resist the call of the wild, even at the cost of losing his beloved. I don't know how he will resist the pressures of show business, but I predict a bright future for this guy. Check him out.
The Montreal blues scene is poorly known in the United States (and even in the rest of Canada), unjustly so, I believe. Granted, this is not Memphis or Chicago, but there are plenty of good blues musicians around here. One who's been paying his dues for a while is guitarist Steve Rowe, whose independently-produced first album, Driving the Blues Away, features guest appearances by other veterans Jim Zeller on harmonica and Bat Taylor on slide guitar. With a small horn section and plenty of organ juice, courtesy of David Findlay, this is more than just a guitar showcase, and the sense of humor displayed by Rowe and co-lyricist Bob Smith makes for an entertaining record. (Check out "Lost Remote Blues" for a chuckle.) Nothing revolutionary, but good clean Chicago blues and blues-rock, with a touch a swing. For more info, log on to http://www.steveroweblues.com.
I mentioned the Memphis scene in the paragraph above for good reason. Evidence of its excellence can be found in Di Anne Price's debut album, Wild Women, on the German GoJazz label, distributed in North America by Allegro Corporation. The title of the first track, "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues," gives a clear indication of what's in store. This is a collection of songs associated with the classic female blues singers of the pre-war era, notably Ida Cox and Memphis Minnie, sung by a woman who clearly doesn't view herself as belonging to the weak sex. Most songs are full of double-entendre, if not downright salacious (a standout is the eight-minute long "Wrong Key Hole"), and they are sung with sassiness by Ms. Price, who also is an excellent pianist. She's backed by Tom Lonardo on drums (mostly brushed) and Scott Lane on double bass, with Jim Spake handling most of the solos on sax. That's right, no guitar on this CD! The production is a little rough, but the live-in-the-studio feel actually enhances our experience. Classic blues done in a classy way!
Also hailing from Memphis, also on GoJazz, comes Hammond B-3 virtuoso Charlie Wood's Southbound, an album that beautifully straddles the line between jazz and blues. (Think of a "whiter"-sounding Dr. John.) Actually, the album was produced independently in 1996, but someone at GoJazz fell in love with it and chose to re-release it. And that's a damn good thing if I dare say so! This album is a real find, just oozing with soulful horns (a five-man section, no less, including the same Jim Spake who graces the above-mentioned Di Anne Price CD) and sexy organ playing by Wood, who handles all the bass chores with his pedal. I just love the way the tempo suddenly explodes towards the end of "I Believe I Could Fall in Love Again," and the lyrics (all Wood-penned) ain't half-bad either. How many songs do you know talk about being in a play by Sophocles? (You can find this classical Greek playwright in "It All and Everything.") There is even a little bit of light R&B in "Lucky Charm," for those times when you need to sit really close to your loved one. More, please.
--- Benoît BrièreAn Australian label, AIM Records, recently released several previously unavailable or hard-to-find Louisiana-based titles. Two of the releases are from Lynn August and Rockin Tabby Thomas. Augusts selection, titled Creole People, is his first domestic release since 1992, and was recorded in 1995 to kick off a 1996 European tour. August is a soulful singer, one of the best in zydeco, and is also a wonderful accordionist (he basically locked himself in a bedroom and taught himself to play). His music is a mix of old zydeco favorites, soul classics, and a few rocking instrumentals. The only real complaint about this CD is not a musical one. There is an interesting story in the liner notes that details Augusts career up to the present, but there is no information whatsoever about the band or information about the songs. While I still prefer his two Black Top releases of the early 90s for sheer fun, this is a solid release that will keep your toe tapping.
Tabby Thomas has been a fixture on the Baton Rouge blues scene for many years, recording the single "Hoodoo Party" for Excello forty years ago, and running the Baton Rouge blues club, Tabbys Blues Box, which was to be destroyed late last year due to highway improvements. His son, Chris Thomas King, may be more familiar to most blues fans (Tabby re-recorded "Hoodoo Party" for Chris Red Mud CD a couple of years ago), but ol Dads still got plenty of fuel in the tank, as evidenced by his AIM release Swamp Man Blues. No CD has ever been more aptly titled. This is killer swamp blues, rough and ready from start to finish. Again, there is no recording information on this CD, but whoever is playing the music certainly knew what they were doing. Tabbys voice has coarsened over the years, but he is still able to get the message across, and his guitar work is rock solid (particularly on the title cut and "Hoo Do Man"). The beat is almost primal throughout, almost hypnotic. The backing musicians, though unidentified, are obviously not strangers to this sound and provide tight backing. The whole set feels like it could have been recorded at the Blues Box (and could very well have been, again no recording information). Give this one a spin if youre a fan of the Louisiana blues sound. You wont be disappointed.
While youve got Louisiana on your mind, you might want to check out Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas new CD, Lets Go (Rounder Records). Nathan Williams sound is a combination of zydeco, rhythm and blues, ska, reggae, and whatever else will fit into the mix. With this, his sixth Rounder release, Williams and his band tear into fourteen tracks of solid, rocking zydeco. The Zydeco Chas Chas grab you from the start with the title cut and dont let up for the next 13 tracks. This CD includes some of Williams best songs. He is rapidly developing into one of the genres best performers. Standout tracks include "Put a Hump in Your Back," "Hard Times," "Cant Get Nuthin Sucka," and the closer "Le Bon Manger." The production by Rounders Scott Billington is, as always, inspired. He even plays harmonica on two tracks (Does he have a great job or what?). All of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas releases are worth having and this one is no exception.
--- Graham Clarke
Virginia-based guitarist Deborah Coleman has been one of the fastest rising stars on the blues scene in the past couple of years. But it seems she's trying too hard for stardom on the new CD, Soft Place To Fall (Blind Pig). There's some very good material here, but also several cuts on which she strays away from the blues in what seems to be an attempt to cross over to the wider rock audience. The result is an uneven album that is good, but could certainly be better. The beginning portion of the album contains a mix of soulful pop, somewhat reminiscent of Robert Cray's material, but with a heavier, effects-laden guitar sound. Coleman finally hits a good groove on the Little Johnny Taylor song, "If You Love Me Like You Say," a nice version borrowing heavily from Albert Collins' cover of the same number. Her Collins influence again shows up on the easy-going shuffle "So Damn Easy." The strongest songs on the disc are the last two cuts, the original blues shuffle "What Goes Around" and the gospel-influenced "The Day It Comes," the latter featuring very good slide work. Soft Place To Fall still comes highly recommended as the good material here is very good, and Coleman is one of the strongest guitarists AND singers of the new breed of future blues stars.
A decent independent release out of L.A. comes from Francesca & The Flames, with Live at The Galaxy (no label). Francesca Capasso is a strong Janis Joplin-style singer. She's backed on this live date by a solid band, although the guitarist sometimes relies a little too much on heavy effects. Sound quality is adequate, marred occasionally by a little too much echo. The best numbers here are the soulful original "Higher," the funky "Doctor," and the closing party blues "Tex-Mex Mama." Like many band's live performances, Live at The Galaxy gets stronger as the show progresses. Send e-mail to Francescacap@earthlink.net for more info.
Perennial Chicago blues favorites Magic Slim and the Teardrops are back with Snakebite (Blind Pig), which I think is one of their strongest releases in their long career. Snakebite contains 11 consistently strong back alley blues originals featuring Magic Slim's rough-and-tumble baritone vocals and slide-intensive guitar playing. This version of the Teardrops features longtime bass player (and brother of Magic Slim) Nick Holt, rhythm guitarist Michael Dotson, and drummer Allen Kirk. The title cut is a fast-paced instrumental number which serves as a tribute to one of Slim's mentors, the late Hound Dog Taylor. Slim really tears it up on guitar on the uptempo shuffle "I Ain't Lookin' For No Love." He crafts some creative lyrics on "Lump On Your Stump" ... "...just because I'm drinking, it don't mean that I'm drunk..." Dotson gets a chance in the spotlight on "Lonesome Trouble," playing nice lead guitar and showing off his strong, clear vocals; I'd like to hear more from this young man. Snakebite is one of the best new releases out of Chicago this year ... get it soon!
An independent release from last summer out of Arizona is Blues Today, Volume II, a product of Tempe-based keyboard player and songwriter Pete Thelen. The Chicago native gathered many of his friends for these ten recordings of his original compositions. It's obvious that Blues Today, Volume II is a labor of love for Thelen and the other musicians, as there are a lot of good vibes throughout the album. Among the guest vocalists are longtime Phoenix-area veterans Chico Chism ("New Pain") and Rena Haus (the very good "Part Time Love"). But it's the closing cut on this album that really stands out. Sax player Bennie Hughes handles the vocal work and instrumental solos on "You Make It Easy." Hughes possesses a wonderfully rich charcoal voice, and he uses it to great effect on this slow blues. His sax solo is also very tasty. This cut is definitely worthy of commercial release.
--- Bill Mitchell
Each Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers release is both a treat and a trip back in time to an era when songs and arrangements were thought out and well crafted. The beauty of Everybody's Talking 'Bout Miss Thing (Fat Note Records) is that it has 1940s class and 2000 sound and production. The CD opens with "The Busy Woman's Blues," which shows off Lavay's wonderful pipes and the band's tight sound and perfect execution. It's hard to tell the difference between the excellent covers and the original songs, which is a testimony to the professional songwriting and arranging. "Big Fine Daddy,"another original, could have come from the Dinah Washington Songbook. The cover of Joe Williams' classic, "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You," sits well alongside the original without trying to be a carbon copy. (We miss you, Joe! You were THE MAN.) A nod to Billie Holiday, a wink to Helen Humes, and a deep bow to Jay McShann round out this excellent 16 track new release. There are very few bands today doing this type of music and of those that are, none does it better than this one. Also kudos to Lavay's excellent pin-up shots which grace the front and back. So lovely to look at, so wonderful to hear, buy this one today, without any fear.
As Bill Mitchell mentioned in his reviews of the Fedora label's three new releases, some of the finest new releases have come from the small independent companies like Ecko Records out of Memphis, and their latest release is a strong contender to get some heavy airplay down south. Lee Shot Williams has been a fixture on the southern chitlin for many years, and She Made A Freak Out Of Me (Ecko) is typical of the music played on WDIA in Memphis (more about this excellent station in a minute). The usual themes are there --- cheating, whisky and hoochie women. Tunes like "Somebody Blew The Whistle on Me," "It's Blues Party Time," and the excellent "I Got What I Wanted, But I Lost What I Had" give you an overview of this fine singer's work. This is one release that I'll return to when I need my "Shot." Reviewer's Note: I'd like to inform all our readers about a fine station that you can get on the internet. WDIA from Memphis each evening and all day on the weekends plays the southern soul blues that I love and write about so often. There is a steady mixture of Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Denise LaSalle, Shirley Brown, Bobby Rush, just to mention a few, and on Saturday mornings Rufus Thomas has a live show which is a lot of fun. You'll need to download Real Player (which is free) and off you go. I haven't found a soul/blues station with a better playlist every night of the week. Enjoy!
--- Alan Shutro
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