Blues Bytes

What's New

April 2009

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Louisiana Red

Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise

Aynsley Lister

Too Slim and the Taildraggers

Kelly Carmichael

Sunny and Her Joy Boys


BJ Allen and Blue Voodoo

Deb Callahan

Cee Cee James

Bobby Jones

Louisiana RedLouisiana Red has to be one of the most prolific recording artists since John Lee Hooker. He’s recorded for Atlantic, Roulette, Tomato, L + R, JSP, Earwig, Severn, Hightone, Red Lightnin’ and over a dozen other labels since the early 1960s. This time around, he’s on Bluestown (via Ruf Records) with a great album recorded in Norway at Juke Joint Studios in Norway, called Back To The Black Bayou.

I’m not sure what the bayou situation is in Norway, but this disc is loaded with tons of swampy atmosphere, just like those records that used to come from the Gulf Coast in the late ’50s/early ’60s. This is due in part to the production values of Little Victor, who also plays guitar and harmonica on the album, the vintage recording equipment (part of which was once housed in the legendary Stax Studios in Memphis), guest artists like harmonica wizards Kim Wilson and Bob Corritore and piano man Dave Maxwell, and, last but not least, Louisiana Red himself.

Back To The Black Bayou has a dozen tracks, several of which are modern recordings of some of Louisiana Red’s most popular songs. “I’m Louisiana Red,” “Alabama Train,” “Ride On Red, Ride On,” “Too Poor To Die,” and “I Come From Louisiana” still have the same power and feeling of the original versions, even though there are a few tempo changes. The new versions of “I’m Louisiana Red” and “Alabama Train” are particularly cool and feature great guitar interplay between Red and Victor. “Ride On Red” and “Too Poor To Die” deserve a place in the Blues Hall of Fame for their great lyrics (in the case of the latter, more timely now than ever before).

On the originals, Red gives his best vocal performance and some terrific slide guitar on the Elmore James tribute, “Crime In Motion,” and “Sweet Leg Girl” sounds like a early ’50s Robert Nighthawk Chicago Blues track (save for Red’s distinctive vocal turn). “The Black Bayou” is reminiscent of those old Excello classics and “You Done Quit Me” grooves relentlessly. “Don’t Miss That Train” is a fine gospel tune, and “Roamin’ Stranger” has a vintage Chess Records feel. “At The Zanzibar” is an instrumental tribute to Muddy Waters and Little Walter (with Kim Wilson tearing it up on harp).

Though I haven’t heard everything Louisiana Red has released, I’ve heard quite a bit and so far, I haven’t heard anything that wasn’t first-rate. Back To The Black Bayou is a must-have for Red’s devoted fans and should be required listening for newcomers.

--- Graham Clarke

Robert BradleyOut of the Wilderness (Quarter 2 Three Records) is the first studio album in five years from Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise. Bradley, the blind former Detroit street singer, has amazed listeners for the past dozen or so years, with his intense, gospel-influenced vocals and his unique lyrical vision. Combining his gifts with a more alternative sound from his band forms a distinct fusion of soul, blues, and rock. For this latest release, Bradley’s soul roots take center stage.

Bradley’s songs usually deal with loss or yearning or hopes for better days, and there are plenty of representative songs on Out of the Wilderness. “Beautiful Girl” deals with his daughter leaving home for the first time. “Alabama” is a longing tribute to Bradley’s home state (one which earned him a Certificate of Commendation from Alabama Governor Bob Riley), and “Americaland” is a song about trying to get by on a daily basis. “Cryin’ My Eyes Out,” and “Gotta Find A Woman” are two other standout tracks of this type.

Not all the songs are downbeat though. “Love You in the Daytime” and “Everybody Wanna Party” are both cheerier fare, and the title track finds Bradley optimistic that things will be better. Three songs on the disc (“Love You in the Daytime, “Cryin’ My Eyes Out,” and “Everybody Wanna Party”) will be featured in an upcoming motion picture, Love N’ Dancing.

Bradley’s backing musicians have changed completely since the band got their start recording in 1996. Featured are guitarists Matthew J. Ruffino and Zachary Throne, bass player Larry “Bones” Dennison, and drummer Oscar Seaton along with percussionists Craig Krampf and Scot Bihlman. Producer Bruce Robb also plays keyboards. The disc was recorded at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, which gives the disc more of a vintage R&B sound.

If you’re a fan of classic soul and R&B and are unfamiliar with the talented Robert Bradley, Out of the Wilderness is a great place to start. With his great vocals that recall Ray Charles and his incredible songwriting that rivals anyone currently active in blues or R&B, he deserves to reach a wider audience.

--- Graham Clarke

Aynsley ListerUpside Down (Ruf Records) is Aynsley Lister’s first release since his collaboration with Ian Parker and Erja Lyytinen, Pilgrimage: Mississippi to Memphis. It’s his fourth studio release and the first to contain all original compositions. Lister grew up listening to his father’s record collection, comprised of mostly blues and soul music and learned to play guitar from listening to 45s (remember those) of Freddie King, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall, and was leading his first band in his late teens. His music can best be described as blues/rock-driven guitar, soul-influenced vocals, and amazingly catchy lyrics and hooks that would be a good fit on any rock or pop radio station. In other words, something to appeal to most discerning music fans today.

From the opening cut, the churning rocker, “Find My Way Home,” Upside Down is loaded with memorable tracks. Lister smolders on guitar with one distinctive solo after another. “Getaway” is somewhat more sedate, but not by much. “Ice I’m Upon” is another standout, possibly a hit single in a perfect world, with its pop sensibilities and a killer vocal by Lister.

“Beautiful” is just that, a sweet tribute to Lister’s daughter. “With Me Tonight” is a tough Texas shuffle and one of the more straight blues tracks present. The slide-driven “In The Morning” is a powerful tune with deep roots in southern rock, and kicks off a remarkably intense set of songs that concludes the disc, including the wild and wooly title track, “Disorderly Me,” a roof-rattler of its own, and the breathless closer, “Falling Down.”

Amazingly, this is all done by a three-piece band, with Lister’s magnificent guitar, Jo Nichols on bass, and Alex Thomas on drums (with backing vocals by Sue Quin).

This is without a doubt Aynsley Lister’s best release to date. How he hasn’t become a bigger deal here in the U.S. is a mystery. Hopefully, Upside Down will be the disc that puts him over the top. It’s definitely one of the best blues-rock efforts so far this year with memorable tunes, great performances, and some monster guitar. By all means, don’t let this one pass you by.

--- Graham Clarke

Mary FlowerMary Flower was a nominee for “Acoustic Artist of the Year” at the 2008 Blues Music Awards, which was appropriate. Flower is recognized as one of the foremost acoustic guitarists performing today. Her rich and unique blend of roots music blends the blues with ragtime and folk. Influenced on guitar by artists like Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Blake, and the Reverend Gary Davis, Flower also possesses a husky vocal style that goes down smooth.

Flower’s latest release, Bridges (Yellow Dog Records), is a modern take on some classic songs from, or reminiscent of music from the early 20th century. She has unearthed some rather obscure tunes from this era, including “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt of My Tears,” a Bix Beiderbecke piece made popular by Bing Crosby in the ’30s, Big Bill Broonzy’s “Big Bill Blues,” “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues,” from ’20s minstrel singer Emmett Miller, and the popular standard, “Up A Lazy River.” There are a couple of gospel tunes as well, E.C. Ball’s “When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied,” and a medley of “On Revival Day/There’s Going To Be The Devil To Pay.”

Flower’s own compositions include “Portland Town,” a tribute to her place of residence, the gentle opening track, “Rhythm of the Road,” and four lovely instrumentals (“Columbia River Rag,” “Slow Lane To Glory,” featuring her on lap steel, “Daughter of Contortion,” and “Blue Waltz”).

Living up the album title, Flower recruited local Portland musicians across multiple genres to participate, from the blues to jazz to bluegrass and old-time music, to swing, to pop to world music. Bridges effortlessly combines these diverse styles into one cohesive unit. It’s a breathtaking tribute to early 20th century music styles as well as to the diversity of the Northwestern U.S. music scene that should please acoustic guitar fans of all genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Too SlimFree Your Mind (Underworld Records) is the 10th studio release from Too Slim and the Taildraggers. Front man Tim Langford (AKA “Too Slim”) has been doing this for a couple of decades now, building a devoted fan base, branching out from their home area in Seattle and having shared the stage over the years with the likes of Bo Diddley, Brian Setzer, Otis Rush, Robert Cray, Johnny Lang, Los Lobos, Lonnie Mack, Travis Tritt, Ted Nugent, Delbert McClinton, and a score of other big names. The band has won multiple awards in various Northwest readers’ polls, and has been recognized as best regional act by the Cascade Blues Association 11 times.

Langford wrote all of the tunes on Free Your Mind. “When You Love Somebody” is a love song with Skynyrd overtones, and “Last Train” was written after Langford read the newspaper one morning, with lines taken from actual headlines that day. “Devil In A Doublewide” would have been a southern rock classic back in the day. The title cut has great slide guitar and lyrics and some solid advice. “Testament” is a dark song with Langford begging for strength and endurance, and “Been Thru Hell” is about having the resolve to make it through the tough times.

The moody “Peace With The Maker” covers a deal with the devil and its repercussions. If more of us took the advice offered in “Bottle It Up” (keeping our traps shut), we’d be the better for it (more great slide work from Langford). “Throw Me A Rope” is a modern take on the “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” theme, and “This Phone” is a humorous song about being “lovesick and lonesome” and sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring (Yeah, we’ve all done it). The closing track, “The Light,” is a gospel tune, featuring a memorable vocal turn from Lauren Evans.

Langford is one of the better guitarists you’ll hear and dazzles with his highly original fretwork. He gets excellent support from the Taildraggers (Dave Nordstrom – bass, Rudy Simone – drums). Todd Smallwood produced the disc along with Langford, and plays Hammond B3 and 12-string guitar.

Simply put, if you have any sort of interest in blues, rock, roots, or Americana, you have to pick up Free Your Mind. You can thank me later.

--- Graham Clarke

Kelly CarmichaelMulti-instrumentalist and singer Kelly Carmichael took a circuitous route to his chosen genre of interest, prewar blues. Originally a hard rock guitarist in bands like Internal Void and Pentagram with roots in Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, and Jimi Hendrix, Carmichael turned to the blues full time in 2002, when he began playing solo. He released a well-received disc in 2005, Old Stock.

Queen Fareena, Carmichael’s second release for Dogstreet Records, is another entertaining offering of prewar stylings, ranging from blues, ragtime, country, to Dixieland jazz. Surrounded by an exceptional group of musicians (Jean-Paul Gaster – drums, Johnny “Lawless” Ray Carroll – upright bass, Scott Rich – trumpet, John McVey – trombone, Alexander Mitchell – fiddle, and Brian Simms – accordion), Carmichael brings the house down with a sparkling set of covers from the prewar era, along with a couple of original compositions, the dazzling title track that fits seamlessly with the classics, and “Booker Blues,” which has a Dixieland feel with Carmichael’s banjo and the backing trumpet and trombone. Carmichael is a master on both guitar and banjo and his warm, expressive vocals are ideal for the material. Wisely, he doesn’t imitate the originals either vocally or instrumentally, but performs them in his own “voice.”

Among the well-chosen set of covers are songs by Mississippi John Hurt (“Richland Women Blues” and “Salty Dog”), and Robert Johnson (a jaunty cover of “Last Fair Deal Goin’ Down”) that cover the Delta blues genre. Ragtime and Piedmont styles are well-represented by covers of Rev. Gary Davis (“She’s Funny That Way” and “Cincinnati Flow Rag”) and Sylvester Weaver (a swinging version of “Guitar Rag”), and the old “hokum” blues style is featured on the humorous “Terrible Operation Blues” and “Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Around.” The final cut is a funky cover of John Hammond’s “Untrue Blues.”

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself listening to Queen Fareena over and over. It’s played with tons of energy and enthusiasm and is just plain fun to listen to. It’s great to hear old classics like these being redone and modernized.

--- Graham Clarke

SunnyOne of Duke Robillard’s dream projects for the past 35 years has been to record a tribute to the golden age of women vocalists (the 1920s through the 1950s). In late 2007, Robillard heard singer Sunny Crownower perform at a Harvard University concert, and realized that he had found the voice to make his project a reality. The end result is Introducing Sunny and Her Joy Boys (Stony Plain), a stunning mix of classic pop, swing, and blues songs of the era.

Robillard assembled a stellar all-acoustic combo in support of Crownower, including Paul Kolesnikow (acoustic archtop guitar), Billy Novick (clarinet, alto saxophone), and Jessie Williams (acoustic bass). Robillard also produced the disc and he captures the feel of those old classic records perfectly. You can almost hear martinis being mixed in the background.

Crownower shines on a beautiful set of songs, including the opener, “Strictly From Dixie” (an early Ella Fitzgerald hit), “That’s My Desire,” the gorgeous “You’re My Thrill” (also available as a video on the disc), and a trio of Duke Ellington masterpieces (“I Don’t Mind,” “I’m Satisfied,” and “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)”). Other standouts include “Today I Sing The Blues,” “That’s My Desire,” and another Ella Fitzgerald tune, “Undecided.”

Crownower’s irresistible chemistry with the band, particularly with Novick (on clarinet and saxophone) is first-rate. Robillard does a fine job on guitar, as does the superlative rhythm section of Kolesnikow and Williams.

Folks, they don’t make them like this any more. Sunny and her Joy Boys are a throwback to a long ago, much missed era of music. Hopefully, we haven’t heard the last of them. Hats off to Duke Robillard for making this dream come true.

--- Graham Clarke

gonstermachersThe gonstermachers are not your typical blues band. The Syracuse-based quartet employs instruments, such as ukulele, block flute, gongs, cello, washtub bass, marxolin, vocatron, washtub drum, camerounian tambour, zaphoon, castanets, bongos, and war drum, to give them a sound that actually goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of the blues, stepping off into categories like roots, Americana, and even rock and soul. The Crushing Gift is a worthy follow-up to their self-titled debut recording from 2007.

The opening cut, “Charlemagne,” has a strong R&B feel, thanks in part to guest gonstermacher Mark Ninni’s organ fills. “All of Heaven’s Falling Rain” rocks between Leo Crandall’s crunching guitar and gravelly vocals and Curtis Waterman’s harmonica. “Effamira’s Tango” is a standout track with its Latin rhythms and vivid imagery, while “Bushmeat” is the most offbeat track on the disc, a wild double entendre-laced tune with amusing backing vocals and lots of special effects mixed in.

Other highlights include a fast and furious instrumental, “Baby Get Over It,” which gives all four gonstermachers a chance to shine. “And Your Devil Is Comin’” is a slow, spooky blues initially featuring Crandall on guitar, before Waterman jumps in with a mournful harmonica solo. “John The Revelator” also gets an eerie reworking, driven by Hymie Witthoft’s percussion and Waterman’s harmonica. The final track, the title cut, features Crandall on guitar.

Singer/guitarist/cellist Crandall and harmonica player Waterman are out front for the most part, but the driving force of the gonstermachers’ attack is the powerful rhythm section of Witthoft, who apparently plays every percussion instrument known to man and Richard Curry, who plays washtub bass.

A wide-ranging collection of musical styles, The Crushing Gift is a raw and emotional work, driven by excellent musicianship and highly original songwriting.

--- Graham Clarke

Bullfrog BrownHow about this for something different? A blues band from Estonia, no less. And they’re good! They may be for Eastern Europe, but Bullfrog Brown are rooted in Delta blues, and they know what it’s all about too. They don’t just take old standards and re-do them, they write their own songs and perform them extremely well – their music has a definite authentic Delta feel to it, made all the better by the different accent of the singer’s voice.

Six out of the seven songs on Mother River Delta (Kwaq) are written by Andres Roots, the remaining song is written by Alar Kiisa – and there you have it, this is a duo. Two guys who really enjoy their music, and their music is blues. There’s no pretentious long guitar solos, just lean and pure blues leaning on the influences of early Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White.

Alar Kriisa handles the vocals, and both guy play guitar with Andres Roots taking on some percussion along the way and playing some excellent slide guitar. You have a good look at these guys, and find out a lot more about them by looking at their web-site:

This CD opens with “Nobody The Skull,” gravelly voiced vocals, slide guitar, strange lyrics, gentle, relaxed, pure blues – this stuff just makes you want more and more. Why don’t some of today’s “blues artists” play this sort of music instead of the wailing Stratocasters banging out the same old five-minute solos?

Onto track two, “Special Rider,” and the feel of early 1960s blues with Andres Roots providing some percussion and Alar Kriisa singing and playing guitar – all about a special girl who can make a deaf and dumb man sing and a caterpillar sting!

The next song, “30,” is, for me, pure Mississippi John Hurt – all about a guy reaching the age of 30, getting grey hairs in his moustache and feeling old (they must age early in Estonia!). This is a lovely contribution to the blues, from two guys who are obviously dedicated to the blues and who can write relevant songs and provide the musical backing as well.

If you love pure, unadulterated, delta blues, then please give these guys a listen – you won’t be sorry!

--- Terry Clear

Sweet SuziBernard Allison has, apparently, likened Sweet Suzi to “a bluesy/soulful mix of Etta James, Janis Joplin and Koko Taylor”, and I can’t argue with that. Sweet Suzi & The Blues Experience are from Long Island, New York, and they certainly have that punchy New York sound, whether they are rocking or grooving to a ballad.

Unbroken (Music Avenue) opens with their version of Son Seals’ “Bad Axe,” backed up by a horn section and with a hot guitar break – heavy stuff, full of emotion, but maybe a little too much for the opening track? I would have put this track later in the album, although I certainly wouldn’t have left it out! Things slow down some with track two, the title track “Unbroken”, and it’s now that you begin to appreciate just how strong this woman’s voice it and the breadth that it has – and also how well the band support her. Track three, “Does Your Wife Know?,” is a slow moody story of two cheating lovers, full of atmosphere and very well-written, and again the depth of Suzi’s vocals shines through.

There are some other well-written tracks by various members of the band, and some very good cover versions of songs that don’t crop up very often on blues albums – like the already mentioned “Bad Axe,” Denise LaSalle’s “Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In,” Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight,” and two absolute classics, “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “God Bless The Child.”

The Denise LaSalle number is very well-executed, blusier than the original, and really gutsy – with your eyes closed and headphones on, this could be Janid Joplin singing at times, the voice really is that strong. Suzi’s version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” isn’t quite Etta James, or Chicken Shack, but it’s oh so close, and it’s good in its own right too.

But if you really want to know about this woman’s vocal ability, then just listen to track five, “Mama,” an incredible a cappela song with just finger snapping to accompany the voice. I’m not too sure how many modern singers could carry this off in this sort of style, and this track convinced me more than anything else that this band are a bit special.

There’s a lot of different styles and tempos here, and it’s the sort of album where you hear something different every time that you play it. This really deserves a listen.

--- Terry Clear

Rob Tognoni2010db (Music Avenue) is the latest offering from blues-rocker Rob Tognoni, the follow up to Ironyard Revisited, and again it’s more rock than blues unfortunately. I use the word unfortunately, because this man can play the blues, and it would be great to have a complete blues album from him. There is a little blues mixed in with the rock, but more would be better.

Recorded in Queensland, Australia, the album opens with “This Is Rock n Roll,” one of 11 songs on the CD written by Tognoni – there are two covers, “Honeymoon Is Over” and the old hippie anthem, “SanFrancisco.” This is a fairly heavy up-tempo rocker, but track two, “Boogie Like You Never Did,” slows things down and gives the listener a small taste of the blues, mixed in with the rock.

Track three, “Can’t See The Smoke,” is bluesier still, a nice shuffle that is slow and to the point – a whole CD of this style of music would be great to listen to – definitely one of the best tracks on the album for me.

“Another Tequila” is a medium slow rock ballad, with some Bob Dylan type influence, which actually contains some very nice guitar work, and could easily have been given the same treatment as the previous track. It shifts into a beautiful instrumental, “Pouring Down On Me,” some influence from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix showing through – SRV’s “Riviera Paradise” springs to mind here.

“TV Preacher” gives us another taste of the blues, with some heavy rock chords thrown in for good measure, and then it’s back to rock with “Spaceman,” the title track “2010db,” “The Broken String”, etc., through the very strange version of “SanFrancisco” and ending up with another dose of the blues “Honeymoon Is Over,” with a hint of Tom Petty.

Technically, this is a good CD, but it’s not for blues purists.

--- Terry Clear

Rufus HuffRufus Huff (Blues Boulevard) is the first offering from a Kentucky band by the same name, Rufus Huff, comprised of Dean Smith, Chris Hardesty, Jarrod England & Greg Martin. The band first got together in 2005, and this is their first album but it’s doubtful if it’s their last.

Leaning towards rocking blues, the band quotes their influences as Cream, ZZ Top, Jeff Beck, early Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Jimi Hendrix and Cactus – get the picture? (I’d add Free and Bad Company to that list). If you like your blues heavy and rocking, then you’ll love the mixture of tracks on this CD.

The CD opens with “I Daze” with some heavy guitar riffs, courtesy of Greg Martin and inspired, at least partially by ZZ Top & Led Zep – all in all, a pretty good opening number. The album notes don’t quote songwriters, but I’m assuming all except two of the 12 tracks are written by the band – the exceptions are Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and Willie Dixon’s “Ain’t Superstitious.”

“Schoolgirl” is rocked up very well, and although it’s the heaviest version I’ve ever heard, it still perfectly retains the flavour of the original  – a little like Cream did with “Crossroads” – it does get very heavy at times, but I think Sonny Boy would approve! To My ears, this is the best track on the CD, although some of the others come very close.

“Superstitious” is, if anything, slightly too heavy. It’s very reminiscent of the early stuff that Free did, and the vocals lean very much towards Paul Rodgers. However, that doesn’t make it a bad track and fans of rocking blues are going to like it a lot.

Make no mistake, this is a whole album of heavy rocking blues – if that’s what you like, then you’ll love this – it might even convert a few rockers into listening to some more blues to see where the influences are coming from.

--- Terry Clear

Texas SlimThis is the first time that I’ve heard of Texas Slim……I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it won’t be the last! How does Blues Boulevard Records get their hands on this stuff? Driving Blues is very good blues, with a little soul mixed in, and it makes me want to see this band live.

The band, hailing from Dallas, Texas, previously brought out a CD in 2002, I Have Arrived, but unfortunately it slipped past me – I’m so impressed with this latest album that I’m determined to get my hands on the earlier one!

The band includes Aaron Comess (from the Spin Doctors) on drums, bass and percussion, and the album was recorded at his studio in New York State – guests on various tracks on the CD are Andy Comess on pianos, Pat Daughery on electric piano & Todd Horton on trumpet.

The album opens with “Welcome To The Game,” an up-tempo rocking blues showcasing some good Texas Slim guitar – incidentally, he also plays organ and dobro on the album and takes care of the vocals too. All of the tracks on the album are composed by Texas Slim, but you’ll find that track two, “Driving Blues” is very heavily influenced by “Roadhouse Blues,” the old Doors track. That’s a minor criticism, because the track is very clearly the band’s own and it will have you tapping your feet along with the rhythm.

The tempo slows down for tracks 4 and 5 – “You’re Hip” & “Funky Love” picks up a little for “De Ville” and then slows down for track seven, “When It’s Cold Outside” – this is my absolute favourite on the album and features Slim on slide playing good country blues – a slight taste of Little Feat on this one. I wish he’d added some more slide to the album, because the flavour it gives the music is superb.

From there the tempo fluctuates up and down, without a bad track – if you like tinkling ivories, then track 12, “And It Is,” is the one for you. This track is moody, atmospheric, slow blues – excellent!!

--- Terry Clear

BJ AllenIt’s no secret that the Blues stays alive and continues to grow, because everywhere in America’s heartland there’s a local band within the community who is committed to ensuring that the Blues is still appreciated, that it’s still heard. Such is the case with Kirksville, Missouri’s band, BJ Allen and Blue Voodoo. This little band that can still continues to self-produce great records, and Heartless is no exception.

“Don’t Know What You’re Missin” is our first cut up and it’s all about the fact that Blues is the music we all should be listening to. Jerry Fuller’s guitar seems like an old friend to me as BJ lets us know that we should all be out hearing some Blues. “Come on and let the music move you…up and out of your seat…you just might find…if you move your behind…the power of the Blues can’t be beat!!” Truer words were never spoken.

I’d forgotten that JP Hurd also plays harmonica ,and I’m pleasantly reminded of that fact on “Radio Song.” It seems no matter which way BJ Allen turns the dial on her radio, she just can’t find anything of value to listen to. Her best alternative? Get everybody up and just start playing some blues. “I finally said, “Jerry, pick up that old guitar…play us something that we can use!” Jerry’s guitar solo reaffirms BJ’s contention that the Blues is what she needed to hear and Jerry’s more than happy to oblige her. Our next tune, “Borderline”, refers to the Mason-Dixon Line and a juke that serves up some nasty blues. “Come on down…you’ll be feeling mighty fine…just a short drive south of the Mason-Dixon Line…we’re going to party all…night…down at the Borderline!”

The first slow ballad of the record is our title tune, “Heartless.” Seems BJ’s lost her heart and just can’t find it anywhere. “You see…I gave my love to a heartless man…won’t you help me find it…if you can…will you please tell me how…I fell for such a scam.” Love’s lessons are sometimes harsh and BJ’s definitely learned her lesson here. “Take Out Some Insurance” is BJ’s way of telling the man in her life that he’d better, never leave. “Take out some insurance on me baby…cause if you ever…ever say goodbye…I’m gonna lay right down here and die!” That’s a heavy responsibility to take on; he’d better call the insurance agent right away!

Guitarist Jerry Fuller writes the majority of tunes for the band and our next cut, “Do Something,” is an excellent view of the world today. “Got to be a little smarter…think beyond today…think about the little ones…and the price they’re going to pay…I’m just an average Joe…but if I had my say…I’d say please, we ought to be doing something!” We’re definitely living in different times these days and Jerry’s right, we all have the capability to be doing something that can help. “We ought to be doing something!!”

I never get tired of BJ Allen singing a ballad and she serves up a beautiful rendition of our next tune, “Sunday Kind of Love.” “My arms…they need someone to enfold…to keep me warm…when Mondays and Tuesdays grow cold…a love for all my life…that I can have…I can hold…I need a Sunday kind of love!” I don’t know of anyone alive who wouldn’t appreciate a Sunday kind of love.” Bassist JP Hurd wrote the next tune, “It’s All About You,” and it seems BJ’s found herself a player that she’s not quite sure what to do about. “You got me jumping and a stompin’…pacing the floor…ringing your phone…and pounding on your door…my mind is all over you…vision’s burning into my head…I guess its all about you…and the crazy things you said!” He’s definitely woven a spell over this girl, “Now I’m drowning in my blues…drowning in my Johnny Walker Red!” Sad to say, it ended badly.

Our next cut, “Tryin’ to Find the Groove,” is all about making sense in a crazy world. “Your head is in the clouds…while your feet touch the ground…don’t get confused…come on...get up…put on your shoes…baby your just trying to find the groove!” You just have to get up, take two steps forward and one step back but you’ll find your way. “Iron City” is another tune written by JP and it focuses on BJ’s need to get out…to move on. “Got to break away from the old rust belt…go to reclaim my soul…can’t you people hear what I’m talking about…its time for me to take control…how long…how long must I stay…got to get up…out of this place…this old iron city!”

Our final cut on Heartless is another ballad, “Get It While You Can.” Jerry displays his keyboard talents on the intro as BJ admonishes us to reach for life and love. “So if someone should come along…and try to give you a little love &and affection…I say…get it while you can…baby, get it while you can…don’t you turn your back on love!” Truer words have never been sung.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to get to know and appreciate BJ and her band. This is their third project that I’ve reviewed and all three releases are indicative of what a wonderfully tight and talented band this group from the heartlands of Missouri really is. If you’re ever near Kirksville, go check them out. They work as hard at their craft as any nationally touring act you’ll ever have the pleasure to see. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of Heartless from the band on their website, I’d also like to send a personal shout out to David, “I hope you’re feeling better my friend and are back up behind the kit soon!”

--- Kyle Deibler

Deb CallahanI always appreciate it when an artist contacts me directly in support of their project. I’m impressed by the initiative and it’s a way to discern just how committed he/she is to their craft. Such is the case with Philadelphia’s Deb Callahan. I’ve read numerous festival reviews over the past few years mentioning her band’s performance, but it wasn’t until Deb sent me a copy of her latest release, Grace & Grit, that I had a chance to hear her music for myself. The grit comes from Deb herself, her determination to succeed as a blues woman and her attention to all the details that impact her success. The grace comes from her vocal delivery and the polish found in the songs she’s written. It’s a winning combination, so let’s have a go at Grace & Grit.

Strong guitar fretwork from Allen James sets the tone for Deb’s first cut, “Food on the Table.” Her man’s left her to fend for herself and she’s got two kids to feed. So Deb does what she has to do to keep her family fed. “So I got me a job…making minimum wage…then I rush to the gentlemen’s clubs…so I can really make some pay…go ahead and judge me….tell me I’m no good…but you don’t know what you might do…when a hungry child’s crying out for food.”

“Get It Right” finds Deb reflecting on relationships that have gone bad and what she needs to do differently to make one work. “Don’t cry about things that could have been…this time…going to get it right!” Up next is an excerpt from a tune by Nina Simone, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Throughout her record Deb sings three other excerpts to honor other influences in her life: Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin. It’s a nice touch that I’ve not seen an artist do before.

Deb’s self-examination continues in “How Many Times,” reflecting on the man in her life that continues to move in and out without really committing to the love she’s looking for. “How many times…would I let you wipe my tears away…tell me things are going to change…how many times…will I give you another chance….before I turn my back and walk away.” Deb knows she gives her heart too easily and she needs to set the boundaries that will ensure she’s in a healthy relationship.

Tempo and the keyboard work of Glenn Bickel provide the framework for Deb’s analysis of her current relationship in “Obstacle to Love.” At times, opposites do attract but this time there might just be too many differences to make it work. “Love is not easy…its hard to withstand…all of the differences…and all of the demands…when two worlds collide…you’ve got to compromise…its going to take some work…to keep this romance alive!” Here’s hoping it all works out for Deb. “Guilty” finds Deb admitting she’s at fault. “I’m guilty…everything…you accuse me of…I don’t need no judge…no jury…to know I’ve wronged the one I love.” A moment’s indiscretion cost Deb the affections of the man who really loved her. It’s a hard lesson to learn and it’s even more painful for her to admit that she’s really not the good woman her lover thought she was.

Moving on to “Carry Me,” here we find Deb trying to escape an argument between her mother and father. Her solution is to sneak out the window and head to the river. “My body’s floating peacefully…downstream…only the river knows my secrets…gonna let it carry me!” The cold, cool waters of the river offer the only comfort that Deb knows. “Insomnia Blues” finds Deb with too many thoughts running through her mind, keeping her awake. “I can’t sleep a wink…can’t sleep a wink at all…you know…I can’t sleep a wink…I understand now…why some people drink.” Deb is choosing to tackle everything head on, eschewing the sleeping pills offered up by her doctor and a million other remedies that promise to help her sleep.

A tune by Ray Charles, “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” is the only non-original track on the record and pays homage to Ray’s influences on Deb’s music. “That’s why I know…Lord, I now…hallelujah…I love him so.”

“Happy Hour Girl” is a testament to those barflies found in every club. “Willie’s eyes are steel blue…his skin…tanned leather…she’s got his arm on his shoulder…he has his hand on her thigh….they call her…happy hour girl…oh, yeah…she’s trying to get happy tonight!” Deb’s phone keeps ringing in “No Taxi Driver,” as everyone mistakenly calls her number to come get them. “I ain’t trying to be your taxi driver…I ain’t trying to be your chauffeur no way…can’t you understand…you’ve got the wrong number…no one gets a free ride with me!” Deb lets us know that she’s in search of a real love in the ballad, “Big Wide Space.” “There’s a big wide space…that I feel in my heart…oh, it’s for you baby…always for you…heart aches…for you!”

Grit & Grace closes with what is probably Deb’s mantra, “Work a Little Harder.” “I’m going to keep on moving….never be a quitter…I’m going to work a little harder…oh, I’m going to get a little smarter…going to work a little harder…make it all happen anyway!” More power to her for her attitude alone!

I’ve enjoyed Deb’s disc. The purist in me wishes that somehow I would have felt more connected to the emotions that surely exist behind the songs. There’s a restrained feeling to it all that lingers for me, that tells me that for whatever reason Deb held a little bit back. Hopefully, on the next disc she’ll air it all out and then we’ll really know this woman’s joy and pain. After all, this is the blues and it only works if it touches our souls. You can order Deb’s disc and find out more about her at

--- Kyle Deibler

Deanna BogartPart of the mission statement of Vista Records more than accurately describes Deanna Bogart’s new release on its label; the goal is “to capture the sounds of great artists who play the blues, jazz, and the fusion between them.” 11th Hour is exactly that, a recording of a great artist who plays blues, jazz and the fusion between the two. The Blues man in me wishes for more blues on this record, the Deanna Bogart fan in me appreciates the mix. Either way, I’m still waiting on the crab legs, so let’s get on to the record.

Keith Crossan’s sax and Tom Poole’s trumpet form the horn section for our first cut, “Sweet Pea.” Sweet Pea is a young girl who followed her heart and it led her to the music. “From somewhere inside her…a shooting star…so she let it guide her…right through a blue guitar…and there you are…oh sweet pea…where have you gone?” Hopefully Sweet Pea is out there somewhere, still listening to the music that started her on her journey.

“High Horse” tackles a different subject entirely, the rudeness of fellow artists sharing a bill. A show with multiple acts is tough enough to coordinate without the cooperation of your fellow artists, and evidently Deanna’s had enough. “Get off of your high horse…yes, its just like it sounds…get off of your high horse…the way I see things…you’re out of bounds!” Hmm, wonder whose high horse we’re talking about this time. The stories that could be told. Nuff said on this topic. Next up is a wonderful duet with Tommy Castro, “Love and Attention.” Rare is the love that draws both partners in equally, this is one relationship that works. “All that I want to do…is just to be with you…and give you all of my love and attention!” A rather passionate sax solo by Deanna lets us know she’s all business this time.

“Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” explores the possibility of maintaining a friendship after the relationship has ended. “Cause we’ve ended now as lovers…does our love for one another have to end?” An impassioned extended instrumental by the band portrays the difficulty involved in maintaining such a friendship. While not impossible, more often than not it just won’t work. “Heart and Soul” finds Deanna comfortably ensconced in a relationship that is working for her, one she is committed to. “Still I’m in it, (heart and soul), yes I am (heart and soul), for the good times (heart and soul), the good times and the bad…with my mind in control…I am in it…heart and soul!”

Next up is “Almonjoi,” an instrumental meant to serve as an intermission on the record. This is where you hear Deanna’s band at its best; they all have strong jazz, as well as blues, influences and left to their own devices they can air it out quite well. Realistically, I think Deanna needed a chocolate fix but that’s just conjecture on my part.

John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith” is one of my favorite songs and it’s a song that I’m pleased to hear Deanna sing. It’s beautifully done and a real treat on 11th Hour. Next up is “Avery’s Town,” celebrating the birth of a son to a widow who’d lost her husband in the war. “Since he was small they knew him all and what he aimed to do, be like the man he loved but never knew!” Moving on to “Unkl funkl,” the sweet bass notes of Scott Ambush make their way front and center as the band tackles another instrumental. There’s definitely enough funk in this version to satisfy everyone. Our next cut, “Thrash Boogie 2010,” starts off with Deanna’s piano before everyone else joins in at breakneck speed. Frenetic only begins to describe the musical velocity of “Thrash Boogie 2010.”

11th Hour closes out with the title track, “Eleventh Hour Blues,” the one original ballad on the record. Here Deanna has been given the choice of whether or not her relationship is coming to an end, and she chooses to end the relationship. “You left it up to me to choose…and I went and I let you go…you went and laced up your walking shoes…and I let my chance at love slip by.” In the end, Deanna reconsiders and heads out to try and find the lover she let walk away. I think we can safely assume she caught up with him, somehow, someway.

11th Hour takes me to a different place than where I’m use to going with Deanna’s music. There’s a lot less structure than I’ve heard in the past, but the lack of structure is also artistically freeing. Deanna and her band go where they want to, when they want to, and the results lead to some very interesting instrumental tracks to go along with Deanna’s original tunes and some time-tested covers. I know I’ll get a chance to catch up with Deanna and her band the end of May, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the tracks from 11th Hour settle into a new set list. It will definitely be fun. Grab a copy of this disc from Deanna at her website, She’ll be happy to sign it for you.

--- Kyle Deibler

Cee Cee JamesI’d heard rumblings about Cee Cee James coming out of the Northwest for awhile now and decided to see for myself what this Blues woman was all about. After all, with a record title of Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl, there had to be some substance behind the woman who wrote it. What I’ve found is one of the first really interesting listening sessions that I’ve had in quite awhile. So let’s delve into it.

Up first, of course, is the title track, “Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl.” Intricate guitar picking by James Howard sets the appropriate sense of desperation as Cee Cee works to convey the pain that is in her soul. “I couldn’t see no reason…Lord, to continue on…where down where the snakes crawl…why did you walk away honey…leaving me with no love?” Lost, alone, in complete despair, Cee Cee is asking God just how much more pain can she bear. The end of this relationship tore her open to her very core and moving forward from here does not seem possible.

The presence of evil continues to haunt Cee Cee with the presence of “Black Raven.” “Black raven calls out my name…black raven screaming out my name…what you do with your days now girl…what you doing…wasting time?” "Black Raven" is causing Cee Cee to question her existence, to find a purpose, to end this sense of despair that is following her around. Our next tune, “Love Makes Change,” finds Cee Cee a bit more optimistic. “Love makes change…love makes change…give it a buck…and you get back two…but you got to go…you got to go…to where it takes you!” Experience has taught her to follow her muse, wherever it leads her.

Tribal drumming and rattles provide the introduction to “Desert Blues.” Cee Cee’s on a journey that takes her to the desert, back to her roots, to examine her life’s path. “…way out in no man’s land…where I called out to you…help me change my ways…teach me how to be true.” Lessons learned in the desert work to carry her further on her way. The tribal drums give way to slide guitar as we move on to “Roll Me Over.” “Oh my, the twist and turn…oh my, the lessons learned…oh oh…the things I’ve done…oh, oh…the innocence burned.” Cee Cee’s journey has not been an easy one and she perseveres in her quest for love and the truth.

More slide guitar from Rob Andrews sets the tone for “Make It to the Other Side.” Here a river provides the metaphor for moving forward, it’s important that Cee Cee make it to the other side and lives. “Some rivers run shallow…some rivers run deep…some kind of magic mojo…is going to make me strong…I’m going to paddle…all night long…I’m going to make it…make it to the other side!”

“I’ll Ask the Questions, You Tell the Lies” provides an interesting interlude on a record so far that has created a sense of desperation, a quest for understanding of life. The classic tale of a man who cheats on Cee Cee and she knows it, at this point she’s heard it all. “I’d rather leave…rip you a new back end…cause that’s the payback baby…for this cheating game…its come that time for you…to kiss my sweet behind goodbye!”

“White Picket Fence” becomes the metaphor for an honest, true man in our next track on the record. “There’s one kind of woman…who keeps that fence clean…who keeps that lawn green…oh, honey…ain’t life grand…oh baby, all you wish you ever had”! “Watermelon Lucy” is the tale of a woman who lost her husband in Vietnam, her kids are grown and life alone has distorted her sense of the world. “They call her Watermelon Lucy…cause her mind’s gone a little bit goofy…all the watermelon’s juicy…half the long gone Lucy.”

It’s confession time for Cee Cee on “Done Love Wrong.” In this case, she didn’t really understand what a good man she had. “I played your heart…I played mine, too…played…such a lame excuse for lust…with such big time losing…I done love wrong.” Understanding the error of her ways won’t replace the love of the good man she’s lost. Hopefully it’s a good lesson learned.

“Spirit of the Shaman” closes out what has been a very interesting disc. The spirit of the Shaman makes itself manifest to Cee Cee is so many ways…from the love of a good man…to the presence of friends who care about her…to others sent to help her find her way. “I can find him in the wind…in the sun, the moon, the stars…in my husband, in my friends…in the neighbors, relatives…comes disguised…to teach me good…he comes disguised to teach me love…a strong love…to set me free!”

Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl has been one of the more interesting records I’ve had a chance to listen to so far this year. Cee Cee James writes songs from a place of emotional honesty that few artists care to reveal. The result is an intimate, sometimes guttural view of a woman who isn’t afraid to face her demons and work out her life’s lessons. From that perspective, “I’ll Ask the Questions" and Watermelon Lucy” seem oddly out of place to me. Perhaps one of these days I’ll cross paths with Cee Cee and she can explain those tunes to me.

But this is definitely an excellent record from a female artist who isn’t afraid to bear her soul. I applaud her for that. And I encourage you to look her up, you can find out more about Cee Cee on her website at

--- Kyle Deibler

Bobby JonesI had the opportunity to see Bobby Jones for the first time last August at the Heritage Music Festival with the Mannish Boys. Bobby was on fire that night and I’m sure everyone in the audience appreciated his secret move for keeping a woman satisfied. It’s truly indescribable. But I was unaware of the fates that intervened on Bobby’s behalf to enable him to become a member of the Mannish Boys, and ultimately led to the release of his own record on the Delta Groove label, Comin’ Back Hard. I’ll leave the liner notes for you to read, the disc is spinning in my CD player now.

Bobby starts off with “She’s the One.” This is the woman that Bobby loves and he’s on his best behavior to keep her in his life. “She’s the one…that makes me feel good…and I’ll always do…the things I should!” Bobby has the full force of the Delta Groove armada behind him, and Kirk Fletcher’s guitar solo is setting the standard for what is a great listen.

Next up is Willie Dixon’s “Two Headed Woman.” “You got a two-headed woman…knows everything you do…keeps two eyes on me…two more eyes on you!” Distinctive notes from the guitar of Paris Slim keep this song moving right along and Bobby in line. Always the lover, Bobby’s met his match in “I Must Be Crazy”. “Please have mercy…won’t someone have mercy on me…the woman do wrong things before my eyes…just how crazy can I be?” Randy Chortkoff’s distinctive harp notes accentuate the fact that Bobby is crazy; this is one woman he should walk away from.

More harp phrasing from Randy marks the intro of our next tune, “Come In Out of the Rain.” Always the smooth talker, Bobby’s working on the next object of his affection. “Don’t you know baby…it’s thundering and lightening too…you ain’t got no sense girl….honey, what’s wrong with you…come in out of the rain!” You can be sure it’s safe and warm inside Bobby’s house. The upright bass of Ronnie James Weber lends a consistent back beat to our next tune, Ike Turner’s “Get It Over Baby.” Bobby’s in love with a woman who isn’t returning his affection anymore. “I know you don’t love me no more…cause you’re not the kind to tell me so…get it over baby…stop leading me on!” The twinkling ivories of Fred Kaplan play in the background as Bobby struggles to figure out the mess that is his life in “I Don’t Know.” Mournful notes from Al Blake’s harp are indicative of the pain that Bobby is feeling. “I don’t know…who is loving my baby tonight…but its one thing I know for sure…she sure aint’ treating me right”. Let her go Bobby, let her go.

Kid Ramos steps to the forefront with a guitar solo as Bobby lets his woman know, “I’m Tired of Your Jive.” “You think I don’t see…what you do behind my back…you think I ought to love you baby…no matter how you act…I’m telling you mama…you’re going to miss me when I’m gone…I’m tired of your jive!” Bobby continues to feel the pain of a relationship gone bad in “Cry For Me Baby.” “Now where you last night…I cried all night long…only way you do me baby…is wrong, wrong, wrong…cause these tears, tears, tears…why won’t they let me be…I wish just once…you would cry for me!” It’s not happening Bobby, move away from this one.

Bobby’s found himself another bad woman to love in “Three Handed Woman.” “She’s a three handed woman…and she ain’t no good for you…now she’s right handed, left handed…and under handed too!” A two handed woman is enough for me; Bobby had better keep looking for a good woman to love.

Finis Tasby joins Bobby on the microphone to sing a stirring rendition of “Mystery Train,” a concert staple of the Mannish Boys, and the Ike Turner classic “How Long Will It Last” rounds out what has been a very enjoyable disc to listen to.

Serendipity brought Bobby Jones to Delta Groove and we’re better off because of it. Bobby has been largely un-recorded his entire career and his first disc for Delta Groove, Comin’ Back Hard, fills that void admirably. There’s no doubt that Bobby has a few more classics left in him and I’m sure that Randy Chortkoff will make sure to get him back in the studio soon. In the meantime, enjoy Comin’ Back Hard for what it is; a great return to action by one of our genre’s few remaining classic soul singers. Grab a copy of Bobby’s disc on the Delta Groove website, You’ll find that a little Bobby Jones in your CD player is good for your soul!

--- Kyle Deibler

Dave ArcariWow, where do I begin? I saw Dave Arcari in concert and became an instant fan. I have never before seen a National guitar played quite like this .. Dave thrashes the strings to within an inch of their lives, and the beer-soaked growl of his vocals would frighten a police horse .. this is blues from the Clyde Delta, bare-knuckle blues with a harder, more dangerous edge, that would bring joy to the old bluesmen of Maxwell Street.

Of the 13 tracks on Got Me Electric (Buzz Records), nine are penned by Dave Arcari, and his writing takes the listener through a variety of emotions as his music lifts you off your feet and smashes you against the wall.

The title track, "Got Me Electric," is a brilliant concept whereby Dave begins acoustically before plugging in his National for an electrifying treat that you've simply got to hear. "Close To The Edge" takes you to a sweaty beery blues club (or even a boozy Irish bar) where you can imagine everyone joining in the chorus.

Blind Willie Johnson's "Soul Of A Man" gets a sublime treatment, and if you think you think you know all about Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues," you need to hear Dave's version.

Dave's blues are not for the fainthearted, but if you "get" him, you will be rewarded with a permanent smile that cannot be scrubbed off with a wire brush. Buy this CD and your soul will thank you.

--- Gordon Morris


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