Blues Bytes

What's New

March/April 2011

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Roomful of Blues

Darren Watson

Dana Fuchs

Damon Fowler

Travis Haddix

Lloyd Jones

Los Fabulocos

Gregg Allman

Johnny Rawls

Nellie Travis

Chick Willis

Mistakes Were Made

Rory Block

Steve Dawson

Kevin Selfe

Howard Glazer

Front Street Blues

Shots of Blues, Vol. 1

Blues Dragon

Roomful of BluesAll Roomful of Blues is concerned with is whether their music sounds good, whether you can dance to it, and whether you can feel it. With suave horns that whirl straight off the big band dancehall floors of the ’30s and ’40s, Hook, Line & Sinker (Alligator) is quite possibly Roomful’s best CD since joining the Alligator family in 2003. The multiple award-winning group’s combination of swing, early rock ‘n’ roll, jump, blues, and soul has earned it just praise since forming in 1967, which pre-dates the creation of Alligator Records! More than 50 band members have come and gone since the band was started by renowned guitarist Duke Robillard and keyboardist Al Copley. With practically a non-stop performance schedule, America’s favorite little big band has earned critical, popular, and radio success along with a legion of fans around the globe.

These swinging and swaying 12 songs will put you “in the mood” from start to finish. Sure, they are all cover songs taken from the band’s extensive repertoire, but you’ll have to be a musicologist to recognize them. The obscure songs were originally written and/or recorded by well-known and highly respected artists such as Little Richard, Dave Bartholomew, Amos Milburn, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Floyd Dixon, and others. Like The Beatles song catalogue, you’ll feel an established acquaintance with these songs even though you may not be familiar with them at all.

This 40-minute disc features new bass player John Turner and new trumpeter Doug Woolverton, but the most obvious newcomer is singer Phil Pemberton who joined the band a short time before making this recording. His huge voice is a mix between Curtis Salgado, Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, and Big Joe Turner. A warm and relationship-building voice emerges from the fun loving singer. Pemberton comes across as if he has been the band’s main vocal and focal point for several years. His emotive vocals will have you personally experiencing the discomfort of the main character’s loneliness on "Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’."

The New Orleans-sounding "Come On Home" reveals Pemberton can reverberate as strong and loud as the band’s stomping three-piece horn section. "Time Brings About A Change" is a ballad which allows the flamboyant Pemberton to stretch his multi-octave and ultra-expressive vocals.

"She Walks Right In" features swinging R& B from yesterday that simply makes you feel good. Romping horns rumble and rattle on "That’s A Pretty Good Love," where Chris Vachon’s enthusiastic guitar riffs are at the center of the song. In fact, Vachon is given more opportunity than in the past to showcase what he can do with six strings, e.g., "Win With Me, Baby," yet the to-be-expected blasting horns are always present. With cheerful horns, slapping bass, and rollicking piano that’s a blitz for ballroom dancers, the exhilarating instrumental "Gate Walks To Board" features the entire band.

The CD’s strength, and in fact the eight-member group’s greatest asset, is how well the band performs as a cohesive unit. Throughout, the horns hop, the keyboards sway, the vocals enthuse, the guitar rocks, and the band jumps. Roomful’s signature sound runs rampant on Hook, Line & Sinker which plays like a tribute to the best swinging tunes from the ’40s and ’50s. Every song is good, but when those songs are performed by this venerable band, the combined outcome is a transcended musical experience that is both nostalgic and avant-garde at the same time.

--- Tim Holek

Darren WatsonBlues artists can be found all over the world, but it's not common that we hear of one from New Zealand. Darren Watson first came to my attention with his very good 2005 album South Pacific Soul (reviewed in the February 2006 issue) --- in fact, one cut, "Another Lonely Person," was so good that I've used it on several of my mix CDs for my road trips.

Watson returns five years later with Saint Hilda's Faithless Boy (Red Rocks Records). Containing 11 fine original cuts, this one is bluesier than his prior CD. It kicks off with a mid-tempo blues shuffle, "A Desperate Man," showing off Watson's strong vocals that tasteful guitar playing. His vocals are even stronger on another shuffle, "She Got It All."

Watson then gets funky on "He Don't Love You," with strong drumming from Richard Te One and a hot Hammond B3 solo from Ed "Wunderkind" Zuccollo. This one's bound to make the cut for my Summer 2011 travel mix CD.

"Be Careful With A Fool" is a slow blues that could have been written and performed 50 years ago by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. I'm thinking that JGW would like this song from a fellow Watson if he was alive to hear it --- trademark tortured vocals and stinging guitar licks!

Watson performs solo on the deep blues "My Love Will Never Die," accompanying himself with very good slide guitar. He then keeps the slide out for the instrumental "The Bitter Suite," which has a gypsy / medicine show feel to it, and then closes the disc with the title cut, a slow acoustic number, likely autobiographical in nature, on which he's accompanied only by his wonderful slide guitar and Alan Norman's piano.

Saint Hilda's Faithless Boy gets better each time I listen to it. It's worth seeking out. For more info, check Watson's website at

--- Bill Mitchell

Dana FuchsIt doesn't take long to realize while listening to Dana Fuchs' new CD, Love To Beg (Ruf Records), that this New York City rock/blues singer is a major talent on the rise  It would be easy to also label Fuchs as a Janis Joplin imitator, especially since she played Joplin in the off-Broadway hit, "Love, Janis." She also had a part in the 2007 musical film, "Across The Universe." While Love To Beg leans more towards the rock side, Fuchs' music goes much deeper, showing her rural Florida blues roots and early days singing in a Baptist church choir.

The album starts with the title cut, a mid-tempo number Joplinesque number on which producer and co-songwriter Jon Diamond accompanies Fuchs' vocals with some mean slide guitar. This one's dripping with emotion and sets the stage for the rest of the album. Subsequent cuts range from the anthemic "Set It On Fire" to the upbeat "Faster Than We Can," a number that will get your blood pulsing and your feet moving, to the slow, inspirational "Keep On Rollin'." Ms. Fuchs has endured some personal tragedies in her life, and I can't help but think that the latter tune is inspired by her real life experiences.

One of the highlights of the disc is the soulful "Summersong," which sounds like it could have come out of Muscle Shoals circa 1965, accented by a killer six-piece horn section and excellent backing vocals from Jenny Douglas and Vivian Sessoms.

"Pretty Girl" is a rockin' soul number featuring Fuchs' most powerful singing, along with strong guitar work from Diamond. Yeah, this pretty girl can sing, no doubt about it!

Fuchs then tackles the only cover on Love To Beg, a version of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long." The horn section returns to back Ms. Fuchs' pleading, tortured vocals, and Diamond kicks in with a nice guitar solo midway through the tune. I would love to see her perform this number live --- it's got to be an incredible experience!

The album closes with the bluesy, snaky mid-tempo shuffle, "Superman," a bit of an anti-establishment rant about broken government promises.

This CD was my introduction to Dana Fuchs, but I've since been checking out her website for samples from her previous recordings, especially her debut album, Lonely For A Lifetime (now sold out). If you're not familiar with Ms. Fuchs, you owe to yourself to pick up Love To Beg and begin your education.

--- Bill Mitchell

Dana FowlerI was out of town when Florida Bluesman Damon Fowler came through the Valley and I’m really sorry that I missed his show here. His new disc out on Blind Pig Records, Devil Got His Way, is one of the most complete CD’s I’ve heard in awhile and Damon is definitely one talented Bluesman.

The disc kicks off with “We’ve Got a Good Thing” and Damon is definitely in a relationship that’s working for him. “We’ve got a good thing…we’ve got a good thing…you & I.” He’s very happy with the woman in his life and is content to work through life’s challenges with her. More of Damon’s swamp style guitar manifests itself on the title cut, “Devil Got His Way.” Here we find Damon looking for a friend of his, Eugene, who seems to have disappeared from the earth. According to Damon, “a little brown eyed persuasion…in a mini-skirt…hit him up for some money…watched the man get hurt…the Devil got his way!” His friend was murdered for the cash he had on him and the devil definitely had his way. Damon plays a mean slide guitar as well as lap steel and both are prominently displayed here.

The tempo slows down quite dramatically on our next cut, “After the Rain.” Here we find Damon in quiet conversation with the woman in his life who’s ending their relationship. “We sat there and spoke…wind and the thunder…chilled to the bone…hold together…you kissed me goodbye…I called God a liar…then we snuck off like thieves…with our backs to each other…after the rain.” Damon loved this woman and it’s very easy for him to go back in time with his memories of her. Too bad that it ended.

"Tight Rope” belies a circus atmosphere where Damon is trying to jump through hoops to make his current relationship work. “Up on the tight wire…flanked by life and a funeral pyre…putting on a show…for you to see.” Damon is an excellent guitarist and the riff in the middle of “Tight Rope” is a great example of that. The circus flare is there and the mood is set for the situation Damon is dealing with.

Our next cut, “28 Degrees,” definitely has that swamp feel reminiscent of J.J. Grey & Mofro. “I done got tired…playing round with the likes of you…you let out a love grown cold…28 degrees!” This relationship is over and Damon’s had enough of her lies and tricks. Time to move on in the cold…”28 degrees!” A New Orleans feel lends itself to Damon’s interest in his newest object of affection, “Fruit Stand Lady.” “Well…I moved into her fruit stand…eat until I’m stuffed…she can boil my peanuts…man, I can’t get enough…Lord, she’s mine…my fruit stand lady!”

We head back to the swamp for our next cut, “Cypress in the Pines.” “Way out in the cypress…out by the pine tree…they going to build a fire…you can feel the heat…go grab your partner…course you shall take…keep your eyes wide open…you’d better watch for snakes…out in the cypress and the pine!” All kinds of things can happen…better watch out…out in the cypress and the pines!” Rob Stoney’s organ makes a prominent appearance in the next track, “Don’t Call Me.” This relationship is over and Damon’s not one for looking back. “I packed my backs last night…and I got on a plane…found my seat…ordered a drink…to ease my heart…soothe my mind…packing up my things…and going away…so don’t call me…when you get sad…if ever your heart's on the ground…don’t call me…cuz I won’t be around.” Moving on is never easy but Damon is definitely clear that this is the right thing to do this time.

“Once in Awhile” finds Damon appreciating the fact that his woman needs to let her hair down. “All week long…she is prim and proper…she’s going out tonight…and nothing’s going to stop her…just about had her fill of all this…scratching about…you know the moon is full tonight…and she wants to do some howlin!” “Even good girls…got to let loose…once in a while!” Damon finds himself at a crossroads with his current love in the next cut, “You Go Your Way.” She likes living in the fast line and Damon appreciates a slower pace in life. “You go your way…and I’ll go mine…you love life…in the fast line…leave the slow life behind…I think I’d rather…take my time…you go your way and I’ll go mine!”

Pursuing one’s life path is never easy and Damon accounts for the pitfalls a lot of folks experience in the next tune, “American Dream.” “Eighty-three and a legend…he’s got a younger wife…she was his assistant…in a different life…you can see the sorrow….as he looks on…she collects the money…while he blazes on…he’s an old man…doing he all he can…back on the scene…holding on…holding on to his American Dream.”

Devil Got His Way closes with an appropriate tune, “Happy Hour.” “I’m going to go to happy hour…drinks are two for one!” Damon and his friends are enjoying the benefits of happy hour and drinking the day away…complete with live burps and all.

This has been an excellent disc from Damon Fowler. A great selection of tunes, an excellent band behind him and amazing guitar licks from Damon make for a great sophomore disc on Blind Pig Records. This is definitely one of the strongest early releases I’ve heard this year and the future is very bright indeed for one Damon Fowler.

--- Kyle Deibler

Terry QuiettI think when the end of 2011 rolls around, those fortunate enough to have heard the Terry Quiett Band’s new disc, Just My Luck, will agree with me that this disc is one of the gems of the year. Great songwriting, outstanding musicianship and the amazing talents of producer Jim Gaines all contribute to making Just My Luck a great disc. This is one CD that will find its way back into my CD player time and again. So let’s roll.

First cut on the disc is “Karma,” and it’s a bitch. “Fool me once…I may let you skate…you fool me twice…and I’ll be clear in your face…so you decide…if it’s worth the risk…you want to lie…you’re getting better at this…the choice is key…and its yours to make…either way…I’ll toast the town…when Karma comes back around!” Angry tones from Terry’s guitar are telling the girl that she made the wrong choice, time to pack it up and move on out. We move on to “Work for It,” and Terry’s at a club getting hit on by a persistent woman. Mellower, jazzy tones set the mood for the underlying negotiation. “You been road…hard and put away wet…you’re playing hardball baby…I play harder to get…ain’t afraid to know…to let things roll…once I place my bet…I just ain’t feeling you yet…girl…you’re going to work for it." Ultimately Terry lets the girl in and strives to make an honest woman out of her….good luck! Moving on to “You’re my Kind”, Terry finally has met his match. “Still…you might just get your wish…cuz I think I find my niche…you think I’m reading your mind…cuz you’re my kind!” Even a dog has his day.

“Big Man Boogie” is an up tempo shuffle that kinds Terry without a care in the world. “I got your claws out of me…now I’m out here on the prowl…some call me freaky…some call me wild…some call me handsome…flattery will get you mine!” Terry’s gotten rid of the bad woman holding him back and he’s back in the hunt, looking for a new start. Blistering tone emanates from Terry’s Stratocaster as Terry tells us about the new woman trying to become a part of his life. “Take off your clothes…it’s better that way…you're pushing and shoving away…there’s something mean about me….you know it’s hard…hard as it can be…getting through to me!” Good luck girl, sounds like you’ll need it. “Judgment Day” finds Terry on a resonator bemoaning his fate with the woman in his life. She’s got a man in her past that she truly loved and if he returns, she’ll probably run back to him. “Tell the truth…you always knew…if he comes back…it’ll be the end for you…matter of fact…call it like it is…if he comes back…it’ll be the end of this!” Terry’s the odd man out and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Deep Delta intonation continues on our next cut, “The Woodsman.” “Somewhere in the wood at night…the woodsman laid his head…stumbled home in the morning light…found a wolf in his own bed!” Retribution is swift and the woodsman takes an axe to the head of the wolf! Messing around with another man’s woman is a dangerous thing…and the wolf definitely paid the price for his indiscretions this time. The theme of retribution continues with our next cut, “Pound of Flesh.” “There’s no more peace of mind possessed…oh no…I’ve confessed a million times…none the less….Daddy wants his pound of flesh!” At some point you’d think Terry would have learned from the error of his ways and avoid some of the punishment he’s got coming to him!

“Some People” finds Terry reflecting on the interest other folks have in his life and goings on. “I’m stunned…by what they think is going down…sad truth is….we’re in too deep…can’t turn it around…I know…ain’t nothing going to save this town…let’s get out now!” Everyone knows your business in a small town and it’s time to move on. Terry’s personal reflection continues in our next tune, “Signs of Decline.” He’s been bad and his behavior is probably going to cost him everything he had. A good home, a good woman and a love he should have appreciated. “I’ve been blind…blind….blind….to the signs…of decline…there’s no use now denying…that love is dying!” Excellent tune and probably my favorite cut on the disc. Terry tries to negotiate his redemption in “Satisfied.” “If your pain…and my pride…can be just satisfied…I will try…to keep you satisfied!” It may not work but Terry’s going for it and he’s hopefully learned an important lesson.

A rich back-end provides the perfect support to Terry’s tale of woe in “Fool’s Gold.” “Been too long…getting by…sifting lies I’ve been told…all my creeks have run dry…panning fool’s gold…panning fool’s gold!” Terry’s hoping for a fresh start and another chance to prove himself to the woman he’s hurt. “Close to You” brings to an end all of Terry’s foolishness as he appeals to the heart of the woman he truly loves. “I can’t hold out much longer…ooh you know…you’re playing this…close and slow…I wanna know you…I wanna show you…wanna grow till the growing gets too deep to uproot…I wanna be there…I wanna be there…that very broken heart…and elevate you…its true….it’s true…its true….I wanna get close to you!” A beautiful ballad and another of my favorite tunes on Terry’s disc.

Just My Luck is a signature album for Terry Quiett and his band. I don’t know if it will get the recognition for the band that it deserves, but anyone who owns this disc will definitely appreciate the beauty of it. I went straight to Facebook and hit “like” for the Terry Quiett Band as fast as I could. You can find out more about the band and the disc at It’s definitely a journey worth taking.

--- Kyle Deibler

Lloyd JonesI’d just recently read an article on Portland bluesman Lloyd Jones in the Cascade Blues Association’s bluesnotes and appreciated the diversity of the article. Lloyd’s Monday night acoustic blues shows at the Muddy Rudder are legendary and it’s no wonder that a number of his contemporaries had encouraged him to record an acoustic disc. So I was very pleasantly surprised to receive a copy of Highway Bound in the mail to listen to and more than happy to hear the end result.

Lloyd starts the party with an original composition, “Travelin’ On.” It appears that he’s getting the itch to hit the road and see some good friends down in the Delta. “I got friends down in Clarkdale….I got a friend in Tennessee…I haven’t seen in so long…if I can’t find my friends down in Clarkdale…I’ll make some new friends…and I’ll be…travelin’ on!” Up next is a stellar version of the W.C. Handy classic, “Careless Love,” followed by a heartfelt version of Elizabeth Cotton’s tune, “When I’m Gone.” Lloyd’s finger picking is outstanding and you can hear the intricacies of his picking very clearly. “She said…you’ll miss me when I’m gone…said you’ll miss that every day song…and I know…you’re going to miss me…when I’m gone…going to miss that every day walk Sunday…going to miss that everyday talk…I believe you’re going to miss me…when I’m gone!”

The tempo picks up on a rousing version of “Ice Cream Man” with Lloyd’s good friend Charlie Musselwhite on the harp. “I’m your ice cream man…stop me when I’m passing by…I got something just for you baby…and it’s guaranteed to satisfy!” Up next is Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine,” and Lloyd’s finger picking skills are front and center as he skillfully picks the runs required by the phrasing of Blind Willie. The party continues with a wonderful version of Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” before Lloyd moves on to Big Bill Broonzy’s “Southbound Train.” “Conductor please…please won’t you take my last dime…see I got to make it down to the lowlands…just so I can find that happy mind.”

Up next is another original of Lloyd’s, “No More Crying.” “No more crying…no more tears will fall…you know I’ve cried so many tears now…hey…no more tears left at all.” Lloyd’s got a broken heart as the result of a good woman who’s left him and it’s time to get over her. Versions of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Don’t Want Me Baby” and Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” are followed by another Jones original, “You Better.” “You Better” reflects Lloyd’s advice to his fellow men who are likely to find themselves in a similar situation with the women they love. “You’re about…the sweetest thing that I’ve seen so far…we can have a drink baby…maybe…ride in the car…you know….go to a movie…spelling me…just won’t you make…a little more…time for me, my baby!” Failure to do so will likely have dire consequences and she could be out the door in favor of a woman who will spend more time with him.

“Cry for Me Baby,” an Elmore James tune is the next to receive classic treatment from Lloyd before he moves on to “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor,” another tune from W.C. Handy. “Well, I’m moving the country baby…cold, sleet and snow…I’m moving to the country…ain’t no telling…where I may go.” The tune finds Lloyd resting for the night before he continues on his way. Leadbelly’s tune, “Good Night Irene” is up next as Lloyd serenades the woman he loves. “Well…I ramble…sometimes you know…I gamble…I stays out…late at night…so go on home…it’s time…to your family…sit down…by that old fireside light…Goodnight Irene…goodnight!”

Highway Bound finishes up with excellent versions of “Good Morning Little School Girl” from Sonny Boy Williamson and “Lazybones” from Hoagy Carmichael. Both are performed in the same respectful fashion that Lloyd has treated the other classics on this disc. It’s easy to see why he was able to lay down all 16 tracks in a day and it’s impressive to hear the end result.

Lloyd Jones is a bluesman’s bluesman and I can’t pay him a higher compliment than that. Highway Bound is an excellent disc and it’s easy to see why crowds flock to the Muddy Rudder on Monday nights for more of the same. You can grab a copy by checking out Lloyd’s website, and its well worth your time to do so.

--- Kyle Deibler

Travis HaddixTravis “Moonchild” Haddix has quietly emerged over the past couple of decades as one of the most acclaimed and prolific bluesmen in the modern era of blues. Despite the lack of a major label backing his efforts, Haddix has built up an impressive catalog of recordings since the late ’80s, first with the late, much-missed Ichiban label and later with his own Wann-Sonn label. Currently, he’s a member of the Benevolent Blues family, which released his previous album, the excellent If I’m One, You’re One Too.

Haddix’s latest CD, A Dozen Times, is a companion piece to his recent concert DVD, The Moonchild Live In Cleveland. On this set, Haddix performs ten songs, a mix of new and old (going back to his initial album release on Ichiban in 1988) to a receptive audience. He wrote 11 of the 12 tracks on the disc, and his unique outlook on life and the blues is on full display. He’s backed by a tight eight-piece band, including horns.

Haddix opens with the autobiographical “They Call Me Moonchild,” and easily segues into a classic slow blues number (“First Thing Tuesday Morning”) that features some fantastic lead guitar. The middle of the set focuses on some of Haddix’s extensive catalog, with familiar favorites like “Job Close To Home,’ Caught In The Middle,” and “No No No.” The band provides stellar support, especially the horns. Haddix’s most recent anthem, “If I’m One, You’re One Too,” and “I’ve Got A Secret,” with more outstanding guitar work, are both superlative.

Haddix revisits his catalog with the title track from 1991’s “Winners Never Quit.” Next, he tackles the blues standard, “Down Home Blues,” recounting a humorous story involving Denise LaSalle, the original performer of the song. Another recent favorite, “Scared Half To Death, Twice,” follows and closes the live set. I have not seen the actual DVD, but if it’s as good as the CD, I might have to track it down.

The CD closes with two new studio tracks, “This Foolishness” and the title track. Part of Haddix’s appeal to fans is his ability to belt out a blues track as easily as he can handle the soul bag. Both of these tracks feature elements of blues and soul and will be fine additions to an already impressive repertoire.
A Dozen Times is another great Travis “Moonchild” Haddix release. If you haven’t yet experienced this man’s music, this is a great place to start, but don’t stop with one release.

--- Graham Clarke

Los FabulocosLos Fabulocos calls their music “Cali-Mex.” It’s a mixture of blues, zydeco, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, country, and traditional Mexican music in the tradition of such artists as Freddy Fender and Los Lobos. The band consists of two former members of the East L.A. roots rock band, The Blazers (singer/accordionist Jesus Cuevas and drummer Mike Molina). Bass player James Barrios joined soon after and brought a love for country music in the Bakersfield tradition, but the deal was sealed in 2007 when blues guitarist extraordinaire (and former Fabulous T-Bird) Kid Ramos came on board.

The group’s self-titled first CD, released in 2008 on Delta Groove, was a rousing success. Their follow-up for Delta Groove, called Dos, continues their hot streak as the band tears through eight original compositions and four choice cover tunes that span quite a broad area.

Cuevas wrote six of the eight originals, including the opening cut, “Everything Will Turn Out Alright,” which will remind listeners of mid ’80s Los Lobos during their “Will The Wolf Survive” days with Cuevas’ reassuring vocal and gently wafting accordion. He also penned the zydeco raver, “The Vibe,” which is guaranteed to get a toe or two tapping, and the soulful “I Never Thought,” one of two tracks featuring Ron Dziubla’s saxophone. Cuevas and Ramos teamed up for the energetic “She Wakes Up Cryin’.” Ramos also wrote the rocker, “My Brother’s Keeper,” and Barrios contributed the catchy “The Coffee Song.”

The cover tunes are mostly traditional Mexican tunes, like “Los Chucos Suaves,” Cuco Sanchez’s “Una Pura y Dos Con Sal,” and Antonio Aguilar’s “Un Puño De Tierra.” The wild card in the set is a Spanish/English version of Little Richard’s “Keep A Knockin’” that just blows the doors off the place.

By the time Cuevas’ swinging “Calmen Su Rollo” closes the disc out, you’ll be reaching over to hit the restart button. Dos is a hot and spicy set of old school rock and blues mixed with irresistible Latin rhythms and is a thrilling ride from beginning to end.

--- Graham Clarke

Gregg AllmanGregg Allman has long been acknowledged as one of the best of the white soul/blues singers, yet Low Country Blues (Rounder Records) is his first real “blues” release. To be sure, Allman has not exactly been prolific as a solo recording artist….it’s been nearly 14 years since his last effort, Searching for Simplicity, and nearly a decade before that for his previous release. He’s also had several other issues to deal with over the past decade, such as various personnel problems and changes with the Allman Brothers Band, plus his own health problems, which culminated in a liver transplant last summer.

With Low Country Blues, Allman seems to have conquered his demons for the time being. He sounds fantastic as he works through a set of 11 classic blues covers, along with one original track. Enlisting T-Bone Burnett as producer guarantees a different sound from the usual wall-to-wall electric blues/rock associated with the Allmans. Burnett gives everything that earthy, atmospheric feel that he’s renowned for, though sometimes I found myself wishing that Allman’s vocals were a little more front and center.
A first-rate group of musicians make up the backing band (Dr. John on piano, Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, and Burnett’s customary rhythm section of Dennis Crouch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums). There’s also a horn section on several of the tracks, arranged by Darrell Leonard and its unobtrusive presence really adds to several of the tunes.

The songs covered on Low Country Blues are mostly lesser-known songs from blues legends like Junior Wells (“Little By Little”), Muddy Waters (“I Can’t Be Satisfied”), Bobby Bland (“Blind Man”), B.B. King (“Please Accept My Love”), Magic Sam (“My Love Is Your Love”), and Otis Rush (“Checking On My Baby”). While all of these are well done, the standout tracks are “Little By Little,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “My Love Is Your Love,” and Allman really shines on the great take on Rush’s “Checking On My Baby.”

The opening cut is Sleepy John Estes’ ominous “Floating Bridge.” Estes wrote this song remembering a near-death experience from drowning and a new lease on life. Allman sings this track like he has a new lease on life and it’s a nice way to start things off. Another real standout is the haunting cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” where you can actually hear the pain and agony in Allman’s voice.

The lone original tune is “Just Another Rider,” written by Allman and ABB guitarist Warren Haynes, which could probably be considered a sequel to Allman’s “Midnight Rider.” While it won’t make you forget its predecessor by any means, it’s not a bad fit on this album of cover tunes.

From start to finish, Low Country Blues is probably the best of Gregg Allman’s solo releases…’s at least the most consistent. It also shows that the old warrior still has a few arrows left in the quiver. Here’s hoping that he does this again before another decade passes.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny RawlsI first heard Johnny Rawls when he released Can’t Sleep At Night with L.C. Luckett for Rooster Blues in the mid ’90s. To me, that was one of the finest soul/blues releases of the 1990s. Rawls and Luckett soon went their separate ways and Rawls has continued a successful career as a solo artist, steadily building an impressive catalog of albums on various labels since the late ’90s. Rawls’ last CD, Ace of Spades, won the 2010 Blues Music Award for Soul/Blues Album of the Year.

Rawls’ latest release, on Catfood Records, is Memphis Still Got Soul, and features ten new compositions, plus one cover, a faithful rendition of O.V. Wright’s “Blind, Crippled and Crazy.” Rawls served as Wright’s band leader during the late ’70s and the legendary singer served as a mentor to Rawls in the early stages of his career. Rawls mixes the singing and instrumentation of ’60s era soul and blues with lyrics and production that are firmly set in the 21st century. For some artists, this might make their music sound dated one way or the other, but Rawls has always done this with ease, and does so here as well.

The title track opens the disc, and is a nice tribute to the Bluff City and its still vital and influential musical heritage. “Give You What You Need” sounds like vintage Impressions with its punchy horns and smooth vocal. Other highlights include the funky blues number, “Burning Bridges,” with some nice guitar fills by former LTD guitarist Johnny McGhee, and the autobiographical “My Guitar,” where Rawls puts his guitar chops on display.

There’s plenty of deep soul numbers as well, such as “Stop The Rain,” “Take You For A Ride” “Flying Blind,” and “Love Stuff.” “Blues Woman” sounds like a lost O.V. Wright track. As on “Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” Rawls doesn’t sound so much like Wright, but he sings like Wright did, with the phrasing and vocal asides.

Memphis Still Got Soul will fill the bill for soul/blues fans, with the right mix of soul, grit, solid songwriting and great performances. Johnny Rawls may be getting the call again at the 2011 BMAs.

--- Graham Clarke

Nellie TravisAfter Koko Taylor passed away, Chicago radio legend Pervis Spann dubbed Nellie “Tiger” Travis the “New Queen of the Blues.” Those were some mighty big shoes for anyone to fill, but Travis has proved over the course of several albums and appearances throughout the United States and overseas that she is more than up to the challenge, not only to replace Taylor, but maybe even to exceed expectations.

If there were any doubts, Travis’ latest release, I’m Going Out Tonight (Benevolent Blues) should dispel them quickly. She offers up ten new tracks, seven of which she wrote herself, including the fiery opener, “Why You Lie Like That,” one of several tracks featuring some inspired fret work from album producer Max V, the Delta-flavored title track, “You Must Be Lovin’ Someone Else,” one of three tracks featuring guitar from Ronnie Baker Brooks (The others being the autobiographical “Born In Mississippi” and the soulful closer, “”There’s A Queen In Me”), and the slow blues, “I Cry The Blues.”

Benevolent Blues head Dylann DeAnna contributes three strong tracks, the defiant “Before You Grab This Tiger By The Tail,” “Tornado Wrapped In Fire,” and the future classic, “Ain’t Gonna Raise No Grown Ass Man.” Travis also delivers a heartfelt tribute to her mentor, “Koko.”

A stellar cast provides Travis with excellent backing (Dujuan Austin – drums, Kenny Hampton – bass, Roosevelt Purifoy – keyboards). Guest stars include members of Buddy Guy’s Damn Right Blues Band (Ric Hall – guitar, Orlando Wright – bass, Marty Sammon – keyboards, and Travis’ husband, Tim Austin – drums). Yuko Kido plays harmonica on a few tracks as well.

Pervis Spann was obviously onto something with his proclamation. Nellie “Tiger” Travis is the real deal and is in the process of setting the bar very high for other potential Queens of the Blues. I’m Going Out Tonight is a potent set of Chicago Blues that people will be discussing for a while.

--- Graham Clarke

Chick WillisAs long as Chick Willis has been around, it’s hard to believe that he’s never released a “best of” collection --- until now. Mr. Blues: The Best of…So Far (Benevolent Blues) collects 17 songs from various stages of Willis’ career….a great place for new fans to start… a few surprises that will please his longtime fans.

Willis’ most popular songs are here, of course. Songs like “Stoop Down Baby Let Your Daddy See” (in a rare studio version), “I’m The Son,” “Mr. Blues,” “Jack You Up,” “I Wanna Funk Wid You,” “Rib Shack Café,” and “I Won’t Give Up” hit the high points throughout his career. There are also songs from his fine recent releases on Bevevolent Blues (“1,2,3,4,5 Shots of Whiskey” and “Bootie Call”).

Some interesting additions here include a previously unreleased remix of “Do The Hucklebuck,” and “Old Man With Freaky Ideas,” a cut from Willis’ rare self-released album Easy On The Soul. Longtime fans will also savor the other four previously unreleased tracks, which are all live recordings. One of the tracks is Willis’ “I Want A Big Fat Woman,” and the rest are his versions of classic blues and soul tunes (“Look On Yonder’s Wall,” from a 2000 appearance, a 1982 recording of “Mother Fuyer,” and Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” recorded in Willis’ hometown, Forsyth, GA, last summer).

Willis is mostly known today for his raunchy blues and soul tracks, and there’s plenty of those tracks here, but he also shines on the more mainstream tracks as well. Songs like “Mr. Blues,” “Hattie,” and “I Won’t Give Up” are standout tracks.

Mr. Blues: The Best of…So Far has plenty to offer new fans (the hits and near-hits) as well as longtime fans (plenty of rarities and previously unreleased music). However, this set should be required listening for all soul/blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Broke & Hungry anthologyBroke & Hungry Records has continued the tradition started by visionaries like John and Alan Lomax, Sam Charters, Chris Strachwitz, and Axel Kuestner of finding and recording previously unheard rural blues musicians for the world to hear. Amazingly, during this time of nearly immediate mass communication via cell phones or the internet, musicians still slip through the cracks and are never heard by the record-buying public. B&H label head Jeff Konkel has managed to not only beat the odds in finding musicians to record, but he’s also beat the odds in keeping such a record label alive during these tough economic times when many others have gone belly-up. Konkel refers to this good fortune as a combination of “hubris,” “stubbornness,” and “dumb blind luck.”

Whatever the reasons may be, Broke & Hungry is celebrating its fifth year of existence. To commemorate the occasion, Konkel has put together a two-disc set with the catchy title Mistakes Were Made: Five Years of Raw Blues, Damaged Livers, & Questionable Business Decisions – A Broke & Hungry Retrospective. The collection features 30 tracks, taken from B&H’s seven releases, the label’s joint project (with Cat Head and Mudpuppy), M for Mississippi, plus an incredible 14 previously unreleased songs.

The previously released selections provide a thorough cross-section of the label’s history. Naturally, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes gets the most representation, being the label’s most prolific recording artists (three releases). Holmes emergence over the past five years has excited fans of the Bentonia style which had basically lain dormant after Jack Owens’ death in the late ’90s. But with each of his releases for Broke & Hungry, Holmes has shown that he’s no one trick pony, offering up more traditional Delta fare like the previously unissued track, “Eyesight To The Blind” and “All Night Long,” along with covers of Bentonia classics like “I’d Rather Be The Devil.”

The remainder of the Broke & Hungry catalog is also well-represented, with songs from the unpredictable Odell Harris, whose fusion of Hill Country and Delta blues was worth the incredible ordeal Konkel underwent to get him recorded, the mysterious Mississippi Marvel, who insisted on anonymity in order to avoid disturbing his church membership, the amiable Pat Thomas, and the wonderful partnership of Terry “Big T” Williams and the late Wesley Jefferson.

Konkel also includes four tracks from the M for Mississippi project, one from the Mississippi Marvel (“Evil”), and three others from non-B&H artists which should serve as enough encouragement for you to seek out those two CDs and DVD. These selections include R.L. Boyce’s raucous “Ain’t It Alright,” T-Model Ford’s acoustic take on “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” and L.C. Ulmer’s magnificent “Rosalie.”

The 14 previously unreleased tracks include eight cuts from previous sessions that are as strong as the songs that were included on the final products. Jefferson’s humorous “Cooter Mae” is a standout, and so is Williams’ “Taking Chance,” and Pat Thomas’ funky “Woke Up This Morning,” which features Thomas with young Delta drummer Lee Williams.

Six of the unreleased tracks are actually new tracks, recorded especially for this retrospective, courtesy of Terry “Harmonica” Bean and Bill Abel. Bean’s four tracks are somewhat different from his usual dynamic live performances. Here, he scales things down a bit, with more introspective performances, though the enthusiasm is still there on tracks like “Pretty Baby” and the instrumental, “Bean’s Boogie.” Abel, who has served as recording engineer on all of Broke & Hungry’s releases, offers a dazzling one-string diddley bow performance (“The Mississippi Diddley”) and a one-man-band Hill Country track (“No Hard Time (Get You Off My Mind)”). Hopefully, Konkel can find some time to get these two in the studio for a full CD soon.

If you’re a blues fan, especially a fan of the traditional, raw Mississippi blues, and you’ve not yet experienced the amazing music that Broke & Hungry Records has released over the past five years, I can’t think of a better place to get acquainted than with this collection. Once you hear it, you’ll definitely want to dig deeper.

--- Graham Clarke

Stevie JStevie J is a Mississippi native, the son of a preacher, and a 20-year vet of the Mississippi music scene, having played blues, soul, and gospel music. As Steve Johnson, he has enjoyed a long, productive relationship with Bobby Rush, serving as a guitarist with him and playing bass or guitar on several of his albums, as well as performing with Dorothy Moore, Denise LaSalle, Mel Waiters, and numerous artists on the Jackson, MS label, Malaco. Stevie J’s debut recording is an ambitious one, called The Diversity Project (Blue Skunk Music). It consists of two CDs, one focusing on blues, the other on southern soul.

The blues CD is titled Standin’ At The Station, and was inspired by Stevie J’s first appearance on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, where he mixed and mingled with other blues artists and decided to get his own blues songs recorded. As a blues artist, Stevie J has a modern high-energy attack, mixed with a healthy dose of funk (which would have to be a natural offshoot for anyone who works with Bobby Rush). He wrote six of the nine blues tracks, including the standout title track, the autobiographical “Born Again Bluesman,” “Yes I Love Da Blues,” and “Play The Blues Son.” He also tackles a trio of covers, including a funked-up, horn-driven version of Luther Allison’s “Standing In The Middle of The Road,” and a pensive take on Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation.”

Stevie J’s primary focus for his Mississippi audiences has been on the southern soul side of things, so his fans will love the second CD, Soul Sessions. Like most modern soul/blues, it’s got the usual overdubs, bells and whistles, but the songs are pretty strong, including the opener, “Married Girlfriend,” “Dam Near Crazy,” “Because of Me,” and the closer track, “Born and Raised,” a hip-hop collaboration with G. Gavino. There are three well-done cover tunes, including the irresistible George Clinton classic, “Cosmic Slop,” Larry Graham’s “Without You In My Life” (done as a tribute to Tyrone Davis), and John Mayer’s “Gravity.” The focus on these tracks is Stevie J’s vocals, which are well-suited to the soul/blues side.

Stevie J has been a regular at the past couple of International Blues BC’s in Memphis, representing the Central Mississippi Blues Society in 2009 and with this disc in the album category at this year’s event. The Diversity Project is well-titled. Folks around Mississippi know about Stevie J and his amazing talents and versatility. These entertaining discs should help get the word out to a deserved larger audience.

--- Graham Clarke

Rory BlockRory Block’s latest release, Shake ‘Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (Stony Plain), is the third volume of her “Mentor Series.” Her previous two releases were tributes to Robert Johnson and, most recently, Son House. This set varies somewhat from the previous two, in that Block actually wrote four compositions in homage to McDowell, plus she takes some liberties with the music itself…..while playing in McDowell’s driving, repetitive style, she also inserts her own guitar lines in with the riffs already in place.

Block’s original songs include what could be best described as a perceived autobiographical track, “Steady Freddy,” and “Mississippi Man,” which recounts the time she met McDowell in the mid ’60s. “Ancestral Home” and “The Breadline” both originated from McDowell arrangements that Block expanded on. With “Ancestral Home,” Block shows the close melodic relation to McDowell’s music and African music. “The Breadline” started out as an instrumental, but Block added lyrics to relate the tough economic times that McDowell faced during his time to the tough times that we all face today.

Block also covers some of McDowell’s most familiar songs. “Kokomo Blues,” “Good Morning Little School Girl” (which, yes, sometimes makes me as uncomfortable as she describes in the liner notes), a lusty version of “Shake ‘em on Down,” “Worried Mind,” and an intense reading of “Woke Up This Morning” are the highlights.

To me, the best tribute albums are not faithful reproductions of the subject’s music. The best tribute not only captures the sound, but more importantly the spirit of the artist….the passion that they brought to their own music. Rory Block actually met and was influenced by Fred McDowell, so she saw the passion and spirit first-hand and has lovingly recreated it. Blues fans owe her a measure of gratitude for her efforts to ensure that these ground-breaking blues men’s music continues to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve DawsonAfter hearing several of the past few releases from Black Hen Music from artists like Jim Byrnes, the Sojourners, and the wonderful Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Project, all of which were guided and supported by producer/guitarist Steve Dawson, I was curious about his own recordings. Dawson recently released his fifth solo effort, Nightshade, on Black Hen Music, and it’s amazingly diverse set of roots and blues.

Throughout Nightshade, Dawson sparkles on the stringed instrument of your choice…..acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, mandotar, National steel, slide guitar, Weissenborn, and pedal steel. He also has a relaxed and warm vocal style that is a smooth fit with his compositions.

Among the highlights are the somber “Darker Still,” “Have That Chance,” the banjo-driven “The Side of the Road” (influenced by Mississippi bluesman Skip James), the optimistic “Walk On,” “Fairweather Friends,” “We Won the War,” and the rocker, “Slow Turn.” The lone non-Dawson composition recalls the Mississippi Sheiks project, a great modernization of Walter Vinson’s “Gulf Coast Bay.”

The backing musicians (Geoff Hicks – drums, Chris Gestrin – keyboards, and Keith Lowe (bass) complement Dawson as if they’ve been playing together for years – actually they have – as do the backing vocals provided by Alice Dawson, Jenne Tolmie, and Jill Barber.

If you’ve recently enjoyed the impressive Black Hen Music releases, you will certainly find a lot to appreciate with this latest release by the guiding hand behind those efforts. Steve Dawson is considered a musical treasure by his many fans in Canada. It’s past time for him to be heard by a wider audience, and Nightshade has the potential to be that stepping stone.

--- Graham Clarke

Kevin SelfeKevin Selfe discovered the blues while in college studying Meteorology, when his roommate, a musician, turned him on to the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James. He graduated with a degree in Meteorology, but abandoned that line of work to concentrate on his music, joining up with the Fat Daddy Band, appearing with them at the 2002 IBC, and releasing three albums with them. He eventually decided to form his own band, The Tornadoes. Their latest release, Playing The Game (Blue Skunk Music), is a fine representation of old school blues styles, with a few modern flourishes tossed in.
Backed by a rock-solid rhythm section (Allen Markel – bass, Don Shultz – drums), Selfe rips through a set of original tunes that range from a West Side shuffle (“Just Like Pulling Teeth”) to funk (“Blues Don’t Take A Day Off”) to slow blues (“How Much Longer”) to jump blues (“Walking Funny”). “The Way She Moves” is reminiscent of ’50s era Chess Records, with some cool harmonica from Selfe.

“Lay It On the Table” is a solid uptempo number with some dazzling guitar work from Selfe. “Long Greasy Night” is another slow blues, this time Selfe’s slide guitar is front and center. “Good Dog To Kick” and the title track lean more toward blues/rock territory, but the closing track, “Pulled Pork,” is a smooth instrumental that borders on jazz. Selfe is more than comfortable playing all these different styles. Indeed, he’s one of the more versatile and intuitive guitarists you’ll hear, always with the right note in the right place. The vocals and songwriting are not far behind either.

Playing The Game is a mighty impressive release, with some wonderful traditional blues. Kevin Selfe and the Tornadoes are going to be making mighty music for a long time, if there’s any justice in the world. Do yourselves a favor and check out this disc. You won’t be disappointed.

--- Graham Clarke

Howard GlazerHoward Glazer and the El 34s’ latest release, Wired For Sound (Blue Skunk Music), is a sizzling set of high-energy electric blues in the tradition of Glazer’s previous efforts. Glazer has performed nationally and internationally, performing in festivals around the world. He’s played with numerous blues legends, including Johnny Winter, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, B. B. King, and Savoy Brown and is regarded as one of Detroit’s finest guitarists.

Glazer doesn’t play cookie-cutter blues by any means. He’s apt to mix his crunching electric blues/rock with a full horn section, The opening cut, “Touch My Heart,” features Glazer on searing slide guitar and also crunching out the meanest riffs this side of Buddy Guy before it concludes. “Happy In My Arms” is more of an R&B track with the horn section and chick singers, while “Living On The Edge” has a swampy, atmospheric feel. “Detroit Blues Party” is a hot party track that features the legendary David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and Detroit musicians Emanuel Young and Lady T…..and that’s just the first four tracks!

Other standout tracks include the slow burner, “Hurts So Badly,” with some exquisite guitar work from Glazer, the manic “Waiting For That Train,” the country blues “I Got A Good Girl” and the rocker, “ Me Out of Here,” both of which feature different facets of Glazer’s slide guitar. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, here comes “Reel Me In,” with funky wah-wah guitar and that tight horn section. The disc closes with a reprise of “Detroit Blues Party,” where blues poet John Sinclair joins the fun and the band really gets to stretch out. Sinclair also appears on the track, “Goodbye.”

Wired For Sound is a dynamite CD that has something for every discerning blues fan. Howard Glazer is an amazing versatile guitarist and takes on multiple blues styles on this set, handling all of them with ease. Anybody who can fit all of these styles on one CD (not to mention Honeyboy Edwards, Lady T, and John Sinclair on the same track) without it sounding like a jumbled mess should be required listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Grana LouiseGraná Louise is a rising star on the Chicago blues scene, having won the 2009 Chicago Blues Challenge and representing the Windy City in the next IBC in Memphis. She has wowed music fans in blues clubs, at festivals, and even in the theatre (having recently starred as blues legend Lucille Bogan) with her big robust vocal style. Her latest release, for Delmark Records, is Gettin’ Kinda Rough, and is a diverse mix of live and studio tracks that puts her vocal talents on full display.

The seven studio tracks were recorded at Riverside Studios in Chicago and feature Louise with most of her band, TroubleMaker (minus second guitarist Carlos Showers on the studio tracks). Lead guitarist Tom Holland, who plays lead guitar for James Cotton and leads his own band, The Shuffle Kings, shines from start to finish. Proving her ability to cross genres, Louise opens the disc with a dazzling remake of the old blues standard, “Stagger Lee,” and also covers Denise LaSalle’s soul blues classic, “Learning How To Cheat On You.” She wrote four of the studio cuts, including “Lead Foot Mama,” the ribald “Big Dick, M’issippi” and “Bang Bang Ba-Bang Bang Bang Bang!”

The live tracks are equally impressive, and feature Louise performing five blues classics of various styles, including a pair of soul nuggets (“I Can’t Stand The Rain,” “Wet Match”), swampy blues (“Queen Bee”), urban, down-in-the-alley blues (an excellent version of Cleanhead Vinson’s “Back Door Blues”), and even blues/rock (“Hey Joe,” the Jimi Hendrix favorite). Second guitarist Showers joins the band on these cuts.

Graná Louise has the potential to be a bright star in the future. Based on the strength and variety of Gettin’ Kinda Rough, she has the chops to make good on that promise, as a singer and a songwriter. This is powerful stuff.

--- Graham Clarke

Front Street BluesAround 2004, the members of the Front Street Blues Band got tired of playing the same old songs that thousands of other blues bands play all the time……the “Mustang Sally,” “Free Bird,” “Old Time Rock & Roll” set…..and decided to expand their horizons a bit. The band began playing jump blues and in less than two years, they became one of the best on the Detroit blues scene, winning one of the Detroit Blues Society’s competitions and representing the society in the 2007 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

The band’s second release, on Blue Skunk Music, is Blues Promised Land, and features 15 solid tracks of jump blues. Front man Brian Smith sings on most of the tracks and plays harmonica. Cliff McClanahan plays lead and rhythm guitar and provides vocals on three tracks, and the rhythm section of Tracy Garneau (bass) and Greg Manning (drums) provides stellar support. McClanahan wrote 11 of the tracks and Smith wrote two.

Highlights include the swinging title track, which opens the disc and features some dazzling keyboards from Tommy Piskor, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” with some stinging leads and fills from McClanahan, “She’s Too Much,” which has a cool late-night vibe, the rocker “Pay Some Attention,” and the pair of hard-luck tunes, “Five Dollars In My Shoe” and “Raggedy Old Suitcase.” Piskor also plays B3 on several tracks, including “Lose That Woman.”

Though their primary focus is on jump blues, the Front Street Blues Band also excels in straight blues and can rock things out, too. Blues Promised Land is a strong set that mixes jump blues and contemporary blues equally well, and is recommended listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Blues DragonBlues Dragon has been making a lot of blues-related noise down in South Florida for the past 10-plus years, with their high-energy take on traditional blues. Fronted by singer/bass player Mark Telesca, Blues Dragon’s mighty attack is driven by Mike “Big Dog” Hundley on guitar, Tony “The Reverend” Monaco on keyboards, John Boyle on harmonica, sax, flute, Fred Weng on drums, percussion and trumpet, and Rico Geragi on percussion. Their self-titled second release, on Blue Skunk Music, mixes electric blues and traditional blues on a dozen tracks.

The opening cut, “Bottle of Gin,” is a smooth rocker with some strong work on guitar, sax, and B3. “Electric Chair” features some inspired guitar from Hundley and harmonica from Boyle. The ballad, “The Kiss That Said Goodbye,” eases the tempo back a bit and features a strong vocal from Telesca, and the gospel tune, “This Train,” is driven by a funky second line rhythm. “I’d Do Anything” is a frantic little groover that clocks in at just under two minutes.

“I Just Want You To Understand” is a fine slow blues that really allows Hundley and Monaco to really stretch out. The ethereal closer, “Living On Death Row,” is different from anything else on the disc and shows the band really kicking up the intensity, vocally and instrumentally, and ends the disc on a potent note.

Blues Dragon covers all the stops on this powerful second release. Fans of high energy blues with a rock edge will enjoy this release.

--- Graham Clarke

Shots of BluesFans of blues music with a touch of soul will enjoy Benevolent Blues’ recent collection, Shots of Blues Volume 1. The disc gives listeners a taste of several of the artists who have recorded for the label, and includes a couple of songs not previously released on CD.

The soul side of blues is represented well by singers like Gregg A. Smith, who teams with Bobby Rush, Lucky Peterson, and labelmate Carl Marshall on the fun track, “Forever Young,” Dicky Williams (the oh-so-timely “Pain In The Gas Lane”), and Marshall (“Alberta”), but the primary focus for the majority of the disc is decidedly on the blues.

Label mainstay Travis “Moonchild” Haddix gets two tracks (the delicious, pardon the expression, “A Little Snack,” and an audio track from his recent DVD, “Don’t Get Too Comfortable”), as does blues rocker Ken Tucker (‘One Stop Man” and the sizzling “Street Walking Woman”). Other familiar voices include the great Chick Willis (“Looking For My Baby”) and Nellie “Tiger” Travis (“Amnesia”).

Some less familiar faces contribute some excellent tracks. A previously unreleased track from Nashville soul/blues man Clarence Dobbins, “That Kinda Love,” is the gem of this collection and will certainly make you want to hear more from him. Mississippian Vel Omarr has performed for years with various R&B and Doo-Wop groups, and he shows a distinct Sam Cooke influence on his soulful take of Charles Brown’s “Trouble Blues.” Uvee Hayes actually works in the St. Louis Public School system, but has recorded fairly regularly since the mid ’80s. Her offering is a swinging version of the Howlin’ Wolf classic, “Howling For My Darling.”

Shots of Blues Volume 1 is a great place to start exploring the list of Benevolent Blues recording artists. Chances are that you will doing more exploring on your own after listening to this fine compilation.

--- Graham Clarke

Midnight ShiftThe Pennsylvania band, Midnight Shift, is a four-piece group based in the Lehigh Valley that specializes in blues and rockabilly. Their last CD, 2005’s Bullet Proof, was a nice, well-rounded collection of songs in the same vein. Since that impressive debut release, the band has improved on what was pretty formidable to start with. Their latest release, the appropriately titled Rhythm Rockin’ Boogie (Cabernet Records) provides ample proof.

Singer/harp man Mike Mattalia still leads the group, but the rest of the ensemble is new since the last recording. Guitarist Mike McMillan, bass player Paul Pluta, and drummer Tim Smith are new to the band, but all have years of experience playing both blues and rockabilly and it shows on this strong 18-song set.

In addition, the band gets ample support from some familiar faces. Steve Guyger adds his impeccable harmonica to four tracks, most notably the title track, a rousing rocker with a hard-driving Bo Diddley beat. Tommy Conwell of The Young Rumblers also stops by and plays guitar on three smoking tracks, “Back To Her Heart,” the old Ray Charles side, “Mess Around,” and the “train” song, “The L&N,” which also features Guyger. Chicago Carl Snyder adds keyboards on a couple of tracks (“Low Cut Blouse” and “Back To Memphis,” which also features guitarist Christopher Dean). Slide guitarist Phil Pilorz and keyboard player Dan McKinney also contribute.

Other standout tracks include Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop,” with vocals from McMillan, who also wrote the surf guitar instrumental, “The Girl From Nogales,” the classic rocker, “Do the 45,” “Crash Into Love,” and the closing instrumental, “Back Off,” which gives Mattalia a chance to blow the back off his harmonica.

Rhythm Rockin’ Boogie is another stellar set from Midnight Shift, and hopefully one that will allow them to expand beyond that Lehigh Valley region. Visit the band’s website for more information and check out this CD at CD Baby.

--- Graham Clarke


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