Blues Bytes

What's New

March/April 2013

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Tinsley Ellis

Big Bill Morganfield

Ron Levy (book)

Ron Levy (CD)

Duke Robillard

Ronnie Earl

Grady Champion

Chris Antonik

Doug MacLeod

Hadden Sayers

Big Papa and the TCB

Rev. Jimmie Bratcher

Kelly Richey

Hitman Blues Band

Frank Bey

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Jesse Dee

Hadden Sayers

Brandon Santini

James Montgomery

Southern Hospitality

Sena Ehrhardt



Tinsley EllisAtlanta guitarist Tinsley Ellis has released 16 albums since the early ’80s, beginning with four as founder of Atlanta’s premier blues band, the Heartfixers. Since going solo in the late ’80s, he released 11 discs on Alligator, Capricorn, and Telarc, and has long been regarded as one of the finest of the newer generation of blues guitarists. For his 12th solo effort, 16th release overall, Ellis opted for his own label, Heartfixer Music, and for an all instrumental effort, Get It! On this latest album, Ellis lets his guitar do all the talking, as he shows his amazing versatility on the instrument, and pays tribute to some of his heroes while he’s at it.

The opener, “Front Street Freeze,” is a tribute to Albert Collins, as Ellis deals some classic stinging Iceman-like leads. The Crescent City-styled “Sassy Strat” struts along backed by Keven McKendree’s bouncy keyboards. McKendree is the secret weapon on this disc, showing almost as much versatility as Ellis. The lovely ballad, “The Milky Way,” is next and Ellis’s “twangy” leads will remind guitar fans of Duane Eddy. Next is a cool cover of Bo Diddley’s “Detour,” which is followed by the majestic “Anthem For A Fallen Hero,” Ellis’ tribute to the late, great Roy Buchanan.

The title track kicks off the second half of the disc, a rousing Texas shuffle. The rocker “Fuzzbuster” is equally strong, with keyboards pounding and Ellis working out the wah pedal as his screaming guitar almost replicates a human voice at times. “Freddy’s Midnight Dream” is a dazzling cover of Freddy King’s ballad and showcases some fine reflective Texas Cannonball-like picking, well “Berry Tossin’” sounds like vintage Chuck Berry, down to McKendree’s Johnnie Johnson channeling on piano. The disc closes with the gorgeous “Catalunya,” a tribute to the Catalonia region of Spain.

In additon to McKendree, Ellis is backed by drummer Lynn Williams, and Ted Pecchio, who plays bass on several tracks (Ellis plays bass on the rest). Get It! is a guitar fan’s dream, with its impressive variety of blues styles and the incredible six-string skills of Tinsley Ellis on full display.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Bill MorganfieldSince his debut release in 1999, Big Bill Morganfield has been offering up his vision of the blues, traditional Chicago blues sounds (as the son of Muddy Waters, this seems appropriate) along with some of the genre’s own roots (acoustic country blues and the slicker, jazzier urban blues). This journey has led to several excellent and well-received releases, three with Blind Pig, one with Taxim, and his last one, from 2009, with Black Shuck Records, and Morganfield has continued to develop into a strong guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter.

Morganfield’s latest, also on Black Shuck Records, is called Blues With A Mood. This set stays closer to his traditional roots, which will please fans of his father, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. Lending Morganfield a hand is a veritable all-star team of musicians including guitarists Eddie Taylor, Jr. and Colin Linden (who also produced), piano man Augie Meyers, bassist Mookie Brill, drummer Chuck Cotton, harmonica player Doc Malone, and sax man Jim Horn. There are also guest appearances from guitarist Bob Margolin, harp wizard Steve Guyger, guitarist Brian Biesei, and piano player Clark Stern.

Morganfield wrote seven of the 11 tracks on Blues With A Mood, some of them touching on topical or serious issues, such as “Money’s Getting Cheaper” a lament about the current economy that most blues fans can relate to, “Devil At My Door,” a tune most Muddy-like in its approach and delivery, or “Hot Love.” On other tunes, Morganfield lightens the mood considerably, such as “No Butter For My Grits,” “Tight Things,” and “Another Lonely Night.” On the autobiographical closer, “Son Of The Blues,” features Morganfield telling about he knew it was his destiny to play the blues, even though he was not raised by his father (and was somewhat bitter about it).

Morganfield also covers four tunes, his father’s “Look What You Done,” the Memphis Slim rocker, “Havin’ Fun,” Willie Dixon’s “Ooh Wee” (also done by his dad), and Junior Parker’s “I Feel Alright Again.” Vocally, Morganfield does sound like his father. On several tracks, he shares lead guitar duties with Taylor and Linden, but on the closing tune, he takes all the leads himself. The three guitarists mesh together pretty well, reminescent of Morganfield’s late father’s work with Jimmy Rogers in the early days. The musicians all do a fine job in support and give the recording a traditional feel.

Big Bill Morganfield continues to develop and to impress with this latest release. He’s an excellent performer and songwriter and shows (along with his sibling Mud Morganfield) that the blues bloodline continues in the Muddy Waters family tree unabated.

--- Graham Clarke

Ron Levy bookChances are that if you’ve listened to a blues recording of any kind since the mid ’80s, Ron Levy probably either played on it or produced it. The keyboardist got his start in the ’60s as a teenager in Albert King’s band, then served a lengthy tenure in B.B. King’s band, appearing on a dozen of his recordings (including Live at Cook County Jail). The ’80s saw Levy working with Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson and Roomful of Blues. He appeared on several Roomful recordings for Rounder and Black Top during the 80’s, and soon found himself serving as Black Top’s house keyboardist and associate producer.

Levy obviously learned his lessons well, as he moved into the ’90s and co-founded Rounder Records subsidiary Bullseye Blues, producing and playing on nearly all of the labels recordings. From there, he co-founded Cannonball Blues and Jazz Records, where he produced recordings from Bernard Allison, Big John Dickerson, Johnnie Bassett, Melvin Sparks, and Alberta Adams in the late ’90s. Currently, Levy runs his own label, Levtron Records, where he releases his own recordings (see below) and has also taken part in one of a most unique and innovative project, a web-book that exhaustively covers his 40+year performing and recording history.

Tales of a Road Dog is an amazing undertaking….a book that features over a thousand photos from or related to his career, with over 250 videos. The cool thing about this format is that Levy will be able to continue to add songs, video, and stories in perpetuity, and people who purchase the web-book will have access to all of this as it is added, plus the ability to download Levy’s latest CD. Another neat feature is the ability to email Levy at the end of each chapter if you have any questions or comments about what you’ve just read.

Levy has come into contact with basically everybody who is anybody in the blues genre since the late ’60s, and he has wonderful stories and anecdotes to tell about nearly all of them. The stories that are told are told in fun and to entertain and inform, and Levy has an incredible attention to detail, considering many of these stories occurred 30 or 40 years ago. Some wonderful characters are introduced and there’s some interesting background on some of the artists Levy worked with, like Albert King, B.B. King, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, Willie Mitchell, and the members of Roomful of Blues, along with many of the other characters he’s encountered over the years.

Obviously, given Levy’s seemingly limitless memory and boundless enthusiasm for telling these stories, he’s had a blast bringing this format to life. Blues fans won’t be able to put this down, or log off in this case. Tales of a Road Dog is an excellent read and hopefully will provide additional entertainment and information for readers for many years into the future, and hopefully pave the way for more web-books of the same type. The possibilities are endless.

--- Graham Clarke

Ron Levy CDFunky Fiesta!, the latest release from Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom on Levy’s Levtron Records, features just about everything you would expect from a Ron Levy, an all-instrumental effort that focuses on keyboards and horns and mixes blues, jazz, funk, R&B, fusion, and Crescent City rhythms into an irresistible musical gumbo…and that’s just the first song! It gets even better from there.

Levy produced the disc, composed and arranged all the songs, played all the keyboards, bass, drums and programming, percussion, vibraphone, guitars, and probably catered the meals and parked cars during the session. He’s joined by a monster horn section that features longtime collaborator “Sax” Gordon (tenor sax), Scott Shetler (tenor sax, clarinet, and charts), Mark Early (baritone sax), Doug Woolverton (trumpet and flugelhorn) and good friend and musical partner Lil’ Joe Burton (trombone).

The aforementioned opener, titled “Bunga Bunga Akimbo,” is a kitchen sink number, with Levy’s swirling organ, a nasty funky bass line, Sax Beadle’s tenor sax in the middle, and some dynamic percussion and horn charts. In the dictionary, under “opening cuts,” this song should be listed. It’s a terrific way to kick things off, and it gets better. More funk follows with “Rebbe of Rhythm,” with Levy’s keys backed by trash can lid percussion and synthesizers, giving it a retro 80’s R&B feel. “Back In The Back” has a film noir feel, with Levy on vibraphone and ominous organ.

“Badd Mannish Boyz” combines the blues with modern urban music, and “Street Beats,” is a funky little piece of pop/jazz fusion. The brassy “Saxy Girl” finds Levy on piano and organ, with synth and saxophone backing, and “Hittin’ It Hahd & Sweet” showcases more vibraphone and clavinet along with Jeff “Lockhart Monster” Lockhart’s funky guitar. “Phunky Memories,” as expected, mixes funk with old school R&B, and the low-key “Sunny Sunday” features more vibraphone backed by percolating synth-bass.

The break-neck title track is a highlight, with its frantic pace and equally frantic organ work and horns. If this one doesn’t help you get the old cardio up, you should probably seek medical attention. The reflective closing track, “Someday,” reminds me a lot of those late ’70s/early ’80s fusion jazz recordings that were prevalent way back then.

Funky Fiesta! shows Ron Levy at his most creative as a composer and musician. Occasionally, on all-instrumental recordings, a certain sameness eventually creeps in, but that’s rarely, if ever, the case with any of Levy’s recordings. Indeed, with each listen of this disc, you find something that you missed hearing the first time around, and you definitely will be taking in repeated listenings of this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Duke RobillardYou pretty much know what you’re going to get with a Duke Robillard release, and it doesn’t bother you a bit. The guitarist has always mixed his brand of blues with jazz, swing, and even early rock & roll. His songwriting is always a cut above and his taste in recording other’s material is impeccable. Every other year or so, Duke Robillard’s fans are blessed with another excellent release and this year’s effort, Independently Blue (Stony Plain), is no exception to the rule.

There is one wild card included this time around, guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch joins the fun as a special guest and he helps provide some good-natured “head-cutting” with Robillard on several tracks, notably on a couple of Welch-penned instrumentals, “Stapled To The Chicken’s Back” and the wonderful “This Man, This Monster.” Another instrumental highlight is the jazzy urban blues of “Strollin’ With Lowell and BB,” which also gives keyboardist Bruce Bears a moment in the spotlight.

Robillard’s longtime buddy and former Roomful of Blues band mate Al Basile also contributes three tracks, the rowdy opener, “I Woudn’t-a Done That,” the electified country blues track, “Below Zero” (co-written with Robillard), and “I’m Still Laughing.” Robillard’s own compositions include the rock and roller “Laurene” (named for his wife), “You Won’t Ever,” which has a Motown feel to it, and the funky “Groovin’ Slow.”

The ethereal “Moongate,” inspired by a visit to a mansion in the Berkshire Mountains, is also a highlight, and a dazzling cover of the old Red Allen tune, “Patrol Wagon Blues,” which features horns from Doug Woolverton and Billy Novick.

Providing great support to the two guitarists are Bears (keyboards), Mark Teixeira (drums), and Brad Hallen (bass), with Woolverton (trumpet) and Novick (clarinet) guesting on a couple of tracks as well. Independently Blue is another standout release from Duke Robillard, who, as far back as I can remember, has never released anything that wasn’t the highest of quality. However, the added presence of Welch on these tracks makes a great release even better.

--- Graham Clarke

Ronnie EarlRonnie Earl and the Broadcasters are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and are regarded as one of the best blues bands assembled. Earl never hits a false note and his synergy with the group is flawless….he and keyboardist Dave Limina always seem to be on the same wavelength. This makes for rewarding listening for anyone who takes in one of their routinely fine CD releases.

Earl’s latest effort, Just For Today, is his seventh album for the Stony Plain label, and collects live performances from three locales – The Regent Theatre, The Natick Center for the Arts, and The Narrows Center for the Arts, all in Earl’s home state of Massachusetts. Earl’s mastery of blues and jazz guitar is on full display, as he pays tribute to several of his guitar heroes….Otis Rush (“Rush Hour”), Hubert Sumlin (“Blues for Hubert Sumlin”), and Robert Nighthawk (“Robert Nighthawk Stomp”).

On tracks like the strong opener, “The Big Train,” and the rousing “Vernice’s Boogie,” Earl and Limina’s rapport is perfect. The John Coltrane classic, “Equinox,” gets a Latin-styled reworking, and tracks like “Miracle,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Pastorale” have an almost spiritual feel. There are also impressive reworkings of blues classics like “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” the latter featuring a guest vocal performance from Diana Blue.

In addition to Limina, special notice must also be given to Earl’s peerless rhythm section (Jim Mouradian – bass, Lorne Entress – drums), who, with the keyboardist, have been providing outstanding support for Earl for over 13 years. Guitarist Nicholas Tabarias joins for two tracks (“Rush Hour” and the raw original, “Jukein’”).

Many of these tracks are between six and nine minutes long, but unless you look at the liner notes, you’ll never know. Earl’s fretwork is ceaselessly original what he has to say is always worth hearing. If you’re a longtime fan of Ronnie Earl, you know what you’re getting with Just For Today, a fantastic guitarist pouring everything he has into every performance. For newcomers, this disc will serve as a great introduction and encourage you to dig deeper.

--- Graham Clarke

Grady ChampionTough Times Don’t Last, the latest release from Grady Shady Music by Grady Champion, finds the Mississippi bluesman in fine form, showcasing a dozen of his own compositions in his usual genre-busting style, mixing blues with R&B, funk, and rock. More so than on previous releases, Champion’s songs touch on contemporary issues in an impressive, unblinking manner.

The opening cut, “My Time Baby,” features Champion’s growling vocal with his harmonica and Thomasine Anderson’s background vocals. It’s one of the bluesiest tracks on the disc and sets the mood pretty well for starters. “Missing You” shows Champion’s R&B side with a smooth backbeat and sweet harmony vocals again from Anderson. On the autobiographical “Mississippi Pride,” Champion wistfully recalls his upbringing with imagery so vivid, you can smell the magnolia blossoms and taste the corn bread and catfish.

“Trust Yourself” is one of several tracks on the disc that tackle topical themes, in this case lifting one up above daily adversity. On the rock-edged blues track, “Broken Down Cadillac,” Champion takes on lead guitar duties. Chris Gill’s acoustic guitar and Champion’s harmonica drive the swampy gospel-flavored “Glory Train.” Champion picks up guitar again, contributing some B.B.-esque stinging leads, or the urban blues “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.”

The title track is an old-school country soul number with an upbeat message about showing grit and determination. It features a rarity, at least on a blues record….a clarinet solo, courtesy of Amy Lott. “On The Road” is a spare, funky R&B track with a hypnotic vocal refrain. “Ghetto” continues along the R&B vein, sounding like an early tune with some fine guitar work from Nathan Keck, and more autobiographical lyrics from Champion. “Cookie Jar” returns the disc to the blues, with it’s atmospherical harmonica backing and Champion’s vocal snarl paying tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. The closer is a seasonal track, “What Would Christmas Be Without You.”

Champion has some excellent support on hand for this release, with Gill, Keck, Caleb Armstrong, and Granard McClendon (guitars), a trio of keyboardists (Larry Addison, Kevin Culver, Steve Wilkerson), Lott (Clarinet), Marquis Champion (bass), and Lil’ Cal Jackson (drums), along with Anderson’s backing vocals.
Grady Champion continues to impress with his always-interesting blues vision, which manages to evenly balance traditional blues sounds with modern flourishes of R&B and soul. Tough Times Don’t Last is another great addition to his ever-expanding catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris AntonikChris Antonik received a lot of positive attention with his self-titled debut release in 2010. That release was a near-perfect mix of traditional and contemporary blues, with well-chosen covers, plus exceptional original tunes and guitar work from Antonik, who left most of the vocal duties to Josh Williams, Henry Lees, and Mark “Bird” Stafford. It also garnered Antonik a nomination for Best New Artist of the Year and Canada’s national Maple Blues Awards. Antonik’s sophomore effort, Better For You, finds the talented guitarist stepping behind the mic more than on his previous release. He also penned 10 of the 11 tracks.

A lot has happened in Antonik’s life since his previous release, including the birth of a son. Many of the songs on Better For You deal with relationships, both building and rebuilding them, and trying to not only get by in an imperfect world, but to do better as an individual. Songs like the moving title track, an “after hours” blues about improving a relationship, the modern blues track, “Tell Me What You Need,” and the sweet gospel-influenced “I’ll Help You Through,” are first-rate examples of this train of thought.

The opening track, “Long Way To Go,” gets the disc off to a rousing start with Antonik singing and sparring musically with guest harp man Steve Marriner of MonkeyJunk. “Turn To Shine” is an upbeat tune that Antonik wrote in honor of his wife, with vocals by Josh Williams, who also plays Hammond organ on this and most of the rest of the disc. The positive and upbeat “Come From A Good Place,” featuring sultry singer Shakura S’Aida, follows, a song inspired by Antonik’s new son. Derek Trucks Band lead singer Mike Mattison adds his distinctive and soulful vocals to “Broken Man,” a wonderful genre-crossing tune dealing with heartbreak, and Antonik and Williams (on harmonica and vocals) team up for an acoustic version of the disc’s lone cover tune, Big Walter Horton’s “Have A Good Time.”

Antonik, who only sang on one track (Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble”) on his debut, takes the remainder of the vocal duties on the second half of the disc, except for one track by Williams (the funky “Nothing I Can Do”). He acquits himself well with his gruff and understated style. Hopefully, he will continue to develop in this area. He does a fine job on “So Tired,” a song about life on the road that packs a punch, courtesy of the splendid horn section (Rickard Underhill – alto sax, Perry White – tenor sax, William Sperandei – trumpet, William Carn - trombone) present here and on several other tracks.

Also lending a hand are Chris Chiarelli (drums) and Andrew Taylor (bass), plus Suzie Vinnick and Gavin Hope (harmony vocals), Julian Fauth (piano), Ben Fisher (rhythm guitar) and Ted Onyszczak (bass) on selected tracks. Chris Antonik does a fine job of evading the dreaded sophomore jinx with Better For You. For this release, he steps out more as a composer and singer (the guitar skills were already there and continue to be), and not only equals his dynamite debut release, but improves upon it in many ways.

--- Graham Clarke

Doug MacLeodDoug MacLeod is a blues artist in the tradition of the traveling bluesmen from the genre’s early days. He worked as a sideman for artists like Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Eddie “Cleanhead Vinson, Big Mama T hornton, and George “Harmonica” Smith and has become known for his amazing acoustic guitar work, his songwriting and storytelling, and his showmanship. Over the past 30 years, he has released numerous records (live and studio), DVDs, and his songs have been recorded by artists like Albert King, Joe Louis Walker, Albert Collins, and Eva Cassidy.

MacLeod’s latest release is a “live in the studio” effort for Reference Recordings called There’s A Time. Joined by drummer Jimi Bott and bassist Denny Croy, MacLeod offers 13 original tunes that showcase his songwriting talents. Tracks like the swinging “Rosa Lee” and the slow blues, “Black Nights,” get the disc off to a promising start. “The Up Song” offers encouragement, and “My Inlaws Are Outlaws,” gives us a taste of MacLeod’s sense of humor, as does “St. Elmo’s Rooms and Pool.” The gently rolling “A Ticket Out” is another highlight.

“The Entitled Few” is one of three “talking blues” tracks. The others are “Run With The Devil” and “Dubb’s Talkin’ Religion Blues.” “I’ll Be Walking On” finds MacLeod trying to end a relationship on peaceful terms, while “East Carolina Woman” finds him pondering whether he’s running away from a relationship or running from himself, and “The Night Of The Devil’s Road” has an ominous spooky Delta vibe.

MacLeod’s guitar work is amazing in its versatility, and his vocals are superb. The songwriting is highly personal, but touches on themes that listeners can easily relate to. There’s A Time is a fine addition to Doug MacLeod’s already impressive catalog of recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Hadden SayersAfter a series of personal setbacks derailed his career for a period of time, Houston bluesman Hadden Sayers returned to the music scene in 2011 with his release, Hard Dollar. The single, “Back to the Blues,” was nominated for Song of the Year at the BMAs and the album helped restart his music career and got him back out on the road again, doing over 100 gigs throughout the country.

Sayers wrote nearly all of the songs for his new recording while on the road, making the title of his new disc, Rolling Soul (Blue Corn Music), an appropriate one. Different people from different towns with different stories of their own inspired Sayers to write these songs, which are basically heartfelt studies of the human condition.

The funky rocker “Don’t Take Your Love (Out On Me)” kicks off the disc with Sayers’ wah-wah guitar combining with Jim Ed Cobbs’ clavinet with interesting results. “Something Wrong In The World” is a soulful track that Sayers wrote in response to hearing of the death of one of his musical mentors. “Want What You Have” and “Unlucky” are both rowdy roadhouse rockers while “Alone With The Blues” is a slow blues with the aching lament, “if you ain’t got nothin’, you ain’t got nothin’ to lose.”

“That’s What You Do” features vocals from Ruthie Foster, who hired Sayers as a guitarist, triggering his comeback. The tender, heartfelt, country-tinged “The Man I’m Supposed to Be” was penned by Sayers to his wife. “Crazy Enough” is a good old Texas shuffle, while “Tippin’ In” swings relentlessly. “Insomniac Blues” is a restless after-hours track with some smooth piano accompaniment from Dave DeWitt.

Sayers is backed by a solid core of musicians that include Cobbs, DeWitt, Foster, Mark Frye (bass), Tony McClung (drums), and Phil Clark (sax, harmonica). Rolling Soul has more of a soul/R&B bent that Sayers’ previous releases, but that’s just fine because the songs and performances are as outstanding here as on his last effort. Plan on hearing much more from this talented artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Big PapaJump blues fans needing a fix would do well to seek out the new CD by Big Papa and the TCB, Six Pack Of Cool (Inland Blue Records). This swinging six-piece band has recently been involved (via their song, “Go Big Papa!”) in Papa John’s Pizza’s national television ad campaign over the last two years, including a commercial appearance during this year’s Super Bowl. Their sound mixes jump blues with rock and swing, and they have played with a variety of blues artists, including Robert Cray, Coco Montoya, Tommy Castro, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers. They’ve also had a couple of songs appear on A&E’s series, Breakout Kings.

Fronted by singer/guitarist Chris “Big Papa” Thayer, the group includes Steve Brown (bass), Ray Wilson (drums), John Mila De La Roca (piano), Maurice Oliva (saxophone), and Marques Crews (trumpet). This newest release returns the band to their jump blues and swing roots with 13 dazzling tunes, 12 originals penned by the group. They include a rousing set of jumpers including the opener, “Papa’s In Da House,” “Drink Drank Drunk,” “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” “A Lil’ Bit O’ Somethin’,” and the positively manic “Showtime.”

Guitar slinger/vocalist Gino Matteo joins the band on the funky mid-tempo “Crazy ‘Bout The Girl,” and the band shines on the slower numbers like “200 Lbs of Trouble,” “My Way Back Home,” and “The More Things Change.” Other tracks, like “Big Bad Blues,” “Baby’s Got A New Friend,” and “Wait Till Yo Daddy Getz Home,” have a New Orleans flavor to them. The band also covers Piazza’s menacing “Murder In The First Degree.”

Thayer is a fine front man, with a powerful and versatile voice, playing it cool, tender, or tough. The band is outstanding, and additional musicians include Tom Cook (trombone), Darrian Larkins-Thayer (backing vocals), and Phoebe Thayer (slide whistle). It all adds up to a most impressive release that should definitely get you on your feet and keep you there for a while.

--- Graham Clarke

Jimmie BratcherThe Rev. Jimmie Bratcher is the genuine article….an actual preacher who plays the blues. When asked about this apparent conflict (at least to some people), Bratcher explains that, in his opinion, “there are only two kinds of music – good and bad – and hopefully I’m making some of the good kind.” One listen to his seventh, and latest release, Secretly Famous, and you will be inclined to agree with his assessment, as Bratcher goes back to the blues-rock influences that inspired him to pick up a guitar in the first place.

Bratcher wrote most of the songs (10 of 12) and they are all strong, ranging from “57,” a funky tribute to the Shure SM57 microphone, one of the most-used mics in rock and roll, to the swinging “Feel Like Friday,” to the love song, “It Just Feels Right,” written for his wife, to the humorous “Bologna Sandwich Man,” an ode to that highly underrated and underappreciated sandwich meat.

Other highlights include the opener, “Jupiter and Mars,” which Bratcher co-wrote with his son, Jason, the rowdy Texas shuffle, “Check Your Blues At The Door,” the defiant “When I Fall Apart,” and “Starting All Over Again,” a blues rocker about second chances. Bratcher also covers John Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road,” rocking it up in the process, and bares his soul on a gripping version of The Association’s “Never My Love.”

Bratcher is a talented and versatile guitarist and vocally, he’s sometimes brings to mind Lyle Lovett. Backing him are band members Craig Kew (bass/background vocals) and Lester Estelle, Jr. (drums/background vocals), with guest musicians Rick Steff (keyboards) and background vocalists Kimberlie Helton, Vicki Atkin, Jake Vest, and Tommy Conner. Secretly Famous is a fun and inspiring release that will definitely satisfy roots fans and blues rockers alike.

--- Graham Clarke

Kelly RicheyKelly Richey’s career spans over 30 years. Her pile-driving guitar style and sinewy vocals show influences from artists like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lee Hooker, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Since forming her own band in the early ’90s, Richey had recorded 14 albums of her no-nonsense blues/rock, and Sweet Spirit (Sweet Lucy Records) may be her best yet.

Richey’s latest offering features ten songs, the longest clocking in at nearly four minutes, a relatively short running time for recordings these days, but when the songs and performances are this good, you find yourself disappointed when you get to the end of the disc. Richey wrote all the songs and is backed by a dynamic rhythm section (Freekbass – bass, Robby Cosenza- drums). Keyboards are added on various tracks by Bernie Worrell, Robert Lee Carroll, and J. Tom Hnatow, and producer Duane Lundy and Dave Farris add percussion.

Though the songs are brief by today’s standards, they pack a punch. Highlights include “I Went Down Easy,” a blues/rock boogie, the scorching rockers “Leave It All Behind” “One Way Ticket,” and “Fast Drivin’ Mama,” the introspective “Everybody Needs A Change,” and “Dyin’,” a haunting, atmospheric track about making the final journey. The anthemic “Hard Workin’ Woman” closes the disc in rousing style.

Sweet Spirit, though relatively brief at 31 minutes, is a well-spent half hour for blues/rock fans. This incredibly tight set captures Kelly Richey at her best, with her powerful vocals, crisp, concise guitar work, and a powerhouse band in support. If you’re disappointed because it’s over, just start it over again….it’s just as good the second time around.

--- Graham Clarke

Hitman Blues BandThe new release from The Hitman Blues Band, Blues Enough (Nerus Records), features more of the blues/rock that has made them such a popular draw in the New York area for over 20 years. The main difference this time around on their fifth release is the addition of a three-piece horn section for the duration of the album, giving their sound a little extra punch. Fronted by guitarist/singer Russell “Hitman” Alexander, who also wrote all 11 of the tracks, the band also features Kevin Rymer (keyboards), Mike Porter (bass), Guy LaFountaine (drums), and the previously mentioned horn section (Michael Snyder – saxes, Eric Altarac – trumpet, Alan Alpert – trombone).

The rock-fused title track kicks off the disc in appropriate fashion and quickly moves to “Sam The Bluzman,” a swinging tribute to the late jump blues musician Sam “The Bluzman” Taylor, who passed away in 2009. The Latin-flavored “Fishing Where The Fish Are” puts out some sound advice, followed by “Backhand Drive,” which features some scorching slidework and double entendre lyrics. “Every Piece Of Me” is a nice slow soul ballad with a nice vocal turn from Alexander and greasy Memphis-style keyboard work from Rymer.

The Texas shuffle, “Everything You Do” is a standout with more great slide work from Alexander and some tasty piano from Rymer. “Streets of Downtown” is a rock ballad dealing with the plight of street people. “Life’s Too Short” is another swing number that adds harmonica from Neil Alexander to the mix, and “Better Class Of Bums” blends urban blues with jazz. The soul-drenched “Deaf, Dumb & Blind” showcases Alexander’s strong vocals again, with the band giving it their all in support. The closer, “Tough Street,” is a slide guitar fan’s dream.

Blues Enough is a fine set of original tunes. I really like the addition of horns to the band’s sound, which was already pretty potent before their arrival. Their presence makes a good band and recording a great one.

--- Graham Clarke

Frank BeyAt the age of four, Frank Bey started singing in a gospel quartet with his brother and cousins, appearing on radio and at numerous live appearances as The Rising Sons. At 17, he took a job with Otis Redding as his driver/valet, also serving as Redding’s opening act. While with Redding, Bey improved his singing and performing skills, but went on a long hiatus from the music business during the ’80s and ’90s, returning in recent years to become a mainstay on the Philadelphia music scene.

Guitarist/singer Anthony Paule has been a part of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene for many years, touring and recording with artists like Boz Scaggs, Charlie Musselwhite, The Johnny Nocturne Band, Jackie Payne, Phil Guy, Maria Muldaur, Barbara Lynn, Johnny Adams, and Mark Hummel. He’s also released two albums and fronts his own band, which features Paul Revelli (drums), Tony Lufrano (keyboards), Paul Olguin (bass), and a tight horn section (Mike Rinta – trombone, Nancy Wright – tenor saxophone, Steffen Kuehn – trumpet).

Bay Area radio host Noel Hayes ("Wednesday Blues With Noel") heard Bey at a Philadelphia club and eventually helped book Bey in San Francisco, where he slowing began to build a loyal group of fans. Hayes got the idea to pair Bey with Paule and his band for a live recording at Biscuits and Blues….the results being the new Blue Dot Records release, You Don’t Know Nothing.

Playing before an enthusiastic audience, Bey, Paule and the band work through a dynamic set of ten songs, mostly cover material. Bey’s robust vocals are a plus and he shines on a group of soul/blues classics like “Ain’t That Loving You,” “Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time,” “You’ve Got To Hurt Before You Heal,” “Midnight and Day,” “Hard Times,” and the title track. Paule’s guitar work is excellent in support of Bey and he even takes the mic on his swinging composition, “Can’t Get The Time Of Day.” Paule’s band provides superlative backing throughout.

Apparently, Noel Hayes knew what he was doing, pairing this first-rate singer and guitarist, because You Don’t Know Nothing is a great live set of old-school blues and R&B. Hopefully, we will hear more from this group in the near future….maybe a studio release or two.

--- Graham Clarke

Arthur CrudupThis is a really nice find….Delmark Records recently unearthed this 1969 session from the late blues singer/songwriter/guitarist Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, cut in Chicago with a group of musicians that included guitarist Jimmy Dawkins and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. The session, entitled Sunny Road, was Crudup’s third session for Delmark, but for some reason was never released.

For the uninitiated, Crudup was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite blues artists. Presley recorded three of his songs, including his first record, “That’s All Right, Mama.” His guitar style was pretty basic, rudimentary, but he was an above-average singer and songwriter who wrote tunes like “So Glad You’re Mine,” “Rock Me Mama,” and “Who’s Been Foolin’ You.” By the time he arrived at Delmark, he had been out of the music business for a while, working as a sharecropper, but his skills were relatively intact, judging by this session.

The title track opens the disc and finds Crudup in good voice, and he even quotes his now-famous “That’s All Right, Mama” in one of the verses. “Please Don’t Leave Me With The Blues” is a solid track that cuts off after two minutes, like it might have been a work in-progress. Dawkins plays on three tracks, including “She Gives Me A Thrill,” which features Crudup singing the praises of his 16-year-old girl, who he says may be young, but has “old ideas.”

All of the songs are strong and Crudup sounds great. Other standout tracks include “Mistake I Made in L.A.,” apparently taken from a personal experience, “I Have Called Up China,” which features more six-stringed support from Dawkins, and “I’m Leavin’ Town.” There’s also some amusing studio conversation between Crudup and producer/Delmark owner Bob Koester, who also contributed the liner notes to the disc.

There are a couple of items of note to consider from this session. First, Crudup recorded all but two of these tracks with his guitar plugged into the same rotating Leslie speaker that Buddy Guy used for a couple of tracks on Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues album a couple of years earlier, giving his fretwork a decidedly keyboard-like effect on those tracks. Also, Crudup was pretty downhearted, thinking of the recent death of his wife.

Where the effects of the Leslie showed in his fretwork, his depression showed in his simple, heartfelt songs and his sometimes emotion-wracked vocals, most notably in the closing track, “All I Got Is Gone,” which comes as close to the real deal blues as you will ever hear. Crudup, backed by Dawkins’ sympathetic guitar, bares his soul on this track, lamenting the loss of his wife and the direness of his situation, and the effect is chilling.

Smith provides excellent rhythmic support, and also contributing are Mike Thompson, who plays guitar on “Please Don’t Leave Me With The Blues,” and Mark Thompson, who plays bass on several tracks.

Sunny Road is as deep and personal a blues album as you’re likely to find. Despite the easy, laidback feel of the music, the intensity and emotion of the material and Crudup’s performance lift this set way above standard fare.

--- Graham Clarke

Jesse DeeThe wind definitely blows along the Front Range here in Colorado, but that pales in comparison to the storm that hit my living room when I put Jesse Dee’s disc, On My Mind / In My Heart, into my CD player and hit play. This young artist from Boston has an old world soul and has managed to put together one of the freshest sounding discs I’ve heard in a long, long time. A significant addition to Alligator Record’s catalog of artists, Jesse Dee is going to be heard from for a long time to come and that’s a good thing. So let’s hit play and give the disc a spin.

We start with the title track, “On My Mind, In My Heart,” and we hear Jesse re-affirming his love for a girl who lives apart from him in another part of the country. “We’re bound by our love…our bones and our blood…our minds and our memories!” Jesse is true to this girl and for as long as their love lasts, they’ll always be together. A drum intro leads us to our next cut, “No Matter Where I Am.” Here we find that Jesse is more than happy to offer his assistance to the object of his affection. “So when you’ve lost your faith…and when everything around you…starts to feel like it’s coming un-done…I’ll be your super glue…you can call me and I’ll come running…no matter where I am!” Jesse’s definitely true to his word and if that doesn’t reassure her, nothing will.

“Fussin’ and Fightin’” is up next and Jesse is lamenting the rough spot that he finds his relationship in. “But we’re just waiting our time…if we’re not trying to find…a way to come together and love each other…put our differences aside…stop fussin’ and fightin.’ I have a feeling they will find common ground and be able to move forward soon.

The next tune up is “I Won’t Forget About You,” and here we find Jesse reflecting on a girl from his past. “You’re not the words to this song….you’re not the conversation that I can’t remember…even though I thought I could…it don’t matter what you…no matter what I do…whatever comes what may…I won’t forget about you!” Jesse’s loyal to those he loved in his life and she’s lucky to have known him. Trouble seems to brewing in our next tune, “Tell Me (Before It’s Too Late),” and Jesse is concerned about the actions of the woman he loves. “I can see by the pain in your eyes…that something’s wrong…so tell me…tell me before its too late!” Jesse would rather face their problems head on, but he needs her to tell him what’s wrong. Here’s hoping for their sake she finds the strength to do so.

“From the Start” features Jesse singing a duet with Rachael Price. Sometimes love is indeed blind and the love of your life is standing right there in front of you. Jesse and Rachael both seem to come to that conclusion at the same time. “I should have known…we find love…and get together somehow….after all these years…thought I’d never find you but here you are…waiting for me from the start!” It’s a beautiful song and features great vocals from both Jesse and Rachael.

Life hasn’t always been easy for Jesse and he’s not shy about telling us about it in “The Only Remedy.” “Now I can say I’ve learned my lesson…I guess I never knew…just what I was missing….until the day you came along…you proved me wrong…you turned my backwards world around…I wish I knew then…what I know now!” The love of a good woman has turned Jesse’s world around 180 degrees and he’s back on the right track with a love to believe in. “Your love was the only remedy…that could cure me from misery!”

This theme of pondering love continues on in our next cut, “What’s a Boy like Me to Do?” Here we find that Jesse’s woman is being unfaithful to him and he’s torn. “And even though I still love you…I’m not really sure I still want to…but you’re a love…I can’t afford to lose…what’s a boy like me to do?” Life’s choices aren’t always easy and I’m confident that Jesse will reach the right decision here. Jesse faces the same decision again in “Sweet Tooth.” “I got a sweet tooth woman…you know I can’t do without…I’ve got to give you up…even though I don’t want to…I know that I should!” Jesse’s sweet tooth for this woman has a strong hold on him but in the end he’s making the right decision by giving her up.

On My Mind / In My Heart closes with two tunes: "Boundary Line" and "Stay Strong." “Boundary Line” is a ballad that finds Jesse reflecting on love. “I have loved…and I have lost…I have crossed the boundary line.” And “Stay Strong” finds Jesse encouraging his girl to hang in there, they will get through the problems they’re experiencing now and make it through. “I know if we keep on trying…we’re going to get there…I know it…it’s only a matter of time…so stay strong…stay strong girl….I know we’re going to get there!”

I’m the first to admit that Jesse Dee is an artist that snuck up on me, but I can easily say that On My Mind / In My Heart will make my top ten list at the end of the year. And John Nemeth, Tad Robinson and Curtis Salgado, watch your backs. There’s a new soul singer in town, and his name is Jesse Dee.

--- Kyle Deibler

Hadden SayersRolling Soul is the title of Hadden Sayer’s latest release on Blue Corn Records, and it’s a good one. This Ohio based Texas Bluesman continues to write great tunes that are at once reflective and positive, with the end result being a musical journey that begs one to attempt it more than once. Let’s give Rolling Soul a spin.

Hadden’s blistering tones from his Stratocaster deliver the opening volley in “Don’t Take Your Love (Out on Me).” Hadden’s evidently met a hot woman who cautions him in advance that she’s not the easiest creature to please and he pursues her anyway. The loving was good, the emotions ran deep, but this fire just wasn’t meant to burn for too long. The end result is Hadden pleading with her “Don’t take your love out on me!” And of course, she moves on anyway.

Our next tune, “Something Wrong in the World,” finds Hadden reflecting on the loss of a good friend and mentor, Charlie Wright, and wishing he could reach out to anyone to share the pain of his loss. The end result is a beautiful tune lamenting the loss of his baby as Hadden deals with the emotions surrounding him, knowing that “there’s something wrong in the world tonight!” Tempo and attitude both pick up in the next cut, “Want What You Have.” The lesson here is that sometimes, you just need to appreciate the things you do have in life. “Tired of feeling lonely…tired of feeling blue…looking for something to move me….I’m ready…to stop this feeling bad…and if you can’t have what you want now baby…better learn to want what you have!” Amen to that.

Time to slow things done a bit and Hadden obliges with a beautiful ballad, “Alone with the Blues.” Here we find Hadden in a reflective mood, pondering life’s mysteries and the love between a woman and a man. “When you told me you were leaving….I thought you meant you were coming back…now I see that you were lying….I was denying…new man come to take my slack…Now I’m alone…along with the blues!”

“That’s What You Do” is the next cut, and it’s a wonderful tune written by Hadden in appreciation of his wife and the love she’s brought to his life. “Holding you tight…could push these blues away…forever…because what you do…you take my fantasy and turn it into a memory…between me and you…that’s what you do!” Hadden’s found a good woman and couldn’t be happier, that’s for sure. We move on to “Lay down Your Worries,” a duet that Hadden sings with Ruthie Foster. The theme here is there are times when you just have to let it all go, “lay down your worries…self preservation is the key to your pain…lay down your worries!”

Our next tune, “The Man I’m Supposed to Be,” finds Hadden again reflecting on the love of his life and appreciating all that she brings to their life together. “But every night…when I lay down in bed…sometimes with you only in my head…I pray to God…that you will never see…that I’m not the man I’m supposed to be!” A wonderful sentiment and one I’m sure Hadden lives his life by; working every day to measure up to the man “he’s supposed to be.”

“Crazy Enough” finds Hadden reflecting on a lyric that implies his woman’s behavior is because “she’s only a woman in love.” “She never backs down…she’s never giving in…I never know what trouble I’m in…she told me specifically…just where to go….cause she crazy…or maybe…she’s only a woman in love…she’s my baby…and maybe that’s just crazy enough!” Bad luck also seems to follow Hadden on his travails and we hear all about it in “Unlucky”. “You can tell…by the way that I’m singing the blues…there’s a dark cloud hanging over my head…if lucky is a mystery….I ain’t got a clue….guess I’ll just go back to bed!”

“Tippin’ In” is the next tune on Rolling Soul and here we find a single man not realizing that his single days are over, he’s been hooked by the love of his life whether he knows it or not. “And I don’t know…what I’m going through…never felt this way…til I fell for you…all I want to do is get next to you…I’m tippin’ in on you girl…and there ain’t no other love for me in the whole, wide world!”

Another ballad, “Insomniac Blues,” is a tune Hadden wrote about being home alone while his wife was out of town. “Lord…I cry every night…I’m tossing and turning in my sheets…won’t you come back to me baby…come back to me…so I can get some sleep!” The shoe is usually on the other foot and Hadden isn’t dealing well with trying to sleep without his wife beside him. We close with an upbeat tune by Hadden, “Can’t Get You off My Mind”. “I can’t get…can’t get you…off of my mind…told me upfront you were going to love me…then you left me behind…and now I can’t get…I can’t get over how a man could be so blind…and I can’t get you baby…can’t get you off of my mind!” This relationship was a quick one and somehow I don’t think Hadden’s that worse for wear over this woman.

Rolling Soul is an excellent disc and one I’ve looked forward to after enjoying Hadden’s last disc, Hard Dollar, tremendously. This transplanted Texas Bluesman writes a mean lyric, plays a mean Strat and ultimately has written some outstanding tunes for our listening enjoyment. Hadden is one of my favorite writers, and I was happy to see his CD release show at the Rum Boogie in early February where we all enjoyed an amazing show. You can grab a copy of Rolling Soul on his website, Or better yet, catch one of Hadden’s live shows on the road and buy it from the man himself --- you’ll be glad you did!

--- Kyle Deibler

Brandon SantiniI was a happy camper when Brandon Santini handed me a rough copy of his new record, This Time Another Year, to listen to on the way back to Little Rock after the IBC. It made the miles go by and I was blown away by the disc. I’ve followed Brandon from the very beginning and this is definitely his best recording to date, so let’s throw it in the CD player and give it a spin.

Brandon starts out with a self-penned tune, “Got Good Lovin,” and I’m going to venture that it’s a song written for his fiancé, Pamela. My boy got engaged over the holidays and this writer wishes them both all the love and happiness they deserve. Congratulations, you guys! In the tune Brandon speaks to the care his woman is taking of him, “My baby got good lovin…I’m telling you it’s true…she cook my breakfast every morning…and my supper every night…I’m telling everybody…you know she’s clean outasite!

Great tune to start the disc off and let’s roll on to the title cut, “This Time, Another Year.” Brandon’s harp is at the forefront on this one and finds him reflecting on the turns that life takes, “This time another year…all people I wonder…where would I be? Well, I might be up in Chicago...or baby…I might be down in Tennessee!” The band: Jeff Jensen on guitar, Bill Ruffino on bass and James Cunningham all have Brandon’s back and are as tight as can be. I can hear the sweet staccato notes off Jeff’s guitar in the background and wherever Brandon’s blues take him…he’s going to be all right! “What You Doing to Me” is the next cut on the disc, and features Victor Wainwright on this tune penned by Victor, Brandon and Jeff. Here we find Brandon reflecting on the woman in his life, “I say oooh….oooh…, what are you doing to me? She’s got a strong hold on our boy for sure and that’s probably a good thing. Victor takes a turn with the vocals on this one, and I love this tune as my favorite one on the disc.

The sun is going down and we find Brandon reflecting on late night adventures in our next tune, “Late in the Evening.” Both he and his girl are working hard to make ends meet and the late night is the only time they have to themselves. “Get on up in the evening…ah people…I say…after that old sun starts to sinking on down…that’s when I get with my sweet little baby….and you know we start to messing around.” Sweet notes emanate from Victor’s piano as he underscores the passion and love Brandon has for this woman, and I’m thinking late in the evening is a pretty good time of night! Bill Ruffino’s bass sets the tone next for the melancholy “Dig Me a Grave” before Jeff’s guitar echoes the sad sentiment of this tune. “Nobody loves me…nobody seems to care…I’m going to dig me a grave, Lord…you know I had all I can bear!”

The band takes a turn covering “Bye Bye Bird” by Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon before moving onto another Santini original, “Things You Putting Down.” “I love you baby…love you with all my heart and soul…yes, well…the things you putting down…well most people…they just don’t know. Brandon definitely loves this woman and will do anything he can to please her. “I say the things you putting down…just can’t go out and buy!”

Another ballad, “Been So Blue,” is up next and Brandon’s harp provides the intro to our tune as Brandon lets us know how he’s feeling, “Well…I’ve been traveling…and I just rolled up in your town…well…I need a buddy…I need a good time buddy just to come around!” Brandon’s been feeling down and needs a good friend to cheer him up.

Women can definitely be fickle and Brandon chooses to cover one of Victor’s tunes next, “Coin Operated Woman,” to explain how much. “A night on the town…boy, she’ll complain about the wine…everybody but her…you know they’re having a real good time…I got a coin operated woman….drop that coin in the slot…she won’t be satisfied til she’s taken every penny I got!” Better off to let this one go, Brandon.

Brandon’s harp leads the way next as the band handles a shuffle in “Help Me with the Blues.” Jeff and Victor both take solos while Bill and James hold the back end down. “Well…I’m thinking about Memphis…dreaming about that river town…well…let me try to find my baby…I’m Tennessee bound….say…help me with the blues!” Definitely a great tune before we find Brandon worrying about sneaking out of the house in “Raise Your Window.” “I say…raise your window baby…I ain’t going out the front door…there’s a man down there…and I don’t know!” Sounds like our boy is enough trouble as it is and the window is definitely the preferred exit in this case!

This Time Another Year closes on a high note with “Fish is Bitin”. “Lay on the shore…gaze at the stars above…you know…it’s nice to be living…hanging with the ones you love!” Can’t say I’m surprised the band is closing with a party tune and I’m sure most of you aren’t either!

Armed with a couple of California transplants in Jeff Jensen and Bill Ruffino and the tight in-the-pocket drumming of James Cunningham, Brandon has definitely found the band to take his music to greater heights. This Time Another Year is his best record to date and one that Brandon and the boys should be extremely proud of. I’m guessing they’ll be making a lot of noise on the touring circuit this year, and more power to them. This disc has a great shot at being in my top ten at the end of the year, so grab one from Brandon on the road or hit him up on his website, This Memphis-based bluesman and his band are definitely on the rise!

--- Kyle Deibler

James MontgomeryI’m the first to admit I’d never heard of Boston’s James Montgomery until his new disc, From Detroit to the Delta, arrived in my mailbox for review. James grew up in Detroit experiencing the likes of James Cotton, Johnny Winter, Junior Wells and others at Detroit’s famous Chessmate Club. It was there that he sat in with James Cotton one night, and in the middle of a song Cotton turned to him and said “take it.” That was James’ first harp solo with a national touring act, and it started him on a career that has lasted now for over 40 years. From Detroit to the Delta is a high-energy disc with a lot of James’ friends, like John Cotton, Johnny Winter and DMC sitting in. So let’s give it a listen.

“Intoxicated” is our first tune up and here we find James reflecting on a late night rendezvous with a woman who caught his eye. “3 o’clock in the morning…I can’t touch the ground…I just had a taste of your love…turned me upside down!” This woman set James on his ear and he’s finding that he’s “Intoxicated” with her. Time will tell how it all works out but it’s going fine at the moment.

A strong bass presence provides the intro to James’s take on an old Willie Dixon song, “Same Thing.” “Make’s a man go crazy…when a woman wears her dress so tight…must be the same thing…make a tomcat fight all night!” All the men are up in arms, fighting over the same hot women. Sounds like a hot time in the Motor City to me. Our next tune has Johnny Winter in playing a mean slide guitar and is appropriately entitled, “Little Johnny”. “You just couldn’t top Little Johnny on the slide guitar!” Little Johnny is a 12 year old prodigy and definitely a guitar player of note as we listen to Mr. Winter tear it up as Little Johnny. Definitely a fun tune and Johnny’s guitar playing is right on.

James’s take on a John Lee Hooker tune, “Motor City is Burning,” is up next. “The Motor City burning…ain’t a thing in the world that I can do…yeah, the Big D burning down…burning down to the ground.” James’s mournful harp provides the inspiration for our vision of the streets of Detroit burning, and it’s a powerful image indeed! Our next cut, “I Don’t Want to Have a Heart,” has a soulful touch to it as James tells us about the loss of a woman in his life. “My heart was too weak…and my love was too strong…I don’t want to have a heart!” Doesn’t sound like this one is ending up well for James but it happens.

“Delta Storm” finds James paying a trip down to the Delta to visit the Crossroads to pay his dues. “But I’m lost…lost in a storm that’s rising…in the Delta tonight…I trusted you…but it was only make believe!” A broken heart is taking him to meet the Devil, and James seems up for the task. Mournful tones emanate from James’ harp to echo the pain he feels on this trip to the Delta.

Up next is the Montgomery take on Bo Diddley’s classic, “Who Do You Love.” David Hull’s fretwork on the bass is very prominent and provides the background to DMC’s vocal on this excellent version of Bo’s tune. The tempo slows down slightly and George McCann’s guitar is front and center on our next cut, “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” “Put your money where your mouth is…better lay your money down…when you’re crawling out my window…your feet never touch the ground!” This woman sneaking out his window has been talking James down all over town and she needs to stop. “Hit the Road Jack” is up next, and features some incredible fretwork from McCann and background vocals from Charise White. James and the band give it a unique, jazzy feel that is quite appealing and I like what they’ve done with it.

A tune written by guitarist George McCann, “Rivers Edge,” is our next tune, and his soaring fretwork is complimented by some equally intense harp chromatics from James as the band takes the opportunity to embark on a very interesting instrumental journey. A heavier bass line supports the next track, “Changing of the Guard,” and here we find James being let down easy by the woman he loves. “I tried to keep the other dogs at bay…you were throwing bones…every time I looked away…you tell me it’s a blessing in disguise…I don’t have to play the fallen part…it’s just a changing of the guard!” She’s obviously more than ready to move on and James is just a casualty of the game.

Our final cut, “Black Cadillac,” is a one cut take with James Cotton on harmonica done old-school style. “Look here baby…better get satisfied…Poor James got to have one more ride…in that black Cadillac…this morning!” Both Cotton and Montgomery are enjoying themselves on this tune, and it’s a fitting end to an excellent disc.

I’m truly surprised that I have yet to cross paths on the Blues Highway with James Montgomery, but I’m hopeful that it will happen soon. Back in its heyday the James Montgomery Band was on equal footing with the J. Geils Band and Arrowsmith as the dominant groups in the Boston area, and it’s easy to see why. From Detroit to the Delta reflects the talents of an amazing group of musicians who have obviously been at this for a very long time and have played together for years. James Montgomery is indeed back with this high-energy disc for our listening pleasure, and that has been a good thing. You can grab a copy of this disc and find out more about this Boston-based band on his website,, and catch them live if you can. I’m sure you’d see an amazing show from this Boston legend and his band.

--- Kyle Deibler

The HealersI will tell you from the start that this won’t be the typical DVD/CD review that you are used to reading from me. The Healers - Live at Knuckleheads, is indeed a great DVD/CD set performed by Jimmy Hall, Samantha Fish, Danielle Schnebelen, Reese Wynans, Kate Moss and Kris Schnebelen. But more importantly, it’s a project that grew out of the love these artists have for those kids affectionately known as “Blue Stars,” kids with cancer and other life threatening illnesses that have happily received the gift of music in the form of guitars, amplifiers and a million other items from the Blue Star Connection, an organization formed by the Grand County Blues Society of Winter Park, Colorado, expressly for this purpose.

From humble beginnings, the simple act of giving one kid with cancer here in Colorado a guitar and amplifier, Blue Star has grown to give instruments to hundreds of kids since its inception in 2005, and outfitted over 25 Music Therapy Departments in hospitals all over the United States. Sneha, a deceased Blue Star from New Delhi, India probably said it best, “Medication gives relief, Blue Star Connection gives happiness; the combination gives health.” It is with this cause in mind that this amazing group of artists, appropriately dubbed The Healers, descended upon the famous Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City and donated their talents and their time to a musical event that fortunately everyone had the foresight to film and record on behalf of the Blue Stars.

The mechanics are simple. The set list includes: "San-Ho-Zay," "Grits Ain’t Groceries," "Messin’ With the Kid," "Rollin’ & Tumblin’, " "As the Years Go Passing By," "Got My Mojo Working," "Love My Baby," "This is a Man’s World," "Keep on Smilin,’" and "Goin’ Down." These tracks are found on both the DVD and CD. Two other tracks, "I Still Want to Be Your Man" and "I Put a Spell on You," are bonus tracks to be found on the DVD. The DVD was filmed utilizing a three-camera shoot and the production values are outstanding. I’m sure the audio found on the CD is on par with what I heard from the DVD through my stereo system, and the result is an excellent collection of performances from the Healers.

The concert includes wonderful vocal performances from Jimmy Hall, Samantha Fish and Danielle Schnebelen, while Kate, Kris and Reese Wynans keep the back end tight. I can’t say much more about the DVD presentation other than everyone who performed were at the top of their game and the camaraderie they shared while performing is a joy to behold.

Kudos to Knuckleheads for providing the venue, Category Five Amplifiers for supplying the gear, Stellar Press for aiding in the filming and graphics work for the DVD and CD, and to Kate Moss and her company, Moonshine Design, for her outstanding work on developing the packaging and booklet included in this product. And of course a major amount of credit goes to my friend John Catt and all of the board members of the Grand County Blues Society for embarking on this course in the first place.

So all that’s really left is up to you, the readers of this review. All I can do is strongly encourage you to support the Blue Star Connection by purchasing The Healers – Live at Knuckleheads DVD/CD combination from the Blue Star website at You’ll receive an outstanding collection of performances from the Healers and you can read more about this amazing organization while at their site. And if you have an instrument to donate, or want to make an additional contribution on behalf of the Blue Stars, you can do that as well. The mission statement of the Blue Star Connection emphasizes in part its goal to outfit every Musical Therapy Department in the country. And while they’re well on their way, there’s much more work to do and they can use your helping hand.

--- Kyle Deibler

Southern Hospitality’m the first to admit I wasn’t ready for the laid-back groove that is Southern Hospitality. I’ve known Victor Wainwright and J.P. Soars for quite awhile now and have seen Damon Fowler live, so what I expected was an explosion. But I’m also the first to admit that the groove that is their new record, Easy Livin’, is a dish that is to be savored and enjoyed as well. That said, let’s give this cast of characters a spin.

The band opens with “Southern Livin” and J.P.’s slide guitar kicks off the party while he sings the first verse about life in the slow lane in the South. “I want to walk down to the water…and give myself a drink…grab my fishin pole…to catch me something to eat.” Life is good and J.P. is enjoying his day in the sun fishing and swimming. Sounds like a very rough life to me.

"Long Way Home” is our next tune in the rotation and J.P.’s guitar provides the rock and roll intro to this cut. “Well…it’s a long way home…when you ain’t got no one…such a long way home…if you ain’t got no one…that’s why I feel…so loved inside!” J.P.’s got himself a good woman and she’s the reason the road isn’t quite as long as it normally is when he knows he’s heading back to her. I like J.P.’s rough edge compared to Victor’s smooth vocals and its working for me. “Kind lies…and whiskey again…rich man’s pleasure…poor man’s sin…where does it start…and where does it end?” Damon’s quite at home lamenting the tough times in this tune that he wrote, “Kind Lies & Whiskey.” J.P. takes a guitar solo at Damon’s request and fills this song with a lick that reflects Damon’s depressed mood and off we go. When the whiskey is gone it will be time for Damon to head back out into the world and tackle the demons he’s facing now.

“Mile after Mile” is up next and here we find the band on the road to Texas for a gig. An up-tempo ditty with a Beverly Hillbillies style intro, the boys are having fun on the road and it shows. “Now…over in West Virginia…we had one helluva time…sippin’ that old moonshine…it just keeps getting better…mile after mile!” J.P., Victor and Damon are all good friends and this tune definitely reflects the camaraderie they share on the road.

Victor’s soulful vocals finally come to the light next in a ballad called, “Certified Lover.” Here we find Victor searching for a good woman to bring some joy into his life and stand by his side. “I want a certified lover…that’s what I need…that’s what I need.” Hopefully Victor will find that good woman to take the edge off a rough time in his life. The band takes a minute to tackle an instrumental next. “Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries” is the name of this ditty and starts off with a Middle Eastern flair before heading off on a more Latin adventure. It’s a fun tune and a great way to break up the disc.

An up tempo swing then makes its appearance in the form of “Shoestring Budget.” Here we find that times are tough and Victor is struggling to make ends meet. “Well…I’m low on gas…and I’m bustin’ my ass…haven’t had a meal…since the day before last…and I’m livin’…livin’ on a shoestring budget.” His woman wants some of Victor’s cash and he just doesn’t have it to spare. “Keep your hands out of my pockets…not chancing all my money on you!”

The band tackles another tune by Damon next, “Don’t Feel Like Going There Today,” and here we find Damon in mood where he just isn’t feeling the work he’s doing and would rather be somewhere else. “I’d rather spend my time…in a mellow kind of way…don’t feel like going there today!” Damon tells us boss that he doesn’t see a future at his job, hands him the mop and walks on out the door. Good for you Damon. J.P.’s back on the lead vocals for a tune he wrote, “Come Back Home,” and here we find that he’s doing his best to convince his woman to come back to him. Victor’s pounding the keys in the background as J.P. pleads his case, “I cooked your favorite dinner…turned down the lights…I’ll treat you til the morning light…baby, won’t you come back home?” Not sure she’s buying what J.P.’s selling, but at least he’s trying and we’ve got to give him credit for that.

“Powered for the Mountain” then finds Damon in a similar predicament. “I keep thinking about your voice…longer hair…a cotton sun dress…late at night…perched up in my window…drinking wine…and smoking cigarettes.” Damon seems to have it bad for this woman, he wasn’t sure what he thought of her and now that he knows what he wants, she’s moved on. That’s how it goes sometimes; he who hesitates can definitely be lost.

Victor’s back on the vocals and keyboards as the band tackles “Don’t Boogie Woogie.” Victor’s not feeling good and is trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. Unfortunately, he’s not happy with the doctor’s solution, “Don’t Boogie Woogie…and say your prayers tonight…you can’t do it son…you know it ain’t right…turn on Jesus when you turn out the light…don’t boogie woogie tonight!” Knowing Victor, there’s a snail’s chance in hell he’s going to follow this doctor’s advice.

The band closes out their disc with a tune written in collaboration with their producer, Tab Benoit, entitled “Sky is What I Breathe.” Damon takes the vocal lead on this tune on what is a very sweet ballad. “How deep is the ocean….out past the river Mud…Lord, I never loved the motion…but I leave it like it was…clean river flows…wildflowers grow…green as the tree…sky is what I breathe.” You can hear Tab’s influence here and his love of nature is shared by everyone in the band. It’s a very cool tune and a great way to end this disc.

Southern Hospitality is a band we’ll be hearing from for a long time to come. It’s an amazing collaboration between three artists with very different styles who have managed to come together with their appreciation of all things Southern to forge a very tight bond. Kudos to Chris Peet on the drums and Chuck Riley on bass for keeping the back end tight through a very eclectic collection of tunes, and a shout goes out to Tab Benoit as well for guiding them through the recording process to produce this outstanding debut disc.

I do think though that Southern Hospitality is a dish best served live, so catch them out on the road if you can. I’ll be in West Virginia for their appearance there in a couple of weeks and the Charlie West Festival should be rocking, that’s for sure. You can learn more about SOHO as they liked to be called on their website,, or on Blind Pig’s site as well. Grab a copy of Southern Livin’ while you’re there, it’s like Miss Willa’s fried chicken and bread pudding all rolled into one, and that’s a good thing!

--- Kyle Deibler

Sena EhrhardtSo, please don’t tell anyone but Sena Ehrhardt has been rocking my world all day long. One can safely say that working with Jim Gaines in the studio lit a fire under Sena, and her second release for Blind Pig Records, All In, is exactly that. Sena’s definitely all in on this disc. Got my headphones on, pushed play and let’s see what all the fuss is about.

Sena opens up with “Buried Alive,” and a powerful guitar intro from her father Ed sets the tone for the passion that Sena’s feeling in this song. She’s missing her lover and he’s a long way in the wrong direction for her to get there in time. “Captivated…frustrated…you’ll feel the jealousy….in the crowded room where you called out my name…and the people watch you watch me…I’m irresistible poison running in your veins…sometimes it feels…lie your buried alive!” The fire runs hot between these two and someday soon it’s going to burn them both to the ground.

“Cry to Me” is up next and here we find Sena giving love advice to a man she’s loved. “When you’re all alone in this room…and there’s nothing…but the smell of my perfume…don’t you feel like crying…come on…cry to me!” Sena’s more than willing to cure him of the loneliness he’s feeling but he’s going to have to reach out to her for that to happen. The title track, “All In,” is the next cut up and Sena’s run out of patience. The object of her affection needs to figure it out…and now! “Either you’re all in…or I’m out!” It doesn’t get any clearer than that and dude, if I were you, I’d be all in!

Dave Smith’s bass guitar is heavy in the forefront of our next tune, “I Want to Get You Back,” a tune written by Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Sena’s angry at being scorned and two can play this game. “I know you got a jealous bone…so I took a walk around the block…the hounds are howling at my door…but the key don’t fit my lock…I want to get you back!” Sena’s on a mission and she’s definitely angry at being done wrong, so payback’s a bitch. Ed Ehrhardt’s guitar provides the delicate intro for “Cold Cold Feeling” and Sena’s playing the part to the hilt. “I got a cold…cold…feeling…it’s just like ice around my heart…oh, you know…I’m going to quit somebody…every time that feeling’s done!” Her relationship has definitely come to an end and Sena’s heart is telling her it’s time to move on.

Life experiences and what to learn from them is the topic explored in our next tune, “Live and Learn.” “I made some choices…listened to some voices…I wish I hadn’t heard…I know what it ain’t bout me…but the best I can tell…these lessons are mine to learn…I might not always be right…but I’m about the good fight…live and learn!” Sena’s got a healthy attitude about her life lessons and she’s right, the best you can do is live and learn.

Our next cut, “Man Up,” has a strong rock and roll vibe with Sena again in the face of a man she loves. “You say you want me…but you want to be free…it’s time to chose one or the other…what do I have to do to get you to see…I’m the one and not your mother…Man up…before it gets too late!” The choice is clear and hopefully he’ll make the right one for Sena’s sake and I’m worried about this one. This mama’s boy had better wake up soon and cut the apron strings before its way to late to know.

Sena’s man troubles continue in “Storm’s Rising.” Here the problem isn’t indecision or another woman; it’s her man burying his face in a bottle of whiskey. “Storm’s coming baby…I can see it in your eyes…you look at me…but you don’t see a thing…that liquor’s killing you inside!” A sad tale indeed and all Sena can do is let him go. Our theme of liquor causing problems continues in the next cut up, “Baby Valentine.” Here we find Sena’s mom worried about her little brother and there’s not much anyone can do. “When you were a baby…you were a virgin child…a mama’s baby…you could make her smile…but it’s gone…you threw it old away…please baby valentine…come home to stay!” There’s nothing more powerful than a mother’s love, and that doesn’t seem to be enough to entice Sena’s brother to turn over a new leaf and come back home.

“So Excited” has a jazzier feel to it and Sena’s back in love again. “Ooh…when you touch me baby…tears of joy I’m crying…you’re so fine…think about you all the time!” Her man definitely has Sena in the palm of his hand and she’s happy with the love she’s feeling for this man. “So excited…don’t know what to do with myself…you’re so fine…think about you all the time.” All In closes with a lovely ballad entitled, “Dreamin’ or Dyin’.” “As a young girl…I didn’t think you’d be mine…everybody told me…you’re a smart girl…use your mind…I waited long enough…I didn’t hesitate…cause the minute…I stop dreaming…is the minute…I’m dying…what’s the use without dreaming…even if they pass me by!” A beautiful tune and a wonderful way for Sena to close out her second record.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by this disc from Sena Ehrhardt. All In features eight tunes written by Sena and her father Ed, an amazingly tight band behind her, outstanding energy and definitely contains more than a touch of Jim Gaines’s magic. He definitely got the best out of Sena with this recording, and All In will one of the strongest discs released by a female artist this year. I’ve yet to see Sena perform live, but know she’s been booked for Blues from the Top this summer and I’m definitely looking forward to catching her then. Great job, Sena!

--- Kyle Deibler



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