Blues Bytes

What's New

April 2014

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Trudy Lynn

Bryan Lee

Billy Branch

Lisa Mann

Cathy Lemons

Tweed Funk

Johnny Drummer

Jim Byrnes

Solomon King

Mikey Junior

Lisa Biales

Terry Quiett Band

Mick Kolassa

Polly O'Keary

Back Pack Jones

Patti Parks

John lyons

Mary Ann Casale


Trudy LynnTrudy Lynn has been at the music business since Albert Collins “discovered” her 50 years ago. Based out of Houston she's a world class vocalist who has released a handful of solid recordings. Royal Oaks Blues Cafe (self-released) is far and away her crowning achievement.

With a “Featuring Steve Krase” credit on the cover, her long-time harmonica man is joined by guitarist John Del Toro Richardson, bassist Eugene “Spade Time” Murray, pianist Randy Wall and drummer Carl Owens. The conversations going on between the principals is fascinating. With Ms. Trudy offering a bawdy and bluesy 11-tune program of obscurities and classics, the combination is hypnotic.

She dug deep for these tunes. Jay McShann's “Confessing The Blues” and Don Robey's “Play The Honky Tonk” are the only real recognizable tunes on the disc, but the fantastic “Every Side Of Lonesome,” with its smoky and slinky guitar and the burnin' harp over the clapping drums and the band's call-and-response vocal assistance, is all about her vocals and lyrics (“I've Been on Every Side Of Lonesome Since He Walked Out On Me”). The same can be said for “Down In Memphis,” with its hard blowin' harp intro and more of that contagious call-and-response from the band (“a four piece band is ready on the stand/a man at the door with a box in his hand/a line outside is waiting to get in/the people just want to hear the blues again/down in Memphis”).

Trudy Lynn the songwriter is not a common event and it's one I'd like to hear more of. Everything on the set is impressive, with standouts in the deep blues of “Street Walkin' Daddy,” the '20s-style “Effervescent Daddy” (when you talk it's intoxicatin'/when you walk its like syncopation”) and the closing “Whip It To A Jelly,” the sexiest tune on the disc. With acoustic guitar and harp she sings Clara Smith's lyrics: “There's a new dance that can't be beat/you move most everything except your feet/Then you whip it to a jelly/stir in the bone/You whip it to a jelly if you like good jellyroll.”

This is about paying tribute to the era of women singers. It's a rousing success.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Bryan LeeBryan Lee is contagious. Once you've been turned on to his music, you're a fan for life. He's an enormously talented guitarist/vocalist, but maybe his greatest asset is his enthusiasm and the excitement he brings to the music. Blind since eight years old, he has a 50-year professional music career that shows the rest of us that a loss of vision does not impact his vision.

From the opener, "Aretha (Sing One For Me)" to the closer, "Sixty-Eight Years Young," Play One For Me (Severn Records) is a knock out record. The opener will touch a chord for Detroiters. It’s a request for Aretha to sing a few songs for our hero because his ex was just seen walking into one of her shows. “Send one out straight to my baby’s heart/Maybe she’ll be sorry that we’re apart.” The follower, his take on Freddie King’s "It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough)," is the epitome of classic electric blues. The guitar work is stellar and his voice is emotive and he pours himself into each and every note.

Lee's version of "Evil Going On," with Kim Wilson on harp, would make Howlin’ Wolf proud, but the original songs are more impressive. "Poison," the standout on the disc, again with Wilson, evokes a dusty Chicago club after dark. The guitar work is brilliant and the tandem lines with the harmonica are goose bumpers. There aren’t a lot of players who grab me as thoroughly. And that voice, gruff like B.B. King’s at time, is a joy to behold.

The band --- Johnny Moeller (guitar), Kevin Anker (keys), Steve Gomes (bass), Robb Stupka (drums) and Mark Merrella (percussion) --- is backed by seven horns and four strings. They lay a solid foundation for Mr. Lee to do his magic.

This one’s a keeper.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Billy BranchI can appreciate what Billy Branch said in terms of it taking him 15 years to get it right before he went back in the studio to record a new record. Blues Shock is definitely what I would call a thinking man’s blues record and Billy’s attention to the details are apparent throughout this record. It’s his first recording for Blind Pig and an impressive one indeed. Kudos to Billy and the Sons of the Blues for a very fresh, forward-thinking record. Let’s give it a listen.

The spoken intro to “Sons of the Blues” is the first clue that this disc is different, as Billy incorporates lyrics written by the esteemed poet, Sterling Plump, into this tune. Liberal use of the Chicago Horns augments Billy’s harps as he lets us know, “I am…the son of the blues.” A little bit of preaching as Billy intones his influences, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Howlin' Wolf all serve to back his discourse that he is indeed, “a son of the blues.”

More harp and Sumito Ariyoshi on the piano provide the introduction to our next cut, the Willie Dixon tune “Crazy Mixed Up World.” Willie was one of Billy’s most profound influences and it’s only natural for Billy to include a tune from his mentor on the disc. And Billy’s right, it is indeed “a crazy, mixed up world.” A driving backbeat and more of the Chicago Horns provides the intro for the title track, “Blues Shock.” This tune was written to express that moment when everyone realizes the attraction they have to the Blues. “It’s 12 am and you’re heading for home…but your automobile’s got a mind of its own…down to the blues club…you have to go…ain’t but one thing that you got…a funky little feeling called…blues shock.” Blues shock, indeed. I would have to say that I experienced Blues shock in Austin, Texas a long time ago and it’s never left me.

“Dog House” is an apropos tune since we’ve all been there. Ronnie Baker Brooks is party to the commiseration because evidently both he and Billy are in the proverbial “dog house.” “Now I’m stuck on the couch…without my pillow…I’m back in the dog house again.” Both of them are pretty sweet talkers so I’m thinking they’ll be out before too long. We move on to “Function at the Junction,” and this is a tune that grew a following out of Billy’s live performances. Cool, funky and upbeat, “Function at the Junction” is a great party tune as “come one…come all…we’re going to have a ball…at the function at the junction.” I think we can safely say that everybody had a good time at the junction.

Billy considers our next tune, “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time,” as the finest song he’s ever written and I can appreciate the effort that went into writing it. Billy wrote it to honor Miss Gerri Oliver who owned the Palm Tavern in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood for over 50 years. For a long period of Chicago’s history the Palm Tavern was the place to be for the entertainment elite who came through the Windy City. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and many other dignitaries were amongst those who held court at the Palm Tavern after hours. “And, I’m going to see Miss Gerri, one more time. She’s the one…who’s always on my mind. And I’m going to see Miss Gerri one more time. Only God knows, what’s on her mind?” Miss Gerri always affectionately called Billy “her son” and his tune is a beautiful tribute to the woman who had such a strong influence on his life.

I appreciate the lighter tone of the instrumental, “Back Alley Cat” after Billy’s tribute to Miss Gerri and it feels just right. Billy ably accompanies the keyboard styling of Sumito Ariyoshi and the tune allows me to catch my breath for a minute before moving on to Billy’s take on the John Lee Hooker classic, “Boom Boom”. “I love the way you walk…up and down the floor…when you’re talking to me…that baby talk…boom, boom, boom…I’m going to shoot you right down.” Billy’s blowing a mean harp and the band is fully engaged in doing John Lee justice.

Billy’s drummer, Moses Rutues, Jr., takes the microphone for the next tune, “Slow Moe,” as Priscilla McDonald plays the part of the nagging woman on the telephone to perfection. “Don’t try to rush me, baby…my work is done…when I get through…some men are in a hurry…they do it way too fast…baby, don’t you worry…because I’m damn sure, built to last.” They call him “Slow Moe” for a reason, and he’s never in a hurry!

Intricate fretwork from Dan Carelli, Billy’s harp and the piano of Sumito Ariyoshi all complement each other as Billy simply asks, “Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn.” “I’m long and lean…baby, I won’t mess it up…I’ll spread it real smooth…and fill your buttercup.” Billy’s the right man for the job and he’ll do a good job buttering her corn.”

Blues Shock closes with another instrumental, “Song For My Mother” and it is a fitting tribute to Billy’s mother, Doris Haddock. Hauntingly beautiful, I’m drawn to the emotive tones of Billy’s harp and appreciate the artistry of this tune that is so ably complimented by the piano playing of Sumito Ariyoshi. While it probably lessens my “blues shock” with its jazz influences, “Song For My Mother” is a perfect way to end what has been a very interesting disc from Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues,

I noted at the beginning of the review that Blues Shock is a “thinking man’s” blues record and I believe that to be true. Billy has done an amazing job of harnessing his influences and honoring them in a way that is at once both refreshing and provocative. I would strongly recommend you grab a copy of this disc at Billy’s website,, and for all our sakes, Billy, don’t wait another 15 years to put out a disc this good!

--- Kyle Deibler

Lisa MannI’ve known Lisa Mann for a few years now and one of the great disappointments of last summer was seeing her tour through Colorado being cancelled because of a family emergency. But in life things happen and Lisa’s back with an amazing new album called Move On. This deserving member of the Cascade Blues Society’s Hall of Fame is an outstanding vocalist and plays a mean bass to boot. Let’s give her new disc a listen!

So of course Lisa’s bass provides the intro for the opening cut on her disc, the title track, “Move On.” A song of determination and the need to live positively, Lisa stands tall as she proclaims her healthy zest for life. “The truth I got to tell you…I think you understand…when life gives you lemons…you know it’s time to make a stand…you’ve got to move on forward…cause there ain’t no other way to go.” Brian Harris’s work on the organ is a nice adjunct in “Move On” and I appreciate Lisa’s bass solo toward the end of this first cut.

Jeff Knudson’s fretwork sets the tone for our next cut, “Are You Lonely”, and here we find Lisa dealing with the end of a relationship. “Are you lonely…where you are…and, are you wishing on some shooting star…that you could be…right here with me…are you lonely where you are?” Lisa’s definitely having second thoughts and while I’m sure he’s crazy for leaving her, it isn’t clear that Lisa would be better off with him back in her life. Might be best to pass this one by. Up next is a beautiful ballad, “Give You My Love,” and here we find Lisa madly in love with the man in her life. “I want to give you my hand…I want to give you my time…but baby, most of all…I want to give you my love.” There’s an appealing tone of satisfaction in Lisa’s voice and I’d wish her all the best with this one.

Sonny Hess joins Lisa on the next cut, one that she wrote, “The Blues is My Medicine,” and lends her vocals and guitar to the mix. “Up early in the morning…jamming late at night…ain’t nothing like the blues baby…to make you feel alright….I know just what it takes…to get me going…the blues, oh the blues…is my medicine.” I really like this tune and of course the Blues is the medicine of choice for a lot of us. Sonny’s fretwork is very intricate and lends itself well to the healing vibe of this tune.

Another ballad, “You Don’t Know,” finds Lisa’s bass at the forefront augmented by the sweet harp of Mitch Kashmar as Lisa strives to give relationship advice to a friend of hers. “You don’t know…what you want…you don’t know…what you got, baby…you throw a good man down the drain…and then you calling him back again. I feel for the guy in this tune knowing that if Lisa says he’s a good man, then undoubtedly he is. I think he’ll come to his senses and leave Lisa’s friend behind rather than endure much more of her indecision.

On the other hand, Lisa doesn’t have the trepidation of her friend and she tells us so proudly in our next cut, “My Man.” “Let me tell you all about…my sweet man…and there ain’t no one in this whole world…that can make this old girl…oh, make me feel so good inside…and there ain’t no doubt…I just got to shout it out…because it’s something I just can’t hide.” He’s obviously doing something right to win Lisa’s affections and this one sounds like a keeper to me.

So of course the shoe’s on the other foot and Lisa comes out on the wrong end in “I’ve Been Used.” “He told me he loved me…said he’d always be true…but now I can see…that I’ve been used.” Lisa’s conflicted as her man works to win her back and Jeff Knudson is conveying her indecision with an extended guitar solo that amplifies her mood. Ultimately Lisa realizes she’s being played and exacts her revenge on this man who played with her heart.

Up next is “Big Long List,” and it’s a tune that Lisa and I have commiserated about already. It seems that our “to do” lists are similar and I feel her pain when she notes, “When I’m trying to get to sleep…in the middle of the night…I’m counting those sheep, to about 103…but every time I close my eyes…you know, all that I can see…is that big, long list…of all the shit that I’ve got to do.” Here’s hoping that both of us can at least shrink the list down to a manageable size!

Unrequited love seems to be the theme of the day as Lisa tells us about another love in her life in “Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby.” “You know I love you, baby…but you don’t even know my name. Let me tell you, baby…tell you what I would do…I would rob, steal, kill somebody…just to get back home to you.” I’d say that’s a pretty convincing love and hopefully this man will give Lisa her chance.

“Doin’ OK” finds Lisa in a good mood and content with her life as it is. “Oh, sometimes…I get aches and pains…and I haven’t got a nickel to my name…ooh, ,and I don’t think things are going to change…but I’m feeling pretty good about it…just the same…looks like I can safely say…I’m doing ok.” You’ve got to love Lisa’s optimism and her common sense approach to what’s most important in her life. Up next is Lisa’s take on the Little Milton tune, “The Blues is Alright.” “I got a song…I want to sing…and I’m going to sing it just for you…everybody hear what I say…the Blues is back…and it’s here to stay!” Lisa’s version is upbeat and I’m sure Milton would appreciate her version of one of his classic tunes.

So the end finds up back to the beginning with Lisa’s heavy bass intro to the final tune on her disc, “This Bitch.” Lisa’s alter ego can be hard to deal with at times and Lisa’s yet to escape the influences of “this bitch.” “She sticks her nose in people’s business…butts in where she don’t belong…and I’m always apologizing…for the things that she’d done wrong…she’s got nasty, nasty habits…and she’s always talking trash…she chased away my friends…and even spent up all my cash…I can’t seem to break free….everywhere I go…I’ve got to bring this bitch with me.” All I can say, Lisa ,is pick your poison, coffee or tequila and good luck!

There’s an amazing amount of Blues talent in the Pacific Northwest, and Lisa Mann is definitely one of the Rose City’s rising stars. Move On is an excellent album and Lisa’s surrounded herself with a great cast of musicians to bring her vision to fruition. Jeff Knudson, Brian Harris and Michael Ballash on drums, are all members of Lisa’s core band, the Really Good Band, and I’m happy to see a few choice friends helped her out as well. The songwriting is top notch, Lisa’s vocals are stunning and I appreciate the humor is some of her work as well.

This disc is available for purchase on Lisa’s website,, and I’d grab a copy soon. And I, for one, am hoping that Lisa is able to get back out on the road this summer so folks can see what I already know --- this is one outstanding blues woman, y’all!

--- Kyle Deibler

Cathy LemonsI’m the first to admit that I’m not that familiar with Cathy Lemons back story so I took a few minutes to read through her website, peruse her blog and easily reached the conclusion that she is a true blues woman. She’s lived the life, experienced the hardships and most importantly, she survived. Her new record on Vizztone, Black Crow, is indeed a dark one but a pleasant respite from a lot of what I’ve been hearing lately. Cathy wrote six of the ten tunes on the disc and shows a lot of courage in continuing to bare her soul to the world. Let’s give this disc a good listen.

The first cut up is Cathy’s version of a classic Kim Wilson tune, “I’m a Good Woman.” All Cathy is pleading for is an opportunity --- an opportunity to prove her worth as a woman and her love for her man. “I’ll never mistreat you. baby…never tell you no lies….I’m a good woman…give me a chance!” I’m thinking any good man would be out of his mind to not give Cathy her chance. Lead guitarist Steve Gurr also adds a little bit of harp to our next cut, “Ain’t Gonna Do It,” a tune written by Kieran Kane. Cathy’s resolve is steadfast and she’s sticking to her guns, “I’ve been down on my knees…I know how to crawl…its closing my eyes…and watching, everything slide…slip away…slip away…and I ain’t gonna do it…ain’t gonna ball…I ain’t gonna do it…that’s all!” Cathy’s strength will carry her through whatever circumstances the hardships she facing will bring her way, and she won’t compromise along the way.

The title track, “Black Crow,” is next and this is a tune Cathy penned with Steve. “There’s a black crow…he came down to visit me…he circled round and round…won’t let me go…won’t set me free.” All that Cathy truly wants is to feel the protection of his wings around her, and though he might be mad, she loves him dearly. A beautiful tune, with a very haunting melody, and one that I’ll come back to time and again.

More harmonica from Steve provides the intro for “Hip Check Man,” a tune very upbeat and a nice change of mood. “My hip check man…bout to drive me out of my mind…hip check man…how can I fix them broken bones?” Cathy’s in a healing mood and she’s intent on nursing her “hip check man” back to health. I have no doubt she’ll get the job done. The mood changes back to the darker side with the slow, moving ballad, “You’re in My Town Now.” “You’re in my town baby, my town…you must think…I’m somebody else. Boy…you fool with me…last thing…you’ll ever do.” Cathy means business and he’d best be careful before all hell breaks loose. By her tone I can guarantee you that Cathy means business here. No ifs, ands or buts about it! Some beautiful keyboard work from Kevin Zuffl and intricate fretwork by Stevie Gurr emphasizes the conviction in Cathy’s words and the man in question had better tread lightly.

A cover of an Earl King tune, “It All Went Down the Drain,” is up next and Cathy more than does it justice. “But you wanted…something fresh…you wanted it next to…your sweet flesh…like a sewer…when it rains…it all went down the drain…you and I.” Cathy came out on the short of end things of this time and is left to fend for herself. Tempo slows way down and then the funky saxophone of Doug James makes an appearance to brighten things up in “The Big Payback.” Cathy’s been done wrong and this is a woman who doesn’t get mad, she gets even! “Better get ready…for the big payback.”

We move on to a ballad that Cathy wrote, “I’m Going to Try.” Cathy’s learning that life is not always going to come easy, it’s not always going to work out and the life best lived is one she’s best engaged in. “I never thought…to just look up…always looking low…the promise of what I might be…never, never, never, Lord…seemed to show. But that’s all over now…I’m going to try.” A tough life lesson to learn, to be sure, but Cathy will be better off in the long run.

The band comes to life in support of our next tune, “Texas Shuffle.” “All my friends went to jail…watched them go down…one by one…I’m the last woman standing…police got me on the run.” Sounds like luck was on Cathy’s side this time and I’m sure she’s happy to avoid the misfortune of all of her friends.

I appreciate the starkness of the final tune on Cathy’s disc with just her and Stevie on acoustic guitar in “The Devil Has Blues Eyes.” “The Devil has blues eyes…ah, the devil has blue eyes…and the way that I love him…I swear, Lord…I’d like to die.” A definite departure from the rest of her disc, but a fitting way to bring this record to a close.

I have to admire Cathy’s honesty as a blues woman. The truths of her life are all out there for folks to read and she’s survived to become a woman whose voice needs to be heard. The darkness of Black Crow is probably not for everyone, but true Blues fans will appreciate the simple truths and honesty in her lyrics. You can find out more about this blues woman from the Bay Area on her website at Enjoy the journey!

--- Kyle Deibler

Singer Cathy Lemons is regarded as a blues legend in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has enthralled audiences for over 25 years with her distinctive and soulful vocals and the ease with which she moves from blues to soul and R&B to gospel. The Dallas native has worked with such notables as Anson Funderburgh, Tommy Castro, John Lee Hooker, Kid Andersen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Her latest release is Black Crow (Squeeze Play/Vizztone), and it demonstrates her musical style and range very effectively.

Lemons penned six of the ten tracks on Black Crow, including the stunning title track, the boogie rocker “Hip Check Man,” “You’re In My Town Now” and “I’m Going To Try” a pair of slow blues ballads, the self-descriptive “Texas Shuffle,” and the spooky acoustic closer, “The Devil Has Blue Eyes.” She ably covers four tunes, including Kim Wilson’s “I’m A Good Woman,” the O’Kanes’ “Ain’t Gonna Do It,” and funky remakes of Earl King’s “It All Went Down The Drain” and James Brown’s “The Big Payback.”

Kid Andersen produced the disc, giving it a raw and earthy feel, allowing plenty of room for Lemons’ vocals to stand out. Backing Lemons is guitarists Stevie Gurr and Volker Strifler, drummers/percussionists D’Mar and Robbie Bean, keyboardists Kevin Zuffi, sax man Doug “Mr. Low” James, and bassist Paul Olguin.

With Black Crow, Cathy Lemons should receive some much-deserved attention far beyond the Bay Area. She’s a talented and honest vocalist that doesn’t have to shout and scream to get her point across, a welcome variation from what is often perceived as the norm these days.

--- Graham Clarke

Tweed FunkFor their latest CD, First Name Lucky (Tweed Tone Records), Tweed Funk’s aimed to capture the energy and excitement of their live shows. The Milwaukee band’s previous effort, 2012’s Love Is, was one of my favorite releases of that year, and I really dug the band’s raucous blend of blues, funk, and soul on that release. First Name Lucky improves on its predecessor and then some, with seven outstanding originals and four dynamite covers.

Tweed Funk is still fronted by soul vet Joseph “Smokey” Holman, and the powerhouse band includes guitarist J.D. Optekar, bass player Eric Madunic, drummer Nick Lang, sax man Jon Lovas, and trumpeter Kevin Klemme, with Brian “Looper” Lucas adding harmonica and backing vocals from Chrissy Dzioba and Sara Moilanen. They remind you of those hallowed days when sweaty funk and horn-driven bands ruled the galaxy…and those who were around back then know of what I speak.

On the opener, “Blues In My Soul,” Holman testifies like it’s his own story, and he effortlessly segues into the funky blues, “Time To Burn.” Other original tracks like “Hoodoo Power” and “Get It On” also play on the funky side of the blues, the latter track featuring Lucas’ harmonica. Optekar penned most of the originals (one was co-written by Holman) and the remaining originals venture into soul territory (“Divided”), swinging urban blues (“Deed Is Done”), and blues in a T-Bone Walker vein (“Sippin Misery”).

The four covers are equally impressive. “Let The Good Times Roll” is taken in a swinging B.B. King style, and the old Peppermint Harris gem, “I Got Loaded,” has a New Orleans flair. Bass player Madunic turns in a fine vocal on the Stax classic, “Knock on Wood,” and Holman pulls out all the stops on the Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears’ track, “Sugarfoot,” channeling James Brown with his manic delivery.

As much as I liked Tweed Funk’s last release, First Name Lucky improves on every aspect of it. If you like your blues on the funky soul side, this one will earn steady rotation on your personal play list, and should be on your year-end Top Ten list, too. Expect to see it on mine.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny DrummerAlligator, Mississippi native Johnny Drummer (born Thessex Johns) has been a part of the Chicago Blues scene for over 50 years, beginning with a stint playing drums (what else) behind Carey Bell and Lovie Lee, then playing and recording with Eddie King, before starting his own band, the Starliters, in the mid ’60s, where he soon took up vocals and left the drumming to others.

By the mid '70s, he was working fulltime for the Chicago Police Department, playing the blues on the side and learning the basics of harmonica from Junior Wells before switching to keyboards in the mid '80s. Drummer has released a few singles over the years for various labels, and has enjoyed a lengthy tenure with Earwig Records. Recently, he issued his fourth album for the label, Bad Attitude.

Drummer’s new release sounds a lot like his previous ones. In other words, it’s good, solid Chicago Blues with a healthy dose of soul and funk thrown in. What makes Drummer’s work stand out is his songwriting. He’s an excellent storyteller who always mixes humor with his tales of love and and life. The 13 tracks on Bad Attitude include standouts like “Another Rooster is Pecking My Hen,” “Bit Her In The Butt,” the witty title track, and “One Size Fits All.”

He also shines on the soul ballad “Make You Happy,” the defiant R&B kicker “Don’t Call Me Trash,” the downhome tracks, “Sure Sign of the Blues” and “My Woman My Money My Whiskey,” which feature his harmonica, and the excellent slow blues “Ain’t No Secret in a Small Town.”

Backing Drummer on these tracks is a premium set of the Windy City’s finest musicians – Kenny Hampton on bass, Anthony Palmer on lead guitar, Sir Walter Scott on rhythm guitar, Jeremiah Thomas  and Terrence Williams on drums, Ronnie Hicks on keyboards, Rodney “Hotrod” Brown on sax, and Kenny Anderson on trumpet.

Fans of Chicago blues and soul can’t go wrong with Bad Attitude. Johnny Drummer deserves to be heard by a wider audience and, hopefully, this is the album that will get it done for him.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim ByrnesSt. Louis Times (Black Hen Music) may be Jim Byrnes’ most personal record yet. Loaded with songs associated with artists based in the city along with his own compositions which recall his younger days there, the disc serves as a sound musical journey through a city that often gets overlooked in blues discussions. The city is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, so the disc serves as a fine introduction to this often-overlooked musical hub.

St. Louis Times is the sixth collaboration between Byrnes and Steve Dawson, a partnership that has lasted ten years. Byrnes is also joined by guests John Hammond, who plays National Steel and harmonica on a couple of tracks and joins Byrnes on vocals for James “Stump” Johnson’s “Duck’s Yas Yas Yas,” Colin James, who contributes acoustic guitar on one track, and No Sinner’s Colleen Rennison, who shares vocals duties with Byrnes on the old Fontella Bass/Bobby McLure hit, “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone).”

Byrnes’ choice of cover material is first-rate, with the aforementioned songs, plus tunes from Albert King (“Don’t You Lie To Me”), Chuck Berry (a funky version of “Nadine”), W.C. Handy (the title track), Little Milton (“That Will Never Do”), and Lonnie Johnson (“Another Night To Cry”). Byrnes’ own tracks recall his formative years in the city with a song about one of the more notorious neighborhoods (“Cake Alley”), a nice slow blues (“Old Dog, New Tricks”), and a vivid picture of the town (“The Journey Home”).

Byrnes does a great job on vocals and guitar, and Dawson and Hammond both contribute some wonderful slide guitar on multiple tracks. The remainder of the band is rock solid in support, with Darryl Havers on keyboards, Jeremy Holmes on bass, and Geoff Hicks on drums, with a marvelous horn section that includes Tom Colclough (clarinet), Jim Hoke (tenor sax), Bill Huber (trombone), Steve Herman (trumpet), and Larry Paxton (Sousaphone).

St. Louis Times is not only Jim Byrnes’ most personal recording, it’s also his best. He really seems to be firing on all cylinders with this one, maybe because it hits so close to home, literally. Whatever the reasons, this should be essential listening to blues and roots fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Solomon KingSolomon King’s latest release, Train (JLM, Inc.), finds the Los Angeles-based singer/guitarist doing what he does best, mixing blues, rock, and soul in equal batches. This is King’s third release….his debut, 2009’s Under the Sun, was nominated for a Grammy, and the 2011 follow-up, Medicine, was also well-received. He also had a couple of songs featured on the HBO series, True Blood.

King kicks the album off with the funky “Son of Diddley” rocker, “Baby Does Me Good,” and “Bad To Me” is a blues-rocker with some splendid guitar from King. The catchy “Coffee Song” is a keeper, too. “Slo Blues” is, like the title says, a slow blues ballad with a smooth vocal from King and some nice fretwork, and “Great Wall” is a classic blues shuffle.

“Country Song” puts a country slant on the proceedings, as King reflects on the country music genre in a talking vocal style reminiscent of Lou Reed. “My Baby’s Love” is a soulful ballad, complete with background singers and nice guitar break. The title track is a moody rocker with a thundering rhythm and a twin guitar attack. The closer, “Blue Angel,” is a tender ballad.

Lending King a hand are Johann Frank (guitar), Stephen “Styxx” Marshall (drums), Princeton Arnold (bass/background vocals), Buddy Pierson (Hammond B3), Nate Laguzza (drums/percussion), Jimmy Powers and Glenn Doll (harmonica), and Gaby Teran, Jorge Costa, Maxayn Lewis, and Connie Jackson (background vocals).

Train represents Solomon King’s finest effort to date. It’s the most complete picture of his musical vision so far.

--- Graham Clarke

Mikey JrMikey Junior’s eighth album, Traveling South (SwingNation/Vizztone), is a scorcher. Based in the northeastern U.S., Mikey is self-taught from listening to his collection of blues recordings and has been playing since he was in high school, making his mark on the East Coast by the time he was in his early 20s. He’s an engaging singer and songwriter and blows a mean harp to boot.

Traveling South was produced by Dave Gross, who also plays guitar. Also assisting Mikey are guitarist Dean Shot, drummer Michael Bram, bassist Matt Raymond, and keyboardist Jeremy Baum. They mesh beautifully as a unit, beginning with the smoldering opening cut, written by Mike Vernon, with some nice chromatic action from Mikey. “Nobody Does It Like Me” has a Chicago swagger to it, as does “Morning On My Way,” which sounds like a long-lost Billy Boy Arnold cut.

Mikey and the band shine on tracks like the down-home “Mill Tavern,” the solid “Bad Time Blues,” and “The Cheat,” which is as close to a blues rocker as you get on this disc. “You” features a strong vocal from Mikey, and “She’s Good At Being Bad” showcases some ominous tremelo fretwork. The catchy “Please Come Back,” an R&B-flavored rave-up, “Wrong Number,” a smooth soul track, and “Trying To Do The Best That I Can,” a lively country blues, close the disc as strongly as it opened.

Blues lovers who worry about the future of traditional blues in the hands of the youngbloods can take solace in the fact that a young man like Mikey Junior is faithfully bringing those great old sounds to life for a host of new fans to savor. Traveling South is a superlative set of old-school blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Lisa BialesFor her latest CD, Belle of the Blues (Big Song Music), singer Lisa Biales draws on some major talent, with EG Kight returning as producer (along with legendary producer Paul Hornsby) and a top notch roster of musicians including guitarist Tommy Talton (Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Cowboy), keyboardist Randall Bramblett (Sea Level, Steve Winwood), and drummer Bill Stewart (Cowboy, Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett). They, along with the remainder of the backing band, provide a lush backdrop for Biales’ wonderful vocal talents.

The 11 tracks on Belle of the Blues are a pretty wide-ranging set, with several excellent songs co-written by Kight and Tom Horner and a few choice covers mixed in. As befits the title, the focus on this disc is more blues-oriented than her previous releases with tracks like the sassy title cut, “Sad Sad Sunday,” a nice Memphis-styled soul ballad with some sterling B3 from Bramblett and dobro from Talton, the menacing “Graveyard Dead Blues,” and “Peach Pickin’ Mama.” Kight teams with Biales for a duet on “In My Girlish Days,” and they share harmony vocals on a couple of other Kight tracks, “Trouble With A Capital T” and “Bad Girl.”

In addition to the musicians mentioned above, other contributors include Hornsby on piano, harmonica player Pat Bergeson, Tommy Vickery and Johnny Fountain on bass, Ken Wynn on acoustic guitar, and Gary Porter on tambourine.

There’s plenty for blues fans to enjoy on Belle of the Blues, just like Lisa Biales’ previous efforts. It seems that she’s found a kindred spirit in EG Kight and hopefully this is a partnership that will continue for the immediate future.

--- Graham Clarke

Terry Quiett BandThe Terry Quiett Band first made a national impact with their 2011 release, Just My Luck, which finished in the Top 100 most-played CDs on the Root Music Report Blues Chart. Their 2012 follow-up, the live A Night At The Orpheum, continued the hot streak, earning accolades all around.

Taking Sides (Lucky Bag Records), Quiett’s 10th album in 15 years, takes a somewhat novel approach by splitting the disc into two distinct sides (similar to the days of the LP). One side focuses on Quiett’s impressive slide guitar, while the other side works in a soul/R&B vein.

The first half of the disc will definitely satisfy Quiett’s current fans…..six powerful blues-rockers including the raucous opener “Come The Morning,” the muscular rocker “Nothing At All,” featuring some impressive slide guitar, a redo of “Cut The Rope” that actually improves on the original, “Wheelhouse Blues,” a standout shuffle, the energetic “Voodoo Queen,” and “Weak-Minded Man.”

The second half of the disc is quite a contrast to the first, still loaded with the intensity and energy associated with Quiett, but more on the soul side of the blues. “A Fool Should Know” kicks off “Side B,” and features a strong soulful vocal from Quiett. “Two Hearts” has a bit of a West Side vibe going, with some great fretwork from Quiett, and the spicy R&B track “Gimme Some” adds a tight horn section, also present on the funky “I Come Running.” “Get Back On” is a feisty blues-rocker on the jazzy side, and the R&B track “You Can’t Come Back” offers with one of Quiett’s best solos. There is also a very cool “Bonus” track and the album’s lone cover, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” that closes the disc.

Quiett and band (Rodney Baker – drums, Nathan Johnson –bass) are joined by “Missippi” Hal Reed, who contributes some positively blistering harmonica work on several tracks, Scott Williams on keyboards, organ, piano, and tenor sax, Brad Turgeon on trumpet, and Jordan Northerns on trombone. Taking Sides shows Terry Quiett expanding his already considerable musical talents in a major way, which will certainly add a lot more fans to his burgeoning fan base.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaI can think of three good reasons why you should pick up Mick Kolassa’s new CD, Michissippi Mick (Swingsuit Records). Kolassa is a Michigan native who is a lifelong musician and fan of the blues. He’s been playing on the Memphis music scene for over two decades, and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation.

Those facts figure into Reason #1 for picking up this disc…..100% of the proceeds, the GROSS proceeds, from sales of this recording will go to the Blues Foundation, split between the HART Fund, which provides financial aid to ailing blues musicians and their families, and Generation Blues, which helps budding musicians learn their trade by offering scholarships to several music camps, workshops, and seminars. You can find out more about both programs by visiting the Blues Foundation’s website,

Reason #2 for picking up this disc is another sound one….It’s loaded to the gills with some great music. Kolassa mixes seven originals with five classic tunes, touching on a number of styles ranging from the traditional to modern. His original tunes are strong, with standouts like “Blues Are All Around You,” “Blowtorch Love,” “Burned That Bridge,” and “Baby’s Got Another Lover.”

The covers include a reworking of W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues,” with new lyrics added by Kolassa, a major revamping of the ’60s rocker, “The Letter,” which transform the classic into a slow blues, the Cab Calloway standard, “Reefer Man,” given a countrified makeover, the Johnny Mercer masterpiece, “Blues In The Night,” and a really nice take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mississippi River Blues” (complete with yodel), which closes the disc.

Reason #3 for giving this album a spin…..Kolassa is backed by some of Memphis’ finest musicians, including producer Jeff Jensen, whose lead guitar is a high point among high points, Victor Wainwright on piano, Eric Hughes and Brandon Santini on harmonica, Bill Ruffino on bass, Doug McMinn on drums, Chris Stephenson on organ, and backing vocals from Reba Russell and Redd Velvet.

Michissippi Mick is a fun musical ride that explores a broad array of blues styles that not only will reward listeners, but also will go toward a pair of great causes that will help ensure that this music continues to thrive today and continue to develop in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Polly O'KearyPolly O’Keary is an award-winning bass player/singer/songwriter based in the northwest U.S. She’s been in music for 25 years, winning multiple awards (including Washington Blues Society’s Female Vocalist of the year three times), and recently served as bass player for Too Slim & the Taildraggers for four years before forming her own trio, The Rhythm Method, with drummer, and fellow Taildragger, Tommy Cook, and guitarist Clint “Seattle Slim” Nonnemaker.

The trio’s new release, Compass, features 10 original songs written by O’Keary, plus one co-written with Seattle Slim. They range from blues-rock ( “Fools Gold,” “Stop, Train,” and “How The Mighty Fall”) to upbeat pop (“Summer”), to soulful R&B (“Your Honor” and “Let Me Be Kind”), to traditional blues (“Harder Than It Has to Be,” a shuffle featuring piano man Arthur Migliazza, “I’ve Got None,” and the exquisite slow blues “Losing You Again”), to funk (“You Get Me High”).

I really like O’Keary’s songwriting. There are some familiar topics covered on these tracks, but she puts a unique, sometimes amusing twist on several of them, “I’ve Got None” being one particular example. Vocally, she has a lot of range, really shining on the slower ballad styles, but equally capable or tearing through the uptempo material, too. She throws down some pretty nasty bass, too.

The Rhythm Method provides great support, too. Slim’s fretwork and and Cook’s time-keeping are both spot-on. There’s additional support from Migliazza, Norm Bellas (Hammond B3), the Seattle Horns, and backing vocals from Anita “Lady A” White and Kevin Sutton.

Overall, I found Compass to be a very enjoyable album, with a fine, versatile set of songs and some great singing and playing from Ms. O’Keary and friends. I will be looking forward to their next release, hopefully in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Smoke WagonOne of Ontario’s most popular blues bands, The Smoke Wagon Blues Band, specializes in a brand of blues that mixes rock, soul, and funk. Their 2012 release, It Ain’t Easy (billed as Corey Lueck & the Smoke Wagon Blues Band), reflected those styles very effectively. Their latest release, Live In Hamilton, captures the band on their home turf, at May, 2013 set recorded at Stonewalls Music Hall.

The band works though an 11-song, 71-minute set, mixing three cover tunes with their nine original compositions, all written by Lueck and guitarist Mike Stubbs, which cover a variety of styles. “Hen House Hopping” is a funky boogie tune, “Josephine” keeps the funk going with some nice keyboard work from Nick Succi, who also shines on “Wrong Side Girl.”

“I Can’t Change” moves into ballad territory with a great vocal from Lueck and support on saxophone from Gordon Aeichele. “Fine Furred Momma” is another mid-tempo blues with some great work from Stubbs and the rock-steady rhythm section (Jason Colavecchia – bass, Tibor Lukacs – drums) and from Lueck on harmonica.

The country rocker “Barton Street Blues” is obviously a crowd favorite as they and the band join in on the vocals, and “Smoke Wagon Boogie” allows the band an opportunity to stretch out on their respective instruments, while “Lonesome Whistle Blues” is a slow blues.

The covers include the smoky opener, a lengthy version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” with some great saxophone from Aeichele, a ten-plus minute version of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” that segues into Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” with some fantastic instrumental work from the entire band, and a funked-up version of Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow.”

Live in Hamilton really catches the Smoke Wagon Blues Band in their element and they rise to the occasion. This is one of the better live CDs I’ve heard in a while….everything clicks perfectly.

--- Graham Clarke

Back Pack JonesBack Pack Jones was formed in 2012, consisting of five musicians from the Springfield, Illinois area: Mike “Big Mike” Wallace (vocals), Kirk Lonborn (guitar), Mike Baier (bass/vocals), Wendell Day (keyboards), and Harvey Horton (drums). They’ve competed in the I.B.C. twice, making the semi-finals in one of those years, and have also opened for B.B. King. On their debut release, Betsy’s Kitchen, they offer a nine-song set of originals that showcases their contemporary blues sound, which is augmented on several tracks by a five-piece horn section.

The opening track, “Riptide Baby,” swings hard and Wallace’s warm vocals are complemented by Day’s keyboards and a smooth guitar break from Lonborn. “I’m Just A Man” has an R&B feel, and “Fixin’ To Leave” is a slow blues with some immaculate fretwork from Lonborn. “Baggage” is a funky number with clever metaphorical lyrics and some guitar work that brings Carlos Santana to mind, while “The End” is a powerful jazz-flavored track with some nice keyboards from Day and a strong vocal turn from Wallace.

“Even God Sings The Blues” is another fine slow blues track, with an eye to current events, with a great guitar intro from Lonborn and even more great work during the song. “Hey Diddle Riddle” is a fun tune with a jazzy beat and nursery rhyme references and a violin thrown into the mix (courtesy of Chenoa Alamu). “Hiding In Plain Sight” is the rockinest song on the disc with some scorching riffs from Lonborn and saxophone from Archer Logan, and “I Got A Girlfriend” swings the disc to an entertaining close.

Betsy’s Kitchen is a pretty diverse set of blues styles, mixing funk, swing, and jazz in equal measure, plus a great set of original tunes. Back Pack Jones shows that they are capable of playing all of them equally well. It will be interesting to see what’s next for this band.

--- Graham Clarke

Patti ParksWhen Patti Parks returned to the music scene in 2003, after a lengthy hiatus, she did it with a vengeance, winning a trip with her band to the I.B.C. in 2006, winning Best Female Blues Performer from Nightlife Magazine in 2011, and being recognized as Best Blues Female vocalist by Buffalo (N.Y) Music Awards for the last two years. She sings with a whole lot of soul and sass, and she wrote all nine tracks on her latest CD, Cheat’N Man.

The jumping “Baby Don’t You Know” kicks off the disc, featuring a four-piece horn section, followed by the smoky ballad, “Happy You’re Mine” and the defiant “Back Off.” “It Ain’t Right” is a splendid slow blues with some great guitar work from Charles Buffamone, and “Mama” is a fairly straightforward ballad. The title track is a great soul/blues and features Parks’ strongest vocal and some great tenor sax from Boby Serete. “Everyday” is a Chicago-styled blues, while “What I Had To Be” is a swinging R&B tune. “Whatcha Gonna Do” has a brassy, almost Big Band feel.

Parks can sing it tough or sing it tender, depending on the style she’s tackling, and packs plenty of passion behind it. The seven-piece band, paced by longtime collaborator Guy Nirelli (keyboards) and assisted by a multitude of guest musicians swings relentlessly. Cheat’ N Man is a strong set of original and diverse tunes that should easily move Patti Parks beyond the Buffalo area, if there’s any justice in the world.

--- Graham Clarke

John LyonsJohn Lyons was born in Michigan, but moved to Switzerland in 2001. His music has been influenced by not just the blues, but also rock, pop, and soul. He is an excellent songwriter who bares his soul with each tune and has a real knack for a catchy hook or melody. On his third release, Sing Me Another Song, Lyons’ full talents are on display as a performer and composer with nine great songs dealing with affairs of the heart.

“Another Wave,” a catchy power pop tune, gets the disc off to a fine start, and moves into “She’ll Tell You No Lies,” a bluesy ballad. “Believe” is a hopeful acoustic number, while “Waiting For You” finds Lyons dealing with life as he waits for his lover to return. The title track is a keeper with its catchy hook and some nice guitar, and the pensive “Beautiful” is just that, and would appeal to multiple genres with its dreamy arrangement and vivid imagery.

‘Helengeli” is a dreamy acoustic track, and the gentle Beatle-esque ballad “Under the Stars” sounds great. “Dear James” is a devastating song about a break-up, and is followed by “The Blues Moved In,” a poignant view of loneliness. ‘Blink of an Eye” has an easy rambling country-folk groove, and “Bluestar Highway” turns the amps up for a blues-rock finish….well, technically not the finish because there’s a bonus track included, an inspirational track that closes the track on a positive note.

Backing Lyons is a great band, which includes Matthew Savnik (B3, piano), Simon Britschgi (drums), Gabriel Spahni (bass, background vocals), and Simon Winiger (bass). Sing Me Another Song has plenty of memorable songs that will appeal equally to blues and roots music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Mary Ann CasaleMary Ann Casale was born on Long Island, and she grew up listening to jazz and blues musicians who practiced and jammed in her uncle’s cellar, which piqued her interest in music and performing. She began in the college coffeehouse scene on Long Island, which eventually led to a career as a solo performer and a singer in several bands, traveling around the country. Then, she took a 30-year break.

Recently, Casale began writing and performing again, and it’s almost like she never left in the first place. She’s released an album, Running Out of Time (Crustee Tees Records), which was produced by Tas Cru, who also plays guitar and harmonica on several tracks. Otherwise, with the exception of a few additional instruments on a couple of tracks, it’s pretty much Casale’s show, and she’s more than up to the task.

Casale’s songs have a personal touch to them, whether ruminating about the brevity of our time on the planet (the lovely title track), of love and deceit (“Don’t Knock On That Door”), or the difficulty of letting things go (“All That Is Left Behind”). Her songwriting is simple, but powerful, and vocally she packs a wallop, too, with her deep, bluesy delivery…at times somber, at times whimsical (as on “Faces Never Seen,” “No Place To Hide,” and “One of These Days”), and also soulful and sultry.

Casale has continued to build her audience on the east coast with her unique mix of blues, folk, and Americana, and the gentle, but powerful Running Out of Time should give her resurgent career a boost.

--- Graham Clarke


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