Blues Bytes

What's New

April 2015

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

 Jon Spear Band

Big Dave McLean

Eliza Neals

Igor Prado Band

Balkun Brothers

My Own Holiday

D. A. Foster

Breezy Rodio

Greg Nagy

Ray Goren

Jubilee Riots

Toots Lorraine

Ghost Town Blues Band

Isaiah B Brunt

Jewel Brown

Brandon Santini

Kerry Pastine

Bobby Messano

Jeff Jensen

Steve Earle & the Dukes

Tas Cru 


Jon Spear BandThe Jon Spear Band hails from central Virginia, and they represented the Central Virginia Blues Society in this year’s I.B.C. in Memphis. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Spear has been around the music scene long enough to remember opening for the Isley Brothers during their “Twist and Shout” days, so you know he’s the real deal. The rhythm section (drummer John Stubblefield and bassist Andy Burdetsky) boasts well over thirty years each playing in the D.C. area, and they are joined by the outstanding young guitarist/vocalist Dara James.

Their debut release, Old Soul, contains ten tracks, nine originals and one cover. Spear wrote all of the originals and sings on four of them, with James taking the mic on the remainder. “I Can’t Help Myself” feels like an old Little Feat song with its funky rhythm work, and “Devil’s Highway” is a hypnotic blues rocker. The title track is a smoky ballad with guest Ron Holloway on saxophone, and “Paid In Full” features a soulful vocal from James, who also sings on all of the above tracks.

There are also some unique selections included. “Forever Home,” a tune about finding a new home from a dog’s perspective, was written for a local animal shelter. Spear takes vocals on the sweet “I Love My Skin,” which won an award in the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest (Children’s Division), “The Second Mouse Gets The Cheese,” a fun throwback to those great Louis Jordan jump tunes of the ’40s, the Santana-styled “Mean Mean Woman,” and the anthem “Live Music Is Better.” The lone cover is a good one, an extended take on Bob Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley,” which really lets James stretch out on guitar and vocals.

Old Soul is a highly enjoyable set of blues and soul that features some impressive original tunes. The veteran Spear, the rock-solid rhythm section, and the gifted young James proves to be a winning combination on this release.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Dave McLeanBig Dave McLean has been the heart and soul of the Winnipeg blues scene, dating back to the late ’60s/early ’70s, influencing many of the artists from the area, including Colin James. His ragged but right guitar work, harmonica, and gruff vocals are perfectly suited for old school, down-home blues. McLean has recorded rather sparingly over his lengthy career, but recently signed with Black Hen Music to release his seventh album, Faded But Not Gone, which finds the legendary artist joining forces with label mate and guitarist extraordinaire Steve Dawson, who produced the session in Nashville, Tennessee.

The dozen tracks on the new disc include five McLean originals and seven covers, and he’s backed by a formidable band which includes Kevin McKendree (keyboards), John Dymond (bass), and Gary Craig (drums), with guest appearances by James, Colin Linden, and The McCrary Sisters. McLean’s mother and brother passed away just before sessions began for this album, so you can feel the ache, sense of loss, and healing on every track.

McLean’s originals include the autobiographical “I Best Choose To Sing The Blues,” which features Linden on slide guitar and Dawson on lap steel.”Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” “Shades of Grace,” a poignant tribute to his mother who sang “Amazing Grace” to him as a child, and “The Fallen,” a stunning piece written for his brother, who had passed away the week before it was recorded. He also covers tunes by Skip James (a powerful solo reading of “Devil Got My Woman”), Ray LaMontagne (a funky version of “Devil’s In The Jukebox”) , The Wood Brothers (“One More Day”), Tom Waits (“Mr. Siegal”), and Tampa Red (a spot-on “Dead Cat On The Line,” with mandolin from James).

McLean shines on guitar and harmonica, and his gravelly vocals are just what the doctor ordered. Dawson provides his usual spirited support on a number of stringed instruments (National steel, lap steel, pedal steel, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, Weissenborn) as well as organ. Their efforts make the entire album a pleasure to listen to. Faded But Not Gone shows why Big Dave McLean is such a big deal in Canada, and why he should be a big deal everywhere.

--- Graham Clarke

Eliza NealsDetroit-based singer Eliza Neals was originally trained as an opera singer, but has moved from that genre to become one of the most distinctive blues-rock vocalist around, making her mark at various local Motown venues and working her way throughout the country. With her pile-driving, whisky-soaked vocals, she’s destined to attract even more attention, and her latest release, Breaking and Entering, provides ample verification of her many talents.

On her latest release, Neals is joined by several fantastic guitarists, including Hall of Fame guitarist Howard Glaser, who lays down some scorching fretwork on several tracks, including the smoldering title track, which appears in two versions, the cool rocker “Goo Goo Glass,” “Windshield Wipers,” and “Spinning.” He also plays dobro on the opening blues rocker, “Detroit Drive.” Other guitarists featured are Mike Puwal, who plays guitar and bass on several tracks, and Kid Rock guitarist Kenny Olson.

Neals’ vocals are the big drawing card on Breaking and Entering, but she also acquits herself equally well as a composer, writing or co-writing all but one of the tracks, the exception being the R&B-styled “Sugar Daddy,” which was penned by Motown legend Barrett Strong. These tracks move effortlessly from blues rock to pop to country-flavored fare, and she’s comfortable in all of them. She also plays keyboards on several of the tracks, and the aforementioned vocals will keep you coming back to the disc over and over.

Neals and the three lead guitarists are augmented by a stellar group, including Gabe Gonzales, Tim Grogan, Michael Galante, Steve Lacross, and Erik Maluchnik (drums), Paul Randolph and Chris Vega (bass), Shane Visbal (guitar), Tyrone Smith (keyboards, sax), and backing vocalists Lizz Kristi and Renee Flemings.

This is powerful stuff. Eliza Neals has issued some of the grittiest blues rock you will hear this year. Rest assured that you will be hearing more from this dynamic singer/songwriter in the future. In the present, however, you can get all that you need from Breaking and Entering.

--- Graham Clarke

Igor PradoThe title of the Igor Prado Band’s new CD, Way Down South (Delta Groove Music), means much further south than most blues fans would think. Prado and his bandmates (brother Yuri Prado on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani on bass, and Denilson Martins on saxophone hail from Sao Paolo, Brazil, considerably further south than your run-of-the-mill blues locale. Though the band has been around for some time, they received a lot of positive press after their appearance with the late, great Lynwood Slim on his excellent 2010 release, Brazilian Kicks. Now they are one of the most popular blues bands in South America.

On Way Down South, recorded over a two-year period mostly in Sao Paolo, with a couple of tracks recorded in California, Prado and his band are joined by an impressive line-up, dubbed the Delta Groove All-Stars. The group includes Omar Coleman, Wallace Coleman, J.J. Jackson, Mitch Kashmar, Mud Morganfield, Rod and Honey Piazza, Sugaray Rayford, Kim Wilson, Randy Chortkoff, Junior Watson, Monster Mike Welch, and Lynwood Slim.

Way Down South consists of 13 tracks, with two originals (one each penned by Rayford and Wallace Coleman) and 11 dandy classic blues covers. Rayford handles vocals on two tracks, Ike Turner’s “Matchbox” and his own “Big Mama Blues,” and Kim Wilson handles vocal chores on Long John Hunter’s “Ride With Me Baby” and the Lightnin’ Slim standard, “If You Ever Need Me.” Morganfield covers his father’s “She’s Got It,” Kashmar handles Jimmy Rogers “What Have I Done,” Rod Piazza contributes Elmore James’ “Talk To Me Baby,” Omar Coleman revisits Lightnin’ Slim with “Rooster Blues,” and Wallace Coleman closes the disc with an acoustic take on his own “Trying To Do Right.”

Prado himself sings on two tracks, including the bouncy “Shake & Fingerpop.” He shares vocals with J.J. Jackson on the Joe Tex classic, “You Got What It Takes.” There are also two tracks featuring Lynwood Slim’s vocals: Lowell Fulson’s “Baby Won’t You Jump With Me” and Paul Gayten’s “You Better Believe It.”

Prado and band are not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of guest stars on Way Down South, as sometimes happens on star-studded affairs. His guitar work is spot-on and the band provides rock-solid support on this diverse set of tunes. They provide overwhelming proof that the blues are not only alive and well, but worldwide to boot.

--- Graham Clarke

Balkun BrothersThe Connecticut-based Balkun Brothers have already generated a considerable amount of attention in their five years of existence, having won Blues Society Challenges in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, and making the semi-finals (2014) and finals (2013) in consecutive years at the International Blues Challenge. Not a bad résumé, considering the band had not even released a full length album at the time.

That issue has been rectified with the release of ReDrova, which really captures the trio’s (Steve Balkun – guitar/vocals, Nick Balkun – drums/percussion, Caleb Battersby – bass/baritone) essence, which is hard-driving, fire-breathing blues-rock. The intensity is pretty high on these twelve tracks, which breathe new life into both the blues and rock genres, and are all penned by the Balkun Brothers, who also recorded, produced, and edited the album.

You can probably classify ReDrova as blues rock, but it actually incorporates traditional blues in the band’s blueprint quite frequently. The opening cut, “Last Jam (Oh Yeah.)” is a straight-out rocker though, where the title track has a southern rock feel with some great slide guitar. On the hard-charging “Got My Boots On,” Steve Balkun picks up a resonator guitar and proceeds to send the track to another level culminating in one of the best tracks on the album.

The swampy “Keep Me Warm.” settles things down for a moment, which is probably a good thing, because the raucous “S.F.T.A.” throws the entire disc into high gear with a relentless pace and soaring slide guitar (not to mention a baritone horn solo). “Bippidee Bopp” is a sweet funky blues which transitions well into “Keep It Up,” a fiery and fast-paced boogie track. “Sally’s Blues” is a sweaty, slow urban-styled blues with accompaniment from Larry “Buzzy” Fallstrom (keyboards), and some splendid guitar work from Steve Balkun.

The next two tracks, both instrumentals change the pace slightly, with Steve Balkun pulling out the resonator again for the short instrumental interlude, “Fried Pickle Party,” then pulling out all the stops on slide guitar for “Slidin’ Butt,” then an Elmore James homage on the scorching “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind).” The closing track is “Too Damn Long,” which ventures into Hill Country territory with impressive results.

Simply put, there’s not a bad cut in the bunch on ReDrova. I really like the Balkun Brothers’ approach on the blues, mixing the tradtional sounds of the blues with some of the best guitar and rhythm work to be heard these days. I can’t recommend this disc enough.

--- Graham Clarke

My Own HolidayMy Own Holiday consists of Joey Chrisman (guitar/vocals) and Nick Bartolo (drums) and these two guys can make some powerful music. Call it stripped-down blues rock if you want, but it not only incorporates the blues and rock, but also pop, folk, and Americana. For their new release, Reason To Bleed (Eclecto Groove Records), the duo offers 13 striking original songs that cover love, lust, loss, hope, sin, and salvation , all penned by Chrisman.

“Hold On Me,” the opener is a gritty rocker with a droning guitar and a fiery vocal from Chrisman. “Razorblades” is a churning pop rocker that says a lot in its barely two minute playing time. The blues shuffle “Two Coins” is next and is followed by “Memphis,” which moves more toward folk territory, while “Devil In Me” is a rocking blues boogie and the title track has a Hill Country feel with the droning guitar work and simple percussion backdrop.

Other tracks include the haunting ballad “Whiskey in the Well,” the raw “On the Floor Blues,” the JLH-styled boogie track, “Smile,” the straight rock and roller “Stone Free,” “Stranded,” a moody blues ballad, the funky blues “Don’t Shine On Me,” and the gentle acoustic closer, “Right Back Where I Started.”

I really like the duo’s “stripped down” approach. Chrisman’s guitar work is distinctive and edgy, as is his songwriting, and his heartfelt, sometimes world-weary vocals are perfect. He allows the occasional waver and crack to seep in and that makes the performances that much more authentic. Bartolo’s percussion work is standout as well.

There’s nothing particularly fancy about any of My Own Holiday’s music. It’s the blues colored with rock, pop, and folk influences, solid and effective songwriting, and powerful performances. Reason To Bleed has a lot to offer music fans of any genre.

--- Graham Clarke

DA FosterFrom the age of 19 into his early 30s, through the ’70s into the early ’80s, D. A. Foster was co-owner of the Connecticut roadhouse, the Shaboo Inn, which booked such acts as Hall & Oates, the Police, Journey, AC/DC, and many others, but also hosted numerous blues acts, such as Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King, and Albert King, among others. Foster had natural vocal talents himself and benefitted from the tutelage of many of these blues talents, eventually forming his own band in the late ’70s, the Shaboo Allstars, a group which included Matt “Guitar” Murphy among its ranks.

Recently, Foster released his debut album, The Real Thing (Shaboo/VizzTone), a project which finds the singer joining forces with members of the Phantom Blues Band on a dozen soul and blues covers, some familiar, some not so familiar. Upon listening, you will realize a couple of things --- (1) D. A. Foster is the real thing, and (2) why has it taken so long for him to release an album to verify (1).

Foster ably works through a choice set of tunes, some familiar ones like a pair of old Duke/Peacock hits associated with Bobby “Blue” Bland (“Ain’t Doing Too Bad” and “This Time I’m Gone For Good”), the Jesse Stone (a.k.a. Charles Calhoun) standard “Smack Dab In the Middle,” George Jackson’s “Down Home Blues,” Brook Benton’s “Lie To Me,” and the classic “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You,” and a few newer tunes by Dave Steen (“Good Man Bad Thing” and “We All Fall Down”), Eddie Hinton (“Super Lover”), Bill Withers (“You Just Can’t Smile It Away”), and the title track by Jerry Lynn Williams.

Foster has a warm, inviting, and understated vocal style that easily fits a variety of blues and soul styles, going from polished and upscale to gritty with little effort. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the musical backing of luminaries like Mike Finnigan (keys, backing vocals), Tony Braunagel (drums), Larry Fulcher (bass, backing vocals), Johnny Lee Schell (guitar), Lenny Castro (percussion), David Garfield (piano), Josh Sklair (guitar), horns from Darrell Leonard (trumpet), Joe Sublett (sax), Lee Thornberg (flugelhorn, trombone, trumpet), and backing vocals from Julie Delgado and Nita Whitaker.

Braunagel and Finnigan produced the disc and it sounds like everybody had a ball recording it. I’m pretty sure that you will have a ball listening to this fun and entertaining set of blues and soul. You’ll agree that D. A. Foster is definitely the real thing.

--- Graham Clarke

Breezy RodioIf you’ve heard the last two recordings from Delmark recording artist Linsey Alexander, you’ve heard the string-bending talents of his band leader, Breezy Rodio, who has been leading The Hoochie Man’s band for the past several years, after moving to Chicago from New York and finding a musical mentor in guitarist Guy King. He’s also recorded a few solo efforts of his own in the meantime. His debut featured several prominent Windy City blues artists including Alexander and Lurrie Bell, but he’s also dabbled in reggae, with one disc that featured guitarist Donald Kinsey.

On Rodio’s latest album, So Close To It (Windchill Records), the focus is strictly on blues as the skilled guitarist/singer mixes his own impressive originals with covers of tunes made famous by B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and others. The King covers are really choice, including a sweet take on “When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer,” the slow blues “Sneakin’ Around,” and the ballad “Please Accept My Love.”

Walker’s “Too Lazy” gets a swinging treatment and Rodio’s jazzy reading of Ray Charles’ “Just About To Lose Your Clown” (with Chris Foreman on B3) is first-rate. There’s also an entertaining cover of the Elvis Presley tune, “One Broken Heart For Sale.”

Rodio’s originals mix well with the covers. On “Mary,” he captures Albert King’s string-bending style perfectly. “The Day I Met You” is an exquisite slow blues that also features vocals from Joe Barr and Carl Weathersby, and Lurrie Bell mans the mic and plays guitar on the T-Bone-esque “I Win Some More.” The swinging “I Can’t Get Enough of You” is another highlight, and the houserocker “Time To Come Back Home” finds Rodio getting excellent support from Foreman’s B3. Harp legend Billy Branch joins Rodio on the feisty “Walking With My Baby (She’s So Fine).”

There’s also a bonus 13th track, another slice of heavenly T-Bone goodness called “Evil Hearted Woman,” which was cut live in the studio.

So Close To It is a great set of updated traditional blues that will please blues fans from start to finish and serves as a powerful and effective introduction to Breezy Rodio, one of the finest blues guitarists the Windy City has to offer.

--- Graham Clarke

Greg NagyIt’s been said that going through adversity of any kind will either make you or break you. Greg Nagy, formerly of the Midwest blues/soul outfit Root Doctor, recently saw his 25-year marriage come to an end during the recording of his latest release, Stranded (Big O Records). From that unfortunate turn of events, Nagy has produced what may be his best work to date, offering ten absolutely riveting performances.

The title track opens the disc and features an achingly soulful vocal performance from Nagy. The understated “I Won’t Give Up” is out of the same soul bag, featuring the keyboards of Nagy’s former Root Doctor musical partner, Jim Alfredson, who also co-produced the album and composed several of the songs with Nagy. Other standouts include the funky blues “Long Way To Memphis,” the irresistibly catchy “Run Away With You,” which has more of a pop/R&B feel, as does “Walk Out That Door,” and the upbeat “Still Doing Fine.”

“Been Such A Long Time” turns on the funk with some nice guitar riffing from Nagy, and “Sometimes” is a feisty R&B/Jazz number with guitar work from Zach Zunis. The closer is Kevin McKendree’s “Welcome Home,” a heartfelt ballad. The album’s lone cover is a dandy, too excellent reading of Bobby Blue Bland’s classic “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of The City.”

While Greg Nagy’s vocals and guitar are most definitely strong points of Stranded, the album also features some outstanding tunes. As with any good blues song, these tunes, and Nagy’s performances of them, not only make you feel the hurt, but they also show a resilience and refusal to surrender. This is a great disc for fans of blues and soul.

--- Graham Clarke

Ray GorenAs I listen to Ray Goren’s latest EP release, Save My Soul (RJ Ray Entertainment), I shake my head in amazement. This cat hasn’t been on Planet Earth but FIFTEEN years and he’s making amazing music. They’re still talking about his 2014 releases, the Eddie Kramer-produced EP LA Sessions, and Private Angel, his outstanding collaboration with two South Central bluesmen (dubbed the Generation Blues Experience). Already, Goren is approaching the total package as a performer, dynamic guitarist, talented vocalist, and an impressive tunesmith, and this latest release verifies all of it wholeheartedly.

Save My Soul has five original tracks, all written by Goren. They range from the funky rocking blues of “Stop,” to the title track, a melancholic power ballad to the pop sensibilities of “Can’t Live Like This,” to the crunching rocker “I Need You To Stay” to the optimistic closer, “Rise Together.” Goren shows a remarkable versatility both as a vocalist and a guitarist, ripping away one memorable solo after another.

Backing Goren on these tracks are Chaun Horten and Rob Humphreys (drums), Justin Glasco (bass, keyboards, percussion, background vocals), and Jeff Glasco (backgroung vocals). Produced by Justin Glasco, with help from Jon Sosin (who also co-wrote most of the songs with Goren and plays guitar, synthesizers, bass, keyboards and provides backing vocals),

Save My Soul has a definite modern feel to it, which is appropriate because young artists like Ray Goren are who will be tasked with bringing the blues forward, while keeping one foot planted in the music’s roots. Keep your eye on this exceptionally talented young man.

--- Graham Clarke

Jubilee RootsWhen the Canadian Roots band Jubilee Riots decided to record their next album (they previously recorded as Enter the Haggis), they put out a call to their fans around the world to send their stories as inspiration. Letters came in from as far away as Japan and Australia, ranging from dark to humorous to humiliating. The band took these 500 or so letters as inspiration and set out to make an energetic album designed to get people on their feet, combining serious and personal stories with dynamic, upbeat rhythms.

The results can be heard in the band’s latest release, Penny Black (Firebrand Entertainment).
The 11 tracks mix a wide range of topics, from dealing with relationships (“Trying Times,” “Unsteady”), taking risks and challenges (“Two Bare Hands” and “Traveler”), even a bit of humor (“I Stole The President’s Shoes”). There’s also “Astray,” a story of a survivor of the Holocaust who reunites with family after thinking that they were dead. “Lived a Life” is uplifting and has a country feel, and the poppish “Cut The Lights” is irresistibly catchy.

The band consists of Brian Buchanan (vocals, guitars, keyboards, fiddle), Bruce McCarthy (durms, percussion, vocals), Craig Downie (trumpet, whistle, harmonica, vocals), Trevor Lewington (vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin), and Mark Abraham (bass, vocals). They are assisted by The Spring Standards’ vocalist Heather Robb on several tracks.

While Penny Black focuses more on roots than blues, the songs are all memorable, both lyrically and musically, and is definitely worth checking out. I really like the diversity in instrumentation and just the originality of the concept, and chances are that you will, too. It’s a great set for music fans in general, and deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Toots LorraineMake It Easy, the latest release from Toots Lorraine, is a wonderful slice of vintage West Coast-styled Blues with some classic Chicago Blues thrown in for good measure. Lorraine and husband, guitarist / producer Chad Dant, ordinarily front a Jacksonville, Florida-based band called The Traffic, but for this release, the pair traveled to Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in the Bay Area, and employed some of the West Coast’s go-to musicians. The new release features a dozen tracks, seven originals written by Lorraine and Dant (listed in the credits as “Chad Mo’”) and five covers.

Lorraine’s vocals are as cool as the other side of the pillow on tracks like the jazzy title track, which opens the disc, the sultry slow blues “When Did You Stop Tryin’,” the splendid T-Bone-esque “Get Back To Lovin’” (featuring some great fretwork from Dant), the lovely ballads “Wrong Side of Love” and “Hindsight.” She’s also standout on the uptempo numbers, too, such as “Let Your Tears Fall Baby,” “Satisfied” (which features Andersen on guitar), and Big Joe Turner’s “Low Down Dog.”

Lorraine shows another side of her vocal talents on the traditional gospel tune, “Wade In The Water (with backing vocals from Dant and Andersen) and “Love The World,” the Jimmie Vaughan/Dr. John inspirational tune that closes the disc, and Dant gets the spotlight on the slick instrumental “Chad Mo’ Shuffle.”
The stellar band includes Andersen, who also co-produced with Dant, on guitar, bass, and piano on selected tracks, Lorenzo Farrell on keyboards, Mike Phillips on bass, June Core on drums and percussion, and Aki Kumar on harmonica.

Make It Easy is a fine and varied set of Blues that shows the talent and versatility of Toots Lorraine.

--- Graham Clarke

Ghost TownGhost Town Blues Band has attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years with their memorable live shows (usually prefaced by a Second Line entrance) throughout the Southeastern part of the U.S. and their 2nd Place finish at the 2014 IBC in Memphis. The six-piece Memphis ensemble has released a couple of well-received albums, plus a fascinating DVD (Once there was a Cigar Box) featuring front man Matt Isbell and his “side job,” creating cigar box guitars. For their latest effort, Hard Road to Hoe, the band opted to forego the usual album release process, bypassing record labels and financing the project themselves via Indiegogo.

From the beginning of the disc, the autobiographical title track that features Matt Isbell playing shovel, drummer Preston McEwen playing “electric-analog broom,” and bottleneck slide guitar from Matt Isbell using a guitar made from his grandmother’s silverware chest, among the accompanying instruments, you know that this disc is going to be not only something different, but something special as well. “Big Shirley” is next, with frenetic piano backing from Jeremy Powell and a fierce boogie woogie vibe.

Memphis harp master Brandon Santini guests on the next two tracks, providing vocals and harmonica to the funky Crescent City-flavored “Tip of My Hat” and “My Doggy,” which also features a cameo vocal appearance from Isbell’s pooch. The next two tracks are a set, beginning with “Mr. Handy Man,” a Second Line entrance in tribute to the founder of the Blues which segues into one of my favorite tracks “Hate To See Her Go,” which is highlighted by some fine soloing from Isbell, Suavo Jones (trombone), and Richie Hale (tenor sax).

“Tied My Worries To A Stone” is a fiery blues rocker and the rootsy “Dead Sea” reminds me of a long-lost John Hiatt track, and features that great silverware chest guitar again. “Nothin’ But Time” is a slow blues with a bit of a Southern Rock flair thanks to the soaring guitar work, the gravelly vocals and Powell’s B3. “Dime In The Well” is a short, but funky Hill Country blues that features Isbell on 3-string cigar box guitar, and “Seventeen” is a pop-styled cautionary tale about growing up too fast. The disc closes with a nice country blues tune, “Road Still Drives The Same.”

To be completely honest, I can’t imagine anyone NOT liking Hard Road to Hoe. The songs and musicianship are just fantastic, as good as any I’ve heard in a while. This was a lot of fun to listen to and it makes me want to go watch GTBB’s live show as soon as possible. To me, that’s the purpose of a good recording and this album fulfills that purpose. Trust me when I say that you will be hitting “Replay” a lot with this disc.

--- Graham Clarke

IB BruntFor his latest release, Just The Way That It Goes, Australian bluesman Isaiah B Brunt journeyed to New Orleans. The result is his first completely electric recording and a relaxed, straightforward, rootsy effort that takes it’s sweet time to develop and slowly builds in intensity. Brunt produced the disc and wrote all of the tunes, backed by a set of NOLA musicians (Richard Bird – bass, Mark Whitaker – drums, Mike Hood – keys, David Stocker – mellotron, Kenny Claiborne – harmonica) who certainly know their way around a groove.

“She’s So Fine” kicks off the disc and it’s a smooth midtempo number, while “Let Your Heart Know” is one of several gentle ballads. “The River Runs High” is a vivid laidback Delta-styled blues with Claiborne’s harmonica backing, and the swinging “Precious Stone” benefits from Hood’s sparkling piano. “With A Kiss” is one of several tracks that feature Brunt’s exquisite slide guitar, which always leaves you wanting to hear more.

“Lover’s Blues” is a heartfelt, soulful ballad with a great vocal turn from Brunt. The lovely title track is probably the best track on the disc, with very compelling lyrics and some wonderful B3 from Hood (the unsung hero of the disc). The optimistic “Never Give Up” is next, followed by the haunting closer, “Which Way To Go,” a track accentuated greatly by Stocker’s mellotron.

Just The Way That It Goes is Isaiah B. Brunt’s best release yet, and finds him branching out from the traditional blues of his previous efforts into Soul and Jazz with impressive results.

--- Graham Clarke

John Earl WalkerNYC blues man John Earl Walker has not only been playing the blues for the past couple of years, he lived the blues as well. At the end of 2012, he lost nearly everything he had during Hurricane Sandy. In addition, he lost his longtime rhythm guitarist, Joey Tremello, who passed away in 2013. Walker has picked up the pieces, however, and recently released his 6th and best album, Mustang Blues (Walkright Music).

Longtime fans of Walker’s should already know what they’re getting with this disc --- razor-sharp blues rock of the highest order, along with some witty and creative songwriting. Walker penned all ten tracks on Mustang Blues, including the title track, a humorous look at owning a Mustang in the city, and “Superstorm Sandy Blues,” a scorching slow blues which recounts Walker’s struggles during and after the storm.

Walker offers up new views on familiar blues topics, such as “Hey Baby,” “The Devil Follows Me,” “I’m Already Gone,” and “My Mama Told Me.” The funky “Readjust” touches on the difficulties in making changes in life, and “One Plus One” looks at infidelity with a new twist. The hard-driving closer, “Even Up The Score,” is about resilience and revenge. There’s also an instrumental, “Funkify,” which allows Walker to show off his guitar skills (always a highlight of his releases).

I’ve been listening to Walker for a while now, and I think Mustang Blues is my favorite of his albums. The guitar work is always there and that’s as strong as ever, plus I really like his laconic vocal style --- it matches perfectly with the songs that he writes and gives them a personal touch. The support he receives from his band (Peter Harris – bass, Frank Diorio – drums, Gene Cordew – keys, and Steve Ress, who plays slide on the title track) is superlative. It all adds up to another winner for John Earl Walker.

--- Graham Clarke

Jewel BrownJewel Brown got her start as a child prodigy in Houston during the ’40s. By the time she was in her late teens, she was a regular on the Houston club scene, and by her mid 20s, she was beginning a seven-year stint as vocalist for Louis Armstrong and his All Stars. She retired from the music biz in the early ’70s to take care of her parents and only sang and recorded sporadically through the rest of the century.

The last 10 to 15 years found Ms. Brown performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band frequently at festivals and eventually recording one of the best CDs of 2012, Milton Hopkins & Jewel Brown, with the former B.B. King guitarist, which launched her on European, Asian, and South American tours and a gig at the Chicago Blues Festival.

In 2014, Brown traveled to Japan to record with the outstanding swing band, Bloodest Saxophone. The album, Roller Coaster Boogie, was initially released on a Japanese label but is now available to a wider audience since it has been reissued domestically on Dynaflow Records, which is great news for music fans. Brown and the seven-piece band rip through 13 classic songs mixing blues, jazz, swing, R&B, and pop, and the 77-year-old vocalist sounds like she’s having more fun than she’s had in years.

Bloodest Saxophone swings relentlessly and they are an excellent compliment to Brown’s powerhouse vocals. She moves effortlessly from pop chestnuts like “Bewitched” (yes, the theme from the old TV series), “Twilight Time,” “Goody Goody,” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” to swinging jazz numbers like “That’s a Pretty Good Love,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and the interesting “Afrodesia.” Of course, there’s plenty of great classic R&B and blues here as well, with Tina Dixon’s “Walk That Walk Daddy-O” Classie Ballou’s “Crazy Mambo,” and the fine closer, Jimmy Witherspoon’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

It’s a real shame that Jewel Brown was off the music scene for so long, but judging by these two outstanding releases in two years, she’s back with a vengeance, and her career resurgence is great news for blues fans. Hopefully, she and Bloodest Saxophone will reunite soon and give us more.

--- Graham Clarke

Brandon SantiniI’ve watched Brandon Santini grow from his earliest days on Beale Street to the BMA-nominated artist he’s become today and it’s been a pleasure to be along for the ride. I was happy to receive a copy of Brandon’s latest disc, Live and Extended, in the mail and I continue to be appreciative of all he’s accomplished as a Bluesman. Recorded live in Quebec, Canada, the band is hot and the tunes even hotter. Let’s give it a listen.

From their French intro, Brandon and the band are off and running with “One More Mile.” “Just one more mile…yeah…just one more mile to go…it’s been a long, desolate journey, girl…but I don’t have to cry no more.” Brandon kicks in with a tremendous harp lick and the band is tight behind him. We’ve got Timo Arthur on guitar and vocals, Nick Hern on bass and vocals with Chad Wirl behind the pots and pans. The band is tight, the crowd is raring to go, this is nothing but a party.

More harp and we move on to “This Time Another Year,” the title cut from Brandon’s last CD. “This time, another year…ah, people…I wonder…where would I be?...I might be up in Chicago…or people, Lord…I might be back down in Tennessee....Say, oh yes.” We segue into the mellower “Elevate Me Mama” and Brandon is singing about his lust for the woman in question. “Elevate me, mama…a woman…I’m about five or six floors on down…yes, you know everybody, they tell…you are the vainest woman in town.” Sounds to me like the woman proved that to Brandon and we’ll move on from there, though I do appreciate the fact that Brandon’s harp is definitely the lead instrument for this tune.

The French respond enthusiastically and the band moves on to “Evil Woman.” “I say…evil woman…where you going…and what’s your name…yes…you know I love you baby…and I believe that’s a crying shame.” This evil woman definitely has Brandon’s attention and it’s safe to say he’s under her spell. Brandon takes a minute to ask the audience if they’re having a good time and then Timo breaks out the intro for “Have a Good Time.” His fretwork is spot on and the band is ready to go. “I just got paid…and I got a pocket full of dough…said….all we got to do is let the good times roll….we’re going to have a good time, people…rock and roll all night long.” Brandon and the band will play all night so I’m hoping the crowd know what’s in store. “Well, you can fish like Peter…you can pray like Paul….but when judgment day come…you’d better have a good time.”

Brandon’s back at the lead with his intro on “Help Me With the Blues,” and Chad’s right behind him on the kick drum. “Well…I’m begging you baby…won’t you please come back home…well, I’m begging you baby, won’t you treat me right…said, ‘help me with the blues…cause I can’t carry on.” Timo kicks in with some blazing fretwork and Brandon’s got it going on with “help me with the blues.” We stay uptempo with the next song on the set list, “Got Love If You Want It,” and Timo’s fretwork has the crowd jumping as Brandon takes the stage after what was obviously a set break. “I’ve got love…if you want it, babe…I’ve got love if you want it, babe…now we can rock a while.” Brandon’s girl is teasing him and he’s open to her bad intentions.

“No Matter What I Do” finds Brandon at odds with the woman in his life. Brandon sounds sincere and faithful to his woman so I’m not sure why he’s in the dog house. “I’m troubled every evening, Baby…you come home…said I’ve been looking for you, baby…but you’ve been out there all alone…tell me baby, why can’t I get along with you?” The answer’s not really clear and I’m thinking it’s time for Brandon to move on. The band slows the tempo down and Brandon offers up his first ballad of the set, “What You Doing to Me”. “Yes, that 61 Highway…it’s the longest highway I know…we’re going go down to New Orleans, Baby…put down our heavy load. Just you and me babe…I said pack your bags…we’ve got to go.” Sounds like Brandon’s got some romancing on his mind and New Orleans is definitely a place to go for some fun and good loving.

We’re back at a frenetic pace as the band moves on to “My Backscratcher” and Brandon’s leading the way on harp. “Said, get on now woman…you’d better stay away from my door…cause I done found me a new backscratcher…I don’t need you anymore.” Brandon’s message is short and sweet to his old lover, there’s a new woman in my house. At this point in the night it’s time to Boogie and Brandon leads the band into “I Wanna Boogie With You.” “Said…we can boogie real fast…we can boogie real slow…said hang on baby…don’t let go.” Brandon and the band are in high gear and the visions of folks dancing all around are appearing in my head.

The last cut on the disc, “Come on Everybody,” keeps the party going and Brandon is blowing a mean harp throughout. “Come on everybody…we’re going to have ourselves a ball…yes, everybody…let’s get together…don’t you know…there’s going to be some kind of shaking going on.” You can’t help but have a good time when Brandon and the band are in a mood like this.

It’s obvious there was great energy in the room the night this recording was made. Brandon and the band played their butts off for a very appreciative French audience in Quebec, and there was definitely a whole lot of shaking going on. Life on the road has been good to Brandon and the band, you can hear it on this disc and I’m happy for my friend. I know how hard he’s worked to get where he and the band are at today.

You can keep up with the band and order a copy of this disc at Definitely catch them live when you can and throw this disc in when you can’t. Both are guaranteed to make sure you “have a good time” and it doesn’t get much better than this.

--- Kyle Deibler

Kerry PastineBack in the day, here in Colorado, the Informants ruled the Blues scene and I actually had someone pitch me the band for our festival in Phoenix. If I had known then what I know now, that would have been a “no brainer” and Kerry Pastine would have loved prowling the Blues Blast stage. But I’m here in Colorado now and Kerry is still making her mark on the Colorado music scene with her new project, Kerry Pastine & the Crime Scene. Their new disc, The Other Side, continues to show me the error of my ways. Let’s throw it in and give it a spin.

“Just say yes…just say no…either way you got let it go…you’ve got to test the fire…you got to take me higher.” Kerry’s an alpha woman and she’s challenging her lover to reach the very depths of her soul. The only way he’s going to do that is to “Test the Fire,” an aggressive first tune and we’re off and running. A heavy bass line from Mac McMurray and we segue into our next cut, “Cold Stare Hot Touch.” Here we find that Kerry has a man playing hard to get and he has no idea he’s already lost the battle. “I hate to say it but I’ll lay it on the line…here it is honey…you’re doing time…my cold stare…oh….my hot touch…this love affair…is poisonous.” He’ll learn the hard way that Kerry’s in control here and he may not make it out alive. Paul Shellooe kicks it with a scintillating guitar riff and it’s clear that life as he knows it is definitely changing for Mr. “hard to get.”

“I’m Not the One” is up next and this ballad is my favorite tune on Kerry’s disc. “Oh, but you’re telling me…by the things that you say…that our love could never be true…why don’t you let me go…if your heart is not for real…I’m not the one that you give your love…I’m not the woman you’re thinking of…I’m not the woman…whose heart you have chained.” Intricate guitar work from Paul chimes in right on time and we can hear the heartbreak in both Kerry’s vocals and his fretwork. A heavy backbeat from Seger Marion on the drums leads us into our next tune from Kerry & the Crime Scene, “Let’s Call it Love.” “Take a picture of me, baby…give me kisses on the run…the moon is drenched in whiskey…tell me I’m your only one….let’s call it love.” I’m not sure that this is love but Kerry’s all in and it’s working for now.

I hear the sounds of stormy weather in the background as Paul plays some flamenco guitar on our next cut, “The Other Side.” This hauntingly beautiful melody finds Kerry reflecting on the last moments of a love in her life. “When I first met you…like déjà vu…an instant taste of a familiar time and place…another lifetime…we’d be…I know this man…perhaps you took me by the hand…I’m mesmerized by your eyes…I’m under your spell…take me to the other side.” “Dirty 2 Step” finds Kerry giving dance lessons to her man. “Step to the right…now swing me back…go and shake what you got…like a hat on a heart attack…now tell me honey…what we gonna do? We’re going to get down…do the dirty 2-step…do it now.”

Original Informant, Mark Richardson, brings his keys to a mix on a tune he wrote, “Locked Inside.” “But you…have given me my eyes…and you…have shown me…we were destined for sin….and this can’t be good….but it’s all right.” I like the beat of “Locked Inside” but there’s no doubt that Kerry’s in trouble here. The reverb in Kerry’s intro to “Ride & Die” adds an interesting touch to her tale of seduction here. “Million dollar love…do you still want me…drink up…aim high….your Johnny B. Good is touching down my thigh…hell bent…snake eyes…tell me lies…lies…ride or die.” This is probably Kerry at her hell-raising best and that’s all I can say. We move on to “Save My Soul” and Kerry’s letting the world know she’s a grown woman and that’s all there is to it. “Oh…I can’t take no more….oh…I can’t take no more…ain’t no love…can fill my heart…ain’t no hate….can tear me apart…oh…ain’t no way God…can make me whole…yeah, ain’t no one…can save my soul.” What will be will be, and Kerry’s more than up to dealing with the consequences of her life.

A taste of Rockabilly comes into play with a snappy snare drum intro to “Liar, Cheater, Dead.” Kerry’s obviously been done wrong and he’s hearing all about it here. “Well, you’re a dead man…don’t look good to me…you’re a dead man, honey…I’m going to set you free. You’re a liquidated…soon departed…son of a gun.” Somebody please remind me to never piss Kerry off. Thankfully our tempo slows down as Kerry tackles another ballad in “Intoxicating Madness.” Seems here the man in her life will definitely be bringing her some problems to go with the love he offers. “Turn me round…I’m getting dizzy…on the love go round…a surge of spinning sin…stir me up…I want to drink you in…intoxicating madness…here it comes again.”

Sounds of bikes in the background provide the appropriate backdrop for our closing tune, “Motor Vixen from Hell.” “She was just 17….a crazy little queen…her mama never got no rest…up in the Hollywood hills…getting her thrills…the camera was obsessed…high heels in the air…take away without a care…shaking her little tail in the air…the motor vixen from hell.” I love the way Kerry & the Crime Scene rocked out the ending and brought this wild ride to a close.

Fortunately for me I’ve had the opportunity to see Kerry Pastine & the Crime Scene recently and they’re all that’s advertised and more. The Other Side features great original songwriting from Kerry and guitarist Paul Shellooe to go with the two tunes contributed by keyboardist Mark Richardson. The band plays their collective asses off and Kerry’s vocals are spot on. I love this disc and I am definitely looking forward to seeing where the next adventure takes Kerry & the Crime Scene.

You can follow the band at and pick up a copy of The Other Side while you’re there. You’ll be helping out a great Colorado band, and you can thank me later.

--- Kyle Deibler

EefColorado is blessed with an abundance of talented Blues artists in the square state and one of the best is my friend Eef, with her bright red ES-333. Eef & the Blues Express are one of the tightest bands around and Eef has received our Colorado Blues Society’s Member’s Choice Award for her songwriting talents. They’re on full display here as Eef & the Blues Express let it rip on their new disc, All Rivers Run to the Sea. I’m ready to hit play so let’s give it a listen.

JD Kelly’s trombone provides us with the opening for our first tune, “The Elword Blues,” a tasteful repartee between Eef and JD concerning a man’s need to keep his woman satisfied. As Eef sings, “Buy her a brand new car…give her a diamond ring…buy her a new credit card…give her everything…you’d better treat her right…and if you don’t, ‘she might run off with the garbage man.’” Eef gives us a tasty guitar solo to savor while Jimmy Ayers chimes in with some tasty keyboard work on both the organ and piano to bring it all into focus. The ending of the song might surprise some (the reason for the song’s title) and I’m remembering a night at Uncle Bo’s in Topeka on my way back from the BMA’s when the tune ended differently. The guilty will not be named here to protect their identities though Chooch is the only innocent one in the band.

Chooch’s snare work provides the stark intro to our next tune, “The Blues Express,” as JD’s trombone adds its deep tones to the mix. Here Eef sings about a relationship that seems to fall apart. It’s really nobody’s fault, it’s more a matter of two people just drifting apart and dealing with the resulting sadness at the loss of something. “Drifting further and further….on the Blues express.” We’ve all been there and it’s just a part of life and living. Up next is the title track, “All Rivers Run to the Sea,” and one of the newer tunes that Eef has written. Jessica Rogalski and Kerry Pastine join the vocal mix as background vocalists as Eef tells us the story from a third person point of view, “Staring at the ceiling…and you’re feeling so low…cause you had to let her go…just remember what will be…will be…cause, all rivers run to the sea.” Ebb and flow is indeed a part of our lives and what will be will be…cause all rivers run to the sea.

Jimmy Ayer’s organ is at the forefront of our next tune, a ballad, “You’re Only Fooling Yourself.” Here we find Eef in the midst of a love triangle and she could be the odd one out. “Oh, honey…one day you’ll have to choose…but you don’t want to lose…the one who loves you…oh baby, one day you will fall…left with nothing at all…and I won’t be there to catch you.” Soulful tones emanate from Eef’s Gibson and it’s not apparent that the man in question will choose wisely, but she’s strong enough to move on if need be. JD’s trombone is front and center on the one tune he wrote for the disc, “Dynamite,” and this is one of my favorite tunes to see the band play live. JD has the vocal on this one and he’s not shy about telling us, “Your love’s like nitro…goes off on my command, baby…bring it on to Pappa…I’m your loving man….talk about dynamite…nitro.”

A tasty bass intro from Brian Hornbuckle takes us to the next tune, “I Want My Baby Back.” Here we find that there’s a good chance that Eef’s man has left her for another woman. Brian adds an excellent solo in the middle and I find myself hopeful for Eef’s sake, “but my honey’s gone…I wonder where he might be…my baby’s gone…I want my baby back with me.”

The band closes with “I Need You to Leave Me Alone” and I can hear the intricacy of the arrangement in the intro. Jimmy’s organ, complimented by JD’s trombone, with a tasteful back-end from Glenn and Chooch. Eef’s Gibson jumps into the fray as her fretwork conveys the firmness of her decision. “You call me up at night…just to make sure I’m that I’m ok…oh, you call me up at night…but honey, I really need you to stay away…oh, you turned my heart to stone….I really need you to leave me alone.” Eef’s firm in her conviction that this relationship has ended, and it’s time for him to go.

You won’t find a much tighter band that Eef and the Blues Express. They’re a fixture here on the Front Range in Colorado and we’re lucky to have them. Eef’s songwriting continues to impress and she’s definitely a threat on her ES-333. For more information on Eef and the Blues Express, head to her website at The band has an active calendar this summer, so catch them when you can and grab a copy of Eef’s new disc while you’re there. All rivers do run to the sea and your CD player will thank you later.

--- Kyle Deibler

Bobby MessanoI think I'm going to have a conversation with my friend Bobby Messano. On a day where we've given all of our money to pay our taxes and some of us are still looking for love, Bobby chooses to release his new disc, Love & Money. Bobby's done himself proud here and I'll make it a point to talk to him about release dates later, let's give it a spin.

Bobby opens with "April Showers" and some intricate finger picking provides the intro for our first cut. A pessimistic tune, Bobby is definitely writing some good stuff here. "How cold can it get...when you're trying your best...not to tell them to screw themselves....where did the happiness go...that I used to know....April showers...don't bring no flowers til the rain is mixed with snow." I'm not sure what's got my friend down but he's not pulling any punches telling us about it, that's for sure. Our tempo picks up for "Boddentown," and it's got a nice, light feel to it. A beautiful instrumental, I'm feeling like it's delivering the flowers that "April Showers" was missing and perhaps that's the reason for its placement in the sequencing of tunes on Love & Money.

A violin makes an appearance in the intro to our next cut, "Everything is Gonna Be Alright," and here I find Bobby contemplating his place in the universe. "I've been looking for blue skies to the sun is finding me....everything is going to be alright...I see the flowers for the trees...everything is going to be alright...that's the only way I can go." Bobby's been down, but he's a fighter and he's making his way back.  Next up is "Had to Cry Today," and Bobby's fretwork is making the statement here in a Peter Frampton sort of way. "Had to cry today....well, I saw the sign and I miss you now." Bobby was in a relationship that found the love in his life just wanting to be free and it's tearing him up. I can hear the agony in his playing and you feel for the pain that Bobby's sharing with us here in a classic blues-rock fashion.

"Hard Road" evolves from a guitar-driven intro to more of a hill country celebration as Bobby tells us about his journey home. "Walking up that hard road...trying to swim upstream...someone tell me where to go...the streets are so mean...high road high...low road low...just trying to get back home...on that hard road." The title cut, "Love & Money," is up next and here we find Bobby's woman is doing a good job of spending all that he has. "Amex, Visa...whatever it writer's cramp and it's easy to shake...the two things in the world you really need...are always taken away from me...the world goes around for love and money...we are all obsessed....with love and money." Bobby's right, more hearts have been broken and relationships shattered by fighting over the two things we really need, love and money.

Our next cut, "My Failed Career," starts off with a light snare intro as Bobby prepares to tell us his tale of woe. "I make a damn fine punching know the kind...women like to marry...I take the garbage out...and make a gourmet dinner...I'll even do the laundry...but when they find out what it's all big, black limousines in the driveway...grab their Gucci bags and run for the they see it my way...welcome to my so called failed career...that's what makes this Blues boy real." I feel Bobby's pain here, but not every woman is in it for all the luxuries the world can offer. There are a few good meat and potatoes women in the world. Keep looking my friend.

"Rollin' On" is up next and here we find Bobby still wishing the world would look a tad bit brighter. "Another sleepless night...don't feel right...staring at the moon...can't lay in bed...gotta move ahead...gotta feel those horses running...there's only one way...I can roll...the blues don't feel the same...gas in the tank...I let it crank...I'm rollin on." Bobby slows the tempo down and I find that "Seasons" is a really nice interlude to what have been a couple of hard driving tunes. "Loneliness...leave me something I've known...the seasons change...and your heart becomes an island...rain does fall...dark clouds come...loneliness...just go away." Bobby's very reflective here but ultimately "Seasons" is a tune of optimism that life will get better and the seasons will change.

The life of a Bluesman isn't an easy one and Bobby expounds upon that sentiment in our final cut, "What I Got." "I got no money...I got no girl...I got no car...I got less curls...I got no house...I got no cat...but what I got, I can't live without...I got some play for's from the you know it's's filled with come along....what I this funky song...what I got...I got some's in my heart...but I'll share it up...cause what I keeps me strong."

Fortunately for us what Bobby Messano has is his music to share with us and honestly, that's enough. Love & Money is an excellent disc, release date aside, and it reminds me that it must be about time for Bobby to make his way back out here to Colorado to share his music with us. Bobby's one of the hardest working Bluesmen I know, so check out his website,, for his touring details and grab a copy of Love & Money while you're there. Bobby might not have much but what he's got is great music and the least we can do is share that knowledge with him.

--- Kyle Deibler

Jeff JensenLife is funny sometimes. I’ve known Jeff Jensen since he was literally knee-high to a grasshopper, shepherded him through three IBC’s and along the way we probably tossed back a shot of tequila or two. All along the way Jeff has stayed true to his muse, and his new record, Morose Elephant, is indicative of that. Backed by his band of Bill Ruffino on bass and Robinson Bridgeforth on drums, and a bevy of Memphis guests that include Reba Rusell, Victor Wainwright, Eric Hughes along with Anne Harris on violin, Gary Allegretto and others, Jeff has managed to put out his best record to date. It’s a bit quirky at times, but it’s all Jeff, so let’s give it a spin.

Survival is the theme of the day as Jeff and the band open up with “Make It Through.” Jeff’s life hasn’t always been an easy one, but he’s persevered and we hear that here. “Don’t need much money…I got a whole world of wealth…surrounded by great people…as long as I have my health…I’ve got this strange, little feeling…that I’m going to make it through.” Jeff has made it through indeed and his current European tour is indicative of that. Bill and Robinson are laying down a heavy back end as the band moves on to “Get Along.” “It’s not simple to define…you see things…so do I….I’m not always right…I’m sure not always wrong…it’s a big, old world…we’re not always going to get along.” Jeff calls this his “protest song” and he’s right in that no matter how hard we all try, we’re not always going to get along. Victor Wainwright is pounding the keys on his Wurlitzer in the background and this tune definitely has a defiant show of strength to it.

Jeff’s guitar takes the lead for a soulful intro to our next tune, “Fall Apart,” and he’s very reflective here on a trip down memory road. “Fireflies light up the darkness…it flickers just like her soul…following the spring breeze comments…gambler’s always end up in the hole…everything put together…will fall apart.” Jeff’s fretwork is particularly tasteful and exquisite here to listen to and I’m appreciative of his efforts. A solid bass intro from Bill accompanied by Marc Franklin’s trumpet lead us to our next cut, “Going Home.” Here we find Jeff contemplating life in the next life. “There won’t be no…dying over there…there won’t be no sickness over there…I’m going home to live with God.” Definitely a church revival feeling is in the air and I can clearly hear Reba’s background vocals lending her character to the mix.

As we move on to “Paper Walls” I’m struck by the Vaudevillian feel to this tune, it almost belongs in a Tim Burton movie. “So…blow, blow…the big, bad wolf away…your paper walls will fall…as it rains all day”. Victor joins the fray at his piano and lends his vocals as well to an old traditional, “What’s the Matter With the Mill.” “Now, one had a bushel…one had a peck…the other had a cornfield around his neck…now, what’s the matter with the mill?” The recording studio is jumping and everyone’s having a good time. “Ash and Bone” brings us back to a more somber feeling as Jeff intricately picks the intro before Anne Harris brings her violin to the forefront. “Sweet magnolias…how you used to smile…I’ve got the picture in my mind…I can see it for miles, mile, miles…” Anne’s virtuosity is simply amazing and the perfect addition to Jeff’s vocal, “so when I retire…to the great unknown…my memory falters…when I’m ash and bone…ash and bone.”

“Elephant Blue” is an instrumental composed by Jeff, Robinson and Bill, and gives the band a chance to run with moment and serves to lighten my mood after “Ash and Bone.” The band can play it fast, they can play it slow and Chris Stephenson jumps in at just the right time with an organ solo that tops the whole thing off. Eric Hughes’s harp is the next instrument to join the mix as he plays the intro to “Bad Bad Whiskey.” “Whiskey and these women…they’re driving me out of my mind…every time I get another…I think I’m doing just fine…bad..bad..whiskey…makes me lose my happy home.”

As the band heads into the home stretch, our next cut, “I’ll Always Be in Love with You,” makes good use of Marc Franklin on the trumpet and Kirk Smothers on tenor and baritone sax while Victor’s back at his piano. “Sweetheart…if you should stray…a million miles away…I’ll always be in love with you…I know you’ll cry hopeless…on someone else’s chest….I’ll always be in love with you.” I have a feeling I know who this song was written for and I’ll leave it at that.

We close Morose Elephant with Gary Allegretto lending his harp magic to “Empty Bottles”. “I’m a hard working man…I’ve worked all my life…I’ve got nothing to show…except four kids and a wife…as for our future and retirement…well, we’re going to be living off the government…it’s hard to stand for something…when you can’t stand at all.”

Jeff Jensen’s rise in the Blues world continues to amaze me. When I look back at our first meeting in the Rum Boogie some ten years ago, I’m happy for Jeff that he’s living his dream and is among good friends in the Bluff City. Memphis can chew you up and spit you out, but Jeff is one of those who managed to stick.

Morose Elephant can be found on Jeff’s website at, and take a look at the band’s touring schedule while you’re there. Jeff’s a frenetic player live and there are days where Robinson and Bill have their hands full trying to keep him on the ground. But no matter how you look at it, you will be entertained and you will be glad you went.

--- Kyle Deibler

Steve EarleAnyone remotely interested in good music has had to hear of Steve Earle, one of the legendary storytellers of our generation. It turns out that he’s had a desire to record a blues record for a long time. Here’s how he tells it: “For my part, I’ve only ever believed two things about the blues: one, that they are very democratic, the commonest of human experience, perhaps the only thing that we all truly share and two, that one day, when it was time, I would make this record. And it’s time. Hell, everybody’s sick of all my f**king happy songs anyway.” It was time indeed, Steve, so let’s give Terraplane from Steve Earle & the Dukes a spin.

We start with Steve blowing a harp intro to “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” a tune about a clandestine affair destined to stay in the shadows. As Steve tells us, “My little gal..she stand five feet ain’t…I wanna hold her but I know I can’t…I only see her when the moon is blue…call her on the phone and I say…baby…baby…baby.” The Dukes are in fine form behind Steve and consist of Kelly Looney on the bass, Will Rigby on the drums, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals, and Chris Masterson on guitar. We move on to “You’re the Best Lover that I ever Had,” and the intro here consists of some intricate finger picking to get it going. Steve definitely sounds satisfied, “Hey baby…when you call my name…the heavens shake and the angels sing…I know it’s a sin but I want you bad…you’re the best lover that I ever had.” I’m liking the Hill country vibe of this tune and thinking a Steve Earle blues record is definitely a good thing.

Kelly’s bass is setting the tone for our next cut, “The Tenessee Kid,” a dark tale involving the kid, the devil and the crossroads. The tune is classic Steve Earle, and the kid is regretting the deal he made with the devil. “And the Tennessee Kid cast an eye…on the list where his mark was clearly inscribed…and he fell to his knees…but it was too late to pray…and with his very last breath he did say…hey…hey…hey…the balance comes due someday.” Better off to not make the deal with the Devil – there’ll be hell to pay. “The Tennessee Kid” is definitely one of my favorite tunes on Terraplane.

“Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” has more of a country blues feel to it and Eleanor’s fiddle is front and center here. Steve’s footloose and fancy free and celebrating his independence. “I’m free…can’t nobody tie me down…nothin’ ever worries me…ain’t nobody’s Daddy now.” Steve’s sense of independence continues as he laments the end of a relationship in “Better Off Alone.” “I taught you everything you know…I learned a thing or two myself, and so…I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone…but I’m better off alone.” At least Steve’s clear that he won’t let her back in, “Cause I just can’t go through that again.” Steve’s mood picks up as we segue into “The Usual Time.” “Honey, I just saw your light…here I come baby…it’s the usual time of the night.” The back porch light is Steve’s cue that she wants him and all she has to do is turn it on and “Here I come baby…at the usual time of the night.”

I don’t honestly think I’ve heard a blues song written about go-go boots before, but leave it to Steve to cover the topic in our next tune, “Go Go Boots are Back.” Steve’s not shy about telling his woman, “But you’ll know where I’m going…and where you been alright…and go-go boots are back …and I think it’s outasite!” Life on the road isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it suits Steve alright and he tells us about it in “Acquainted with the Wind”. I hear Steve’s mandolin in the background as he begins to tell us, “I’m a ramblin’ kind…not matter where I roll…Everybody stands aside…let me rumble down the road…I’m acquainted with the wind…and we’re travelin’ along.”

Eleanor Whitmore joins Steve on vocals and they trade barbs on “Baby’s Just as Mean as Me.” “And say that love is blind…especially the passionate kind…I don’t have to apologize…my baby’s just as mean as me.” Equal opportunity meanness ends up as a passionate compromise, classic Steve Earle. Gambling is a typical Blues topic and Steve makes sure to cover it here with “Gamblin’ Blues.” “But a gambler ain’t got no friends…whenever his luck is down…but when he’s ridin high…they all hang around.” Ain’t that the truth.

A dark, somber guitar tone sets the mood for our final cut on Terraplane, “King of the Blues.” “I’m the King of the Blues…13th of the line…the first of my name…and the last of my kind…I’m the high priest of heartache…and the King of the Blues”. A fitting end to Steve Earle’s record and he was right, “It’s about f**king time.”

Steve Earle’s a classic songwriter and we all know that. I’m sure that Terraplane won’t be his last foray into the Blues, and for that we can all be thankful. I’d love to see Steve & the Dukes perform this album live, but for now I’ll have to be satisfied just giving Terraplane another spin. It’s well worth the listen.

--- Kyle Deibler

Tas CruI’d have to say my friend Tas Cru is one well-rounded Bluesman, a Bluesman’s Bluesman if you will. Tas received a KBA last year for his work with children’s Blues in the School’s programs and has become a fixture on Beale Street during the IBC and BMA weeks in recent years. His new record, You Keep the Money, is a good one.

Tas and the band open up with the title track, “You Keep the Money,” and here we find the boy prefers love to money. “I’ll take the chances…you bet your sure thing…you don’t believe in a better tomorrow…I’ll wait and see what it brings…show me love…you keep the money.” Sounds like a plan to me, and Tas is sincere in his desire to just let life come to him and bring what it will. Dave Olson bangs out a quick drum intro before Tas’s fretwork takes over to set the mood for our next cut, “A Month of Somedays.” “Someday…someday…you’ll be coming on home to stay…but it’s been a month of somedays…since you’ve been gone away.” Tas thought his woman loved him but his resolve is weakening by the moment…”you’ve been a month of somedays gone…I believe you lost your way.” I’m not thinking she’s coming back and my friend is going to have to move on.

We move on to “Half the Time,” and Dick Earl Erickson is blowing a little harp to bring the tune into focus and I hear Guy Nirelli on the organ as well. Here we find Tas under the spell of the woman in his life, “with kisses like cherry wine…feels like I’m drunk half the time.” Keep drinking my friend, keep drinking. Bob Holz is behind the kit for our next tune, “La Belle Poutine,” showcasing a light touch on the snare as Tas’ guitar expresses the emotion of this piece. It’s a great instrumental and a nice interlude at this point in the record. The band picks it back up with “Heart Trouble,” and here we find Tas in the midst of a love that’s almost too much for him to handle. “I feel all kind of dizzy…like I’m about to faint…somebody please, call the doctor…before it’s too late…I’ve got me some kind of heart trouble.” Tas is generally a healthy guy and it’s curious that he starts to experience some heart trouble whenever she comes around. Somehow, I think Tas will survive this.

We segue into our next tune, “A Little More Time.” Some light fretwork and a hint of chimes provides the intro for this ballad from Tas. “Time…don’t know no other way…not a choice I made…singing, cradle to the grave…don’t know no other way…if you ever get to be my age…you might understand…why a bluesman…runs out of time.” We all have only the time on this earth that the good Lord gave us, and Tas will be one who maximizes his time on this planet, for sure. The subject of habits arises next, and Tas is going to tell us about his in “One Bad Habit.” “And when it comes to bad habits…I only got one…when I was younger…used to run around…had me a pretty girl…in about every town…that time has come and gone…I only got the one bad habit…and you’re the last bad habit I need to break.” Seems there’s one woman who’s definitely gotten under Tas’s skin and she’s not an easy one to get rid of.

Tas takes a turn at his acoustic guitar and picks a beautiful intro to our next tune, “Take Me Back to Tulsa.” The band kicks in after the intro and Tas proceeds to tell us more about his beloved Tulsa. “I headed out of my backdoor…threw my guitar in my trusty Ford…for tonight…we’re south to the Tennessee line…oh, I kept it under 65…to that Bristol Motors Speedway sign…then, it’s a pedal to the metal…got to get me to that Tulsa town.” Tas is definitely enamored with Tulsa and if the picture of his girl there is enough to get him out of a speeding ticket, then more power to him.

I like Tas’ guitar work on the intro to “Count on Me,” and the Moneymakers are definitely proving to be a tight band of musicians behind him. “Count on me…baby, you can count on me…well, you can can’t on me…you don’t want nobody else. Count on Me.” Tas is a trustworthy sort and his woman would do right to keep him by her side. “Holding on to You” is the next cut on our disc, and Tas continues to show his romantic side here. “A soft wind blows…a whisper to my ear…or is it you, softly breathing…as I reach to pull you near…oh, it’s true….feels like I’m holding on to you.” This particular ballad is my favorite tune on what is definitely a disc full of great songs.

We move on to “Bringing Out the Beast,” and Tas’s darker side makes an appearance here. “I’m a hound dog, baby…barking at your back door…I’m going to keep a-yipping and a-yapping…'til I get what I came barking for.” Tas’ intent is pretty clear here so we’ll move on to the last tune on this disc, “Thinking How to Tell Me Goodbye.” More acoustic picking fills my ears and Tas in contemplating his present situation. “There’s ways to see the future…and how the tea leaves fall…but I don’t need no one to read….writing on the wall…I don’t need no one to tell me…show me what’s going on…your eyes reveal all I need to see….they tell me our love is gone.” Tas knew this woman would ultimately break his heart but he loved her anyway.

You Keep the Money has been a treat for my ears. Tas’ band, the Moneymakers, include Mary Ann Casale and Alice “Honeybea Ericksen on backing vocals, Ron Keck on percussion, Chip Lamson on piano, and Bob Purdy on bass, in addition to the musicians mentioned during this review. The band is tight and they’d follow Tas anywhere. All of the tunes are originals from Tas and they do the whole record justice.

I’m looking forward to hearing my friend play soon on Beale Street at the Blues Music Awards, and I know I’m in for a treat. All of Tas’ information can be found on his website at and check him out. This is definitely one bluesman worth knowing.

--- Kyle Deibler



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