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April 2020

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Order these featured CDs today:

Tad Robinson


Al Basile

Steve Strongman

Ben Racine Band

Paul DesLauriers Band

Sean Taylor

John Doe Trio

Oria Aspen

The Proven Ones

Backtrack Blues Band

Blind Lemon Pledge



Tad RobinsonTad Robinson
recorded his latest album, Real Street (Severn Records), in Memphis, surrounding himself with some of the Bluff City’s most talented veterans of the city’s soul and blues scene including the legendary Hi Rhythm Section (drummer Howard Grimes, bassist Leroy Hodges, and organist Charles Hodges), guitarist Joe Restivo, saxophonist Kirk Smothers and trumpeter Marc Franklin. The ten-song set is a superb mix of originals and covers that put the spotlight firmly on Robinson’s supremely soulful vocals.

It’s hard to imagine a better opening cut than “Changes.” The horns kick off the track and the Hi Rhythm Section locks in almost immediately, with Robinson taking it from there. The soul burner “Full Grown Woman” percolates nicely and Robinson’s vocal makes you wish you knew the lady. The singer presents a masterful version of George Jackson’s “Search Your Heart” with an understated read of a long-lost classic that still brims with passion, and his warm vocal (and accompanying background voices) gives the nostalgic “Love In The Neighborhood” a gospel/soul feel.

“Wishing Well Blues” is a tasty soul/blues number that features a nice guitar break from Restivo, and Roy Orbison’s swan song, “You Got It,” is completely transformed by Robinson into a gentle soul ballad with his soaring vocal and first-rate instrumental backing. The exuberant “You Are My Dream” is a fine slice of Southern soul, and “Make It With You,” a pop hit for Bread in the early ’70s, gets a shimmering Memphis soul makeover.

The album closes strongly with the optimistic title track, a mid-tempo shuffle, and a reworking of “Long Way Home,” first heard on Robinson’s 2007 Severn release, A New Point Of View. The new version is more stripped-down than the original, with a little extra grit packed but just as hard-hitting.

Real Street is as real as soul albums get in any era. Trust me when I say that Tad Robinson is one of the finest blues and soul vocalist on the planet, and to these ears, this is his best release to date.

--- Graham Clarke

HeavyDrunkThe Tennessee-based nine-piece band HeavyDrunk just unleashed an album, Holywater (4142 Music), that needs to be on any fan of either genre’s must-hear list. Fronted by Rob Robinson, who also happens to own Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, just south of Nashville, the band, which features six vocalists, horns, B3, three guitarists, and an excellent rhythm section, churns out music rooted in the blues and soul. However, the mix also entangles gospel and jazz, as well as a dash of Louisiana swamp and Memphis grease, in as snug a fit as anything that Little Feat might have done in their heyday.

The album kicks off with “If I Loved You Hard Enough,” a tale of the dysfunctional love affair to end all dysfunctional love affairs that builds in intensity with growling guitars, sultry backing vocals, and pulsating horns. The combination may require listeners to take a breather before checking out the slippery funk of “Walking To The Mission In The Rain,” and the title track, a somber, soulful ballad inspired by the passing of Robinson’s grandmother.

“One Dancing Fool” is a horn-driven rave-up that’s sure to get folks on the dance floor (it only takes one to get it started), and the fascinating “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is the tale of a campground romance between Robinson and a girl who drove a food truck with chicken coops hanging on the sides. “Keeping Up With The Kid” is a swinging blues rocker with searing guitar from Will Beeman, and the jazzy soul ballad “High On Love” reflects on filling that hole in your heart.

“Memphis” paints a vivid image of the city, deftly capturing its spirit with the band’s performance and the gospel-like backing vocals. “Somebody’s Got To Take Them Panties Off” is a smooth R&B track with a chorus that probably inspires ensemble singing at the band’s shows, and “Pick You Up Along The Way” combines rock, soul, and funk seamlessly. The album closer, “Shine On,” is a deep soul ballad reflecting on a long-lost love.

The album features two covers, which appear back-to-back. The Rolling Stones’ “Slave” is an interesting choice, a rather obscure track from the Stones’ Tattoo You album way back in 1981. In HeavyDrunk’s hands, it’s a nasty cool funk workout (with an additional verse added by Robinson). The other cover is the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Midnight In Harlem,” which the band plays pretty closely to the original though Beeman’s stellar guitar work gives Trucks’ original performance a run for its money.

Holywater is an exciting set of southern rock, blues, and soul. Bands have been making this kind of music for years, but HeavyDrunk’s approach makes it seem like it’s all brand new. This set is highly recommended to fans of southern music in general.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff Jensen & Brandon SantiniJeff Jensen and Brandon Santini have turned in over 1,000 concerts on Beale Street, about 400 together, touring in the early 2010s as Brandon Santini & His Band. Bassist Bill Ruffino joined the band in 2012, and the Santini Band released This Time Another Year, which earned a BMA nomination for Contemporary Album of the Year. In 2013, Santini and Jensen went their separate ways musically and both earned big success with their subsequent solo releases.

In 2017, Jensen and Santini reunited briefly to hit the festival circuit as The Santini-Jensen Project, along with Ruffino, Jensen’s drummer David Green, and Santini’s guitarist Timo Arthur. That reunion served as a predecessor for this self-titled project, Tennessee Redemption (Endless Blues Records). The set consists of eight originals, written or co-written by Santini and Jensen, and two well-chosen covers.

“Glad To Be,” the mid-tempo shuffle that opens the disc, finds the duo reflecting fondly on their earliest days on Beale Street, and “We Got A Thing Going On” has a greasy Memphis R&B/soul feel. Meanwhile, “Souls In The Water” has an easygoing, almost gospel/soul feel, and “Back To Tennessee” starts off mellow but quickly transforms into a tough Southern rocker, while “Leave My Body” is a moody blues with an unusual twist.

“See About Me” is an upbeat rocker with a slight pop feel that provides a light moment. Next is a relaxed read of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To The House,” one of the album’s two terrific covers. The other follows the funky “You Don’t Love Me,” when Santini gets a chance to strut his harmonica chops on a raw, ragged version of Little Walter’s “Watch Yourself.” The closer is “I’m Going To Mexico,” a jaunty acoustic track that wraps things up perfectly.

Tennessee Redemption is not so much a “supergroup” effort as it is a “super group” effort. These guys are just doing what they do best, crafting a most excellent set of modern blues and roots music. Fans of either genre are strongly encouraged to check out this disc, then backtrack and listen to Brandon Santini and Jeff Jensen’s solo releases if you’re not familiar with their work.

--- Graham Clarke

Al BasileAl Basile returns with another exemplary collection of original tunes, once again joining forces with guitarist/producer Duke Robillard and his band (drummer Mark Teixeira, bassist Brad Hallen, keyboardist Bruce Bears, saxophonist Doug James, and trumpeter Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse). B’s Hot House (Sweetspot Records) is a fabulous set of originals from the singer/songwriter/cornetist that touch on blues and R&B in equal measure, based on real life situations and issues to which any listener can easily relate.

The opener, “”So-Called Storyteller,” is a slow burner that sings the praises of a story told well. Basile’s work on cornet is a standout on this track and others. “Five Roads” has a loping, swampy feel, and the Memphis-styled “Razor Wire” (courtesy of Bears’ Booker T-ish keyboards) bemoans the effects of harsh words. Robillard’s stinging guitar and Basile’s muted cornet complement each other beautifully.

“Try One” is a soulful look at habits --- the addictive kind --- and the upbeat “Don’t Fool With The Truth” is a jaunty bit of political commentary, while “Give Me That Look” is a smooth romantic ballad.

“Looking for a Cookie” has a cool ’50s New Orleans R&B vibe, and one can tell Basile and the band had a blast with this track. He delivers his most yearning, heartfelt vocal and a fine cornet solo, sans mute, on the wistful “Can’t Keep Me From Dreaming.” 

On “I See You There” Basile plays the jilted lover who spots his former amour with her new love and can’t look away. Meanwhile, “I Ain’t Changing” reflects on the current political divide without taking sides himself, and the poignant “You Don’t Know Lonesome” is the epitome of a blues ballad.

The amusing “What Dogs Wanna Do” reflects on canine nature and how we all possess a bit of it in our makeup as well. Basile ponders the underrated merits of a good conversation in “Talking in a Room,” then closing the album with “Time Has Made a Fool of Me,” a bittersweet look at aging.

Al Basile’s recordings always make for pleasant listening. He’s one of the best blues and R&B lyricists currently practicing, and his cornet playing is peerless. With always superlative backing from Robillard and band, listeners know that they are in for a wonderful experience with each Basile album. B’s Hot House easily ranks with his best.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve Strongman2019 was a huge year for Steve Strongman. The Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist took home the Best Guitarist award at the International Blues Challenge in January, and later in the year he released his best album to date, Tired of Talkin’, a powerhouse session recorded in Nashville and Ontario. Produced by Dave King, who also played drums on both sessions, Strongman joins up with keyboardists Pat Sansone and Jesse O’Brien, gutiarist Audley Freed, and bassists James Haggerty and Colin Lapsley on this ten-song set, nine of which are originals penned by Strongman and his bandmates.

The upbeat title track opens the disc with a catchy groove, “Paid My Dues” being a sturdy mid-tempo blues. “Still Crazy About You” is a smooth, soulful blues, while “Just Ain’t Right” adds a taste of funk to the mix. “Can’t Have It All” is a breakneck blues rocker with Strongman blasting away on harp (in addition to playing a tasty guitar solo), and “Tell Me Like It Is” is a smoldering slow blues. Meanwhile, “Living The Dream” has a bit of a contemporary heartland rocker feel.

Strongman shows his songwriting chops to great effect on “That Kind of Fight,” an acoustic ballad with heartfelt lyrics and vocals. “Hard Place and a Rock” is a tough, driving rocking blues, and “Highwayman” is an intense, menacing blues with dobro and acoustic guitar. “Bring You Down” is a fine blues ballad featuring an excellent vocal from Strongman, who then closes the disc with a cool take on the soul classic, “Let’s Stay Together,” the album’s lone cover.

Strongman has plenty of opportunities to put his guitar skills on display throughout Tired of Talkin’, but he’s also a talented vocalist and gifted songwriter with an ear for blues, soul, and rock tunes. There’s plenty of rewarding music here for fans of all three genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Ben Racine BandBen Racine Band has been one of Montreal’s most popular blues acts for a decade. Racine’s a real talent on vocals and took home the Albert King Award at the 2017 I.B.C., where the band backed Dawn Tyler Watson, who took home Band of the Year honors that year. The band has backed Watson on her last couple of albums as well. Racine and band (Kaven Jalbert – tenor sax, Mathieu Moose Mousseau – baritone sax, Charles Trudel – organ/piano, François Dubé – bass, Nicky Estor – drums) pack a punch with their rock solid rhythm section, punchy horns, and Racine’s soulful vocals.

The band decided to celebrate their 10th anniversary by releasing a live album, Live À Montréal, 15 songs recorded at two separate venues, the first 13 tracks from Maison de la Culture Montreal-Nord and two from the Upstairs Bar & Grill. The show clocks in at just over an hour with a set list that includes nine songs from their two studio efforts (2013’s One of a Kind and 2015’s A Grand New Brew), two brand new originals, and four dynamite covers.

The first cover, Duke Robillard’s “Addiction,” opens the set with a dark, slinky blues rocker. The swinging “Too Busy Being Pretty,” from the band’s debut, is next, followed by “Contagious,” a new track with a Latin flavor, and the horn-driven “Modus Operandi,” featuring a fine guitar solo from Racine. Next are a cool pair of rarely-heard covers, Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s mid-tempo R&B “The Pleasure’s All Mine” and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Cuttin’ In,” a smooth after-hours ballad.

“One of a Kind,” the title track of the band’s debut, really packs a punch, and “Southbound Girl” is an energetic shuffle that really swings, while James Hunter’s “No Smoke Without Fire” is funky retro R&B. “Grand New Brew” keeps the funky beat going and “Bootprint” has an interesting driving rhythm, while the upbeat “Mighty Good Time” probably had the audience dancing. The second new original, “Move On,” a greasy Memphis-styled tune about the end of a relationship, is a keeper as well.

Live À Montréal captures the Ben Racine Band at the top of their game, playing some of their best material on their home turf in front of a familiar audience. Their heady mix of blues and R&B with a touch of jazz is first rate and sure to satisfy.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul DesLauriersThe Paul DesLauriers Band waited a bit following the success of their award-winning 2016 release, Relentless, but the Canadian blues rockers (DesLauriers – vocals/guitars, Alec McElcheran – bass, Sam Harrisson – drums) made the wait worthwhile with the powerful follow-up, Bounce (VizzTone/Bros Records), with a dozen tunes (11 originals, plus a masterful cover of Duster Bennett’s “Jumpin’ At Shadows”), including a guest appearance from J.P. Soars on one track.

After the 30-second musical segue, “Here We Go,” the band jumps into the rocker “It’s All On You,” which features DesLauriers’ feral growl and scorching guitar. “Let Me Go Down In Flames” is a slinky rocker about bad love, with DesLauriers on a slide guitar, and the intense “Take Me To The Brink” continues the bad love theme. Next is “Happy Wasting Time With You,” a mid-tempo shuffle with a southern rock feel, and the wildly funky “Driving Me Insane.”

After the Bennett cover, featuring one of DesLauriers’ most soulful vocals, the band shifts into driving rock ‘n’ roll mode with the tasty “Working My Way Back Home,” before teaming with Soars on the rip roaring guitar fest “Picked A Bad Day,” and settling back for a spell with the jaunty back porch blues “When The Darkness Comes.” The old-school rockabilly shuffle, “Feeling All Kinds Of Good,” will put a hop in your step, and the instrumental “Loosy Goosy Jam #769” is six and a half minutes well spent.

The closing ballad, “Waiting On You,” runs almost 11 minutes, but the lyrics stop after about four minutes when DesLaurers lets his guitar do the talking for the remainder of the track with some phenomenal fretwork.

I’m willing to wait three years between releases if each subsequent album by DesLauriers and associates packs as powerful a punch as Bounce. He’s a true triple threat as a canny songwriter, potent vocalist, and dynamic guitarist, and his rhythm section is as good as it gets. Keep your eyes and ears open for these guys.

--- Graham Clarke

Sean TaylorIt is significant that Green Note in Camden, near to where Sean Taylor resides should provide the setting for a Live In London album (Sean Taylor Songs) which represents the pinnacle of his musical achievements after two decades as a road warrior. The intimacy of this iconic venue, which is Taylor’s spiritual home, and the presence of family, friends and fans who packed the place to the rafters, makes it a special night.

With a guitar on his back and an old fedora hat, the troubadour walks nonchalantly onto the stage and launches straight into “Heaven,” with its trademark fingerpicking, mesmeric strings’ accompaniment and hushed vocal tones. “Texas Boogie” hits that groove instantly and is a perfect tribute to blues greats Lightnin’ Hopkins and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The slow, anthemic opening to “Little Donny” is the prelude to a devastating critique of the President of the United States, the crescendos and changing pitch of vocals intensifying the anger. Neither does the UK escape political activist Taylor’s wrath with ‘”This Is England,” a spoken word stream with evocative guitar accompaniment exploring life today and English identity in this broken generation. “... Write me a jingle with a million hooks, WhatsApp me Mr. Shakespeare ain’t no time for your books ...”

The blues-infused “Hold On” highlights the best of the peace and justice campaigner’s song writing acumen, nimble, finger picking, percussive guitar work, and soft, mellow vocal delivery. The intriguing mantra of the words hold on creates a calming effect, the chorus being as relevant in today’s viral stricken world as we all seek to hold on in these difficult times whatever happens. Every word sung in this show is enunciated and heard clearly thanks to the crystalline sound quality, benefiting the gentle, balladic “Perfect Candlelight” from the 2009 Walk With Me album which is greeted with rapturous applause. The response to the popular and atmospheric “Calcutta Grove” is equally generous. Taylor possesses the chameleon quality of switching suddenly to gritty and powerful vocal delivery as on the upbeat “Feel Alright.”

Sean’s blues hero Skip James is acknowledged with an innovative interpretation of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” giving the audience their first opportunity to sing along. “The Only Good Addiction Is Love” is a beautiful slow ballad based on a quote by former Uruguayan President ‘Pepe’ who gave his money to charity. The 2015 album of the same name was a game changer for Taylor in that it confirmed his status as a poet, all-round musical virtuoso, and Renaissance man alongside his other musical credentials.

Sean intricately finger picks his way through the Spanish influenced instrumental, “Lorca,” before subtly moving on to “Heartbreak Hotel,” the latter sounding nothing like Elvis as it is given an intelligent makeover. Also unique is the haunting, rapid pace of “Nightmares,” with its spine-tingling repetition of ‘I know she’s gone’ creating an eerie vibe. Sean’s previous album The Path Into Blue was highly acclaimed for its sincerity, passion and poignancy, none more so than its title track dealing with mental health issues which tonight is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, the date of this concert.

Another highlight, “So Fine’,” with its dazzling guitar intro and funky rhythm is one of Taylor’s finest compositions, the lyrics reminiscent of Paul Simon at his peak. The aggression, heartache and anger in “Stand Up,” with its piercing harmonica and stomping backing are reflected in the words, “... Wipe away the poverty, wipe away the greed, I’d rather die on my feet than live here on my knees ..." Dedicated to the Extinction Rebellion movement, it is a reminder that Taylor has a social conscience, strong beliefs and genuinely cares so he will not sit back in the face of austerity, global environmental issues, injustices and corruption.

“Troubadour” is a personal story of life on the road where Sean has spent most of the past 20 years. He's not allowed to leave until after an encore, so he obliges with two instrumentals, “Basho” and “Anji,” before ending with the aptly named “Hit The Road Jack.”

Appropriately, at this stage in his career, Sean Taylor has by definition delivered his best album yet because it is just the man and his guitar ‘at home” singing his best songs to the people he loves. History will judge Sean one of the most influential musicians of his generation. He tackles contemporary issues including austerity, climate change, depression and disasters of Grenfell proportions with truth and integrity whilst offering hope in the pursuit of truth, peace and love. Listeners of this album will hear the blues in many of the challenging themes covered as they pierce the heart and soul of humanity whilst demanding a response.

This live compilation propels Taylor further towards membership of that pantheon of elite musicians, alongside Dylan, Cohen, Van Zandt and Martyn.

--- Dave Scott

John Doe TrioThe title track of Railroaded is an explosive, hard-riffing, blues-rocking, bass-throbbing introduction to a blockbuster of an album from a seriously good, tightly knit, power trio of excellent musicians called John Doe Trio. “Dust Jesus” showcases front man Phil Woollett’s powerful vocals in a parody of Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus,” believed to be a social analysis of America’s commoditized religious establishment. Woollett’s songwriting acumen is evident in this innovative musical critique about people who are slaves to superstition.

The slow burning blues, “So Long,” is a tale of lies, deceit and betrayal, the vocals and staccato guitar work expressing the intense anger and hurt reaching a crescendo of seismic proportions. The bluegrass feel of “Who’s John Doe?” features the unique sound of Woollett’s homemade cigar box guitar which he plays lap steel style to produce a much heavier vibe than usual. He picks it really well with his right hand and uses the slide on his left forefinger, allowing him a lot of control with his thumb and middle finger on either side.

“Make Me Fine” has an infectious Bo Diddley-esqe rhythm which provides the perfect background for Woollett’s conversational vocal delivery and dazzling guitar solos. Another story of disloyalty is provided by “So Bad To Me,” followed by the quirky, intriguing “Mary Lou” with its mesmeric backbeat. The instrumental “Pickin’ My Chicken,” with its authentic chicken sounds is pure poultry in motion, at a pace unsustainable without the highly technical abilities of bassist Craig Ferguson and drummer Paul Townsend.

The slide introduction on “To Walk Alone” sets the scene for a memorable blues ballad sung with a passion and sincerity reminiscent of Chris Farlowe. “Wasted Times” is equally impressive, its searing guitar licks underpinned by Townsend's dynamic drumming and Ferguson’s pulsating bass lines, a fitting climactic finale to a superb original album.

The name John Doe is one widely used in America to refer to anonymous persons, usually in morgues and police departments. By contrast, John Doe Trio are very much alive, making a name for themselves and moving rapidly up the UK blues charts and beyond to where they deserve to be.

--- Dave Scott

Oria AspenNew Jersey based Oria Aspen burst onto the music scene just under a decade ago with her sensational debut album, Yellow Paint, an eclectic mixture of original pop and rock songs, soul and jazz vibes and ballads. Her versatility is evident in the sensational cover of the Louis Armstrong classic, “What A Wonderful World,” beautifully sung as a duet with soul man Southside Johnny. The album received rave reviews as critics applauded both the musical qualities and the courage of a 17-year-old prepared to share her intensely personal journey on the hard road to adulthood. Despite periods of ill health, Oria has continued performing, mainly with her father --- renowned guitarist Glenn Alexander, of Southside Johnny fame --- either as a duo or as vocalist with his band Glenn Alexander & Shadowland.

The good news is that Oria is back on the scene as a solo recording artist with "Wannabe" (Distrokid), a blockbuster of a single reflecting the maturity and confidence of a young woman who, in the true blues tradition, has experienced bad times but has the strength to come through them. Such is the power of music. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker, music is the healer when you are down, “all over the world, it can heal me, it can heal you.”

“Wannabe” starts with somber piano accompaniment reflecting Oria’s poignant lyrics. "... As I sat down my body turned to stone/ I’m lonely and I’m broken, I’m a long way from home ....” The song builds gradually to a breathtaking crescendo created by the whole, perfectly balanced ensemble, interspersed with glorious interludes of light and shade rolling like waves. Soaring above this beautifully arranged backing music are Oria’s powerful and passionate vocals, impeccably phrased and with a sense of drama, as if she was singing from a Broadway stage.

Her voice has a slightly husky edge and country feel, adding to Oria’s unique, intriguing sound --- think Bonnie Raitt meets Janis Joplin. There is hope expressed in the words, “... People can get you down sometimes but in the end/ you’ve just gotta stay true to you ...” The final climactic chorus communicates her emotions and negative thoughts when she was a teenager, the angst and despair palpable and almost unbearable by the end of the song. “... I wannabe be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through/ I wannabe a skinny girl, I wannabe like you ...”

“Wannabe” is a memorable and compelling song which hooks the listener in and won’t let go, the words and melody becoming embedded in the psyche for a long time afterwards.

Oria explains: “This song has been in the works for a long time. I wrote this song when I was 17 and in the middle of an eating disorder. I noticed that society tended to care more about the lives and problems of those who were thin and good looking, and believed myself to be unworthy of people caring because I was not what society wanted. Now at age 25, I got the opportunity to record this song after sitting on it for quite some time. Every lyric in the song still feels close to home, and I still deal with the same body image issues that I addressed in the song, just not to such an extreme extent any more.”

Self-confessed wannabe Oria Aspen has the talent, originality and that special ingredient needed to be whatever she wants to be in the world of music. It is important to support artists who bare their souls with this degree of sincerity so that others in similar circumstances do not feel alone, but know that there is a friend and kindred spirit out there to help share the pain and to offer hope.

--- Dave Scott

The Proven OnesI was intrigued when I saw the names of the musicians making up The Proven Ones on their new album, You Ain't Done (Gulf Coast Records), because it sounded like one of those supergroups of well-known and talented players. The Proven Ones are Jimi Bott (drums), Willie J. Campbell (bass), Anthony Geraci (piano, organ), Kid Ramos (guitar) and Brian Templeton (lead vocals, harmonica). If you've been following the blues scene for the last 25 or so years then you will recognize these names.

Just be advised that these cats here are pumping out more blues/rock then straight blues, so how much you'll like it will depend on your individual tastes. It took me getting deeper into the album until I found something satisfying. I just wasn't enthralled with the vocals of Templeton, best known for his work as the lead singer of The Radio Kings, nor was I into the more rock-oriented material.

For that reason the cut that appealed to me the most was when Ruthie Foster joined in on vocals on the Templeton / Charlie O'Neal composition, "Whom My Soul Loves," on which the band changes course completely and takes it to church. Templeton shares the vocals with Ms. Foster, sounding much better with that heavy dose of soul pumped into his veins and vocal chords. We also hear strong gospel keyboards from Geraci, killer slide guitar from Ramos, and big horns from Joe "Mack" McCarthy and Chris Mercer.

"Milinda" is a soulful ballad with a softer edge, with Ramos again showing off on slide guitar, while "Nothing Left To Give" presents a Latin rhythm mixed within the blues/rock format. Not bad. The band moves back to a soulful sound, with much better vocals from Templeton, on the Bott/Geraci-penned "She'll Never Know." The horn players add that special backing required for a soul number, with Ramos coming in midway with a nice bluesy guitar solo.

"I Ain't Good For Nothin'" is something completely different from the rest of the album, more of an older, novelty blues sound, with Ramos taking over the vocals as well as playing slide on an acoustic guitar (perhaps a dobro) and the horns coming in with more of a jazzy muted sound. Templeton also contributes a nice harmonica solo with Geraci excelling on honky tonk piano.

I've only mentioned the songs that I found to be listenable to my ears, but your results will likely vary. The Proven Ones have gone in a lot of different directions here, so you'll need to determine whether there's enough here that meets your tastes. Meanwhile, I'll keep it around to occasionally listen to the more soul-oriented tunes, especially Ruthie Foster's contribution.

--- Bill Mitchell

Backtrack Blues BandBacktrack Blues Band has been around the Florida music scene for 40 years, with Your Baby Has Left (VizzTone) being their seventh album. Singer and harmonica player Sonny Charles leads the band through nine mostly basic blues cuts, eight originals and one cover. While Charles' vocals are somewhat limited in range, there's power to his voice and the band provides solid backing throughout.

Your Baby Has Left kicks off with one of the more intriguing and entertaining cuts, "Best Friend's Grave (Joy, Joy, Joy)," a mid-tempo blues shuffle with plenty of gospel-ish background vocals. The tempo picks up on the next cut, "Your Baby Has Left," with Charles getting the chance to show off his skills on the harmonica and Kid Royal coming in with several strong blues guitar leads. Another favorite is "Dixie Grill," again affording Royal the chance to really lay down some incendiary blues guitar licks, before Charles treats the listener to some heavy duty harp blowin' on "Killin' Time." Bruce Katz contributes nice B-3 playing here.

For my money, I prefer the songs on which Royal handles the vocals, most notably the slow blues "Times Is Hard," an extended number that closes the album. Brad Guin jumps in with a really nice sax solo during this number. Royal also steps to the mic for the Jimmy Reed cover, "Natural Born Lover," with Charles aptly handling the necessary harmonica accompaniment, and the up-tempo blues shuffle "She Might Get Mad." Royal also wrote two of the three songs on which he gets to handle the lead vocals.

Your Baby Has Left doesn't blaze any revolutionary trails in the blues genre, but it's just a fun album to pop into your CD player. There's a reason these cats have been playing the blues for so long.

--- Bill Mitchell

Blind Lemon PledgeWe've run many Blues Bytes reviews in by the uniquely-named Blind Lemon Pledge (aka James Byfield), but his latest, Goin' Home (Blind Raccoon), was my first time sampling BLP's music. It's the eighth album by the San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist, and here he strips down from his normal four- or five-piece band to accompaniment from bassist Peter Grenell.

Pledge is a very fine singer with good tone, power and range, as well as being a strong guitarist. He's put together a nice collection of songs, mostly blues classics but with a couple of original compositions mixed in. Before I launch into the contents of the disc, here are a couple of minor nits about the production of the album. First, and this is a common complaint that I have of other more recent acoustic albums, is that the sound is just a bit too clean. This type of blues was written to be gritty and greasy, and I don't get that sound here. Second, Grenell's bass is so far down in the mix to be mostly indiscernible on most songs. One needs to listen very carefully to hear the bass line, especially when it's supposed to be an integral part of the song.

But enough griping, let's get to the good stuff. Pledge opens with a Muddy Waters classic, "I Feel Like Going Home," and, of course, most of us can never get enough of Mr. Morganfield's music. He honors the master with some very nice slide guitar before jumping to a more jazzy sound with a rendition of "Fever."

Another classic minor key blues tune with some jazz elements, "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," is nicely done here with Pledge emitting some of his most emotional vocals as well as showing very good guitar licks. The Tommy Johnson classic, "Big Road Blues," is a pleasant blues with plenty of oomph. The more famous Johnson --- Robert --- also gets the nod with Pledge's extremely emotional version of "Love In Vain."

This album really picks up steam at the end with Pledge and Grenell singing together on the up-tempo traditional blues, "I Know You Rider," perhaps best known for the Hot Tuna version from the 1960s, and an a capella classic. "Little Black Train," with both of our participants joining their voices in shouting out for the Lord. It's a relatively short song but packs quite the wallop.

Now that I've finally gotten my introduction to Blind Lemon Pledge, I'll need to delve back into his discography. If, like me, you aren't familiar with this man's music, Goin' Home is not a bad place to start.

--- Bill Mitchell



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