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March/April 2024

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Order these featured albums today:

Mike Zito

Katie Henry

Seth James

Eric Bibb

JJ Grey

Rick Vito

Leo Lyons

Mitch Ryder

Altered Five Blues Band

Steve Howell

John Mayall

Jeff Rogers

One Dime Band

Nick Gravenites




Mike ZitoMike Zito
endured the passing of his wife, Laura, from cancer last year. The couple had planned Zito’s new album, Life Is Hard (Gulf Coast Records) to serve as a catharsis for the singer/guitarist after her passing, a way to pour his heart and emotions out via his music. Enlisting Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith as producers (who also both play guitar on the album), and featuring Reese Wynans on keyboards, Calvin Turner on bass, and Lemar Carter on drums, Zito has arguably crafted the best album of his career.

The 12-song set includes nine covers, several associated with other genres, and two Zito originals. He pours every fiber of his being into these songs, as do Bonamassa, Smith, and the other musicians. For listeners familiar with Zito’s backstory, it’s hard to hear these songs and performances and not be moved.

A rousing take of Little Milton’s “Lonely Man” gets the disc started off in high gear, with Wynans tearing it up on the keys, Paulie Cerra on sax, and Zito turning in a powerful vocal and guitar performance. The title track, written by Fred James, is next, and I’m sure it’s a song Zito has referred to many times over the last year. Certainly seems like it, based on his impassioned delivery here.

The terrific cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Have A Talk With God,” is a nice surprising inclusion, a soulful, funky breath of reassurance through the pain. Zito’s first original of the album, “Forever My Love,” is an incredible slow blues that finds Zito’s grief over his loss spilling out over every note and word (a radio edit of this song closes the album).

The raucous rocker “No One To Talk To (But The Blues)” was originally recorded by Lefty Frizell, with Zito’s version playing pretty closely to the original but with a bit more of a rock edge.

Zito does a fine job on Tinsley Ellis’ ominous “Dying To Do Wrong,” before turning in another interesting cover, the Guess Who’s “These Eyes,” which has a ’70s soul/R&B feel, complete with French horns from Jennifer Kumma and Anna Spima, plus backing vocals from Jade Macrae and Dannielle Deandrea.

A smoldering take of Tab Benoit’s “Darkness” follows, with scorching guitar work and heartfelt vocals from Zito. “Without Loving You,” another Zito original, is a crisp blues rocker that finds him pondering where to go from this point forward.d Walter Trout’s “Nobody Moves Me Like You Do” showcases plenty of fierce guitar work, while the album’s closer is a haunting read of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” that builds in intensity, adding backing vocals and instrumentation before ending abruptly.

One of the most moving albums, you’ll hear this year, Life Is Hard is a superb effort from Mike Zito, with a little help from his friends.

--- Graham Clarke

Tad RobinsonI was excited to hear that Tad Robinson had recently re-signed with Delmark Records. His debut release for the label, One To Infinity, remains a favorite of mine, and his tenure with Severn Records was memorable as well.

It feels like he’s back home again with a new album on the way from Delmark and the release of a new single, recorded at Evanston SPACE with the Delmark All-Stars (Sheryl Youngblood – vocals, Dave Specter and Mike Wheeler – guitars, Roosevelt Purifoy – B3, Larry Williams – bass, and Cleo Cole – drums) during Delmark’s 70th anniversary concert. “That’s How Strong My Love Is” was originally recorded by soul legend O.V. Wright in 1964, but has been covered by numerous other soul, blues, and rock artists since then.

Robinson carries the tune, and the day, with a vocal that slowly builds in intensity as the song progresses, similar to Wright’s original. Youngblood’s background vocals complement him well, and the band’s support is stellar, as to be expected. This should hold fans until the release of Robinson’s Delmark full-lengther.

--- Graham Clarke

Elliott Sharp and TerraplaneElliott Sharp is mostly known for his forays into experimental/avant garde jazz music, having released over 80 albums covering a bevy of musical styles. The multi-instrumentalist has also led his band Elliott Sharp's Terraplane since the early ’90s, which combines country and urban blues, occasionally adding other genres to the mix as the band has progressed.

The group recently signed a deal with Delmark Records, with an album in the works for August release, recently releasing their first single, “Twenty Dollar Bill,” which features Eric Mingus (son of Charles Mingus) on vocals. The song is a rumbling, electric blues with a bit of a Mississippi Hill Country drone, as Mingus laments the value (or lack thereof) of the dollar for all of us these days. Sharp’s guitar pierces through the steamy haze and humidity of the driving rhythms generated by Dave Hofstra (bass) and Don McKenzie (drums).

--- Graham Clarke

Katie HenryGet Goin', the second album on Ruf Records for Katie Henry, is showing the maturity and development of one of the brighter young artists on the blues scene. Produced by Bernard Allison, this latest album is a few steps further into the blues than On My Way, her Ruf debut in 2021, which was a more of a mix of blues, Americana, and country. The New Jersey native's music still blends into those other areas, but now is more clearly delineated as a blues album, helped by Allison's direction and his band backing her on these 11 cuts.

Henry is a multi-faceted talent, being a very capable singer, guitarist, and keyboard player. But perhaps her best talent is her songwriting, with the ability to convey her inner emotions to the listener. There are likely many "song of the year" nominations in her future.

Many of her songs revolve around the recovery from bad choices in men and the subsequent problems, starting with the catchy, up-tempo "Love Like Kerosene," a mix of blues/rock and country, as she sings about how her mind gets messed up every time that man comes around. We get to hear Henry's skill on piano here. Her vocals are more restrained and a touch sultry on the snaky blues, "Jump," as she finds herself in the rubble of a home not built to last. "A Doll's Heart" opens with a slow, quiet piano solo before her voice gains strength as she begins to sing about relationship issues.

The up-tempo blues shuffle, "Clear Vision," has Henry singing about putting the past behind and moving on with her career despite the doubts of others. She's bolstered by the fact that her masters have told her, "... times will be good, sometimes will be bad, you're gonna make it big some day ...," with strong piano work accentuating her positive thoughts. Henry turns in a funkier version of the oft-covered blues "Voodoo Woman," on which she takes a subtler approach to the vocals than on other renditions, coming in later with a tasteful Wurlitzer piano solo.

One of my favorite cuts is "The Lion's Den," an up-tempo night time blues driven by urgent drumming and Henry's more restrained vocals, before the volume comes up midway through the song. Henry sings about walking out and then back into the lion's den, ready to face whatever issues she previously had there.

Even better is the slow soulful blues, "Wake Up Time," showing her songwriting skills as she effectively pours the pain from her heart, asking her partner where they went wrong and then singing, "... Is this how the story ends, star-crossed lovers who can't be friends? ..." She reinforces that pain in her heart with a guitar solo that brings out the same emotions. "Wake Up Time" is my nomination for Song of the Year. "Get Goin' Get Gone" continues in the same vein, a nice blues shuffle with a big dose of soul, but with more of a feeling of relief in her voice as she says this time she's not the one who's moving out.

A nice interlude is the Louisiana-based instrumental, "Bayou Boogie," with both guitar and piano driving the song along. Moving back to relationship issues, "Trying" is a mid-tempo funky blues that has strong solos from both the Wurlitzer piano and guitar.

Closing the album is a nice version of Blind Willie Johnson's traditional blues/gospel tune, "Nobody's Fault But Mine," as Henry does some self-reflection and takes blame for what's gone wrong. A nice, subtle ending to a very strong album.

Katie Henry demonstrates growth as a performer and a songwriter with Get Goin'. She's a rising star on the blues scene, with many more years ahead.

--- Bill Mitchell

Seth JamesThe longer I listen to music, the more I appreciate Delbert McClinton’s contributions. The Texas-born troubadour’s music takes in a host of genres --- soul, blues, country, rock, and R&B --- .and no doubt contributed to the development of the Americana genre (he’s called “The Founding Father of Americana,” so, yeah). His music probably led a lot of fans (like your humble reviewer) to explore those other genres and discover a whole lot more great artists and music, but I still love to listen to some good ol’ Delbert tunes when I have a chance.

Apparently, so does Seth James, another Texas troubadour, who grew up listening to McClinton. With the help of producer, keyboardist, guitarist, and songwriter Kevin McKendree (who worked with McClinton for over 25 years), just assembled a superb collection of his songs, Lessons (Qualified Records).

James and McKendree, with help from McClinton’s rhythm section (Lynn Williams – drums, Steve Mackey – bass), guitartist Rob McNelley, horn section Vinnie Ciesielski, John Hinchey and Jim Hoke, and backing vocalists Nick Jay and Alice Spencer, deliver 11 tunes from the legend’s catalog, some familiar and a few less so. James doesn’t play guitar on this set, instead focusing on his vocals which bear many similarities to McClinton’s. Naturally, the band is as familiar with the catalog as James, so it’s obvious from beginning to end that this was a labor of love for all involved.

The opening tune, after a short introduction, is a familiar tune, “Honky Tonkin’ (I Guess I Done Me Some),” which sums up the McClinton sound as well as any song could. “Real Good Itch” is a greasy, good-natured country-flavored blues, and “Who’s Foolin’ Who” is reworked a bit from the original’s light tropical feel with James’ rendition leaning heavier to the funky R&B side, but the horn-driven “Maybe Someday Baby” still swings like mad.

One of the less familiar tunes on the album, “The Rub” is a harrowing tale with a slippery groove that James narrates as deftly as McClinton did on Room To Breathe. “Morgan City Fool” is a track from McClinton’s earlier days, and James’ version retains the greasy swamp vibe of the original. The jaunty “Victim of Life’s Circumstances” is a solid entry here, as well, a lively country rocker.

“Lesson In The Pain of Love” is another horn-fueled track, and James’ soulful vocals are standout, while “Ruby Louise” is another seldom -heard gem from McClinton’s underrated ’70s recordings. McKendree’s stellar piano work is a highlight.

“B Movie Boxcar Blues” is one of McClinton’s most-recorded songs, and James does the dynamic tune justice, replacing harmonica with Hoke’s saxophone. The final tune is the soulful ballad “Take It Easy,” which appeared on the same album as “B Movie Boxcar Blues” and “Maybe Someday Baby” (1978’s Second Wind), and James turns in an excellent vocal for this superb closer.

Lessons is a fine tribute to one of the music world’s truly legendary singers and songwriters, with McClinton having written all of these selections. Seth James does a marvelous job with these tracks. Llisteners will not only want to backtrack to hear the original versions, but they’ll definitely want to hear more from James as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric BibbOn the heels of his award-winning album, Ridin', from 2023, Eric Bibb has another strong release in Live At The Scala Theatre Stockholm (Stony Plain). With a career now five decades long, the New York City native grew up around the Greenwich Village folk scene when his father, Leon, was active on the scene there and also in the civil rights movement.

Just hearing Bibb with no other accompaniment would be fine, but for this live show in Sweden he added a host of other musicians, both from the states as well as local players. This expanded group adds a richness and diversity to the 10 songs done in front of audience. The sound quality is pristine and the crowd noise unobtrusive.

Opening the show is a beautiful version of the traditional blues, "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad," augmented by pedal steel guitar from Johan Lindström and fiddle from Esbjörn Hazelius. Bibb shows off his guitar picking skills on his own composition, "Silver Spoon," a slow, hypnotic blues made eerie and foreboding by the other sounds coming from the accompanying instruments. Another Bibb-penned tune, "Along The Way," portrays an ethereal vibe coming from the pedal steel.

Bibb shows off his fingerpicking techniques on the more laid-back Leadbelly song, "Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie," with a nice fiddle break from Hazelius. That same fiddle opens one of the best songs on the show, a remake of sorts of a Walter Vinson song, here titled "Things Is 'Bout Comin' My Way," the group's interpretation of "Sitting On Top Of the World." We hear nice harmonica accompaniment from Greger Andersson and a pedal steel solo from Lindström that adds a touch of mystery to the song.

In the liner notes, Bibb points out the significance of a song, "Rosewood," that he co-wrote with Glenvin Anthony Scott. He very emotionally tells the story of a black community in Florida that was wiped out by a horrendous massacre in 1923. Bibb then moves on to current events with "Whole World's Got The Blues," his lament and warning about our current environment. Lindström switches to electric guitar to lay down a very hot solo during this number.

"River Blues" is an original slow blues opening with Bibb's acoustic guitar picking before a lot of diverse sounds from the rest of the ensemble come in. "500 Miles" is pleasant traditional song, accentuated by Hazelius' eerie fiddle playing. Another traditional number, "Mole In The Ground," closes the album, made special by Lamine Cissokho's accompaniment on the koro, a 21-string West African instrument. Hearing this makes me wish that the koro was used more often on this show. We also get tasteful piano work from Glen Scott.

I love this album, still another gem in Bibb's vast discography. If you're not familiar with his music, Live At The Scala Theatre Stockholm would be a good starting point before you jump into his other recordings.

--- Bill Mitchell

JJ GreyOlustee (Alligator Records) is JJ Grey & Mofro’s tenth release, their first new album in nine years. However, the band’s swampy mix of blues, soul, rock, and funk remains intact. Grey serves as producer for the first time and Mofro expands, adding an orchestra to several of the 11 tracks, 10 of which were written by Grey, reflecting his usual personal touch.

“The Sea” opens the album, a peaceful ballad with Grey’s haunting falsetto and acoustic guitar backed by strings and piano that paints a wonderful picture of the calming effects of the sea. You can almost hear the waves coming to shore. “Top of the World” is soulful, funky blues that sounds and feels like a long-lost Little Feat track, and the lovely “On a Breeze” is a gentle ballad that just seems to float through the air like its title.

The title track is a driving blues rocker with funky undertones, a harrowing tale of a desperate race to outrun a raging wildfire. Grey delivers a powerful cover of John Anderson’s early ’90s country hit “Seminole Wind,” reflecting on the damage done to the environment over the years by industry and development.

The album’s first single, “Wonderland,” is a delightful soul burner with horns, backing vocals, B3, and ringing guitars, while “Starry Night” is a splendid slow blues highlighted by strings and sweet vocals from Grey and the backing vocalists, and the freewheeling, funky “Free High” fondly recalls the days of listening to tunes on the turntable. The ballad “Waiting” addresses procrastination and getting on with life, highlighted by Grey’s soulful vocal.

“Rooster” is an entertaining track with Grey’s feisty rap vocal against a funk/rock backdrop, surely coming to a movie soundtrack in your near future. The reflective ballad, “Deeper Than Belief,” brings the disc to a satisfying conclusion.

It’s great to have a new release from JJ Grey & Mofro, and Olustee makes the wait worthwhile. The alternating track sequence (ballad/rocker) works very well and Grey’s songwriting and his vocals are superb throughout. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait nine years for the next one.

--- Graham Clarke

Rick VitoRick Vito is probably best known for his tenure as guitarist for Fleetwood Mac from 1987 until 1991, where he helped revive the blues and roots vibe of the earliest incarnation of the legendary band. He also teamed with Mick Fleetwood as part of the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, and has played lead and slide guitar for numerous artists from Bob Seger (“Like A Rock”) to Bonnie Raitt to John Mayall to John Prine to Albert Collins. Also a songwriter of note, his “It’s Two A.M.,” performed by Shemekia Copeland, won the W.C. Handy Blues Award for Song of the Year in 2001.

He’s also found time to release ten solo albums since 1992, the latest being Cadillac Man (Blue Heart Records), a wonderful set featuring 12 tracks (11 originals) spanning blues, roots, rock, and soul. Vito plays all guitars and bass on 11 tracks, backed by drummers Lynn Williams, Rick Reed, and Charles “Mojo” Johnson, along with B3 master Kevin McKendree, with harmonica ace Steve Marriner, saxophonist Jim Hoke, and Charlie Harrison, who plays bass on one track.

The snappy shuffle, “Love Crazy Baby,” kicks off the album with Vito’s splendid slide guitar work front and center. His Handy winner, the soulful blues “It’s 2 A.M.” follows, leading into the jaunty, rocking n’ rolling title track that would have been a solid fit in Chuck Berry’s catalog.

The atmospheric “Little Sheba” describes a mysterious femme fatale, Vito’s haunting slide guitar work punctuating his story. That slide is also featured prominently on the first instrumental, a funky number called “Bo In Paradise.”

The lively “Gone Like A Cool Breeze” is a swinging, pop-flavored tune, while “Crying At Midnight” is a somber blues ballad with a fine Vito vocal to accompany his pristine guitar work. “Barbeque’n Baby” is a bluesy shuffle with exuberant slide guitar and harmony vocals which add a country feel. The second instrumental is a lovely interpretation of Sam Cooke’s “Just Another Day,” from his Soul Stirrer days, with Vito’s slide guitar just amazing on this track.

The gentle, flowing “River’s Calling” is a moody piece that teams Vito’s plaintive vocal with his equally mournful slide work. The entertaining “You Can’t Stop A Guitar (From Playing The Blues)” drops a few blues guitar legends while Vito’s guitar soars, and the third instrumental, “Sliding Into Blues,” is a relaxing track that brings the album to a satisfying conclusion.

Simply put, if you dig the blues and slide guitar, there’s plenty of both on Cadillac Man to get you through the day. Rick Vito has another winner on his hands with this excellent release.

--- Graham Clarke

Leo LyonsLeo Lyons has been playing music professionally since 1960, when he was 16 years old, and began playing bass with singer/guitarist Alvin Lee in The Jaybirds. The Jaybirds changed their name to Ten Years After in 1967, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ten Years After gave many memorable performances during the late ’60s, most notably their stunning rendition of “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock in 1969, and are also remembered for the UK hit “Love Like A Man” and their biggest worldwide hit, “I’d Love To Change The World.”

Following Ten Years After’s break-up in 1974, Lyons became a producer, working with artists like UFO, Motörhead, and Richard and Linda Thompson, among others. He later worked as a staff songwriter for the Nashville publisher Hayes Street Music. He also recorded several albums, two with his band Kick. He rejoined a reformed Ten Years After for a decade beginning in 2003. Since leaving, Lyons formed Hundred Seventy Split with former Ten Years After singer/guitarist Joe Gooch and drummer Damon Sawyer.

Movin’ On (Flatiron Recordings) is the band’s seventh release, featuring ten songs written by Lyons with Gooch or Nashville tunesmith Fred Koller. Lyons’ former Kick bandmates Andy Nye and Tony Crooks also collaborate on a couple of songs.

Lyons and Gooch wrote the opener, “Walking In The Devil’s Shoes,” a thunderous blues rocker that updates the Robert Johnson at the Crossroads theme. You can feel Lyons’ rumbling bass line in your bones. The swinging “It’s So Easy To Slide” is a free-wheeling shuffle that features all three musicians prominently.

“The Heart of a Hurricane” is a catchy tune that has the feel of an ’80s soundtrack tune, as does Gooch’s vocal, while “Black River” is a moody mid-tempo blues, and “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” is a terrific hard-charging boogie rocker in the TYA tradition that adds Hammond organ from Bob Hadrell.

“The Road Back Home” is an old school classic rocker reflecting on the past highlighted by Gooch’s catchy guitar riffs and strong vocal. “Meet Me at the Bottom” is a lively acoustic blues that’s a lot of fun, and the scrappy “Sounded Like a Train” vividly recounts the 2023 Nashville tornado.

Gooch’s deft guitar work is showcased on the semi-acoustic “Beneath That Muddy Water,” which has a steamy, sweaty Delta feel, and the closer “Time To Kill” is a crisp, irresistible rock n’ roller.

Movin’ On is an entertaining set of blues and rock that will please fans of both genres. Leo Lyons, at 80 years old, still has a tiger in his tank and a great band that keeps their foot to the pedal.

--- Graham Clarke

Mitch RyderI first heard Mitch Ryder in the early ’80s, when he had a hit with a cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” A few years later, I heard his “Devil With A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly” on the mid-’80s television show Moonlighting, which led me to backtrack to his earlier body of work, where his combination of blue-eyed soul and rock n’ roll led to several hits in the mid ’60s.

Ryder has influenced numerous rockers, such as John Mellencamp (who produced “When You Were Mine” as well as the accompanying album, Never Kick A Sleeping Dog), Bob Segar, Ted Nugent, and Bruce Springsteen, who often performs a “Detroit Medley” of Ryder tunes in concert.

Though he’s been basically limited to the nostalgia circuit in the U.S. for many years, Ryder retains a big following in Europe, most notably Germany, where he’s recorded many of his most recent albums, including his latest. The Roof is on Fire (Ruf Records) is a two-CD live set recorded during a series of 2019 and 2020 German tours celebrating his 75th birthday,

Ryder is backed by a powerhouse band with two guitarists (Gisbert “Pitti” Piatkowski and Heiner Witte), bassist Manne Pokrandt, drummer Tobias Ridder, keyboardist Wolfram “Boddi” Bodag, and multi-instrumentalist Rene Decker. Ryder wrote nine of the 15 tracks featured on this set, and though his voice is coarser than his hit making days, he still projects that same energy and passion that highlighted his earlier work, and it’s obvious the crowd is digging the show.

Ryder’s originals don’t include any of his familiar hits, but the opener, “Betty’s Too Tight,” on "TUFF," the first disc, is a gritty, fast-paced rocker. The follow-up, “Tough Kid,” doesn’t slow the pace at all, with scorching slide guitar, harmonica from Decker, and a relentless driving rhythm. The breathless pace continues with a nice cover of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is played even faster than Bob Dylan’s original.

“Bang Bang” is a tough anti-war tune that hits home based on current events, and the pace eases ever so slightly with the biting “Ain’t Nobody White.” The remainder of that line is “can sing the blues,” which has surely provoked a few debates over the years since Ryder first recorded it. There’s also a rock-solid cover of the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ hit, “Tuff Enuff,” straddling blues and rock like the original, with extra harp work on this version from Decker.

“From A Buick 6,” the second Dylan cover, finally slows things down, but Ryder and the band manage to keep the intensity level high. The band has an opportunity to stretch out on this track with guitar, harmonica, and keyboards getting some time in the spotlight. Ryder and the band wrap up CD 1 with a powerful take of The Rolling Stones’ “Heart Of Stone,” with the audience also contributing.

Disc 2 is titled “SOFT” and features seven songs, five written by Ryder, beginning with the introspective “Freezin’ In Hell,” where Ryder goes from a whisper to a throat-shredding scream and back to the appreciation of the audience. He pours his heart into the next song as well, “All The Fool It Sees,” mixing tough and tender to powerful effect, and “If You Need The Pain,” where Ryder takes a more understated vocal approach backed by Bodag’s piano.

The cover of Jimmy Cliff’s classic “Many River To Cross” is highlighted by Bodag’s gospel-like approach on organ, with Ryder doing a fine job with the vocal, adding to the gospel feel. The world-weary “Star Nomore” is a nice, understated performance, pondering the difficulties of being on the road and longing for a more grounded existence. The somewhat twisted “Red Scar Eyes,” originally recorded for a German label in the early ’80s, seems to be a crowd favorite.

Disc 2 closes with The Doors’ classic “Soul Kitchen,” which Ryder and the band stretch out to nearly 16 minutes. There’s lots of musical interplay by the band which works very well, nothing really drags out during the song, and Ryder’s vocal approach is a pretty good match for Jim Morrison’s in all ways. There’s a “radio” version of “Ain’t Nobody White” that follows this tune.

I have to admit that Ryder’s vocals took me a bit by surprise at first, since I haven’t really heard him in years, but, overall, The Roof is on Fire is a very strong live set, as he still retains that boundless energy and enthusiasm that first enthralled audiences 60 years ago. I really like the fact that he avoided a “Greatest Hits” approach to this release, opting to share some great music that many of his classic era fans might not have been familiar with, as well as some well-chosen covers.

--- Graham Clarke

Altered Five Blues BandAt long last, we have a new recording from the crack Milwaukee group, Altered Five Blues Band. Testifyin' (Blind Pig Records) isn't a full album, but rather a five-song EP produced by Tom Hambridge. I'll settle for it because Jeff Taylor and the boys have given us five really strong numbers. We were teased nearly two years ago when the single "Great Minds Drink Alike" came out (reviewed here), thinking that a full album would follow shortly thereafter. With Blind Pig ramping back up with a lot of intriguing releases planned for later in the year, we can hope that there will be more Altered Five songs to follow.

Singer Jeff Taylor is backed by his regular working band, a solid, tight group consisting of Jeff Schroedl (guitar), Mark Solveson (bass), Steve Huebler (keyboards), and Alan Arber (drums). Jason Ricci joins in on harmonica on three of the cuts. There's also a horn section that's not mentioned on the EP back cover, but rest assured whoever they brought to the studio can play.

I'm a big fan of Taylor's voice. To coin an over-used phrase, he'd sound good singing the phone book. (I just dated myself, because who uses phone books in this century?). He's got a booming voice that emphasizes whatever issue he's singing about.

Testifyin' starts with "Don't Tell Me I Can't," with Taylor having all the confidence in the world that he'll have it all. The horns blast away throughout and Schroedl contributes snaky blues guitar before later laying down a strong solo. The slow blues "Whiskey Got Me Married" has Taylor admitting that the bottle told him what to do instead of following his heart, with a bottle of Johnny Walker and that cinnamon brunette in Las Vegas ("... She was a cold-blooded kisser, held nothin' back ...") was his downfall, as he and that woman obviously found their way to one of the many Sin City wedding chapels. Ricci makes his first appearance with solid harmonica interludes. 

"Brand New Bone" opens with a slow instrumental piece from guitar and harmonica, leading into a plodding shuffle as Taylor sings about not being able to leave that woman alone. Heubler shines with his piano solo midway through the tune. Up next is my fave on this abbreviated album, the slow blues "I've Got The Scars To Prove It." We  all feel the pain in Taylor's voice, echoed by Schroedl's guitar licks. The guitar-playing Jeff provides the highlight with an absolutely killer solo while Huebler's organ provides the underlying foundation.

"You Can't Win (If It Ain't Within)" is Taylor's effort to get us to be the best that we can be. Or something like that. It's subject to interpretation. Schroedl again lays down some smokin' guitar tracks throughout. And with that, we're done here. The Testifyin' album ends as strongly as it began.

I've never seen this band live, but I have to believe they put on a killer show. I've begged with Jeff Schroedl to get them down to Arizona someday, so maybe that will happen before long. In the meantime, I'll continually groove to their many albums, with Testifyin' the latest in a rich blues catalog.

--- Bill Mitchell

Steve HowellIt’s always a great day when a new release from Steve Howell & The Mighty Men arrives. The Texas troubadour’s catalog includes albums that are full of great and unique interpretations of classic songs that range from blues to gospel to jazz to country to pop and soul. Their latest release, 99 ½ Won’t Do (Out of the Past Music) is a perfect example of this band’s musical M.O., with ten well-chosen tunes that span all of those genres. Howell can’t lose with his deft guitar work and warm vocals, along with the superb support of The Mighty Men (Chris Michaels – electric guitar, Dave Hoffpauir – drums, and Jason Weinheimer – bass/keys).

The set opens with one of my favorite, relatively unheralded Chess sides, “I’m A Little Mixed Up,” originally recorded by Betty James in 1961. Howell and the band have almost as much fun with this version as James and her family (husband on guitar, son on bass) did. The title track is a relaxed version of an old gospel favorite, recorded by Dorothy Love Coates, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and later modified by Wilson Pickett.

Howell and company also include four instrumentals on the album, which is never a bad thing. The first two are “San Francisco,” a lovely and delicate version of the 1967 Scott McKenzie hit, and a laid-back read of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” another ’60s favorite that features a guitar duet between Howell and Michaels. The R&B ballad “Talk To Me,” originally released by Little Willie John in the late ’50s, gets a sweet soulful presentation.

The gospel song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” has been recorded in a variety of genres over the years, with Howell’s gently swinging version a real toe tapper. It’s never a bad thing to include a Charlie Rich song on an album, and Howell selects one of Rich’s finest, a keeper from his Sun Records days, “Who Will The Next Fool Be?”

Charley Patton’s “Stone Pony Blues” is updated nicely, and the final two tracks are both instrumentals, a gentle cover of The Left Banke’s 1966 “Walk Away Renee,” and the 1960’s rock instrumental hit, “Apache.”

One of my favorite things about Steve Howell’s albums is that in addition to getting to hear some mighty fine music, I always find myself tracking down the old songs that I am unfamiliar with. Trust me, if you dig excellent guitar and warm performances, you need to check out Steve Howell & The Mighty Men, and 99 ½ Won’t Do is a great place to start.

--- Graham Clarke

Tail GatorsWay back in the late ’80s, I was thumbing through a record catalog (man, do I miss those!) and ran across an album by a band out of Austin, Texas called The Tail Gators. Based on some of the comments and feedback, I decided to give them a try. Thirty-five years later, they remain one of my favorite bands. Their sound was a combination of blues, rock, surf, rockabilly, Cajun, and zydeco. I wasn’t familiar with several of those styles at the time, but The Tail Gators’ music inspired to dig into those genres.

Over about a dozen years The Tail Gators released seven albums, all of them outstanding to these ears, before going their separate ways. The main ‘Gator was founder Don Leady, a LeRoi Brothers alum, who sang, played guitar, fiddle, and accordion. Leady was influenced by a variety of musicians, ranging from Chet Atkins, B.B. King, Les Paul, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, and Nashville session guitarist Joe Maphis. Initially joining Leady were bassist and former Fabulous Thunderbird Keith Ferguson and drummer Gary “Mudcat” Smith.

Leady recently unearthed some live recordings that the band cut at different venues in October 1985. These tracks were recorded from soundboards to cassettes, transferred and remastered. An LP with seven tracks was issued at the end of 2023, but the set is now available on CD, with 10 additional tracks, as The Tail Gators – Live in ’85 (LeRay Records). I’d always heard about their rough and rowdy live shows, so this was an opportunity to hear it first-hand.

Nine of the tracks appeared on the first four Tail Gators releases. “Pick Up The Deck, “Brown Eyed Girl,” “They Call Me Rockin’,” and the show closer, “Rock & Roll ‘till The Cows Come Home,” all showed up on the band’s 1985 debut album, Swamp Rock. Al Ferrier’s “Yard Dog” is taken from their 1986 follow-up, Mumbo Jumbo, and Hank Mizell’s rockabilly classic “Jungle Rock” and Hank Ballard’s “Tore Up” are from 1987’s Tore Up (a compilation of extra tracks their label, Wrestler Records, recorded for the first two albums).

The swampy cover of Clarence Garlow’s “Crawfishin’” appeared a few years later on their 1988 release for Restless Records. Ok Let’s Go!, and surf guitarist Al Casey’s instrumental “Ramrod” finally appeared on 1992’s Swamp’s Up for Upstart Records. All of these tunes were album favorites to their fans and guaranteed to get audiences moving at live performances.

Other songs include the mid-tempo “Thinkin’ About You,” a wild version of Tarhill Slim’s classic “Wildcat Tamer,” a slow burning take of “Sea of Love,” a gritty read of Ronnie Self’s “Ain’t I’m A Dog” combined with a guitar-driven cover of James Brown’s instrumental “Hold It,” Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a splendid remake of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” “Secret Weapon” (actually Lazy Lester’s “If You Think I’ve Lost You”), and Chuck Dallis’ “Moon Twist” (a favorite from Leady’s LeRoi Brothers days).

Although the tracks come from different shows and the sound quality varies a tiny bit between songs, Live in ’85 proves beyond a doubt that The Tail Gators knew how to put on a show. If you’re not familiar with their catalog, this is a great place to start and will probably encourage you to track down their earlier releases. If you are a fan, this is a great way to hear “new” Tail Gators product.. Leady still performs as The Tail Gators occasionally, but with a new rhythm section, as Ferguson passed away in 1997 and Smith moved on around the same time.

--- Graham Clarke

John MayallLive in 1967, Volume 3 (Forty Below Records) is the final set of tunes capturing one of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ most potent but shortest-lived editions of the band, with Mayall (vocals, harmonica, organ) leading Peter Green (guitar), John McVie (bass), and Mick Fleetwood (drums). The trio of Green, McVie, and Fleetwood would leave soon after these recordings to form Fleetwood Mac. This particular assemblage of the Bluesbreakers were only together about three months, so these three volumes of live recordings are pretty much all fans have to verify their existence, other than a few tracks that were later included on an expanded release of the band’s 1967 studio effort, A Hard Road.

Fortunately, Tom Huissen, a young Dutch fan, snuck a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder to five different Bluesbreaker performances between February and May of 1967. Mayall acquired these recordings and he and Forty Below label head Eric Corne painstakingly restored them, with Volume 1 being released in 2015 and Volume 2 in 2016. Like the previous two volumes, the sound is not high fidelity and these are the muddiest of the lot. Still, Mayall and Corne did an excellent job, considering what they were working with, to the point that it really doesn’t take anything from the excellent music being played.

There are only nine selections on Volume 3, compared to 13 apiece on the previous two volumes, and eight of the songs are duplicated on the previous volumes as well (Mayall’s “Brand New Start” and “Tears In My Eyes,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Your Funeral and My Trial,” J.B. Lenoir’s “Talk To Your Daughter,” Freddy King’s instrumental “The Stumble,” Green’s “Greeny,” and Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble.” The lone “newcomer” to the set list is Mayall’s “Stand Back Baby,” which maybe has the worst sound quality, but Peter Green’s guitar work still shines through.

Green makes his presence known on every one of these tracks. Only 21 at the time, he pulls out all the stops whenever he has the opportunity, and it’s a shame that this ensemble didn’t have more of an opportunity to play together. However, each member went on to craft some superb blues and rock music in their later bands. McVie and Fleetwood are rock solid with their rhythm support, and Mayall is, well, Mayall. There’s a reason he’s called the Godfather of British Blues, and it’s shown on these tracks.

Since nearly all of these songs appear on the previous volumes and the sound is not quite as sharp on this set, Live in 1967. Volume 3 may not be as essential to blues fans as the first two volumes, but it’s still a great opportunity to hear one of the lesser known British blues bands of the ’60s in top form.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff RogersCanadian singer/songwriter/keyboardist Jeff Rogers traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record his latest album, Dream Job (Diesel Entertainment). An Ottawa native, Rogers is an in-demand session player, mastering his craft over the past two decades, playing clubs and festivals throughout Canada as a solo artist and as a member of the country/rock band The Cooper Brothers, also winning the 2020 I.B.C. as a member of HOROJO Trio.

Dream Job offers nine original tracks written by Rogers and musical partner (and fellow Cooper Brother) Dick Cooper, who co-produced the album with Rogers. Contributing musicians include guitarist Kelvin Holly, keyboardist Clayton Ivey, drummer Justin Holder, bassist Shonna Tucker, and backing vocalists Sherri Harding and Rebecca Noelle, with guest appearances from guitarist Colin Linden and singer Kellylee Evans.

The opener, “Her Kind of Trouble,” is a deep soul/blues ballad about hard times and the irresistible woman who may be responsible for some of those times. “Lock & Key” is the album’s first single and it’s a tough poppish rocker, with guitar work from Holly and a hard-charging horn section.

The soaring title track is a ballad driven by Rogers’ vocal and keyboards and an awesome choir (who also appear on a couple of other tracks), and Linden contributes slide guitar to the Second Line stepper “Mind of Your Own.”

Blues fans will dig the smoky slow burner “Wish You Wouldn’t Go,” highlighted by Holly’s sterling fretwork, the horns, and Rogers’ Wurlitzer and vocals. “Saving This Bottle of Wine” sounds like a classic Muscle Shoals track with its deft mixture of country and soul. “Dead of Night” has a Memphis Staxian feel with the horns and keyboards.

Kellylee Evans joins Rogers for “Worth The Wait,” a textbook example of sweet soul music, and the gospel-flavored closer “Deep Cold Water” makes great use of the aforementioned choir.

Rogers has a distinctive vocal style that is a snug fit with blues, country, and soul, and his songwriting is first rate. Dream Job is a fine release that will certainly satisfy fans of those genres.

--- Graham Clarke

One Dime BandOne Dime Band is an acoustic duo (John Brauchler – guitar, resonator, banjo, and Paul Gallucci – vocals, harmonica, percussion, rhythm guitar) based in Boston. The duo won the Boston Blues Society Blues Challenge in 2022, the Granite State Blues Society Blues Challenge in 2023, and made the semi-finals at the International Blues Challenge in 2024. They are backed by Romeo Dubois (drums), Paul Kochanski (bass), Alizon Lissance (keyboards), Ilana Katz Katz (fiddle), Holly Harris (percussion), Johnny Blue Horn (trumpet), Mario Perrett (saxes) with Robin Hathaway and Tim Curry providing additional vocals.

Side Hustle is One Dime Band’s fourth release, featuring 13 original tracks that touch on a variety of styles while remaining deeply rooted in the blues. The Memphis-flavored title track opens the disc, with horns, keyboards and a greasy funk feel.

The swampy blues “Blackfoot Sun” features Brauchler’s resonator and Katz’s fiddle, and “Mockingbird Way” ventures toward ’50s-era rock n’ roll, before the fine and mellow “What You Done?” shifts back to the blues with resonator and Lissance’s accordion.

“Ain’t No Faker” showcases Lissance’s piano work and Gallucci’s vocals and harmonica, and the ominous “Dr. Shine” is a haunting blues about getting away from the real world. The jaunty “Brooklyn Town” has a vintage jazz feel with banjo from Brauchler, Kolchanski’s upright bass, and muted trumpet from Johnny Blue Horn, and “Backbell” is an old school rock n’ roller with classic wailing sax from Perrett and piano from Lissance.

“Soul To Keep” is a soulful slow burner that teams Gallucci with Robin Hathaway on vocals, “Babylon Clouds” is a greasy blues highlighted by Gallucci’s deft harp play and Braucher’s fretwork, and “Cemetery Waltz” is a dreamy Americana piece with resonator and fiddle in the spotlight.

The greasy instrumental “Rib Grease” mixes Stax and New Orleans funk seamlessly, and the closer, “Gator In My Pond,” is the most downhome blues on the disc and wraps things up as effectively as possible.

One Dime Band’s Side Hustle is a most enjoyable album with a perfect mix of traditional and contemporary blues and soul. Great songs and performances make this one a must-hear for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Stevie JStevie J Blues’ latest album is a seven-song EP, Let’s Get Back To Love (PK Music Group) that hit stores just in time for Valentine’s Day. The EP features three tunes he recently released, all of which went to number one on the Soul/Blues charts (the rocking soul tune “Leaving Me,” the Marvin Gaye tribute “Like Marvin,” and the Womack-esque “You Got That Love”), all previously reviewed by Blues Bytes, plus four brand new songs.

“Real Love” is the next single on the album, a thick slice of sweet Southern soul that should join its mates near the top of the charts, if it hasn’t already. “Somebody Tell Me” is more mid-tempo over a funky backdrop and some of Stevie J’s stinging guitar work mixed in.

“Biscuits and Gravy” is a slow and soulful downhome blues like they used to play them, and the title track is a cool R&B track that reflects on first love and rekindling the flame, giving a nod to Teddy Pendergrass in the process.

Let’s Get Back To Love will definitely satisfy Stevie J Blues’ fanbase, but it should easily add a few more soul/blues fans to that base.

--- Graham Clarke

Smokey GreenwellOne thing about political activism in music is that sometimes each side may think the song is talking about the other side. That will probably be the case with several selections on Smoky Greenwell’s Blues For Democracy (Greenwell Records), because if you really look into politics, it’s never really just one side or the other doing the things that you’re disgusted with. Many of these songs work the same way.

On tracks like “Fillibuster Blues,” “Liars, Cheaters, and Losers,” (both new songs) and “Slow Moving Coup,” either side of the political aisle can easily picture the other side doing what Greenwell is describing. That’s not exactly a new concept, for sure, but it shows that the deceit and chicanery goes deeper than most imagine, and both ways to boot.

Several of these tracks actually are pleas for the public and the folks in government to stop the insanity (“Common Ground,” and Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together”). He also encourages everyone to “Get Out And Vote,” which is the minimum any citizen can do to make a difference, and “99% Blues” is a true group effort, a rocking, rollicking blues with several vocalists taking turn deriding the Citizens United SCOTUS decision.

Greenwell’s first political song, “Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” is featured here as well, and “Homeless Christmas” is a fast-paced blues where Greenwell calls attention to the plight of those less fortunate during the holidays.

Some political albums tend to alienate one side of the other of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t really happen with Blues For Democracy….there’s plenty of blame to go around for the current state of affairs. Smoky Greenwell gets that and does a fine job relaying it to blues fans, while playing some mighty fine blues along the way.

--- Graham Clarke

Harlem LakeDutch blues rockers Harlem Lake (Janne Timmer – vocals, Dave Warmerdam – organ/Rhodes/backing vocals, Sonny Ray Van den Berg – guitar, Benjamin Torbijn – drums, Kjelt Ostendorf – bass/backing vocals) won the European Blues Challenge in 2022. While their sound incorporates blues, rock, and Americana, singer Timmer brings a nice bit of soul to her vocals.

They have an upcoming album available in the spring (A Fool’s Paradise, Vol. 2), and have recently issued a single from the album. “Carry On” is a gritty rocking blues that adds horns (Thomas Heikoop, Jazzton Hulsebosch, and Maarten Combrink) and backing vocals (Megan Zinschitz and Ashley de Jong) for a dash of soul. Timmer’s powerful vocal and Van den Berg’s crunching guitar tone carry the day

--- Graham Clarke

Boogie BeastsThe Belgian band Boogie Beasts’ sound has been described as “alternative blues rock,” taking their love for the downhome, raw blues and adding bits of other genres to the mix, such as soul, gospel, rock, R&B, and even a little hip-hop.

The band (Jan Jaspers – guitar/vocals, Patrick Louis – guitar/vocals, Fabian Bennardo – harmonica, Gert Servaes – drums) has an upcoming album release, Neon Skies & Different Highs, on April 19th, but recently dropped the first single, “Cold Ways” (Naked Records) to give listeners a taste of what’s to come. A driving shuffle with eerie slide guitar, Louis’ ominous vocal, a distinctive chorus, and Bennardo’s harp, “Cold Ways” is a great sign that the upcoming album will be one to look forward to.

--- Graham Clarke

OrianthiBorn in Australia, Los Angeles-based guitarist Orianthi began playing guitar professionally at age 13, performing and touring with Carlos Santana, Steve Vai, Alice Cooper, Richie Sambora, and Dave Stewart. She was a member of the Hollywood Vampires and has recorded five solo albums in addition to serving as Carrie Underwood’s guitarist.

Having recently signed with Woodward Avenue Records, Orianthi recently released a single, “First Time Blues,” which features guest guitarist Joe Bonamassa with Justin Andres (bass/vocals), Carey Frank (keys), Nick Maybury (electric/acoustic guitars), and Elias Mallin (drums).

Orianthi is a strong vocalist, and she and Bonamassa both take standout, scorching guitar solos while the band provides superb support that leans slightly more toward blues than rock and should have her fans clamoring for her new album’s release.

--- Graham Clarke

Nick GravenitesNick Gravenites was a key figure in the Chicago blues/rock scene of the 1960s, hanging around with the likes of Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Paul Butterfield, and others. He played with Janis Joplin and was also part of The Electric Flag. This dude was a significant player back in the day, and is still putting out music even though he's into his 80s.

Rogue Blues (M.C. Records), his album with piano player Pete Sears, is Gravenites' first recording in eight years, with these sessions taking place just a few years ago. He's no longer able to play the guitar due to  arthritis in his hands, but Jimmy Vivino helps out on the session, as does another 1960s associate, Charlie Musselwhite, who contributes his usually fine harmonica playing. While his voice shows some age (as expected), Gravenites is still a perfectly fine singer.

Three cuts stand out, starting with the up-tempo blues "Poor Boy," opening with a piano intro from Sears and then very good harmonica accompaniment from Musselwhite. Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers handles the harmonica work on the slow blues ballad "Left Hand Soul," with Gravenites doing his best vocal work, singing, "...Livin' in this right hand world with my left hand soul ..." Gravenites also sounds invigorated on the mid-tempo "Blues Singer," reciting a litany of great bluesmen who he saw in Chicago in his early days while Sears gently backs him on piano.

Another interesting cut is "Blackberry Jam," done in an old, old blues style, made special by the sousaphone accompaniment of Keith Blatz. We hear Vivino on mandolin on "Brown Paper Bag." Sears and Vivino join Gravenites on vocals on "Blues Back Off Of Me," with Musselwhite returning on harmonica. Extra variety is heard on the closer, "What Time Is It," which is more of a country tune thanks to the pedal steel accompaniment of Barry Sless.

It's good to hear from Nick Gravenites again. He was so instrumental in many of the early bands that we heard back in the day. His contributions were such a distant memory for me that I didn't remember that he wrote the classic "Born In Chicago" that was done often by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. What a legacy!

--- Bill Mitchell



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