Blues Bytes

May/June 2004

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What's New

Floyd LeeFull Moon Lightnin' (Amogla Records) is the third for Floyd Lee on the New York-based label and is perhaps the finest of the three. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, this release has a bit of history to it. I quote from the excellent liner notes, "Inspired from hearing a recording of the song Full Moon Lightnin' (included here) cut a few months earlier, film maker John Gardiner rounded up his crew and returned with Floyd to the deep South in search of his family and past. The recordings presented here are part of what was documented. Floyd had spent that afternoon reminiscing at the farm where he grew up in Lamar, Mississippi and returned to Clarksdale that evening to head into the studio (Jimbo Mathus' recently opened recording studio was chosen as the backdrop). Boarded up since the mid-'50s, everything was as it had been in it's WROX days right down to the old soundproof tiles on the walls." Local legendary drummer Sam Carr was added on drums and what came out was a classic blues recording. Its live, one take, two microphones, no studio effects approach captures this authentic atmosphere. The title track, "Full Moon Lightnin'," is stripped down to just vocals, guitar and drums. It's Mississippi all the way. The remaining tracks are mostly familiar songs, such as Tampa Red's "It Hurts Me Too," Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster," Big Bill Broonzy's "Key To The Highway," Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have To Go," an interesting version of Ray Charles' "Come Back Baby," done in a Delta style (as are all of these), and my favorite, a great version of John Lee Hooker's "Crawling Kingsnake," done by Floyd in his best Howlin' Wolf-inspired delivery. As on his earlier releases, Floyd gets great support on guitar from Joel Poluck. He has been Floyd's right hand man for a long while. When Floyd gives him the nod, he throws in some flash with his own original style, never going over the top but giving it the spark it needs. As I said in my May 2003 Blues Bytes review of Ain't Doing Nothin' Wrong, Floyd Lee is a bluesman extraordinaire, and he and Joel deserve all the success this soon to be award winning album will gather. You can find them at

Dr. Feelgood PottsMake It Talk (Ecko Records) is the Dr. “Feelgood” Potts’ second CD for Ecko and is a fine follow up to his first release reviewed here in March 2003. One of the lastest hits on the chitlin' circuit is Theodis Ealey's "Stand Up In It"; as past hits have spurned answer songs, so has Ealey's. Dr. Feelgood believes you can stand up in it all night long, but if you really want to please a woman, you've got to "Make It Talk," hence the title song to this album. He is also the father to Sheba Potts-Wright, whose new review follows this one. The album is filled with feel good songs (no pun intended) and some nice slower soul blues tunes. We also have the opportunity to hear two harmonica instrumentals, the slow burning "Bluesin' and Cruisin,'" and the more up-tempo "Red Onions." Now that we have Potts' "Red Onions" to go along with Booker T & The MGs "Green Onions," all we need now is a grill and the burgers. Another nice answer song is "I Love The Way You Slow Roll That Thing on Me," a commentary on the "Slow Roll It" song of a few years ago made popular by another doctor (The Love Doctor) and also covered by his daughter Sheba. It has always fascinated me how the southern soul / blues market is an entity unto itself and hit songs are made and answered within that community. Pick this one up and you will feel good, too. (Ouch).

I anxiously awaited the arrival of Roscoe Robinson’s So Called Friends (Sound Mindz Records) and immediately put in on the day it arrived. After a few tracks I had the strong feeling that I had heard this CD before. I dug out my 1998 copy of Roads and Rails on the Gerri label, and lo and behold, it was one in the same. The thing I found so puzzling was that there is a major hit off this CD, the title track, "So Called Friends." It's a killer track, but what follows has a somewhat questionable song selection. To understand where I am coming from, perhaps a little Roscoe Robinson history is in order. The following bio appears on the All Music Guide website --- "Roscoe Robinson was actually the second sighted member of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. (Percell Perkins was the first, but it was low keyed). He began recording in 1951 for Trumpet Records and sang in many gospel groups including The Five Trumpets, Highway QC's and the Fairfield Four before moving into secular music in the 60's. He had a sensational hit in 1966 titled "That's Enough" for Wand Records. He continued recording for several other small labels but never again had any national impact, although he has made many fine regional songs in a vintage southern soul style. Robinson returned to his gospel routes in the ‘80s, recording for Savoy." That brings us back to this CD in hand. The Ben E. King classic, "I Who Have Nothing," is given a fine treatment here. The third track "Fine Lady" is a funky upbeat song that really goes nowhere. It is followed by a nice ballad, "Something Moving in Me," which opens with a fine sax intro. "You'll Fall In Love Again" is a pop-sounding ballad, as is "I Wouldn't Know Where To Turn," a mid-paced  tune that is really contemporary soul sounding. After that, things take a bizarre turn. Track seven is the Olivia Newton-John hit "I Honestly Love You," which is quickly followed by the over recorded pop tune "Let It Be Me. There's also a so-so version of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" with a truly strange Latin beat. Sandwiched somewhere in between the last three mentioned is a fine version of a Cash McCall tune titled "We've Come A Long Way," with a nice spoken intro. If you love Roscoe Robinson's early work, you will want to own this CD for the good tracks --- but why Olivia Newton-John???

Sheba Potts-WrightSheba Potts-Wright, the daughter of Dr. "Feelgood " Potts, reviewed above, is back with her third excellent CD, I Need A Cowboy To Ride My Pony, on Ecko Records. Her past hits include "Slow Roll It," "I Can It Up" and "Lipstick On His Pants," which continues to be one of the most played songs on soul/blues radio stations. This new release contains more hits from this up and coming superstar, who began her career as a background singer with the great Denise LaSalle. The title song, "I Need A Cowboy To Ride My Pony,” should get a lot of airplay, as will  the equally suggestive song "Get Behind Me" and the humorous "I Can Hear Your Macaroni." Sheba's spoken intro lets you know that the bottom line is cash. She thinks a nice gift like an Escalade is a step in the right direction. The mid-paced “The Other Woman Has Got Your Man" is represented here with two versions (one is a remix). This is the age old story where she was the other woman and now she's got the man. The classic Doris Duke song "I'll Be The Other Woman" was the first in a long line of "other woman" songs. The tribute to the late Quinn Golden and all the greats who have recently passed on, "We're Gonna Miss You," is sung from the heart and takes this CD to a touching conclusion. The inclusion of many more real musicians is apparent, removing most of the synthesized sound that Ecko has been criticized for in the past. With Sheba Potts-Wright and Rick Lawson, Ecko is building a roster of young soul/blues stars to bring a new generation of fans to this ever increasing specialized market.

--- Alan Shutro

Paul GeremiaPaul Geremia hasn't really been around since the days of Robert Johnson --- it just seems that way. The master of finger-picking guitar gets four stars alone for the title of his newest album, Love, Murder, & Mosquitos (Red House Records). It's also worth the money for the volume of music here --- 18 cuts totaling more than an hour of listening time. However, catchy titles and lots of songs alone don't make this a worthwhile album --- it's the music. There are a few Geremia originals, but most of the tunes are traditional blues classics, including an excellent version of Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues," with fiddle accompaniment from Martin Grosswendt. You'll be amazed with the intricate guitar work from Geremia on Blind Blake's "Tootie Blues"; he really is a wonderfully talented player. The 'mosquito" part of the title comes from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Mosquito Moan," on which Geremia does some of his most mournful singing. Grosswendt returns on "Loners' Blues," this time contributing clawhammer banjo to this Geremia original that takes on more of a folkie sound. A more haunting tune is Patton's "When Your Way Gets Dark"; here, Geremia plays some mean slide. He picks up the 12-string guitar, in Spanish tuning, for the up-tempo, John Hurt romper "Frankie." Another highlight is Geremia's assembly of Scrapper Blackwell material, titled here "Scrapper Scraps"; his playing here is just plain beautiful. Every cut on Love, Murder, & Mosquitos is top-notch; instead of mentioning ever single number, I'll just recommend that you go get the CD and listen for yourself.

On any given night in Chicago the blues is being played at neighborhood taverns around the city. Unlike the clubs on the North Side that attract blues tourists from around the world, these corner joints feature musicians from the neighborhood, playing decent, unadorned Chicago blues. Nate Turner might be one of these musicians. There's nothing extraordinary about the music on Hard Times (Wolf Records), but it sure puts you in the mood to drop into one of these crowded bars, grab yourself a quart bottle of malt liquor, light up an unfiltered cigarette, try not to get blinded from the light glaring off the reflecting ball over the center of the dance floor, and sit back and get stinking drunk while listening to gritty, urban blues. Hard Times has a real "live in the studio" quality to the music here. This disc was originally recorded and released in 1992, and features a few recognizable names, most notably guitarist Lurrie Bell and a couple other Bell family members, in backing roles. Turner is not a great vocalist, although his singing efforts generally have an endearing quality to them. The songs are all written by Turner, although none of them stray far from the standard Chicago blues formula, with most of the being shuffles. One of the best here is "I've Gotta Find My Baby," with high-pitched harp from Steve Bell. "I'm Leaving is another mid-tempo shuffle that showcases several members of the band. Hard Times is by no means an essential album; however, it might be good to have around when you want to feel like you're in Chicago but don't want to get all dressed up.

Easy Bill & the Big BeatA sleeper pick for this year's Top Ten CD list will undoubtedly be Midnight Creep (Rhythm & Roll), the debut album from a bunch of young Colorado hepcats going by the name Easy Bill & The Big Beat. This is retro jump-style blues at its finest, led by guitarist and bandleader Easy Bill Towber. The disc opens with the hard-driving Jimmy McCracklin number, "Gonna Tell Your Mother," featruring hot harp from Gerry Hundt. Next up is the juicy blues of "Starving For Your Love," with the suggestive line "... I'm starving for your love, but you're serving it all over town..."  "Swinging On A Vine" is a novelty-style stop-time blues with fine sax backing from Ken Plum. "Down Boy" is a vintage number in the style of Louis Jordan; sax man Hundt gets to contribute another hot solo halfway through the tune, as does pianist Mark Richardson. The latter provides the intro to the more mellow, jazzy Towber original, "Spending Time" --- very tasty, indeed. Towber shows off his big-bodied, full-sounding guitar on the Johnny "Guitar" Watson number, "One Kiss," with enticing background vocals from Heidi Hamill. The album closes with an instrumental, "Side-Track," that allows all band members to strut their stuff, but it's Richardson's piano work that really stands out. Add Midnight Creep to your shopping list, and be sure to also check out the band's fine looking website.

The term "one man band" isn't used much any more, but it's certainly applicable to the rather enjoyable new CD, Blues Explorer (Catscan Records), from W.C. Spencer. Spencer plays all instruments on  every cut, with eight of the dozen songs completely live with no overdubs. It's amazing how Spencer can play guitar, bass, harmonica, drums and bass simultaneously, sounding like a full band. Oh yeah, he sings, too. It's impressive that he pulls it off without it sounding canned, thanks to a unique pedal-driven drum kit called an Alectroset. Spencer is a solid guitar player and blows a mean harp, playing through a rack-mounted harmonica. The music is just good basic blues, with songs like "Forty Four," "Kansas City," "Worried Life Blues," and "Key to the Highway"; the latter song is one of the better cuts. The four originals are good compositions, especially the slow instrumental "So Long," a tribute to the late guitar wizards Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan. Blues Explorer is worth a listen just to hear what one determined man can do all by himself. Check the artist website for more information.

--- Bill Mitchell

Colorado bluesman Mojo Watson is back with a dandy sophomore effort, Black Beauty (Watashea Records). Watson’s last CD, 2002’s Inheritance, was a loving tribute to his late father (50’s R&B singer K. C. “Mojo” Watson), with Watson covering a dozen of his father’s compositions, but on Black Beauty, the son’s talents take center stage. Watson proves himself to be a very talented composer with a great knack for catchy blues lyrics, touching on familiar themes, but adding a twist to them, like on the clever “I Found A Way.“ Other highlights include the rocking title track, “Palm Reader,” “You Should Have Happened to Someone Else,“ which includes some great horns, “I’m Going to Leave Kansas City,” and the Delta-styled “Old Man Said,” but all of the songs are good. Watson’s guitar work, a highlight of his first CD, is as strong as ever as he mixes Hendrix-ian chords with some Texas and Chicago Blues and even a little bit of the Delta thrown in as well, and he does a fine job on vocals as well. The band is outstanding, and the production (by Watson) is impeccable. For fans of modern blues guitar, this will be a satisfying disc. Mojo Watson’s best days are still ahead of him and, rest assured, you’ll be hearing more from him in the future. Go to Watson’s website ( or and check this disc out.

the subdudesFor years, one of my favorite bands has been New Orleans’ the subdudes. The subdudes played an incredible mix of blues, gospel, funk, and R&B that kept your toes tapping, while their breathtaking harmonies and catchy lyrics kept you singing along. An interesting twist to the band was the absence of a drummer as most of the percussion was played on tambourine. Sadly, the subdudes went their separate ways in 1997 after four superb studio albums and a great live disc, frustrated in their attempts to attract a bigger audience. However, the band reunited a couple of years ago and has been gigging regularly in the South for some time, which pleased their old fans and brought in a whole bunch of new fans. Reinvigorated, the subdudes have released their first studio album in eight years, Miracle Mule (Back Porch Records) and it may be their best yet. As you might imagine, it’s quite a challenge to categorize the subdudes’ sound. It’s best to say that like a lot of music from New Orleans, it’s a gumbo of musical styles. However, it’s a sure bet that fans of blues, zydeco, and even soul will find plenty to enjoy. Singer/guitarist Tommy Malone’s vocals are as soulful as anyone this side of Gregg Allman and his guitar work shows blues and country influences. John Magnie’s piano or accordion wafts through most of the twelve tracks here like a gentle southern breeze and percussionist Steve Amedee does amazing things throughout with just a tambourine. Longtime bassist Johnny Ray Allen is gone, replaced by Tim Cook and Jimmy Messa, who fill in ably on bass and percussion, respectively. Standout tracks, all penned by the group, include the opener, “Morning Glory,” which would be a hit in a perfect world, “If Wishing Made It So,” and “Brightest Star.” There’s a strong gospel influence in “Known to Touch Me,” and “Mississippi Moan” is in a decidedly blues vein. The title track appears as a hidden bonus cut at the end of the album and it’s a keeper, too. As pointed out above, there’s something for everyone in the music of the subdudes, and music fans in general will want to give this disc a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

Intentionally ugly music is a fad now on the fringes of popular music. The self-titled record by John & the Sisters (Northern Blues) reflects that fad. It also sounds a lot like classic War. Lyrics are very strong and would be infectious without all that distortion in the background. Definitely funky, but in conflict with itself; pushing listeners who might like to groove away with offensive sound. Kevin Breit, who headlines this project, is one of Canada's most respected guitarists, and for good reason, but the Johnny "Guitar" Watson bag isn't big enough to showcase his talents. The rest of the band, clearly capable, is equally mistreated by production strategy throughout most of this release. When a cut does sound good, like #10, "Faithful," one wonders whether it is really as precise and blue-eyed soulfully great as it sounds or just a relief from the tunes that frame it. In short, this record's like a great live show with land mines in the parking lot.

A great surprise. A great record. A modern, caucasian Willie Dixon of a songwriter. The worst thing I can say about Popa Chubby's Peace, Love & Respect (Blind Pig) is that some of the lyrics are a little topical, and that's a mild, concern. There is a fascination with intentionally ugly music now, tunes that come out of potential to create mud. This one does the opposite; coming out of primordial ooze to make listeners truly feel thoughts. Popa Chubby's got a grip on the mystery and magic of music throughout this release --- he is articulate in that no man's land between mind and emotion. He comfortably, seamlessly goes from one to the other not only within each song, but within individual lines within those songs. He both has something to say and says it. His is an angry persona, but at no point is his anger pointless. Vocals, electric guitar, electric sitar, percussion (Popa Chubby), electric and acoustic bass (Nicholas D'Amato, Steve Logan), keyboards (Mike Lattrell) and drums (Steve Holley) create a dense, compact sound based in everything from Hendrix to hip hop. As the CD progresses, one gets to know, like and look forward to Popa Chubby as he makes public his own struggle against having fun in a deeply flawed world, especially as he loses said struggle in a major way and, grudgingly, has such a good time with music that he takes us along with him. It's too modern and too electric to be blues, but it defines blues successfully as music that acknowledges life's problems for the sake of release and joy. It is most closely akin to blues in Popa Chubby's guitar work, which is along the lines of late '60s Mike Bloomfield/ Jimi Hendrix blues rock legends, but successfully inserted in 21st century song construction and production. Vocals are melodic within a limited, broken-glass-in-the-glottus range and are magnificently captured, achieving much of what most of us assume Bob Dylan to have been attempting all these years. The adrenalin-drenched rock version of "Keep On the Sunny Side of Life" seems obvious once one hears it, but it took Popa Chubby to come up with it. There are probably ways to tweak Peace, Love & Respect, but it's so superior to most of what's out there that only praise seems in order ... that and this reviewer's correction of previous negative opinion about this remarkable artist.

Harmonica is a great blues instrument because of what blues is. Blues is a solution to life's woes, and harmonica is the solution to what instrument is going to play every other part when the guitarist or small combo gets on the bandstand or in the studio. Blues was originally a response from a minority to being considered inhuman, and harmonica is the instrument that sounds most like the human voice. Blues is the sound of Hope when nothing else offers Hope, and harmonica is the Music when nothing else can be transported, afforded or recorded. As a harmonica player, believing the statements above, I cannot review Charlie Musselwhite's Sanctuary (Real World Records), which intentionally explores sub-blues and very little harmonica. I apologize to Mr. Musselwhite, whose abilities and catalog I admire immensely, for being unable to objectively critique his exploration of the most negative factors that ever cemented song beds. Having followed his work attentively for so long, I can only recommend all of his previous releases to readers and ask them for advice in truly enjoying this album.

Smarten Up (Northern Blues), from Taxi Chain, starts out strong, but that's a function of song order. A really good CD, unless it has a particular story line, can be listened to in random order and sound just about as good as it does in the given track order. They look at "Memphis" as music fans on a pilgrimage falling in love with a place where so much started and ended. It would be tough to improve on their take on that town. Very Van Morrison meets Arlo Guthrie on Billy Preston's bandstand. After that opener, though, one becomes anxious to hear what the Toronto sextet does with bagpipes, the wild card instrument in this blues-rock outfit. The second song, "Smarten Up," shows us artistry without lasting purpose. It comes across as a well done novelty number that loses charm as one becomes familiar with it and figures out what to expect. Hmmm ... maybe they're building tension for the third cut, "James Brown Ate My Bagpipe." Like the second cut, it is interesting without successfully grafting the instruments into one coherent product. And so on. This is a perfect bar band for live appearances every two months, and ideal for right-on studio backing for artists in need of this sort of thing for one cut on a record in progress. Right now, as good as their separate ingredients are, their stew's not done yet. Keep an eye out for them while they're stirring.

Windy City Blues Anthology (Stax Records) is a different take on Chicago blues; material recorded there that doesn't sound as if it was based there. Classic Chicago blues was raw like a frayed electric cable, sparks and all. Delta blues, maybe a little uptown from visits to or brief residences in Memphis, was raw like those 'sweet 'taters you and your baby had just put in the fire to roast when you saw her husband come walking up the hill. Chicago blues is dense; this is sparse, which is particularly cool because Willie Dixon, master of slap bass, is marvelous and warm here; his talent probably as clear to the average listener as it is to schooled upright players on the hundreds of amped Chess sessions that featured him. The other bassists on this recording are displayed to the ear just as well. Harmonica, too, is better audible than on most blues albums of any vintage, and it sounds like harmonica. As superlative as Chicago blues harp deity Little Walter Jacobs was, he was trying to sound like Louis Jordan's alto sax, which Jordan himself habitually played like a tenor sax. The result, a combination of instrument, amplification and recording, was great, but it was a long way from what a harmonica sounds like, right out of a player's pocket. This album is full of harmonica that sounds like harmonica. Piano is percussive as hell. Sax is an insect orchestra in the jungle. These 17 cuts, fronting Albert King (with the Willie Dixon Band), Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Billy Boy Arnold, Sunnyland Slim and Homesick James, capture a transitional point halfway between country and city, acoustic and amplified, natural and schooled; equidistant from Memphis, Clarksdale and Chicago but extremely close to all three.  

--- Arthur Shuey

Taxi Chain, a bagpipe jazz pop band, could work easily as hip novelty music and expressive/unusual instrumental jams on their disc Smarten Up (Northern Blues Music). Consider "Barbie Doll" and "American Style," off the band's earlier Bagpipe Juke Joint (Blue Chains Music, 1995). However this is the group founded by the rebel with the Highland bagpipes, Grier Coppins (Rare Air). Coppins pushed his group, and a group of some very talented individuals it is. This newest release from the band shows the group to be a sophisticated, mature blues unit that puts quality above shtick. The opening track, "Memphis," is a rich homage to that fabled city, delicately sung by Coppins with the bagpipes aside. That instrument comes out, along with bright tin whistle, for the fun and upbeat medley that is the Celtic instrumental title track. "Cut Me A Key" is another catchy Memphis blues number (this time with a taste of country) that helps constitute the bevy of good songs that balance the instrumental jams on this exquisite, cross-genre album.

Otis Taylor's Double V (Telarc) continues his legacy of potent blues story-songs where a striking narrative telegraphs over a direct, simple and blunt blues tune. This hypnotic, Delta-inspired trance blues accentuates the anger, mystery and warning of Taylor's message-songs. Taylor sees the blues in modern society so poignantly that he really is one of the most compelling voices in modern blues. An elderly couple is driven to eat dog food ("Plastic Spoon"). Taylor gives us a history lesson in "He Never Raced on Sunday," as to how racist bicycle race promoters used Major Taylor’s religious convictions against him. Listen to Taylor and come away awed and angered, moved and enlightened.

Kevin Breit leads this rowdy blues band, John and the Sisters, on their self-titled CD from NorthernBlues Music. Breit is a very talented musician and some very good music can be heard from him on Jubilee (NorthernBlues Music). This CD is perhaps more about having a laugh rather than displaying skill and winning style. The liner notes proudly proclaim, "rarely more than 2 takes per song." Starting off with a big clamor about a waistband ("Too Damn Big") may strike one as a more a joke about the blues than an album of the blues. However, the best thing to do is have fun with yourself, let the bombast of "Big Bomb" hit you like too much draft beer at a family picnic.

--- Tom Schulte

Eric Bibb et alWhen three talented singers who share the same musical roots come together to record, the results can be either be overwhelmingly disastrous or overwhelmingly brilliant. The latter is very much the case in the matter of Brothers & Sisters, the latest project from the creative mind of Randy Labbe and the Telarc label, whose stock in trade has been bringing different artists with similar musical identities together and transforming the results into a new creative sound. This time the participants are Eric Bibb, Rory Block and Maria Muldaur. The studio was an old wooden barn in rural Maine that has since been refurbished as a performing arts center. The results are a spectacular record that I personally can’t get enough of. The mixture of original material and well-chosen covers come together for a jazzy, gospel-infused celebration of the blues. The album’s gospel roots are apparent from the beautiful opening a capella number, a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s ”Rock Daniel,” with Rory Block singing  lead and Bibb and Muldaur  contributing call and responses. The mood carries over to the following Bibb penned tune, “Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down,” on which he shares lead vocals with Maria and has all three harmonizing lushly together. The upbeat, jazzy ”Get Up, Get Ready” allows the superb band of Chris Burns on piano, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and Per Hanson on drums to stretch their musical legs around Muldaur’s throaty vocals. Rory Block’s eloquently beautiful vocals bring new meaning to the lyrics of Bill Withers’ call for brotherhood, ”Lean On Me,” with Muldaur joining with Block for soaring harmony. Muldaur steps into the spotlight for “Bessie’s Advice,” a sultry piece that pays tribute to the great Bessie Smith in its lyrics and fits Maria like a glove. Bibb and Muldaur pair up again for “Good Stuff,” a bluesy acoustic number that allows Eric to pick a bit on guitar on another of his original contributions. “Rolling Log” showcases just Rory Block’s strength as a guitar player and leaves no doubt to her claim as the first lady of country blues. Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” is highlighted by great vocal performances from all three, with Bibb in the lead and Rory and Maria adding the very pleasing harmonies. Block and Muldaur cut loose on “Travelin Woman Blues,” trading off verses and reaching down deep on a tune that must strike a nerve or two in most female blues artists. Bibb steps out on his own for a grand reworking of Jimmy Reed’s moody “Little Rain,” while Rory  Block’s interpretation of “Maggie Campbell” continues to show off her guitar talents. The album wraps up with some inspirational thoughts in the form of another Bibb penned number, “Give A Little More,” which conveys the message of hope and understanding in these sometimes trying times, and segues into a gorgeous rendition of the title tune. Both numbers are rich in harmony amongst all three singers and leaves the listener with some food for thought. This is an amazingly good record that leaves you humming a tune or two from it afterwards. The performances and production are flawless and scream for a sequel. Brothers & Sisters is one of the best records I’ve heard this year. If you are a fan of any or all of the three then you surely don’t want to miss out on this stunning recording.

There are some things in this world that you can depend on with regularity. In example: the sun rising and setting, your taxes being due, prime time television being interrupted every ten minutes for annoying commercials, the New York Yankees winning, and Tinsley Ellis releasing a great album. Hard Way is the name of the latest listening delight from one of the blues’ most durable road warriors. It's a collection of 12 original numbers, bursting with thoughtful songwriting and loaded with the guitar pyrotechnics we have come to love from this very gifted artist, alongside his uncanny vocal ability to sound different from tune to tune. The title tune starts things off with a scorching guitar riff that settles into a chugging, hard-edged arrangement augmented by the smooth background vocals of Donna Hopkins and Lola Gulley for a tale that I suspect is a somewhat autobiographical story of survival. Percussionist Count M’butu lends his brilliance to “Let Him Down Easy,” a tug the heart strings sort of tune that has Ellis impacting the pieces emotional inflections through his weeping guitar notes. The mid-tempo “Me Without You” allows you to catch your breath a bit with Tinsley plucking out the lead lines with a slighter gentleness. Taking a walk on the relaxed funkier side of things is “I’ll Get Over You,” a number in which I hear Marvin Gaye crooning. Some acoustic picking highlights “And It Hurts,” which bears a bit of a resemblance to “What I Say,” but is a fun bouncy piece regardless. Ellis lays down a spacey groove for “La La Land” that lulls you gently before he turns up the tempo a bit with” My Loves The Medicine,” which I feel is the album’s showpiece with its brassy Motown arrangement and Kevin McKendree’s swirling organ surrounded by Tinsley’s sweet piercing licks. Sean Costello guests on harp for “Fountain Of Youth,” a loping country-ish blues workout that contains a few amusing longings for younger days. “Love Bomb” is an instrumental number that explodes (pun intended) with some very structured melodic guitar phrasings while the rhythm section of ‘The Evil One’ on bass and Richie Hayward on drums bang out the thunderous beat. It’s just Tinsley and his acoustic guitar for the story of a man scorned on ”Her Other Man” before things get electric again on the crunching “12 Pack Poet.” Wrapping things up is the appropriately titled ”The Last Song.” Mr. Ellis let’s it all hang out on this number, both vocally and musically, burning the fretboard to cinders. Tinsley Ellis has always suffered the knock that he was a rock/blues artist who belonged more in the rock world. I have always disagreed with that opinion simply because if you listen to this man’s past and present recordings, he has always been hard-edged electric blues. Let’s not ever forget what genre “had a baby and they named it rock and roll.” This is a smoking record with the type of sound that used to sell out sports arenas, and still should today, instead of small blues clubs.  Hard Way is an extremely entertaining record that possesses a certain eclectic freshness and vitality that will warrant many repeat playings. By all means, get your hands on a copy of this treat of a recording from one of the most underrated but highly talented and innovative blues players out there today.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

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