Blues Bytes

What's New

May 2006

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

Cassandra Wilson

Blues and Jazz on Edison

Carl Sims

Donnie Ray

Sheba Potts-Wright

Teddy Pendergrass

Bonnie Raitt

Eric Lindell

Mannish Boys

Charlie Musselwhite

Robin Trower

Willie SmithIf you're a serious fan of classic Chicago blues, then I assume you've already added Willie "Big Eyes" Smith's latest disc, Way Back (Hightone), to your blues collection. Failure to do so is a serious oversight. The former Muddy Waters drummer has, in the last several years, stepped to the front of the bandstand and now fronts his own band, not to mention the fact that he's become a world class harmonica player.

Smith surpasses his previous solo releases, the most recent being the excellent Bluesin’ It, released by Electro-Fi in 2004. Reviews of earlier Smith CDs have pointed out the limited range of his voice. To my ears, that's not a problem on Way Back. Smith sounds just fine, and his harp playing continues to get better.

It also helps that producer Bob Corritore, who knows how to get that vintage Chicago sound out of a modern recording session as well as anyone in the business, assembled an all-star band for these sessions, including fellow Muddy band members Pinetop Perkins (piano), Calvin "Fuzz" Jones (bass), James Cotton (harmonica on two cuts) and Bob Margolin (guitar on two songs).

It's hard to pick a favorite among the mix of 11 covers and Smith originals. I'll start with the stark, duo number "Blues and Trouble," on which Smith's downhome vocals and harmonica are supported by Margolin's wonderful slide guitar playing. The other number that really did it for me was the version of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'," with Smith's most inspired vocal work AND some of his best harp.

Smith sets himself up for comparison by covering a Little Walter song, always a daunting task for any harmonica player. He acquits himself well on "Tell Me Mama." Sure, he's not in Walter's league, but then who's ever successfully gone there.

A lesser known Muddy song (St. Louis Jimmy is also listed as co-writer) is "Read Way Back." This great jump number takes off right from the first note, driven by Smith's soaring harp.

"If You Don't Believe I'm Leaving" is a Smith original, but it's got a real Muddy Waters vibe to it. Smith even encourages the band members, à la Muddy, during the course of the song. Cotton adds great harp work.

There's much more great content on Way Back, but I'll leave you to discover those songs yourself. Highly recommended!

--- Bill Mitchell

Nelsen AdelardOne of the more underrated artists on the West Coast blues scene is Nelsen Adelard, who takes his latest disc, Unplugged (Blue Track Records), in a different direction from his previous independent recordings. The title aptly describes the CD, with Adelard switching to acoustic guitar for the eight studio recordings.

The album starts on the back porch, so to speak, with nice slide guitar work on the original, stripped down "Four Winds Blow." After that cut, Unplugged moves into the front room with an entire band backing Adelard, who still sticks to the acoustic guitar as well as mixing in some nice harmonica work.

The better cuts are in more of a jazzy, boogie vein, especially with the saxophone contributions of Mark Norris. "Boogie Woogie Blue" is a foot tapping original featuring nice interplay between Adelard's harmonica and Norris' sax. "Woman By My Side" includes Adelard's most intricate guitar picking and also features a strong solo from Norris.

One cut that doesn't work as well is the cover of Willie Dixon's "Back Door Man," in which Adelard tries to take his voice to places that it wasn't designed to go. Overall, it's a good rendition, but Adelard's voice isn't powerful enough to handle the shouting vocals. The Muddy Waters medley, "She Moves Me / Standin' Round Cryin'," better suits his vocal capabilities, and he nails it with solid singing in front of more sparse accompaniment.

The inclusion of a ninth song, the live "Don't Stop Now," is a bit of a mystery. It's a strong number and one that I want to hear again. But it's with a full electric band, which isn't what this CD is all about. The song is good enough to stand on its own merits and certainly worthy of release, but I believe that some other forum would have been more appropriate than on this disc intended to showcase Adelard's acoustic side. This is a very minor nit and shouldn't discourage anyone from seeking out Adelard's Unplugged --- it's a very nice album.

--- Bill Mitchell

Eddie Boh Paris came to Phoenix, Arizona out of Hurricane Katrina’s disaster. Musicians including New Orleans’ trumpeter Irvin Mayfield appeared at a Phoenix benefit to raise funds for The Treme brass band that had migrated, and with which Eddie had taken the trombone chair. He eventually stayed in the desert to play professionally, introducing himself: “Call me ‘Chops,’ baby. My grandfather was a tap dancer, Isaac Mason, with ‘Pork Chop and Kidney Stew,’ so I shortened my name to ‘Chops.’” Paris also was making available from the bandstand his fabulous CD AKA ‘Chops’ New Orleans, LA, explaining how it got to us for review.

Before discussing the CD, it’s worthwhile to relate more of Eddie Boh Paris’ story: “I feel grateful, as a kid I got into trouble, I’ve been shot twice, but was basically rescued by New Orleans guitarist and banjoist Danny Barker and others who took me under their tutelage and had their eyes on me as someone with musical ability. My instrument tonight is a marching baritone that sounds like a bass trumpet or trombone. I also play trombone, sousaphone, valve trumpet, all the brass and sing.”

The music on the CD is in excellent sound, probably from many sessions and multiple bands Paris has associated with in the Crescent City. He is listed as Executive Producer with an additional producer and engineer, and that’s about it. The tracks start out innocuously enough, permeating the brass man’s New Orleans identification in short order. The jacket only identifies his slide trombone, bass trumpet and all vocals. The drummer(s) is/are very fluid and the bass is laid down by a tuba at first. There’s non-marching piano and, by track two, electric bass and guitar. Expected titles include “Bourbon St.” and standard “Sunny Side Of The Street,” plus “Found A New Baby,” then the disc goes up a notch in adventure to rival some of the best known contemporary brass bands out today, like Dirty Dozen. By this we mean combining, say, traditional brass band instrumentation from 100 years ago, but having them riff on Lester Young of the bop ’40s .

“Iko” is married to “Funky Stamps” and it’s here where harmonic ground gets pushed, as does drive. “Whooping Blues” is (I think) Bessie Smith which evolves into super syncopation, anchoring solos by both tenor and alto saxes. Stereo separation is so alive and effective on the old “St. Louis Blues” that it may be two bands duking it out. Professor Longhair’s whistling is imitated on his “Mardi Gras,” but it’s “O’ Lil Liza” that purees the rhythm in multi-micro directions a la Louie Prima’s hits. More predictable New Orleans brass sounds return to wind down the program followed by the delightful “Miss Lady” (female-themed titles seem to stand out), encompassing more recent decades of pop influence and a wonderful modulation at end. The disc wraps with Louie’s “Wonderful World,” yes often-done, but Eddie receives high marks with his individuality and evidence of respect.

This CD is definitely creative, ground-cutting, and above all, fun. Write to Eddie for availability:

---Tom Coulson
 Radio broadcaster/musician
 comments to

Cassandra WilsonExcept for early jazz piano trio recordings, Cassandra Wilson's image has always guaranteed eclecticism. Her understated and delicate low-range vocal has traversed many producers and albums since, feeling almost folk rather than jazz or blues but at once integrating contemporary and adventurous elements. She has covered Joni Mitchell, for example, quite admirably. This has caused her current star to shine quite brightly toward the public, while probably equally respected among musicians. No one seems to agree with me, but she’s similar to the late Nina Simone in voice, not controversial politically but maybe in style.

She seems to have recorded blues material first on the 1995 album New Moon Daughter in a single track, Son House’s “Death Letter.” It is eerie, hypnotic and at the same time warm. One critic applauded her for not shunning her southern roots (born 1955, Macon, Georgia).

From that spark seems to have evolved a direction and identity directly traceable to Thunderbird (Blue Note Records), which hit stores April 4, 2006. She has been teamed with producer/guitarist/vocalist T-Bone Burnett, which should bring her an even wider audience. A plus is Burnett utilizing electric slide guitar often during the album, authenticating its blues quality and helping Wilson’s image evolve. But a minus is one of the producer’s trademarks, an over-processed low-end to the sound. Ms. Wilson’s voice should be supported and enhanced, not forced thru the bass speakers of a passing low-rider. I can do without the thumping.

In addition, the album as a whole is rather weak in the groove dept. Not that rhythms are over-complicated or limpid, but maybe too much in-between. For example acoustic bass is used on certain tracks but then underlined by either an additional electric bass or keyboard. When the drummers play they are rigid and don’t breathe, and are interspersed with electronic sampling. Why use real musicians when the result is so mechanical and perfect?

The catchiest and most hum-able of the tracks is the lead-off “Go To Mexico.” It is rich with production elements, overdubs, probably upright piano like an old Beatles record, and background vocals. That same piano continues in track two, and the “drum machine with thumping” effect again underlines, but Cassandra’s very melodic vocal ability is intact. Track three has a long-suspended intro resolved into slow, but heavy rhythm. By the track four the tempo is similar, the backbeat having a handclap effect. After the classic “Red River Valley,” sans rhythm, it’s obvious the album is not going to gain a lot of momentum. “Poet” has some polyrhythms mixing things up behind a big marching bass drum, but that only adds to the irritating drone that the electronics already provide elsewhere.

Cassandra is to be commended for writing six of the ten album tracks, which meld well together. Muddy Waters’ “I Want To Be Loved” is compatible with both the vocalist’s and producer’s styles, but even Wilson sounds awkward duplicating Muddy phonetically --- “I WANTS to be loved...” The duet between Wilson and Burnett, “Lost,” works absolutely. If anything were to document her progress to the moment, it would be this track. It’s HER. The album concludes with a couple more studio adventurous productions: The rather dark “Strike A Match” in 7/4 time with stops and a cello effect, and “Tarot,” utilizing acoustic guitar and sounding almost Brazilian.

Cassandra Wilson has come a long way and has earned her hopefully still-fledgling success. This album does earmark the seasoning and wisdom she has earned along the way, but also seems a distance from any high-water mark. Though back in ‘95 when she was all over the map covering the Monkees, Neil Young, U2, Hoagy Carmichael, Hank Williams plus her own originals in a single album, the musicians and production elements still felt more organic than now.

---Tom Coulson
 Radio broadcaster/musician
 comments to

Jazz and Blues on EdisonOne problem with some vintage music is that it’s released due to either antique special interest, or for the repackaging of previous big-sellers, and sometimes producers have no clue as to how to deal with one or the other. Jazz and Blues on Edison, Volume 1 (Document Records) is an excellent 16-page liner note booklet is clear-cut. Edison didn’t like jazz (“I always play jazz records backwards, they sound better that way”) but recorded quite a bit, and apparently released some. Most of these artists are totally obscure and almost all the material has never been released until now. What does this tell today’s jazz/blues enthusiast? Probably that this is not what the public heard or was buying at the time, but rather what the day’s musicians considered fun, more spontaneous and out of the ordinary, since the categories of records then were classical (including folk), hits (pop), “race” (precursor of jazz/blues/R&B) and “hillbilly.”

It’s marketed now as Jazz and Blues on Edison and that seems appropriate. At the time a Louis Armstrong or Bessie Smith were in the same category, whereas today purists certainly call one jazz and the other blues. And though most of the obscure music here hasn’t been available until now, it was still recorded by Edison. So you’ll hear the category lines blurred within the tracks, then hear jazz popping out here and a minor key blues there. As other pioneer labels were taking equipment to regions to record undiluted folk sounds, the Edisons here were all apparently recorded at its West Orange, New Jersey studio, possibly explaining their more urban polish.

Another personal problem I have with vintage jazz recordings is quite frankly having too much tuba and/or banjo, and silly things like high-trill clarinets and kazoos are too much. This has tended to make the music cornier, especially ruining the novelty tunes of the time. Fortunately Edison was a major corporate player (with a fledgling Columbia and also Victor as competitors) in the marketing of music, and this release indicates Edison Records was focused on high quality, including musicianship and recorded sound. The problems just mentioned are minimal on this CD and the overall picture turns out to indeed have much musical value, harmonically adventurous and in-tune. Yes, you’ll hear Andy Razaf’s ridiculous vocal in an attempt to sound society white on “Hot Tamale Baby,” but the producers are creative by following that immediately with Marjorie Royer’s version of “Hard-Hearted Hannah,” a tale of a baby not so hot. Interesting also is a possible precursor to “Sweet Georgia Brown” in chord structure, “Since My Best Girl Turned Me Down,” by Winegar’s Penn Boys.

Among the known musicians in this collection are Wilbur Sweatman (pictured on the cover--once employed a young Duke Ellington and sounding the jazziest of the bunch), Rosa Henderson, and Noble Sissle/Eubie Blake. There are also period or regional stars Georgia Melodians, Clarence Williams and Mal Hallet, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike who conducts the final track with an orchestra in a style forward-looking to the swing era, including a trace of walking bass (tuba) under a sax solo on “Wang Wang Blues.” The various-sized group leaders among the tracks are multi racial, but it’s highly unlikely that way within the groups themselves, given the era.

For the story of how the Edison recordings survived and finally came to release go to There you’ll also find the link “Biographies On Selected Edison Artists” with most names on this disc profiled. May we also encourage indulging yourself at the Document label website  which specializes in pre-World War II recordings like these (an entire separate article could be written on the label and founder Johnny Parth of Austria, who I once heard speak at a Memphis convention).

A few technical comments: Edison was apparently the pioneer record label ever, with Thomas himself at the helm, beginning with cylinders in the 1800s. The range here starts in 1914, two years after the generally regarded first jazz records, when the discs were very thick and groove frequencies went up and down in what they called vertical-cut. The end is 1929, when Edison stopped making records. By this year the company was using the refined lateral-cut method, i.e. back-and-forth grooves that lasted into the LP era. There is no indication as to which of these selections were recorded acoustically (megaphones) or electronically (microphones) of which the industry was transitioning in the ‘20s.

But the best summary of the modern technology of the day is sung in the words of Elsie Clark, the only artist omitted in the CD’s liner notes, on the track “Loud-Speakin’ Papa:” --- "Lucy Lee from Tennessee, went and bought a radio set, she also had as a household pet, the loudest-speaking papa I’ve heard yet. He talked tough, acted rough, and strutted his material proud, he’d rave and shout out loud, he always sounded like a crowd. One night he bawled her out about her radio, that made miss Lucy angry and she told him so, she said ‘Loud-speakin’ papa, you’d better speak easy to me.’ Some day you’ll shout and then no doubt, I’m gonna turn your dial and tune you out. I don’t have to listen to your noise and din, just find the other stations and tune right in. You’re listening now to station W-I-F-E, you’re mama is announcing, listen carefully. If you get mama angry sure as you are born, I’m gonna twist your aerial and buck your horn. I don’t like what you’re broadcasting anyhow, your program’s getting stale it’s full of static now. You know you’re mama’s got an awful powerful set, and there ain’t no place that she can’t get.”

---Tom Coulson
 Radio broadcaster/musician
 comments to

Carl SimsI'm Ready is the second Carl Sims release for Ecko, and it is even more enjoyable than his earlier release, It's Just a Party, reviewed here in our December 2004 issue. Although most of the tunes are mid tempo dancers, as the excellent "I Need A Woman" opening track will reveal, there are also a few memorable soul ballads. The '70s sounding "I'm A Hustler," with its stark lyrics "I'm a pimp, a player and a lover too," is a tune that will be culled for radio play, as will the stylish dance tune "Step to The Left," with its real drums and catchy hooks.

"The Memories" is Carl Sims at his best --- smooth sounding, mature vocals on this superb ballad. I first heard Carl Sims with his 1994 Paula release House of Love, with its classic "Shot To The Curb," and one of the finest versions of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." I've been a fan ever since. It's hard to believe it's been 12 years since that release.

An interesting footnote in Sims' career was back in the mid-60s when he was the teenage lead singer for the original Bar-Kays. The Bar-Kays took Arthur Conley's place as opening act for the Otis Redding Review. A plane crash in Milwaukee in 1967 killed Otis and several of the Bar-Kays. Sims, along with another band member, luckily took a commercial flight out of Cleveland to join the group later because there was no more room in Otis' private plane. Carl remembers having to identify the bodies of the band members. After returning to Memphis along with surviving members Ben Cauley and James Alexander, what was left of the Bar-Kays went their seperate ways.

Over the years Carl Sims has emerged as one of the premier southern soul singers. Each new release will be greatly enjoyed by his legion of fans worldwide.

--- Alan Shutro

Donnie RayDonnie Ray Aldredge was born in Texarkana, Texas on July 4, 1959. By the time he was 15 he was performing in his father's band. It was with that band, the Aldredge Brothers Band, he learned to play the guitar, and soon after he was not only a singer but an instrumentalist as well. Donnie Ray understood the importance of versatility as he mastered lead and bass guitars, the keyboard and also the drums.

Donnie Ray's first CD, Let's Go Dancing on the Suzy Q label contained his first hit song, "Letter To My Baby." A couple of years later they released Are You Ready For Me, which did well on the southern soul market. He signed with Ecko Records in 2005.

Don't Stop My Party is his second Ecko release and is one of the best this enterprising label has released to date. From the drum intro on track one "Is It Your Place or Mine" to the soulful ballad "Seven Long Years," or to the title track "Don't Stop My Party," a stepper that is getting a lot of club plays, the exceptional quality of this release is apparent.

"Sweeter To Me" is a retro sounding track that would have made Tyrone Davis proud. "Back Up And Try It Again" , "Sexy Lover" and "Sexified" are all club dance tracks that are on an even par with the rest of the club tracks here.  "Can I Talk To You," with its spoken intro (I'm a sucker for those), oozes with soul, and Donnie's smooth vocals and the addition of some fine background singing raises this track to the top of my favorites here.

If you want a sample of what great modern southern soul is all about, you won't go wrong starting here.

--- Alan Shutro

Ms. JudyMs. Jody of Bay Springs, Mississippi is one of Ecko's newest artists. Although she has been singing all her life, Ms. Jody did not attend her first blues show until Father's Day 2004, when her brother Dale Pickens took her. That day she saw Denise LaSalle and O.B. Buchana; she was so moved by the performances that she decided she wanted to be a performer too. Everything moved pretty quickly after that. In 2006, at the suggestion of her friends, Ms. Jody made a visit to Ecko Records to meet with the staff. Shortly thereafter she joined the Ecko Records family and You're My Angel, her first CD, was released.

Anyone who takes her name from the soul/blues folklore legend Jody had better be able to convincingly deliver the goods, and she comes out swinging on the first track, her adopted namesake, "Ms. Jody." She alludes to Marvin Sease (The Candy Licker) and proceeds to strut her stuff for five minutes. Well, O.K. you got me for five minutes, but what about the remaining 40 minutes?

I'm afraid to report that this Jody sort of got soft after only five minutes. I mean, what true Jody only keeps it up for five minutes? The remaining ballads and shake your booty tracks didn't really cut it. In fact they were pretty faceless and really nothing you want to return to other than track one. Hopefully, next time she'll earn the right to the Jody tag. Until then she's just a pretender to the throne.

--- Alan Shutro

Sheba Potts-WrightIt's hard to believe that Big Hand Man is Sheba Potts-Wright's fourth album already. It seems like only a few months ago I was reviewing her first one (it was actually Blues Bytes issue of October 2001) and since then she has become one of Ecko's most consistent performers. She had two hit singles in 2005 with "I Need A Cowboy To Ride My Pony" and the weirdly titled "I Can Hear Your Macaroni," and her recordings of "Slow Roll It" and the ever popular "Lipstick On His Pants" still are played on the radio almost every time you tune in to WDIA in Memphis.

Big Hand Man follows the tried and true path laid out by those previous successes. Most of these tracks have the usual sexual innuendos and double entendres that make her releases so popular. "Private Fishing Hole," "If You Don't Want My Love," and "Don't Get Yours Before I Get Mine" are all getting loads of airplay, and of course so is the title track, "Big Hand Man." That track instructs the ladies that if a man has big hands and big feet, he is a good bet to have a big ......(no, not heart). One other cut I might mention is "Knock On Wood," a mid tempo dancer with a great hook, and no it's not the same "Knock On Wood" that Eddie Floyd made so popular.

It's been many years since I saw Sheba open for Denise LaSalle. That young lady has certainly matured into a very fine looking woman as you yourself can see when you purchase this CD, and check her out on the back tray insert. In addition to that photo, you'll get ten great new tunes to enjoy, too. What a deal. Way to go girl. More hits are on their way.

--- Alan Shutro

Teddy PendergrassThis 1979 live concert, appropriately named Live in '79 (Shout Factory DVD), recorded at The Sahara in Lake Tahoe, NV on February 2, 1979 is a testament to the tremendous talent Teddy Pendergrass was at this, the zenith of his performing career. That career was seriously derailed when Teddy was paralyzed in a 1982 car crash.

His recording career began as the lead singer of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes in the late '60s, when the group had numerous hits, including the 1972 number one R&B hit, "If You Don't Know Me By Now." Teddy left the group in 1976 to begin a sucessful solo career. With songs like "Close The Door" (included here), which hit the number one spot in 1978, along with chart toppers such as "Love T.K.O." and "Turn Off The Lights" (not included), he was one of the major performing artists of his time.

This DVD covers songs from the early part of his solo career along with a medley of tunes he sang with Harold Melvin & Bluenotes. From the opening "Life Is A Song Worth Singing," you will be captivated by this great performer. There is also a special interview with him in his home near Philadelphia, which is quite moving, covering not only his musical career, but also with his learning to live with and overcome the limitations of his disability.

This is an essential release and one that should be in every collection of fine musical DVDs. No history of soul music would be complete without the inclusion of the great Teddy Pendergrass.

--- Alan Shutro

Shaped under the pressure of being in the bands of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Magic Slim, John Primer has become an electric Chicago blues master. In 1963, he relocated from Mississippi and has slowly secured his place in the blues pantheon. Primer just may be the last great American bluesman. Together with his Real Deal Blues Band, they sound like troubadours from Muddy Waters’ greatest bands.

Filmed on February 11 and 12, 2005 by a friend and family member (who sometimes get caught on film), the DVD Live at B.L.U.E.S. (independent release) did not have a Hollywood budget. There are no extra features and the sound is not a 5.1 mix. As a bonus, there are four songs that have not been previously recorded on Primer’s other releases. Just like being at the club, the heads of patrons occasionally block your view of the stage and background chatter can be heard. Yet, the comforting essence of Primer’s music and an authentic Chicago blues club has been captured.

Primer knows exactly where he is going on guitar. All you need to do is follow. His unheralded slide work is not retching or wild; it is simply impeccable on "I Held My Baby" and the opening shuffle, "I’m Worried." Here, Dave Ross’ piano solo is pristine, while Dan Beaver impressively blows harp like Little Walter. Also reprised from Primer’s recent Elmore James tribute CD, Blue Steel, is "Fine Little Mama."  In all, nine covers are included from the likes of Robert Johnson and Magic Sam.

Primer’s assertive voice is sensitive on the low tempo "Walking Blues." The song is traditionally performed as if Primer was still in Waters’ band. Ben Harper’s "Steal My Kisses" comes out on top as it is given a hypnotic Primer guitar groove. It invites you to listen, makes you feel welcome, and ensures you stick around. The other number with a fresh sound is John Mayer’s "C.O.D." "Somebody Have Mercy" contains an extended and concise guitar solo that features Primer wandering out on to North Halsted. He returns and takes you out like a freight train on the closer, "Mojo Working." Throughout, Primer does not exhibit much stage presence due to the restriction of the tiny bandstand. It is so small; the keyboards had to be set up on the floor. Watching this DVD is the closest many will get to experiencing 1950s style Chicago blues.

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist

Bonnie RaittThe Montreux Jazz Festival began in 1967 and has become an esteemed music festival. Eagle Vision now has a Live At Montreux DVD concert series. Notoriety had escaped 27-year-old Bonnie Raitt at the time of her first Montreux appearance on July 23, 1977. Absorbed in the blues since college, she began her boundless career as a solo acoustic slide guitar act performing country blues. This interested Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House, and lead to a signing with Dick Waterman and Warner Brothers.

Raitt’s 11-song set features rock, pop, and ballads from her first six albums. Given its age, the video images are exceptionally good, though horizontal lines are occasionally visible. Many views are from the front row. They are too close – making you want to zoom out. The digitally re-mastered audio was originally recorded on analog tape, which accounts for the scratchy vocals and hiss. Although recorded live, the engineers captured the sound of a 1970’s Los Angeles studio.

At first glimpse, Raitt – dressed in ’70s era bell bottom jeans – looks a crossbreed of Janis Joplin and Linda Rondstat. Raitt is homesick as she mentions U.S. states and cities, and how nervous she is to play Europe for the first time. Her disciplined band features Freebo (bass/tuba), Dennis Whitted (drums), Will McFarlane (guitar), and specialist Marty Grebb (keys/sax). You can tell without reading the credits that the folk-rocking "Under The Falling Sky" was written by Jackson Browne. On it, Raitt breezes through several tempo changes. Some other songs carry Delaney and Bonnie and Dave Mason traits.

A sprinkle of reggae and get down dance riffs are added to "Good Enough." Thanks to the chorded harp solo of guest Jerry Portnoy, "Love Me Like A Man" contains the most blues. Easy rolling rhythms with ragtime feel is present on "Give It Up, Or Let Me Go." The burlesque "Women Be Wise" is performed as a tribute to Raitt’s late 1960s mentor Sippie Wallace. No"thing Seems To Matter" is a sensitive song, which feature Raitt’s diffident vocals. Raitt plays signature unerring slide on "Sugar Mama" before the encore "Runaway." Ironically it was Raitt’s first radio hit but it doesn’t meld into her repertoire.

Her image, songs, and band are dramatically different on the four bonus cuts from her second Montreux appearance on July 10, 1991. The wide screen, high definition cinematography and sound quality are greatly improved. Her larger group contains no band members from the ’70s show. Now a mature-looking woman, and Grammy Award winning musician, Raitt is confidently at home with her foreign audience. Her refined vocals are superior on these cuts. The upbeat and polished songs feature Americana roots rock on "Papa Come Quick" and special guest Charles Brown on "Think."  Those unfamiliar with Raitt will enjoy the 1991 performances, but the 1977 concert documents a piece of history.

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist

Why hasn’t anyone written a book about Bobby Rush? He has many stories to tell. The sincere songs on Raw To The Bone (independent release) display his innate ability to tell stories. Educated by some of the genre’s finest, Bobby left his imprint on the mighty Chicago blues scene, created his own folk funk style, and has been crowned the "King of the Chitlin Circuit." Now 72, Rush has recently crossed over to a wider audience. “I was told I couldn’t crossover without changing my image. I didn’t believe that. I’m a black man who plays the blues. What you see is what you get. I’m just being Bobby Rush, a plain ole country boy.” Shawn Kellerman hails from Kitchener, Ontario, and is a contemporary blues guitar virtuoso. His style of guitar reinterprets the traditional forms and blasts them into the present.  

There are two sides to Bobby Rush the master showman. One comes with booty shaking chorus girls, risqué material, and flamboyant costume changes. The other, as portrayed here, involves old-fashioned grooves from the hills and jukes. Raw To The Bone (his fifth CD released within the last three years) was recorded at Rush’s home on Kellerman’s laptop. The 13 laid-back and relaxed songs were written by Rush, yet many of them sound familiar, e.g., "What’s The Use" sounds like "No Cutting Loose."

The 52-minute CD features bare bones blues performed in the traditional 12-bar format. Exposing only Rush’s full-bodied harmonica, "You Don’t Love Me" and "I’m Tired" may be the barest of them all. "Boney Maroney" is a departure from his usual lovin’ a big fat woman shtick. The song, about a (“little skinny woman”), has a catchy yet simple rhythm and Bobby’s real deal blues harp. That ultra rousing rhythm is repeated on "Uncle Esau," which sounds like "Chicken Heads."

Kellerman sharply picks and strums on "School Girl." He plays a dirty Mississippi rhythm on "Glad To Get You Back" while Rush performs satisfying harp. As on "Howlin’ Wolf," the lyrics (“howlin’ so long, done made my tonsils sore”) are entertaining.  All along, they are not as raunchy as you might expect. However, if you didn’t know the real Bobby Rush – he has been married to the same woman for over 40 years and is very active in local charities – you’d mistake him for a lying, cheating sex maniac on "I Got Three Problems."

Rush plays guitar, chromatic and diatonic harp, and clomps his feet to keep the beat. His unobtrusive vocals sound like they are in conversation with you. Throughout, Kellerman maturely plays the role of dependable sideman, yet on "What’s Going On" he cuts his strings like the Delta masters. Performing acoustically – especially when it only involves two guitars, a harp, and a vocalist – is difficult because listeners focus intently. Creating a memorable and energized acoustic CD – like this one – is even more admirable. Purists will be pleased with this permeating product, although it may be a bit hard to find. It’s available off the stage or by contacting Shawn Kellerman by email via     

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist

Calvin OwensI’m beginning to believe that Calvin Owens is a genius. He’s utilizing his orchestra to support four diverse recording projects all at the same time and the results are wonderful. The formula is simple: assemble the best group of musicians you can find (he has), throw in some talented guest artists (Tommy Castro, Harold Loomis, Trudy Lynn), pick diverse material that showcases the talents of the band (he did), and make sure we all listen to it (now that’s the hard part). But no matter how you slice it, Ain’t Gonna Be Yo’ Dog No Mo is another great blues release featuring the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra.

I like the fact that this record opens with an Owen composed instrumental, “Mr. Handy.” I immediately hear clarinets, supporting horns, the trumpet leads of Calvin himself and I know the best is yet to come. The sound of Tommy Castro’s strat lets me know that he’s a part of the next cut, “Never Saw It Coming.” Tommy lends his vocal talents as well is this tale of love of a good woman sneaking into his life without him really realizing it.

Hamilton Loomis plays lead guitar and contributes his vocal talents to “Best Worst Day.” Hamilton laments the fact that the woman in his life is driving him crazy but the loving is too good for him to give up. The result is the “best worst day of my life” and he’s just going to have to take the good with the bad. Trudy Lynn pleads to her lover, “Just Be True to Me,” while singing her heart out on the next song, a Rue Davis original. The boy must be good to have Trudy tell him…”you can tease me, please me…just be true to me!” As long as her man treats her right he will always be happy.

The inclusion of Zydeco is a rare treat with the Texas Prince of Zydeco, Jabo, contributing his accordion talents to “Hold What You Got.” As long as “you hold what you got you’ll get what you need!” An astute choice by Calvin, the up tempo styling of “Hold What You Got” is contrasted with classic big band instrumentation on the Charles Brown classic, “Black Night.” Soulful vocals tell this tale of despair by a man whose woman has left him to dwell in his own misery.

“Handcuffed to the Blues” features a rap intro by Rasheed and vocals by Gloria Edwards. Her punishment for abusing love is to be “handcuffed by the blues.” She’s miserable because good love is the only key that will free her from all of the hurt she’s inflicted on the lovers in her past. Leave her cuffed…it serves her well. Mark May lights up his guitar intro on “So Mean to Me” and admonishes his woman to leave him alone if she’s going to be ...”so mean to me!” I find the guitar work of May, Castro and Hamilton all lend different shadings to this recording and were astute choices to be guest artists by Calvin Owens.

Next up is the instrumental, “Magic Stick,” and a chance to bring Calvin’s trumpet to the forefront. “Magic Stick” is a classic performance that is aided in part by intricate keyboard work and wonderful clarinets. Tommy Castro then makes his second appearance and brings us back to blues reality by letting us know that it’s “Time to Rock.” One of the things that stand out on “Time to Rock” is the orchestral score by Calvin in support of Tommy and that’s the real genius of this entire record, wonderfully supporting orchestral instrumentation. You can’t beat it.

Gloria Edwards returns with the charming “Nobody Ever Loved Me” to let us know that nobody has ever loved her like her current man does and that’s ok. Gloria gives a great vocal performance that is followed by the keyboard genius of David Maxwell on “Mr. Maxwell”. “Mr. Maxwell" is my favorite instrumental track on the record and is wonderfully played.

Attitude reigns supreme with Davi Jay singing the lead on “I Aint’ Gonna Be Yo Dog No Mo.” He laments that he doesn’t “want to be yo dog no mo’…..I want to be your man” and of course his woman doesn’t feel he’s being treated that badly. Here’s hoping he gets some respect. The Texas Prince of Zydeco, Jabo, takes the microphone for “You Didn’t Hurt Me,” the final Rue Davis song on the record. Jabo does a nice job of letting his woman know he’s moved on to someone better….someone who treats him right….and that in the end “you didn’t hurt me!”

Calvin and the orchestra close everything out strong with their rendition of “Sweet Angel.” Calvin was once part of B.B. King’s orchestra and I like his choice of “Sweet Angel” as the final cut of I Ain’t Gonna Be Yo Dog No Mo’.

Calvin Owens and his Blues Orchestra give us another classic recording that we rarely hear anymore. It’s extremely difficult to sustain a large orchestra in this day and age and I applaud Calvin for his efforts. He’s true to his vision and we’re better off because of it.

You can find this and all of his recordings at Pick up a CD and take a listen. We all have different tastes in our choices of blues artists, but you can’t help but appreciate the efforts of Calvin and his orchestra in their sincere desire to entertain us. You’ll be glad you did.

--- Kyle Deibler

I hate to admit it, but at first blush the latest release by the Daddy Mack Blues Band, Slow Ride, just didn’t appeal to me. I’m a firm believer that as blues lovers and players, we all need to stretch the boundaries of this genre we love so much. That’s why initially the concept of a bluesman reversing the rock n” roll royalty’s constant borrowing from the blues by giving his take on rock songs left me scratching my head. As I began to read the liner notes and the accompanying press release, I realized that a majority of the band members were at one time part of Memphis’s legendary band, the Fieldstones. I did the only thing I could do --- closed my eyes, kicked back and just listened.

What I found was a record that passed the listen test. Strong guitar playing by Daddy Mack Orr, wonderful support by Billy Gibson on the Mississippi saxophone and solid support from the rest of the band allow Daddy Mack to dive headfirst into some of the best rock songs ever written and ensure that all of their blues roots were exposed. We hit the ground running with Billy’s harp intro on “Slow Ride” and I decide I’m on-board for this adventure.

Things start to make sense to me on “Whole Lotta Love.” Daddy Mack didn’t pick up a guitar until he was into his 40s but the groove on “Whole Lotta Love” indicates that he learned well. Slow and passionate…with a touch of harp thrown in by Billy Gibson…and you’re sure that Daddy Mack has a whole lot of love to share with his woman. “After Midnight” continues this thought process with the knowledge that the early morning hours are what Daddy Mack lives for. Gibson’s harp reverberates throughout “After Midnight” and showcases why Billy is the premier harp player in Memphis today.

Taking on Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” is a daunting task for anyone. Daddy Mack’s fretwork is very clean and I find myself listening for the guitar in his rendition. “Can’t Get Enough” is one of my favorite rock songs so its appeal to me as part of Slow Ride is a given. James Bonner contributes guitar support to “Can’t Get Enough” and you begin to really appreciate the musicianship of the band on this record.

Daddy Mack’s’ take on “Honky Tonk Woman” is just dirty. Slow….grungy…you can see what the bar looked like in your mind’s eye when he tells you about his woman. Even though he’s loved and lost….you won’t every get the boy out of this honky tonk woman’s hang out. I like the segue into “Black Magic Woman,” a little more delicate than the intro to “Honky Tonk Woman,” Daddy Mack’s guitar playing is inspired by this haunting woman he’s faced with. For me, “Black Magic Woman” is the highlight of this project’s focus. All of a sudden it makes perfect sense to slow a rock song down and examine its blues roots.

I find the inclusion of the Kinks “You Really Got Me” to be a bit odd. Daddy Mack’s guitar playing is inspired and the song flows but it just seems to be out of place with the rest of the record. Fortunately, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” takes me back to the groove I’m comfortable in. Daddy Mack’s lead is very intricate and stands out on what has been instrumentally a very interesting record.

“Get Back” is the song that inspired this entire project. Originally recorded as part of the Fried Glass Onions tribute record to the Beatles, Daddy Mack nails this one. Down and dirty with just enough harp to keep you focused, “Get Back” takes me to the juke joint roots of Memphis and ends this recording on a high note.

Like I said in the beginning, Slow Ride passes the listen test. Is it a great record? I can’t say that. What it feels like though is a good friend. One you come home to at the end of the day, pop open a beer with and spend some quality time examining the problem’s of the day. You may not find all the answers you’re looking for, but at least you enjoy the process.

--- Kyle Deibler

Eric LindellI looked forward to kicking back and listening to the new album by Eric Lindell, Change in the Weather, from the minute I realized that Alligator records had sent it to me for review. I read Bruce Iglauer’s introduction letter and I wanted to hear for myself why after 35 years in the business, Bruce would step outside of Alligator’s chosen domain of blues and sign an artist whose music defies categorization. What I find is a record that challenges me as a listener and in the end, I agree with Bruce. Eric is an “old soul,” like blues the music he makes is “soul healing” and I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Eric in the future. So let’s get to the disc.

“Give It Time” starts out with a slow, laid back, blowing in the wind kind of feel that immediately lets you know that Eric has been places you’d like to go. Sometimes in life the best thing to do is just give it time….faced with a difficult situation…it will get better….just “Give It Time.” “Two Bit Town” samples the realities of small town life. Everyone likes to gossip about their neighbor, the talk can get you down…Eric is imploring his girl to “don’t let nobody take away your smile.” What’s readily apparent two songs into this disc is that Eric has surrounded himself with a very talented group of musicians to make this record. The harp playing by Andy J. Forrest on “Two Bit Town” is soulful and stark in its depiction of the loneliness of a small town.

“Feel Like I Do” finds Eric looking for affirmation of the love he feels for his woman. She’s wonderful, she’s fine…but does she feel like he does? The answer appears to be yes and Eric is one happy man. The tone changes slightly on “All Alone.” Eric intones that after he finishes his bottle of wine he going to take and spend some time with the girl he fancies. “I may be high, I may be stoned, but darling as far as I can see you’re all alone.” The horn section on “All Alone” is outstanding and Jason Parfait contributes some outstanding sax work on this song. “Should Have Known” finds Eric contemplating the fact that all is not right with his current flame…”by the way you hold yourself I see…you’ve been through misery…through the heartache and pain of love.” This one is just going to take some time to make it right.

“Casanova” tells the tale of a ladies man from the past. Eric’s hoping that his girl will let him slide on by and stay away from him. Eric’s guitar lead on this song has a kind of funk groove to it and it’s very appealing. Hopefully the girl will let Casanova “just slide on by.” “See Me Through” is probably my favorite song on the disc. It’s a tale of hard times and Eric’s appreciation that the love of his good woman will “see me through.” The opposite occurs on “Sunny Daze,” lamenting the fact that the good days are few and far between. Down on his luck, most days are rainy days and Eric is hard pressed to just get out of bed. Here’s hoping for better days.

“It Won’t Be Long” tells the tale of a woman who is working away from home trying to provide for her family. “Mama’s always on the run and I can tell she’s tired” One more day and one more night and then she should be home. As the teller of the tale, if Eric had his way, “you’d be here today.” On “Sad But True,” Eric is faced with the knowledge that what everyone is saying about his woman is true….he’s been played for a fool and it’s time to move on. “So many times I’ve played the fool…it’s sad but true!”

Eric takes a different tact on “Let Me Know.” He’s found a woman that he loves but she’s a mystery to him…he’s hoping that she will tell him what he needs to know. “Let me know what to do…how to be your man.” We’re just never sure he’s given the answer he’s seeking. “Uncle John” seems to be a song of inquisitive redemption. Eric’s done a lot of things wrong and he’s looking to Uncle John for the answers. “Uncle John…what the hell’s going on….talk to your son.” He just never gets the response he’s looking for.

“Lady Jane” is an ode to Eric’s on again off again love for Mary Jane. “Something quick has got to change…..I can barely stand the pain…can’t do without my Mary, Mary Jane.” Change In the Weather closes with “Lazy Days.” Eric’s girl works too hard and won’t quit until she’s finished the project she’s working on while Eric says…”we need a couple of lazy days…drinking lemonade in the shade.” A perfect solution for working too hard.

Change in the Weather is a unique album by what surely is a unique artist. Eric Lindell does a masterful job of weaving blues, R&B and Cajun influences, amongst others, into the context of an album that grows on you with each spin in your CD player. Signing him to Alligator records is definitely a departure for the label, but its easy see why Bruce Iglauer felt it was something he needed to do. Rarely do we hear new talent that challenges us musically on so many levels and Eric Lindell is such a find. I look forward to hearing him live and experiencing for myself the musical talents of this wonderful artist from the Big Easy.

--- Kyle Deibler

Webster’s Dictionary defines fortuitous as: “happening by chance; accidental.” The fact that the Mannish Boys' latest release, Live & In Demand (Delta Groove Productions), is the result of such circumstances is almost incomprehensible. The liner notes indicate that the stars all fell into place at the Winthrop Blues Festival in Washington. There just happened to be a professional recording crew on site, the Mannish Boys were lighting it up, and someone was smart enough to hit the record button. Considering the fact that recording the show was an afterthought, we should all be as lucky to produce a live album like this once in our lifetime. The end result is in a word, wonderful.

Kid Ramos kicks off the show with a self-penned instrumental, “Kid’s Jump.” Supported by the rhythm section of Tom Leavey on bass and Richard Innes on drums, Kid warms up the crowd with a blistering west coast style jump that I’m sure had everyone on their feet and dancing. Randy Chortkoff takes the lead on “I’m Ready” with his harp intro and then displays his vocal talents on this Willie Dixon song. The band is very tight and I find myself having a hard time believing you can record a live album this clean. But the proof is in the disc and we can all listen to it for ourselves.

Piano takes the lead with Leon Blue assuming vocal control of “She Wants to Sell My Monkey.” Ramos trades instrumental solos with Leon as we examine the reasons why his woman wants to sell his monkey. And lord knows, “that will never do.” Johnny Dyer steps up to the microphone on the classic “Mannish Boy.” With Chortkoff blowing wonderful harp leads and Franck Goldwasser contributing slide guitar, Johnny gives a classic interpretation of this Muddy Waters song. Dyer himself takes over the harmonica chores on “You’re Sweet” and is supported by Blue on piano and Goldwasser on lead guitar.

“Howling Wolf,” another Muddy Waters song, finds Goldwasser’s slide guitar leading the way while Dyer lets us know that, “he’s a howling wolf.” Slow, expressive, featuring intricate playing by Goldwasser and Kid Ramos, Johnny lets us know that when he gets to howling, “I will jump from limb to limb.” The leader of the Mannish Boys, Finis Tasby, steps to the microphone to tell us about how his woman is “Goin Crazy Over T.V.” He’s bought her a radio that “she hasn’t even listened to yet”….she’d much rather watch Gunsmoke on TV. Finis is afraid that if she doesn’t get over her tube addiction, ‘it’s going to run you blind.'

“Mystery Train” has Finis hoping that his woman is coming back. He hasn’t had “any loving since his baby’s been gone” and is hopeful that the mystery train coming round the corner will bring her back. Chortkoff’s harmonica lead on “Mystery Train” has you imagining the locomotive is right around the corner and you’re hoping for Finis’s sake that she comes back. Things slow way down on the Freddie King song, “It’s Too Bad.” Goldwasser gives us an inspired guitar lead on this song that finds Finis down on his luck. It seems like now matter what he touches…things will go bad. Goldwasser’s intricate playing more than makes up for Finis’s depression as we explore the dark sides of his bad luck.

The up tempo “Strangest Blues” has a mambo feel to it. His woman has left him without saying a word and Finis is lost as to why. He approaches her for some loving and she just leaves him behind. The result is “the strangest blues that I’ve ever heard.” Next up is my favorite song on the album, a rendition of Albert King’s “As The Year’s Go Passing By.” It seems like everything just comes together on this song. Finis’s vocals are the strongest of the set, Kid Ramos plays a blistering guitar lead and the song just flows. You feel Finis’s pain as he realizes that there isn’t “nothing I can do to change your love for me.” This was a good woman he was in love with and it just didn’t work out for him.

The set closes with “Walkin’ and Walkin’.” We find Finis out on the road with no place to go…his solution is to get some religion and learn how to pray. Hopefully the light will help him find his way.

With all of the perils and pitfalls that surround live recordings, Live & In Demand stands out as a rare jewel. The Mannish Boys are a wonderful collection of individual artists that stand out in their own right but who come together to prove that the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts. Their performance at the Winthrop Blues Festival was tight, clean and exudes the professionalism that all of these artists are known for. Kudos go out to whoever was smart enough to hit the “record” button on the sound board. He or she saved for us a gem that will stand on its own merits for a long, long time.

--- Kyle Deibler

Charlie MusselwhiteIf there are any blues fans out there who don’t consider Charlie Musselwhite deserving of a spot in the pantheon of great blues harmonica players, Delta Hardware will serve as strong evidence that they should reconsider. Musselwhite’s latest release, his second for Real World, is a raw and rugged return to basics, as he serves up ten powerful tracks of stripped-down blues and boogie. Accompanied only by his three-piece touring band of Chris “Kid” Anderson (guitar), Randy Bermudes (bass), and June Core (drums), Musselwhite proceeds to bring the blues back home to his native Mississippi, by way of Chicago, the Mississippi Hill Country of R.L. Burnside, and the fertile ground of the Mississippi Delta, plus adding a small dose of rock & roll to the mix as well. 

The band kicks things off with a grungy rocker (“Church Is Out”), shifts to a wild raver (Little Walter’s “One of These Mornings,” one of two Walter Jacobs compositions on the disc), and mixes in a couple of Chicago numbers (“Sundown,” “Just A Feeling,” and Billy Boy Arnold’s “Gone Too Long”). Musselwhite, normally not one to discuss politics, also weighs in with his take on some recent social concerns. The moody “Black Water” and the Delta rocker “The Invisible Ones” both were inspired by Hurricane Katrina and its devastating aftermath. Though expressing his political views is not a standard practice for Musselwhite on record, you certainly wouldn’t know it by these two songs as he does so in a clear, succinct way.

My favorite track would have to be “Clarksdale Boogie,” a longtime staple of Musselwhite’s live shows with a few new twists thrown in. The band does an impressive job, particularly Anderson whose guitar work serves as a perfect foil for Musselwhite’s harmonica throughout the disc. Hard as it may be to believe, Charlie Musselwhite’s been putting out some great blues for 40 years (and over 30 albums) and is continuing to raise the bar with each release.     

--- Graham Clarke

Robin TrowerWay back in the sixties, when Robin Trower made his debut recordings, he was sometimes compared to Jimi Hendrix, but Trower’s sound has always been his own, with roots both in the blues and the psychedelic guitar of that era. Though he’s never stopped recording, he’s been under the radar for a few years, except for his loyal following of fans that have never left his side. 

Recently, Trower released a live CD, his 25th album overall, on the Ruf label, Living Out of Time-LIVE.  Having turned 60 the night of this appearance, Trower shows that he’s not lost a step on guitar, playing with as much power and originality as he did when he burst on the scene some forty years ago. For this live appearance, recorded during the Rockpalast Crossroads Festival on March 9, 2005, Trower pulls out plenty of his older recordings, such as an excellent take on his classic “Bridge of Sighs,” “Too Rolling Stoned,” “Day of the Eagle,” and “Daydream,” along with more recent fare, such as “Sweet Angel” and “Close Every Door.” 

Teaming with Trower on this release is Davey Pattison, who does a fantastic job on vocals, along with Dave Bronze (bass, backing vocals) and Pete Thompson (drums), who also provide stellar support.  Leading the way is Trower, whose guitar work is a wonder to behold over the entire 70-minute disc.  There’s an accompanying DVD of this show that was also released, but if you get the chance to catch Robin Trower during his summer tour of the U.S., you should not miss him.  If you can’t, this CD is the next best thing.

--- Graham Clarke

Sugarcane CollinsIf you didn’t know any better, listening to his new self-released disc Way Down the River, you’d swear that Sugarcane Collins was raised on blues music in the Deep South of the USA.But Collins is from a little further south than that, Queensland, Australia. Blessed with a husky, soulful voice and a deft stroke on guitar, Collins has played across much of Australia for many years and made his first tour of the U.S. in 2005, playing with Pinetop Perkins, Coco Montoya, W.C. Clark, and even appearing on the King Biscuit Time Show with Sonny Payne in Helena, Arkansas and at the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, MS (one of the great underrated festivals) while here. 

Way Down the River pays tribute to the great acoustic bluesmen of the 20’s and 30’s, but not just as a period piece. Collins injects electric bass and electric guitar, congas, and even a little organ on selected tracks, so the ’20s and ’30s is more of a starting point with a keen eye toward modern and even future blues. Collins wrote all the tunes, and they are a powerful commentary on the music of that time. 

Highlights include “Got A Mind To Ramble,” about the wanderlust that struck so many residents of the Delta during that time in an effort to improve their lot in life, “One Wing Frank,” about a prisoner who finds a way out of the hard labor in the penitentiary, “Leadbelly,” a biographical piece about the legendary Louisiana singer, and “Shine The Light,” a stirring gospel track.  

Two instrumentals, the rousing washboard-propelled ragtime number “All The Way to St. Louis” and “Dancing Rabbit Creek,” with its quirky use of Jew’s harp, showcase Collins’ dynamic fretwork.

Fans of acoustic blues with a taste for outstanding songwriting coupled with a few adventurous flourishes will surely enjoy Way Down The River.  o find out more about Sugarcane Collins (and to purchase this remarkable disc at his secure online shop), go to his website,

--- Graham Clarke

Fans of the ’80s blues rock/soul group Billy (Vera) and the Beaters will find Rick Hall & The Blue Healers’ new CD, To Tell The Truth, to be just what the doctor ordered. Singer/guitarist Rick Hall has been performing since his early teens and possesses a smooth vocal style and some formidable chops on lead and slide guitar, as well as a knack for writing distinctive songs in the soul/blues vein. Hall seamlessly mixes his blues with soul, rock, and country and the results are sure to please. 

Highlights include the R&B tracks “Pay The Price,” “You Lied To Me,” and “Give It Up,” along with the bluesier tracks “Do Right Man,” “Blues Are Gonna Leave Me Too,” “This Old Guitar,” and “Goin’ Down Fast.” Other standouts include “Ain’t  Nothin’ But A Heartache,” which has a country flavor to it, and the album’s lone cover, “You’re Humbuggin’ Me,” which features a guest appearance on vocals by country singer David Frizzell (whose brother Lefty was actually the first to record the song back in 1958). 

The band (Dave Fogle – Drums; Tom Martin – Bass; Tim Davis – Keyboards, plus an outstanding horn section that really adds flavor to several of the R&B tracks) provides exemplary support for Hall. This is an impressive release and is definitely worth a listen for R&B and blues fans. Stop by to pick up this cool disc, and for info on the band, visit 

--- Graham Clarke

Harold Melvin's Blue NotesFans of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes may be surprised to see a new release from the band, given the fact that Melvin passed away almost ten years ago (in 1997), but the group is still intact, and tours today as Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, mostly hitting the Oldies Circuit these days. However, during their heyday in the early ’70s, the Blue Notes were one of the big soul acts, featuring Teddy Pendergrass served as their frontman. TP’s soulfully intense vocals powered the band through multiple gold and platinum hits like “The Love I Lost,” “Bad Luck,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Wake Up Everybody,” and “Miss You” on the Philadelphia International label. 

When Pendergrass left for a solo career in the mid ’70s, so did the hit songs, but the group forged on valiantly. St. Clair Entertainment recently released a new disc by the current group, called The Best of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Though the group’s hits are here, they are not the original versions, but the Blue Notes’ current lead singer, Philadelphia native Donnell “Big Daddy” Gillespie, has a gruff but tender style that is at times reminiscent of Pendergrass and does an admirable job filling TP’s shoes. The group harmonies are still pretty tight, but those lush strings have been replaced by synthesizers. 

Indeed, the group does reproduce most of the hits, including the ones mentioned above, plus a new version of the duet with Sharon Paige, “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon,” with Paige (who has also become a member of the group) reprising her original role. There are also cover versions of McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” and the O’Jays’ “For The Love of Money.” 

Newcomers to the Blue Notes will probably want to get the Philadelphia International era material first, but longtime fans of the group will enjoy finding out that the group is still performing at a pretty high level.

--- Graham Clarke

Novice blues collectors looking for an inexpensive way to pick up some familiar tracks from notable blues musicians will find what they’re looking for with The Best of The Great Blues Masters, another of St. Clair Entertainment’s Essentials series. Longtime collectors will have most of these songs in other formats, but the newbies among us will find well-known songs from artists like B. B. King (“It’s My Own Fault,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” and “How Blue Can You Get”), John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom,” “Crawlin’ Black Spider”), Buddy Guy (“First Time I Met The Blues”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Have You Ever Loved A Woman”), Charles Brown (“Driftin’ Blues”), and Canned Heat (“On The Road Again”). 

Some less familiar tunes present include a track by the great vocalist Gatemouth Moore (“Goin’ Down Slow”) and two live tracks from Ray Charles (“Blues Is My Middle Name” and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”). 

As stated above, chances are that you have most of these tracks (though it’s not everyday you hear a Gatemouth Moore tune on a collection), but newcomers to the blues on a tight budget will want to give this one a spin. There’s not a clunker to be found in the bunch. 

--- Graham Clarke

Another budget compilation from St. Clair, The History of American Music: The Blues, features a little something extra. While there are some great recordings, both familiar (Muddy Waters’ “All Aboard,” a live take of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darlin’,” Memphis Slim’s “Memphis Slim U.S.A.,” and “T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do,” by Bessie Smith) and are also some you may not have heard before, such as Lowell Fulson’s “Every Day I Have The Blues,” Roosevelt Sykes’ “Night Time Is The Right Time,” and “Honky Tonk Train Blues” by the legendary pianist Meade Lux Lewis.

With 12 tracks in all, this may not be a definitive capsule of the blues, but it is certainly a noteworthy cross-section covering the early years of electric blues. Accompanying this collection is a DVD of a movie made in the mid 1940s for the segregated all-black theatres of the time. The movie, “Boarding House Blues,” is definitely one that deserves to be remembered. Any movie that features the always-hilarious Moms Mabley, Dusty Fletcher, Bullmoose Jackson, a one-armed and one-legged dancer, and a guy dressed in monkey suit has to be worth viewing. 

Overall, this little collection boasts a lot of solid song selections and is a nice addition to anyone’s blues collection.

--- Graham Clarke


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