Blues Bytes

What's New

May 2016

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Shaun Murphy

Shari Puorto

AJ Fullerton

Tweed Funk

Too Slim and the Taildraggers

Jeff Chaz

Blues For Big Walter

Jeff Jensen


The Steepwater Band

Jeff Plankenhorn

Steve Dawson

Debbie Bond

Brad Wilson



Shaun MurphyJust got back from an adventure-filled week in Memphis and had the good luck to run into Shaun Murphy at the Generation Blues fundraiser at the Hard Rock Café. Shaun looked radiant and confident, a tone well established in her new record, It Won’t Stop Raining, that was waiting for me when I got home. It’s a killer record, with some great writing from amongst others, E.G. Kight, and Shaun completely nails it. Let’s throw it in the CD player and give it a spin.

Shaun and the band start out with “Spreadin’ the News” and it’s clear from the beginning that Shaun and the band are on fire. She’s got the blues and is telling the world all about it. The liner notes are brief and don’t tell me who all the players are, but suffice it to say producer T.C. Davis has surrounded Shaun with Nashville’s finest. “Hey baby…do you have these blues…feel them touch my soul and find myself spreading the news.” The band moves on to a Denise LaSalle tune, “Your Husband is Cheating on Us,” and Shaun isn’t happy to find herself the third wheel in what is becoming a complicated love situation. “He used to come to my house…when he wanted to play around…but now he’s found his pleasures…on the other side of town…hey lady, your husband is cheating on us…I know you had a good man…thought you had a man you could trust.” He’s taking advantage of both his wife and Shaun, a situation that Shaun just won’t stand for. Regardless of the outcome, Shaun’s stirring the pot and doesn’t care who gets hurt at this point.

E.G., Johnny Neel and Joanna Cotton had a hand in writing Shaun’s next tune, “Happy With the One I Got Now,” and here we find Shaun in better spirits. Her man’s a little nervous about where he stands with Shaun, but she’s quick to address that, “Oh, why do you have to be so hard-headed? I’m happy with the one I have now.” I’d take that and run with it if I was him. I have no doubt that Shaun would set the record straight if the reverse was true as well. We move on to the title track, “It Won’t Stop Raining,” and the tempo slows down for the first ballad on Shaun’s disc. A sad tale of a love that’s run its course and clearly Shaun loved her man. “Ain’t seen nothing like it in all my years…on the day that you leave me…the sun disappears…how can I stop these tears…when it won’t stop raining?”

Shaun’s run of bad luck continues and she’s acutely aware of the struggle as she sings the lead for “Running Out of Time.” “I keep on searching…cause I know love is not a crime...yeah, cruising down to Memphis on a Saturday night…oh, running out of time.” A scintillating guitar solo echoes Shaun’s feelings of desperation and I’m hoping she finds who she’s searching for in Memphis, Tennessee. Love is a two-edged sword for all of us and it’s the theme that Shaun chooses to explore in her next tune, “Price of Love.” “Everybody pays the price of love…you’ve got to pay the price of love…we all crave a true romance…like the desert craves the rain…you’ve got to have some kind of love.” Shaun’s right, we all crave a love in our life and sometimes it comes to us at a greater cost than we expect but we’re happy to pay the price.

“Hey Baby (Don’t You Remember Me)” finds Shaun encountering a past love in her life who did her wrong and left her with major responsibilities. “Hey Baby…don’t you remember me? You left me with a mortgage and four hungry mouths to feed.” His good looks and wandering eye took him all over town, and in the process he left behind a good woman, four kids and a mortgage. Definitely not the ideal way to go. Another E.G. Kight song is next, “That’s How a Woman Loves,” and it’s my favorite tune on Shaun’s record. I don’t know that E.G. intended it to be her answer to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” but it fits the bill nonetheless. “But when she’s back…in his arms again…nothing compares to her lover and friend…a woman understands…how to bring the best…out of her man.” A beautiful tune and one that should garner some interest as a song of the year candidate.

A beautiful guitar solo with some organ behind it provides the introduction for Shaun’s next tune, “Need Your Love So Bad,” and here we find Shaun looking for a man to hold her tight and love her through the night. “I need someone to stand up…and tell my when I’m lying…and when the lights are low…and it’s time to go…that’s when I need your love so bad.” A soul to believe in and walk the earth with is all any of us are looking for and Shaun’s no different here. Walking the straight and narrow isn’t always easy and that’s a topic Shaun covers in our next track, “I Hate the Blues (But the Blues Sure Seems to Love Me)”. “I hate the Blues…but the Blues sure seems to love me.” No matter how true to her path that Shaun tries to stay on the Blues always seems to find a way to bring her back into the morass of all that can go wrong in her life.

Shaun and the band close out her record with one last tune, a funky version of “Fool for You.” “I keep on pushing…I keep on toeing the line…cause everybody knows…I’m a fool babe…a fool for you.”

I really like the tone and strength found in this new record from Shaun. The songwriting is excellent and Shaun embraces the message found in each tune with a riveting vocal performance to match. The band is stellar, the production superb and I have no doubt Shaun’s recorded a winner here. You can find the new recording and more information about Shaun, the band, her touring schedule, etc. at her website,

It Won’t Stop Raining is an outstanding disc and one that will earn Shaun Murphy some serious accolades as the year progresses.

--- Kyle Deibler

Ken ValdezI have to admit Ken Valdez is a bit of an enigma to me. I’m peripherally aware of the five-song EP he put out in support of T-Model Ford before he passed and have watched recent video of his performance at a show promoted by my good friend, Spike Stephen, in Rochester, Minnesota but beyond that, listening to his new disc, Soul Renegade, has been an experience. At times Ken sounds like an angry Mike Zito to me, reminiscent of his Pearl River disc, but it’s all good.

Ken starts out his disc with the title track, “Soul Renegade”, and it’s a song about rebirth to an extent. Ken’s found the desire to return to performing his own music and the record starts off well. “Soul Renegade…soul renegade…I’m back…stronger than I was before.” Ken’s last record was an acoustic offering roughly nine years ago, so his new disc is a coming out party for his return to touring and performing live. The next track up is “Rio Grande Blues” and we’re taking a trip down to Texas with Ken here. “I can wander…down any road I choose…nothing takes me home…like these Rio Grande blues.” Ken feels a spiritual connection to Texas and its Blues history that he pays homage to here.

A heavy bass line from Paul Peterson provides the intro to Ken’s next tune, “Sugar Shakin’ Boogaloo.” “Hey…hey, baby…sugar shakin’ boogaloo…can you tell me girl…how you do the things you do.” Ken’s got a good woman here and “no matter what I do…you’re as sweet as you can be.” It sounds like she’s a keeper. Ken’s fretwork is spot on and he needs to continue to appreciate this woman who loves him so. “Make It” is next, a tune with a Hill Country feel to it and I find that Colorado’s own Hazel Miller is along for the ride singing backup vocals. “If fate comes our way…baby, don’t be afraid…I know we can make it.” Ken’s message to his woman here is regardless of what the world throws at them, their love will survive and they will “make it”.

A drum intro from Mario Dawson leads us into our next tune from Ken, “Sometimes.” Here we find Ken trying to find his way in a relationship that doesn’t seem to be working out. “Sometimes, I don’t know…what you want from me…sometimes you're by my side…but I feel lonely, Lord.” She can run if she wants to but Ken isn’t running anymore. One thing’s apparent so far, Ken is an outstanding guitarist and I know that makes my buddy Mike Delaney happy since Ken’s axe of choice is a Delaney.

A lighter tone provides the intro for “Far From Gone” and here we find Ken reminiscing about a woman he loved a great deal. “In my dreams…see you in everything…I may say goodbye…but you’re far from gone.” She’s definitely gone but the memories Ken has of her are real and they will see him through the pain of this break-up. “Detroit Iron” is next and as you would expect, it’s a powerful tune paying homage to the output of Motor City. “We’re going to cruise in your Cadillac…come on Jimmy, give us a ride….come on Jimmy…give us a ride in the big, old, long Cadillac.” Ken’s incendiary fretwork is on display here and it’s clear he’s enjoying the ride in Jimmy’s Cadillac…a 1959, to be exact!

Ken and the band move on to “Final Season” and it’s a discussion of our time on this earth. “This is the final season…this is the last go around…this is a sacred planet…this is the gathering ground.” We only have one life to enjoy on this earth so it’s best to make it a life well lived. Nine songs in and we finally come to a ballad, “Whiskey and Water,” a song about Ken’s local watering hole. “Got a real sweet sounding jukebox…it plays my favorite song…it goes…one more whiskey and water…one more whiskey and water…I’ll play it all night long.” This is Ken’s refuge…that’s his bar stool…everyone knows each other…and Ken plays his favorite song on the jukebox…all night long.

Another powerful guitar intro moves along to “Angels” and everybody’s got some. “I thank you…for my angels…for keeping me here…above the ground.” It’s always good to know that a divine force is watching over you, trying to ensure you spend “one more day above the ground.” Both Hazel and Mary Cutrufello are on the background vocals here and kill it as Ken celebrates another day of living. Ken’s take on Willie Dixon’s tune, "Wang Dang Doodle," closes out a very high energy disc from this Bluesman from Minneapolis, providing a fitting ending to Ken’s disc.

Soul Renegade is an ambitious release for a Bluesman who hasn’t released a disc in almost nine years. Ken’s spent the last three years or so behind the soundboard mixing and producing discs for other artists while honing his considerable songwriting talents to a razor’s edge. While it’s hard to accept the fact that producing a disc to raise funds for his friend T-Model Ford provided the impetus for Ken to return to the performing arena, I’m glad it did. Ken plays a lot around the Minneapolis area and his schedule can be found on his website at Check out a few tracks from Soul Renegade and I hope it’s not another nine years before Ken decides to release his next disc.

--- Kyle Deibler

Shari PuortoI remember hearing about Shari Puorto way before I met her. Working a venue for the IBC on Beale Street didn’t allow me to wander out to see some of the other talent and there was buzz on the street concerning Shari that year. So I instead purchased her first record and have loosely followed her since then. When her new record, Obsession, showed up on my doorstep, I was curious to hear what she’s been up to. It’s always great to witness the maturity of an artist first hand and with the release of her fourth record, Shari’s on her way. Let’s give it a spin.

A deep sustained note on the low end gives way to a funky guitar intro from Johnny Lee Schell and Shari opens with “It’s a Damn Shame”. Communication seems to be the issue here. Shari loved the man in her life desperately and he just never got the message. “It’s a damn shame…you never figured it out.” Tired of wrestling with the issue, Shari’s walking away and not looking back. Tony Braunagel produced this disc along with Shari and it’s his drum intro that takes us on to “Home of the Blues.” “Cry out for mercy…but there’s nothing you can do…you’re in the home of the Blues.” Bad things sometimes happen to good people and when they do, “you’re in the home of the Blues.”

Up next is the tune “Six Months Sober” and here Shari’s exploring how she feels being free from a man who hurt her badly. “Six months sober…no longer addicted…to you.” Another relationship gone badly, as least Shari escaped and is able to celebrate her separation from a man she truly loved. Johnny Lee Schell’s contributing some guitar pyrotechnics to the mood and I hear Jim Pugh pounding away on the keyboards for this tune. A more somber mood returns and takes us to a place of darkness as Shari sings about a “Sugar Daddy”. “If you’ve got a gift for me…tonight you’ll be mine…oh come on…you know you’ve thought about it too…I’ll make you feel real good…and give you some sugar too.” Shari’s not looking for the man of her dreams…just her man for tonight…and this “sugar daddy” will do.

The title track, “My Obsession,” is next and I find that Shari shares the same perchance for shoes that my sister did. “My obsession….is possession…of every pair…I even want the one’s, I’ll probably never wear…if you want to be with me…and don’t want to lose…get me those shoes.” Chocolate and flowers won’t work here but a nice pair of shoes with 5 inch heels will get you everywhere. Mike Finnigan then provides a beautiful piano intro for the first ballad on Shari’s disc, “Old Silo Road.” “Who would have thought…such a simple thing…would mean so much to me….old silo road.” The home of many romantic memories for Shari, a walk down Old Silo Road is like going home for her.

Barry Goldberg’s twinkling the ivories as the band picks the tempo up on our next tune, “Workin the Room”. “You’d better watch out…going to get up on you soon…you know I’m in heaven…when I’m working the room.” Shari prides herself on knowing how to bring the room to life and she’s got her eye on a particular man she wants to get close to tonight.” Shari segues on to “Better Left Unsaid,” and here we find her mourning the decline of the love in her life because of all the lies her man is telling her. “We tried everything…but nothing worked…no more second chances…no more make up songs to sing…just leave it alone…what it is, is what it is…I don’t even need a goodbye kiss….too much pain…don’t try to explain…some things are better left unsaid.” Shari’s done here and it’s time to just move on.

She continues to ponder her inability to find a man to love in “What’s the Matter with the World.” “What’s the matter with the world…doesn’t anybody see…well, I try and try…to show you what’s inside of me…what’s the matter with the world?” Love will happen when it’s meant to and sooner or later someone will fall in love with a brown eyed girl like Shari. Steve Fister handles the lead guitar duties on “All About You” and here we find Shari realizing that the relationship she wants isn’t equal to both parties. “Oooh…I’m in this too…don’t you ever forget…I’m in this too…it’s all about you…no, baby…it ain’t all about you…ain’t nobody’s fool…what the hell are you trying to prove?” His true self came to the forefront over time and proved to Shari that he wasn’t the man she thought he was. It wasn’t all about him and now it’s time for him to go, Shari’s had enough, she’s moving on.

“Turn to Stone” finds Shari contemplating a time when she was happy with her life, the home she lived in and the man she loved. Music was in the air and now it’s gone. “Turn to stone…I don’t want to turn to stone…these old bones….keep haunting me…just won’t leave me alone.” The final tune on the disc is Shari’s cover of the classic “When a Man Loves a Woman.” It’s a slightly different tune when sung from the woman’s perspective, but it’s clear that Shari’s hoping the man in her life loves her the same way. It’s an interesting change when Shari’s viewpoint switches from third person to first person, but you can’t help but hope she finds this kind of love in her life.

Shari and her band were out here in Colorado two summers ago and it gave us a chance to catch up and talk about old times. To put out a disc with such luminaries as Tony Braunagel, Johnny Lee Schell, Mike Finnigan, Jim Pugh and an array of other artists is a testimony to all of Shari’s hard work in and around her home base of Los Angeles. You can find out more about Shari, her schedule and her music at and catch a show if you can. With a voice and stage presence likened to Janis, Bonnie and others; Shari’s definitely a female artist with a bright future, earning her following one fan at a time.

--- Kyle Deibler

AJ FullertonEverywhere I go in the Blues world, the topic of “keeping the blues alive” invariably comes up, and it’s always refreshing to head to an event like the International Blues Challenge in Memphis to get a different perspective on the answer to the question. It was in Memphis this year that I first met A.J. Fullerton, a transplant on the Front Range, who made his way over the Divide to become an integral part of the greater Blues community here in Colorado. A.J. played behind Grace Kuch at the Women in Blues showcase and that was my first taste of hearing this Bluesman from Montrose play. A trip to High Hops in Windsor later this spring, and it’s apparent that A.J. is a very old soul in a very young body whose tunes sound like he’s been living in the Delta his entire life. His new EP is entitled, She’s So Cold.

A.J. breaks out his resonator for the title track, “She’s So Cold,” and we’re off and running. Here we find A.J. encountering a woman he was definitely attracted to, but she rebuffed him at every turn. “I could not help myself…she was so pretty…I couldn’t help myself at all…she held me under her spell so gently….I did not want nobody else…she’s cold and now she’s gone…she’s so cold and I don’t miss her…so glad that she’s gone.” A lesson learned and A.J. is a quick student of life for sure. He segues into “Smoke & Mirrors” and the topic is the same, another girl has caught A.J.’s eye. “Well, maybe you’ll call me…maybe you won’t…or maybe you miss me….maybe you don’t….I’ll always wonder…if you felt the same…I wish I could know you…but I don’t know your name.” Her name is a good place to start, A.J., better luck next time my friend.

A.J.’s acoustic guitar comes out for our next track, “Half Empty,” and he’s still trying to solve the feminine mystique. “Won’t you free me…free me from this world of pain…well, I see you waiting…you’re half empty…but not really gone…and I hear you whisper…our love must die…move on.” All of the tunes on A.J.’s disc are original tracks and he moves on to “Falling Apart at the Seams”, though I find it hard to believe that anything really baffles A.J. to the point that he’s falling apart. “I’ve been aching…aching for days…but these blood stains of mine…they’re here all the time…my heart won’t let me come clean…falling apart at the seams.”

His resilience is a theme that continues in A.J.’s next track, “Ain’t Got Nobody But Me.” “When I’m sick...when I’m sick...ain’t no one going to keep me home…when I’m sick…when I’m sick…I’m going to stay at home.” With no one to rely on but himself, A.J. is just going to do the best he can. The next track, “I Don’t Want to Grow Old,” is an interesting perspective from a young man who just turned 21 and isn’t looking forward to growing old. “I’ve got blood, blood on my hands…Lord, you know…I would remand…I’m too weak to fight…my heart is not bold…and I do not, do not want to grow old.”

A.J. closes out his record with the tune, “Homesick,” an ode to his roots in Montrose, Colorado where his family resides. “Won’t you give…me one more chance…show me how I can make it up to you…I’m homesick…but I can’t go home….well, hardships…when you’re on your own…when memories…are the only thing, keeping you going strong…well homesick…and babe, I want to go home.”

I can honestly say the Blues is alive and well when young Bluesmen like A.J. Fullerton are on the scene, keeping the music strong with an interesting blend of modern day lyrics and old school licks. A.J. is rapidly building his reputation here on the Front Range one gig at a time, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. You can learn more about A.J. and his music at And if you’re out here in Colorado at a local brewery, coffee house, house party or any other gig A.J. happens to be playing at, grab a drink, sit down and help A.J. along his journey by supporting what he loves to do best --- playing his Blues for you.

--- Kyle Deibler

Delanie PickeringOver the years it never ceases to amaze me the level of talent that comes to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge in both the band and solo/duo categories. An artist who caught my eye this year was Delanie Pickering from New Hampshire. I appreciated the sarcasm found in her lyrics, the brutal honesty of her performance and her willingness to bear her heart in a room full of strangers. In some ways Delanie reminds me of a young, brash Eden Brent --- and that’s not a bad thing. She’s about to release her new record, Down Not Home, and Delanie is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Delanie opens with “I Don’t Want Your Number” and there’s no misunderstanding her intentions here. “I don’t want your number, baby…I want you to take me home.” Not one for conversation, Delanie is sure she will learn all she needs to know about the man in question another way, “I’ve been watching you all night…and I don’t want to go home alone.” A sweet acoustic guitar intro leads us to her next tune, “Coal Miner’s Blues,” a love song about a boy working in the mines and a woman who loves him. “Send me a canary…when I get out of your reach…you can’t see the whites of my eyes…when he gets to me…I’ll tie a letter to his feet…and I hope he brings it back to you or I.”

The title track, “Down Not Home,” is next, and we hear Delanie tell a story of woman choosing the wrong path. “Cause everybody sees the way you’re moving…they know…you’re moving down…not home.” Destined to fall, everyone knows the path she’s on and yet no one moves to try to change her mind. Myron Kibbee displays some mean fretwork on this tune and lends just the right touch of desperation to the situation. I like the fact that Delanie is brutally honest in the lyrics she writes and we hear more of that with her next track, “I’ve Got a Man on my Mind.” “I got a man…I got a man on my mind…he don’t know I’m in love with him…or that he’s on my mind...all the time…all the time.” Delanie knows what she likes, this guy has it, “and, he’s the finest guy in town…I just want to hold him in my arms…want him to take me…down…down…down.” Delanie doesn’t necessarily know the exact right thing to say, but I have a feeling she’ll figure it out.

Will Kindler adds some beautiful pedal steel to Delanie’s next track, ‘Nice Woman.” Another of Delanie’s acoustic tracks, it’s a song about a woman who’s experienced some tough times in her life. “She didn’t know what she was getting into…she knows everyone hates her guts…and I haven’t seen that woman…since she sobered up…and I know I could never hate her guts…she bit off more than she could chew…it’s not her fault…it’s what I’d do, too.” Delanie is definitely an old soul in a young body and I enjoy her stark analysis of the world she sees around her. I hear a little of Jeremy Harman’s cello as Delanie moves on to tell us the story of “Ralph Pill.” “Ralph Pill…I’m not saying that he’s mean…he scares all of the beauty queens…but not me.” A man about town, Ralph Pill definitely had his detractors and for some reason Delanie is enamored with the lessons she learned from one Ralph Pill.

“Baltimore” is one of two covers on Delanie’s record, and here we find her reflecting on a love in her life. “If I can get to Baltimore…have a place to shower…see my cousin’s Bill’s a bellman…at the Belvidere Hotel…and if they’re underbooked…stay under his name…and I’ll live it up like Vanderbilt or Poe.” “Cause, it’s the weekend…ain’t got nothing…but a memory of you.” Delanie’s trip to Baltimore is an opportunity to reflect on a love that burned fast and ended way too soon. “Ain’t No Saint” finds Delanie still in a reflective mood and dwelling on another relationship that ended all too quickly. “But those things…they just don’t happen anymore…but I know it’s better…better for you that way…as I look at all this mess I made….and all these men I pushed away…I know the truth…I ain’t no saint…when I’m blue.”

Delanie closes out her record with her version of the Richard Jones classic tune, “Trouble in Mind.” “If these blues don’t overtake me…I’m going to rock right out of here, babe.” Delanie’s fretwork on her acoustic guitar is excellent and there’s a lot to look forward to from this New Hampshire blues woman.

There’s a lot to like about one Delanie Pickering. She’s a student of life and the world around her with a keen eye for detail that she writes in her songs. Everyone starts somewhere and her appearance at the IBC caught my eye and those of a few other folks in the industry. You can follow her on Facebook for the moment and hopefully Delanie will continue to pursue her muse. She’s a talented songwriter with a lot to say, and Down On Home is a good introduction to one Delanie Pickering.

--- Kyle Deibler

Robert Watson - Hezekiah EarlyFor decades, Robert Lee “Lil’ Poochie” Watson and Hezekiah Early have been entertaining blues fans in the Natchez, Mississippi and at local festivals in Mississippi and Louisiana. The duo’s music encompasses both acoustic and electric Delta blues, New Orleans R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and soul. Watson’s earthy, weathered vocals and driving guitar is a perfect complement to Early’s steady backbeat on drums (he also plays harmonica strapped to his mic with electrical tape).

A few years back, Watson and Early appeared on the Broke & Hungry/Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art documentary, We Juke Up in Here, to favorable reviews, and Watson and Early recently issued their first collaborative album on Broke & Hungry Records. Natchez Burnin’ offers a dozen rugged, raw, fantastic tunes --- two originals from Watson, one from Early, plus nine covers of blues, R&B, soul, and rock tunes transmogrified into the unique Watson/Early brand of blues.

The two Watson originals, the exuberant “Got My Eyes On You” and the sparse “Mama Don’t Love Papa” touch on familiar blues themes, but the raw urgency of Watson’s vocals and guitar and Early’s harmonica make them stand out from the crowded field. Early’s offering is a fun one, the singalong “Shooby Dooby Doo.” The duo also covers Rosco Gordon (a loose-limbed “Just A Little Bit”), Fats Domino (“My Girl Josephine”), Chuck Willis (“I Feel So Bad”), and re-imagine a couple of Louis Jordan’s jump blues classics (“Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” and “Somebody Changed The Lock,” one of two tracks that feature Early playng his homemade acoustic guitar with.the other being an amazing take on the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go”).

Watson and Early also cover Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Mr. Charlie”), Big Joe Turner (“Flip, Flop, and Fly”), and Lazy Lester (“Late In The Evening”). If you weren’t sold on the duo’s diversity from the previous paragraph, that should seal the deal for you.

I can easily see fans of traditional Mississippi blues having a fit over this release. It’s a sometimes stark, sometimes joyous, always exciting mix of electric and acoustic blues that touches on the sounds of blues (Delta and Hill Country), R&B, and soul, all brought together into one unique style that captures the raw feel of Mississippi juke joint blues perfectly.

--- Graham Clarke

Tweed FunkThe Milwaukee-based band Tweed Funk just issued another smoking hot album of their dynamic horn-driven, Memphis-based blues/funk/soul musical concoction. Come Together (Tweed Tone Records) consists of ten stellar tracks that will make fans of vintage soul very happy, and should make new listeners wonder why in the heck it faded away in the first place. For their new release, the group not only operates like a well-oiled machine, but they also worked together in the songwriting process, turning out some top notch tunes in the process.

Front man Joseph “Smokey” Holman sounds fantastic on these tunes, which mostly maintain a positive upbeat vibe. The punchy “Light Up The Night,” a feisty, funky tune of determination that you can dance to, kicks off the disc perfectly with a funky bottom and horns blasting away. “Don’t Give Up” follows suit, featuring a powerful trumpet solo from guest Doug Woolverton of Roomful of Blues, then the understated and soulful “Muse” showcases one of Holman’s best vocals.

“Sweet Music,” an autobiographical track finds Holman really hitting his stride, as he recounts his life under the spell of the music from his early days in the church to performing with Rufus Thomas and Curtis Mayfield. The title track is a message of hope that drips with Memphis soul and is one of several tracks that feature the angelic backing vocals of Chrissy Dzioba and Sara Moilanen of The Whiskeybelles.

“Embrace” is a lovely old school soul ballad that will have you looking for a slow dance partner. Next up is “Who Is This,” a delightful instrumental that mixes jazz and greasy Memphis soul in equal measure, with notable solos from Woolverton and sax man Andrew Spadafora.

“Love Ain’t Easy” is a hard-charging funk workout with standout contributions from bass man Eric Madunic, drummer Dave Schoepke, and guitarist JD Optekar, and another great face-off from Woolverton and Spadafora. “Bullet” is a slow burning tale of regret and salvation with a great vocal perforamnce from Holman, and the closer, “Soul Rockin’,” is funk with a capital “F.”

In case you missed it, I really enjoyed listening to Come Together. Tweed Funk comes about as close as possible to recapturing the essence of the music that I came to love when I was growing up and it sounds like they had as much fun making the music and I had listening to it. I can’t recommend this one highly enough to music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Too SlimIt’s always a great day when you get your hands on a new Too Slim and the Taildraggers album. For 30 years and 20 albums, singer/songwriter/guitarist/blues rocker extraordinaire Tim Langford has blessed fans with his brand of blues, a distinctive style that mixes the best of the traditional blues artists like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, blues rockers like Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, and ZZ Top, and the southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.

With that list of influences, you would be inclined to think that Too Slim’s brand of blues deserves to be heard, and you would be correct. A prime example is Slim’s latest release, Blood Moon (Underground Records), ten stunning tracks of some of the best blues rock you’ll likely hear this year. Backed by two of Nashville’s finest, drummer Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes and bassist Robert Kearns, Slim may have just unleashed one of his best releases ever, loaded with powerhouse guitar work, great blues-based grooves, and some of his most inspired songwriting.

There’s a great mix of tunes on this set. The smoking “Evil Mind,” which kicks off the disc, is a hard-driving rocker that sets the pace for the whole album with some fierce guitar work from Slim and rock-solid support from the Taildraggers, who provide a massive musical backdrop despite being only two in number. The smoldering title track is an epic slow burner that takes it’s sweet time to develop and is worth every second.

“Twisted Rails” has a huge sound, mixing funk with some positively Hendrixian guitar work going on and standout drumming from Fowlkes. The song is also reprised at the end of the disc in a short instrumental version. “Get Your Going Out On” is a fine country-styled rocker that’s more than a match for anything that’s played on the country radio stations these days. “Gypsy” has a southern rock overtone, a cool mix of rock, blues, and a little bit of jazz, and “Good Guys Rock” is a relentless, get-on-your-feet rock ‘n’ roller.

Several of the songs reflect on Slim’s recent battle with cancer and his refusal to back down from the adversity that goes along with fighting the disease. On the defiant “Dream,” Slim declares that he “ain’t ready for the reaper so don’t come knockin’ on my door.” He waxes similar sentiments on the haunting, mostly acoustic “My Body,” and on the rugged rocker “Letter,” he gives a shout-out to his friends who supported him when he was down.

Blood Moon represents Too Slim and the Taildraggers at their blues rocking best, a thrilling ride from start to finish.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff ChazSounds Like The Blues To Me (JCP Records) is New Orleans blues man Jeff Chaz’s first album of new material since 2006’s In Exile. To these ears, this album is his best to date, and coming on the heels of his recently released career retrospective, Chronicles, listeners should have a full and vivid picture of the talents of this amazing musician. As on his previous releases, Chaz wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks, an even dozen on the new release, and has packed it full of his powerhouse guitar work, a near-perfect mix of traditional and contemporary styles, and his equally strong and soulful vocals.

The title track opens the disc, and it’s a low-key, funky affair about two-timing and double-dealing. The steamy “Make Love To You In The Sand” has a solid Crescent City feel with the punchy horn section, and Chaz gets in the T-Bone Walker mode for the after-hours slow burner “Hitchhiking In The Rain” with some sharp fretwork. “I Am The Blues” is a clever “talking” blues number where the guitarist channels Albert King and Otis Rush. “You Look So Good To Me” is one of my favorites on the disc, a jumping blues with Chaz playing some crisp B.B. King-styled lead, and he shows his soulful side on “Mysterious, Exotic Lady,” turning in a powerful vocal.

Another standout is the humorous --- well, what else could it be --- ”I’m Goin’ After Moby Dick In A Rowboat,” a hilarious track loaded with swagger and grit. “Four In The Morning” is a great workout for Chaz, both on guitar and vocals. “Will You Be Mine” is a smooth, old school ballad and the aptly-titled “Walkin’ With My Baby” is a funky shuffle. “The Mt. Vernon Blues” is a swinging instrumental, and is a great lead-in to the smoldering, nearly nine minute closer, “You Bound To Get Us Both Hung,” another cheating and lying tune similar to the opener but done from the narrator’s perspective this time around.

Chaz gets fabulous rhythm support from bassists Doug Therrien and David Hyde, drummers Doug Belote, Allyn Robinson, and Willie Panker, and keyboardist John Autin, who plays B3 and Steinway. The tight horn section consists of trumpeter/arranger A.J. Pittman and Ward Smith, who plays tenor and baritone sax.

Like many New Orleans residents, Jeff Chaz struggled to recover from the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina, but based on this inspired release it’s safe to say that the recovery is in the rear view mirror and he is back on track, moving forward, and then some. Sounds Like The Blues To Me should appeal to anybody who digs modern blues with a traditional feel.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Walter Horton tributeBig Walter Horton is one of the most influential blues harmonica players of all time. He recorded with many of the blues giants of the ’30s, ’50s and ’60s, appearing on classic tunes like Jimmy Rogers’ “Walking By Myself,” Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” and many others. He also made numerous recordings of his own between the ’50s and ’70s, even making a cameo appearance during the Maxwell Street scene of The Blues Brothers in 1980. Influential as he was for many harp players, Horton is not as widely known as many of his contemporaries, such as Sonny Boy Williamson II or Little Walter Jacobs, due mainly to his shy personality and his reluctance to serve as a band leader.

A couple of years ago, Blind Pig Records released a fine tribute to Little Walter that featured many of today’s harmonica players paying homage. Appropriately, Horton has now been given the same treatment, thanks to EllerSoul Records and Lil’ Ronnie Owens, who produced and spearheaded the wonderful Blues for Big Walter, which features nearly two dozen of the finest blues artists of the past and present giving Horton his proper due.

Owens has combined new and archival recordings with a host of harmonica players paying their respects. The archival recordings include a 1992 track, “She Loves Another Man,” with Jimmy Rogers on vocals and guitar and Bob Corritore providing the harmonica. There’s also a 2001 recording of “Rambling On My Mind,” with Corritore and Robert Lockwood. Both of these are first rate.

The remainder of the tracks include a couple by the Nighthawks’ Mark Wenner (“Worried Life” and “Walking By Myself”), Steve Guyger (“If It Ain’t Me,” “Little Boy Blue”), and Mark Hummel (“Heart Hearted Woman,” “Easy,” with Sue Foley on guitar). Owens himself plays on three tracks (“We’re Gonna Move To Kansas City,” “Need My Baby,” and the closer, “Think Big”). There’s also a pair of dandy instrumentals, courtesy of Kurt Crandall (“Great Shakes”) and Andrew Alli (“Evening Shuffle”).

The opener is “Someday,” which features T-Bird front man Kim Wilson on harp with vocals and guitar from Big Jon Atkinson. Perched midway through the disc is a nearly 19-minute marathon medley from Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones that touches on five sensational traditional tunes. All of these 16 tracks pay tribute to either Big Walter Horton’s music or his playing style and if you weren’t aware of how influential his playing was, you will be once you’ve heard this disc.

Fans of traditional Chicago blues will find a lot to savor with Blues for Big Walter. Hopefully, it will encourage newer blues fans to back track and discover some of this great artist’s recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff JensenAfter two recent highly acclaimed albums, 2013’s Road Worn and Ragged and last year’s Morose Elephant, Memphis-based blues rocker Jeff Jensen has issued The River City Sessions (Swingsuit Records), a live disc which was recorded in front of an enthusiastic studio audience at Ardent Studios. Jensen is renowned for his energetic live performances, and this well-produced 11-song set --- eight originals and three covers --- really captures his spirit and passion about as well as you can ask for, short of being in attendance.

The set lists includes several original tunes from Morose Elephant (the soulful ”Make It Through,” “Empty Bottles,” a spirited “Elephant Blue,” “Ash and Bone”), one from Road Worn and Ragged (“Brunette Woman”), and a couple from his 2007 self-titled release (“Can’t Believe We’re Through,” the splendid slow blues “Find Myself All Alone”). There’s also a fun original instrumental, “JJ Boogie.” The set is bookended by covers from T-Bone Walker (an exuberant “T-Bone Shuffle”) and Bob Dylan (a scorching “All Along The Watchtower”) with Jensen’s terrific reading of Tom Waits “Heart Attack and Vine” in between.

Throughout the set, listeners will get a full dose of Jensen’s riveting vocals and impressive guitar work, but he’s also a phenominal songwriter, as his original tunes will verify. He’s backed by longtime musical partner Bill Ruffino (bass) and Robinson Bridgeforth (drums).

An inspired release, The River City Sessions should do at least one thing for listeners. For those new to Jensen, it will encourage them to check out his already noteworthy catalog. It will also please those longtime fans who have been craving a live disc that puts his full talents on display. Blues fans dare not miss this one.

--- Graham Clarke

HarperPeter Harper, who performs as Harper, was born in England but moved to Australia with his family when he was ten years old. He grew up listening to his grandfather’s blues records, but also was a fan of early ’70s R&B, British Invasion rock, and English folk music. Picking up the harmonica in his early teens, he developed a distinctive style, eventually becoming involved in the music scene around Perth, Australia. Over time, he also began incorporating the didgeridoo into his music as well. He’s issued several CDs since the mid ’90s, most recently releasing Show Your Love (Blu Harp Records) with his Detroit-based backing band, Midwest Kind.

Harper calls his music “World Blues” and that’s appropriate. This disc ventures into the old traditional blues/R&B styles of yesterday, with a nod to modern funk and a definite focus on love and unity via Harper’s lyrics, and he wrote all 11 tracks. He’s amazing on harmonica, as expected, and also mixes in didgeradoo and djembe on several tracks, including the stirring opener, “Hell Yeah.” His expressive and versatile vocals are another plus, and the musical support provided by Midwest Kind (Will Rideoutt – guitar/backing vocals, James Norris – bass, Cam Lewis – drums) is superlative.

While the message of love and unity is front and center, Harper tempers this with tunes that lament the greed, anger, and hatred that seems to emanate fro the world today with tracks like “I Can’t Stand This,” “We Are In Control,” and “Hell Yeah,” the message of most of the songs is that the only way to persevere through these conditions is to focus on the positive and show compassion and love toward each other. Tunes like “I Look At Life,” “What’s Goin’ Down,” and the title track reflect these thought.

Show Your Love is not your conventional blues album, as you might have surmised above, but Harper’s vocals and harmonica virtuosity, along with the tight support of the backing band are a plus, and the use of the “Down Under” instruments add a lot of character to these songs ... already good songs anyway. If this is what we’re calling “World Blues,” count me in. The terrific music and the positive messages make this album a keeper in most discerning fans’ collections.

--- Graham Clarke

SteepwaterBased in Chicago, The Steepwater Band recently released their sixth album, Shake Your Faith (Diamond Day Records). Approaching 18 years together, the band (singer/guitarist Jeff Massey, guitarist Eric Saylors, bassist Tod Bowers, drummer Joe Winters) easily moves from funky blues-rock to psychedelic pop to rock n’ roll, combining a vintage sound with modern flourishes. The new album, their first in four years, consists of 11 new original tunes, all written by the band.

The band’s versatility is their strongest suit. The title track is a midtempo bluesy rocker with a catchy melody, but “Be As It May” has a definite psychedelic Beatlesque pop edge to it, and “Break” has a distinctive guitar/organ-driven rhythm to it. “Bring On The Love” is a mellow pop tune with a positive message that could be a hit in a perfect world. “I Will Never Know” is a more traditional blues rocker with some nice guitar effects from Saylors, who also lays down some funky licks on “Gone Goodbye.” “Last Second Chance” is a slow burner that takes its sweet time and is worth every minute. The straight-up rockers “Mama Got To Ramble,” “Jealous of Your Way,” and “Walk In The Light” are fun, too.

The addition of Saylors to the line-up was a good one. His guitar work is distinctive and inventive, and complements Massey’s own lead work effectively. Massey covers a lot of ground with his vocal talents, and the rhythm section (including producer Jim Wirt, who plays keyboards on most tracks) is rock solid.

Shake Your Faith should be required listening for blues-rock fans as well as fans of old-school rock n’ roll.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff PlankenhornAustin-based guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn has played with an impressive array of well-known and well-regarded musicians, including Joe Ely, Ruthie Foster, Bobby Whitlock, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy Lafave and many others. His own music combines the blues with gospel-flavored soul and rock, and is usually played on a stand-up lap steel guitar of his own creation, dubbed “The Plank.” Plankenhorn learned to sing as a youngster in the church choir, but his lap steel sound combines the Sacred Steel sounds made popular by Robert Randolph with the Dobro music played by Jerry Douglas. If this sounds to you like a pretty potent musical combination, you would be correct. But if further evidence is needed, just check out Plankenhorn’s newest CD, SoulSlide (LoungeSide Records).

Plankenhorn wastes no time at all, diving into the riproaring opener, “Lose My Mind,” with gospel-like fervor, both vocally and with some soaring guitar runs. “Lose My Mind,” co-written with Grammy winner Gary Nicholson, is one of eight dynamic original tunes offered. Others include the soulful “Trouble Find Me,” “Like Flowers,” a rocking duet with Ruthie Foster, and the funky “Dirty Floor,” one of three songs co-written with Fastball guitarist Miles Zuniga (the poppy “Born To Win” and “Vagabond Moonlight”). The ghostly instrumental “Kansas City Nocturne” is another standout, as is the rambling rocker “Live Today.”

SoulSlide also includes a fantastic reproduction of Sam & Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin’,” which teams Plankenhorn with the Texas soul man Malford Milligan, who also contributes gritty background vocals throughout the disc. “Mockingbird Blues” is an easy-going Willis Alan Ramsey song that amazingly has never been released. “Headstrong” has a nice country flair, as does the moody closer, Jeff Barry’s “Walking In The Sun.”

Plankenhorn’s regular band, formerly the rhythm section of the late Texas guitarist Stephen Bruton’s band, provides stellar support (Brannen Temple – drums, Yoggie – bass, plus Dave Scher – guitar/keyboards). Other contributors include Rami Jaffe (keyboards), Peter Adams (keyboards), Zuniga (guitar, piano, bass, backing vocals), Tim Pierce (guitars), Bruce Hughes (bass, backing vocals), Scrappy Jud Newcomb (guitars, backing vocals), and John Chipman (drums).

With his awesome guitar work and supremely soulful vocals, Jeff Plankenhorn is currently the talk of the Austin music scene. With a powerful release like SoulSlide under his belt, the word is bound to get out to an even wider audience.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve DawsonSteve Dawson continues to amaze and impress with each release. The Canadian-born guitarist moved to Nashville several years ago, and while his guitar work is as impressive as it ever was he continues to grow by leaps and bounds as a composer and singer. Dawson’s seventh solo release, Solid States and Loose Ends (Black Hen Music) is a heady mix of blues, Americana, gospel, folk, and soul, consisting of 14 outstanding tracks, ten penned by Dawson and four covers.

Dawson’s previous release, Rattlesnake Cage, was a solo acoustic instrumental album. With the new release, Dawson surrounds himself with a potent band: Gary Craig (drums), John Dymond (bass), plus a fine set of Nashville’s finest musicians, including Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Fats Kaplin (viola, fiddle, mandolin, accordion), Jim Hoke (saxophones), and Steve Herrman (trumpet), Mike Bub (upright bass), plus heavenly backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters and Keri Latimer.

The album opens on a high note with the swampy “Loose Ends,” which features Dawson playing some pretty tasty slide, and sweet backing vocals from the McCrarys, too, before segueing into the upbeat acoustic “Broken Furniture Blues,” which Dawson punctuates with some excellent slide. Next up is “Leave My Name Behind,” a pre-war-styled gospel-fueled number with Dawson strutting his stuff on National Steel, Kaplin on viola, and the McCrarys doing their thing. For the standout “California Savior,” Dawson plays National Steel, pedal steel, and pump organ.

The gentle “On Top Of The World” is a delightful country-flavored swinger, and “Little Silver” continues the country vein with an up-tempo guitar rhythm and pedal steel from Dawson. The rousing “Driver’s Wheel” follows suit with Kaplin on fiddle and backing vocals from Latimer. “Final Words” is an enticing mix of soul and blues that addresses loneliness, and features an appropriately soulful vocal from Dawson. “Early Warning” is a sparse number focusing on Dawson’s acoustic guitar and mandolin, the McCrary’s backing vocals, and churchy keyboards from McKendree, and the shimmering ballad “Rose’s Blues” closes the disc.

Dawson also re-imagines four classic tunes that cover a lot of musical ground, from a fun reading of Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers’ “Henhouse Door,” to Riley Puckett’s “Can’t Put That Monkey On My Back,” highlighted by some otherworldly slide work, Joe Tex’s “You Got What It Takes,” transformed into a sharp urban blues track, and the traditional “Delia,” done country blues style.

Any of Steve Dawson’s albums are worth a listen, but Solid States and Loose Ends stands out in his catalog, with some of his most compelling songwriting and guitar work yet.

--- Graham Clarke

Debbie BondFor her fourth album, Enjoy The Ride (Blues Roots Productions), singer/songwriter/guitarist Debbie Bond headed to The Shoals, that fabled land of musical nirvana that encompasses four Alabama cities (Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Florence), and produced some of the finest blues, soul, country, and rock recordings of the past 50 years. Bond, an Alabama gal herself, has been compared to musical legends Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, but really has molded her own distinctive voice and musical style performing and learning the blues from older Alabama musicians Johnny Shines, Willie King, and Eddie Kirkland.

Enjoy The Ride consists of 11 delicious tracks of downhome, gritty Southern soul and blues. Bond and her musical associate/soul mate Rick Asherson wrote six of the tracks and mixed in five enticing covers. The backing band includes Asherson (keyboards/harmonica), Dave Crenshaw (drums/percussion), and backing vocalists Rachel and Carla Edwards. The guest list includes guitarist Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt guitarist) and Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham (keyboards).

Highlights among the originals include the title track which opens the disc with upbeat tempo and lyrics and stellar slide guitar, the Gospel-flavored horn-fueled “Find A Way,” the heartfelt and soulful “Start With Love,” and the country blues closer “Train Song,” but the lively and humorous “Wishbone” may be the best of the bunch. Bond also covers Willie Dixon (a funky read on “I Am The Blues”), Jody Williams (a moody take on “You Left Me In The Dark”), Colin Linden (“Remedy”), and a pair of soul burners from Ann Peebles (“Love Vibration”) and late mentor Kirkland (“Rainbow”).

With a tight set of new originals and well-chosen cover tunes, Debbie Bond and Enjoy The Ride prove that there’s still musical magic in The Shoals.

--- Graham Clarke

David Ducharme-JonesA knowledgeable contributor called David Ducharme-Jones’ previous CD, A LOUD Guitar, “an original and diverse set of blues-based roots music.” Okay, so that was me (the “knowledgeable” part can be debated at another time) in the September 2012 issue of Blues Bytes, but a LOT of other reviewers and listeners really dug the album because it was a very creative and entertaining set with the Austin guitarist covering a lot of musical ground from blues to rock, country, and even jazz.

On Ducharme’s latest release, Strangest Things (Blissed Out Productions), he goes the duo route with his significant other, singer/guitarist Anne Ducharme-Jones, who provided background vocals on his previous two albums, with excellent results. The 13 tracks, all written by the couple, are heartfelt, lyrical, and personal glances at their own lives, love, and experiences. The songs range from driving electric rockers like “Two Satellites” and “Red Roses,” country-flavored tunes like “I Don’t Need You,” “River Runs Dry,” and “A Little Bit of Luck,” rootsy blues tunes like the title track, “Crazy Heart,” “The Girl Is Gone,” and “Beside You Now,” “Good Enough,” and soul/pop nuggets like “Of the Water,” “Wherever You Go” and “I Was Wrong.”

If you’re familiar with David Ducharme-Jones, you’re well aware of his musicianship. On Strangest Things, he plays guitar, bass, keyboards, and mandolin. Anne Ducharme-Jones takes lead vocals on several tracks (“I Was Wrong,” “I Don’t Need You,” and “Crazy Heart”) and their voices blend seamlessly. They are truly a match made in heaven as vocalists and songwriters.

The duo is well-supported by a core band that includes David Breaux (keyboards), David Evertson (bass), and Mark Leshner (drums), and guests Taylor Ducharme-Jones (percussion), Michael Koop (drums), Ron McRae (bass), Mike Meadows (drums/percussion), Donny Silverman (flute), and Jimmy Stevens (drums/percussion).

A strong set of original tunes, Strangest Things should satisfy any discerning fans of blues, rock, and roots, who will want to hear more from this duo after listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon Spear BandThe Jon Spear Band’s 2015 debut release, Old Soul, was a rousing success, finishing in the Top 25 of the Roots Music Report’s Top Contemporary Blues Albums for the year and receiving numerous favorable reviews and much airplay. It was a great set of blues and soul originals from the Virginia-based band, serving as a nice introduction to blues fans to Spear, who’s been around the music scene since the early ’60s, and the young singer/guitarist Dara James. The band recently issued their sophomore effort, a live set recorded at the Southern Café and Music Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia in November of 2015.

Live Music Is Better offers a dozen tracks, including four originals from the band’s debut, seven tasty blues and R&B covers, and the Spear-penned title track that closes the disc. It provides an excellent showcase of what the band (Spear – vocals/guitar, James – vocals/guitar/harmonica, Andy Burdetsky – bass, John Stubblefield – drums) is capable of in a live setting. Keyboard wizard Adrian Duke and sax man Haywood Giles guest on several tracks as well, with Duke taking vocals on one track.

The band reproduces four of the standout tracks from Old Soul, including the smooth title track, the rocking “Devil’s Highway,” which opens the disc, the award-winning “I Love My Skin” (vocals by Duke on this version), and the soulful “Paid In Full.” Covers include the Robben Ford/Michael McDonald tune “Nothing to Nobody,” the rollicking “Shake Your Boogie,” Warren Haynes’ “Just Before the Bullets Fly,” a funky take on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut,” Delbert McClinton’s country rocker “Blues About You Baby,” Frankie Miller and Will Jennings’ “Beginner At The Blues” (made popular by Coco Montoya), and the blues standard “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.”

The disc closes with the title track, the only new song on the set, written and sung by Spear. It pays tribute to all of those who make live music possibly --- musicians, club owners, venues, etc. It’s a fun and lively song that closes things out in great fashion.

Live Music Is Better is a rock solid set that gives fans and newcomers a nice summary of how good a band the Jon Spear Band really is, especially on stage.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad WilsonCalifornia blues rocker Brad Wilson returns with Power Blues Guitar LIVE (Cali Bee Music), a 13-track set of blues classics updated to a raw and raucous electric blues sound, plus live versions of four Wilson originals. The guitarist is backed by Oscar Huguet (bass), Thaxter Daggs and Kofi Baker (drums), Kirk Nelson (keyboards), and Joe Robb (sax).

The set includes tunes made famous by Muddy Waters (“Got My Mojo Working,” “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” ‘She Moves Me,” “Standing Around Cryin’”), Otis Rush (“I Can’t Quit You Baby”), Albert King (“Born Under A Bad Sign”), Freddy King (“I’m Tore Down”), T-Bone Walker (“Stormy Monday”), and the requisite version of “Sweet Home Chicago.” A pretty familiar set list, but Wilson powers them up with his guitar work and spirited vocals.

The four originals are also noteworthy: ”All Kinds of A Fool,” “Slide On Over,” “Black Coffee At Sunrise,” and a bonus cut, “I’m Still Breathing.” To be honest, Wilson’s takes on the originals are actually more interesting than the covers because most of the covers have been explored fully previously. Still, Power Blues Guitar LIVE is a solid effort that serves as a nice companion to Wilson’s previous studio releases and shows him to be as exciting a performer on stage as in studio. Blues rockers should check this release out.

--- Graham Clarke

Otis ClayA couple of years ago, while making the collaborative disc Soul Brothers with Johnny Rawls, Otis Clay recorded a vocal track of one of his favorite Gospel songs, “Mississippi Poor Boy” (originally recorded by the Canton Spirituals) in hopes of including it on a future Clay solo album for Catfood Records. Clay told Catfood Records head Bob Trenchard, “I am getting up in years and you never know how much time you have,” which proved to be prophetic in light of Clay’s sudden death in January of this year.

Unfortunately, no further work was done on a potential Otis Clay album, but Trenchard remembered the vocal track, so he, Rawls, and guitarist Johnny McGhee decided to go to the studio and expand on Clay’s vocal. Trenchard played bass, McGhee played guitar, Rawls produced the track and, with soul singer Janelle Thompson, added background vocals.

“Mississippi Poor Boy” was one of Clay’s favorite songs, and it shows with every note he sings. Rawls’ production puts Clay’s powerful vocals directly in the forefront, which is how it should be, of course, and gives the song a stripped-down earthiness with the McGhee’s crisp guitar and the steady backbeat. You can’t help but feel that while Otis Clay was singing this song, he was actually taking inventory, as the song says --- taking into account where he came from, where he’d been, and stating that all he had was because of the Lord. “The Lord’s been good to me,” he declares over and over again with a deep and simmering passion.

“Mississippi Poor Boy” could not be an more appropriate final selection on the soundtrack of Otis Clay’s musical life. The great man began his musical career in Gospel, so it’s only fitting that that’s where he concluded it.

--- Graham Clarke


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