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May 2018

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Order these featured CDs today:

The Nick Moss Band

Dana Fuchs

Sue Foley

John Mayall

Ghost Town Blues Band

The Reverend Shawn Amos

Greg Sover

AJ Ghent

Mick Kolassa

Patrick Coman

Reverend Raven

Laurie Morvan

Carolyn Gaines

Billy Walton Band

Tyler Morris Band


Nick MossFor their latest album, The High Cost of Low Living (Alligator Records), Chicago-based The Nick Moss Band adds harmonica ace Dennis Gruenling to the lineup, making a hot blues band even hotter. Moss and Gruenling play off each other so well I'd swear they came out of the womb jamming with each other.  Moving from his own Blue Bella label to Alligator should give Moss and company even more visibility to the blues record-buying public, and they brought on Kid Andersen to produce the sessions at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose. The bar is raised for this band. Does the music on The High Cost of Low Living live up to the higher standards? Yeah, you bet it does!

Moss starts out the opening cut, the mid-tempo shuffle "Crazy Mixed Up Baby," with an incendiary guitar solo, and we're off. "Get Right Before You Get Left" is all Gruenling's showcase, with his harmonica producing such a rich sound that his riffs sound almost like they are coming from a full horn section. "No Sense" is a slower shuffle that gives Taylor Streiff a chance to stake his case as a fine piano player, while producer Andersen steps out from behind the board to contribute a nice guitar solo.

The title cut is another blues shuffle, this one pairing excellent slide guitar from Moss with some hot harp from Gruenling. Up next is "Count On Me," a Gruenling original that could have fit well on any Chuck Berry set list; it's a fast-paced rocker with Moss doing his best Berry imitation while Gruenling handles the vocals.

The band takes the blues to another level with the Otis Spann original, "Get Your Hands Out Of My Pockets." Streiff is pounding away at the keys on the higher end of the register while Gruenling blows some pretty good harmonica. It's one of the best cuts on the album, as is the next number, an up-tempo blues shuffle, "Tight Grip On Your Leash," which gives Moss, Gruenling and Streiff all plenty of room to soar.

The band pays tribute to the recently-deceased Barrelhouse Chuck on "He Walked With Giants," a slow blues that mentions a long list of past blues greats. Of course, we've got to have some strong piano accompaniment here because of who's being honored, and Streiff doesn't come up short. Gruenling steps back up to the mic on another of his compositions, "Lesson To Learn," also blowing some mean harp on this kind of funky blues.

These cats show that they can play an up-tempo jump blues with great success on the instrumental "All Night Diner." Gruenling again packs a whole horn section into his harmonica, and Jim Pugh guest stars with some really nice organ accompaniment. The horn section of Eric Spauiding and Jack Sanford adds to the big sound and Moss goes nuts on the guitar.

Closing the album is a version of Boyd Gilmore's classic "Rambling On My Mind," with Moss garbling his vocals a bit while also kicking in some hot guitar licks. Streiff pounds away at the keyboards here, too. A good way to end an outstanding album.

Let's hope that the team of Moss, Gruenling, Andersen and Alligator continue. Another disc from them soon, please!

--- Bill Mitchell

Dana FuchsSoulful rockin' blues singer Dana Fuchs broke away from Ruf Records to do her own thing with her own label, releasing the outstanding Love Lives On (Get Along Records). The album was recorded in Memphis, and it sounds like the musicians on the disc all picked up an extra dose of that city's soul mojo.

Fuchs is best known for sounding like a young Janis Joplin, which comes naturally to her since she once played the blues legend in an off-Broadway production. But she's much, much more than just a Janis imitator, taking her music in a lot of different directions, as well as showing her skills as a songwriter by composing 11 of the 13 cuts on Love Lives On.

The album kicks off in fine fashion with the rockin' blues original "Backstreet Baby," and we get our first blast of Fuchs' raspy Janis-like vocals. The horns of Kirk Smothers and Marc Franklin add a heavy dose of soul to this number.

To my ears, Fuchs is at her best when she's belting out a soul classic, here covering Otis Redding's "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Trying to compete with literally the greatest soul singer ever is a daunting task, but the power of Fuchs' vocals carries this one. Her voice is complemented by the guitar and harmonica work of bandmate Jon Diamond.

The band gets funky on the mid-tempo number, "Sitting' On," with Diamond throwing in some great guitar licks and Fuchs shouting out powerful vocals. We then all go to church on "Faithful Sinner," with spirited vocals from Fuchs and gospel-ish organ from Rev. Charles Hodges.

My favorite cut on Love Lives On is the snaky blues number, "Sedative," with its echo-y vocals and  vintage feel to the subtle accompaniment on guitar, horns and piano, the latter by Glen Patscha. 

Fuchs has been very open about the numerous tragedies in her personal life, with the deaths of many family members over the years influencing many of songs. She goes on a three-song run of semi-autobiographical numbers towards the end of the album. Patscha's Wurlitzer provides the foundation for the inspirational bluesy soul song "Ready To Rise," one on which Fuchs' vocals grow more intense the further into the song. She repeats the central message several times --- "... I won't lie anymore with the sun in my eyes, tired of losing, I'm ready to rise ..." and "I won't cry anymore when I'm buried alive, I'm ready to rise ..."

"Fight My Way" contains a similar theme, but this lovely number has more sparse instrumentation, with Eric Lewis on mandolin and lap steel. That leads into a song of redemption by Fuchs, "Battle Lines," a mid-tempo soulful song with gospel overtones on which she sings about losing her mother. " ...  Maybe I'll find another battle line, no one left to lose ... " Great organ and piano work here, and a tasteful harmonica solo adds icing to the cake.

Moving on to something more upbeat is "Same Sunlight," an up-tempo, horn-infused southern blues shuffle, with really hot guitar from Diamond. Closing the album is a very interesting cover of the June Carter / Merle Kilgore composition "Ring Of Fire," although this one is a slower, stripped-down version than what we heard from Johnny Cash. Fuchs picks up an acoustic guitar to accompany herself, and Lewis contributes some eerie steel guitar playing. It's a great way to end this very versatile album.

Dana Fuchs is one of the more intriguing and promising singers on the scene today, and Love Lives On ranks as the best of her relatively nascent career. An even brighter future awaits her, so find a seat on this bandwagon now.

--- Bill Mitchell

Kara GraingerAnother star on the rise is the Australian-born, current L.A. resident Kara Grainger with her latest, Living With Your Ghost (Station House Records). It's an excellent album that's worth hearing over and over. Co-produced by Anders Osborne and recorded in Austin, Living With Your Ghost blends blues, soul and roots rock with some New Orleans funk into a delightful set of a dozen tunes. Grainger is a real triple threat, composing most of the songs while showing off her soulful vocals and skillful guitar playing. Osborne also contributes guitar and vocals, and Ivan Neville (keyboards) and the always great The Texas Horns appear throughout the disc.

Living With Your Ghost opens with the title track, a rocker with some serious slide guitar accompaniment. Grainger's slide work takes on even a bigger role on the funky and swampy New Orleans-ish "Working My Way Back Home," a song about the difficulties of being on the road.

Grainger's voice gets sultry on the soulful "Nowhere To Be Found," a slower number with Neville coming in on organ to frame our leader's tasteful slide playing. Of course, when it's time to get funky in a New Orleans way, Neville comes in again on keyboards and Osborne shares vocals with Grainger on "You're In New Orleans." Good horn accompaniment here, and the listener is left feeling in a happy mood.

We hear some of Grainger's most impressive vocal work on the soulful "Reason To My Verse," soaring through the octaves as the song progresses, and she also kicks in a good guitar solo midway through. She also shows off her impressive pipes on the up-tempo rockin' blues of "Favorite Sin."

Wrapping up Living With Your Ghost is the swampy, snaky "Freedom Song," with plenty of haunting slide guitar work throughout that will give you the chills on even the hottest day. If you aren't yet familiar with the music of Kara Grainger, it's time to dig into her catalog and learn more about this young woman from Down Under.

--- Bill Mitchell

Sue FoleyI was impressed by Sue Foley’s 2006 release, New Used Car, but haven’t heard anything from her since her 2007 collaboration with the late Deborah Coleman and Roxanne Potvin, Time Bomb, having missed her two releases with Peter Karp in the interim. While 12 years is a long time between solo albums, if they would all as uniformly excellent as Ms. Foley’s latest, The Ice Queen (Stony Plain Records), it would make the wait that much more bearable.

Foley’s latest effort may include a few legendary guest artists (Charlie Sexton, Jimmie Vaughan, and Billy Gibbons) who also hail from Austin, but they’re strictly there in support because this is Sue Foley’s album from start to finish. Sexton appears on the first two tracks, providing backing vocals and slide guitar on the funky, Diddley-esque “Come To Me” and guitar and backing vocals on the rootsy, soulful “81,” one of several tracks that includes Mike Flanigan on organ.

Foley handles the next pair of tracks backed by upright bass (Johnny Bradley and Billy Horton) and drums (George Rains). “Run” is a manic roadhouse rocker that should be a crowd favorite, while the title track is a splendid slow blues with strong lyrics and some sweet guitar work. Vaughan joins Foley for “The Lucky Ones,” trading lyrics and alternating guitar solos on this entertaining Texas shuffle. He plays guitar for the soul burner “If I Have Forsaken You,” which includes an excellent vocal turn from Foley and also features Flanigan and the Texas Horns in understated support.

“Gaslight” deftly mixes soul and blues, and Gibbons shows up on the gritty shuffle “Fool’s Gold,” sharing vocals and playing guitar and harmonica, and a sassy reading of Bessie Smith’s “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair” teams Foley with Derek O’Brien on guitar.

The album closes with three low-key numbers. The first, “Death of a Dream,” has a jazzy feel with Foley’s smoky vocal, Chris Marash on upright bass and JJ Johnson on drums, while Foley’s solo acoustic performance on “The Dance” has a flamenco-flavor. Leading into the closer, the Carter Family’s “Cannonball Blues,” there’s a bit of studio chatter where Foley says she’ll try it one more time, but expresses misgivings about it, saying she’s had a hard time with it. She knocks this take out of the park, so listeners will be glad she gave it another stab.

Listeners will also be glad that Foley decided to refocus on her solo career with The Ice Queen. 12 years is a long time, but this one is well worth the wait and ranks with her best work to date.

--- Graham Clarke

John MayallA couple of years ago, John Mayall and his band had to work as a trio when guitarist Rocky Athas missed a festival gig due to a flight cancellation. When Athas departed soon afterward to pursue his solo career, Mayall, who was intrigued by the trio format, decided to go with the three-man operation fulltime, handling vocals, keyboards and harmonica, while his longtime bandmates Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport continued to provide their usual stellar support on bass and drums, respectively.

Having played as a trio for well over a year now, Mayall and his mates prove to be in peak form on their latest release, Three for the Road (Forty Below Records), a live performance recorded in Stuttgart and Dresden, Germany in March of 2017. The nine-song set clocks in at just under an hour and includes two Mayall-penned favorites, along with seven covers that jazz, blues, and roots ranging from the ’30s to more recent fare which appeared on previous Mayall albums.

Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” opens the set, and it’s a spirited romp with Mayall on harmonica and piano. It’s followed by Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “I Feel So Bad,” which is equally exuberant and Mayall really stretches out instrumentally on keys and harp.

Curtis Salgado’s “The Sum of Something,” which Mayall covered on his 2009 release, Tough, is a rollicking swinger, and the Mayall classic “Streamline” gets a funky treatment with Mayall shifting over to organ. Henry Townsend’s “Tears Came Rollin’ Down” goes on for nine minutes and still ends too soon. Mayall really stretches out on piano for this track and seems like he could have easily continued for another nine minutes on this standout track. He takes a marvelous extended harmonica solo on Lionel Hampton’s “Ridin’ on the L & N” to the pleasure of his audience.

Mayall returns to organ for a tasty read of Jerry Lynn Williams’ “Don’t Deny Me,” and retrieves another one of his own tunes, “Lonely Feelings,” which has a smoky after-hours feel with Mayall’s keyboards taking on a vibraphone quality. The trio closes with an appropriately raucous version of Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square,” which goes on for just over 11 minutes and allows Mayall to take several solos on harmonica and piano.

Listening to this set and hearing Mayall tearing through solo after solo of not one, but two instruments, it’s hard to believe that he will be 85 on his next birthday. The organ trio setting seems to work pretty well for this group; you won’t even miss the guitar on any of these tunes, and Rzab and Davenport are just rock solid with their rhythm backing. Three for the Road shows that John Mayall is still breaking ground in the blues, over 50 years after getting started.

--- Graham Clarke

Ghost Town Blues BandThere are several standards that make up a great live album. The first standard is that it has to sound fantastic, almost like you’re watching it in person. The second is that it captures an excellent performance. The third one is that the listener regrets that they weren’t there in person to experience it.

Ghost Town Blues Band’s latest release, Backstage Pass, meets all three criteria and probably a few more to boot. Matt Isbell and associates have assembled a powerhouse nine-song, 65-minute blues and roots showcase, recorded at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis last July, that captures the band in superlative form.

The opening track is the group’s scorching Mississippi Hill Country version of the Beatles classic “Come Together” and includes a couple of brief instrumental interludes of another Beatles hit, “Norwegian Wood,” with a torrid, horn-fueled piece of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” mixed in. The funky, Crescent City-flavored “Tip of My Hat” is loaded with double entendres and includes instrumental breaks from Tim Stanek (piano), Kevin Houston (sax), and Suavo Jones (trombone), while the optimistic “Shine” is a brand new song from the group that pays tribute to those much-missed sounds from Stax Records.

“Givin’ It All Away” offers up an irresistible groove that features a marvelous extended Jones trombone solo at the close, and another favorite, “Big Shirley,” gives listeners a taste of another Led Zep classic, “Rock n’ Roll.” This is fun stuff that keeps listeners on their toes. This performance was recorded about two months after Gregg Allman died last spring, so the band acknowledges his passing with a rousing 16-minute cover of “Whipping Post” that easily could have gone on another 16. Isbell’s passionate vocal are a great fit here, along with guitarist Taylor Orr’s homage to Duane Allman and Stanek’s whirling B3.

The George Porter Jr. tune, “I Get High,” was on one of the Meters bass player’s albums a few years ago, but GTBB transforms it into a southern rock jam session (with a little taste of “Ramblin’ Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” thrown in for good measure). The greasy shuffle and singalong “One More Whiskey,” a cut from the band’s 2009 debut, Dust The Dust, features Isbell on harmonica, and on the closer, a slippery cover of Robert Randolph’s “I Need More Love,” he breaks out his silverware chest guitar. This track also includes a minute or two of Spencer Davis’ “Gimme Some Lovin’” near the midway point.

Ghost Town Blues Band is renowned for their fantastic live shows, and Backstage Pass certainly verifies that they have one of the best shows on the circuit these days. Part of the reason for that is that Matt Isbell and the band (Orr – guitar/vocals, Stanek – B3/piano/keys, Jones – trombone/vocals, Houston (sax/vocals), Matt Karner – bass/vocals, Preston McEwen - drums) have as much fun (or more) performing as their audiences do listening. I can’t recommend this live disc nearly enough and you definitely need to check them out in person. You can thank me later.

--- Graham Clarke

Rev Shawn AmosThe Reverend Shawn Amos calls his third release, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down (Put Together Music), “a collection of 21st Century Freedom Songs.” Amos was inspired during a recent tour through the American South through Tennessee and Alabama, and the nine songs included on this set, five originals by Amos and four timely and interesting covers, mix social commentary with a few light moments, while managing to capture the essence of the music produced during the earlier times of turmoil in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, where several of these tracks were recorded.

The disc opens with the haunting acoustic “Moved,” recorded at FAME Studio with Amos on harmonica and Chris “Doctor” Roberts on guitar, while “2017” was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis and Amos’ message is made even more powerful thanks to the superb backing of the Hi Rhythm Section (Michael Toles – guitar, Leroy Hodges – bass, Steve Potts – drums, Charles Hodges – keys). The soulful “Hold Hands” is a straight-forward plea for peace and Amos’ stripped-down, funky cover of David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” is a lot of fun.

The next three songs comprise a “Freedom Suite,” beginning with the a cappella “Uncle Tom’s Prayer,” recorded at the Clayborn Temple, a Memphis Civil Rights landmark, leading into the stunning “Does My Life Matter,” originally done by Bukka White, the emotional center of the album, and Amos’ best performance, his emotional vocals fueled by Roberts’ intense guitar work. The closing song in the suite is the optimistic “(We’ve Got To) Come Together,” with mixes Memphis soul and gospel.

The funk-fused rocker “Ain’t Gonna Name Names” lightens the mood considerably, and the disc closes with a gospel-flavored reading of Elvis Costello’s (via Nick Lowe) “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” with keys from Charles Hodges and Peter Adams, and a heavenly choir.

A timely album that strikes the perfect balance between protest and peace, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down does that indeed!

--- Graham Clarke

Hypnotic WheelsMuddy Gurdy (VizzTone Label Group) is a collaborative effort from a French trio named Hypnotic Wheels (Tia Gouttebel – guitar/vocals, Gilles Chabenat – Hurdy-Gurdy, Marc Glomeau – percussion) and several descendants of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues pioneers (Cedric Burnside, Shardé Thomas, Cameron Kimbrough, and Pat Thomas).  Hypnotic Wheels’ sound has previously blended traditional French music with the Hill Country sound, using the Hurdy-Gurdy, a traditional French hand-cranked stringed instrument, so for their second release, the trio decided to travel to North Mississippi to complete the merger of the two genres.

The trio traveled to Como, Leland, Cleveland, and Indianola during the project, joining up with Burnside, Kimbrough, and Thomas in Como.  The recordings took place on front porches, back porches, people’s houses, plus a few blues landmarks in the area.  Four sides were recorded with Burnside at Sherman Cooper’s house in Como, two songs originated by R.L. Burnside (“Goin’ Down South” and “See My Jumper Hanging On The Line”), the Muddy Waters’ classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and Cedric Burnside’s own “That Girl IS Bad.” 

“Goin’ Down South” kicks off the disc and is one of my favorite tracks; it has an almost African feel with Glomeau’s percussion and Chabenat’s Hurdy-Gurdy, which more or less combines the sounds of an accordion and a fiddle.  The upbeat and funky “That Girl IS Bad” is dedicated to Cedric Burnside’s younger brother, who passed away from a heart attack.  Cedric sings and plays slide guitar on this track, and also takes the mic on a sizzling remake of his grandfather’s “See My Jumper Hanging On The Line,” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin’.”

Shardé Thomas contributes her wonderful fife and vocals on her three sides, which were recorded on the front porch of Moon Hollow Farm in Como, and include her grandfather Otha Turner’s “Station Blues,” her own “Shawty Blues,” and the traditional “Glory Glory Hallelujah.”  Again, the Hurdy-Gurdy adds a whole new dimension to the Hill Country sound.  Kimbrough’s two tracks were recorded at the same location, and include his own driving boogie “Gonna Love You,” and “Leave Her Alone,” which was written by his grandfather, Junior Kimbrough. 

Pat Thomas, whose father was James “Son” Thomas, was recorded at the Highway 61 Museum in Leland.  His selections include the somber “Dream,” which is perfectly matched with the Hurdy-Gurdy, and a raw and ragged redo on his dad’s “Highway 61,” complete with crickets, passing traffic, and other background noises, that closes the disc.

In between the two Pat Thomas tracks are three songs by Hypnotic Wheels.  The first two were recorded at Dockery Farms at Cleveland, an uptempo reading of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “She Wolf” and a raucous version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘Em On Down.” The third, recorded at Club Ebony in Indianola, is a spirited reading of “Help The Poor,” made popular by the club’s former owner and frequent performer, Mr. B.B. King.

The combining of French traditional music and North Mississippi Hill Country works very well indeed and seems to have endless potential.  I really like the Hurdy-Gurdy in this setting as it adds a lot to the overall sound and it really has to be heard to truly be appreciated.  Hopefully, Muddy Gurdy is just the tip of the iceberg with much more to follow in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Greg SoverSeems like just a few months ago, we were reviewing Greg Sover’s Songs of a Renegade album here at Blues Bytes. That’s because it was just a few months ago. The prolific Mr. Sover has already released a follow-up EP, Jubilee, that finds the singer/songwriter/guitarist building on what was already a pretty impressive set of skills. He penned five of the seven tracks, with one track appearing in two different versions, and as on his previous effort, he deftly mixes powerhouse blues guitar with soulful songwriting and singing and a rock-based musical attack.

The strong and distinctive opening track, “Emotional,” leans more toward rock than blues, but Sover’s driving guitar work and the catchy chorus make this one a winner regardless of genre. The excellent title track pulls out all the stops on the blues side with Sover on resonator and Mikey Junior contributing harmonica, and the slow burner “Hand On My Heart” is a winner as well, with a heartbroken Sover baring his soul over a lost love. This tune also closes the disc in an edited version, and is the stuff that crossover dreams are made of.

The reggae-flavored “I Give My Love” is a bit of a surprise, but features some cool fretwork from Sover and an irresistible rhythm and singalong chorus. Sover also includes “Temptation,” a sizzling live track recorded at Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Taken at a slower, but but intense, tempo, Sover’s blistering fretwork on this track certify that he’s a live act worth catching. The album’s lone cover is a superb reading of the blues classic “As The Years Go Passing By.”

Jubilee is only 33 minutes long, but listening to it is as well-spent a 33 minutes as a blues fan could want. Despite its brevity, there are plenty of opportunities to take in this talented artist’s songwriting, singing, and instrumental abilities in a variety of musical settings. Here’s hoping we hear even more from Greg Sover soon.

--- Graham Clarke

AJ GhentAJ Ghent (J-ent) is the son of Aubrey Ghent, one of the excellent standout Sacred Steel guitarists that emerged on the music scene over the past 20 years. His great uncle, Willie Eason, is recognized as the creator of the Sacred Steel Tradition, and his grandfather, Henry Nelson, is the founder of the Sacred Steel rhythmic guitar style. Naturally, the younger Ghent is a formidable steel guitarist (plus slide and resonator guitars) himself and has expanded his sound to take in a variety of other genres --- blues, funk, pop, rock, and R&B. He also spent time in the late Colonel Bruce Hampton’s band, Pharoah’s Kitchen.

Ghent recently issued an ambitious six-song EP, The Neo Blues Project (Ropeadope Records), that shows his skills not only as a guitarist but also as a singer, composer, and musician (he played all of the other instruments on the disc). The lone cover on the EP, Junior Kimbrough’s “Do The Rump,” opens the disc, deftly mixing the hypnotic Hill Country blues rhythm with funk and rock. The following tune, “Wash Ya Hair,” leans more toward the funk side with its spare arrangement and pulsating rhythm.

Ghent blends his own style with Hendrix, Kravitz, and Gary Clark Jr. on the raw and ragged “Power,” a straight-ahead house-rocker. The next two tracks, “Mercy” and “Long Lost Friend,” are both soulful ballads, the former having an almost Stax feel with the velvety B3 wafting in the background, and the latter (co-written by Ghent’s wife MarLa) describes the sometimes painful separation of people in one’s life, something every listener can relate to. The disc ends on a rocking note with “Gonna Rock,” an old-school rock n’ roller that will get toes to tapping and heads to bobbing.

The Neo Blues Project’s only shortfall is its running time (22 minutes), as the fun is over before you know it. It’s highly likely that most listeners will be looking forward to a full-length release from AJ Ghent (J-ent) in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaMick Kolassa’s latest release is Double Standards (Swing Suit Records), a baker’s dozen classic blues songs performed by Kolassa and a few of his friends, including such blues luminaries as Sugaray Rayford, Heather Crosse, Victor Wainwright, Annika Chambers, Tas Cru, Tullie Brae, Eric Hughes, Erica Brown, Patti Parks, David Dunavent, Gracie Curran, and Jeff Jensen. It’s a warm and intimate, seemingly loose affair covering a wide range of blues styles.

Rayford joins Kolassa for a faithful reading of the Howlin’ Wolf-associated “300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy,” though Willie Dixon’s classic is updated to 600 pounds for this version. Kolassa and Crosse collaborate on a sultry version of another Dixon tune, “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” and he and Wainwright have a good time with Tampa Red’s “It’s Tight Like That” before Annika Chambers sits in for a smoky reading of the Peggy Lee standard “Fever.”

Kolassa and Cru give “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out,” a nice old fashioned feel, thanks in part to Alice Hasan’s violin and Jeremy Powell’s piano, and Tullie Brae joins Kolassa for a sweaty take on B.B. King’s “Rock Me.” Memphis harpmaster Eric Hughes and Kolassa do a fine job on Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway,” and another Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf effort, “Spoonful,” gets a jazzy reworking with Kolassa and Erica Brown swapping verses. Another Tampa Red song, “It Hurts Me Too,” is ably handled by Kolassa and Patti Parks.

Singer/guitarist David Dunavent is featured on a sizzling version of the Louis Jordan classic, “Early In The Morning,” and Gracie Curran teams with Kolassa for a funky read on another Tampa Red hit, “Don’t You Lie To Me (Evil).” The talented Jeff Jensen, who plays guitar on all of the tracks, gets a turn behind the mic with Kolassa for “Outside Woman Blues,” and the entire ensemble gets together for the closer, an entertaining take on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

Kolassa plays guitar on three tracks, with Jensen taking the lion’s share of guitar work along with Colin John and Dunavent, who each guest on one track. The rest of the band includes Hasan (violin), Powell(piano), Hughes (harmonica), Bill Ruffino (bass), James Cunningham (drums), and Chris Stephenson (organ).

Double Standards is an excellent set of blues classics lovingly rendered by some of the current scene’s finest artists. As with all other Mick Kolassa releases, the proceeds from the album will go the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund and Generation Blues programs --- a worthy cause if there ever was one, plus you get a fantastic set of blues while you’re at it.

--- Graham Clarke

Patrick ComanPatrick Coman was a longtime Boston musician and DJ before recently relocating to Charlottesville, Virginia.  His recent release, Tree of Life (For the Sake of the Song Records), is a conglomeration of blues and roots with 11 original songs and one cover. Coman  spent the better part of a decade working as booking agent, sound engineer, and DJ/producer in the Boston area, but gave it up to spend time as a stay-at-home dad by day and a working musician by night. 

Tree of Life is Coman’s debut full-length release and is produced by a pair of heavy hitters --- guitarist Peter Parcek and drummer Marco Giovini. Though it’s his first release, Coman shows amazing confidence and a knack for writing distinctive, somewhat eclectic material.  Raised in Oklahoma, it seems natural that he acknowledges native Oklahomans Woody Guthrie, Leon Russell, and J.J. Cale as influences, and that comes across in his songwriting and his vocal style.

The opener, “Heartbeat,” strikes a somber note with a sinister, moody, almost desperate tone, but quickly kicks up a notch with the upbeat rocker “Don’t Reach” (which features guest vocals from Christine Ohlman) and the gritty blues, “Trouble #2.”  “The Judge” has a rocking country vibe, with Coman’s vocal taking on a bluesy Lou Reed quality. The swaggering swinger “9-5ers” continues in the countrified vein.

The haunting title track, written by Coman while waiting for the birth of his daughter, is spellbinding in its lyrical content and musical delivery, with a particularly fiery solo from Parcek.  “Rock When I Roll” is a catchy laidback rocker, while the funky “Dirty Old Bedbug Blues” strikes an old-timey note with trombone accompaniment from Neal Pawley,. The rocker “Chelsea Street” is a change of pace, with a distinctive pop flavor.

Coman covers Leon Russell’s “Magic Mirror,“ and his vocals revisit that laconic Lou Reed quality as he ponders his next move in life. The original tune that follows, “Keep My Soul,” continues on the same topic, trying to figure out his next direction without losing everything he has. The closer, “Let It Ring,” is a relaxed folk piece with Parcek on acoustic guitar and organ from Giovini.

Tree of Life is an interesting and entertaining release that meshes the blues with folk, country, rockabilly, even a touch of jazz.  It’s hard to believe that Patrick Coman isn’t a grizzled veteran of the recording scene after listening to his full-length debut, which bodes well for his future releases.

--- Graham Clarke

Rev RavenReverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys recently celebrated their 20th year as one of the hardest-working blues bands in the business. The Milwaukee-based band has long been recognized as one of Wisconsin’s finest bands, racking up regular regional awards for Best Blues Band for nearly 20 years with their excellent brand of straight-up, no-nonsense traditional blues that pay homage to the blues of Chicago, the delta, and the swamp as well as jazz, swing, roadhouse and jump blues. The good Reverend and his mates recently released their eighth album, My Life (Nevermore Records), as part of their celebration.

My Life consists of 16 tracks from the band’s previous four studio sessions, all remixed or re-recorded as a new version with a new musical lineup. The jazzy shuffle “Handyman” opens the set, and the Reverend’s smooth baritone and guitar work is complemented by some killer harp from Cadillac Pete Rahn. Rahn also plays on the next couple of tracks, “Bee Hive Baby,” a swampy take-off of “Baby, Scratch My Back,” and the jump blues “Creature of Habit.” Madison Slim plays harp on the grooving “Bad Little Girls.”

Benny Rickun mans the harp for the next several tracks, including the driving “I Want To Love You,” the funky rumba tunes “Once The Women Start Talking” and “Here Comes My Baby,” and the autobiographical title track from Raven’s days searching from his dream girl. Rickun, Raven, and keyboardist Danny Moore have a blast with the rollicking “Praying For A Princess,” and “Big Bee” revisits the swamp blues of Slim Harpo.

“Looking For Love” and “Slow Burn” both feature sax man Big Al Groth. The former tune is a strong boogie rocker and the latter is a mid-tempo shuffle. Westside Andy Linderman’s harmonica chops are on display for the final four tracks, “Someday When I’m Gone,” the slow blues “I Can Do You Right,” the funky “She’s Moving On,” and the swinging jump blues closer “I’m Your Honeyboy.”

This is a fabulous retrospective of one of the best traditional blues band currently practicing. It had to have been hard to limit this set to 16 tracks, but it will definitely encourage new listeners to dig deeper into the catalog of Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys.

--- Graham Clarke

Laurie MorvanLaurie Morvan’s original intention was to record her latest album in 2014, but the singer/guitarist suffered a broken wrist in a fall that eventually required two surgeries. However, Gravity (Screaming Lizard Records) proves to be worth the wait, with Morvan writing all 12 tunes and sounding as fine as ever on vocals and showing no ill effects on guitar. In addition, she enlisted a formidable support unit in drummer Tony Braunagel (who also produced), keyboardists Mike Finnigan, Barry Goldberg, and Jim Pugh.

The opener to Gravity is “My Moderation,” a driving blues rocker, followed by “Twice the Trouble,” both of which feature Morvan’s powerful fretwork front and center. “Stay With Me” is a fine slow blues showcasing Finnigan on B3 and Pugh on piano with Morvan’s stinging lead guitar, and is followed by the amusing uptempo “Money Talks,” which addresses a common problem to which most listeners can relate. “The Extra Mile” has a southern rock feel, adding a nice dose of funk and soul into the mix, and the title track is a tender love song with jazz, rock, and a pop with the blues.

“Dance In The Rain” is a standout track, with Morvan picking up the pace, channeling SRV in her soloing and fills. “Gotta Dig Deep” is a slow grind blues rocker encouraging listeners to get up, dust off, and keep on pushing. The heartfelt “The Man Who Left Me” is a stunning, personal dirge about Morvan’s father, who abandoned the family when she was only five. The disc closes with the mid-tempo R&B-flavored “Shake Your Tailfeathers,” the boogie rocker “I Want Answers,” and the funky “Too Dumb To Quit,” which also features some impressive slide guitar from Morvan.

Morvan and her bandmates made the finals at the I.B.C. in 2008, both in the band competition and with their album, Cure What Ails Ya, in the Best Self-Produced CD category. In 2010, they won the CD category with Fire It Up, and 2011’s Breathe Deep made the semifinals in 2012. There’s a very strong possibility that Gravity will make a similar impact since it features some of Morvan’s best songwriting to date, along with equally powerful performances.

--- Graham Clarke

The Bush LeagueThe central Virginia-based group The Bush League was founded in 2007 by college buddies John Jason “John Jay” Cecil (vocals) and Royce Folks (bass), and later they brought guitarist Brad Moss and drummer Wynton Davis on board. The band has advanced to the I.B.C. semi-finals twice (2012 and 2017) with their heady combination of the Hill Country blues of North Mississippi and the soulful sounds of Memphis. Their latest album, James RiVAh, offers a dozen tracks, ten new originals and two covers, all recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis.

The raw and ragged “River’s Edge” kicks off the disc, a rousing rocker with that hypnotic Hill Country rhythm, followed by a energetic read of Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Me Baby,” with some interesting fretwork from Moss. “Say Yes” is a solid soul ballad about love in the workplace, and features Jeremy Powell (Southern Avenue) on keys and trumpet and Suavo Jones on trombone (Ghost Town Blues Band). Powell also appears, on keyboards, for the irresistibly funky “Show You Off.”

The Muddy Waters standard, “Catfish Blues,” is updated by the band with fiery guitar work, but manages to retain the traditional, rural feel of the earlier version. “Kick Up Yo Heels” can best be described as a Hill Country barn burner, and the searing blues rocker “Hearse” is a chilling tale of love, crime, treachery, and potential use of the title vehicle. “Tuxedo Blues” is a cleverly written country-flavored blues about being left at the altar, and “Moonshine” is an entertaining roadhouse rocker in praise of the homemade potion.

The disc closes with “What’s Wrong With You,” a funky and fast-paced workout with churchy organ from Powell, hard-driving rhythm work from Folks and Davis, soaring guitar work from Moss, and Cecil fervently working his backing choir to a frenzy. A great finish to an excellent album. The Bush League is anything but, and blues fans are strongly advised to place James RiVAh on your “must hear” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Carolyn GainesCarolyn Gaines definitely has the blues in her blood. Her father is the legendary singer/guitarist Roy Gaines, who backed Bobby “Blue” Bland, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, and Gladys Knight, and has enjoyed a fine solo career, and her uncle is saxophonist Grady Gaines, noted for backing Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Knight, and the Supremes over his long successful career. Ms. Gaines has worked in the blues since the ’90s in publicity and promotion, and has worked extensively her own Blues Schools program, writing about and interviewing many of the blues greats.

In 2016, Gaines released an EP, I Want Your Money, Honey, which featured four songs, all of which are included on her latest release, Beware of My Dog (Polka Dots Records), which is her full-length debut. The 11 tracks include eight originals written by Ms. Gaines, and they cover a wide swath from Chicago blues to Hill Country to the Mississippi Delta, coloring the blues with a bit of jazz and soul. She’s backed by a strong band as well: Fred Clark (guitar), Chad Wright (drums), Del Atkins (bass), Glen Doll (harmonica), with guest appearances from her cousin, Grady Gaines, Jr. (sax), Rudy Copeland (organ), and blues/R&B icon Big Jay McNeely (sax).

Gaines’ original tunes pay tribute to blues legends who preceded her, with the title track comparing favorably to Big Mama Thornton, “I’m Your Cat, Baby,” honoring Howlin’ Wolf, “Stone Out Your Raggly Mind” to Jimmy Reed, and Junior Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old” leans more toward Buddy Guy’s version on his Sweet Tea album. The tracks “I Want Your Money, Honey” and “Mr. Dill Pickle” are more in the tradition of the early blues artists and she does a fine job with those as well, and her reworking of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and McNeely’s “Something On your Mind” (complete with sax from the man himself) are both excellent.

Ms. Gaines is a powerful and talented singer and more than capable of easily handling the wide variety of styles on the album. Her love for the material, and the music, is evident in her performances. Beware of My Dog will certainly please fans of traditional blues and R&B who like a modern approach to the material.

--- Graham Clarke

Billy WaltonThe Billy Walton Band recently celebrated their 10th anniversary with the release of their latest album, Soul Of A Man (VizzTone Lable Group), a pulsating powerhouse of a recording that captures the Jersey band’s heady combination of blues, rock, R&B, and soul perfectly. Walton (vocals/guitar) spent several years touring with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and his sound actually captures the feel of that legendary band very well, incorporating horns into the mix in the finest Asbury Park tradition. The 13 tracks include 11 originals written or co-written by Walton, bassist/vocalist William Paris and others.

The horn-fueled opener, “Save The Last Dance,” is an old school rocker, and the jumping “I Don’t Know” mixes R&B and rock seamlessly. “Hell N Highwater” is a driving mid-tempo piece with a spectacular guitar run from Walton, while “Something Better” leans more toward the soul side of the aisle as does the ballad “My Little Bird.” The fast-paced “Let It Go” mixes funk, R&B, and rock, “It Ain’t True” has an early ’60s rock vibe, and “Shine The Light” (which incorporates the album title within its lyrics) is a standout rock-flavored ballad.

“Poison Pill” is a bluesy slow burner with a fierce solo from Walton. It’s bookended by a pair of cover tunes. CCR’s “Green River” is given a nice reworking with the surging horn section really pushing things up a notch, and “Minglewood,” a 1928 tune from pre-war bluesman Noah Lewis, shows that the band can play the straight-up, low-down blues mighty well. “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” is a textbook rock n’ roller, and the closer, “Days Like These,” is a stripped down number with a Mississippi Delta front porch atmosphere.

Soul Of A Man is a strong set that will appeal to blues rockers and those who really dig the classic Jersey sound mixing rock, R&B, and the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Tyler MorrisNext In Line (VizzTone Label Group) is the third album from the Tyler Morris Band, which is led by the 19-year-old guitar wizard. For this effort, Morris enlisted Grammy winning producer Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) and invited Joe Louis Walker and the Uptown Horns to sit in on a couple of tunes. Morris has been playing guitar since the age of nine and professionally since 11. He also wrote nine of the ten tracks on his latest effort, but leaves the vocals in the capable hands of Morten Fredheim.

Fredheim is geared a bit more toward the rock side of blues-rock, but he does an excellent job with Morris’ tunes, such as the classic rocker “Ready To Shove,” the churning “Livin’ The Life,” and blues-rockers “Thunder,” “Down On My Luck,” and “Truth Is The Question.” Morris’ guitar work is really powerful and effective on these tracks, and he really shows a talent both lyrically and musically on these tracks that lean more toward the rock side of blues.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s lacking in anything in the more straight-ahead blues style. He does a fine job on “Willie The Wimp,” which features lead vocals from Walker, and on the album’s lone instrumental track, “Choppin’,” he proves that he’s learned from the old blues masters as well. “Talkin’ To Me” is a fine modern blues and “This Ain’t No Fun” is a sharp Southern rocker. The jazzy “Keep On Driving” closes the disc and Morris’ liquidy tone is a shout-out to jazz masters Wes Montgomery and George Benson.

Next In Line is an appropriate title for this disc. Tyler Morris’ performance throughout indicates that those guitarists who are poised at the top of the genre right now should be hearing footsteps as this amazing talent continues to develop at a rapid pace.

--- Graham Clarke

Starlite CampbellLast spring, I reviewed the Starlite Campbell Band’s debut release, Blueberry Pie, which was an interesting amalgamation of blues, jazz, folk, and R&B. The band was a bit of a throwback to the late ’60s/early ’70s when many British artists fell in love with the blues and put their own spin on the genre by adding a dash here and there of other musical genres, giving the original a new and fresh spin. The band’s approach with Blueberry Pie reminded me a lot of those earlier pioneers, and their latest release, the single “It Started Raining” (Supertone Records), carries that approach even further.

“It Started Raining” was recorded during the Blueberry Pie sessions, and was sent to the band’s supporters as a “thank you” during the holidays. The reception was so positive (the album was nominated for Best Album in the 2017 European Blues Awards) that the band decided to release it as a single. It’s an entertaining venture that merges blues and folk with Simon Campbell’s warm vocal and nimble guitar work backed by Suzy Starlite’s rock solid bass. If you enjoyed Blueberry Pie, you will love this new song.

The song is available to buy at the band’s Bandcamp site and will be available on the double vinyl special edition release of Blueberry Pie, scheduled for release later this year.

--- Graham Clarke



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