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May 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Benny Turner and Cash McCall

Bobby BlackHat

Chris O'Leary

Willa Vincitore

Eric Schenkman

Gaye Adegbalola

Randy Casey

Danny Lynn Wilson

Ina Forsman

Watermelon Slim

BB King Blues Band

Tony Campanella


Benny Turner - Cash McCall
Benny Turner and Cash McCall
began their friendship in Chicago over 60 years ago. Turner and his older brother Freddie King learned to play guitar from their mother and Turner played bass in King’s band for many years before joining Mighty Joe Young and later Marva Wright, the Blues Queen of New Orleans, also appearing on gospel recordings with Otis Clay and recording a few singles for M-Pac! and One-Derful! labels. Recently, he’s enjoyed a resurgence of sorts with a pair of dynamite releases on Nola Blue Records and an award-winning autobiography.

McCall, born Morris Dollison, Jr., traveled a similar path, working on the gospel circuit, recording for several labels, including Paula and Checker as an R&B artist. He also co-wrote Otis Clay’s hit, “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love).” McCall also worked with Willie Dixon as part of Dixon’s Chicago All-Stars and co-produced Dixon’s final album, Hidden Charms, which won a Grammy. In 2007, McCall teamed with Dixon’s grandson, Alex, to form The Blues Experience, which released a very good album, The Vintage Room.

In early 2018, Turner was inspired to track down McCall after hearing of the death of gospel singer Clay Graham of the Pilgrim Jubilees. McCall had settled in Memphis a few years back but was in ill health battling stage four lung cancer. The two talked by phone a few times and decided to collaborate on a project paying tribute to their shared roots in Chicago blues. The resulting album, Going Back Home (Nola Blue Records), is a wonderful collection of Turner and McCall’s versions of nine of the Windy City’s finest tracks.

Turner plays bass throughout the set and takes lead vocals for five of the songs, including Harold Burrage’s “Got To Find A Way,” which is a duet with his daughter Carla Davis. McCall plays rhythm guitar on this track, just like he did on Burrage’s 1965 version. Turner’s daughters Benita, Carla, and Yvette also take background vocals, making this effort a real family affair.

He also gives a smooth reading on the midtempo shuffle, “Poison Ivy,” a ripping take on Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker” (with slide guitar from Butch Mudbone), a rollicking read of G.L. Crockett’s “It’s A Man Down There,” and Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort.”

You’d never know that McCall was ill by listening to his contributions, both on vocals and rhythm guitar. He turns in a solid cover of “Spoonful,” with support on harmonica from Johnny Sansone and Joe Krown on keyboards (whose work is excellent throughout), and a splendid effort on Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too,” which also features Billy Branch on harmonica and Mudbone on slide guitar. According to the liner notes, Turner (who provides emotional supporting vocals on the track) insisted that McCall do this tune because “he (McCall) was sick and it hurt me that he was so sick.” McCall also gives his own unique version of the old-time standard “The Dirty Dozens,” a song Turner used to play behind Chicago piano legend Johnny Jones at the Squeeze Club. McCall brought one original to the proceedings, the easygoing “Money,” a tune he wrote several years before that speaks many truths.

The closing track features Turner and McCall backing Billy Branch on “Bring It On Home,” and Branch doesn’t disappoint on harmonica or vocals. He previously recorded this track on his mid ’90s Verve release, The Blues Keep Following Me Around, but this version has more of a slippery funk feel and concludes with Branch, Turner and McCall planning a trip to hear some blues in Chicago.

There’s not a lot of new ground broken on Going Back Home, just a lot of traditional blues played extremely well by a group of musicians who obviously had a blast doing it. Sadly, McCall passed away on April 20th, but thank goodness he and Turner were able to record this wonderful set before his passing. Chicago blues fans will want --- make that NEED --- this set in their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Bobby BlackhatBobby “BlackHat” Walters is a retired U.S. Coast Guard Commander, having served for 27 years, including time as Military Aide to the President, and he was awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism. The Cleveland, Ohio native has also played harmonica for over 40 years, performing with Kenny Neal, Jason Ricci, Eddie Shaw, Ruthie Foster, Slam Allen, Tas Cru, Mick Kolassa, and Memphis Gold, and opening for blues legends B.B. King, Bob Margolin, and Taj Mahal. Now based in Newport News, Virginia, Walters advanced to the finals of the I.B.C in 2016.

Put On Your Red Shoes is Walters’ sixth release and is subtitled Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blues. It’s a 12-song collection of updated versions of previously released songs (Something Old), brand new tunes (Something New), interesting covers of blues classics (Something Borrowed), and, naturally, Something Blues throughout the disc. He’s backed by Brian Eubanks (bass, backing vocals), Tom Euler (guitar, backing vocals), Michael Behlmar (drums, backing vocals), and Lucy Lawrence Kilpatrick (keyboards), with guest artists Cal Hamlin (organ), Larry Berwald (guitar, pedal steel), and Lucius Bennett (vocals, backing vocals).

The opening track, “I Smell Another Man On You,” is a fabulous starting point, a unique approach to the familiar cheating theme. Walters and Euler both get considerable space to shine on harmonica and guitar, respectively. “Overdose Of The Blues” is a fine slice of Windy City-styled blues, and “This Grey Beard” is an acoustic ballad that reflects on a man’s life and lessons learned. The title track is next, a funky, Latin-flavored shuffle, followed by a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” with Walters’ harmonica front and center.

“Baby Mama Drama Blues” is a rocking blues cautionary tale, and the sobering slow blues “Grim Reaper,” clocking in at nearly ten minutes, focuses on mortality. “May I Have This Dance” has more of a country feel, but works really well, “Back To Cleveland” is a funky tribute to Walters’ hometown, and “When I Cry It’s Ugly” is a mid-tempo piece of country-soul. There’s also a terrific cover of Jimmy Reed’s “You Got Me Runnin’,” and a riveting remake of his award-winning “I Hear Mama’s Voice” that closes the album.

Put On Your Red Shoes is an excellent set of blues that combines the best qualities of traditional and contemporary styles. Trust me when I say that Bobby BlackHat is an artist who deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris O'LearyChris O’Leary served as lead singer/front man for Levon Helm’s Barnburner for six years, touring the U.S. and Canada. His debut album, Mr. Used To Be, won the 2011 Best New Artist Debut CD Blues Blast Award. O’Leary’s latest CD, 7 Minutes Late (American Showplace Music), is his fifth release, and it’s a gem, with 12 blues-infused originals that vary in style, but definitely not in substance.

Unique to O’Leary’s sound are the dual saxophones of Andy Stahl and Chris Difrancesco, and they figure prominently on the jet-fueled opening track, “What The Devil Made Me Do,” along with Jeremy Baum’s B3 and the soaring guitar work from Peter Hopkinson and Chris Vitarello. Guitarist Pete Kanaras guests on the moody “Your Day Will Come,” and “One More Chance at Love” has a funky, soulful vibe. “Second Time Around” is a roadhouse rocker with plenty of O’Leary’s tasty harmonica, Baum’s B3 and a crisp guitar solo from Hopkinson.

“She Ain’t Coming Back” is a steady-rolling country blues with a strong vocal and harp from O’Leary, acoustic guitar from Hopkinson, and mandolin from Greg Gumpel. “Circus Just Left Town” has the New Orleans second line rhythm going on, and is followed by the dark, ominous title track, a tale of betrayal and revenge that doesn’t have a happy ending. “Unbelievable” lifts the mood considerably, an excellent Memphis-flavored soul ballad, and is followed by “Bones,” a swampy blues rocker, and “Heartbreak Waiting To Happen,” a country-styled rocker.

“Driving Me Crazy” returns us to the Crescent City, with Difrancesco’s clarinet giving the track a nice tough of old school, and “Daddy’s Here,” the album closer, is a terrific ballad with a heartfelt vocal from O’Leary about returning home to his family.

Chris O’Leary has given blues fans a lot to enjoy with their well-crafted set. Be sure to track down 7 Minutes Late at your earliest convenience.

--- Graham Clarke

Willa VincitoreWilla Vincitore returns with a sophomore release, Choices, that continues and even improves upon her excellent 2017 debut, Better Days. The talented singer/songwriter offers nine new originals with one well-chosen cover that span the blues, soul, R&B, roots, and even a little bit of gospel. Many of the musicians from the previous effort return as well, including drummer Lee Falco, saxophonist Jay Collins, keyboardist Scott Millici, along with bassist Brandon Morrison and guitarist Chris Vitarello, who both guest on one track. New guitarist Karl Allweier and bassist Doug Abramson pick up the slack quite well, thank you very much. Oh, yeah. Ms. Vincitore’s awe-inspiring voice is as potent as ever, too.

“Just Ain’t The Same” the funky opener, is a tasty midtempo blues with R&B leanings. The title track is a moving ballad with a gospel feel where Vincitore reminds listeners that we all have choices to make, good or bad, right or wrong, and it’s up to us to make them. Meanwhile, “Need A Little Help” sounds like ’80s power pop with Vincitore’s strong vocal and Allweier’s guitar work, and “Trust” is a fine soul ballad with a cool R&B vibe, while “I Love You Baby” is a sweet pop-flavored track.

Any music fan above a certain age will be able to relate to “Everything Hurts,” a delightfully honest tune about those doggone “middle-aged” blues, and “Bite Me” is a feisty, funky rocker. The ballad “It Is What It Is” features Vincitore’s most powerful, heartfelt vocal, just dripping with soul. The topical “These Days” tells of the fear and uncertainty in the current world to a cool urban, jazzy backdrop. The album closer is also the lone cover, Annie Lennox’s “Money Can’t Buy It,” a funky R&B track reflecting on the power of love.

Willa Vincitore’s previous effort showed a talented artist who had paid her dues and was ready to step out on her own. Choices shows that she is well on the way to establishing herself as one of the top singer/songwriters on the current blues and roots circuit.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric SchenkmanEric Schenkman is best known as the guitarist for the Spin Doctors, who enjoyed success on the pop charts during the ’90s for hits like “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” “Pocket Full of Kryptonite,” and “Two Princes,” all of which he co-authored. Schenkman’s third release, Who Shot John? (Vizztone Records), is a entertaining, fast-paced set of tunes that mixes blues with a heady dose of funk, pop, and soul. Enlisting a core band of Van Romaine (drums), Cody Dickinson (drums/washboard/piano), and co-producer Shawn Kellerman (bass), Schenkman rips through a powerful set of ten originals that packs a live wallop.

“I’m Alright,” the blues rock-infused opener, sets the bar pretty high for the album, but Schenkman and company are more than up to the task, as heard on the following mid-tempo rocking shuffle “Locked In The House All Day” and the electrified, old school back porch blues “Lincoln’s Feat.” The title track follows, a breakneck, funky Mardi Gras-themed high-stepper, and “No Pain” is a hard rocker with a touch of funk, while “Sign Of The Times” is a tasty slow blues burner.

The upbeat “Far Away” has the exuberance and energy for which the Spin Doctors were so noted, and “Only A Fool,” a soulful love song, retains that feel as well. The funky rumba “Fortune Teller” is a quirky, but memorable change of pace, and “Agent Orange Blues,” the album closer, is a relentless, grungy boogie track that must blow fans away when played live.

A gritty, energetic set of high-energy 21st century blues and rock, Who Shot John? should get a ton of airplay on blues radio, if there’s any justice in the world.

--- Graham Clarke

Gaye AdegbalolaGaye Adegbalola is probably best-known to blues fans as the frontwoman for Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women, but after the ladies called it a day in 2009 she embarked on a solo career. As most of her fans know, Adegbalola has never been reluctant to express her views on politics and modern culture, but she often does so with good humor and style, so that whether or not you agree with her politics or her cultural views there’s plenty of great music and musical ideas to take in. Such is the case with her latest release, The Griot (Vizztone Records), a typically powerful set that she calls “Topical Blues For Topical Times.”

The set is divided into 17 songs that address a variety of subjects. Modern politics and affairs are discussed beginning right off the bat with “Nothing’s Changed,” a scathing look at the current political landscape. The title track follows, which is more or less Ms. Adegbalola’s “mission statement,” and is followed by “Liearrhea,” a sharp jab at hypocrisy. “FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)” takes on an abusive act on women that’s still practiced in some cultures, and the shuffle “Dirty Sheets” is a poignant look at poverty. “(You’re) Flint Water” condemns pollution, and the funky “Kaepernicked” looks at protest, saluting the former NFL quarterback for his actions.

“Ain’t Technology Grand?” discusses the advantages of modern mobile devices, “Gon’ Be Alright” talks about old age and the potential loneliness that sometimes accompanies it, and “Nothing Left…..” is a tragic look at mental illness that will touch anyone who’s ever dealt with it on either side. Next is one of three covers on the album, Doc Pomus’ “(There Is Always) One More Time,” is a touching symbol of hope on the album.

A couple of the tunes are more personal, covering sex and romance, as Ms. Adegbalola covers Bessie Smith’s “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” and “Tea Cake Kinda Love” is a love song to her significant other (in the liner notes, Adegbalola states that she was inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s reference to her perfect lover as “Tea Cake”). The humorous “3 Hour Shoes (Stylin’ For The Lord)” pokes fun at women who dress to kill (sometimes uncomfortably) on Sundays. The final track is Ma Rainey’s tale of betrayal, “Jelly Bean Blues.”

Ms. Adegbalola is in fine voice on these tracks, really pouring her whole heart into all of these tracks, and also playing guitar and harmonica. Jeff Covert handles the lead guitar duties, along with bass, drums, percussion, banjo, keyboards, and backing vocals. Other musicians include Keith Armstead (organ), Roddy Barnes (piano), John Freund (acoustic guitar), Queen Lovelace (tambourine), Jackie Merritt (bones), Chris Sexton (cello), and horns from Zack Smith (trumpet), Davis Smith (trumpet), Steve Patterson (saxophone), and Dan Haverstock (trombone).

Gaye Adegbalola remains a powerful and compelling voice of the blues after forty years. The Griot shows that she’s still got plenty to say about a variety of topics.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy CaseyYou may not have heard of Randy Casey, but chances are pretty good that you’ve heard him. The guitarist has placed music on The Fall Guy and other TV shows, NPR’s All Things Considered and other radio shows, and on several independent films as well as on commercials for Target, H&R Block, Levi’s, and many others. He also served as music director for Shannon Curfman when she was breaking on the blues scene, and as a solo act he has opened for Eddie Money and the North Mississippi Allstars. He’s also recorded his own albums, with I Got Lucky being his eighth release.

The opener, “Bedbug Blues,” sounds like a modernized, electrified version of an old Delta blues classic with Casey laying down plenty of mesmerizing slide guitar. The title track is a funky blues boogie track with harp contributions from John “Pinetree” Paynich, while “Six Feet Of Rain” is a superb Southern blues rocker and “Soo Line” is a slide-driven train song (and some splendid slide at that!). Meanwhile, “Little Weed,” offers more grungy slide guitar in a countrified blues setting, and “Strange” is an excellent piece of blues rock.

“One Step Ahead” reminded me a lot of those great Little Feat tunes from the ’70s with Casey’s slide guitar over a grungy Stones-esque rhythm, “That Train” is acoustic country blues, and “The Chaperone” is funky, R&B-based blues backed by Casey’s wah-wah guitar. The slow burner “New Old Landlord Blues” is a standout as well, “Broken Arm Blues” returns to the Southern rock arena, with fine slide guitar work, and the closer, “Racing Stripes” is a nearly eight-minute guitar fest that’s not nearly long enough as Casey got the opportunity to put his electric and acoustic chops on display.

I Got Lucky was inspired by a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom that Casey beat out Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Neilsen to get. It was actually the first guitar that Casey ever played as a kid. Neilsen’s loss was the blues world’s gain. This is a well-rounded, well-played set that should bring some much-deserved attention to Randy Casey.

--- Graham Clarke

Danny Lynn WilsonPeace Of Mind (Swingnation Records) is singer/songwriter/guitarist Danny Lynn Wilson’s first release in 16 years. It’s a 13-song set of original blues and roots. He’s joined on these tracks by guitarist Dave Gross, who also produced and played keyboards, Matt Raymond (basses), and Ray Hangen (drums), along with a host of guest artists on various tracks. This is a warm, personal, intimate set of songs covering everyday life subjects that will strike a chord with any listener.

“When Will The Loving Start” is a somber opening track, but Wilson’s distressed vocal performance makes this track a memorable one, and “Sympathy For Your Man” has a haunting vibe with Gross’ tasty reverb guitar work and Sean Daly’s lap steel, while the jaunty title track adds banjo from Gross and fiddle from Charles Burnham. “Long Way Home” picks up the pace with interesting results, while “Love Only You” takes on a melancholy tone but is a vow of undying love from Wilson. “Middle Class Blues” adopts a old-timey tone as Wilson bemoans the state of the economy for regular folks.

“Shine Is Off” is upbeat, but finds Wilson reflecting on a love affair that seems to be going sour, while “Arkansas Trotter” is a swampy, southern-flavored rocker. “High Water” has a classic old school blues feel with guest Greg Gumpel on resonator guitar. The slow but sweet “No Walls” has jazzy overtones, and the lively “Fuss ‘n Fight” revisits that old-timey groove. Meanwhile, “Too Many Hounds” is well-done funky blues. The album closes with a lovely ballad, “Galway Bay,” which brings Daly’s lap steel back in glorious fashion.

A fine set of heartfelt blues and roots originals, Danny Lynn Wilson’s Peace Of Mind is a worthy listen for fans of both genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Ina ForsmanHot off the success of her self-titled debut release, Ina Forsman was riding a huge wave of popularity as she participated in Ruf Records’ 2016 Blues Caravan tour. Loaded with inspiration for songs on her next release she put those ideas on her phone as she traveled, only to lose that phone while in New York City along with every bit of new material. Undeterred, Ms. Forsman set to work compiling a new bunch of tunes, and apparently she overcame the adversity quite well, thank you very much, if the songs featured on her sophomore release, Been Meaning To Tell You (Ruf Records), are any indication. Quite well indeed.

The ballad, “Be My Home,” opens the disc, a piano-driven gospel track with Forsman’s powerful vocal front and center. It’s followed by “Get Mine,” which goes fast and funky with wah wah guitar from Laura Chavez and Forsman’s rapid-fire vocals. “All Good,” is just that, a delightfully breezy shot of soul, while the horn-fueled “Genius” mixes funk and R&B. “Whatcha Gonna Do” is a look at a sexual harassment from the male’s perspective. Quite an unusual lyrical approach, which hits even harder after hearing the next song, “Why You Gotta Be That Way,” which gives the female point of view. Both of these songs deftly mix jazz and R&B.

Forsman paints a sad portrait on the slow burner “Miss Mistreated,” and Chavez’s sympathetic guitar work nicely complements her heartfelt, world weary vocal. On the ballad “Figure,” she’s at her best, backed only by keyboards from Red Young, and on the scrappy soul burner “Who Hurt You,” the Texas Horns provide punchy Memphis-like backing. “Every Single Beat” takes up a Latin jazzy vibe, and “Chains” takes on a world beat with chants and diverse means of percussion. Finally, the closer, “Sunny,” is an à capella showstopper that Forsman penned in tribute to her sister.

Been Meaning To Tell You is an exquisitely-crafted release, with excellent songwriting and performances from Ina Forsman, excellent musical performances, and peerless production from Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff. Only 25 years old, Ms. Forsman is one for the blues world to watch.

--- Graham Clarke

Watermelon SlimI’ve missed the last couple of albums from Watermelon Slim, so I was glad to see a copy of his latest release, Church Of The Blues (NorthernBlues Music) sitting in my mailbox recently. Granted, Slim’s gnarled and weathered vocal style may be an acquired taste for some, but it’s a perfect fit for his original songs which are truly original songs from an true blues original, and they breathe new life into old familiar favorites when he takes them on. He’s also a first-rate slide guitarist and harmonica player, and I have always just gotten a kick out of his recordings.

This enjoyable new set includes 14 songs, seven Slim originals and seven interesting covers, and features a great set of guest musicians, including guitarists Bob Margolin, Joe Louis Walker, Albert Castiglia, and Nick Schnebelen, along with contributing vocalists Sherman Holmes and John Nemeth.

A few of the tunes take a hard luck at current affairs, such as Tom McFarland’s “Tax Man Blues” (a lament fitting for most any era), and three Slim originals: “ Post-Modern Blues,” a pointed look at the current possessions-obsessed world, “Mni Wiconi – The Water Song,” which chides man for his wasteful ways, and “Charlottesville (Blues For My Nation),” which laments the recent the 2017 tragedy in Virginia.

“St. Peter’s Ledger,” from Ron L. Meadors, finds Slim seeking assurance that he’s on the road to salvation, not damnation, and his cover of Muddy Waters’ “Gypsy Woman,” featuring Margolin’s slide guitar teamed with Slim on harp, is excellent. Margolin also appears on a cool cover of Lee Dorsey’s (via Allen Toussaint) “Get Out of My Life Woman,” with Slim being joined on vocals by Nemeth and Holmes. A funky swinging cover of Gene Barge’s “Me And My Woman,” showcases Castiglia on guitar and Slim wailing away on harp.

Slim also tackles the Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” giving it more of a country blues feel with his soaring slide guitar. On Mississippi Fred McDowell’s droning “61 Highway,” Slim shares the spotlight with his regular band mates, John Allouise (bass) and Brian Wells (drums), while Castiglia joins in again on guitar for a wild take (is there any other kind?) on J.B. Hutto’s “Too Much Alcohol.” The last two Slim originals are “The Ole 1-4-5,” which has that country bluesy feel that was prevalent on some of Slim’s early 2010 releases, and also features his former guitarist Ike Lamb. The acapella “Holler #4,” is just Slim, well, hollering the blues as only he can, accompanied by a percussive stomp and his plaintive harmonica.

Church Of The Blues is probably my favorite Watermelon Slim release to date. This set seems to capture the essence of the man’s music and what makes him tick more than any other I’ve heard. His fans will love it, and he might even earn a few new ones in the process.

--- Graham Clarke

SafehouseThis intriguing, mature, and popular band of Scottish troubadours was fermented in vintage blues, American southern rock, and 1960s psychedelia, then steeped in influences from Robert Johnson to The Rolling Stones. Their sound was subsequently distilled in a boiler of mercurial energy before the secret, final ingredient was added, namely the considerable talents of each musician. Welcome to the creation known as Safehouse.

Absolutely Live Volume 2 (Independent) opens with Moby Grapes’ “Hey Grandma”, the '60s San Francisco vibe is enhanced by aspects of the Black Crowes’ version to which charismatic singer Chris Peebles further adds his unique, gritty vocals to make it Safehouse’s own take on a classic song. “Travelling Light,” co-written by lead guitarist John Bruce introduces some sumptuous slide to complement Ali Petrie’s haunting keyboard accompaniment.

The infectious riffs of “Can’t You See,” written by Toy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band, cross the boundary between country and southern rock, its dark lyrics the perfect vehicle for Peebles’ powerful, anguished vocals. Petrie and Bruce take it in turn to deliver scintillating, innovative solos, Peebles swirling in a frenzy between them in time with the dynamic peaks and troughs.

The slow burning “No Expectations” is a nod to the Stones, with Chris almost mimicking Jagger’s voice and swagger as he communicates the narrative with style and panache. Bruce’s stunning guitar work on the self-penned mid-tempo “Jayburger Boogie” shows why the veteran axeman, after over 40 years supporting the biggest names in US and UK blues, is finally achieving the recognition he deserves. Bruce is billed to appear alongside Marcus Bonfanti at this summer’s Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, a partnership which promises to be a major highlight of the week. “Breathe In” is a Chris Peebles composition and worthy of his exquisite vocal delivery complemented by Petrie’s precise, fluent and innovative keys in this beautifully arranged song.

Grateful Dead made Bonnie Dobson’s post-Apocalyptic folk rock song, “Morning Dew,” famous, however, the faster pace and complex rhythm patterns from drummer Sean Scott and bassist Andrew Stirling give this interpretation an edgier slant. The band’s original, hard-rocking anthemic “Coming Alive” has the spontaneity of a jam session whilst retaining an underlying structure and introducing elements of light and shade. The atmosphere changes with the gentle rockabilly start to “Pay Day,” the five musicians in perfect harmony and exuding enjoyment, the crescendos kicking in later.

The funky rhythms, jazz-infused keys and smouldering vocals on Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “One Way Out “are a tribute to The Allman Brothers, providing a fitting finale to a show which really needs to be experienced live to be believed.

--- Dave Scott

BB King Blues BandB.B. King left us a few years ago, but the 10 musicians who often backed him on tour are still around and still capable of playing the blues at a very high level. They all got together for this particular session, billing themselves simply as The BB King Blues Band, bringing in an all-star cast of special guests for The Soul of the King (Ruf Records). As expected, this is an outstanding album with 13 cuts, many of them B.B. standards. Blues fans are going to be familiar with most of the songs here, but The Soul of the King doesn't come across as being done by a bunch of B.B. King imitator. Instead, the band and guests wound up putting a lot of their own personalities and styles into the recordings.

Of course, "Sweet Little Angel" is here, but guest vocalist / guitarist Kenny Neal gives it more of his swamp blues sound. The other B.B. standard, this one closing the disc, is "The Thrill Is Gone," given more of a funky treatment with vocals and guitar from Michael Lee, who did this song when a contestant on NBC's The Voice talent show. This young man has a voice with plenty of soul, and we hear it on this number.

Diunna Greanleaf takes it to church on the slow blues "There Must Be A Better World Somewhere," with astounding alto sax playing from Eric Demmer. In fact, Demmer is the unsung star of this collection, and he's certainly worthy of having an album of his own someday soon. Demmer also stars on the blues shuffle "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss," with vocals shared by Mary Griffin and Taj Mahal. It's a killer cut, with Ms. Griffin's voice being a real revelation to those of us not familiar with her work. We later hear more from Demmer when he also handles vocals on the slow blues "She's The One." Yes sir, this man can do it all!

"Low Down" has a real New Orleans second line vibe to it, thanks to trumpet by Lamar Boulet and tuba from Kirk Joseph. It was written by bandleader / guitarist Russell Jackson who takes the lead vocals. Another tune that takes us down to the river is "Becoming The Blues," with Jackson and Greenleaf sharing vocals while Neal blows some nice harmonica.

James "Boogaloo" Bolden handles the vocals on his own composition, the funky "Hey There Pretty Woman," which also serves as still another opportunity for Demmer's wonderful sax playing. As I said before, someone please give this man a starring role. Bolden returns for another of his own numbers, the mid-tempo shuffle, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow," with plenty of brass behind him. Darrell Lavigne contributes some mighty fine piano playing to this number.

"Regal Blues (A Tribute To The King)" features Joe Louis Walker on both guitar and vocals as he sings about how B.B. influenced his career --- "... When I first heard Lucille, it knocked me out, yeah rock me baby, made me jump and shout, went down and bought me a guitar, Lord, I tried to figure it out ..." It's a mid-tempo blues shuffle with solid guitar solos from JLW and plenty of brassy horn accompaniment.

Not only does The Soul of the King give us a chance to hear different versions of blues classics, but also provides some lesser-known blues cats a chance in the limelight. There are more songs than what I mentioned and they're all good, so don't hesitate to add this album to your collection.

--- Bill Mitchell

Tony CampanellaI didn't think I was going to like Taking It To The Street (Gulf Coast Records) by St. Louis guitarist Tony Campanella when I first popped it into my CD player. The guitar playing was more rocked out than I usually like and at first I didn't think too much of Campanella's vocals. I'm glad I resisted the temptation to toss it aside, because the more I listened to Taking It To The Street the more I liked it. The music started to grow on me after a couple of cuts. The album was produced by Mike Zito, who seems to have his hand in quite a few recordings over the last few years, and features a tight band consisting of Campanella, bass guitarist Terry Dry, drummer Matt Johnson and keyboard player Lewis Stephens, as well as Zito sitting in on rhythm and slide guitar.

The number that drips with blues the most is the slow tune "One Foot In The Blues," with heavy, echo-ey tone to Campanella's guitar playing. The cover of Eddie Vinson's "Mr. Cleanhead" is another solid slow blues, appropriate for Campanella since he keeps his own pate pretty clear of follicles. His best vocal work is heard here as well as more tasteful, restrained guitar. Nice organ accompaniment from Stephens, too.

Sonny Boy Williamson's "Checking On My Baby" gets a good treatment with a little funk inserted. I especially like Campanella's more intricate blues licks on this one. The up-tempo blues shuffle, "My Motor's Running," co-written by Zito and executive producer Guy Hale, is one of the better cuts with nice guitar work from Campanella.

Taking It To The Street closes with a Campanella compositon, the slow, soulful blues "Those Are The Times." There's plenty of emotion packed into this song, although at times his vocals need to show a little more power for the proper effect.

This album is worth checking out, especially if you're into the more rockin' side of the blues. If you find yourself in St. Louis, don't hesitate to check out Mr. Campanella and his band at some venue around the city.

--- Bill Mitchell



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