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May 2021

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Order these featured albums today:

Clarence Spady

The Halley DeVestern Band

Damon Fowler

Johnny Nicholas

Anthony Geraci

Friends and Legends of Louisiana

Gravel and Grace

Gregg Martinez

Eric Hughes Band

Stevie J

Cary Morin

Urban Ladder Society

The Bluesbones

Smoke Wagon Blues Band

Jose Ramirez single



Clarence Spady

Let's go back 24 1/2 years to the very first issue of Blues Bytes, which I started after my unsuccessful attempt to get back on the radio with my blues show so that I would continue to have a creative outlet. I decided on the format for this site that still exists to this day, with one of the featured albums each month being a Surprise pick, intended for an artist who was not as well-known. In that first issue I reviewed an album, Nature Of The Beast, by Scranton, Pennsylvania blues guitarist / singer Clarence Spady for my Surprise pick. I subsequently reviewed another Spady album, Just Between Us, in May 2008.

We can now complete the trifecta with Mr. Spady releasing what I believe to be his third album, Surrender (Nola Blue Records). He may not be a prolific artist, but he continues to be a very fine bluesman. Spady still sings with quite a rasp in his voice, effective for the material he's doing, and is a very fine blues guitarist. With only nine songs, three of which were live recordings from 1999 that were unreleased at the time, Surrender is a little short on material. But it doesn't matter because it's all good stuff. He's also helping to pass the torch on this album by mentoring and giving space to a 20-year-old guitarist, Adam Schultz.

Starting the show is an original mid-tempo number with heavy Memphis soul overtones, "If My Life Was A Book." Spady takes the guitar leads early before bringing Schultz to the front for the ending solo. "Good Conversation" was written by Schultz, and he takes the guitar leads on this one while Spady sings and plays rhythm guitar. It's soulful feelgood blues with jazz overtones, as Spady shows good range when singing lines like, "...good conversation keeps us together, helps us get through that bitter weather  ..."

The Lucky Peterson composition, "When My Blood Runs Cold," is a slow blues with really nice guitar work from Spady, especially with the tone and effects he gets from the instrument, and tasteful jazzy piano from Scott Brown. Lots of emotion and soul packed into the vocals here. The mid-tempo blues shuffle, "K-Man," is a song that Spady wrote for his late son, but instead of it being a mournful piece he makes it a spirited testimonial about the things that he remembers about his son. Very touching, and the highlight of the album. I want to listen to this one over and over. Tom Martin contributes a nice harmonica solo while Brown lays down the musical bed with his organ accompaniment.

Next up is the title cut, a slow blues just dripping with emotion helped by effective, gospel-ish keyboards from Brown and expressive vocals from Spady as he sings that it's time to surrender to his will, pack up his things, and move on down the road. This one's a killer blues! The final new recording is a slow acoustic version of Z.Z. Hill's "Down Home Blues," with Martin's harmonica riffs playing well off Spady's vocal lines and Brown keeping the flow with his piano work. Spady, Brown and Martin all take turns with solos on their respective instruments. I love what they've done with this song ... just love it!

The three live cuts from 1999 include a slow, jazzy blues, "Addiction Game," an up-tempo 10+ minute instrumental, "Jones Fall Expressway," that allows Spady to really stretch out on guitar, and "Pick Me Up," a slow-paced plea to his woman to forgive him. I really like the first and third songs in this group, but the instrumental gets a little long for my tastes.

Unless there's a collection of his recordings that I don't know about, Spady has been releasing a new album about every 13 years. I'm really not sure what I'll be doing in the year 2034, so here's hoping that he picks up the pace and gets a new recording out way sooner than that. Meanwhile, I'll be listening repeatedly to Surrender, as well as occasionally going back to his earlier two recordings. Spady is an artist who needs more worldwide recognition, and hopefully this album will get him some credibility in blues circles.

--- Bill Mitchell

The Halley DeVestern BandThe Halley DeVestern Band is a New York-based ensemble led by a singer for whom the band is named, plus a solid band of Thomas Heinig (bass), Steve Jabas (guitar), Rich Kulsar (drums) and David M. Patterson (guitar). They label their music "rockin funk and soul," which pretty much describes it, although there is some blues mixed in, too. Their self-released Money Ain't Time was recorded live in 2019 when on tour in Wisconsin. DeVestern is at the front of the stage with her big, big voice. If you hear the sounds of Janis Joplin in her voice, that's not surprising since she previously toured with a later version of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Not surprising that this album feels a bit like a trip back to the '60s.

I have mixed feelings about it. I like some cuts, such as the cover of Muddy Waters' "I'm Ready" and the opening number, Aretha's "Chain of Fools," with psychedelic guitar accompaniment that will make you feel like you're in San Francisco in 1967. The band also turns in a nice version of "Stormy Monday," with plenty of power to DeVestern's voice and decent but not awe-inspiring guitar solos.

On other songs DeVestern's vocals grate on the ears, notably on Marvin Gay's "Dancing In The Streets," the Jerry Ragavoy & Chip Taylor composition, "Try," covered by Joplin in 1969, and the island-ish original "Mighty Love." The band is solid and tight, but the vocals aren't to my taste on these numbers.

Your results may vary. Check it out to see if it suits your tastes, and at least be sure to download the better numbers.

--- Bill Mitchell

Damon FowlerI keep thinking of Damon Fowler as a relatively new artist on the scene, but that's just not true. The native Floridian has been on the blues radar for over 20 years. The bio in his press kit calls him a "hard driving troubadour," which works for me. His brand of southern blues has earned him a loyal audience over the years and he's blossomed both as a guitarist and as a songwriter. Solo album number eight in the Fowler discography, Alafia Moon (Landslide Records), is a nice collection of 11 songs, only one of which Fowler didn't take part in the writing process. Fowler especially likes to use a slide on his guitar, helping to give his music that southern feel.

Let's start with my favorite cut from Alafia Moon, the acoustic "The Guitar," which is quite different from the rest of the album. Fowler demonstrates his fingerpicking skills on an acoustic guitar, as he tells a mysterious story about how this special guitar came into his possession. It's a very pleasant, heartfelt tune showing an artist's love for his instrument.

Fowler demonstrates his prowess on the electric guitar, with plenty of slide licks, on the up-tempo mover, "I've Been Low," especially with the powerful solo he inserts. The mid-tempo blues, "Hip To Your Trip," again showcases Fowler's slide playing along with solid organ accompaniment from Mike Kach, and T.C. Carr gets the opportunity to shine on harmonica on the up-tempo "Some Things Change."

Another high point of the album is the slow 12-bar blues, "Taxman," with more strong slide guitar playing from Fowler while he sings about dodging the visits from the tax collector.

When I mentioned the album consisted of 11 songs, that wasn't exactly right. Cut number 10, "The Umbrella," is an extended spoken word tale of an interesting gig that the band once had in Prescott, Arizona, and then the closing number, "Kicked His Ass Out," is a short impromptu number that the band made up to support the aforementioned story. It's more of an instrumental with a recurring chorus line.

Alafia Moon is another strong addition to Fowler's résumé. He puts on a good live show, too, so watch for him coming to your town as soon as the concert scene opens back up.

--- Bill Mitchell

Johnny NicholasFace it ….. when you run across a Johnny Nicholas album, you can’t NOT listen to it. There’s something to be found within for fans of any style of music, but most notably blues, roots, and any style originated from south of the Mason-Dixon line. His latest release, Mistaken Identity (Valcour Records), doesn’t stray from that policy at all, with nine compelling Nicholas originals and one tasty cover that spans the blues, Tex-Mex, Honky-Tonk, New Orleans second line-styled R&B, and even rockabilly.

The album opens with the amusing “She Stole My Mojo,” Nicholas’ talking vocal punctuated by his resonator guitar and harmonica. The moody, stripped-down “Mule and the Devil” keeps the focus on the blues, as Nicholas talks about fame and fickleness, and the bouncy shuffle “Spark to a Flame” is tinged with a country vibe. The title track is an amusing New Orleans-based R&B tune with Nicholas playing piano, while the tragic “Guadalupe’s Prayer” paints vivid imagery backed by a Tex-Mex groove.

The jaunty shuffle “Wanna Be Your Baby” and the rockabilly raver “Tight Pants” pick up the mood, and the pace, considerably. Los Texmaniacs’ Max and Josh Baca join Nicholas on “She Didn’t Think of Me That Way,” a standout track that returns to the Tex-Mex flavor from earlier, and “Highway 190” is a fun boogie rocker that pays tribute to the area where Nicholas once resided. The album closes with its lone cover tune, a beautiful take on the late Stephen Bruton’s “River Runs Deep.”

Nicholas is joined on these tracks by Scrappy Jud Newcomb (guitars/mandolin/vocals), John Chipman (drums/percussion/vocals), and Chris Maresh (bass/vocals), along with the Bacas (Max – bajo sexto, Josh – accordion), Chris Stafford (organ), Eric Adcock (clavinet), and vocalists Kelli Jones, Sabra Guzman, Kelley Mickwee, Alice Spencer, Walt Wilkins, and Bill Small.

If you’re not familiar with Johnny Nicholas’ music, you really should be. Mistaken Identity is a great place to start, but you will definitely want to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

Anthony GeraciAn original member of both Sugar Ray and the Blue-Tones and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, keyboardist Anthony Geraci has been nominated for the Pinetop Perkins Piano Award for the past five years by the Blues Foundation. In addition, his previous release, Why Did You Have To Go, was nominated for multiple BMA awards in 2020, spent most of that year on the blues radio charts (Living Blues and Roots Music Report), and received accolades across the planet.

Geraci’s latest effort, Daydreams In Blue (Shining Stone Records), finds the keyboardist in good company with singer/harmonica player Dennis Brennan as featured vocalist, guitarists Walter Trout, Monster Mike Welch, and Troy Gonyea, and a rock-solid rhythm section (Michael “Mudcat” Ward – bass, Jeff Armstrong – drums). Geraci penned 10 of the 12 tracks, which cover a wide array of blues styles.

The up-tempo shuffle “Love Changes Everything” gets things started. Driven by the horn section (Scott Arruda – trumpet and Mark Early – saxophones), Geraci’s piano, and Welch’s fretwork, this track bodes well for the rest of the album. “Tomorrow May Never Come” has a retro ’50s feel and Brennan’s heartfelt vocal seals the deal. Trout makes his presence known with stellar lead guitar on the powerful “No One Hears My Prayers,” and the upbeat “Daydreams of a Broken Fool” has a funky Latin feel.

“Mister” is a straightforward hard-driving blues with Brennan adding harp to his vocals and Geraci’s strolling keyboards. Next, the piano man himself takes the mic for the rollicking jump blues “Tutti Fruitti Booty, and Brennan does a great vocal turn on the standard “Jelly Jelly,” providing his own take of the Billy Eckstine classic with fantastic support from Geraci on piano and Welch on guitar. Brennan also turns in a strong vocal on “Dead Man Shoes,” a tune he co-wrote with Peter Wolf and Gonyea.

“Hard to Say I Love You” is a blues ballad with a definite jazz vibe, with Brennan showing his vocal versatility on this track (love Geraci’s solo, too). “Living in the Shadow of the Blues” has a definite Crescent City feel, and “Crazy Blues/Mississippi Woman” is a fine old school blues with superb contributions from Geraci and Welch. The album closer is a short jazzy instrumental, “Ode to Todd, Ella, and Mike Ledbetter,” written for Geraci’s son, dog, and his late friend.

Believe it or not, Daydreams In Blues is an improvement from Geraci’s previous effort, hard as that may be to believe by those who heard Why Did You Have To Go. Expect some of those 2020 BMA nominations to be converted to victories in 2021.

--- Graham Clarke

Friends & Legends of LouisianaFriends & Legends of Louisiana (L&M Star Productions) is a project conceived by Lucas Spinosa, keyboardist, songwriter, and former band leader of the Baton Rouge band Southern Star, and music promoter Mike David. The project features ten original songs written or co-written by Spinosa that feature some of the Pelican State’s finest musicians in collaboration.

The songs cover a wide variety of musical styles associated with the state --- swamp pop, blues, jazz, rock, and gospel among them. The list of players include guitarists Cranston Clements and Bob Henderson, bassist David Hyde, drummer Brian Brignac, saxophonist Jason Parfait, Ian Smith on trumpet, flugelhorn, and trombone, with backing vocalists Elaine Foster and Taylor Lendo. Spinosa plays all the keyboards, piano, and B3.

The dazzling “Beale Street Blues” opens the disc, a jumping big band effort with hard charging horns and wailing sax from Parfait, who also acquits himself exceptionally well on lead vocals. Parker James handles vocals on the smooth jazzy ballad “While You’re Still Mine,” Cajun/zydeco rocker Wayne Toups (with an assist from slide guitarist extraordinaire Sonny Landreth) has a ball with the rousing “Belly of the Beast,” and swamp pop master Don Rich is right at home with “Want It To Be,” which should be a future classic of the genre.

Guitarist Henderson takes the mic for the soulful ballad “I Believe,” and Kenny Neal does a masterful job on the downhome “Southern Side of Life.” Spinosa does a fantastic job of matching vocalists to songs and this one is one of the best, down to the reference to Neal’s late father, Raful, one of Baton Rouge’s founding fathers of the blues/R&B scene. Meanwhile, Chris LeBlanc ably handles the country-tinged blues rocker “Red Tail Lights on a Blue Highway.”

Swamp pop singer Gregg Martinez turns in a great vocal performance on the lovely ballad “The Two of Us,” another great fit of song to vocalist, Ryan Foret will get feet stepping and blood pumping on the glorious swamp rocker “Living In A Fantasy,” calling out Louisiana legends right and left, and Bryan Romano delivers on the closing ballad, “Memories.”

Spinosa does a fine job on these songs, covering a wide range of styles effectively and as stated above, the matching of song to singer couldn’t be any better. Friends & Legends of Louisiana certainly has something to offer any music fan. If you’re not familiar with the music of Louisiana, this is a great place to get on board.

--- Graham Clarke

Gravel & GraceBig Earl Matthews is a 20-year veteran of the California music scene and Ava Grace is just finishing high school. Together, they make up Gravel & Grace, an R&B/blues group that also consists of guitarists Isaac Lewis and Ricky Galvan, saxophonist William Melendez, bassist Joshua Broom, and drummer Raymond Vazira. The band first gigged in the spring of 2019 and has built a big following in their region, recently completing their first national tour.

Their debut release, Bringing The Blues, offers a fine sample of their sound, which blends rock, soul, and R&B with the blues. Nine of the ten songs were written by the band, with Grace opening on vocals for the soulful “Scares Me,” putting listeners on notice that she’s a powerful singer beyond her years. Matthews takes the mic for “Next Move,” which has a funky southern rock feel, and Grace returns for the sensitive pop-flavored ballad “Bottles.” Saxophonist Melendez really shines on these first three tracks, too.

Matthews sings on the rousing country rocker “When I’m Hungover,” and Grace offers a dazzling cover of Rhianna’s “Love In The Brain” that completely reconstructs the song. Matthews does a fine job on the exuberant, sunny “Sunday Afternoon, featuring nimble keyboards from Grace and Melendez’s sax. “Not About A Boy,” written and sung by Grace is a strong bluesy ballad, and “Picture Perfect” has a zesty New Orleans flair, thanks to Grace’s piano and Matthews’ vocal which is a bit reminiscent of Dr. John.

The album closes with the poppish “Pennies,” written and sung by Grace, and “Wash My Blues,” a mid-tempo blues ballad sung by Matthews, who penned the tune with drummer Vazira.

Gravel & Grace’s brand of blues is a pleasing variety that incorporates pop, rock, and soul into the mix. Their voices are quite different, but they complement each other very well and their songwriting is very good. The band provides excellent support and the combination makes Bringing The Blues a debut release that is strongly recommended for fans of contemporary blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Gregg MartinezGregg Martinez is a legend in Louisiana music, having served with a host of local bands, including.the King Fish, The Heat, The Boogie Kings (one of my favorites from way back), and presently Gregg Martinez and the Delta Kings. His music combines the best of New Orleans R&B with Memphis soul and Gulf Coast blues. Most music fans know the combination as Swamp Pop. Martinez recently released a wonderful new album, MacDaddy Mojeaux (Nola Blue Records), that hits the proverbial nail on the head as far as perfectly capturing his musical approach.

The 13 tracks include four originals written by Martinez and/or guitarist Tony Goulas. Those originals include the funky R&B groover, “This House,” the glorious Crescent City rocker “Eva Delle,” which features guitarist Sonny Landreth with Anthony Dopsie (accordion) and Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. (Rubboard), and a pair of splendid soul burners, “Just Stay Gone” (the album’s first single) and the dreamy “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

The nine covers include Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul,” in the style of the late Donny Hathaway’s early 70’s funk-based arrangement. A fine vehicle for Martinez’s energetic vocal. “Same Old Blues” from Don Nix via Freddie King is given a fine gospel/soul reading from Martinez, and the Stax classic “You Left The Water Running” is just marvelous in the singer’s hands. The oft-covered “Wildflower,” an early ’70s soft rock hit for the Canadian band Skylark, is transformed into a deep soul ballad by Martinez.

The other covers include the Mel & Tim hit “Starting All Over Again” from 1972 (with Martinez sharing lead vocals with Goulas), a lively read of Clarence Carter’s “Snatching It Back,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind,” a stirring version of “Don’t Pull Your Love” (with Charlene Howard), and Randy Newman’s “Marie,” which is included as a bonus track featuring Martinez backed by piano and strings.

MacDaddy Mojeaux is a superb set of original songs and well-chosen covers. I’m sure it’s been said already, but Gregg Martinez definitely had his “Mojeaux” working for this outstanding album,. With any luck, the rest of the world will find out what Louisiana music fans have known for years about his immense talent.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric Hughes BandYou’d be hard-pressed to find stronger advocates for, and representatives of, Memphis music than the Eric Hughes Band (Hughes – vocals/harmonica/guitars/jug/percussion, Walter Hughes – guitar, backing vocals, Leo Goff – bass, Brian Aylor – drums/percussion). A native of the city, Hughes has been a part of the music scene since 2001 when he began playing in Beale Street clubs. He continues to perform there regularly, either solo, with a duo, or with his band. The latest release, Postcard from Beale Street (Endless Blues Records), gives listeners a taste of Memphis music fare, both past and present.

“Ain’t Whipped Yet” is an autobiographical shuffle (nice keyboard accompaniment from guest Rick Steff) which will help listeners understand how Hughes got his nickname (“Scrappie”), “Oh, Booze!” is a throwback tune to Beale Street’s past glories, both musically and lyrically, and “He’s Just An Alley Cat” is a greasy blues rocker with a touch of funk. “Follow Your Stupid Little Dreams” has an old time vibe, too, as Hughes implores fellow musicians to hang in there in spite of adversity and the naysayers.

Meanwhile, the touching “Homesick Angel” is a tribute to his grandfather, who was a fighter pilot, and the Stax-flavored “Fair Weather Friends” adds horns (one of several tracks featuring Marc Franklin – trumpet and Kirk Smothers – trombone), while “Blackberry Patch” vividly describes visiting with grandparents in the country (you can almost smell the berries and the dusty dirt road to their house). “Come See About Me” keeps that country blues feeling as Hughes longs to reunite with a loved one.

Anyone who punches a clock every day will certainly relate to “Waiting For That Day,” when they can leave the work world in their rear view mirror, and the upbeat “It’s 4:20 Somewhere” serves as an appropriate closer for this excellent release.

Postcard from Beale Street is a fine musical tribute to the street and the city from one of Memphis’ best bands.

--- Graham Clarke

Stevie JPeople dealt with downtime a lot of different ways during the pandemic, but Stevie J Blues went to work writing, recording, and producing music for a host of Mississippi blues and soul artists, some of which have been reviewed here at Blues Bytes over the last year. He also managed to find some time to put together his own album, Quarantined (PK Music Group), a compelling ten-song set of contemporary blues and southern soul that deserves to be heard by fans of either genre.

The opening track, the dance track “Big Girls,” was released as a single a few months back and celebrates the virtues of plus-sized females. The hard-driving “Going In Tonight” digs deeply into the funk side of the blues, and the salacious “Camel Toe” is an amusing track about that thing every guy wants. Time is up with an unfaithful lover on “Who Is He.” On Ronnie Lovejoy’s “Nothing Bothers Me,” Stevie J pulls himself by his bootstraps, determined to keep going on.

“All Because Of Me” is a tasty remake of “Because Of Me,” a standout track from Stevie J’s “soul” CD on 2011’s The Diversity Project, taken at a slightly slower tempo. “Not Gonna Leave” is a strong soul-blues ballad, as is the wonderful cover of J. Blackfoot’s “Just One Lifetime,” featuring sweet guest vocals from Shunté. “Wanta Be” is a cool slice of funky R&B, and the closer is the reflective “3 Sides To Every Story,” where Stevie J offers sound advice for love and life.

Fans of contemporary blues and soul-blues will find a lot to enjoy on this rock-solid set of originals and choice covers. Stevie J Blues is not content to let the blues stagnate. His brand of blues embraces old school and thoroughly modern sounds with dynamic results. As stated above, Quarantined deserves to be heard.

---Graham Clarke

Cary MorinFor his latest release, Cary Morin traveled south from Colorado to Louisiana to record with producer Tony Daigle and some of the Pelican State’s finest musicians at Dockside Studio in Maurice. The result, Dockside Saints, features a dozen tracks penned by Morin that combine zydeco, cajun, and creole influences with the blues and roots influences that his fans are already familiar with. The band includes Lee Allen Zeno (bass), Brian Brignac (drums), Corey Ledet (accordion), Eric Adcock (keyboards), Beau Thomas (fiddle), John Fohl and Keith Blair (guitars), and harmony vocalist Celeste Di Iorio.

Morin launches into a deep swampy groove right off the bat with the entertaining “Nobody Gotta Know,” backed by Ledet’s accordion and an irresistible shufflin’ beat. The opener is a tough act to follow, but “Prisoner” is up to the task. It’s a splendid slow burner complemented well by Morin’s gritty, soulful vocal. Morin’s nimble fingerpicking style is highlighted on the laid-back, funky “Prisoner,” and “Because He Told Me So,” pays tribute to the church music so integral to music from the south. Morin’s slide guitar is exquisite on this track, and his fingerpicking is superb on “Tonight,” punctuated by Thomas’ fiddle.

The rousing “Janie Rae” has a definite Sonny Landreth “zydeco rock” feel with sizzling slide guitar, fiddle, and accordion, and Morin’s fingerpicking guitar works well with accordion and fiddle on the beautiful instrumental “Bare Trees.” Meanwhile, “Valley Of The Chiefs” is a stirring folk tune based on a true story relayed to Morin by his great grandmother during his Crow naming ceremony. “Chosen Road” is a haunting blues, while the stomping instrumental “Cary’s Groove” pumps up the funk with Ledet setting the pace on accordion.

“Blue Delta Home” is a wonderful, gentle ballad with an honest, heartfelt vocal from Morin and that awesome fiddle/accordion interplay, and the steady blues rocker “Come The Rain” wraps up the proceedings quite nicely.

Cary Morin’s recordings are always a pleasure to hear from beginning to end. His guitar work is marvelous and his vocals and songwriting are a perfect match for blues and roots music. Dockside Saints is a really interesting change of pace for him and puts his remarkable versatility on display as he takes his brand of blues into a new direction. Can’t wait to see where he takes us on his next album.

--- Graham Clarke

Urban Ladder SocietyUrban Ladder Society (Victa Nooman – vocals, Stevie J Blues (a.k.a. “rooster man”) – guitar/vocals, Chris Gill – vocals/slide guitar, resonator, - Jonte Mayon – vocals) stayed busy during the pandemic, releasing several well-received singles beginning last summer. ULS mixes the blues with hip-hop, classic rock, Southern soul, and R&B most distinctively and effectively. Their recent debut album, The Summit (PK Music Group) offers ample evidence of their efforts.

“What’s On Your Mind,” the opener, is tasty, funky R&B, and the very contemporary “Da Blues” reminds listeners not to forget the source of nearly all modern music is. “Dysfunctional” is a modern twist concerning a familiar blues topic --- a woman who drives her man crazy, but not crazy enough to drive him away. “Chill Winds” is a slow burner that will remind listeners of ’70s R&B with Stevens’ Isley-esque fretwork, and the funky rock-edged hip-hop “Mission” is a keeper as well, a mission statement of sorts that captures the band’s style to a tee.

The somber “Prophecy” is a pointed look at issues facing the world today, but the optimistic “We Got This Covered” offers encouragement to find solutions to the problems each of us face. “Juke Joint Lover,” released earlier as a single, is an entertaining and catchy mix of blues and funk, and the poignant “Trouble Man” (not the Marvin Gaye tune from the ’70s) powerfully conveys loneliness and desperation.

“Same Ole Thang” was the band’s first single (back in Summer, 2020), and the message in the music is that the blues comes in many styles, shapes, and forms (many reflected on this disc), but the music is still the blues at its very core. The closer, “Love You Forever,” is a smooth ballad that adds a bit of the Caribbean to the mix.

A friend told me years ago that the only way that the blues will survive is if it incorporates the style and flavor of modern genres of music while still retaining its own unique identity. The people behind Urban Ladder Society are on the same wavelength as my friend was, and with The Summit they offer blues fans the assurance that the future of the blues is in good hands.

--- Graham Clarke

The BluesbonesThe BluesBones, based in Belgium, are one of the continent’s finest blues bands with their potent brand of rock-based blues. Formed in 2011, they were elected public’s favorite at the 2012 Belgian Blues Challenge, winning the same contest in 2016, and finished second at the European Blues Challenge in 2017. The band consists of Nico De Cock (vocals), Stef Paglia (guitar), Edwin Risbourg (keyboards), Geert Boeckx (bass), and Jens Roelandt (drums).

The band’s recent release, Live On Stage, was recorded in late 2019, and initially set to be released in early 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic, as was the scheduled tour promoting the album. Undeterred, the band opted to go ahead and release the album, hoping that listeners would enjoy the live concert atmosphere. The nearly 80-minute set features a dozen original tracks, most taken from their successful 2018 release, Chasing Shadows.

The thunderous rocker “Find My Way Out” kicks off the set, highlighted by De Cock’s energetic vocal, Paglia’s guitar work, and Risbourg’s keyboards. “The End” is a crunchy, edgy funk workout with De Cock’s vocal effectively conveying despair and desperation, the moody “Demon Blues” is a sinister track with De Cock’s vocal taking on a Jim Morrison edge, and the mid-tempo “Going Down” retains that swampy, ominous atmosphere (Paglia’s slide guitar solo is most impressive).

“A Better Life” is a fast-paced shuffle, leading into “The Witchdoctor,” a relentlessly funky blues where the band really gets an opportunity to strut their stuff. “Betrayal” is a slower blues with a strong vocal and great backing from Risbourg on the keys. Meanwhile, De Cock’s vocal takes center stage on the simmering “Sealed Souls,” which deals with the insanity of war and the accompanying destruction and death.

The upbeat, rock-edged “Romance For Rent” lightens the mood considerably, and “Cruisin’,” which follows, is a hard-charging blues boogie that surely had the audience moving. The album wraps up with “Psycho Mind,” a scrappy blues shuffle, and the epic closer, “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” an 11-minute opus featuring plenty of wonderful guitar work from Paglia and excellent support from the rest of the band.

This is the second live set that I’ve heard from The BluesBones, and I have to say that these guys know their way around the blues. Live On Stage is a powerful set of rock-flavored blues featuring standout songs, vocals, and music that will make you hope that the days of live music will return sooner than later.

--- Graham Clarke

Smoke Wagon Blues BandThe Smoke Wagon Blues Band keeps rolling along, now in their 25th year, with their latest release, The Ballad of Albert Johnson. Their latest effort features 13 tracks, including 12 originals, which blend the blues with soul, R&B, and roots. Corey Lueck (vocals/harp) still fronts the band and is backed by Mike Stubbs (guitar), Brandon Bruce (keys), Gordon Aeichele (saxophones/washboard), Steve Sherman (guitar/percussion), Jason Colavecchia (bass), and Tibor Lukacs (drums).

The title track is the fascinating story of Albert Johnson, a.k.a. “The Mad Trapper of Rat River,” told with a bit of Texas boogie flair. Next up is “Memphis Soul,” and if you can’t tell what it’s about by the title, the greasy, funky rhythm should give it away. The ballad “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool” keeps things in a soulful vein. The album’s lone cover, “The Fat Man,” is next, a fine tribute to Fats Domino and New Orleans. The recognition of the Crescent City (and Professor Longhair) continues on the irresistible “Lay Say Lay.”

“Mescaline” is a light, jazzy tune with the emphasis on piano from Bruce and flute from Aeichele, “Sacrifice” is tasty blues-rock with a touch of funk, and the mid-tempo shuffle “Poor Man Blues” features horns and snazzy slide guitar from Stubbs, while “Matapedia River Blues” paints a vivid picture of the eastern Canadian tributary and “A Song For Cheryl” is a poignant, heartfelt ballad about lost love.

“Can’t Take The Blues” is a swinging blues that belies the “down on my luck” theme, and “On The Road Again” is a laid-back country blues. The album closer is a live track called “Steaming Comrades Harp Boogie,” which is a Diddley-esque showcase for Lueck and his harmonica.

The Smoke Wagon Blues Band always offers a high quality set of blues and blues-based tunes. Lueck is a charismatic and energetic showman and the band is always first-rate. Blues fans are advised to give The Ballad of Albert Johnson a spin at their earliest convenience.

--- Graham Clarke

Jose RamirezCosta Rican guitar slinger Jose Ramirez made quite a bit of noise last year with his debut release, Here I Come, one of the best of the year. Ramirez was nominated as Best Emerging New Artist for the 2021 Blues Music Awards, and in addition, the Jose Ramirez Band finished second at the 2020 I.B.C.

Ramirez’s 2021 looks even more promising with the release of a new single on Delmark Records, “Whatever She Wants.” Backed by Kenny Watson, Jr. (bass), Antonio Reyes (drums), and Andre Reyes, Jr. (keyboards), Ramirez gives listeners a pitch-perfect blend of blues with a touch of soul on this splendid slow burner. His guitar work is superlative and his vocals are equally potent. Hopefully, this excellent single is just the tip of the iceberg that marks the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Ramirez and Delmark.

--- Graham Clarke




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