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May 2023

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Order these featured albums today:

Big Harp George

Rhythm Krewe

Eric Bibb

Ana Popovic

William Bell

Sister Lucille

Danny Liston

Delta Wires

Deb Callahan

Jeff Pitchell

Andrew Riverstone

Bruce Katz Band

Nelson Blanchard

Dudley Taft

Jeff Chaz



Big Harp GeorgeLike other albums from Big Harp George, his latest, Cut My Spirit Loose (CD Baby), is a blast. It's what I used to call a "party in a jewel case," although that term is now outdated with most music now acquired through downloads. Regardless, this is a strong album packed with big sound and plenty of novelty songs. George is a good singer and and a very fine harmonica player, and he's backed by a tight band that knows how to party.

Produced by Chris Burns, the album was recorded in the prolific Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California, with plenty of very fine musicians sitting in on the sessions.

Starting the show is "It's Tuesday," an up-tempo jump blues promoting the idea of starting your weekend extra early, as George sings, "... It's Tuesday and it's time to play ...," while Kid Andersen tears it up on guitar. "Pile Driving Sam" is your typical old school double-entendre number, with rollicking boogie woogie piano from Burns.

George's harmonica skills come out on the mid-tempo ragtime blues, "Give Me The Dark," playing the chromatic while the horn section puts up a big wall of sound. Sons of the Soul Revivers contribute backing vocals here and on many of the other cuts. "Bustin' Out" opens with a slow, dirge-like intro before bustin' out with an up-tempo New Orleans second line rhythm highlighted by Mike Rinta's tuba. It's all instrumental and it's all a big dose of fun.

The only cover here is an interesting selection, "She's A Woman," written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, given a Latin sound as George sings about his woman. After listening for a while, you'll be able to envision how the Beatles did this song. "My Dog Is Better Than You" is an up-tempo big band thing with a walking bass line. George compares his canine to every other person, as well as to other dogs, and it's obvious he thinks highly of his faithful companion.

George takes the lead with his harmonica being played in the higher register on the jump blues, "Jump Abu Lula," with the only voice parts coming from the band intermittently shouting out the song title. The topical blues, "Prince Of Downward Mobility," has George singing about all of the woes surrounding him. He tears it up on harmonica midway through the number.

"Ranty Town" has our star putting down someone's conspiracy shout-outs on this mid-temp shuffle, followed by the slow, heavy blues of "Behind The Eight Ball," detailing the blues as it inflicts most blues musicians. "Take A Knee" starts as a slow blues with acoustic guitar and harmonica, with George and the Sons of the Soul Revivers criticizing much of the hypocrisy and prejudice in our current society.

"Sunrise Stroll" is a slow, pleasant instrumental, first featuring George's harmonica before the horns and Andersen's guitar playing takes this one to another level. Closing the album is the gospel-influenced tribute to "Captain Jack," the chief of the Modoc tribe.

Cut My Spirit Loose is a fun album through all 13 cuts. It's another gem in the Big Harp George discography. Put it on your shopping list now.

--- Bill Mitchell

Rhythm KreweRhythm Krewe was a new name to me, which is surprising since I'm not far from Southern California and these cats have been around that scene for more than 30 years. It's a big, tight band with a big sound, playing the kind of blues that we all want to hear on a regular basis. Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Steve Zelman leads this nine-piece ensemble on Unfinished Business (Select-O-Hits/Orchard), an album that undoubtedly will show up on my top 20 list at the end of the year.

Nine of the dozen songs here are originals, but the band chose to open the album with a killer cover of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "She Moves Me," with Zelman laying down some dandy guitar work. Gary Coppola handles vocals on the rhumba number, "One Hell For Another," singing about the "... a truckload of dues to pay ..." no matter where he's living. Nice piano solo from Jim Blazer.

"Little Bit Of Heaven" is a slow blues with limited instrumental backing, giving Zelman's vocals a chance to stand out, followed by a jazzy blues shuffle, "Better Late Than Never," with Blazer getting another opportunity to star on the 88s. Coppola is back at the mic on the slow blues "Time Of Day," with Zelman laying down a solid blues guitar solo while Blazer lays the foundation with tasty piano accompaniment.

"She's Murder," a James Cotton number, is the second cover of the album, with Zelman carrying this mid-tempo shuffle on both vocals and blues guitar. A very nice version of Professor Longhair's "Her Mind Is Gone" brings in Chris Rhyne to play those all-important New Orleans piano parts. David Morgan guests on vocals on the blues shuffle "Prescription For Disaster." I hear uncredited organ accompaniment (assuming it's Blazer) providing the foundation while Zelman comes in with a strong guitar solo, although I'd like to hear this one with a stronger vocalist.

"Wild Love" is another number with a rhumba beat, featuring Zelman on vocals, followed by the horn-dominant title cut, a mid-tempo blues shuffle that gives Zelman time for plenty of guitar licks. Bringing the tempo down is "Sweet Surrender," a slow, late night blues that is another showcase for Blazer's tasty piano playing while Zelman turns in one of his best vocal performances.

Wrapping up this very strong album is the New Orleans-sounding novelty piece, "Monkey Toes," with Coppola and Zelman sharing vocals as they sing about the captivating woman who can do some interesting things with her feet. Zelman uses a slide on his guitar on this song's solo, closing the number with Bo Diddley-ish guitar.

If, like me, you weren't previously familiar with Rhythm Krewe, let's all get educated about this band and hope to hear more from them. For now, Unfinished Business is a good start in our schooling.

--- Bill Mitchell

Eric Bibb

Eric Bibb is an understated vocalist who comes across with power because of the importance of the messages he's delivering on each of 15 songs on Ridin' (Stony Plain). This is blues as blues should be --- making the listener think, pointing out injustice, and making sure that history isn't forgotten.

Bibb's father, Leon, was a folk singer and activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King at Selma, and his son is keeping the elder Mr. Bibb's vision alive.

The most powerful song, "Free," comes late in the album, with Bibb delivering important messages about being free. "... If you hold on to what you've got, it reminds you of who you are ..." and "... when you let go of what you're not and remind the world of what you've got, you're free ..." This song then takes it back to where the blues began with Habib Koité from Mali taking over and delivering his own message in his native tongue and West African traditional stringed instrument. Incredibly powerful!

"Family," the opening cut, starts with a quiet banjo intro before heading into a call to treat everyone the same regardless of race. Bibb and a female chorus repeat the line "... I am like you ..." with the word "family" in response. This one has the spirit and emotion of a gospel revival meeting.

The title cut is a call to get onboard and ride the freedom train, with effective slide guitar. Bibb connects blues with church music on "Blues Funky Like That," with guests Taj Mahal and Jontavious Willis showing up to share vocals with banjo, fiddle, and harmonica accompaniment.

"The Ballad Of John Howard Griffin" is a tribute to the originator of the book "Black Like Me," in which a white man took on a black identity to learn about and point out differences in how how society treated the races differently. This one is turned into a pleasant yet powerful song with jazz guitarist Russell Malone making one of two guest appearances. Malone also plays subtle, tasteful guitar on the eerie "Hold The Line," with Bibb's message to choose not to fight even though the world now looks like a battleground.

We again hear a different guitar style on the Son House-influenced Bibb original, "I Got My Own," a hypnotic slow country blues highlighted by electric guitar playing of Amar Sundy from North Africa that introduces a different vibe to this outstanding number. Harrison Kennedy shares vocals with Bibb on "Call Me By My Name," citing contributions of black men in history, along with the reminder "... I'm a man, not your boy, you will call me by my name ..." Bibb provides nice fingerpicking guitar here.

This is just a sampling of what's on this album, with 15 cuts in all. It's an important collection of music with a social conscience. My minor complaint is that the liner notes lack session information as far as who is playing what instrument on each cut. But that's a very minor issue.

Ridin' is highly recommended, as is everything that Eric Bibb has recorded.

--- Bill Mitchell

Ana PopovicThe last couple of years have been rough for Ana Popovic. Already having to deal with the issues related to COVID that affected everyday life and work, the singer/guitarist was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2020. Popovic’s mother passed away from the same illness three years earlier, and she considered putting a stop to her music career. Encouragement from her musical director/bassist Buthel Burns kept her focused through 14 chemo treatments and the pair worked together on Zoom to put the songs together for her new album, Power (ArtisteXclusive Records).

“Rise Up” is the opening track. A pop/R&B anthem, it has a Motown feel with the R&B backdrop and rock-edged guitar work. “Power Over Me” leans more toward the soul side of the aisle, while the frenetic “Doin’ This” adds funk to the mix.

“Luv’n Touch” is a smooth ballad, highlighted by Popovic’s passionate vocal and understated but pungent fretwork. The album shifts more toward the blues-rock side with the hearty “Queen of the Pack,” which rocks along with a whole lot of soul, and a fierce boogie shuffle with “Strong Taste,” which comes complete with searing lead guitar and doo-wop vocals.

“Recipe Is Romance” is a jazz-flavored ballad with a smoky sweet vocal from Popovic and excellent guitar, “Deep Down” mixes funk with blues-rock, and “Ride This” is an irresistible horn-fueled rocker. “Flicker ‘N Flame” is the grittiest blues-rocker on the disc, with a hard-charging rhythm section and powerful guitar work from Popovic in the finest Hendrix tradition, and “Turn My Luck” is a catchy closer, sparsely arranged with hand claps and backing vocals.

It’s good to have Ana Popovic back in action and recovered from her illness. Power is a nice return to form for her and showcases her always potent guitar work and vocals with thoroughly modern production and music that puts a fresh coat of paint on the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

William BellI first became familiar with William Bell in the mid '70s, when his single “Tryin’ To Love Two” raced up the pop and R&B charts. I was in junior high school at the time, so I didn’t have a clue who he was beyond that song, which is still a favorite. Later, when I read Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music, I was able to fill in a few blanks when I discovered that Bell was a huge part of Stax Records as a performer and songwriter, leading me to dig deeper into his music.

In 2016 Bell released This Is Where I Live, considered a “comeback” recording even though he has remained active as a touring and recording artist. That album won the Grammy for Americana Album of the Year in 2017, among other honors. In 2018, I was able to see Bell on stage with other artists from his Wilbe Records label, and he was just amazing, singing and performing with an energy and vitality that belied his age (a month away from his 79th birthday). What impressed me the most was that his vocal abilities had barely diminished (if at all) in the 40 years since I’d first heard him.

Bell recently released a follow-up, One Day Closer To Home, on his Wilbe label. Recorded at Wilbe Studios in College Park, Georgia, and co-produced by Bell and Reginald “Wizard” Jones, the new album features a dozen tracks that find the singer/songwriter backed by his touring band, The Total Package Band. Bell co-wrote 11 of the songs with various collaborators, and the tunes blend blues and soul with country and Americana. His vocals are still magnificent, that perfect blend of silk and grit that listeners will recognize, and he is well at ease with the various genres covered.

“I Still Go To Parties” opens the disc, a crisp and funky soul workout that put folks on the dance floor. “I Will Remember Tonight” mixes country and soul, Rurik Nunan’s violin is a nice touch. The tender ballad “In A Moment Of Weakness” was recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Service, and features bassist Leroy Hodges and B3 master Charles Hodges along with a string quartet, and “Brag About You” is a peppy, joyful soul/pop track. “Human Touch” is one of those superb love ballads that Bell specializes in, and “I’ve Got Feet” is a tasty, upbeat swinger.

“Let’s Make Loving Great Again” is a splendid R&B slow burner that’s timeless, as solid a fit in 2023 as it would have been 50 years ago. The mellow soul-blues groover “We Can Never Go Back” features horns and bluesy guitar work from Cody Matlock and Larry Eaglin, and the atmospheric title track describes a man literally and figuratively trying to put his life back together.

The ballad “When I Stop Loving You” is powerful, with Bell’s most emotional and vulnerable vocal turn, “Ain’t Gon’ Let It Bother Me” (written by Carl McBride) is a funky vow of determination and defiance, and the energetic blues rocker “Georgia Peach” brings this wonderful album to a conclusion.

One Day Closer To Home is a worthy follow-up to Bell’s previous release. The production values are on par with its predecessor, the band is first-rate, as are the songs, and William Bell remains a force to be reckoned with, his legendary voice as powerful and soulful as ever.

--- Graham Clarke

Sister LucilleSister Lucille (Kimberly Dill – lead vocals, Jamie Holdren – guitar/vocals, Kevin Lyons – drums/percussion, Reed Herron – bass) return with their second album, Tell The World (Blue Heart Records), a stellar ten song set capturing the band’s heady mix of Memphis-inspired blues, soul, roots, and rock, dubbed “Memphunk” by the band. Dill and Holdren wrote the majority of the songs and the band is joined on several tracks by guests Chris Stephenson and Al Gamble (keys), Peter Climie (sax), Will Paladino (trumpet), Freedman Steorts (trombone), and Reba Russell (backing vocals), who also co-produced with Dawn Hopkins.

The title track opens the disc, with Dill proudly announcing that she’s found a first love. The exuberant number is puncutated with horns and Holdren’s wah-wah guitar. “Everytime I Leave” is an emotional break-up ballad with Dill on vocals and the funky “Breakin’ My Heart” tells the heartbreak story from the male perspective, with Holdren taking the mic and providing crisp, sharp lead guitar.

Reba Russell contributed “Why Not You,” a spunky Hill Country-flavored song attesting to the power of women. She joins Dill on vocals and Holdren adds scorching slide guitar. “My Name Is Lucille” is a love song of sorts, telling the tale of B.B. King’s guitar and the origin of the name the King of the Blues gave his Gipson ES-330.

“Montezuma Red,” the name of a bright red lipstick created during WW II, is a feisty rocker that declares the color as a symbol of power, determination, and independence. The “Red” theme continues with Holdren’s “Devil In A Red Suit,” about a sneaky underhanded double dealer, and Dill’s vocal versatility is on display as she ably handles the countrified shuffle “Ready For The Times To Get Better,” recorded by Crystal Gayle in the mid '70s.

The album wraps up with the sultry, soulful “My New Lovers,” and a terrific, show-stopping cover of Sugar Pie DeSanto’s “Soulful Dress,” complete with a vibrant horn section and spirited vocal from Dill.

There’s no question that Tell The World is as good, maybe better than their excellent debut, 2019’s Alive. The group’s songwriting and instrumental skills are first rate, and Dill and Holdren provide a great one-two punch as vocalists. Sister Lucille is on a roll and shows no signs of slowing down, which is good news for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Danny ListonDanny Liston grew up in St. Louis listening to and singing with his brother’s Ray Charles and Little Richard 45s. He started out as a drummer playing in soul bands around town, eventually moving to guitar and helping for the band Mama’s Pride with his brother and a friend. They signed with Atlantic, releasing two albums in the ’70s. Set to tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd, their career path changed course after the Skynyrd plane crash. A few months later they hooked up with Gregg Allman, opening his shows as Mama’s Pride, then backing Allman as the Gregg Allman Band.

Battling addiction, Liston left the music scene to raise a family and got into the restaurant business. He cites his wife and embracing the Christian faith for helping him to achieve sobriety. Since then, he recorded an album with his old band and two more as a solo, the latest being Everybody (Blue House Records), a ten-track set of originals of blues and soul with Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines at the helm.

The soulful title track kicks off the disc, an upbeat, positive message of hope that will put a smile on your face and a hop in your step (Bekka Bramlett is featured on backing vocals). “Didn’t Find My Blues In Mississippi” is funky and swampy in its delivery --- the intersection between Memphis and Muscle Shoals.

“Real Man” is a powerful gospel-soul ballad that offers good advice to those facing temptation. The easy-going “Old Friends” looks back on old relationships and good times, and “Love Everyday” asks the eternal question, 'why can’t everyone just get along.'

The roadhouse rocker “Goodbye Jack Daniels” finds Liston deciding to move on from the wild, reckless life and turning over a new leaf. “Right As Rain” is a smooth soul ballad, while “Scandal” is a country-flavored R&B tale of a love triangle.

“Made To Rock & Roll” is the tale of a guitar, told from the instrument’s perspective, and the emotional album closer, “A Change Has Come,” serves as Liston’s proclamation of faith and how that faith helped him  battle and beat his demons.

Backing Liston on these tracks are Steve Potts (drums), Davy Smith (bass), Will McFarlane (guitar), Mark Narmore (piano), Rick Steff (organ), Alan Branstetter (trumpet), Brad Guin and Buddy Leach (saxes), and Trinecia Butler and Kimberly Helton (background vocals). Also contributing on selected tracks are Brother Pat Liston (vocals), Cory Edwards (piano), Bob Lohn (piano), and Michael O’Hara (B3).

Everybody is a fine album of blues, soul, and R&B. Danny Liston’s comeback is a remarkable one and, hopefully, this excellent release will open the door to even more recordings in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Delta WiresThe Bay Area blues stalwarts Delta Wires combine downhome blues (via Ernie Pinata’s harmonica and Richard Healy’s guitar) with a taste of the urban blues (a pristine three-piece horn section) for a potent mix captured extremely well on the group’s latest release, If Somebody Told Me…..

Pinata and Healy are joined on this ten-song set by bassist Tom Gerrits, drummer Tony Huszar, keyboardist Richard Sylvester, and the aforementioned horn section (David Bowman – trombone, John Christensen – trumpet, Caleb Murray – saxophone).

The band wrote three tunes and the seven covers cut a wide path through blues, R&B, and even jazz circles. The originals include “Can’t Win For Losin’,” a tune which finds the band describing the trials and tribulations of being a working blues band, capturing the essence of the band’s musical vision. The heartfelt title track is dedicated to Pinata’s late son as Pinata bares his soul with this moving tribute. The third original, “Bring Me Up,” is a swinging blues with ample space for the horns to shine.

The covers range from a couple of Duke Records classics (Larry Davis’ “I Tried” and Bobby “Blue” Bland’s hit “I Pity The Fool”), Southern Culture on the Skids’ gritty roots rocker “Voodoo Cadillac,” John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples,” a pair of Sonny Boy Williamson classics (John Lee Williamson’s “Sloppy Drunk,” and Rice Miller’s “Hand Outta My Pocket”), and the wild card closer, Count Basie’s swinger, "Blues in Hoss' Flat," not as bombastic as the original, but much more bluesy and a lot of fun.

The Delta Wires offer a strong, well-balanced set of blues, R&B, and a nice bit of jazz with their latest effort, If Somebody Told Me…..

--- Graham  Clarke

Deb CallahanDeb Callahan’s sixth album, Backbone (Blue Pearl Records), is a fresh mix of blues, soul, funk, and R&B in the tradition of the city the singer calls home, Philadelphia. The 12 songs include ten written or co-written by Callahan with her bandmates, which include guitarists Allen James, Chris Arms (who also produced the album), and Alan Glass, drummer Tom Walling, bassists Garry Lee and Dave Arms, keyboardist Danny Schogger, saxophonists Jay Davidson and Ken Ulansey, harmonica player John Colgan Davis and vocalist Charlene Holloway.

The funky “What I’m Working With” kicks off the disc, the horns really adding a soulful punch behind Callahan’s testifying. “Crazy Ride” and “Rogue” are deep soul/R&B ballads, and “Big Girl Pants” mixes funk and rock. serving as an encouragement for anyone going through tough times. The swinging “A Few New Tricks” blends blues and jazz.

Callahan really nails the Percy Mayfield classic “Danger Zone,” with one of her best vocals on the album. “Still Fighting To Be Free” moves seamlessly back and forth from acoustic guitar (Alan Glass) to an electric blues rocker, with Davis’ harmonica throughout the track serving as an added bonus.

The fiesty “Don’t Tread On Me” is a soulful rocker, and the moody “Cleaning House” features Chris Arms’ shimmering slide guitar behind Callahan’s emotional vocal. The soul ballad “Thought You Were My Girl” finds the singer feeling disappointed and betrayed, and “Just What the Doctor Ordered” is a popping funk/soul workout.

The album wraps with a cover of Sean Costello’s “Anytime You Want,” a tough rocker that hews closely to the original version, with nice fretwork from James.

Backbone is another winner from Deb Callahan, who remains one of the most compelling vocalists in the blues and soul genres, a voice to be reckoned with in the coming years.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff PitchellSinger, songwriter, and guitarist Jeff Pitchell has recorded with J. Geils, Rick Derringer, Dave Mason, James Cotton, and Clarence Clemons. He’s won several awards, including Best Guitarist in the state of Connecticut (at age 15!) and several songwriting awards, and his song “An Eye For An Eye” was recorded by John Mayall.

His 2002 album, Heavy Hitter, reached #7 on the Billboard charts, and his latest album, Playin’ With My Friends (Deguello Records) finds Pitchell teaming up with a host of musical guest stars.

The aforementioned “An Eye For An Eye” opens the disc and it’s an easy-going shuffle. The late guitarist Jay Geils guests on slide guitar for the rousing “Prisoner of Love,” and the late Charles Neville sits in on sax for a tasty cover of the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s ’70s smash “So Into You” (Reese Wynans provides on keyboards).

Pitchell’s fretwork is reminiscent of SRV on the Texas-styled shuffle “Your Magic Eyes,” which leads into the moody “Out In The Cold,” featuring SRV’s nephew Tyrone on co-lead vocals and guitar. The stirring roadhouse rocker “All Night Long” finds guitarist Duane Betts teaming with Pitchell, and “Unsung Hero” tells the story of a working, struggling blues man, as Pitchell and Rick Derringer collaborate on vocals and guitar.

“Not Guilty,” written by Bruce Feiner, adds a taste of funk to the blues, and “Blinded By Desire” is a hot blues-rocker with an emphasis on rock. “Fat Cigars” was the title track to Pitchell’s 1997 album, one of his first big tracks, and he reprises it here for a host of potential new fans.

Singer Christine Ohlman (“The Beehive Queen”) joins Pitchell on vocals for the R&B groover “I Like The Rut,” and singer Claudette King (B.B. King’s youngest daughter) takes the mic for a live take on the Robert Cray-penned title track, which also features Neville on sax.

The album closes with a cool cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s classic “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog,” which features Pitchell’s strongest vocal effort on the album.

Playin’ With My Friends is a nice introduction to Jeff Pitchell for new fans, but also a fond look back at some of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s finest moments throughout his lengthy career. It’s a fine, enjoyable disc that deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Andrew RiverstoneBritish blue/roots singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Riverstone was inspired to perform from guitarists Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, vocalist Al Green and the Motown catalog, and songwriters Neil Young and Tom Petty. He worked as a session musician in London, performing at various London venues, and touring with the Irish band Cast of Thousands before launching his solo career. He’s released five albums over the last decade, including his latest, Pushing Against The Flow (Atlantic Highway Records).

The title track, a mid-tempo blues rocker, launches the disc, highlighted by strong rock-edged fretwork. The gritty “White Flag Burning” and “He’s The Richest Man,” a swinging blues follows. The moving “Into The Storm (Beaches of Pentewan)” tells the tale of the Darlwyne, a ship lost off the Cornish Sea coast in 1966 with 31 people aboard.

The amusing “Back In The Cool House” lightens the mood somewhat with its slippery, funky vibe, and “Here Comes The Shakerman” is a tribute to Jesus Jellett, a fan of Riverstone’s who was renowned for his eccentric dance moves at various festivals in the ’60s and ’70s.

“Ancient Valley Of The Rocks” is a beautiful guitar instrumental that might remind listeners of those glorious Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac recordings of the late ’60s. The atmospheric “Dust Left Behind” is a slow blues shuffle, and the soul-blues tune “Out On The Money Go Round” (about balancing work with life) adopts bass riffs from Busta Jones archived from a jam session he and Riverstone recorded years ago.

The closer, “Shades of Blue (Highwire),” is a sober look at the end of a relationship.

Riverstone is a superb guitarist and has a warm vocal style, and his songwriting is first-rate. Pushing Against The Flow was a nice introduction to me and encouraged me to delve deeper into his catalog. It’s an interesting mix of blues rock, soul, and funk.

--- Graham Clarke

Jennifer LynThe North Dakota-based blues rockers Jennifer Lyn & The Groove Revival recently issued a five-song EP, Gypsy Soul (J&R Collective), which is a worthy follow-up to their 2021 release, the BMA-nominated Nothing Holding Me Down. Lyn (guitar/vocals) co-wrote the tunes with Richard Torrance (guitar/backing vocals) and they’re backed by a strong rhythm section (Barb Jiskra – keys, Chris Addison – bass, Jim Anderson – drums). The songs, like on Lyn’s previous albums, reflect the band’s mix of blues, rock and soul.

That versatility is on display from the outset both musically and lyrically with the title track, which opens the disc. The song swings and rocks with each band member getting an opportunity to stand out. “Low Down Dirty Shame” introduces a bit of funk into the mix, along with tasty fretwork from Lyn and Torrance. “Going Round In Circles” is a splendid blues ballad with crisp guitar from Torrance and a soulful vocal from Lyn, and “Give Me All of Your Lovin’” is a torrid number with a classic rock.

The album closes with “You Can Take It All,” a well-crafted Americana ballad about two lovers who find themselves together after dealing with many failed relationships. Lyn and Torrance’s musical rapport on this track is sublime and it brings a delightful close to an excellent album.

The only fault with Gypsy Soul is that there just ain’t enough of it (17 minutes), but it will certainly satisfy until Jennifer Lyn & The Groove Revival return with more great music.

--- Graham Clarke

Weezil MaloneThe Grand Rapids-based Weezil Malone Band is led by guitarist/singer Larry Fitzgerald (a.k.a. Weezil Malone), who is something of an institution in the area, playing and recording for four decades. Backed by bassist Dave Alves and drummer Carl Schantz, Fitzgerald presents the band’s latest album, Desert Drive-In, a hard-charging set of blues rockers that’s mixes blues, funk, and rock seamlessly. The dozen tunes were written by Fitzgerald, who also produced the album with Austin Mark Ruhstorfer.

The opener, “All Over Again,” is a crunching boogie rocker that sets the bar pretty highly for the rest of the album. “Children of Night” has the funky Texas feel of early ZZ Top, and “Easier To Steal” mellows the mood a bit, but retains that funk rhythm (Dan Giacobassi adds saxophone on this track), as does the mid-tempo “Walk Away From Me.” Meanwhile, “Tattoo Lady” leans more toward metal with the fuzzy guitar and Fitzgerald’s raw vocal, but Giacobassi’s sax adds blues flavor, and “On My Porch” is a rock-edged blues.

“Whiskey” is a straight-ahead grinding rock tune that would have been a smash on FM radio back in the day, and “Take it Away” is a boogie shuffle that really swings. “He’ll Be Gone” is a strong blues rocker, and the title track settles into a deep, funky groove that backs Fitzgerald’s guitar fireworks.

The gritty “I Slowed Down” sounds like early ’70s guitar-fueled rock, and the closer, “Enough Is Enough,” is a cool track that updates the Bo Diddley beat.

Desert Drive-In is a great listen for fans of the timeless blues rock sound. Larry Fitzgerald knows his way around the block with this stuff and this one holds up extremely well with repeated listening. Check it out.

--- Graham Clarke

Bruce KatzConnections (Dancing Rooster Records) is the latest release from the Bruce Katz Band. Katz (piano, Hammond organ, organ bass) is joined by two new members, singer/guitarist Aaron Lieberman and drummer Liviu Pop on this stellar session, which was recorded at the legendary Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. Katz is well acquainted with Macon’s music scene, playing a vital part of Gregg Allman’s band and various other Allman “Family” bands (Butch Trucks Les Brers and Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band). He’s even joined on three tracks by bassist Shaun Oakley (grandson of Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley). The 11 tracks include seven by Katz, two by Lieberman, one co-written by the pair, plus one cover.

“Right Here Right Now” opens the album, a jaunty Crescent City-flavored romp that finds Katz on piano backed by Lieberman’s muscular guitar playing and Oakley and Pop’s rock-solid rhythm work. Katz stays on piano as Lieberman takes the mic for the easygoing “Nighttime Stroll,” but moves to the B3 for the funky “Where’s My Wallet.”

“Morning on Basin Street” keeps that New Orleans vibe alive, starting with a short bit of piano from Katz before moving to a brisk, jazzy pace and more of that splendid B3. Lieberman penned and sings on the driving blues rocker “Down Below,” which is followed by the album’s lone cover, a smooth version of Jessie Mae Robinson’s oft-recorded “Sneakin’ Around.”

“The Dream” is a well-crafted instrumental that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of Sea Level’s late ’70s/early ’80s recordings, and “All About That” is a lively jazz with nice musical interplay between the band. “Gary’s Jam” adds a taste of funk to the mix, and Lieberman’s “Tides Are Turning” is a strong blues track with rock-edged guitar.

The album closer, “What I Feel,” is a deep, reflective track that features Katz on B3 and this glorious soul-jazz track provides a glorious conclusion to a fine album that will satisfy fans of blues, soul, or jazz. Bruce Katz deftly connects these genres, and more, on Connections.

--- Graham Clarke

Nelson BlanchardNelson Blanchard has been performing since he was ten years old, when he would take the stage at his father’s nightclub, called Blanchard’s, off Highway 70 in Pierre Part, Louisiana. Since then, he has worked with many legendary artists, including Kenny Neal, the Goo Goo Dolls, Kenny Rogers, Sammy Kershaw, John Schneider, Tab Benoit, Jo-El Sonnier, GG Shinn, and he’s been a part of Louisiana’s LeRoux for over 25 years. He’s owned Techno Sound Recordings Studio since the ’80s and has written hundreds of songs and produced hundreds of CDs.

So, at the tender age of 70, Blanchard has finally released an album of his own. The wheels began to roll on releasing Nelson Blanchard (White Car Records) after he recorded a voice-over for Austin-based producer/artists Lloyd Maines, who was impressed by Blanchard’s vocals. Recorded at Techno Sound in Baton Rouge, and produced by Blanchard, David Hyde (who also played bass), and Nashville-based songwriter Dan Tyler, the album’s 11 tracks are steeped in Louisiana R&B with a few hints of country, zydeco, and bit of rock n’ roll.

The opener, “The Girl Doesn’t Love You,” is an energetic bit of soul music that gets the album off to a lively start. “(I’m Not Just) Anybody’s Fool” effortlessly mixes country and soul, with Blanchard’s vocal a solid fit in either genre, while “Treat Your Lady Right” is downhome southern blues with Kenny Neal lending a hand on guitar and harmonica.

John Schneider teams with Blanchard on vocals for the Cajun-flavored “My Heart’s In Louisiana, which is followed by a splendid cover of the jazz standard “Teach Me Tonight.”

The rambling country rocker “Big I-10” was penned by producer Tyler, while Blanchard wrote the moving “Free Bird In The Wind” with Scott Innes, describing the site of the 1977 Lynryd Skynyrd plane crash.

The next pair of ballads were written by Tyler, “Twenty Years Ago,” and “Please,” both fine examples of country-soul, while “Far Cry” has more of a country feel, thanks to Maines’ steel guitar accompaniment. Tareva Henderson joins Blanchard in a spirited cover of the Dale & Grace classic “I’m Leaving It Up To You,” which closes the album.

It's a shame that Nelson Blanchard waited so long to release his own album, but based on the quality of his debut, we can look forward to more great music from him in the near future. Nelson Blanchard is a keeper, for sure.

--- Graham Clarke

Big ShoesBig Shoes is a Nashville-based supergroup that specializes in the genre music folks call American Roots, basically a mix of country, soul, and blues, at least in the case of this band (Rick Huckaby – vocals/guitar, Mark T. Jordan – keyboards, Will McFarlane – guitar/slide guitar, Kenne Cramer – guitar, Tom Szell – bass, Lynn Williams – drums, Bryan Brock – percussion). Certainly, this band is well-versed in each of these genres, some of the members having worked with Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Delbert McClinton, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and many others.

The band’s third album, Fresh Tracks (Qualified Records), was produced by the band and recorded, mixed, and engineered by Kevin McKendree at his studio, The Rockhouse, in Franklin, Tennessee. Guest musicians include Dana Robbins (horn arrangements/saxophones) and Quentin Ware (trumpet), both parts of McClinton’s band, Little Feat vocalist Shaun Murphy, and background vocalist Vickie Carrico.

Fresh Tracks opens with “I Got You Covered,” which has a Muscle Shoals country-soul feel with Huckaby’s warm vocal and the horn section in support. “Hole In The Sky” is a bluesy shuffle with fine fretwork from McFarlane, Cramer, and Huckaby, and the clever “If The Blues Was Green” has a swampy Gulf Coast R&B feel, while the ballads “You Can’t Love Me Like That” and “Roses Are Blue” lean toward the country side of the aisle (Murphy and Carrico shine on backing vocals on the latter track).

“Permanent Midnight” is a gritty soul ballad penned by Huckaby, Jordan, and Szell that’s arguably Huckaby’s best vocal turn on the album (there are several finalists here, trust me). The energetic countrified rocker “I’ve Seen The Light” is destined to be a crowd pleaser at the group’s live shows, and McFarlane’s catchy “There Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do” has a lilting reggae feel that really sinks in.

The mid-tempo “Drunk On Love” swings and rocks along, and the country-pop ballad “Tell Me I’m Wrong” is one of those finalists for best vocal from Huckaby, who shows a lot of range on this track.

“That’s What I Get For Lovin’ You” is a laidback shuffle notable for McFarlane’s slide guitar and Jordan’s keyboards, and the album closer, “Dreaming Again,” is a solid ballad that fits seamlessly in the country or soul categories.

Fresh Tracks is a fine combination of well-crafted tunes and superb musicianship that will please fans of blues, soul, and roots music.

--- Graham Clarke

Dudley TaftGuitar Kingdom, the latest effort from Cincinnati guitarist Dudley Taft, is another powerhouse set of blues-rock that combines blues with Seattle grunge, and most definitely hard rock. Taft wrote 10 of the 11 tracks, and he’s backed by Kasey Williams or John Kessler (bass), Alex Dungan or Nick Owisanka (drums), Andy Smith (keyboards), Walfredo Reyes Jr. (percussion), and his daughter Ashley Charmae (backing vocals).

All that is packaged in one of the coolest album covers seen in a while.

The driving opener, “Black And Blues,” mixes blues and grunge into a hard-charging shuffle that grabs you by the collar. Taft gives us a look at his story with the autobiographical rocker “Old School Rocking,” and “Oil And Water” has the feel of a moody 70’s-era rock n’ roller, thanks to Smith’s keyboard framework. The bluesy ballad “Still Burning” cools things off for a few minutes before the title track kicks things back up with some appropriately crunchy fretwork driving things along.

The mid-tempo “Get Stoned” is a nice fit at the album midpoint, just as intense and energetic as what preceded it, but taken at a slower pace with a touch of acoustic guitar built in. Next, Taft pays tribute to some of his “Favorite Things” … cars, guitars, and his lady, and goes acoustic on the reflective “Darkest Night,” showing some excellent unplugged chops.

The pile-driving rocker “I Want More (Younger Days)” would probably serve as an anthem for many in his audience who long for the carefree days of youth, and “The Great Beyond” captures the Seattle grunge sound with the gritty guitar and propulsive backbeat.

Guitar Kingdom closes with a terrific cover of Tinsley Ellis’ “A Quitter Never Wins,” a master class in mood and tone, both musically and vocally. A fine wrap-up to a typically outstanding release from Dudley Taft.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff ChazNew Orleans blues man Jeff Chaz plans to record a Christian Blues/Rock album in the near future, recently releasing a single that offers a sneak preview of things to come in more ways than one.

The premise of “Wide Road” is taken from Matthew 7:13 -14, where Jesus states that the path to everlasting life is the narrow one while the wide path leads to death and destruction and that few people ever find the narrow path because the wide path is so enticing and alluring.

Chaz grimly warns of the danger of the wide path, backed by gritty, ominous guitar and a plaintive, haunting rhythm. It’s a sobering message, but Chaz’s focused delivery just might get the attention of someone who needs to hear it.

--- Graham Clarke


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