Blues Bytes

What's New

June 2009

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Zac Harmon

The Insomniacs

Duke Robillard

Colin Linden

Jim Byrnes

Jason Ricci

Big Gilson

Christy Howard

Sweet Claudette

Motor City Josh

Kate Hart

Motor City Women


Zac HarmonI have to say that Zac Harmon’s new record, From the Root, was well worth the wait. It was my pleasure to sit in Zac’s truck and listen to a rough mix of this disc during his last time through Phoenix and I’ve been looking forward to its release. Pushed to the limit by producer/friend/former guitarist BR Millon, Zac’s first release for NorthernBlues had me up out of my seat and dancing in my living room. Keep in mind that Zachariah is definitely a lover, not a fighter, and From the Root showcases him at his smooth talking absolute best. So let’s get on with it.

"Don’t Give Me Another Reason” finds Zac between a rock and a hard place. He’s fallen in love with a devil woman who has him under her spell and he’s trying hard to break away, but it’s tough. “If I ever get to heaven…it won’t be because of loving you…you’re the devil’s little angel…still I love you…yes I do!” Zac eventually escapes her clutches but not without feeling the pain of walking away.

Some fine harp work by Jimmy Z intros our next cut, “Hattie Mae”. “Hattie Mae…woman don’t you know…I’m in love with you…Hattie Mae…woman why can’t you be true?” Zac is definitely in the clutches of Hattie Mae and loves her despite all of her faults. It’s going to take some work but Zac is determined to hang in there. “It seems like a lifetime…but its only been 99 days…since you walked out on me…and we went our separate ways…now you want to come back into my life…you burned me once…but you won’t burn me twice…since you’ve been gone!” Zac is smart to walk away from this woman in “Since You’ve Been Gone” and it’s good he’s managed to move on.

“Back Bitin’ Back Stabbers” finds Zac in an all too common occurrence. His friend Bobby has been spending time with his wife Mary while he’s been gone, and it ain’t good. “I’m working hard on the road…but I’m sending my money home…somehow I found out…my Mary wasn’t alone…she’s a back bitin’ back stabber…I gave her up…now he can have her!” Hopefully Bobby’s happy with the mess he’s inherited, because Zac is moving on. A reggae feel permeates Zac’s pontification on “That’s What a Woman Needs.” “What she really needs…a little bit of loving…little bit of pleasing…full time attention for whatever she’s needing…respect and understanding…to feel security…hear just what I say…that’s what a woman needs!” I think Zac’s got most of it figured out and his advice is definitely sound.

Our tempo slows way down on what is the first ballad on the disc, “The Price of Lovin You.” Here we find Zac experiencing the deep pain of a good love coming to an end and he’s struggling to move on. “I can’t get this feeling out of me, baby…I guess it’s the price that I pay…the price that I pay…for loving you!” Sueann Carwell plays the woman in question, and she’s hurting, too. “I remember the good times…but I can’t…forget the pain…and how did we get here…which one of us…is to blame?” One always wonders how a good love goes bad, particularly when both partners are feeling the pain. It’s just too bad this one didn’t work out. Our mood changes and the tempo picks up when Zac tells us about his “Honey Bee.” “I’ve got a woman…her daddy named her Honey Bee…if you hear me holler…that honey bee is stinging me!” Honey Bee is definitely showing Zac a good time and he’s more than happy to be stung by her.

The lover in Zac is definitely coming out on “Smile on Your Face.” “If you need someone…that special one…I’ll be that one…you can lean on…baby, let me put a smile on your face…let me touch you in that special place…cause a smile renews your faith…let me put a smile on your face!” You have to admit Zac is one smooth talker but I’m thinking the ladies are starting to figure him out. A fierce guitar lick intros “Enough” and lets us know that Zac’s had his fill of this next woman. “You keep doing things behind my back…now finally came the straw that broke the camel’s back…now don’t you cry for me…don’t you shed a tear…cause I told you baby to stop all the stuff…baby, enough is enough!” “Keep the Blues Alive” lets us all know why we work so hard to keep the music going. “When I was a boy…I knew a man…folks said he was a real blues man…he taught me how to play this blues…said “you ain’t going to make no money…but here’s what you got to do…just keep the blues alive!” Fortunately for us Zac took his teachings to heart and remains deeply immersed in the Blues.

A taste of funk and R&B finds Zac espousing the virtues of “The Older Woman.” “If you’re looking for somebody…someone who treats you right…let me tell you son, I know somebody…she’s the right type…let me tell you…you have never been loved…until you’ve been loved by an older woman!” Sounds like someone’s definitely taught Zac right and he’s appreciative of all he’s learned. So of course in “Scratch”, Zac’s got an itch. “I’ve got a love rash baby…and I’m just itching for a scratch…I need you to scratch me baby…cause you know just where it’s at!” That’s all I can say about “Scratch.” “Want Ads” finds Zac finding the answer to his heartache. “Hey baby…so glad to see you again…and after all these years, baby…you still look the same…I want to tell you how much I’ve been missing you…and to show you this what I’m gonna do…going to put in the Want Ads…going to tell the whole world how I’ve been missing you…cause baby, it’s a bargain for this heart of mine!”

From the Root closes with an acoustic number, “Man is Not Meant to Be Alone.” Greg Wright accompanies Zac on slide guitar with Jimmy Z’s soulful harp in the background, “I said Lord…Lord…Lord…please won’t you send somebody down to me…cause I’m so tired of being on my own…a man is not meant to be alone!”

At 14 songs and just over 66 minutes in length, From the Root, is definitely a long record but Zachariah had a lot to say. Kudos’ to BR Millon for pushing Zac to showcase some of the finest guitar playing he’s ever done and thanks to all of the players behind him who made this record the disc that it is. Zac Harmon embraces his soul blues roots on this disc, and From the Root definitively shows that he’s learned his lessons well.

--- Kyle Deibler

Andrea MarrI have to admit that Andrea Marr is one ambitious Aussie. It’s not easy trying to garner attention from the American Blues community half a continent away, but she’s definitely trying. I’m familiar with Andrea from the 2006 IBC and was more than happy to review her new record, Little Sister Got Soul, to see how close she gets to the Memphis Stax sound she was shooting for.

Cam Scott’s organ in the background provides the ambience for Andrea’s acapella intro to “Soulville.” “Show me the way to go to Soulville…show me the way to go home…I got to go to Soulville…that’s where I belong!” Her heart resides in the deep soulful sounds that Stax was famous for and finally Andrea gets the chance to show the musical vision that she’s been working to achieve.

Soul gives way to sexy as Andrea charms her lover in “Steam Up The Windows.” “Rev up your motor and take me for a ride….I want to steam up the windows with you!” Sean Vagg’s sax work on this tune sets the bar for the passion Andrea’s reaching for. “I won’t need conversation…to get me in the mood…just need some body heat to find that special groove!” Greg Dodd’s fretwork adds to the fire and this car ride is nothing but hot! “I Prefer You” finds Andrea letting her man know he’s the one for her. “You have the standards…that I want to live by…yes, all the good loving I need…that’s why…I prefer you!” Andrea’s got a good man and all of the material things in the world won’t change how she feels.

On the other hand, Andrea can be an acquired taste and she’s not shy letting you know it in “Don’t Touch What You Can’t Afford.” “Now I don’t mince my words…I’m one straight up lady…cause talk…is cheap…but I’m not baby…don’t touch…what you can’t afford!” Honesty is what Andrea expects and she lets us know that in “Superwoman.” “I want the truth baby…so go ahead and speak your mind…cause love is all about respect…to get it…you’re going to have to give…it’s going to take a Superman…to love a Superwoman like me!” In “Taught Me To Love,” Andrea has finally found her match in the loving arms of a good man. “You can have me anyway that you please….cause, ooh your love amazes me…you taught me to love."

Cam Scott’s back at the keyboards to provide the intro for our next cut, “If I Leave This World Tomorrow.” “If I leave this world tomorrow…let me leave some love behind…there is too much pain and misery…too much heartache…and too much crying.” A little more love would make the world a better place and Andrea’s goal is a laudable one…to leave the world just a little bit better. Andrea’s horn section consists of a sax player, trumpet player and trombonist as they provide the backing ambience of “Real Good Man.” Andrea’s blessed to have a good man in her life and she’s more than happy to tell us all about it. “He works hard to make me happy…comes home with a smile on his face…knows just how to please me…a love too good to waste…I’ve got a good man!” Lucky for him, she feels the same way.

The horns are back in play as we segue into “What’s Wrong With You.” “Tell me baby...honey, what’s wrong with you…you don’t know a good thing when you see it…and I’m standing right here in front of you!” Andrea’s man is a player and this time he has to make a choice, she’s not going to be just another name in a well-worn black book. It's definitely feeling like he’s not going to make the smart choice here and it will be his loss.

Little Sister Got Soul closes with the ballad, “Baby Got Me Crazy.” Andrea’s definitely under the spell of the man that she loves. “The way he loves me…ooh…the way loves me…he makes me holler out his name…say and praise me…I’m loving the way…yeah, my baby got me crazy like that!” Girl’s definitely got it bad and that’s all good.

This is a very good record. I find that Andrea is true to her musical vision for the project and she has assembled a tremendous band to give her the soulful sound she’s looking for. Andrea can be sassy; she can definitely be passionate and hit all points in between. It’s easy to see why this record won her an Australian Blues Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, and definitely proves she’s a talent to be reckoned with. Hopefully one of these days she can bring her band back to America and show us here in the states what the Aussies already know, “little sister’s definitely got soul!”

--- Kyle Deibler

The InsomniacsI have to admit that The Insomniacs are starting to get under my skin with their newest release on Delta Groove, At Least I’m Not With You. It was my pleasure to work with them at last year’s Blues Music Awards and I know Vyasa, Dean, Alex and Dave are as hard a working blues band as there is on the road right now. So I’m sure it was a treat for them to get off the road and spend some quality time in the studio. They’ve recorded a great disc, so let’s get on with it.

Al Blake sits in with the band to add his harp on the first cut, “Lonesome,” as Vyasa is working hard to attract the lady in his sights. Vyasa’s a lonesome boy and he’s giving it his best shot, “I want to tell you baby…don’t treat me like a toy…cause I’m lonesome…I’ve been mistreated…I’m a dangerous boy!” Hopefully she’ll be patient and take him seriously.

The shoe is on the other foot in our next cut, “Broke and Lonely.” Times are tough, Vyasa’s out of money and he soon could be out on his ear. “I done lost all my money…now I’m 'bout to lose my mind…and it seems like my baby…wants to leave poor me behind.” The woman Vyasa loves continues to torment his thoughts and he just has to set the record straight in “Directly From My Heart to You.” “Direct…directly from my heart to you…you know I love you…and that’s why I feel so blue.” Ah, agony and ecstasy, the combustible components of true love.

When all else fails, the best course of action is to just go to straight ahead, as we learn in “Maybe Sometime Later.” “This is me confessing…I know how this might sound…girl, I’d like to undress you…when no one else’s around…but if that’s moving too fast… baby…you know, we could slow down!” Smooth and direct, Vyasa is willing to go as fast or as slow as she wants.

The title track, “At Least I’m Not With You,” finds Vyasa perfectly comfortable to move on without her. “Cause I might be alone…but at least I’m not with you!” Whatever the sources of their problems, Vyasa is happy to be alone without her and is satisfied to be single for awhile. “Root Beer Float” is the first of two amped up instrumentals on the disc and features Alex Shakari’s nimble fingers running up and down the keys of his piano.

It’s Mitch Kashmar’s turn to lend his harp to our next cut, a slow ballad entitled “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Here it seems that Vyasa’s woman has done a good job of putting one over on him, and if she doesn’t change her ways, she’ll have to go, because…”somebody done hoodoo…the hoodoo man!” Kashmar’s harp solo is excruciatingly sorrowful and more than conveys that pain that Vyasa is feeling now. You definitely feel this one is over now.

The mood and tempo lighten considerably as Vyasa tells us about the bell of the ball in “She Can Talk.” “She finally found…a guy to stick around…I saw them holding hands…while they walked round town…I asked my friend…why he had the luck…don’t you know…that boy is deaf!” “Damn that girl can talk!”

“Baby Don’t Do It” finds Vyasa pleading his case to his woman to let him stay. “If you leave me pretty baby…I’ll have bread without meat…please say you’ll change your mind…baby, don’t do it…don’t do it…please don’t do it…if you leave me pretty baby…I’ll have bread without no meat!” Shades of Dick Dale’s guitar had to influence the Insomniac’s next cut, “Angry Surfer.” “Come on sugar…let’s try again…cause…I…I…I really am your friend!” Vyasa’s fretwork would make Dick proud.

Confession time rears its head as Vyasa lets us know, “I was in love with a married woman…cause I just couldn’t help myself…I don’t go around breaking up families…that’s the reason…why I left.” “Description Blues” is an accurate title for this tune as Vyasa continues to embellish he tale of leaving the married woman he loves behind. Alex’s heavy hand on the B3 tells us that Vyasa truly loved this woman and its pains him terribly to have to walk away.

At Least I’m Not With You closes with “20/20,” a song where Vyasa admits looking back that he should have been satisfied with the woman he loved, and the second instrumental, “Insomniacs Boogie.”

I’ve enjoyed the up-tempo jump blues attack that the Insomniacs have come to call their own, and At Least I’m Not With You is an impressive disc. Al Blake, Mitch Kashmar and Jeff Turmes on saxophone all add just the right assist to what is a very tight quartet and this is a disc you’ll continue to throw back in the CD player again and again. The Insomniacs are all over Myspace and Facebook, so look for them there or stop by their website at

Wherever you land, grab a copy of At Least I’m Not With You, we need to keep these boys out on the road for a long time to come and they can use the gas money.

--- Kyle Deibler

The Insomniacs took the blues world by surprise in 2007 with their debut recording, Left Coast Blues, which received a 2008 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut. The band (Vyasa Dodson – vocals and guitar; Dean Mueller – bass; Alex Shakeri – keyboards) also received a 2007 Muddy Award (presented by Cascade Blues Association) for Best Contemporary Blues Act. Their exuberant and exhilarating blend of blues, swing, jump, and roots music seems to be a crowd pleaser wherever they go.

So with all those awards and critical acclaim coming after their initial release, it would seem like the bar would set incredibly high for the band’s sophomore effort, right? Well, it is set pretty high, but fortunately The Insomniacs are more than up to the challenge. Their second release for Delta Groove Music, At Least I’m Not With You, continues their hot streak with a vengeance. It features 13 tracks, including seven originals, of jumping west coast blues.

The session was recorded in two days, but consists of material that The Insomniacs have been playing at clubs and festivals for the past couple of years, so the brief amount of time allowed is no factor whatsoever. The original compositions showcase some clever lyrics on tracks like “She Can Talk,” “Angry Surfer,” and the catchy title track. Also included in the originals are a couple of sparkling instrumentals, “Root Beer Float” and “Insomniacs Boogie.”

The covers include the opener, a cool take on Memphis Slim’s “Lonesome,” a laid-back version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Broke and Lonely,” a smoldering rendition of Junior Well’s “Hoodoo Man Blues,” and Lowman Pauling’s R&B classic, “Baby Don’t Do It.” John Willie Henry’s “Description Blues” is another slow burner (clocking in at over eight minutes) featuring some great fretwork from Dodson and some hot Hammond B3 work from Shakeri.

Stopping by to lend a hand are harmonica aces Al Blake and Mitch Kashmar, Joel Paterson on pedal steel guitar, and Jeff Turmes on sax. It all adds up to another winner from The Insomniacs. At Least I’m Not With You is a marvelous set of West Coast blues that will please their ever-expanding fan base.

--- Graham Clarke

Duke RobillardDuke Robillard celebrates his 16th release for Stony Plain Records by taking a step back. Reuniting with several of his Roomful of Blues bandmates (Doug James, Rich Lataille, and Al Basile) as well as incorporating some new faces (singer Sunny Crownover), Robillard revisits the ’40s and ’50s blues and R&B that has been Roomful of Blues’ trademark for over 40 years on Stomp! The Blues Tonight. In addition to the powerful horn section, Robillard has assembled a top notch rhythm section (Marty Ballou and Jon Ross on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums) and a set list that includes a perfect blend of cover tunes and originals.

The cover tunes range from a splendid slow blues version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Three Hours Past Midnight,” a wonderfully bouncy take of Roy Milton’s “Baby, You Don’t Know” (a staple of Roomful’s early repertoire), a rollicking take on Tiny Grimes’ version of “Frankie and Johnny,” featuring Robillard’s guitar and James’ saxophone, Wynonie Harris’ “Playful Baby,” a version of “Money’s Gettin’ Cheaper” that bears closer to Charles Brown’s original version than the more familiar Jimmy Witherspoon version, and “Tore Up,” complete with a wild Ike Turner-influenced guitar turn. The disc closer, Milton’s “Early in the Morning,” shows the influence of Milton on Robillard’s vocal style.

The originals include the rowdy title track, which kicks the disc off in appropriate fashion, “Look But Don’t Touch,” a gritty Texas blues collaboration between Robillard and Crownover, and “Jumpin’ The Bone,” a superb instrumental tribute to T-Bone Walker composed by Robillard and James. Crownover’s sultry vocals are featured on six tracks, including “I Wanna Hug You, Kiss You, Squeeze You,” Helen Humes’ “Million Dollar Secret,” Jay McShann’s “Hands Off,” Paul Gayten’s “For You My Love,” and a marvelous rendition of the Bessie Smith classic, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

Robillard’s guitar work is as impressive as ever, as are his vocals. The band provides excellent support (Bruce Bears’ piano is a highlight) throughout. Any new Duke Robillard release is a guaranteed pleasure from start to finish, and Stomp! The Blues Tonight ranks up there with his best recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Ronnie EarlRonnie Earl is not your typical bluesman these days. He doesn’t tour, doesn’t appear on TV, doesn’t play festivals, rarely gives interviews, and is not interested in jumping through any of the hoops required to be a “star.” Recently sidelined by health problems, Earl was given the opportunity to sit back and re-evaluate his life, opting to simplify things. Now his primary focus is on the three “F’s:” family, friends, and faith. He sees his music as a means to “bring healing and love to the people who listen to it,” as well as an opportunity to forge a deeper relationship with God.

Earl’s previous release, Hope Radio (available on CD and DVD), was a magnificent effort that would seemingly be tough to improve on. However, his new release, Living in the Light (Stony Plain) is as powerful a release as its predecessor, fueled by Earl’s incredibly creative guitar work as well as stellar work from his band, the Broadcasters (Dave Limina – Hammond B3 and piano, Jim Mouradian – bass, and Lorne Entress – drums), along with some contributions from a few friends.

Those friends include the Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman, Kim Wilson, who plays harmonica and sings on three tracks: a gentle remake of Robert Jr. Lockwood’s “Take A Little Walk With Me,” “Child of a Survivor,” a song penned by Earl about the Holocaust (Earl’s parents were survivors), and “Donna Lee,” a tribute to Earl’s wife. New England blues singer Dave Keller contributes two tracks: the funky opening track, “Love Love Love,” and a soaring version of Bob Dylan’s gospel tune, “What Can I Do For You,” which also features members of the choir from Earl’s Baptist Church. Keyboard wiz Dave Maxwell also guests on two tracks, Rod James plays bass on one track, and Jason James adds second guitar on one track as well.

Living in the Light is easily Earl’s most personal album, based on the song selection and the passion and sincerity he brings to each guitar solo. The seven instrumental tracks are diverse and spectacular, featuring Earl’s highly distinctive and original playing as well as his interplay with Limina’s B3 and piano. What has amazed me about Earl’s albums is the fact that the most recent ones have featured nearly eighty minutes of guitar work and there’s never a dull moment. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for his next solo.

Living in the Light will please not only fans of blues and jazz guitar, but music fans in general. This is real soul music of the finest kind.

--- Graham Clarke

Colin LindenYou may not know who Colin Linden is, but if you listen to modern blues and roots music, there’s a good chance you’ve heard him. Linden has produced over 70 records, including efforts by Bruce Cockburn, Paul Reddick, Lucinda Williams, and Colin James. He’s played on at least 300 albums, served as guitarist for Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, and his songs have been covered by The Band, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Keb’ Mo’, and Colin James.

Linden has also released 11 solo albums over his career, the most recent of which is the ambitious From The Water (True North). The disc is dedicated to Linden’s good friend and collaborator, keyboardist Richard Bell, who passed away in 2007. Bell co-wrote one of the songs with Linden while in the hospital, “Trouble Comes In Threes,” a clever nod to Ray Charles’ Atlantic-era recordings. “Smoke Em All,” co-written by Linden and his wife, novelist Janice Powers, is a warm tribute to Bell and probably the only song that refers to Ray Charles and George Chuvalo in the same line. “The Heaven Me” is another tribute to Bell.

The title track is another highlight, beginning as a banjo-driven jaunt, but turning into an atmospheric New Orleans shuffle with lots of spooky slide guitar. “Mon Couer Est Dans Tes Mains” is a elegant number with a passionate vocal from Linden and so is the spiritual “I Have Seen A Miracle.”

“Later Than You Think” also has a spooky New Orleans feel to it. This is one of three songs from the recent Paul Reddick album, Sugarbird (produced by Linden), featured on From The Water (the others being the bluesy “Devilment,” with Reddick on harmonica, and “John Lennon In New Orleans,” reborn as a ’60s era ballad ) that Linden reinterprets and gives a whole new life to. In the liner notes, Linden states that he sees From The Water and Sugarbird as companion pieces.

Linden’s guitar work stands out from start to finish, and he gets great support from his backing musicians (Gary Craig – drums, percussion; John Dymond – bass; Bryan Owings – drums, percussion; John Whynot – keyboards; Whitey Johnson – National Resophonic guitar). Reddick also adds harmonica to selected tracks and the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson – trumpet, Tom McGinley – saxophone, and Jack Hale – trombone) give several tracks a R&B feel.

An exceptional, highly emotional piece, From The Water will grab you from the opening note and hold you until the last. If you don’t know who Colin Linden is, pick this disc up and prepare to be amazed.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim ByrnesJim Byrnes is familiar to many people from his appearances on TV shows like Wiseguy (as Lifeguard) from the late ’80s, or as Joe Dawson from the late ’90s syndicated favorite, Highlander, but he’s always considered himself a musician first and foremost. Born and raised in St. Louis, Byrnes absorbed all the great music emanating from the city during the glory days of blues and R&B. Artists like Chuck Berry, Ike & Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and Muddy Waters all frequently played in the city and were major influences on Byrnes’ style, a rootsy blend of blues, R&B, and gospel. All three genres are well-represented on Byrnes’ latest release, My Walking Stick (Black Hen).

Byrnes’ gritty vocals, the various genres covered by the track list, and the diverse instrumentation of some tracks bring to mind the music of The Band (whose “Ophelia” is one of the standout tracks covered). Steve Dawson’s production gives this disc gives an earthy feel. There’s nothing slick here. This is the real deal as far as roots music goes (I would call it Americana, but it doesn’t seem right, given it was produced in Canada…..let’s call it North Americana).

Byrnes expertly manages a varied set of tunes. His own compositions range from the bluesy “Ol’ Rattler” and “Talk In Circles.” Tracks like Mel Tillis’ “Walk On Boy,” “My Walking Stick,” “Ophelia,” “Three Shots,” and “Lonely Blue Boy (Danny’s Song)” all sit comfortably in the roots section, while there are also nods to gospel with Washington Phillips’ “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” and the traditional “I Want My Crown,” both featuring exquisite harmonies by the Vancouver gospel trio The Sojourners, who are spectacular throughout.

Byrnes revisits his St. Louis influences with a great set of obscure covers, including a soulful remake of the Valentinos’ “Lookin’ For a Love” (spiced up by Dawson’s slide guitar), Little Milton’s “I’m Living Off The Love You Give,” and a remake of Ray Charles’ “Drown In My Own Tears” that will raise chill bumps. The swampy “One Life (Creole Poetry)” closes the disc on a moody note.

In addition to The Sojourners, Byrnes enjoys the assistance of Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Jesse Zubot on violin, Keith Lowe on bass, and drummers Stephen Hodges and Matt Chamberlain. The multi-talented producer Dawson handles all the guitar work.

Jim Byrnes has won several Juno Awards (the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. Grammy) in recent years. One listen to My Walking Stick and you’ll realize that they were well-deserved. This is a must-have for roots music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Jason RicciSeveral years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear a CD from Jason Ricci and New Blood called Feel Good Funk. This self-released disc was one of the highlights of 2003 for me. Ricci was an amazing talent with seemingly endless energy and creativity. He not only played the blues, but also incorporated jazz and funk into his music. I was already familiar with Ricci, having read Adam Gussow’s article about him in Blues Access magazine a couple of years earlier (now collected in Gussow’s book, Journeyman’s Road), but the article, while it revealed much about his background and early struggles with drug abuse, really couldn’t do justice to his incredible talent.

Ricci studied with former Johnny Winter sideman Pat Ramsey and honed his harp skills to the point where he won the Sonny Boy Blues Society Blues Contest at the age of 21. He eventually relocated to the hill country of Mississippi where he joined David Kimbrough’s (son of Junior) band and played with many in the Kimbrough and Burnside families for several years. After a couple of years with the Zydeco/blues band Big Al and the Heavyweights, Ricci went solo and formed New Blood. The band has recorded several entertaining discs since 2003, but their latest, and second for Eclecto Groove Records, Done With the Devil, is easily their best so far.

Last month, Blues Bytes’ Kyle Deibler took a pretty comprehensive look at the songs on this disc. I can add little to his comments, but I will say that Done With the Devil has a great mix of original tunes with sometimes highly personal lyrics that cover the bases from the blues to jazz to rock to funk, along with what can best be described as a unique set of cover tunes, ranging from Glenn Danzig (“I Turned Into A Martian”), to Willie Dixon (“As Long As I Have You”) to Mongo Santamaria (“Afro Blue”) to Sun Ra (“Enlightenment”). There’s not a bad tune in the bunch.

While Ricci’s harmonica playing continues to be phenomenal, he has really improved as vocalist and a songwriter. The band (Shawn Starski – guitars; Todd “Buck Weed” Edmonds – bass; Ed Michaels – drums) wrote or co-wrote songs for the disc and one listen will prove that they are simply one of the best bands of any genre out there right now. They also get a hand from guitarist Shawn Kellerman on one cut along with producer Phil Wolfe, who plays guitar, Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes, and accordion on selected tracks.

Jason Ricci and New Blood continue to break new ground, taking the harmonica in directions that few ever imagined it would go. Done With the Devil has plenty to offer for blues fans willing to come along for the ride.

--- Graham Clarke

Shar-BabyShar-Baby & Clarence Bluesman Davis are two blues artists who have wanted to record together for a long time, and they finally got it together in May 2009 to produce Foot Stompin' Delta Blues. If you are a fan of down home delta blues, then this is the real deal! You’ll go a long way to find anything this good and this authentic – it’s roots music at it’s best --- simple, uncomplicated, pure blues.

These two compliment each other really well, providing vocals and guitar, and the band provide excellent backing – Jock Webb on harmonica, Kenny Webber(bass) and Albert Billups on drums, are joined at various times by Tommy Carter, Dale Hicks, and Nelson Brown (backing vocals).

The album opens with Shar-Baby on vocals on “Mercury Ford,” a good starting number with a driving bass line laid down by Kenny Webber overlaid by Jock Webb’s harmonica and Shar-Baby’s vocals – no need for me to tell you what the song’s about! The CD is dedicated in general to Shar-Baby’s good friend, Willie King, who passed away in March of this year, and track two, “Alabama,” is specially dedicated to him; the track was written by Shar-Baby and tells the story of the Alabama sound (you aint’ been around till you’ve heard that Alabama sound) which she has in bagfuls, even if she wasn’t born there.

On track three, “Blues All Over Me,” Clarence Davis takes hold of the vocals, providing a solid contrast to the previous two tracks, slowing things right down with a solid delta sound. Jock Webb again provides the harmonica, putting me in mind of Little Walter at times – understated stuff, no show-off riffs, just good playing. Track four and Shar-Baby is back on vocals on the Al Braylock song “Take It Eazy Greazy,” performed to perfection in Shar-Baby’s distinctive style; the guitar work is more up-front in this track and Jock Webb manages to change his style slightly to sound like a cross between Little Walter and Junior Wells. I like this guy’s playing!

Clarence is back on the vocal for the classic “C.C.Rider,” and the album alternates between Clarence and Shar-Baby with some really great blues. Shar-Baby’s “Blues Is Here To Stay” is an absolute winner, “Mr.Gip’s Juke House” is just as good, and Clarence’s version of the “Shake ‘em On Down” is one of the best that I’ve heard in a long time.

The album goes on producing even better and better songs until you wonder where it will end – and it ends on a fantastic instrumental boogie called, appropriately enough, “Fast Boogie” – and my feet wouldn’t stop tapping so I had to play it again, and again………..

E-mail to and get yourself a copy of possibly the best roots blues CD this year.

--- Terry Clear

Big GilsonSentenced To Living (Blues Boulevard) is the ninth album from Brazilian blues artist Big Gilson & Blues Dynamite that I’ve heard, although there are apparently 12 in total. He’s a one man blues promotion for Rio De Janeiro, and is determined to put the place on the map as a blues production centre!

The 11-track CD opens with “I Wonder Who,” and once it gets past its slightly flamboyant opening, it’s a good bluesy rendition of a Muddy Waters classic; Luciano Leaes guests on the track on Hammond organ, lending the track a different flavour totally from the original. The organ is never pervasive, but it’s there in the background and you know it.

The title track, “Sentenced To Living,” follows, and I guess it’s written by the band as the CD cover doesn’t mention writing credits for any of the tracks. Some, like “I Wonder Who,” “Tobacco Road,” “Take Me To The River,” and “Yer Blues” are fairly obvious, but some of the others are either more obscure or band originals.

Big Gilson & Blues Dynamite give John D Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road” a nice boogie beat, and it works very well – Hammond organ again, but this time courtesy of Miguel Archanjo, supporting Big Gilson’s guitar work.

Not all of the tracks are pure blues, but there’s enough blues on the album to make it interesting. Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” for example, is a good blues track, as is the following track, “Way Down In Hastings” – possibly another band original? “Silver Train” hit me as being Mick Jagger’s song from the album Goat’s Head Soup, but it’s not that one, it’s an instrumental foot-tapper with shades of hillbilly blues. The CD culminates in the Lennon/McCartney track “Yer Blues,” and the band makes a good version of it.

The band continues to produce good solid albums.

--- Terry Clear

Mick StoverThis band, Mick Stover's Gentleman's Blues Club, is a new one on me, although it was actually founded in 2005 by bass player Mick Stover. Stover had previously been in blues/rock bands and toured extensively in Japan, USA & Canada.In 2005 Stover invited friends he had met during his career to come and join his new band, The Gentlemen’s Blues Club. The take up included B.B.Chung King, Dave Osti, Dave Raven and others, and the band quickly became a hit with US audiences.

Their first album (which I unfortunately missed) was Shotgun Wedding, followed in 2007 by Longhorn Honeymoon and in 2008 by Red, White & Blue. How did I miss out on these? Maybe they didn’t make their way to Europe!

This new album, The Sky's On Fire (Music Avenue), is 13 studio recorded tracks with the addition of three live tracks, and out of these 17 tracks, only one of them is a cover version (Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”).

I have to say at the outset, that this CD is more rock than blues, but there are some blues/rock tracks and some blues, too – check out track three, “State Of Grace,” very Stevie Ray Vaughan, or track eight, “Run,” a superb boogie number that leaves you wanting more of the same.

When I saw track nine on the sleeve was called “Dust Broom” I was convinced it was a take on Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”, but it’s totally original with no reference to Elmore’s track. It’s a fast-paced rock/blues about a motel cleaning lady, and it’s good. It leads into “” Kinds Of Women,” an equally good track and slightly more bluesy with a lot of keyboard action.The band’s take on the Led Zeppelin track is well put together, slightly more blues than the original, if anything, and I found I liked it more than Led Zep’s version!

The three live tracks prove that this band can play, and the blues tracks on the album show that they know their stuff. It would be great to hear a whole album of blues from them!

--- Terry Clear

Lisa PhenixLisa Phenix’s second CD, Songflower Girl, is another impressive effort. The recurring theme is love, particularly mother-child. It’s good, organic music with crossover potential into country, album rock, folk, and bluegrass.

Held over from the first disc are Producers Lisa Phenix and Michael Roe (mandolin/guitars), with the third this time being Ralph Stover (one of the disc’s pianists). Special guest is Chuck Bond on trumpet. The band is rounded out with electric and stand-up bass, drums, dobro/banjo, violin, pedal steel and a second guitarist. As for production and natural sound, this one is right on. The band is as accomplished as on CD # 1, but the vocals integrate more effectively. They sound live, not overdubbed. Artwork is professional and colorful.

Phenix well-plays “Silly Little Mama,” a fitting sobriquet. She seems to draw influence from a couple musicians she likes, the muscular and diverse Texas singer/songwriter Carolyn Wonderland as well as the charming Tennessee bluegrass songbird Robinella. Starting on the open mic circuit in her hometown of Sacramento with Kate Wolf tunes, Lisa is now an effective artist who’s finished product is distinctly her own.

Songflower Girl is sprinkled with originals this time mixed with some co-written by band mates, a Grateful Dead tune, plus “Hosea” by Gregory Norbert. The album opens up and bright, well-sequenced in tempo and mood, expressive in feeling on quality canvass. Rockabilly gives way to High Plains Drifter-type music utilizing the guest trumpeter, thru medium rock, all well-wrapped with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

Phenix’s voice is always pitch-perfect, just a pinch of very fine grit. She really needs to be heard by more people, whether they agree her music has commercial potential or not. Packaging is consistent with Lisa’s personality and image just like the previous CD, be it the slow pace of life, outdoor environment, or classic cars in the northern California country. I can attest that her music reflects her real personality. You can tell music permeates anything she may be doing in life.

The performer’s first disc was Homegrown (reviewed for this publication in March 2005) which burst forth with an impeccable back-up band, pure lead vocals, and shiny production.

In addition to her two music CDs, her “Silly Little Mama” website  sells a We Feel box set including emotional intelligence playing cards (designed to help children identify and cope with their’s and other’s feelings), a music and movement CD, and instructions. Also available is a Christmas album, Holidays are for Hugging.

--- Tom Coulson
Radio Broadcaster/Musician

Paul Simon sang, “Detroit, Detroit/got a hell of a hockey team,” and yeah the Red Wings are back in the playoffs, but he might have mentioned the hell of a music scene in this town, too! This was home to John Lee Hooker, Sippie Wallace, Willie D. Warren, Baby Boy Warren, Boogie Woogie Red, the Butler Twins, Chicago Pete and other major blues folks. It still boasts the likes of Eddie Burns, Alberta Adams, RJ Spangler, Reverend Robert Jones, Johnny Bassett, Robert Noll, Madcat Ruth, Little Sonny, Harmonica Shah, Jim McCartney, Lazy Lester, boogie woogie legend Bob Seeley and many more. That’s not to mention the Motown, jazz (Kenny Burrell, the Jones brothers, Curtis Fuller, James and Regina Carter, etc) and rock (MC5, Stooges, Amboy Dukes) legacies. This has always been a workingman’s town dominated by journeymen musicians with strong work ethics. For all its faults, Detroit continues to churn out world class blues acts that reflect life in the trenches.

Consider the following a pretty fair slice of the best that Detroit blues has to offer:

Christy HowardChristy Howard’s I Crossed the Tracks (No Cover), her second outing in three years, is a delightful mishmash of city and country-flavored blues delivered with the able assistance of a first-rate band. Husband Jeff Howard’s guitar work is sizzling, as is that of Jim Kahr -- who played with John Lee Hooker, Muddy, Junior Wells, Lowell Fulson and the like – and the incendiary Billy Davis, the original guitarist with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Maybe the only real distinction between blues and country is accent. Howard’s Tennessee accent follows her into the studio, but there is plenty of adopted Detroit grit here, too. Combined with a lope that speaks to her roots in country, bluegrass and gospel, the combo is magical. The songs are all impressive originals from Christy and Jeff Howard with standouts being the country-slinky title cut, “It’s a Shame,” “Livin’ On the Edge of Sin,” the “Loan Me a Dime”-groove of “Six Feet Down in the Blues,” “Deep In Blues Country” and guest vocalist Jan Abrams’ superb vocalizing on “Blues To the Bone” and “On the Gamblin’ Floor,” the latter with Wailin’ Dale Blankenship on wailin’ harp. This has grown into one of my favorite recordings of the year.

Sweet Claudette recorded That Man’s Got To Go (No Cover), her fifth release, live in the studio – first takes all. Enhanced by Howard Glazer’s fiery guitar and a two man horn section (Marty Montgomery, saxes and Alonzo ‘Big Al” Haralson, trumpet and flugelhorn) Claudette sails through a 10-song program of originals, and an Albert King cover (“Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness”) with the chops of a seasoned pro with loads of experience under her belt. The title cut (“that man of mine is breakin’ up my happy home”) is a standout in a program loaded top to bottom with impressive numbers. Claudette is the epitome of Detroit finger-snappin’ party blues, but she’s also a master at the low down. “Not Another Moment,” the sho’ nuff sweet “Don’t Talk That Yak To Me,” and the gorgeous “Love I See In Your Eyes” point to the work of a talented woman who has traveled the road

Motor City Josh released Forty Four on his own Ford Music Co. imprint. Every blues man worth his salt has latched on to a Howlin’ Wolf tune or two in their career. Motor City Josh Ford is enamored enough of the blues giant to have released this collection of all Howlin’ Wolf covers. That he does so with sizzling chops and wholly impressive vocals speaks volumes to his talent. The CD, at least his 10th, features guest Jason Ricci’s harp on a handful of numbers, in addition to Ford’s band and other locals sitting in. The star of the show, however, is unquestionably Motor City Josh. He’s always been an enticing figure with his swagger and humor sharing equal space. Both are in abundance here. The opening title piece sets the hard driving pace, and his takes on “Spoonful,” “Evil Is Goin’ On,” “Back Door Man,” “I Ain’t Superstition,” “Sittin’ On Top pf the World,” “Little Red Rooster,” a rollicking “Wang Dang Doodle” and other Wolf classics does both the Wolf and Josh proud. This isn’t a mere album of covers – it’s a killer disc. Pretty impressive liners from Josh, as well!

Kate HartKate Hart, who was nominated for a Grammy for her 1990 debut disc and who led the extraordinary Detroit Women project for a long while, has self released the wholly hypnotic Alone Again with Friends on her own imprint. Featuring her smooth vocals, impressive original songwriting and arrangements, and a first-rate crew of players, the core of which is the award-winning Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones, with a pair of Detroit Women and a trio of Seattle Women sitting in, this is exquisite front to back. The opening “Bowin’ To the Main Man” is slinky and riveting. “Bad Girl Blues” could have been a Victoria Spivey outtake – in fact there is a good deal of classic blues-revisited that informs the bulk of the project. “You Are Bothering Me” exudes clinking glasses and a smoky room, “Snooze You Loose,” the swingin’ “Albaturkey Blues,” “Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed,” and the clever “Boogie Woogie Food Menu” are standouts, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t dazzle. More impressive with every spin, this is the work of a talent deserving of wider recognition, ya dig?

Motor City Women & Detroit Express has their impressive debut, Ready, out on Josh Ford’s label, and it’s a blast! A rowdy rockin’ piano-pounding “Did He Mention My Name?” opens with a bang and it doesn’t let up from there. Cheryl Lescom takes the lead, with background vocals that remind of Ball-Barton-Strehli. The groove shifts to a very funky “Watch What You’re Doing,” demonstrating the diversity of this amazing collective. Lady T, backed again by the gals, is all about double and single entendres. The chorale opening on “Guilty for Lovin’ You” is gorgeous, á la Take 6. Lescom is again impressive here, showcasing a more tender side. Stacia Petrie Ford is funky and soulful on “Right Here Right Now,” one of the standout pieces on the disc, and Elena Papillo has the lead on “On the Road,” on which the guitar (likely Ford) flashes off gorgeous Dickie Betts-style lines. The core band is Steve Kohn (drums), Jim David (keyboards), Rich Zeldes (bass) and Dennis Burr (guitar), with Motor City Josh on guitar and percussion. “Are You Really Ready?,” with Lady T back at the mic, is a booty rockin southern style blues. Aja Sardis takes the lead on “Hey, Hey, Hey,” a blues/jazzy sort of number with excellent instrumental backing, veteran Valeri Barrymore burns up “Can You Feel My Blues,” and Lady T’s “Side To Side” is a finger snapper. Ford’s closing lead on “One More Last Chance” is a gorgeous blues. These gals are all dyed in the blues and first rate. The project points most decidedly to the breadth of talent in Detroit. Yup, we got a hell of a music scene.

--- Mark E. Gallo


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]



The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: May 31, 2009 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2009, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.