Blues Bytes

What's New

June 2012

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Ryan Shaw

Patricia Silverberg

Royal Southern Brotherhood

RJ Mischo

The Nighthawks

Rory Block

Lisa Biales

The Strata-Tones

Quintus McCormick

Tweed Funk

Rockin' Johnny

Sena Ehrhardt

Cee Cee James


Ryan ShawI was a little late to the Ryan Shaw game, not picking up on his debut album, This Is Ryan Shaw, until three years after it was released. But that didn't stop me from raving about it in the December 2010 Flashback feature.

I was much more current with Shaw's latest release, Real Love (Dynotone Records), downloading it on its release date and immediately started grooving to one of today's finest contemporary soul singers.

Shaw, son of a southern Pentecostal minister, never strays far from his gospel roots. Real Love sounds just a touch more contemporary than his debut disk, but with the same Sam Cooke/Otis Redding/Jackie Wilson sound to his powerful vocals that makes him one of the more exciting singers to come along in years.

That more contemporary feel to the disk can be heard on the electronic intro to the opening cut, "Real Love," before Shaw's soaring vocals comes in to remind the listener of Jackie Wilson's best performances. This is an upbeat start to the album, with Shaw singing the praises of "real love" --- "It's like rain in the deserts, it's like finding a treasure, like struggling in the dark, and someone shines a light ... never seen such a beautiful sight, and when you find it nothing takes you higher ..." Wow!

Shaw finds that his real love is missing on the next cut, "Karina," as he begs for his baby to come back home. This one has more of a classic Motown feel; I could easily imagine someone like David Ruffin or perhaps even Marvin Gaye singing this one.

While most of the cuts are Shaw originals, several cover songs stand out. One such number is the Jerry Ragovoy composition, "You Don't Know Nothing About Love," a slow, soulful anthem to the heart. It's redundant to say that Shaw's vocals stand out on this number, because that could be said about the entire album. Here, he's feverish about telling someone that their knowledge about love is truly lacking.

Another outstanding number is Shaw's version of the Paul McCartney oft-recorded classic, "Yesterday." I hesitate to even call this one a cover. It's certainly recognizable to the Beatles version, but Shaw takes it on such an extended trip through the choir loft that it's really hard to compare the two renditions. Fantastic, gospel-influenced vocals makes this one worth the price of admission alone!

"Blackmail," a Pam Sawyer composition previously done by both Bobby Taylor and David Ruffin, has Shaw singing the blues about his innocent tryst with an "evil woman" who threatens his upcoming marriage to the true love of his life. Shaw truly sounds anguished about his situation to the point of questioning his sanity --- "If I'm lying, I hope that I go blind ... if I'm lying, I must be losing my mind."

Shaw continually flips between paying homage to the women he loves and lamenting the ones that he's lost, the former emotion coming across on "Evermore" (with an Earth, Wind & Fire-like background chorus) and the latter on "Gone Gone Gone" ("... I should have put a ring on your finger, that's what I should've done ...").

Real Love ends with a nice, pleasant number with a Latin touch, "Morning Noon & Night," which easily could have been mined from the Sam Cooke songbook. It's an effective conclusion to an outstanding album.

Shaw is undoubtedly one of the finest soul singers alive today. The fact that he's only 31 years old means that we can look forward to many, many more excellent recordings from him.

--- Bill Mitchell

Patricia SilverbergPatricia Silverberg is a folk artist and singer/songwriter from Arizona who performs her own material in a bluesy style. She doesn't do the kind of music that encourages the audience to join hands and sing along in unison; rather, her style is more industrial strength folk/rock music intended to convey a message to the listener. Ms. Silverberg's new self-released EP, Don't Look Back (Life Is Sweet Music), contains six songs featuring her deep, throaty vocals and guitar playing. She doesn't have the most melodic voice, but it's one that will haunt your memory long after you are finished with the CD.

The two bluesiest songs are the title cut, "Don't Look Back," and "Hear My Song," both of which feature the fine harmonica work of Arizona artist Anne James. The latter of these tunes best represents Ms. Silverberg's style because, when she sings " .. hear my song ..", it's a command and not a request. This number is the one in which she does her best vocal work.

Another good cut is the closing "Tell Me Again," a slower number highlighted by tasteful keyboard accompaniment from Mary Minnini. It's kind of microcosm of Ms. Silverberg's style. She's reinforcing a stern message to someone in her life, similar to the way that she continually tries to get her viewpoints across to her audience.

While the music on Don't Look Back isn't a classic 12-bar blues sound, the listener is pulled into Ms. Silverberg's world by her commanding voice, similar to the deep blues artists of the past. For more information, check her website at

--- Bill Mitchell

Royal Southern BrotherhoodOver the years, musical super groups (groups consisting of major players from other bands) have come and gone, most of them barely leaving a trace due to a number of issues, including excessive ego, failure to get on the same musical page, or sometimes unimaginative, uninspired material that doesn’t live up to the potential of the members. For every above-average effort like Rockpile or Blind Faith, there are numerous forgettable bummers, such as Little Village and Tiny Town.

The latest super group on the scene is Royal Southern Brotherhood, consisting of singer/percussionist Cyril Neville (of the Neville Brothers), singer/guitarist Mike Zito, singer/guitarist Devon Allman (of the band Honeytribe, occasional member of The Allman Brothers and, yes, Gregg’s son), drummer Yonrico Scott (the Derek Trucks Band) and bass player Charlie Wooton. This promising quintet recently jumped into the fray with their self-titled debut on Ruf Records.

RSB’s initial release consists of a dozen songs, 11 of which were written or at least co-written by Neville, Zito, and Allman. The standouts include the Neville-esque opener, “New Horizon,” with shared vocals from Neville and Zito, Allman’s anguished “Left My Heart in Memphis,” “Moonlight Over the Mississippi,” Zito’s “Hurt My Heart,” and the anthemic “Got to Keep Rockin’,” from Allman and Neville. The disc’s lone cover is a sparkling version of the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain,” which Neville previously recorded on a Neville Brothers disc in the early ’90s, albeit in a more somber style.

Neville and Zito both sound great here, and if none of the material here stands above their own solo work, it’s at least on a par with it in some cases. Allman may be less well-known to casual fans, but he shows himself to be an excellent guitarist capable of playing it tough or tender. He really comes into his own with this group, and his vocals are noteworthy as well, especially on “Left My Heart in Memphis.”

The Nevilles and Allmans both have a unique sound and obviously the intent was to combine the best qualities of those two sounds into one. The disc is very successful in that endeavor…..the music looks back at both styles, but also has a strong progressive focus.

So, on which side of the spectrum does RSB fall as far as musical super groups are concerned? I would put them on the successful side. These guys have a definite chemistry and obviously enjoyed playing and writing songs together. I wholeheartedly recommend Royal Southern Brotherhood’s release for fans of both groups and southern blues/rock in general.

--- Graham Clarke

RJ MischoRJ Mischo got his first harmonica at the age of 12. At 16, his life was changed after seeing Muddy Waters perform. Nearly 30 years have passed since Mischo started playing on the Minneapolis blues scene and with artists like Percy Strother and Mojo Buford, eventually leading the RJ and Kid Morgan Band (with Strother on vocals and Teddy Morgan on guitar). He recorded with Morgan in 1994 and has also released nine CDs of his own since the mid ’90s.

Recently, Mischo signed with Delta Groove Records and his debut for the label, Make It Good, is a strong set of traditional blues with a modern twist. Mischo has assembled a powerhouse backing band with Austin guitarists Johnny Moeller and Nick Curran, along with former Night Cat and T-Bird Ronnie James Weber (bass), Nick Connolly (keyboards), and Wes Starr (drums). The proceedings were recorded for the most part in Austin, and were produced by Mischo.

The band tears through 13 tracks, beginning with the rocking “Trouble Belt.” “Frozen Pickle” is a greasy instrumental with Connolly getting funky on the keyboards and Moeller ripping off a fine solo. Other highlights include “Papa’s S.T. Special,” an intense old school instrumental that brings to mind Sonny Terry, “Minnesota Woman,” a Chicago-styled shuffle in the finest Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller Version) tradition, and “Not Your Good Man,” another track with Chicago all over it.

“Up To The Brim” is one of two tracks (the title track is the other) that team Mischo with guitarist Jeremy Johnson. These two tracks were recorded in St. Paul, Minnesota, and feature Mischo in a downhome, stripped down mode. Drummer Richard Medek joins in on the title track. “The Biscuit is Back” features Mischo with both guitarist, and “Elevator Boogie” is another fast-paced instrumental.

Make It Good is good, indeed. Mischo sounds great on harp and vocals, he gets superlative backing from Curran, Moeller, and the tight rhythm section, and his songs are first rate. Fans of harmonica blues will surely enjoy this lively set.

--- Graham Clarke

The FremontsThe Fremonts’ last release was 2006’s Mighty Crazy, an excellent set of old school blues mixing the best of vintage Excello and Chess Records. The band still features two outstanding guitarists (Tony Tomlinson and Patrick Skog) and ace harmonica player Troy Sandow, drummer Alan West, and lead singer/washboard/percussionist Mighty Joe Milsap, whose laidback style brings to mind Frank Frost, Sam Myers, and Jimmy Reed.

Live at the Woodpit (Truax Records) captures the band in performance in front of an intimate, but enthusiastic audience at the historic Bailey Woodpit BBQ in Julian, CA, back in November of 2010. The set features 12 great tracks of swampy blues, ten covers and two originals (Tomlinson’s “Send Up” and “Temporary Love”) that compare well to the classics. Many of the songs are familiar, but The Fremonts add a few twists. Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” is given a swinging backdrop and Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is livened up considerably from its traditional somber setting, while Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae” is given a slow blues treatment.

The group’s swamp blues influences are felt, too, with covers of Lonesome Sundown’s “You Know I Love You” and Slim Harpo’s classic, “Scratch My Back.” Traditional urban blues are also on display with covers of George “Harmonica” Smith’s “I Found My Baby,” Billy Boy Arnold’s “Wish You Would,” Little George Sueref’s “Treat Your Daddy Right,” and the Anson Funderburgh/Sam Myers tune, “Tell Me What I Want To Hear.”

You can’t go wrong with The Fremonts. Their flawless approach to traditional blues will please longtime blues fans and also draw in newcomers with its freshness and originality. Stop by at CDBaby and check this one out.

--- Graham Clarke

The NighthawksThe Nighthawks are celebrating their 40th year as a band in style, with a new label (Severn Records) and a brand new release of their brand of American Roots music. Damn Good Time offers up a typically fine sampling of blues, soul, rock, and R&B. Over the years, The Nighthawks have featured a phenomenal group of musicians, including Jimmy Thackery, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Nalls, Pete Kanaras, Jimmy Hall, and Pete Ragusa, but the current ensemble (original Nighthawk Mark Wenner, plus longtime members Paul Bell and Johnny Castle, and two year-member Mark Stutso) may be the strongest assembly yet.

Three of the four are outstanding, and distinctive, singers, which adds variety to the songs, a dozen tracks originally done by acts like Elvis Presley (“Too Much”), Billy Price (“What You’re Workin’ For”), Ace Moreland (the title track), Nat King Cole (“Send For Me”), Jimmy McCracklin (“Georgia Slop”), and Wilbert Harrison (“Let’s Work Together”). There are also three tracks from the pen of Norman Nardini, with Stutso (“Minimum Wage,” “Down to My Last Million Tears,” and “Heartbreak Shake.”

Wenner’s vocals and harp are as powerful and dependable as ever, and guitarist Bell makes the most of his opportunities to sparkle. The rhythm section of Castle and Stutso do an excellent job on a varied range of material.

Oddly enough, even though The Nighthawks have released over two dozen albums since their beginnings in 1972, and they continue to be one of the hardest working bands out there, touring constantly and backing artists like Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins, John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson over the years, they’ve never quite gotten over the hump until the past few years. Hopefully, this excellent release, the best I’ve heard from them, plus their new partnership with Severn Records will provide the big push that they so much deserve.

--- Graham Clarke

Rory BlockNot long after I started listening to the blues, I picked up a cassette of recordings from the ’60s Newport Folk Festival. There were some nice tunes on there from folks like Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Wilkins, and the Reverend Gary Davis. I had only heard of Davis at that point, about what a masterful and influential guitarist he was. Even that didn’t prepare me for the sheer passion, power, and majesty of his performances…not just his guitar playing, but his fiery vocals as well. There were two of his songs on that set, “Samson and Delilah” and “I Won’t Be Back No More,” and I remember playing them over and over again. From there, I went on and found some of his early recordings from the ’30s and ’50s, then some of his Folkways recordings from the late ’50s. It’s hard to listen to Davis’ recordings and not be moved.

When I read that Rory Block was working on an album of Rev. Gary Davis songs, as part of her “Mentor Series,” I figured this would be a good thing. Her previous releases in this series, tributes to Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell, were obviously labors of love for her. She completely immersed herself into these artists’ styles with a barely restrained ferocity at times. Reading the liner notes on her latest release, I Belong to the Band: a Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis (Stony Plain), you’ll find that Block says she was moved to tears as she listened to these songs, remembering the times that she spent in Davis’ apartment, playing with and listening to Davis with fellow guitarist Stefan Grossman.

The opening cut is “Samson and Delilah,” and Block doesn’t play the song as much as she attacks it, with vocals that incorporate shouts, screams, shrieks, and exhortations, and fierce guitar thrown in for good measure. It’s a remarkable performance….one of many on the disc. Block hits most of the high spots in Davis’ catalog (the title song, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here,” “Pure Religion”), but also focuses on some of the Reverend’s lesser-known, but just as vital recordings. Her guitar playing is superlative. Even though her first love is Delta Blues and the Davis repertoire is mostly East Coast and Ragtime style, she captures the style perfectly. Her vocals also recreate the mood and tone of the songs well.

The production, by Block and Rob Davis, gives the disc a warm, intimate feel….maybe the subject matter had something to do with that as well, but it has a rougher, more traditional feel to it than her previous two tribute discs. In my opinion, this is the best of Rory Block’s “Mentor Series” so far, and maybe one of the best recordings she’s done. It will be hard to top this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad HatfieldBrad Hatfield is a fascinating story. The Cincinnati native‘s father, Bernie Hatfield, has played piano for numerous blues acts, so the youngster was raised with the blues since birth, learning to play guitar at age 10. Unfortunately, he was injured in a construction accident at the age of 25, an accident which left him paralyzed. Unable to play guitar in his condition, he picked up the harmonica. Combining his rapidly developed harp skills with an incredibly soulful voice, Hatfield has become one of the Cincinnati area’s preeminent blues players.

Hatfield’s debut release, Uphill From Anywhere, shows him to be a gifted songwriter in addition to his other skills. He wrote or co-wrote (with producer/guitarist Jon Justice) seven of the eleven tracks. Highlights include the opening cut, “Witness to My Misery,” and “Fit to Be The Fool,” both of which feature marvelous vocals and harmonica. The Justice-penned “One More Night,” just drips with soul and passion and features some sizzling slide from Justice. “Somebody’s Got To Lose” puts Hatfield’s harmonica skills on display, while “End of Time” has a nice gospel feel to it. “Livin’ Out the Lie” is a smoky minor key lament with another great vocal turn from Hatfield.

Hatfield also tackles a pair of challenging cover tunes, both usually associated with Son House. The uptempo revision of “Death Letter” works pretty well (Hatfield’s father, Bernie, adds some funky keyboards to this track as well as the rest of the disc). “John the Revelator” is done a cappella, and Hatfield’s version stands up well to most of the other versions.

Justice’s production work is pristine and his guitar work will make you wonder when his next disc is coming out. Justice and Bernie Hatfield are the secret stars of the disc with their excellent backing on guitar and keyboards, respectively. The rhythm section of Michael Bram (drums) and Scot Hornick (bass) are right on time. A very special pair of guest musicians round out the cast – Dave Gross plays guitar on a couple of tracks, acoustic (“Fit to Be The Fool”) and electric (“One More Night”), and harmonica ace Dennis Gruenling plays harp on “Too Good to Give Away.”

Brad Hatfield has bounced back from adversity and, with his masterful vocals, harmonica, and songwriting, shows the potential to be a prominent figure in the future of the blues. Uphill From Anywhere is an excellent set of modern blues from a guy we will be hearing more from in the future, guaranteed.

--- Graham Clarke

Lisa BialesLisa Biales’ latest release, Just Like Honey (Big Song Music), is an alluring collection of blues, Americana, and roots music all geared toward the sounds of vintage music from the ’20s and ’30s through the ’60s. Produced by E.G. Kight and featuring a lineup of musicians that includes Paul Hornsby, Tommy Talton, and Bill Stewart, the disc focuses squarely on the vocal charms of Ms. Biales with a choice set of tunes by Kight, Candye Kane, Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie, Odetta, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, and the Delmore Brothers.

Biales’ voice is a wonderful instrument. Her lithe and seductive performance of the title track is outstanding. Her reading of Etta James’ “Damn Your Eyes,” is tough, but a bit wistful at the same time. Other standouts include the sweet “Come To Me” (penned by Biales), the free-wheeling “Peaches,” the classic “Yonder Comes the Blues,” and a lovely version of Kight’s “Through the Eyes of a Child.” She also does a great job on the opening romp, Memphis Minnie’s “Call the Fire Wagon.” She’s also comfortable on the rock side of blues, handling Candye Kane’s bold “Gifted in the Ways of Love.”

Kight does a great job as producer, plus she contributes three songs and makes some sweet harmony with Biales on the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away From Me.” The band does a fantastic job with this wide variety of tunes. Actually, Biales does an excellent job, too, covering a wide range of styles with charm and confidence. Just Like Honey is a very enjoyable release that will appeal to music fans in general.

--- Graham Clarke

Strata-TonesThe latest release by The Strata-Tones, Dressed Up to Fess Up (Fruition Records), mixes jumping R&B with blues. Founders Bruce Krupnik (guitar) and Rick Pittmann (drums) have shared the stage with an amazing array of artists over the years, ranging from Candye Kane, Kirk Fletcher, B.B. King, Roger Collins, Milton Hopkins, Tommy Castro, Wilson Pickett and Etta James. They front a powerhouse band that includes Kevin McCracken (harmonica), Ken Burton (keyboards), Wil Anderson (bass), and a tight horn section led by Terry Lawless. However, The Strata-Tones’ secret weapon is singer Valerie Johnaon, who blows the doors off the disc with her amazing range, moving from tough to tender with ease.

Dressed Up to Fess Up consists of ten songs, with eight originals that move effortlessly from straight blues to swing to jumping R&B. The highlights include “BeBop Baby,” “Lovers Lost & Found,” “Raggedy Annie,” “This Old House,” and “Treat Your Woman Right.” Krupnik, McCracken, and Johnson all contribute originals and they are uniformly fine. Covers include B.J. Sharp’s “Keep On Cookin’” and a live version of “Ball and Chain,” featuring former Big Brother & the Holding Company member Johnson doing her best Janis.

Overall, Dressed Up to Fess Up is a well-crafted set of rocking blues and R&B lifted up by the charsmatic presence and dynamic vocals of lead singer Johnson. This one should definitely get you on your feet and keep you there for awhile.

--- Graham Clarke

Marion JamesEven though Nashville is universally recognized as the capital city of Country Music, the city also boasts an unusually strong blues and soul base as well, dating back to the ’50s and ’60s, when soul icons like Ray Charles, James Brown, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Jimmy (pre-Jimi) Hendrix, Etta James, and Fats Domino tore up the local nightclub scene on a regular basis.

Singer Marion James has been a mainstay of the Nashville scene since the ’60s. Her recording, “That’s My Man,” was a Top 10 hit for Excello Records in 1966, one of many soul hits originating from Nashville for the label. Hendrix and future Band of Gypsies bass player Billy Cox were members of James’ band in the early ’60s.

James disappeared from the recording scene during the ’80s, but resurfaced in the ’90s, recording for Appaloosa. She’s toured regularly since then, and recently released her second album on EllerSoul Records (the first was a reissue of her classic, Essence). Northern Soul retains many of the successful qualities of her earlier release, but also features James blending blues, funk, gospel, and a touch of New Orleans R&B into the mix.

Ms. James wrote or co-wrote seven of the 13 tracks on Northside Soul, including the opening cut, “I Fell,” a nice mid-tempo track that features stinging guitar fills and smooth background vocals, the funky “Smokin’ Hot,” and the mellow blues, “Crushing My Heart.” The gospel-flavored “Blues Recipe” is a highlight, with its churchy organ and T-Bone-esque guitar, and “I Know A Good Thing” sounds like a long-lost Hi Records track.

James also covers six tunes….”I’m Just What You’re Looking For,” a horn-driven track written by Nashville R&B legend Ted Jarrett, “Next Time You See Me,” reimagined as a Crescent City Second Line jumper, a slow burning version of Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul,” the Big Maybelle classic, “Candy,” and Denise LaSalle’s “Man Size Job,” which ventures into ’70s funk territory. The disc closes with a version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” that starts out as a straight-forward interpretation of the old Willie Dixon classic, but morphs into a nearly seven minute sweaty funk workout.

Overall this is a great set of blues, soul, and R&B. Marion James is a seasoned veteran of all three styles. If there’s any justice in the world, Northside Soul should get her some attention as one of the better female soul/blues singers working today.

--- Graham Clarke

Quintus McCormickQuintus McCormick received a lot of attention for his outstanding 2009 release, Hey Jodie! McCormick quickly emerged as one of the promising new voices in the soul/blues field. Blessed with a versatile guitar attack and a classic soul voice, his debut release left many listeners wanting to hear more.

McCormick has finally answered their prayers with his latest release for Delmark, Still Called The Blues. For his sophomore effort, McCormick offers up 13 tracks, with seven originals and six interesting covers. McCormick’s originals combine blues with elements of funk (“I Gotta Go”), soul/blues (“I’m In Love With You Baby,” “That’s My Baby,” “What Am I Gonna Do?”), R&B-flavored rock (“Searching For Your Love”). “It Won’t Work” plays the blues pretty straight, and “Always” ventures toward the classic slow drag R&B tracks of the late ’70s and ’80s.

McCormick’s take on a set of familiar cover tracks is also first-rate, including Bobby Rush’s “What’s Good For The Goose,” George Jackson’s glorious title track, a zesty version of B.B. King’s “Woke Up This Morning,” and the standard, “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” associated with Little Johnny Taylor. The most fascinating covers have to be McCormick’s doo-wop version of The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” and another Jackson cover, made famous by Bob Seger (“Old Time Rock And Roll”).

McCormick’s soulful vocals carry the day on most of these songs, but his sinewy guitar work is not to be underestimated. He gets exceptional support from keyboardists John Chroney and Roosevelt Purifoy, bass player Lovely “JR” Fuller, drummer Pete Thomas, and, on three tracks, a horn section led by Chicago Horns leader Kenny Anderson (trumpet) and including Dudley Owens (tenor sax), and Jerry DiMuzio (flute, baritone sax).

Quintus McCormick effortlessly moves from straight blues to blues/rock to classic R&B to deep southern soul. Still Called The Blues provides an excellent summation of his gifts and will leave listeners wanting to hear even more from this promising young artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Tweed FunkEvery once in a while, you hear a CD that really puts a hop in your step, more so than most. Tweed Funk’s Love Is (Tweed Tone Records) is such a CD. This enterprising band out of Wisconsin mixes a chunk of solid funk and swing in with their blues, and if the combination is not enough to get you on your feet, you may be glued to your chair. Though Tweed Funk has only been a working band for about 18 months, the heart and soul of the band (singer Smokey, guitarist JD Optekar, and drummer Marcus “MG” Gibbons) are seasoned vets of the Wisconsin blues scene.

Love Is differs a bit from the band’s previous release, Bringin’ It, with the addition of some positively greasy B3 work from Jimmy Voegeli (of The Jimmys), female background singers, and a smoking horn section, along with guitarist Greg Koch as producer. Seven of the ten tracks are original compositions, including the swinging opener, “Fine Wine,” the show-stopping “Dancemaker,” the slow blues “Getting’ Home,” the funky blues “Pick ‘Em Early,” and the tropical blues instrumental, “Smooth Taste.”

The three covers are a nice reading of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “A Real Mother For Ya,” a funky reworking of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong,” and a fiery version of the Godfather’s “Sex Machine,” that closes the disc.

Tweed Funk’s brand of blues, with its healthy doses of funk and soul, is sure to get a few hips shaking and heads bobbing. Smokey is a fierce lead singer with soul to burn and the band locks into a groove and squeezes everything they can out of it. If you like your blues, but you want the funk, too, Tweed Funk may just be what you’re looking for.

--- Graham Clarke

Rockin' JohnnyAfter a nearly decade-long absence from the Windy City music scene, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin slowly began working his way back a few years ago, playing all over the Chicago area. Grim Reaper (Delmark) is Burgin’s second release since his comeback, and showcases not only what we already knew about him, that’s he’s a fantastic guitarist, but also his continuing development as a singer and songwriter.

The title cut opens the disc, a somber discussion between Burgin and the Grim Reaper that features some stinging leads from the guitarist as well as a spacey backward-guitar break (studio-enhanced) near the end that really adds an eerie touch. Blues critic James Porter contributes “One and One Ain’t Two,” a cool old fashioned number featuring an extended harp break from Davin “Big D” Erickson.

Among the other excellent original tunes are several written by Burgin, including “Window To Your Soul,” a smoldering track with some of Burgin’s best guitar work on the disc, “It’s Expensive to Be Broke,” and the autobiographical “Shoe Leather and Tire Rubber.” Burgin’s tunes show him to have a sharp wit and a clever way with a lyric.

The cover tunes are well-chosen, too, ranging from Jody Williams’ “I Was Fooled” (originally done by Billy Boy Arnold, one of Burgin’s favorite singers), a funked up version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” Otis Rush’s “My Baby’s A Good ‘Un,” Robert Plunkett’s “My Sweet Baby,” and Little Walter’s “Everybody Needs Somebody.” Best of all is Billy Flynn’s “Don’t Mess With My Baby,” which Burgin punctuates with the rawest and roughest guitar riffs this side of Son Seals, and a nearly flawless take of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime.”

Burgin’s guitar work is, as always, masterful. There’s never a note out of place….everything is picture perfect. In the liner notes, he cites Billy Boy Arnold’s vocal style, stating, “…..he’s a great singer, but a low-power singer compared to gospel-type singers…” Using this more understated approach, his vocals are much improved this time around, giving him a more vulnerable sound.

The Rockin’ Johnny Band (Erickson, Rick Kreher – rhythm guitar, John Sefner – bass, Steve Bass – drums, with horns from Kenny Anderson – trumpet, Dudley Owens – tenor sax, and Jerry DiMuzio – baritone sax) deserves special praise for their unyielding support. It’s good to have Rockin’ Johnny back on the circuit and in the studio. Grim Reaper shows that the time away was not wasted.

--- Graham Clarke

I threw Rockin’ Johnny’s new CD, Grim Reaper, into my player and felt like I’d just run across a long lost friend. He’s evidently been away from the Chicago scene for a little while and it’s definitely good to have him back.

We start out with the title track and evidently he’s after Johnny. “I said ‘Hey Grim Reaper’ why are you looking so cold?...He said….time’s up son…let me show you to the door.” It’s Johnny’s time and the verdict is in. I’m just getting to know Johnny and now he’s about to leave. Damn! Our next cut, “One and One ain’t Two” finds Johnny exiting a relationship. It isn’t working, he won’t say he tried that hard but…”one and one ain’t two….cause you and I are through!”

Soulful harmonica notes from Big D provide the intro to “Window to Your Soul.” Johnny’s in love and feels like he’s found the right woman. “If you feel the way I do…oh baby…let’s make love…come on and spend some time with me baby…come on and be my turtle dove.” I like Johnny’s economical use of notes to make his point and the subtle use of his guitar is deeply appreciated.

The shoe is on the other foot in “I Was Fooled.” Johnny’s playing two women and at least one of them knows for sure what’s going on. She’s having fun, spending his money and definitely knows it’s not going to last. “Lousy Dimes” finds Johnny reflective, knowing that life is tough right now. “Yes, I’m worried…worried all the time…how much longer….will I have to count…these lousy dimes?” He’s hocking his stuff to make it through but he’s a survivor and will make it though.

The tempo picks up in the next track, “Rollin & Tumblin,” but things are still tough for Johnny. “Well I roll and I tumble…cried the whole night long…when I woke up this morning…all I had was gone.” His reflection on tough times continues in “It’s Expensive to be Broke.” “Being a deadbeat ain’t no joke…if you’re late…you’re going to court! Better to buckle down and pay the debts than deal with the consequences but Johnny’s right, “it’s expensive to be broke.”

Billy Flynn wrote our next cut, “Don’t Mess with Me Baby,” with Johnny in mind and he tackles it head on. Expressive guitar, a strong back line and Johnny’s all business as he lets the girl know, “don’t mess with me baby!” Johnny tackles an Otis Rush tune, “My Baby’s A Good ‘Un,” next and obviously loves the woman he’s singing about. “I hate to brag…but she can’t be beat…but she’s a Georgia peach!”

More of Big D’s harp provides plenty of melancholy contexts for the next tune up, “Brand New Boots,” an instrumental that gives the disc a nice break. Jerry DiMuzio lends his baritone sax to the mix to Johnny’s take on “My Sweet Baby” as he lets us know, “you’re my sweet baby…sweetest little thing I know…I work hard for you baby…just like a Georgia mule…I come home in the evening…and I can’t catch up with you…but you’re my sweet baby.” Johnny isn’t exactly being treated right but he sticks with the girl anyway.

Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” is the next cut on the disc and Johnny’s guitar provides a sweet backdrop to the fact that he’s missing his girl a lot. “Well I know…I’ve got a good girl…at that time…she just didn’t understand…somebody loan me a dime…just to ease my worried mind!” It’s obviously a call that Johnny needs to make the call and try to win the girl back. “Shoe Leather & Tire Rubber” finds our boy on the road working hard to find a gig. “Shoe leather…& tire rubber…wearing it down to the ground…I went up north…and went out south…went out east & went out west….all my friends are in the same boat…they’re running out of money…and patching up their winter coats!” Work is hard to find for musicians these days but at least Johnny is out pounding the street in search of a gig.

Grim Reaper closes with Johnny’s take on Little Walter Jacob’s, “Everybody Needs Somebody” and a fun holiday tune, “Party This Christmas”. “Well…we don’t have much money…but we’ll have a good time…yes, I got me a woman…the girl is super fine….we’re going to get on down….and party this time…ring the bell!”

I’ve enjoyed the Grim Reaper from Rockin’ Johnny. The disc wears like a “hello” from a long lost friend and that doesn’t happen very often. The Chicago blues scene is glad to have Johnny back playing and it’s easy to see why. You can find out more about the band at If you make it to Chicago, catch one of his shows. You’d be in for a treat.

--- Kyle Deibler

Sena EhrhardtI wasn’t able to catch Sena Ehrhardt’s recent set at the Blues Music Awards as the demands of the show required my attention elsewhere, but I’m sure I missed a helluva set. I’m listening to the disc that got her nominated for Best New Artist Debut in 2011, Leave the Light On, on Blind Pig records and it’s an impressive disc. Great presence, a tight band let by her father, Edward Ehrhardt on guitar and Sena’s scintillating vocals all contribute to a sweet disc for this artist from Minnesota. It’s in the tray, ready to go, so let’s give it a listen.

The disc opens up with “My Bad,” a tune about Sena trying to be the woman her boyfriend wants her to be, not the woman she is and she quickly learns from her mistake. “I think it’s time for me to move on now…I’ve got to make my own way…that’s for sure…my bad…for ever thinking I could do it your way!”

The title track, “Leave the Light On,” is up next and here we find Sena remorseful for the way she’s treated a lover. “I apologize for ever doing you wrong…I had to leave you…go out on my own…I was just too young to have a pre-made home!” Seems the love was right but the timing was definitely wrong. Our next tune, “On the Clock,” encourages everyone to appreciate the time they have. “We’re on the clock…tick tock…there’s no telling how much time we got!” Better to appreciate today than to anticipate tomorrow and a wise way to live.

“Lovers Can’t Be Friends” focuses on the dilemma that couples have once they’ve broken up. To Sena’s way of thinking, the answer is obvious, “Lovers can’t be friends!” It’s just too hard to pick up the pieces when a relationship goes bad. The next cut, “The Best Thing,” finds Sena consoling a friend whose relationship has gone bad. “The best thing he ever did…was leave you darling…he’ll mislead you…and deceive you….don’t you ever let him back in again….the best thing he ever did…was leave you darling!”

“Same Team” continues along this theme of treating each other right. “But we are all on the same team…it’s about how loud we all can scream…I give a little…maybe you will too….and maybe we can meet in the middle!” Let and let live works for me and hopefully for you, too!

Deep, soulful tones emanate from Edward’s guitar as Sena tells us about a relationship of convenience in “Last Chance.” “You show up when you want to….when it works out for you…you give me every lame excuse…about the things you had to do….save it…I don’t want to hear it….no more song and dance…this wasn’t your second chance….it was your last chance!” It’s time for her man to treat her right, be responsible…or head down the road. The choice is his, but either way, it’s his “Last Chance.” “You’re The One” finds Sena hopeful that she’s found a good man. “You shine a light…that lets me see what I need to do…without you in my life…don’t know if I could see it through!” Sena is definitely deriving good energy from this relationship and it’s helping her find her way.

The tempo picks up on our next cut, “Hear Me,” as Sena complains about the communication issues in her relationship. “You look right through me…like you’re staring at the wall…I beg and I plead…but you don’t hear me at all…you don’t hear me…at all!” Her man is indifferent to her and it’s driving Sena up a wall…”you don’t hear me…you don’t hear me at all!” The relationship is coming to an end and it’s time for Sena to move on.

Leave the Light On closes with “Fool Out of Me,” and here we find that Sena is refusing to fall to the charms of her current man. “You can talk all night, boy…but it won’t work on me….I’ve been fooled two times…and you won’t be number three…sometimes the truth is just…too plain to say…you’re running the same game….but baby…with a different name…don’t make a fool out of me!” Well played, Sena, well played.

Leave the Light On is a good disc and the future is bright for this artist from Minnesota. The disc features 10 all original tunes, a tight band and it’s easy to see why Sena was nominated for a Blues Music Award. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this rising artist and seeing her perform live in the near future. You can grab a copy of the disc on Sena’s website,, and give it a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

--- Kyle Deibler

Cee Cee JamesCee Cee James caught my attention with her last disc, Down Where the Snakes Crawl at Night, which just slapped me upside the head and demanded to be listened to. So I was anxious to hear the fruits of her latest endeavor, Blood Red Blues, to see how far she’d come. The new disc is an excellent effort that shows the benefit of Jim Gaines work on the soundboard while still allowing the raw energy of Cee Cee to peak through. So let’s give Blood Red Blues a listen.

The disc starts out with the title cut and the slide guitar of Rob Andrews sets the tone for this adventure. Here we find a woman with “Blood Red Blues” in her veins as she bares her soul to us, “blood, red blues…hottest flame that you ever seen…under all the hurt running through my bones…blood, red blues!” Hauntingly beautiful and a great start to this disc! Up next is a song of discovery, “Let’s All Get Loose.” “Feel the earth…holding all your weight…feel the earth…take your pain away!” Rocky Athas plays lead guitar on this cut and delivers a scintillating solo as Cee Cee implores us to “let’s all get loose!”

More of Rob’s slide guitar fills the air with a Hill Country vibe on "Feel My Love Come Down.” “Feel my arms wrap around…feel my love come down…melt your aching heart!” Cee Cee’s got the cure for the pain that Rob feels as she implores him to “feel my love come down!”

Chris Leighton has the back end with his soft brush strokes on our next cut, “Comfort of a Good Heart.” A good heart in your life will cure a lot of ills and Cee Cee isn’t shy about telling us what she likes. “Like the rain pouring down…putting me to sleep now…all snuggled up in my dreams…I like the comfort…of a good heart!” She’s definitely found that heart in Rob’s and you can sense the contentment in her words. “Thick Like Blood” continues our sense of Cee Cee’s happiness. “What is this rush…the age old rush…what is this emotion…this old magic potion…warm sweet love….thick like blood!”

I think “I Got a Right to Sing the Blues” is Cee Cee’s new anthem as she reaffirms that she is a blues woman, through and through. “Then it all came down…and it went right through me….it ripped me right open…left me raw…right to the my bones…and when I got up…only one thing left to do…I knew I had to sing…I had to sing my blues!” Cee Cee’s vocal style is raw and visceral; it tears at where you live and kudos to Jim Gaines for coaxing the best out of her.

Up next is more of Rocky’s guitar lead on the intro to “Worn Out Sins.” Here we find Cee Cee examining her life and searching for guidance on the road up ahead of her. “And I been carryin’ around this lonely guilt…for all so long…Oh Lord…Lord…you gotta take my shame…Oh Lord…help me heal these worn out sins!” The road ahead includes taking care of yourself, a topic Cee Cee explores in our next cut, “Walk On.” “See that girl workin’ the street…sellin’ her body so her children can eat…walk on... walk on…cause what can you do…cause ya got your problems too!” I’m sure that Cee Cee would love to help but there’s only so much any of us can do and sometimes you just have to…walk on!

Times are tough and we’re each responsible for our path in life, sometimes the pain is so bad you just have to stop and rest, a topic that Cee Cee covers in “Wounds.” “Oh…wounds…oh…raw and tender wounds…old wise men tells you this…all those wounds…are gonna take you to your bliss…they never heal…but therein lies the gift!” It takes the pain of your wounds to lead you to that place of acceptance and healing. Getting there is definitely not easy.

Susan Julian’s keyboards provide the introduction to our next cut, “Cover Me with Love.” And hear with find Cee Cee facing more of her fears. “Depressed, hopeless, longing for the Sun…brave and strong, when I really want to run…cover me…cover me…with love!” Bass licks from Dan Mohler slow the tempo down as we move into the playful, “100 Ways to Make Love.” “I wake up in the morning…and I see you sleeping…whoa ooh…my hands start creepin…there’s a 100 ways to make love.” Rest assured, Cee Cee will figure out all 100 if you give her enough time….there’s a hundred ways…to make love!

Blood Red Blues closes with “I’m Takin’ Mine,” Cee Cee’s notice to the world that she’s stepping out and grabbing what’s rightfully hers. “Right to the edge…my destiny is shovin’ me…watch out below…cause I’m jumpin…it’s time…I’m Takin’ Mine!”

Blood Red Blues is an impressive disc, from the production of Jim Gaines to the musicianship of Rob “Slideboy”Andrews, Chris Leighton, Rocky Athas, Don Mohler & Susan Julian, it all comes together in a form that stays true to Cee Cee’s musical roots while revealing a Blues woman on the rise. Cee Cee will be in Colorado soon and I for one will definitely be in the audience. In the meantime, the disc can be found at and catch her live show if you can, very few blues artists work harder during a live performance than Cee Cee and it’s definitely a treat, for sure!

--- Kyle Deibler



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