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June 2017

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Order these featured CDs today:

Andy T Band

Billy Flynn

Mr Sipp

Chris Antonik

Hector Anchondo Band

Steve Krase

Josh Hyde

Hurricane Ruth

Johnny Mastro

Delta Moon

Anthony Rosano

Jim Gustin and Truth Jones

Jon Zeeman

Lauren Mitchell

Sean Chambers

Andy T BandDouble Strike (American Showplace Music) could be described as a transition album for the Nashville-based Andy T Band, with veteran singer Nick Nixon retiring after doing three very fine albums with guitarist Andy T. A search for a new vocalist to replace Nixon came down to the highly-recommended Alabama Mike, who had his own solo career underway. Andy T still had some tracks with Nixon that needed to be heard, so this album does an even split --- six vocals by Mike and six by Nick --- thus, the reason it's a good transition from the past to the future. An added bonus is the appearance of blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh, currently touring with the Andy T Band this summer, on four cuts.

The first two songs on Double Strike feature Alabama Mike on vocals, a nice way of introducing this exciting singer to the Andy T loyalists who may have been concerned that the music quality would drop with Nixon's departure. That fear is quickly dispelled as Mike booms out the words to the blues shuffle "I Want You Bad," showing off powerful, rich vocals. Funderburgh, who needs no introduction to most blues fans, comes in with a strong blues guitar solo late in this cut. Oh, Anson, how we love to hear you play the blues! Next up is a pleasant blues shuffle, "Somebody Like You," a lilting melody that again gives Mike a chance to shine while Larry van Loon comes in at the midway point with a strong B3 solo.

Our first Nick Nixon cut, the mid-tempo "Deep Inside", is an Andy T original that features harmonica accompaniment by Greg Izor. Nixon then gets more soulful with the original composition "Sweet Thing," an ode to that woman who takes good care of him. Performing here as part of the Texas Horns, sax legend Kaz Kazanoff checks in with a nice tenor sax solo. Nixon keeps this soul train moving down the track with a pair of Chuck Willis numbers, the oft-covered "I Feel So Bad" and "Juanita." The latter song gives us the first slow blues number of the disc, this one with some nice gospel overtones. It's Nixon's best vocal performance on the album as he pleads with Juanita to come back to him. Nice subtle blues guitar accompaniment by Andy T here.

With a total of 13 cuts on the album, with each vocalist appearing six times, that leaves one number unaccounted for, thus we get a very nice mid-tempo instrumental "Mudslide," written by Funderburgh. But Anson doesn't appear on this one, instead with Andy T ably handling the guitar duties along with van Loon's B3 work.

van Loon provides the intro to another mid-tempo shuffle, "Sad Time," marking the return of Alabama Mike to the front of the stage for a Nick Nixon original composition. Good vocals, but it's van Loon's B3 playing that bumps this tune up to another level. A killer sax solo by Kazanoff sure doesn't hurt either. A band original, the slow blues "Doin' Hard Time," is all about the guitar players, with Andy T and Anson both checking in with powerful solos.

This band sure likes to sing about drinking (after all, the title of their first CD was Drink Drank Drunk), and here they cover Goree Carter's "Drunk Or Sober." Nixon returns to the mic for this number with a bit of a funky New Orleans beat, nice sax playing by Kazanoff and good piano by van Loon. Nixon does his final vocal (and we hope it's not the last of his career) on the mid-tempo blues, "I Was Gonna Leave You," telling his woman that he was already planning on leaving her on the day that she walked out the door.

The final two cuts on Double Strike feature Alabama Mike on vocals, completing the transition and looking ahead to the promising future of the Andy T Band. "Dream About You" is an up-tempo number that gives Andy a chance to stretch out on guitar between Mike's shouting vocals about his dream that his baby was coming home to him. Closing the album is a Kazanoff original, "Where Did Our Love Go Wrong," which of course features Kaz's fine sax work but also strong soulful, pleading vocals by Mike.

We're going to miss Nick Nixon being part of this band, but bringing Alabama Mike on-board was a brilliant move by Andy T. Mike is in his early 50s, relatively young by blues standards, so he's got a long career ahead of him. Expect this band to be a force in the blues world for quite some time. If Double Strike is an indication of what's ahead for the Andy T Band, then the future looks bright.

--- Bill Mitchell

Billy FlynnThe versatile Chicago guitarist Billy Flynn has played with just about every blues act in the Windy City since the early ’70s, playing over the years with such luminaries as Sunnyland Slim, Mighty Joe Young, Luther Allison, Billy Boy Arnold, Kim Wilson, Mississippi Heat, the Legendary Blues Band, Otis Rush, the Cash Box Kings, Jody Williams, Willie Kent, James Wheeler, Little Smokey Smothers, and dozens of others.

Chances are very good that even if you’ve never heard of him, you’ve actually heard him on recordings with the above artists and many more --- backing Dawkins on Kant Sheck Dees Blues, Little Arthur Duncan on Singin’ With The Sun, and Big Bill Morganfield on his Ramblin’ Mind, just to name a few of my favorites. He also played on the soundtrack to the motion picture Cadillac Records and appeared on the Chicago Blues: A Living History CD series. Flynn has also led his own group for years and has released ten albums of his own. Recently, Flynn released his debut recording for Delmark Records, the impressive Lonesome Highway.

The album clocks in at over 70 minutes with a whopping 17 tracks. The opening duet with Deitra Farr, “Good Navigator,” is a wonderful slice of old time rock and roll that’s guaranteed to get even the infirm on their feet dancing. Farr also joins Flynn on “Hold On,” which finds the guitar player picking up the harmonica. A skilled guitarist capable of emulating many of the past blues legends, Flynn does a masterful job channelling such Windy City luminaries as Dawkins on “If It Wasn’t For The Blues,” slide wizard Earl Hooker on “Small Town,” Otis Rush on the excellent title track and “The Lucky Kind,” and Robert Nighthawk on “Jackson Street.”

Flynn wrote 16 of the 17 tracks on Lonesome Highway. “Never Had A Chance” is a fine urban-styled blues, “Waiting Game” is a straight boogie track in the John Lee Hooker tradition. “Long Long Time” kicks up the boogie, too, with Roosevelt Purifoy’s driving keyboards up front, “The Right Track” has a funky New Orleans beat, and “I Feel ‘Um” revisits ’70s-era blues/funk with Purifoy’s keyboards and Christopher Neal’s soaring sax break. On the closing track, the seasonal “Christmas Blues,” Flynn’s guitar work combines the stinging lead work of B.B. King with a bit of Big Jack Johnson grunge, plus a little bit of the Oil Man in Flynn’s vocal.

There are also a pair of excellent instrumentals, one being a dynamite cover of the ’60s R&B smash, “The ‘In’ Crowd.” “Blues Express” is a great horn-driven number that features background vocals from Flynn and fellow producers Steve Wagner and Dick Shurman.

In additon to Farr, Purifoy, and Neal, Flynn gets able assistance on these tracks from E.G. McDaniel (bass), Andrew “Blaze” Thomas (drums), Doug Corcoran (trumpet), and Dave Katzman (rhythm guitar).
Lonesome Highway is a superb release from one of Chicago’s finest musicians. It’s past time that Billy Flynn took center stage after years of supporting the Windy City’s finest blues men and this fine, well-balanced release should set that in motion.

--- Graham Clarke

Mr SippMr. Sipp, The Mississippi Blues Child, is the alter ego of Castro Coleman, a renowned gospel guitarist who has appeared on over 50 gospel recordings and won numerous awards while playing for such groups as The Williams Brothers, The Pilgrim Jubilees, and The Canton Spirituals, along with his own group, The True Believers. In 2010, he decided to give the blues a shot and has wowed audiences with his singing, guitar work, and songwriting. He won regional honors and competed in the I.B.C. in 2013, where he made the finals, and in 2014, where he won the overall Band title and the Gibson Guitarist Award.

Sipp’s previous album, the 2015 Malaco Records’ release The Mississippi Blues Child was well-received by a large group of blues fans --- contemporary, urban, soul/blues fans who dug his songwriting and vocals and blues/rock fans who were blown away by his guitar skills. His latest Malaco effort, Knock A Hole In It, improves on all counts, with Sipp turning in a dozen new songs that touch on all of the above-cited genres, plus one mighty impressive cover tune.

The title track opens the disc and serves as an autobiographical track of sorts, a nice introduction to those new to Mr. Sipp and his music, which manages to cover most of his musical territory in about four minutes. The energetic “Bad Feeling” is a thoroughly modern blues tune which combines blues with R&B, and “Stalking Me” continues the R&B groove behind a lighthearted theme. “Sea Of Love” and “Baby Your Mine” are both smooth ballads with pop edges that really showcase Sipp’s considerable vocal talents.

“Gotta Let Her Go” and “Going Down” both showcase Sipp’s guitar, the former in more of a rugged rock vein and the latter lacing a healthy dose of funk behind the fretwork (both are served well by Carrol McLaughlin’s B3 backing). Speaking of funk, Sipp brings plenty of it to “Juke Joint,” another keeper backed by Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’” melody. “Strings Attached” is a R&B-styled smoky ballad with an appropriately pleading vocal from Sipp, and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” follows a similar theme.

The upbeat “Turn Up” will bring a smile to the faces of longtime Malaco listeners, as the punchy horn track and loose-limbed rhythm will remind soul/blues fans of Tyrone Davis, while “Love Yourself” is a message of encouragement to women with low self-esteem. For the closer, Sipp offers up a scintillating cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” hitting all the right notes for Hendrix fans while taking time to expand upon the guitar legend’s original with dynamic results, even throwing in a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the close.

Again serving as producer (with Tommy Couch, Jr. as co-executive producer), Sipp does the lion’s share of the work here, playing guitar, bass, strings, and arranging horns with the late Harrison Calloway. McLaughin’s contributions on piano and organ are superlative, with Jeffrey Flanagan (bass) and Stanley Dixon or Murph Calcedo (drums) helping set the pace, along with The Jackson Horns (Kimble Funches – trumpet, Jessie Primer III – tenor sax, and Robert Lamkin – trombone).

Knock A Hole In It is a fantastic example of modern-day blues by a modern-day bluesman who will make quite a mark on the entire blues genre before he’s done. Mr. Sipp’s brand of blues should appeal to blues fans across the board.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris AntonikChris Antonik recently released his third album, Monarch, and it’s without question his best release yet. In recent years, the Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist has dealt with his share of adversity, including a recent divorce, and that battle colors the songs and performances on the new disc as Antonik reflects on what happened in the past, where he is now, and where he hopes to be as he moves on with his life.

Antonik wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 13 tracks and really seems in the zone throughout the disc with some of his finest work as a composer, singer, and guitarist. The energetic opening track, “I’d Burn It All Down (For You)” is dedicated to his children and will really strike a chord with any parent, and the blues rocker “Slow Moving Train” is a hard charging cautionary tale that testifies to the wisdom of slowing down and enjoying the things you have.

The catchy “Gold Star” mixes funk and blues effectively, and “The Monarch and the Wrecking Ball” finds Antonik laying down ghostly slide guitar over sweet chick singers and an irresistible groove, courtesy of drummer Chuck Keeping and bass man Guenther Kapelle. The haunting “Love, Bettike” is actually a song of hope and encouragement and serves as a centerpiece of sorts for the album.

The horn-fueled “Forgiveness Is Free” gives Antonik plenty of room to shine on guitar, and “The Art of Letting Go” is a perfect mix of blues and soul, while “All Our Days” leans in the country direction with sublime pedal steel guitar from Burke Carroll. “New Religion” and “Hungry Ghost” reflect on making a new start and dealing with addiction, respectively.

The two cover tunes fit well with the subject matter. “You’re Killing My Love” was written by Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites and Otis Rush sang it on his late ’60s Mourning In The Morning album and Antonik does a fine job “funking” this one up. Ben Fisher, who co-authored several songs on the album with Antonik, and Paul Olsen’s reflective “Everywhere I Go” closes the album beautifully.

While Keeping’s drumming can be considered the album’s “secret weapon,” the rest of the band (Kapelle – bass, Jesse O’Brien – keyboards, Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar – backing vocals, and the outstanding horn section) really kick things up a notch throughout. As stated above, Monarch is definitely Chris Antonik’s best release to date and is proof positive that he is one of the fast-rising stars in the blues world.

--- Graham Clarke

Hector AnchondoBased in Omaha, the Hector Anchondo Band was good enough to make the semi-finals in the 2015 I.B.C. and the finals in the 2016 competition. Guitarist/singer Anchondo moved from alt-rock to the blues several years ago and hasn’t looked back. A fine singer and guitarist, he’s backed by a potent band (Khayman Winfield – drums/vocals, Justin Shexlton – harmonica/vocals, Josh Lund – bass, Matt Russo – percussion, with Eric Stark and Kenny Glover – horns).

The band’s second album, Roll The Dice (Hector Anchondo), recently hit stores and it’s one for blues fans to seek out, with ten powerful tracks, nine written by Anchondo. Samantha Fish provides co-lead vocals on the opening track, “Dig You Baby,” a raucous boogie track. Fish turns in a fabulous vocal on this track and Anchondo and Shexlton tear it up on guitar on harmonica, respectively. “Masquerade” is a stomping shuffle, the title track is a strong mid-tempo blues, and “Face It Down” is a jet-fueled roadhouse rocker.

The band can slow it down very nicely too, as evidenced on the excellent blues ballad, “Sometimes Being Alone Feels Right.” Anchondo’s measured vocal fits the song to a tee on this track and he also adds some fluid guitar work. “That’s How It All Goes” mixes a bit of surf guitar with a bluesy beat, and “Jump In The Water” is a lighthearted romp, as is “On Your Mic, Get Set, Sing,” both of which are probably pretty fun songs to hear live. The soulful slow blues “Here’s To Me Giving Up” closes the disc on a sweet note.

The band covers Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman,” too. Anchondo’s version resembles Santana’s version a bit with the Latin rhythms and somewhat on guitar, but he uses that version basically as a springboard and takes the song in an interesting and satisfying direction.

If their impressive finishes in consecutive I.B.C.’s isn’t enough to convince blues fans that the Hector Anchondo Band will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, then listening to Roll The Dice should seal the deal.

--- Graham Clarke

Lazy EyeThe Australian trio Lazy Eye (Evan Whetter – vocals, organ, harmonica, Erica Graf – guitar, backing vocals, Mario Marino – drums, backing vocals) describes their music this way, “Think Booker T. sharing a scotch with B.B. King at the crossroads after midnight.” Over the past few years, the band has earned several awards in their home country via the Australian Blues Music Awards (2015 Group of the Year) and the South Australian Music Awards (2013 Best Blues Album and 2014 Best Blues Artist), several other nominations, and numerous accolades. In 2016, they represented South Australia at the I.B.C.s in Memphis.

Pocket The Black, their fourth and latest release, deservedly earned 2016 Blues Album of the Year honors from the Adelaide Roots & Blues Association and has been nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 Australian Blues Music Awards. This stylish effort presents ten originals that mix silky smooth soul and jazz, and gritty blues seamlessly, and was recorded live in the studio with an actual audience, which gives the set a unique live feel with studio-quality sound.

The opener, “Keepin’ From Lovin’,” is a funky blues with a Latin flair showcasing Whetter’s languid vocals and Graf’s crisp fretwork. The jazzy title track features sharp guitar work from Graf and Whetter really lets loose on the Hammond, and “Back The Way I Came” is a nice traditional blues shuffle. “Let Me Down Easy” is a cool slow blues, and the crowd-pleasing “Shack O’Mine” channels Bo Diddley.

“Do You Know How It Feels” is a magnificent slow blues that clocks in at seven minutes-plus. Whetter really stretches out on the vocal and organ, with Graf doing likewise on guitar. “Treat Your Lover Right” provides a change of pace, a dandy country blues tune with Whetter on harmonica with Graf accompanying on guitar and vocally. “It Ain’t Right” is a lively shuffle fueled by Marino’s driving rhythm. The trio also turns in a pair of fine retro instrumentals, the spicy “Mucho Jalapeño” and the atmospheric “Swing For Marz,” which closes the disc.

Pocket The Black is one of my favorite 2017 releases, so far. Lazy Eye’s approach to the blues, mixing jazz and soul in equal parts, is very effective and the trio blends together so well, even more impressive when considering that this disc was recorded live in the studio. Blues lovers are strongly encouraged not to let this one pass them by.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve KraseHarmonica master Steve Krase is recognized as a blues dynamo on the Houston music scene, thanks to his legendary live performances and his work on the Connor Ray Music record label, where he’s released four of his own albums and backed many of the label’s other artists, including Trudy Lynn on her three Connor Ray releases. A multiple winner in the annual Houston Press music awards, Krase also advanced to the semi-finals in this year’s I.B.C.

Should’ve Seen it Coming, Krase’s latest release for Connor Ray, includes 11 tracks, with five original tunes, plus a pair of bonus cuts. He’s backed by a core unit of Rock Romano (bass), David Carter (guitar), Richard Cholakian (drums), Randy Wall (keys), and Alisha Pattilo (sax), with James Gilmer contributing percussion on several tracks. Ms. Lynn adds backing vocals on three tracks, and guitarists Mark May and Bob Lanza each guests on one song.

May’s guitar work is a highlight on the old school opener, “Brand New Thang,” written by Romano, and Lanza dazzles on a rocking version of the Arthur Alexander hit, “Shot of Rhythm and Blues.” The Willie Dixon tune, “Crazy For My Baby,” is a standout, as is the jumping take on Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow,” Wee Willie Wayne’s “Travelin’ Mood,” and Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Troubles, Troubles.”
Krase’s brother David wrote “Repo Man” and the title track, which are both present in regular and “explicit” versions and are entertaining in either format. Krase also pays tribute to his former boss and musical mentor, the late Jerry Lightfoot, with a swinging version of Lightfoot’s “Make You Love Me Baby” --- Krase spent ten years in Lightfoot’s Essential Band --- and contributes the wild “The World’s Still In A Tangle,” an adaptation of the Jimmy Rogers Chess classic updated for The Walking Dead crowd.

Should’ve Seen It Coming shows why Steve Krase is so highly regarded on the Houston music scene by both peers and fans alike. Krase is a fine vocalist and musician and the band really knocks this material out of the park. This album is a must for fans of the real deal blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Josh HydeThe Call Of The Night (JHR Records) is the latest release from Louisiana musician Josh Hyde. Born in Baton Rouge but raised in New Orleans, the music of the Pelican State emanates from every note that’s played and sung on these nine original tunes, all written or co-written by Hyde, who started playing guitar at age 10 and writing songs soon after. For this, his sixth album, Hyde enlisted Nashville producer Joe V. McMahan and assembled an excellent band, including keyboardist John Gros and guitarists Sonny Landreth, Buddy Flett, and Tony Daigle.

Hyde penned most of these songs during a dark period (his mother’s passing and a recent divorce). The title track opens the disc and reflects upon recovering (or not) from a recent loss. “The Truth” has a sort of Little Feat meets The Meters vibe, especially Gros’ keyboards. “Close,” one of two tracks with Flett on guitar, is a gentle ballad and reminded me of a Lyle Lovett tune, both musically and with Hyde’s vulnerable singing.

“Offshore” is a song about “high infidelity” --- even including a reference to the mythical “Jody” character --- and Landreth’s slide guitar accompaniment is a marvel. Landreth shows up again on “It’s Not Too Late,” his slide work and Daigle’s acoustic guitar perfectly complementing Hyde’s pleading vocal. Next is the psychedelic swamp funk of “Need A Lil’ More,” an excellent showcase for Gros’ keyboards.

“Guitar In Hand” is a somber track about lost love featuring a guitar solo from Hyde that reflects the pain he’s going through almost as effectively as his vocal does. “Mississippi Bridge” is actually the first song Hyde wrote as a youngster, which recounts his days of traveling back and forth on a bus from Baton Rouge to Alexandria and back every other weekend after his parents’ divorce. The closer is “I’ve Got This Song,” a soft and gentle ballad with a soulful vocal turn from Hyde.

Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, The Call Of The Night is all killer, no filler --- an excellent and far-reaching set of blues, soul, and roots. Do yourself a favor and check out this fine young musician, Josh Hyde. You can thank me later.

--- Graham Clarke

Hurricane RuthHurricane Ruth LaMaster has earned her nickname via her full force gale vocals, which blend blues, rock, and even a taste of country. Born and raised in Illinois, her father owned a tavern in Beardstown, Illinois, where she heard all three genres of music in her formative years. She’s performed with an impressive list of blues legends: John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Taj Mahal, just to name a few. But she’s also opened for an all-star cast of rocker in her time: Heart, Judas Priest, Joan Jett, and others, so she can raise the roof in several ways.

Last year, LaMaster issued a four-song EP, Winds of Change, collecting a few of her favorite covers --- a strong, but brief set that merely served to whet the appetites of those who clamored to hear more. They get their wish with Ruth’s latest, on her own Hurricane Ruth Records, the pulverizing Ain’t Ready For The Grave. Teaming up with Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge, plus some of Nashville’s finest musicians in keyboardist Reese Wynans (SRV), bassist Michael Rhodes (Joe Bonamassa), guitarists Pat Buchanan (Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney) and Rob McNelley (Delbert McClinton), the powerhouse vocalist has unleashed what may be her best set yet.

For her new release, LaMaster collaborates with Hambridge and/or Richard Fleming on nine of the 12 tracks, and they include the rollicking opener, “Barrelhouse Joe’s,” the blues rocking “Hard Rockin’ Woman,” which could serve as LaMaster’s theme song, the gritty “Far From The Cradle,” the Southern rocker cautionary tale “Estilene,” and the funky blues “Beekeeper.” There’s also a sweet slow blues ballad, “My Heart Aches For You,” where Ruth really stretches out vocally, “Let Me Be The One,” a rocking shuffle, and soulful collaboration with the McCrary Sisters, “Good Stuff,” and the gospel closer, “Yes I Know.”

Hambridge’s “Cheating Blues” turns up the funk nicely, and the moody “For A Change,” penned by Hambridge and Fleming with Scott Holt, has a swampy vibe. The album’s lone cover tune is a sizzling version of the AC/DC classic “Whole Lotta Rosie” that could melt your speakers.

Ain’t Ready For The Grave is a powerhouse set from Hurricane Ruth. Call it a Category Five release if you want. The description certainly fits.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny MastroJohnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys claim New Orleans as a base of operations, but the four-piece band (Johnny Mastro – harp/vocals, Smoke – guitar, Dean Zucchero – bass, and Rob Lee – drums) got their start in Los Angeles at Babe’s & Ricky’s Inn. The band is named after club owner Laura “Mama” Gross. Their music is an interesting mixture of traditional and contemporary blues with nods to the styles in Chicago, New Orleans, and the West Coast, plus a heaping helping of rock. Never Trust The Living is the band’s 11th release, and it’s hot as a firecracker.

The new disc features 11 tracks, eight originals written or co-written by Mastro and three covers. The stomping rocker “Snake Doctor” kicks off the disc, and it’s a great mix of torrid groove and swampy reverb. The fiery Texas-fueled shuffle “Whiskey” keeps the pressure on before a haunting read of Snooky Pryor’s “Judgement Day” sets an ominous tone. “Monkey Man” ventures toward Chicago with some fierce slide from Smoke and Mastro’s harp, while “Don’t Believe” is a fine slow blues with some inspired fretwork from Smoke, more in a T-Bone mode this time around.

The band really soars on a stunning instrumental cover of the old standard “House of The Rising Sun,” taking it fairly straight at the beginning before jumping into high gear for the middle portion before slowing the pace back down at the close, with.an excellent and unique read on this longtime favorite. The crunching Windy City shuffle “Walkin’” is another standout, and the title track has a countrified boogie beat.

Mastro and Smoke make a pretty good team on harp and guitar throughout this disc, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the old school rock and roller “Bucksnort Annie.” Freddie King’s “The Sad Night Owl” is the third and final cover, a fine after hours instrumental with Mastro really channeling Little Walter with his playing. The closer, “Indrid Cold,” is a driving blues rocker that ends the disc in the same manner it began.

Never Trust The Living is a relentless, breathtaking batch of rocking blues that will please any discriminating blues fan. Johnny Mastro & Mama’s Boys play a dazzling and original brand of blues and fans who like the hard rocking variety will want to listen to this one over and over again.

--- Graham Clarke

Delta MoonThe Atlanta-based quartet Delta Moon features a twin slide guitar attack with Tom Gray and Mark Johnson, combined with a fine mix of fine songwriting and musicianship that mixes the blues with rock and pop sensibilities. The band took home top honors at the 2003 I.B.C. and since then has steadily built a loyal following via touring and the release of several fine albums, including their most recent effort, Cabbagetown (Jumping Jack Records).

Cabbagetown consists of ten tracks, nine of which were written by the band. They’re a varied lot, ranging from the roots rocker, “Rock and Roll Girl,” which opens the disc, the acoustic “The Day Before Tomorrow,” the jaunty “Just Lucky I Guess,” and the lighthearted “Coolest Fools.” The mood is a bit more somber on the driving “Mad About You,” and “Refugee,” which recounts the harrowing journey of some of the world’s citizens seeking a better life.

“21st Century Man” is a funky, sardonic look at the modern world’s obsession with gadgets, and the closer, “Sing Together,” is a pop-like plea for unity within the human race. The band also contributes a fine instrumental, “Cabbagetown Shuffle,” a fun romp which features dueling slide guitarists (Johnson on bottleneck slide and Gray on Hawaiian guitar) with backing from drummer Marlon Patton, bassist Franher Joseph. There’s also a decidedly updated, and upbeat, reading of Son House’s “Death Letter,” that merges blues and hip hop in equal doses.

Blues fans will enjoy the upbeat nature of most of the songs on Cabbagetown, but Delta Moon’s uniquely catchy brand of blues should also appeal to music fans who appreciate roots and rock as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Anthony RosanoBased in Norfolk, Virginia, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos mix traditional blues with modern rock. The band advanced to the semi-finals twice at the I.B.C., and previously released two well-received albums. Led by guitarist/singer/songwriter Rosano, the band includes Jeremy “JB” Bustillos (harmonica/sax/vocals), Paul Warren (bass), and Scott Smith (drums). Their third, and latest, effort is a self-titled affair that the band recorded in New Orleans with able assistance from producer Mike Zito, who also played guitar and provided backing vocals, Anders Osborne, and Johnny Sansone.

The band shines on blues rockers like the opener, “28 Days,” the sizzling “Wicked Grin,” and the ballad “Bound To You,” but they can get funky when the mood hits, as on tracks like “Revolve” and “Shakin’ In The Veins” (with slide guitar from Osborne). ‘”Give Me Strength” is a fine blues shuffle, and “You Don’t Know Me” is a radio-ready rocker.

The slower tempo “Long Island Sound” features Sansone on accordion and a sweet sax break from Bustillos. The Southern rocker “Blackbird” mixes acoustic and electric to powerful effect, and the closer, “Proud of My Sins,” shows the band in fine form in country blues mode, with Rosano picking up mandolin, Bustillos on harp, and fiddler Michael Harvey joining in.

Rosano and the Conqueroos are really firing on all cylinders with this well-rounded and interesting release, which should appear to blues and roots fans, especially those who prefer the rock-edged variety of the genre.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim Gustin and Truth JonesNearly four years after their critically acclaimed debut release, Jim Gustin & Truth Jones are finally giving their fans what they’ve been waiting for, a sophomore release that builds on the promise of its predecessor. Memphis offers ten hot-as-fire tracks written or co-written by singer/guitarist Gustin and fellow lead vocalist Jeri Goldenhar (a.k.a. Truth Jones). As on their previous release, 2013’s Can’t Shed A Tear, the new album is produced by Terry Wilson, highly regarded for his work with Eric Burden, Teresa James, Ana Popovic, and others).

Gustin’s powerful, weathered vocals are a potent combination with Goldenhar’s rich soul and gospel-influences style. Gustin takes the lead on five of the cuts, including the robust rocker “Half Past Ten,” the soulful title track, the funky “I Love What I Got,” the shuffling “Crazy Little Woman,” and the mid-tempo “Slipping Away.” Goldenhar shines on her four tracks, “Live With Yourself,” a Second Line shuffle, the blues ballad “You Know Me Too Well,” “Big Hearted Woman,” and the country-flavored “I Ain’t Playing.”

The pair team up on the closer, the soul burner “Right Time For Good-Bye,” which features the best vocal performances for both artists on the album, which is really saying something. Individually, they are impressive enough, but they save their best for the collaboration.

Gustin’s guitar work throughout is rock solid. He works pretty well in a variety of settings on these tunes. The backing band (Wilson – guitar/bass/ backing vocals/percussion, Steve Alterman – keys, Herman Matthews – drums/percussion) is superb, whether playing urban blues, Texas roadhouse, or Louisiana Second Line). The above-mentioned Teresa James provides outstanding support with background vocals.
Blues fans are advised to check out the amazing vocal talents of Jim Gustin & Truth Jones via their latest release. Memphis is an excellent foray into modern blues, soul, and R&B that will please fans of all three genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon ZeemanJon Zeeman’s latest effort, Blue Room (Membrane Records), finds the New York bluesman working with some of South Florida’s finest musicians, including the late Butch Trucks. Zeeman was part of the legendary Allman Brothers Band drummer’s Freight Train Band and has played with the ABB at the famed Beacon Theatre. He’s also performed with Susan Tedeschi, Janis Ian, and Chris Spedding. In addition to Trucks, who plays drums on two tracks (believed to be his last two studio recordings), Zeeman is joined by Tom Regis and Bob Taylor (keyboards), Phil MacArthur (bass), and George Lilly (drums).

Zeeman wrote eight of the ten tracks, the two covers are a sparkling reading of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” and a funky version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Still Rainin’, Still Dreamin’,” that is largely faithful to the original but with more of a funky edge. Zeeman’s originals are top notch, among them the two tracks recorded with Trucks; “All I Want Is You” is a “Dimples”-like southern boogie track and the slow burning shuffle “Next To You.” Zeeman will donate half of the royalties generated by these two tracks to Trucks’ family and to his favorite charity, The Big House Museum in Macon, Georgia.

“Hold On” is a sturdy blues rocker and “If I Could Make You Love Me” is a good late night blues ballad. “All Alone” mixes a bit of Latin and pop with the blues, and “Talking ‘Bout My Baby” combines jazz and funk effectively. The title track is a classy but short instrumental with Zeeman unaccompanied on guitar, while the closer, “Nothing In The World,” has a laidback groove that closes the disc on a high note.

Blue Room is an entertaining disc from start to finish. Jon Zeeman is a first-rate guitarist, signer, and songwriter, and deserves to be heard by a larger audience. Hopefully, this release will help that cause.

--- Graham Clarke

Lauren MitchellSome people don’t do well when dealing with personal losses. Often, they end up making bad decisions that make things even worse. Lauren Mitchell is not one of those people. Last year, the Tampa Bay area blues and soul singer suffered a breakup not only of her band, but also her marriage. One of those things is bad enough, but two might make send some to the rubber room. However, Mitchell hung tough, plunging into her work and connecting with producer/drummer Tony Braunagel and an all star band that included guitarists Johnny Lee Schell, Josh Sklair, and Jose Ramirez, keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Reggie McBride and the Phantom Blues Band Horns (Joe Sublett and Darrell Mitchell).

The resulting album, Desire, is a tough-as-nails serving of blues, rock, and soul and the big-voiced singer makes the most of her material, a mix of original tunes and tasty cover tunes originally made famous by the likes of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Betty Davis, and Betty LaVette. Though she may not have composed the songs, she sings them all like she’s lived them.

The defiant opener, “I Don’t Need Nobody,” an early James recording, sets the stage pretty well. “Soul Music” follows, a wonderful track where Mitchell recalls her father introducing her to the music that she loves. The moody title track has a countrified Delta feel and an emotional vocal performance.

“Jump Into My Fire” is another cover of a James tune from later in the late singer’s career, and Mitchell knocks this one out of the park with a smoking-hot performance. A slow burning take on Franklin’s “Good To Me As I Am To You” positively sizzles. The breezy “Feels So Good,” from Tomcat Blake, is a keeper, too, as is the rocking cover of Betty LaVette’s “Stand Up Like A Man.,” and her heartfelt reading of “Today.” The Ashford and Simpson hit “I Ain’t Been Licked Yet” kicks things up a notch with a punchy horn section and Mitchell exchanging vocals with the backing vocalists throughout.

Betty Davis’ “Anti-Love Song” just oozes funk with a nasty bass line and a sultry Mitchell vocal, and the gospel tune “Bridge Of My Dreams” really swings with more great call and response vocals between Mitchell and the backup vocalists (Maxanne Lewis, Leslie Smith, and Kudisan Kai). “Lead Me On” is a splendid original slow blues penned by Mitchell, Braunagel, and Sheri Nadleman, and Mitchell and Nadleman are also responsible for the terrific closer, “Brown Liquor.”

One door closes, and another opens. From bad things, good things often emerge. Lauren Mitchell took the adversity in her life and transformed it into a major victory with Desire. Blues and soul lovers, if you miss this one you’re sure to regret it.

--- Graham Clarke

Sean ChambersMy Blues Bytes bud Kyle Deibler raved about Sean Chambers’ latest release, Trouble & Whiskey (American Showplace Music), in last month’s Blues Bytes, and there’s very little I can add to his praises. Chambers, a Florida-born guitarist, toured with the great Hubert Sumlin and served as his bandleader for many years, and from my own listening experience, Chambers is one of the most dynamic blues rock guitarists and vocalists currently practicing. This latest release does nothing to disprove any of that.

The intensity rarely, if ever, lessens on first-rate originals like “I Need Your Lovin’,” “Bottle Keeps Starin’ At Me, the scorching title track, “Handyman,” the rowdy rocking “Sweeter Than A Honey Bee,” and the funky closer, “Gonna Groove.” Chambers and the band (Kris Schnebelen – drums, Todd Cook – bass, Michael Hensley – B3/piano) also all take a turn strutting their instrumental stuff in the sharp, “Travelin’ North.”

There’s a fine trio of covers here, too. One of my favorite Johnny Clyde Copeland tracks was “Cut Off My Right Arm,” and Chambers’ version would have made the late Texas bluesman proud. His blazing reading of Rory Gallagher’s “Bullfrog Blues” might render your speakers virtually useless because you’ll want to play it loud and often. Chambers takes his sweet time on the third and final cover tune is B.B. King’s “Be Careful With A Fool,” with fantastic results.

Mr. Deibler hit the nail right on the head last month, if anyone needs further convincing. Discriminating blues rock fans will definitely have to have Sean Chambers’ latest release in their collections. To this blues rock fan, Trouble & Whiskey definitely ranks with his best releases.

--- Graham Clarke


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