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June 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Billy Branch and Sons of Blues

Vin Mott

Tomislav Goluban

Steve Conn

Glen Clark

Trevor B Power

Dee Miller Band

Paul Nelson

Katarina Pejak

Bloodest Saxophone

Karrin Allyson

Xavier Davis

Ruben Blades

Chuco Valdes


Billy BranchWhat's not to like about the new album by Billy Branch & The Sons Of Blues, Roots and Branches - The Songs Of Little Walter (Alligator)? It's a collection of 14 songs from THE greatest blues harmonica player who walked on the face of the earth done by one of the best harp blowers around Chicago today, backed by an extremely tight group of musicians consisting of the outstanding Sumito "Ariyo" Ariyoshi (piano), Giles Corey (guitar), Marvin Little (bass) and Andrew "Blaze" Thomas (drums).

This one's a winner from start to finish. With any tribute type of album there is always the temptation to compare the covers to the original versions, usually an unfair comparison to the classics that we've listened to for so many years. But Branch and his band are up for the challenge and pull it off quite well, not trying to be Little Walter or his frequent backing band, The Aces. Instead, they are just content being Billy Branch & The Sons Of Blues, creating a loving tribute to Little Walter in their own mold.

If you're a big fan of Little Walter's music (quite frankly, what serious blues fan isn't?) then you are going to be familiar with most or all of the tunes here, but the arrangements generally differ somewhat from the originals. The difference is most noticeable on "My Babe," one of Walter's best-known numbers, with drummer Thomas using more of a backbeat and varying the tempo, while Ariyoshi contributes some New Orleans-style piano. This song has definitely been taken out of the backstreets of Chicago and given more of an island flavor.

"Blue And Lonesome" was one of Walter's more intense numbers, but Branch doesn't overwhelm your ears with the same unrestrained emotion of the original, taking a more subtle yet effective approach. "Hate To See You Go" is a very different arrangement from Walter's version, with the drummer again varying the tempo with more of a backbeat to the rhythm and Ariyoshi playing New Orleans-style piano. Branch's medley of "Just Your Fool/Key To The Highway," with more of a funky rhythm and vibe, is also very different from the original.

Branch's version of Little Walter's biggest hit, the iconic instrumental "Juke," is solid, with Thomas' drumming given more of a role as he drives the tempo by giving the second and fourth beat more emphasis. Branch handles the harmonica part just fine, not trying to sound like Walter and just playing some good quality harp. Another cover, "Roller Coaster," comes off well with Branch blowing more frenetic harmonica while Corey contributes tasty guitar. There's always been a fond spot in my heart for this song as I frequently used Walter's version as the intro for my radio show in those long-gone days when there was room for specialty shows on commercial radio.

Branch puts a little more punch into his vocals on both "You're So Fine" and "Blues With A Feeling," although he doesn't try to emulate Walter's off-the-charts intensity on the latter slow blues. As with every song on this album, Ariyoshi shines on piano.

Other songs, all equally excellent, include "Hate To See You Go," "Last Night," "Boom Boom Out Go The Lights" and "One More Chance With You."

After the 14 musical entrees on Roots And Branches, the dessert course closing the album is "Remembering Little Walter," with Walter's daughter Marion Diaz telling stories from her childhood about growing up around Walter before his untimely death at the age of 37. Her memories show a different side of the man from the heavy drinking and gambling that we've always heard about him. The most touching story is how he would play and sing "My Babe" while the little kids would go about their household cleaning chores. Ms. Diaz lets us know that her father really was a compassionate and loving man, providing a nice wrap-up for this wonderful tribute to Little Walter. Kudos to Branch, Alligator Records, and everyone involved in Roots And Branches.

--- Bill Mitchell

Kathryn GrimmI really have some conflicting opinions on the self-released album, Blues Tools, from Portland, Oregon-based singer / guitarist Kathryn Grimm. She's really an outstanding singer and it shows throughout the album, even though her vocal work is sometimes several steps above the production of the album and the backing musicians. When it all comes together Ms. Grimm shows her potential as an artist to be reckoned with. But I came away thinking that there's an incredible album in her future, but not this time around. With that said, it's still a worthwhile listen especially as you proceed deeper into the disc.

The first number to get me really excited is the traditional gospel-ish number "Trouble Of This World," made into more of a funky blues. Grimm shows considerable power and range to her vocals while also laying down some nice guitar licks, and we also get nice organ accompaniment from Bill Heston. "C'mon Home" is a solid funky blues number with soaring vocals and a hot guitar solo from Grimm. The gospel original "God Is Testing Me" incorporates some creative soulful guitar licks that would make Steve Cropper proud.

"Blues Tools" was my favorite cut from this CD, a mid-tempo shuffle that really shows the capability of Grimm and the band, with outstanding vocals from Grimm and a killer guitar solo from Sonny Hess. A cover of "Miss Celie's Blues" has Grimm assuming the persona of an old-time woman blues singer, backed by more subdued guitar accompaniment. Closing the disc is am original slow blues, "Empty Space," with powerful vocals and sparse instrumentation highlighted by flute from Johny Powel.

I want to hear more from Kathryn Grimm because I believe there's potential for her to take her music to the next level. This album could have benefited from a more subtle hand in the production at times, but it's a good stepping stone. Keep an eye out for this one.

--- Bill Mitchell

Atomic Road KingsThe Atomic Road Kings may not qualify as a blues “supergroup” just yet, but they are definitely a super group. Led by harmonica ace Eric “Jailhouse” Von Herzen (Walter Trout, Social Distortion, Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, and the 44s) and young multi-instrumentalist Big Jon Atkinson, and featuring Bill Stuve (bass), Malachi Johnson (drums), Scot Smart (guitar), Danny Michel (guitar), Tony Delgado (guitar), and Robert Welch (piano), the group seems destined for big things based on their debut release, Clean Up The Blood (Bigtone Records).

Atkinson wrote 11 of the 12 tracks, most of which have a traditional Windy City blues bent, beginning with the moody, stop-time groover “I’ve Got Time.” Atkinson’s gruff, earthy vocals combined with Von Herzen’s harp and Michel’s lead guitar make for a mighty music. The ominous slow burner “Rumors” features tasty lead guitar from Delgado and scorching harp from Von Herzen, and the mid-tempo “In Arms Reach” has lead guitar from Smart. Meanwhile, the rumba “Have Your Way” finds Atkinson playing a bit of surf-influenced guitar riffs, and the upbeat and acoustic “My Way Back Home” has a Mississippi Delta feel.

The title track is a winner, a slow burning blues story with Atkinson’s stinging lead guitar and Von Herzen’s wailing harp front and center. The rollicking “Candy Man” is next, a great old-school shuffle. “Ain’t For Me” features more sharp guitar work and “You Got To Change” is irresistibly funky. “Vibrations” has a slick after-hours vibe, with Welch guesting on piano, and “Back Down South” sounds like a long-lost Muddy Waters side from the Aristocrat days. The album’s only cover is the traditional “Two Sided Story,” a mid-tempo shuffle.

Clean Up The Blood is a most excellent set of vintage Chicago blues. The recording process, done live at Atkinson’s Bigtone Studios using vintage gear and analog equipment from the ’40s and ’50s certainly helps, but the musicians obviously have a love for this era of music and it comes through with every note played.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Creek Slim, Rodrigo MantovaniBig Creek Slim (a.k.a. Marc Rune) is a Danish blues man who fell under the spell of the blues and has won multiple awards in the Danish blues industry, performing as a solo, duo (with Peter Nande) and with The Big Creek Slim Band. He recently moved to Brazil and has fallen in with some of that country’s finest blues men, including bass player extraordinaire Rodrigo Mantovani, who was part of one of my favorite discs of 2017, Raphael Wressnig and Igor Prado’s The Soul Connection.

Mantovani and Slim have now released a joint blues effort, First Born (Chico Blues Records), a dynamite collection that also features contributions from Prado (guitar), Sidmar Vieira (trumpet), Luciano Leães (piano), and Yuri Prado (drums).

The album features six Slim originals with covers of ten classic blues tunes from Roosevelt Sykes (“Anytime Is The Right Time”), Barbecue Bob (“Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home”), Bo Carter (“I’ve Got Blood In My Eyes For You”), Sleepy John Estes (“Drop Down Mama”), Big Joe Williams (“Baby Please Don’t Go”), Charley Patton (“Some Of These Days”), Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson (“Million Years Blues”), Blind Willie Johnson (“Motherless Children”), Peetie Wheatstraw (“Sugar Mama”), and Hambone Willie Newbern (“Rollin’ and Tumblin’”).

The originals from Slim include the hard-charging opener “Teddy’s On A Sunday Night,” the stomper “Honey Time,” the Delta-flavored title track, which features some nice slide guitar from Slim, the hypnotic slow blues “How Come You Hold Your Head So High,” “VW-Van Blues” (another Delta rambler), and the lively closer “I Love My Baby.”

Big Creek Slim has a big ol’ voice perfectly suited for this brand of blues and he does a fine job on both covers and originals. He also skillfully plays dobro, 12-string acoustic, banjo, electric and acoustic guitars, along with harmonica on a couple of tracks. Mantovani provides his usual rock-steady backing on the upright bass, also playing sousaphone, maracas, and jug on selected tracks. Igor Prado provides stellar electric guitar support on “Million Years Blues,” backing Slim’s harmonica.

I always enjoy a well-done set of traditional blues, and any recording that I’ve heard from this group of musicians from Brazil over the past few years has been an absolute delight. First Born keeps that streak alive and I hope it’s a streak that continues for a long, long time.

--- Graham Clarke

Vin MottNew Jersey-based harp master Vin Mott’s latest release, Rogue Hunter, was recorded live in a makeshift studio. As Mott explains in the liner notes, “Blues listeners often forget that what makes the music great and gives it charm is its flaws and lack of heavy production.” Indeed, this 12-song set of original tunes is rough, ragged, and righteous as Mott continues to prove that he is one of the finest harmonica players currently practicing. He’s backed by his powerhouse working band (Dean Shot – guitar, Steve “Pretty Boy” Kirsty – bass, Matt Niedbalski – drums), who are more than up to the task of recapturing the vintage feel of traditional blues.

Mott opens with “Car Troubles Made Me A Good Blues Singer,” a wry, modern look at his own path to the blues, a bit different path than normal. “Give Me Cornbread” is a, pardon the expression, tasty Windy City shuffle, while the title track is a hard rocking boogie that showcases Shot’s slide guitar, and “Ice Cold Beer” is a driving party tune that’s bound to inspire audience participation at Mott’s live shows. Meanwhile, “Honey” is a steady rolling, playful country blues, and the optimistic “Whistlin’ By The Graveyard” moves along nimbly.

“Paterson is Crumblin’” is a sober look at life in the northern New Jersey Third Ward community, with Mott painting a vivid picture of abandoned streets and factories and rampant crime. “I Got The Blues On My Mind” is a lively shuffle punctuated by Shot’s crisp guitar work, and “Countin’ On Them Chickens” has a nice old school blues feel. Speaking of old school, the ballad “Fire To Your Flame” sounds like a slice of vintage R&B from a couple of eras ago.

The album closes with the Robert Johnson revisit, “Please Mr. Devil,” where Mott pitches a deal with Satan for mad harmonica skills, and a cool instrumental, “Greaser,” which features Mott’s harmonica backed by a Link Wray-like guitar riff.

Vin Mott’s harmonica playing and his nimble vocals are superb, and his highly original songwriting and his great band help make Rogue Hunter must-listening for traditional blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

T. GolubanI first heard Tomislav Goluban last year when reviewing Velvet Space Love, an interesting collaboration with a fellow Croatian, keyboardist Toni Starešinić, which could best be described as “future blues.” While that release embraced a lot of styles --- funk, hip-hop, electronica, and jazz --- Goluban’s contributions on harmonica gave the project firm blues roots.

Goluban returns this year with a more blues-based solo effort, Chicago Rambler (Spona), featuring support from some of the Windy City’s finest --- Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (drums), E.G. McDaniel (bass), Eric Noden (guitar), and fellow harmonica ace Joe Filisko.

The influence of a battery of Chicago’s finest harp masters as well as many other legends can be felt on these 12 tracks, all written by Goluban. Little Walter comes through loud and clear on the snazzy opener, “Pigeon Swing,” which was originally intended as a bonus cut but was hot enough to be deemed the lead-off track (Goluban’s nickname is “Little Pigeon”). “Locked Heart” has the easygoing swamp blues feel of Slim Harpo’s “Rainin’ In My Heart,” and “Bag Full of Troubles,” one of two tracks that teams Goluban with Filisko, is a solid South Side shuffle.

Philadelphia Jerry Ricks became friends with Goluban after he and his wife moved to Croatia, with “Jerry Ricks On My Mind” being a tender tribute to the late blues man who passed away in Croatia in late 2007. This tribute appears as a rumba-styled rocker and later in acoustic form. “Can’t Find Myself” is a splendid slow blues with mournful slide guitar from Noden, and “Home Made Honey” has a real beach music feel. “One Way Ticket” is a good old train song, down to Goluban’s imitation which introduces the tune, and “Do The Right Thing” takes on that classic Bo Diddley beat.

“Little Pigeon” is the second Goluban/Filisko collaboration, and it’s a great Muddy Waters-styled slow Chicago blues with Filisko backing Goluban’s vocal just like Little Walter used to back Waters. “Searchin’ For My Baby” isn’t the old Sonny Boy Williamson tune, but rather a delightful old timey country blues. The album closes with a swinging remake of a traditional Croatian folk song, “Išel buden v kleticu,” which means “I’ll Go To My Cottage.”

Chicago Rambler is a fine tribute to traditional Chicago blues, featuring Tomislav Goluban’s excellent harp backed by some of the Windy City’s finest musicians.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve ConnSteve Conn has collaborated with a variety of musicians over his career, frequently with Sonny Landreth (appearing on Landreth’s recent Grammy-nominated effort Recorded Live In Lafayette). He’s also toured with Albert King, played accordion for Levon Helm, and even appeared on The Tonight Show with Shelby Lynne. A Louisiana native, Conn played small clubs in Louisiana before moving to Colorado where he formed the band Gris Gris. He also spent time in Los Angeles in that city’s music scene, returning to Colorado where he was musical director for the NPR show eTown before settling near Nashville.

Conn plays keyboards, accordion, and alto sax, his singing voice is vulnerable and supremely soulful, reminiscent at times of Boz Scaggs, and he’s one heck of a songwriter. All of these talents can be savored on his latest --- fifth overall --- release, Flesh and Bone (Not Really Records). The opening track, “Famous,” is a New Orleans-styled track that finds Conn reflecting on his life, wanting the accolades he thinks he’s earned before it’s too late. Next is the title track, which is a jazzy shuffle that has a mid-career Miles Davis feel, followed by “Doing The Best That I Can” taking a regretful look at a broken relationship, and “You Don’t Know,” which is hopeful for better days ahead.

“Annalee” is a sentimental ballad about a lost love from long ago, a theme that’s revisited later by another exceptional ballad, “Forever Seventeen,” a tune that will touch anyone who looks back and ponders what might have been. Anyone who’s had a bad day can certainly relate to “Let Me Cry,” a funky New Orleans blues. Conn picks up the accordion for the zydeco-flavored “Around and Around,” which takes a look at the ongoing debate between religions in the world (one of two tracks featuring Landreth’s slide guitar). “Sing Me To The Other Side” is a somber look at life’s end, and “Satisfied” reflects discontent when all around is as good as can be.

“Good Times are Coming” combines Professor Longhair keyboards with ’70s-era R&B and funk, telling the story of a young child who is moved from place to place with the promise of better things ahead. The album closes with one of its most powerful songs, “Without a Trace,” a mysterious and moving tale of an apparent suicide.

Conn and Joe V. McMahan co-produced the disc, which was recorded in Nashville, and features musical contributions from McMahan (guitars), Bryan Owings (drums), and Dave Francis (bass), among others.
Flesh and Bone is a stunning piece of work from a talented musician and songwriter. Most listeners will find a piece of themselves in some, or all, of Steve Conn’s songs.

--- Graham Clarke

Glen ClarkBack in the ’70s Texas-born piano man Glen Clark co-founded Delbert and Glen, a southern rock and roots group, with Delbert McClinton, recording a pair of albums for Atlantic. Clark also toured with and wrote songs for Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson during the ’80s, and he also appeared in several of Kristofferson’s movies during that same period. He toured and recorded with Bonnie Raitt during the ’90s and continued to have success as a songwriter for McClinton, Wynonna Judd, Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Etta James, Lee Roy Parnell, and many others. He’s also worked as a producer, served as musical composer for the series According To Jim, performed with the Blues Brothers, and cut a reunion album with McClinton in 2014.

Clark’s new release, You Tell Me (Glenco Records), is his first solo album since 1994. It’s a dandy, consisting of ten superb tracks of blues, soul, country, and rock n’ roll. Clark (keyboards, guitar, vocals) is backed by a fine group of music vets (John Bryant – drums/co-producer with Clark, Jim Milan – bass, Sam Swank – guitar) with guests James Pennebaker (guitar), Jeff Silbar (acoustic guitar), Jim Foster (trumpet), and Ron Jones (saxophone).

Clark wrote six of the ten tracks with Silbar, including the country/blues title track that opens the disc. They also collaborated on the smooth Memphis R&B burner “Accept My Love,” the gospel-flavored “Walk On,” the soulful “I’m Never Gonna Stop Loving You,” the sparkling “In Search Of,” and the Americana rocker “That’s Where You Come In.” The funky “I Can Tell By Looking” was co-written by Clark and the late Stephen Bruton.

“When The Time Is Right,” co-written by Clark with Steve Cropper, appeared on Buddy Guy’s Heavy Love album in the late ’90s, with Clark’s greasy, Stax-influenced version getting the nod between the two versions to these ears. Clark wrote the lovely piano-driven ballad, “Dreamer,” all by his lonesome and provides a wonderful, heartfelt vocal. The album’s lone cover is a Kristofferson track, the reflective ballad “This Old Road,” with another powerful vocal from Clark.

Also deserving of notice are the wonderful backing vocalists on the album --- Pat Peterson and Benita Arterberry for most of the tracks, and Paige Clark, Ty Clark, Tracy Truong, Cierra Franco, and Ryan Franco for “I’m Never Gonna Stop Loving You.”

Hopefully, Glen Clark won’t wait a quarter century before blessing soul and blues fans with another solo effort, because You Tell Me is an absolute gem of an album.

--- Graham Clarke

Trevor B PowerEven though Trevor B. Power has loved and played music for most of his life, he was never inspired to play and write his own music until he met Bobby Whitlock (Derek and The Dominos) and Whitlock’s wife Coco Carmel. Around the same time he became a DJ at the New Jersey radio station WNTI (91.9 FM), really opening his eyes to music particularly the blues. Over time, with lots of practice and determination, he began performing gigs with the WNTI Band and Trevor B. Power & The Treblemakers, sharing the stage with such blues luminaries as Trudy Lynn, Dave Fields, Johnny Charles, and Steve Krase.

Now, the Trevor B. Power Band (Power – vocals/guitar, Billy Gensch – guitar, Mark Enright – bass, Tom DiCianni – drums) has released their debut album, Everyday Angel, a fine set of blues, rock, and soul originals that was a quarter century in the making. The album was produced by Power and Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors) , with guest artists Whitlock, Carmel, guitarist Bob Lanza, sax man Nick Conti, and B3 master John Ginty.

“Jack,” the opening track, is a catchy radio-ready rocker about Power’s dog, “You Ain’t Acting Right” is a smooth shuffle with guest guitarist Lanza contributing a nice solo, and “Future Plans” is an old school rock n’ roller with Ginty stepping forward with great honky tonk piano and Conti on sax. “Saddest Things” is a slow blues with splendid guitar work from Gensch, and the Diddley-esque “Storm Warnin’” reflects on current affairs, while Lanza returns on guitar for the gritty blues rocker “Baby I’m Through With You,” and Kirzan, who plays guitar/bass/drums on this track (and several others), punctuates the driving “I Wrote It Down” with atmospheric slide guitar.

The stirring “Murder In The First Degree” has the feel of one of those mid-’80s power rock tunes, “Lord Have Mercy” has a swampy feel, a little bit like CCR-era rock, and the title track, a heartfelt ballad dedicated to Power’s young daughter closing the disc features Whitlock on slide guitar, drums, and keyboards and Carmel on saxophone and backing vocals.

Everyday Angel is an inspired debut release from the Trevor B. Power Band that shows Power is a rapidly-developing songwriter and artist who bears watching in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Dee MillerThe Dee Miller Band is one of Minnesota’s finest blues bands. Fronted by Miller, known in the Twin Cities as “The Duchess of the Blues,” the band also includes the talented Craig Clark (vocals/guitar), Eric Meyer (bass/vocals), Mike DuBois (drums), and Jesse Mueller (keyboards). The band advanced to the semi-finals at the 2019 International Blues Challenge and after listening to Leopard Print Dress, the band’s third release, one might wonder why they didn’t advance further. Ms. Miller has a powerful and supremely soulful set of pipes and the band is proficient in a variety of blues styles.

The album’s ten tracks are a mix of blues, soul, and R&B, beginning with the jumping “Hot and Sweaty,” a rollicking original from Miller and Clark, then getting funky with Etta James’s (via Bekka Bramlett and Gary Nicholson) “Strongest Weakness.” The group transforms the Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit” into a soul burner, Miller’s power-packed performance giving the song a new pair of legs. The title track won the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame award for Best Song in 2017; co-written by Miller and Jimi “Primetime” Smith, this excellent blues rocker features vocals from Miller and Clark (who sound great together) and a sizzling slide guitar run from Paul Mayasich. Meanwhile, the hard-charging, horn-fueled “Back In The Saddle” was written by Kelley Jean Hunt.

Clark takes the mic for the Johnnie Taylor hit “Last Two Dollars” and positively kills it, while Miller ably handles the swinging shuffle “I Sing The Blues” (with harp from Steve “Boom Boom” Vonderharr) and gives a tender but tough performance on the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Midnight In Harlem,” which also features Vonderharr along with Toby Marshall on B3. Clark and the band revisits the funky side of the blues with a stirring take on Albert Collins’ “Black Cat Bone,” and Miller closes the disc with “Steppin’,” a driving blues dedicated to all her girlfriends done wrong.

Leopard Print Dress is a strong set of blues and R&B. The vocal combination of Miller and Clark works really well, with both shining solo and in tandem, and the band is first rate from start to finish. Put the Dee Miller Band’s latest release on your “must hear” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul NelsonOver Under Through (Riverwide Records), the new release from New Hampshire musician Paul Nelson, is a riveting album that straddles the fence between blues and roots. Production-wise, it reminds me a lot of those great albums from Daniel Lanois in the ’80s, with the music taking a dark, earthy, often haunting feel. Nelson wrote 10 of the 11 tracks, plays guitar, keyboards, and percussion, and is backed by a host of New England’s finest blues and folk musicians --- guitarist Kevin Barry, drummer John Sands, bassists Richard Gates and Paul Kochansky, and trumpeter Jeff Oster.

The opener, “Go Down Ezekiel,” is a Biblically-based track firmly planted in the Delta blues with shimmering guitar work from Barry, and “Ghost In The Basement” sounds like a moody track from a film noir. “Color It Blue” is one of my favorites, lyrically packing a punch and featuring Oster on flugelhorn. Meanwhile, the haunting “Secret” features Barry on lap steel guitar, while on the somber “Lay A Little” the protagonist shoulders some of the responsibility for a failed relationship, and “Alice Mullin” is is a folk song that takes a leisurely pace.

Nelson’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” is taken almost like a lament. The slower pace, combined with Nelson’s soulful vocals (and equally soulful backing vocals from Kristin Cifelli), will make listeners look at the tune in a whole new light. “Relative Work” is probably the most rock-oriented track on the album, with Nelson singing that “we should make the best of times.” “Silent Majority” also rocks pretty hard, imploring listeners to “speak your piece” and fight for what’s right.

The wonderful title track tells of a spiritual journey and subsequent enlightenment, and on the subdued closer, “There Is Weeping,” Nelson asks listeners to “bring a song of hope to the world.”

Over Under Through is a gentle and stunningly personal release from Paul Nelson that touches on the blues with soul, funk, folk, and gospel mixed throughout. It’s also a rewarding listening experience.

--- Graham Clarke

Brooks MasonA few months ago, I got an email and Soundcloud link from a 22-year-old musician from Atlanta named Brooks Mason, who told me that he had just released his first blues album which was recorded at his house with him playing all of the instruments (guitar, bass, drums, and horns) and singing. The project, called Eddie 9V, features a dozen songs, mostly originals, and show young Mason to be a most impressive multi-instrumentalist and arranger.

Tracks like “Yonder’s Wall,” “Don’t Test Me,” “Bottle and The Blues,” and the driving boogie of “Whiskey and Wimmen” show that Mason has a real knack for traditional blues, mixing crisp guitar work with youthful but savvy vocals. There’s also plenty of excellent guitar work on the instrumental “Bending With The Kings,” which pays a nod to the holy blues trinity of the three Kings, and he shows off his slide guitar skills on “I’m Worried” and “1945 (Cocaine and Rum).” He also proves to be a pleasingly soulful vocalist on the slow burner “LoFi Love.”

Eddie 9V won’t be available until July, but be sure to keep an eye out for this release from a fine new blues guitar talent.

--- Graham Clarke

Katarina PejakBlues Bytes head honcho Bill Mitchell made Katarina Pejak’s recent Ruf Records release, Roads That Cross, the Pick Hit for February. After giving it a listen, it’s obvious that he has a pretty keen ear. The young Serbian learned to play piano at an early age and fell in love with the blues after raiding her dad’s record collection. She earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and has already released several albums but this one should definitely not be missed, with 11 stunning tracks and musical contributions from Laura Chavez (guitar), Lonnie Trevino, Jr. (bass), and Damien Llanes (drums), as well as sterling production from Mike Zito.

Hitting the high spots (there are no “low spots”), I really like the variation in styles here, from the opener “Nature Of The Blues,” which has a cool ’60s swinging retro vibe, to the freewheeling “Cool Drifter,” to “Moonlight Rider,” which has a haunting southern rock feel right down to the Allmanesque slide guitar throughout the song. The slow and soulful “Old Pain” is right out of Memphis with Pejak’s keys really adding to the mood, and she rocks the house on “Chasing Summer.”

“Down With Me” mixes reggae rhythms with the blues quite effectively, and “She’s Coming After You” mixes a variety of themes, blues, Latin, and a little surf guitar thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, the somber title track tells the story of a relationship coming to an end, and the album closer, “The Harder You Kick,” is a solo piano/vocal track that serves as a bit of a sequel to the previous track as Pejak vows to move forward with her life.

There’s also a dandy pair of covers --- Janis Joplin’s “Turtle Blues,” a fine slow blues, and a moody take on Joni Mitchell’s “Sex Kills.”

I like Pejak’s vocal style and her songwriting, plus her mad skills on the keys. The band gives her fantastic support. If anyone hasn’t already picked up Roads That Cross after Bill’s fine review, you are advised to make up for lost time and check it out right now.

--- Graham Clarke

Bloodest SaxophoneThe Japanese jump blues and swing band Bloodest Saxophone has previously worked with a pair of legendary blues artists, including Big Jay McNeely and Jewel Brown (check out their 2014 collaboration with Ms. Brown, Roller Coaster Boogie, and prepare to be blown away). Dialtone Records chief Eddie Stout and the band came up with the concept of teaming up with some of the finest female voices in the Lone Star State. The result is Texas Queens 5 (Dialtone/Vizztone Records), which features the band backing Diunna Greenleaf, Lauren Cervantes, Angela Miller, Jai Malano, and Crystal Thomas.

Greenleaf gets the disc off to a rousing start with a thunderous cover of Big Maybelle’s “I Got A Feeling.” It’s her lone solo appearance on the disc, but certainly one to remember. Next, she teams with the other four Queens for a funky take on “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” Each of the ladies take lead on a verse and share terrific background vocals on the chorus and bridge. Crystal Thomas, who actually hails from Shreveport and was at one time the trombone player in Johnnie Taylor’s band, does a splendid job on the Dr. John-penned R&B classic “Losing Battle” and a Latin-tinged shuffle remake of Roscoe Robinson’s “Don’t Move Me.”

Jai Malano sings lead on three tracks and really delivers on a sizzling take of Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ The Dog,” Charles Sheffield’s swamp blues classic “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” and a sassy read of Amos Milburn’s “I Done Done It.” Lauren Cervantes takes on the Louis Jordan hit, “Run Joe,” which is given an upbeat island rhythm that the band knocks out of the park, and the fantastic swinging boogie “The Grape Vine,” ably assisted by Angela Miller. Miller, who works with Cervantes in an Austin-based soul group, the Soul Supporters, sings lead on the Mable John soul burner “Don’t Hit Me No More.”

Bloodest Saxophone (Koda “Young Corn” Shintaro – tenor sax, Coh “Colonel Sanders” – trombone, Osikawa Yukimasa – baritone sax, Shuji “Apple Juice” – guitar, The Takeo “Little Tokyo” – upright bass, and Kiminori “Dog Boy” – drums/congas) provide superlative backing, with additional contributions from Nick Connolly (piano/organ), Kaz Kazanoff (tenor sax), and Johnny Moeller (guitar). The band gets their moments in the spotlight throughout and on a pair of wonderful instrumentals --- the wild, swinging original “Pork Chop Chick” and a steady rolling cover of Lafayette Thomas’ “Cockroach Run.”

Fans of jump blues and swing will find a whole lot to love with Bloodest Saxophone and Texas Queens 5. It’s a blast from start to finish.

--- Graham Clarke

Karrin Allyson - Right Here Right Now and I Like That-Some of that Sunshine - Kasrecords ’18

Here’s a review of her concert tour behind this album:
Met the quartet backstage, all very friendly, not nervous, very sociable. Karrin asked how I was going to introduce her. Well, didn’t have time to tell crowd, but told her about the 2002 Chuck Niles compliment along  with Kitty Margolis: “Don’t remind me how many years ago!” She’s still young. Classy. Lewis Nash was her drummer this evening. I have a politically CORRECT statement that this lady is HOT STUFF because critics, the public, and other musicians all like her.

This Sunshine is her first all-original words/music album. She did several numbers as a stand-up singer to start.

Playlist: “Wish You were Mine,” friendly and into it. Home, “Sunshine.” SECURE. I recalled liking her performance broadcast live one NPR Toast of the Nation NYE broadcast, I believe she played all piano that night? But seeing her Live most definitely did it, I was already a convert. The ballad “Just As Well” has saxophonist Houston Person on the record. “Shake it Up,” inspired by Obama’s "Democracy zigs and zags.” Break for Rogers & Hammerstein pairing: “Happy Talk,” then she took over at piano, regular player switching to Rhodes for good layering and effect. “Got to be Taught,” obscure immediate post-war from South Pacific.

“And here we are today.” Todd Straightlo wrote the ballad “I Can do Anything.” Staying at piano, “Nobody Said Love was Easy.” A Mose Allison followed by a Paul Simon tune, something about what the little girl played on sax in Simpsons? One number along here she really projected unlike her records. And I got to that spot where the music was allowed to consume me, up to then didn’t know if it could or would. Back to stand-up singing, “Sophisticated Lady” let her get down to lower register, and when that ended, she looked up as to God, Duke or someone, and I got touched so that I removed glasses to wipe eyes. Brazilian “Little Boat (Paquino),” “Happy Now.” Miro Sprague played piano, Jeff Johnson on bass.

About her style? You know it’s her, credit for that originality. Her closing comments: “Just about to release you, resume your evening, go sit by a cactus? I would.” “Right Here Right Now and I Like It” stays in head long after the concert.

Jazz recordings:
Christian Sands-This pianist’s preview EP was a drastic sweep between studio fireworks and live extended technical calisthenics. We only like four tracks off this late 2018 release. Mr. Sands is not showing his promise. We’re out with the tricky time signatures, pseudo-smooth jazz, this guy is talented and we’ve heard him really play with fire. All we have here is kindling. We rate because in past offerings he’s been Tyner and Jamal, here he’s Hancock. The concluding track deals with meditation, just how deep we can’t yet say.

Xavier DavisXavier Davis - Rise Up Detroit (Detroit Music Factory ’18) - This piano player is happening, McCoy Tyner-like.

Christian McBride - New Jawn (Mack Avenue ’18) - Despite the tracks of fill and sketches, the creativity of open spaces, fragmentations serious improvisational statements and drive make this close to the attitude of a Max Roach or Elvin Jones ensemble sound. Bassist McBride shines as the obvious leader.

Yelena Eckemoff - Better than Gold (L & H ’18) - She’s a pianist. This material has impact just from an instrumental standpoint. It’s more than technique or talent, it’s a philosophy and positive attitude applied through playing styles. We don’t know who’s rising to the occasion here --- soloists, horns or rhythm section parts --- but suspect the pianist is the ringleader. Vocals of the Psalms are simply icing on the cake. Studious progression is obvious, noticed and appreciated.

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop - Abundance (Anzic ’18) - Toronto drummer/composer and his band. Appreciate the concept but want to re-name the music “turbo BOP.” Harmony of the horns create that impression, harkening slightly back to what you might hear as POST post bop?

OJT (Organ Jazz Trio) - Happening stuff, good original material and musicianship. Not too deep on groove or grease comparatively.

Marcus Strickland - Tenor sax tone and technique, use of bass clarinet notable. Good and strong as a sideman on the recent Christian McBride release, but where is the force on his own outing? Nothing from this album useable.

Latin recordings:
Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton MarsalisUna Noche con Ruben Blades (Blue Engine ’18) - Good amalgam of everyone, ensemble with conductor/custom rhythm section/front man. The orchestra disciplined and proper compared to the abandon of a Puente or Machito big band, Wynton’s trumpet sounds good over the rhythms, Ruben Blades tears it up, especially on the English language American standard popular material.

Chuco ValdesChucho Valdez - Jazz Bata 2 (Mack Avenue ’18) - Outstanding, spectacular. Pared-down instrumentation appreciated, more piano and energy on this Chucho record than some of his live appearances at least as sideman. Story of how this is sequel to his father’s 1952 recording commendable. Impressive outing. I’ve seen him and his son, didn’t know Bebo Valdez was his father until recently. Bata’s were originally for ceremonial purposes only in the Santa-Ria “religion.”

Harold Lopez Nussa - Un Dia Cualquiera (Mack Avenue ’18) - Concert review of tour behind this release: Lopez-Nussa’s accompanists nice guys, drummer Ruy liked I knew his name. A hundred at best filled the theater, I a little out of shape on winging pronunciations while introducing the trio. Roughly translated album on sale is Just Another Day, a bold statement with pretty melodies. “Mantacera variations.” Then a 6/8 base medium but busy in parts, a peculiar recorded vocal beginning, middle, end. Next was the hit "danzon" from the album. A cojunto/piano duo, up and substantive. They played a Bebo Valdez tribute, just recently learned that’s Chucho’s dad. An uncle, maybe his brother, composed the next number, “Lowell Cha.” Then a damn melodica, fortunately played sparse on melody only, by drummer blowing into a tube which made a good photo anyway  with keyboard on lap. Next selection they called “Hi Ya Leah,” for a Miami ‘hood. The program seemed a little short of 90 minutes, never moved into to my subconscience, not consumed or meditative as some shows here perhaps due to the lugubrious nature of Cuban piano and percussion music. For encore the pianist played a locked hands ballad. They sold and signed CDs in lobby and those who stayed were interested and welcoming.

--- Tom Coulson
I play all discs I review on radio. Search for Hacksaw Jazz.


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