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Order these featured CDs today:

Gerald McClendon

Lisa Mills

Reverend Freakchild

The Nighthawks

Joe Louis Walker

Jose Ramirez

Gina Sicilia

Jimmy Carpenter

Troy Gonyea

Doug Duffey

Eddie 9V

Tokyo Tramps

Zack Walther Band

Jacqui Brown

Janiva Magness

Billy Price

 


Gerald McClendonAnother month of Blues Bytes, and here we are with still another discovery of a fabulous performer of whom I was previously aware. These types of discoveries provide the biggest adrenaline high I get from publishing this website every month. Along comes Gerald McClendon, a veteran of the Chicago blues, soul and R&B scene for over 20 years but with few recordings to his credit.

Let's hope that the release of the very fine Can't Nobody Stop Me Now (Delta Roots Records) gives Mr. McClendon the recognition he needs to make regular trips into the recording studio, as well as getting the man out on tour once this pandemic is under control. It's a collection of 12 original songs from the pen of producer Twist Turner, showcasing McClendon's elite vocals backed by a crack band of Chicago regulars. McClendon nicely straddles that fence between soul and blues, leaning more to the soul side, and that's quite alright with me because I really like both genres not to mention the fact that the man has the vocal chops to handle just about any style of music. The band is quite outstanding, too, especially the horn section with Skinny Williams shining on tenor sax throughout the session.

The brass section leads off the opening soulful cut, "Can't Nobody Stop Me Now," before McClendon's sweet voice that fits in quite fine in the Tyrone Davis mold. Williams comes in with the first of many wonderful sax solos, and then leads off the next cut, "Where Do We Go From Here," with smooth jazzy playing on this slower, soulful number. McClendon is begging his woman for her forgiveness after he catches him in the act with another woman.

McClendon slows the tempo on the next two cuts, the mid-tempo soul/blues tune "Groove On Tonight," on which he boastfully announces that he's ready for a night of love, followed by the slow blues "She Don't Love Me Anymore," lamenting that his woman has thrown him out. The tables are turned on the mid-tempo blues, "Runnin' Wild," with his baby running around on him. Williams contributes another very nice sax solo to go with the entire horn section constructing a wall of sound.

The liner notes list three guitar players and three piano players backing McClendon on the album, so it's hard to identify who's who on any particular cut, but the slow. soulful ballad, "It's Over Now" features really nice keyboard and fretwork throughout the song. Williams is at it again with the intro to the pleasant soul song, "Mr. Wrong," with McClendon wooing a woman by offering, "...Can I be Mr. Wrong tonight, 'til Mr. Right comes along?..."

"I Started Over" is McClendon's song of redemption, a thoughtful soul/blues number on which he packs even more emotion and range into his voice. He follows that will a slow, soulful tune, "You Can't Take My Love," with very nice piano from one of the three keyboardists at the session. McClendon gives his vocals even more power on another slow soul song, "Why Can't We Be Together," with Williams once again the highlight with his beautiful sax playing.

On the more funky "Cut You Once," McClendon gets a little over-confident with himself as he brags about his love affairs until he gets caught by his wife, who tells him, "...I'm going to cut you once, shoot you twice, you better start running for your life ..." The mood changes completely on the closing number, "I Think About You," a strong testimonial to the love of his woman.

Let's hope that the title of this exquisite album --- Can't Nobody Stop Me Now --- is a prediction of what's going to happen with McClendon's career moving forward. I can't stop listening to it, and neither should you.

--- Bill Mitchell

Lisa MillsLisa Mills has quite the voice, capable of belting out the big sound of soulful blues, as heard on The Triangle. With several previous albums to her credit, but none recently, The Triangle is the first effort from the Melody Place Music label. For the 14 songs on this CD, Mills, along with producer Fred Mollin, traveled around the south to legendary studios, making jaunts to the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Royal Studios in Memphis, Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, and finally back to Memphis for one song at the Sun Studios.

The Muscle Shoals sessions produced the first single from the album, a cover of Little Richard's "Greenwood, Mississippi," with Mills' voice soaring above a beat that is somewhat reminiscent of Credence Clearwater. Other soul classics from this session are a couple of Etta James numbers, "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," and a version of Clarence Carter's "Slip Away." The Etta songs both start out sounding very similar to the original versions before Ms. Mills and the band take the songs into a different direction. She's got a voice that has the same power as that of Etta, but with a touch more grit. Her rendition of "Slip Away" is very nice, with solid B3 accompaniment from Clayton Ivey.

I really got into the five songs recorded in Memphis, especially with the crack backing band joining Mills in the Royal facility (Lester Snell - keyboards, Leroy Hodges - bass, Michael Toles - lead guitar, Fred Mollin - rhythm guitar, Steve Potts - drums and Reverend Charles Hodges - Hammond B3). Now that's a hot, hot band!

Toles turns in a killer guitar solo on "That's What Love Will Make You Do," a song that was done by both Little Milton and Aretha Franklin back in the day. The horn section of Jim Hoke and Steve Herman provides a big soul sound on Bobby Womack's "I'm In Love," and the slow-paced Mable John ballad, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, just plain drips with gospel-influenced Memphis soul.

The feelgood Sam & Dave classic, "A Place Nobody Can Find," has a shuffle beat with a girl group sound that is well-suited for Mills' voice, before the star of our show puts her feelings on the line with Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is."

If I get a vote, I believe that Mills should record the entirety of her next album at the Royals Studios with the same backing musicians --- that one would be a sure-fire winner.

Not that there's anything wrong with what came out of the other studios. The four cuts from the Malaco Studios include two oft-covered classics, Bobby Bland's "Members Only" and "Someone Else Is Stepping In," the latter recorded for Malaco by both Z.Z. Hill and Denise LaSalle.

Closing the album is the lone number recorded at Sun, a restrained version of The Prisonaires' "Just Walking In The Rain," a beautiful number with the primary accompaniment being guitar strumming by Mills.

Ms. Mills is incredibly talented with a good future ahead of her. I really like this album and highly recommend it. What I'd like to see in her choice of covers for future albums is to go deeper into other artists' catalogs, as most of the songs here are standard numbers that we've heard countless times from both the original performers as well as other singers covering the same songs. But I get it because what she was trying to accomplish with this album was to record these classics in the same studios and with many of the same session musicians. I'll be looking forward to what Mills has planned next time around, as I stated above I'm hoping that she pays another visit to the Royal Studios real soon. 

--- Bill Mitchell

Reverend FreakchildI've read numerous reviews of previous albums by Reverend Freakchild, but getting a promo copy of his newest disc, The Bodhisattva Blues (Treated and Released Records), his 12th overall, was my first chance to hear what this crazy dude is all about. The Reverend normally performs solo, but for this album he assembled a cast of thousands to back him (well, not really, but there are upwards of 20 names listed in the liner notes).

After two times through the album, I'm still not sure where I stand on his music other than to say that the Rev is pretty far out there and I applaud his creativity. For me, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Most important point to understand is that his voice is an acquired taste, and it's not one that has grown on me yet. There's definitely a Grateful Dead vibe on this album, with various backing musicians that have connections to Jerry Garcia and other Dead alumni.

What intrigues and entertains me the most on The Bodhisattva Blues are the covers of a pair of songs that are normally outside the boundaries of the blues genre, especially the very nice version of Garcia's "Friend of the Devil." The Reverend's voice is much more restrained here and the backing accompaniment is sparser than on other cuts, highlighted by Mark Karan's wonderfully tasteful guitar picking and Chris Parker's subtle use of brushes on the drums. Jerry Garcia must be smiling every time this version gets played.

The other cover that really gets me off is a quirky, totally-redone version of John Lennon's "Imagine," built around the smooth R&B bass lines of Phil Martino and jazzy guitar licks from Alex the Dragon (yeah, that's what the liner notes give as the man's name). Rev's voice is so much more pleasant here as he doesn't try to out-do the instrumentalists.

"Sweet Sweet You," with a prevailing Grateful Dead vibe, is the only Freakchild original and which he recorded on a previous album, a tribute to influential musicians who we've lost over the years. Ironically, what stands out most about this song is the lap steel work from legendary rock bassist Drew Glackin, who passed away in 2008 (I've been poring through the liner notes and google searches trying to figure out the timeline on this one). Also worth hearing is the primal raw blues/gospel of Rev. Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy," made special by the eerie sound of Jay Collins' Bansuri flute.

Organ player Melvin Seals is kind of a big name with the still active Jerry Garcia Band, and he makes three appearances on The Bodhisattva Blues. I especially like his work on the re-imagining of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man," on which the Reverend's voice comes across better for my ears. An added bonus here is the very fine lap steel and harmonica playing by Hugh Pool. Also interesting is the cover of a traditional tune, "I Know You Rider," that was once covered by Hot Tuna, with slide guitar from A.J. Fullerton taking this one over the top.

The Bodhisattva Blues is growing on me now that I've gotten through it two full times. It's not an album that I'm going to listen to repeatedly, but there are favorite songs that I will have on shuffle and repeat.

--- Bill Mitchell

The NighthawksAs a young man having just moved to the big city, Washington, D.C., in 1976, I knew very little about the blues back then. Before long I was regularly going out  to see this relatively young blues band called The Nighthawks. The 1970s era lineup (Mark Wenner, Jimmy Thackery, Pete Ragusa, Jan Zukowski) gave me my earliest lessons in the blues. The Nighthawks are still around, although Wenner has been the only original member still in the band for quite some time. Coming up on 50 years of existence, these guys show no signs of slowing down, releasing another fine new album, Tryin' To Get To You (Eller Soul Records).

In addition to the venerable Wenner, The Nighthawks now consist of the solid ensemble of Dan Hovey (guitars), Mark Stutso (drums) and Paul Pisciotta (bass). Typical for a 'Hawks release, the material is all over the place, covering a variety of styles in a familiarly refreshing way over the 13-song disc of both originals and well-chosen covers.

Two of the better cuts were also recorded by The Nighthawks on the 1990 release, Trouble, when the band consisted of the early lineup (minus Thackery) but bolstered by a pair of relative youngsters from North Carolina, Danny Morris on guitar and Mike Cowan on keyboards. One of these remakes is the title cut, an Elvis Presley number with Wenner on vocals and Hovey playing Hawaiian-style guitar chords that surprisingly fits quite well here. In fact, I had to search online to make sure that Elvis hadn't sung this same song on his Blue Hawaii film; I'm sure the King would have worked it in had he heard Hovey's playing on this cover. Also being repeated from Trouble is James Brown's "Tell Me What I Did Wrong," with the high point on this number being Wenner's energetic harmonica solo.

Wenner is also featured on the opening number, a cover of Jimmy Reed's "Come Love." In addition to perfectly replicating Reed's harmonica style, Wenner shouts out staccato vocal lines on this lazy blues shuffle. Switching formats on the next cut, the band tackles T-Bone Walker's "I Know Your Wig Is Gone," with Hovey providing the appropriate jazzy swing sound on guitar while Wenner sends a bit of echo through his harmonica.

Hovey handles the vocals on Hank Ballard's "Rain Down Tears," slowed down to a dirge-like tempo with the rest of the band chiming in with background vocals just like the Midnighters did so many years ago. The tempo picks up on a version of the Manhattans' "Somethin' Is Cookin'," with Stutso handling the vocals. Wenner then does his best harmonica work on a cover of Los Lobos' "Don't Worry Baby," also giving Hovey a chance to show off on guitar.

As for original compositions, I like the closing number, "The Cheap Stuff," a subtle country blues number written by Hovey who plays nice acoustic guitar. It's a nice finish to an extremely versatile album.

If by chance you are new to the The Nighthawks and looking to get up to speed on this very influential band, better to start by listening to some of their early classic stuff. Open All Nite, Live At Pysche Delly, and Rock 'n' Roll are all still available, as well as the two Jacks & Kings albums that they did with members of the Muddy Waters Band. But for a good look at what these cats are doing many, many years later, Tryin' To Get To You is certainly worth the listen.

--- Bill Mitchell

Johnny BirdCrawlback (Call My Job Records) is both the name of this debut album and the band led by South Wales born blues singer, harp player and guitarist Johnny Bird. The explosion of UK blues harp talent started in the 1950s and 60s with Cyril Davies and continued for the rest of the century, epitomized by the British Blues Awards Hall Of Fame inductee Paul Lamb. This decade has been dominated by the younger generation, notably Memphis Blues Music Award Winner and Alligator recording artist Giles Robson plus a plethora of innovative performers including Will Wilde.

Johnny Bird confirms his intention of joining that elite group of harp breaking pioneers with a confident start on Mitch Kashmar’s ‘I Got No Reason” and Jimmy Reed’s “Found Love.” The impassioned harp blasts and piercing solos on the latter reveal a deep connection with the Mississippi blues icon. Johnny and his father Mike Bird wrote “Cash Flow Problem,” which brings the economic blues right up to date in a post-Pandemic world, Johnny’s conversational style conveying the stark reality of impecuniosity. The self–penned instrumental “Tribute To Eddie Taylor Jnr” with its haunting harmonica sound does appropriate justice to the recently deceased Chicago blues musician.

“Good Rockin’ Daddy” features the impressive Cardiff-based chanteuse Bella Collins, the brass accompaniment of Rob Moeller and Dick Hamer adding an intriguing, jazz-infused sound to this increasingly eclectic mix. It is back to the honey-dripping blues of Roosevelt Sykes on “44”, Bird’s echo effect vocals complementing the infectious harp phrasings. It takes a brave and competent band of musicians to cover Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Caravan” but Crawlback nails it, Bird’s harp replicating the original, distinctive melody.

The jaunty rockabilly “Blues Stop Knockin’” adds yet another dimension to the repertoire, whilst “Little By Little” highlights Johnny at his very best, inspired by the Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ version. It is the turn of guitarist Mark Phillips to take center stage on “Sometimes” with his tasteful interludes. Bella Collins excels once again on “No More Lies” as she soars above Bird’s deft slide guitar skills and the superb atmospheric piano keys of Owain Hughes. It is appropriate that the album concludes with “Wild Man” given the huge reputation of its composer, William Clarke. The American west coast harmonica virtuoso would have appreciated this unpretentious version with its clever musicianship, impeccable arrangement and syncopated rhythms, the latter courtesy of drummer Colin Griffin and bass player Pete Hurley.

Crawlback is highly recommended and exceeds all expectations of a debut album. Johnny Bird might be self-taught but he gives a master class on chromatic and diatonic harp playing reminiscent of Dennis Gruenling’s dynamic, swinging style with Jump Time. Bird is a serious student of true and authentic blues who has carefully selected memorable and meaningful songs to convey his love of the genre and to showcase the pioneers of his favorite instrument. This CD deserves to be the start of a long and successful career for Johnny and his band.

-- Dave Scott

Joe Louis WalkerWe audited the Joe Louis Walker tracks from his latest album, Blues Comin' On (Cleopatra Blues), “Feed the Poor,” featuring Jorma Kaukonen, and “Old Time Used to Be,” with Keb’ Mo’ not on vocal but as acoustic guitar soloist. Add in old-timey piano and the disc is a delight.

Guests on other tracks include fellow blues icons Eric Gales, Albert Lee, Detroit soul singer Mitch Ryder, and harmonica virtuoso Lee Oskar. The release shuffles and swings along nicely, music business seasoning is obvious throughout. Walker’s trademark vocal stands out, but sometimes I can’t tell which guitar is his what with all the guests.

Add up the tracks to equal good grooves, this is a satisfying happy medium between commercial potential and contemporary blues.

--- Tom Coulson

Leader / frontman / stand-alone vocalist Gerald McClendon offers more than medium heat soul on Can't Nobody Stop Me Now (Delta Roots Records). In a good-memory way his music woulda been great alongside the Top 40 and Motown I heard on AM radio as a kid. We like “I Started Over,” and also recommend the track “You Can’t Take my Love.” which, with its horns, hints at the Memphis sound.

--- Tom Coulson

Gregg Martinez has released a single only, not yet associated with an album. It’s an easy-going ballad wGreg Martinezith sufficiently heavy vocal delivery and very competent musicians. “Just Stay Gone” reminds me never to judge a book by its cover!

--- Tom Coulson

Jose Ramirez fronts a pretty good band on self-released Here I Come, his vocal is medium-duty on titles like the shuffle “Stop Teasing Me” and the minor key steady tempo of “One Woman Man.” His guitar sounds BB-King influenced in places, and an attention-grabbing pianist plays discordant in the right spots without showing off, the way too many blues-rock keyboard players do. For slow blues may we suggest “Goodbye Letter.”

--- Tom Coulson

 

Gina SiciliaGina Sicilia classifies herself a song and music writer. A Newtown, Pennsylvania-native, Gina now calls Nashville home. Her new album is Love Me Madly (Blue Elan).

My first impression of Gina Sicilia was a promotional YouTube promoting one of her appearances some time back, I didn’t care for that, and I didn’t care for this new album upon first play either. Three reasons: first, her vocals sound cold, her pitch a little off (which I have no doubt is an acquired taste like with many vocalists’ first impression). I do however always want to give singers the benefit of a doubt, a bit more of a chance.

Another reason is the “country garage” (as opposed to a blues/rock garage band) sound of her backing musicians, which I would expect to have considerable collective experience. Let us say not a “crack” Nashville rhythm section.

The third reason is the over-produced audio of the album. In its defense, the release doesn’t purport to be blues. I focused on the title track, “Love Me Madly,” as well as the concluding track, “Answer the Phone.” To her credit as a writer, Sicilia’s lyrical content is good. And I’ll be darned if her music doesn’t stay in my head quite a while after hearing it. So why be a critic instead of the public or a listener.

--- Tom Coulson
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Jimmy CarpenterSax man extraordinaire Jimmy Carpenter has been a part of the music world for over 35 years, breaking in with The Alka-Phonics in the ’80s and The Believers in the ’90s. He’s toured with Tinsley Ellis, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Eric Lindell, Jimmy Thackery, and others. He also serves as musical director for the Big Blues Bender, leading the Bender Brass, the Bender’s house band. Since 2012, Carpenter has recorded and toured with Mike Zito and the Wheel, and now he has released Soul Doctor, recorded on Zito’s and Guy Hale’s Gulfcoast Records label.

Soul Doctor offers ten tracks, seven written by Carpenter or co-written with Hale, and three tasty covers. The catchy title track opens the disc, a blistering combination of blues, rock, and soul with guitarist Nick Schnebelen sitting in – his fretwork and Carpenter’s saxophone complement each other well. Memphis soul burner “When I Met You” follows; originally conceived as a country tune, Carpenter’s arrangement shows the line between country and soul is a thin one. “Wild Streak” is a gritty blues shuffle about a girl with big dreams, and the funky “Love It So Much” features that irresistible New Orleans second line groove.

The album’s first cover is Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad,” and Carpenter does a fine job on the vocal, along with a great sax solo. The sage “Wanna Be Right” offers sound advice to those who always have to have the last word. The Coasters’ “One Mint Julep” was a song Carpenter performed frequently with Washington and that tune gets a deliciously funky treatment that will warrant a replay or two. On the fierce southern rocker, “Wrong Turn,” Carpenter picks up the guitar with satisfying results, teaming with slide guitarist Trevor Johnson.

The instrumental “LoFi Roulette” is marvelous, a thoroughly modern musical take that blends blues, funk and jazz with nice solos from Carpenter and Johnson, plus exquisite work on the keys from Red Young. Eddie Hinton’s “Yeah Man” gets an optimistic reading from Carpenter and closes the album on a positive note.

Actually, the upbeat Soul Doctor is loaded with positive notes. Spin this disc when you need a hop in your step or a kick in your pants. Jimmy Carpenter has the cure for what’s ailing you.

--- Graham Clarke

Troy GonyeaGuitarist Troy Gonyea has been playing for 25 years, backing a host of the blues’ best over that time with The Muddy Waters Blues Band, Booker T. Jones, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Anthony Geraci, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, and many others. During that time, Gonyea has also managed to carve out a solo career, earning a strong reputation as a songwriter, singer, and guitarist. His skills are on full display with his recent live album, Click Click Spark (Lotus Eater Records), recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts in June of 2018.

Gonyea is backed by Marty Ballou (bass), Marty Richards (drums), and Brooks Milgate (keys) on this nine-song set, which spans blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll launches the disc in a big way with the Chuck Berry-esque Gonyea original “(Do The) Curl Up And Die,” and the blues take center stage with a smoking hot take on Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying.” Gonyea turns in a powerful vocal on the rock and soul ballad, “As I Am,” and picks up the harmonica for the dynamite Willie Dixon (via Sonny Boy Williamson II) cover “Bring It On Home.”

The traditional gospel tune, “Tell Heaven,” is a nine-minute slow blues stunner with an extended slide guitar solo. It’s followed by Jimmy McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop,” a torrid mix of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, and another splendid slow burner, Duster Bennett’s “Jumping At Shadows.” Gonyea’s soulful vocal is top notch on this track and there’s plenty of fine guitar work here, too. The disc closes with a fun version of the boogie classic “I Am Feeling So Good.”

The best live discs either make the listener feel that they were there or it makes them wish that they had been there. The performance on Click Click Spark meets those qualifications. Troy Gonyea gives a marvelous performance on these tracks, making the traditional blues tunes seem contemporary and also shows himself to be a impressive songwriter as well. Hopefully, he’ll find his way to the studio soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Doug DuffeyDoug Duffey got his start as a performer at a young age, performing and composing at the age of 14. He recorded his first single in 1970. and has written songs and recorded with a prestigious group of artists that include George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Rare Earth, Keith Richards, Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell, David Byrne, Maceo Parker, Marcia Ball, John Autin, and many others. He was inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame in 2001 and the National Blues Hall of Fame in 2009. In recent years, he has recorded with guitarist Dan Sumner, bassist Ben Ford, and drummer Adam Ryland as Doug Duffey and BADD (Ben, Adam, Dan, and Doug).

The band’s second release, Play The Blues (Out of The Past Music), is a dazzling set of southern blues and soul that has deep roots in Memphis, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It features nine original tunes from Duffey and Sumner, including the opening shuffle, “The Things We Used To Do,” a unique variation of sorts to the classic Guitar Slim tune of the ’50s that features an awesome guitar break from Sumner. “Evil” is funky, sweaty R&B and “Big Easy Street Blues” is a relaxed ballad with superb piano from Duffey and sweet, stinging fretwork from Sumner.

The rollicking “Have You Ever” serves as a tribute to New Orleans piano stalwarts like Professor Longhair and Dr. John, and “Drink It On Down” is a swampy blues rocker, while “My Driving Wheel” is an anxious, world weary look at the modern state of affairs. “Talk Of The Town” is a wry look at nosy neighbors interfering with a covert love affair, and “You Got That Somethin’” sings the praises of one’s special someone. The album closer, “A Memory Left To Lose,” is a sparse, soulful ballad that wraps the set up nicely.

Duffey’s vocals and keyboard work are sublime and he is well-complemented by Sumner’s versatile guitar. Ryland and Ford provide stellar rhythm support on these excellent set of original songs. Play The Blues will certainly satisfy any fan of southern music.

--- Graham Clarke

Eddie 9VAbout a year ago, I gave a sneak preview of an upcoming release from a young Atlanta musician named Brooks Mason. Recording as Eddie 9V, he recorded his first blues album at his house, playing all of the instruments, except keyboards (courtesy of Rhett Huffman). The completed set, called Left My Soul In Memphis, is very impressive with Eddie 9V showing a real knack for both traditional and contemporary blues, a blistering guitar attack, and a soulful set of pipes.

The set consists of 11 tracks, split between originals and covers. The opener, “Yonders Wall,” is as solid a version as I’ve heard. The title track is gritty, greasy blues in the Bluff City tradition, and on “Bottle and the Blues,” a fine slow urban blues, it sounds like Freddie King bending strings. The funky “New Orleans” has a swampy feel, and the outstanding instrumental, “Bending With The Kings,” manages to pay tribute to all three Kings of the blues, while “Woke Up Sweatin’” is an upbeat, enthusiastic blues rocker.

The horn-fueled “36th & Main” ventures to the Windy City with some scorching guitar licks, and the deltafied “Ghosts” rolls slow and easy with crisp guitar breaks between each line. “Lo-Fi Love” is a really cool soul-blues track with shimmering guitar and a supremely soulful vocal turn from Eddie 9V, and “Don’t Test Me” combines soul, funk, and the blues with dynamite results. The closer, “1945 (Cocaine and Rum),” is a North Mississippi blues/boogie romp, so Eddie 9V is adept at that brand of blues, too.

The set has a sort of homemade feel (which makes sense, being crafted at his house), making it even more endearing because the music is so good. Blues fans will want to track down Left My Soul In Memphis for sure, and keep their eyes and ears out for Eddie 9V because there is surely more to come from this immensely talented young man.

--- Graham Clarke

Tokyo TrampsThe Tokyo Tramps are Satoru Nakagawa (guitar/vocals) and Yukiko Fujii (bass/vocals). The Boston-based husband and wife team both hail from Japan, but both were American music fanatics and left their homeland to play American music, falling in love with the blues in the process. Their musical approach is modern and high energy, blending blues, rock, New Orleans funk (Nakagawa spent years in Louisiana before moving north, where he met and married Fujii), and soul. If I Die Tomorrow (Vagabond Entertainment) is their seventh album in a 20 year career.

The opening track, “Flowing Water,” is searing rock and funk. The title track follows, a swampy blues that’s equal parts Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix, and “Why” (sung by Fujii) has an irresistible rock and soul rhythm. “Woman” is a slow burner with a fine vocal and sharp guitar work from Nakagawa, and on the hard rocker “Bluebird,” the volume goes to ten, while “Misty Forest” is an almost-psychedelic instrumental with edgy guitar from Nakagawa.

On the seriously funky “Betty’s Kitchen,” Nakagawa discusses the beginnings of his love affair with the blues from his time in New Orleans, and the haunting mid-tempo “Talking To Someone” tackles the subject of loneliness, while the riff-driven “Mystery Man” is hard charging funk. “Reprobates, Tramps, and Saints,” an entertaining story about what must have been some kind of party, features raw slide guitar from Nakagawa, and “Lovin’ Man” is a sweet and gentle ballad about a man falling in love for the first time.

A pair of excellent bonus tracks complete the package. “Winter Always Turns To Spring” is an old school blues that has a bit of a North Mississippi Allstars feel, and the lively “Blues In My Blood” features splendid, soaring slide guitar from Nakagawa.

Nakagawa is a masterful guitarist in a variety of styles and he and Fujii really shine vocally, whether individually or in harmony. If I Die Tomorrow is a powerful and diverse set of modern blues that also embraces rock and funk. It’s a most delicious blend, for sure.

--- Graham Clarke

Zack WaltherThe Texas-based Zack Walther Band is equally comfortable playing blues, country, rock, or R&B, as can be readily heard on the band’s latest effort, The Westerner, a rock solid ten-song set of nine Americana, blues and country originals, plus one cover. Walther handle all the vocals and guitar work, and he’s backed by Matthew Briggs (drums/guitar/bass/vocals) and Mike Atkins (keyboards/bass/vocals), along with guest artists David Grissom (guitars), Jeff Plankenhorn (lap steel), Susan Gibson (vocals), Mark L. Wilson (sax), D. Tiger Anaya (trumpet), and Tyler Cannon (bass).

The opener, “DFW,” deftly mixes blues, rock and country with a little shot of soul for good measure. “What Kind Of Man” was inspired by Otis Redding’s “These Arms Of Mine,” according to Walther, whose vocal is blues-soaked with rock guitar backing. The excellent “Payin’ For It Now” is a tale of misspent youth that will find listeners nodding their heads in agreement, and the funky “I’m Going Out Of Your Mind” is a break-up song with a twist (nice lap steel from Plankenhorn on this one), while the horn-driven “When The Show Comes To Town” is a song about the circus.

“Bad Girl” and “Casualty” are both blues rockers, the former is more upbeat with a bit of a pop flavor, while the latter is taken at a slower, more intense pace. “Meet In The Middle,” a catchy duet with Gibson, combines soul and pop. “Bailey’s Light,” the cool album closer, features gospel-flavored group vocals and a countrified melody. Walther and company also cover Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” with the combination of Walther’s enthusiastic vocal, spirited harmonica work, and horns making this version a memorable one.

Walther’s powerful vocals move seamlessly from blues to soul to country. His muscular guitar work and sharp songwriting are first-rate. He receives superb support from his band and the guest artists. The Westerner should satisfy any music lover who digs blues, country, or rock.

--- Graham Clarke

Jacqui BrownJacqui Brown has a résumé that most people would die for. A fashion model in her early twenties, she’s been married to two-time Grammy winning guitarist/producer Paul Brown for over 40 years (we reviewed his Dusty Road album with Brothers Brown several years ago). In her 40s she got a journalism degree and worked at the Los Angeles Times, going on to write 25 books. She also started careers as a life coach and as a stand-up comic. Brown recently began to pursue a career in music, writing a song for an addicted child called “Somebody’s Child,” which blew her husband away, considering that he had never even heard her sing.

With help from her husband, Ms. Brown began to write songs with the result being her first album, Love Love Love (Woodward Avenue Records). The Browns co-wrote all 11 songs and Paul Brown played guitar on all tracks, also producing and mixing the album. They are joined by drummer Tony Braunagel, bassist Bob Glaub, drummer Lew Laing, and keyboardist Brother Paul Brown, with guests Candy Girard (violin), Kenny Gradney (bass), and Mike Finnigan (keys). The album leans more toward the Americana side of music, but there are shades of blues, pop, country, and jazz heard throughout.

The presence of Girard’s violin on several tracks --- the jaunty “Bend” and “Lovin’ You," the splendid ballad “You Had Me At Hello,” and the reflective “Nothin’s Like It Seems” --- gives those tracks more of a country feel, and they are solid tunes. The Browns team up on vocals on the soulful title track. Her vulnerable vocals really sells the heartrending “Why Oh Why,” but she sounds like a woman determined to rise again on “Brought The House Down,” a strong mid-tempo blues. The somber “Cry Over You” and “Wait” both combine country and soul, while “Flow Like A River” is a smooth shuffle. The aforementioned “Somebody’s Child,” which was written for the Brown’s daughter Sarah, closes the disc.

Jacqui Brown proves to be a gifted songwriter and a great singer in a variety of genres on Love Love Love. Hopefully, this debut release will lead to more releases soon because she sounds like a woman with a lot to say.

--- Graham Clarke

Janiva MagnessA few weeks back, I picked up a copy of Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Chronicle. I had a cassette copy when I was in college that I played until it made that squeaking sound cassettes used to make. Not long after that, famed CCR front man John Fogerty resurfaced with his Centerfield album, which I played to death as well. In the late ’90s, his Blue Moon Swamp was one of my favorites as well, so yeah, you might say I dig his music. Well, so does Janiva Magness, one of my favorite singers, and she recently paid tribute to the rock ‘n’ roll legend with the exhilarating Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change In The Weather (Blue Élan Music).

Magness and producer/guitarist Dave Darling picked a dozen of Fogerty’s songs, six from his CCR years and six from his solo career. The CCR songs include “Lodi,” which teams Magness with country singer Sam Morrow for a nice slice of countrified soul, and the reflective “Someday Never Comes.” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” gets a makeover as Magness slowed the tempo to a crawl, giving her vocals even more power.  “Bad Moon Rising” receives a slide guitar-driven swamp rocker treatment, and “Fortunate Son” retains the original’s hard rocking intensity. “Looking Out My Back Door” closes the album, taking a slightly more country bent but retaining the cheerful charm of the original.

The title track, one of the better tracks from Fogerty’s Eye of the Zombie album, gets an upbeat percussion-driven treatment. Magness does an excellent job with “Wrote A Song For Everyone,” from Fogerty’s 2013 album of the same title, and Taj Mahal joins her on vocals (bringing along his banjo) for an inspired reading of “Don’t You Wish It Was True.” “Blueboy” was one of the standout tracks on Blue Moon Swamp, with Magness’s version retaining the swampy flair of the original. Her understated but soulful read of “Déjá Vu (All Over Again)” is perfect, and gives a positively steamy interpretation of “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade.”

John Fogerty’s music has always incorporated the gamut of American music, mixing blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, and country effortlessly into a mix that’s commonly referred to as “Americana” these days. It makes perfect sense for a modern artist to pay tribute to his body of work. Fortunately, we have an artist as talented as Janiva Magness who rose to the occasion with Change In The Weather. Maybe one day, the two of them can collaborate on a few songs themselves.

--- Graham Clarke

Billy PriceBilly Price first earned recognition as singer for guitarist Roy Buchanan, appearing on two Buchanan albums in three years. Since going solo, he has amassed a most impressive catalog, with 17 albums, CDs, and DVDs. His collaboration with Otis Clay, This Time For Real, earned a BMA in 2015 for Best Soul Blues Album, and his 2018 effort, Reckoning, was nominated in the same category. Recently, Price signed with Mike Zito and Guy Hale’s Gulf Coast Records label, with his debut, Dog Eat Dog, which was nominated in 2019 for the Soul Blues BMA, ranking with the best releases of 2019.

Co-produced by Price and Kid Andersen and recorded at Greaseland Studios, Dog Eat Dog features a dozen tracks, seven originals co-written by Price (with Hale, longtime collaborator Jim Britton, Fred Chapéllier, or Bill Troiani), along with tracks written by Britton, Rick Estrin (and Alabama Mike), Melvin and Mervin Steals, Bobby Byrd, and Willie Dixon. The album smoothly blends blues and soul, requisite for any Billy Price release, along with R&B, a little reggae, and a dash of jazz to make things interesting.

The opener, “Working On Your Chain Gang,” really gets the disc off to a great start, with punchy horns from Eric Spaulding – tenor sax, John Halblieb – trumpet, and Jack Sanford – baritone sax, entertaining lyrics, and “chain gang” backing vocals from the Sons of The Soul Revivers (Walter, James, and Dwayne Morgan). “Lose My Number” is a cool soul burner punctuated by Jimmy Pugh’s keyboards and a terrific sax solo from Spaulding, while Byrd’s “We’re In Love” packs plenty of Memphis grease in its grooves. Meanwhile, the tough title track is from Estrin with added lyrics from Alabama Mike (both of whom contribute to the track, Estrin on harmonica and Mike on vocals).

Price pulls out all the stops on a raw and powerful take of Willie Dixon’s “My Love Will Never Die,” nearly topping the Otis Rush/Cobra version (a high bar, for sure), and “All Night Long Café” is a contemporary track that marries blues, funk, and reggae (nice guitar work from Zito on this one). The energetic “Walk Back In” mixes soul and R&B with gospel-influenced vocals from the Sons of Soul Revivers, and the funky, horn-fueled “Toxicity” is a standout, while “Remnants” tells the sordid tale of a cheating woman (Kid Andersen’s guitar work is other-worldly).

The Steals Brothers, who wrote the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” penned “Same Old Heartaches,” and Price gives it a real Philly soul spin with backing vocal help from the Sons. The ballad “More Than I Needed” sounds like vintage ’70s R&B with Andersen’s Moog synthesizers and sweet backing vocals from Lisa Leuschner Andersen and Vicki Randle. The closer, “You Gotta Leave,” takes an edgy tone as Price tells his significant other to hit the road.

Dog Eat Dog was one of my favorite releases of 2019. The combination of blues, soul, and ’70s-era R&B really hit me where I live. If you’re fans of those genres then it should do the same for you, but like any Billy Price release it definitely deserves to be heard by any blues and soul lover.

--- Graham Clarke

 

 

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