Blues Bytes

July 2001

line.jpg (778 bytes)

What's New

Mighty Sam McClainMighty Sam McClain has persevered the hard calluses of life to become a soul music legend. In the 60s, he recorded several singles but his career never really took off. Singing since age five, his influences from the Gospel Church choir are still evident. On his second Telarc release, Sweet Dreams, McClain delivers a powerful testament to his enduring faith --- in himself, his music and in God. Backed by his regular powerhouse band and the Mighty Horns (4 piece brass section), Sam unveils 13 songs that showcase his powerful vocals and uplifting lyrics. For 55 wonderful minutes, you will be swept away in a relaxing trance. The soul therapy begins with the big band turbo-charged "Here I Come Again". It features the shuffling drumming of Jim Arnold and driving bass of Tim Ingles. On "Standing In The Wings," the incredible work of Bruce Katz (keys) and the horn section combine to follow Sam's every vocal move. Sam doesn't hesitate to let the Mighty Horns loose and blow on this blues/soul/R&B crossover tune. "Learn How To Love You Again" sounds too familiar to be original. It dates back to Sam's time spent in Nashville. Thus, it's a country song but without the twang. You can't help joining in on the chorus. Thanks to the wah-wah-ish guitar of Kevin Belz and the rich, heavy B-3 of Barry Seelen, "Fool For The Blues" is a grooving funk. "Living In My Dreams" is a joyous autobiographical song where Sam's vocal enthusiasm is equaled by Katz on B-3. Here, Sam shares how thrilled he is with life. Later, he puts a twist on a well known respected song and delivers the lyrics in a challenging and soul-searching way. The most bluesy tune is a cover of Christian artist Glen Kaiser's "Where Would I Be". On it, Sam inspires Belz to rein supreme by demanding him to 'squeeze it son'. Belz becomes so inspired he keeps letting it rip through the next track. The music is a mix of downhome blues and smooth soul. Sam's voice is strong and confident, allowing him to deliver the words with plenty of passion. When he sings a lyric, you know he means it. As an example listen to "I Love Hard." There is a calmness and peacefulness in his music. It is visually represented by the picture of Sam on the back cover. Liner note writer Bill Wasserzieher sums things up simply --- "Mighty Sam's living his dreams and they are sweet."

-- Tim Holek

John MayallWhen it comes to sheer star power, there is absolutely no way you can beat John Mayall's latest, Along for the Ride (Eagle Records). You want big names? How about Jonny Lang, Shannon Curfman, Jeff Healey, Gary Moore and Billy F. Gibbons (of ZZ Top) --- they're all playing on here. You want people with bigger blues (and lesser blues-rock) credentials? Well, you have ex-Stax mainstay Steve Cropper, ex-Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans and Chicago blues legend Otis Rush appearing as well. (Granted, Cropper only plays rhythm guitar on one track, and Rush sings a duet on his classic "So Many Roads," but plays absolutely no guitar.) You have a thing for old British blues? You can have three quarters of the legendary line-up of 60's Fleetwood Mac --- Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. All three were also members of Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the 60's. There are others that appear on this CD, namely ex-Rolling Stones Mick Taylor and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. Oh, and I almost forgot ex-teen sensation, nowadays better known as Clapton's rhythm guitar player, Andy Fairweather Low. Still not impressed with all the guests? How about, back from the dead, Steve Miller, or appearing out of left field, cult-ish singer-songwriter Chris Rea? You want more soul? You've got Billy Preston here. You want jazz? The venerable Red Holloway is guesting as well, and damn near stealing the show, too! (Can you believe they credited this album to John Mayall & Friends?) Now, I know what you are saying, those big names making cameo appearances usually detract from rather than add to the overall quality of the CD. The thing is, in this case, they don't. Sure, the cover of "So Many Roads" doesn't even come close to the original, and Rush sounds a bit sleepy. But the equally well-known Louis Jordan chestnut "Early in the Morning" is great fun in a skiffle kind of way, more so than B.B. King's recent version (on his Let the Good Times Roll album), although there is no way Mayall can out-sing B.B. (But if you're thinking of buying this CD, you are probably already used to Mayall's voice). In fact, in spite of all these guests, this CD is actually much better than Mayall's series of albums for the Silvertone label during the 90's. As an added bonus, "Yo Yo Man", with the Green-Fleetwood-McVie lineup augmented by Steve Miller and amazing percussionist Lenny Castro, will remind you that Fleetwood Mac was an awesome band before we started to hear Rumors.

Is One Step Closer, Kenny Neal's latest album for Telarc, any indication of where he wants to bring his music? Or is it simply a bizarre one-off effort where he decided to show us every style he could sing? Whatever the answer, the news is not good for blues fans. It might prove beneficial, who's to say, for Neal's career from a strict commercial point of view, as this latest disk can safely be categorized as a pop record. Unfortunately, it is a pretty white-bread type of a pop record, with back-to-back pedestrian ballads that effectively made me itch to change the CD in my player. The first of these, "Walk out in the Rain", is a Bob Dylan song that comes off as something Joe Cocker would do. "One Step Closer to the Blues" is a misnomer, as it is a slow ballad featuring very little bluesy guitar. It does, however, feature a lot of piano and organ, as do all tracks on the CD. Strangely, no keyboard player is listed in the credits. Since Neal is a competent piano player, we can make an educated guest that he does handle keyboard duties himself. He is however duly credited as playing guitar and harmonica. Other decidedly non-blues moments include two Celtic pop cuts, John Hiatt's "Lovers Will" and Nick Lowe's "High on a Hilltop," and two Cajun-pop arrangements of songs penned by Colin Linden (whose own CD is reviewed elsewhere in this issue), the first of which, "Remedy," is saved from the merely OK by the greatest baritone sax riff heard in this century. In fact, after the opening track ("No More One More Chance," a rare chance to hear Neal's harmonica work), the next blues happens at track none, a cover of Sonny Landreth's "Congo Square" with subtle slide playing from Neal. The only two songs penned by Neal are very fine soulful blues, tucked at the very end of the disk. Too bad --- by then, I wasn't listening anymore. There is one redeeming quality to this CD that even jaded critics like me must recognize --- the sound is, like on every Telarc release, absolutely gorgeous. 

In Canada, Colin Linden's reputation as an impeccable blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and performer is a given. Simply put, whether you're talking about folk and folk-rock, roots-rock, acoustic and electric blues or all related genres, Linden is The Man. In recent years, he's also become a very busy producer, working with a who's who of Canada's roots music scene. Colin James, Sue Foley, Bruce Cockburn, Ray Bonneville, and Morgan Davis are just a few of the blues (and quasi-blues) artists who have enlisted him as producer in recent years. (He also produced the excellent tribute to Howlin' Wolf that came out a few years ago on Telarc). A few of the people he's worked with in past years help out on his latest, entitled Big Mouth (Sony Music Canada). You'll hear the excellent Lucinda Williams singing duet on (and letting go a mad laugh at the end of) the funny "Don't Tell Me," Keb' Mo' sings and plays acoustic slide on the smooth "Wasn't That Enough," and Bruce Cockburn performs some guitar magic on the beautiful country-blues "Blind River Bound." But the star of the show is very much Linden. His acoustic slide is untouchable, he's an endearing singer, and his songs (he wrote or co-wrote 14 of the 15 tracks) can sound as old as the blues, yet be amazingly fresh. In a word, it's more of the same for him --- excellent from start to finish, blending in joyful harmony strains of the blues with the special Americana feel of The Band ("Spirit of the Golden Tone" is a tribute to Rick Danko, and Linden's keyboard player throughout the CD is Richard Bell), with hints of gospel, country folk balladry thrown in for good measure. And the sound is just glorious! In a word, excellent stuff! And to make sure you cannot put it out of your mind, Linden closes his record with a haunting cover of Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" that is certainly as good as Chris Thomas King's in O Brother, Where art Thou?

These last few weeks, the wind has carried an unusually large number of independent releases down to my new house. (It's beautiful, thank you ... lots to do, though. But I digress). The most interesting of these independent efforts is (but then again, I might be biased) Laurier & The Blues Drivers' first full-length effort, entitled Homemade. (They had a six-song "demo" EP in 2000, and were also featured on the Maximum Blues compilation that we reviewed here in January 2001). Guitarist, lead singer and songwriter Laurier Gagnon is a well-known figure in Montreal blues circles. As the person in charge of the blues series at Café Campus, he's responsible for bringing the best blues acts in the world to town. Opening things up with an irresistible rocker called "Goin' Down South," the Blues Drivers quickly establish a party atmosphere. By the time they get to the third track, "Le Gros Train" (the only song in French), a big-beat 50s Chess-styled cut that features train conductor, I mean harmonica player, Steve Rousseau, you know that this is a band to keep an eye on. Among the strengths of this CD is the ensemble playing (no one is here to steal the spotlight) and the variety of styles, from modern to classic, from Chicago to the Delta, with some hints of Thorogood-swagger and Diddley-beat fun thrown in the mix. In fact, were it not for the sometimes murky vocals, you'd never know this CD was recorded in a garage. You'd think you had just discovered a very interesting blues band from an out-of-the-way wintry place. Which you will, if you give this CD a listen. (You can try writing to for more info.)

From a strict guitar pyrotechnics angle, you can't beat Live from Montreal, credited to Chaz DePaolo and Bleu Sketch (Rojer Records --- try for info). The first eight tracks were recorded live at an in-store performance in, you guessed it, Montreal. The first seven of these (all instrumentals) were originally recorded on DePaolo's previous effort, Eclectic Impressions, reviewed here in July 2000, while the eighth track, called "Montreal Blues," is a 10-minute jam featuring, like the rest of the live portion of the CD, plenty of hot psychedelic blues-rock licks. Though the jazz and world elements of the previous disk are not as obvious on this one, fans of hard electric guitar-based rock improvisations will still find plenty to savor here. Working in a power trio format (with the addition of harmonica, courtesy of Anthony Kane, on the first cut, "Steamy Delta Improv"), DePaolo and his band bring Cream to mind, even more so than on their last effort. There are two bonus tracks as well, a cover of B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," where DePaolo takes his first vocal turn, and a little country blues jam called "Sunday Afternoon Blues Jam on a Toast" (!!), which ends abruptly when the guitarist breaks a string.

The most eclectic CD of the indie lot is, by far, Ray Montana's debut after 30 years as a professional guitarist, something called Hip October (Mojo Twang Records, available at I have few details concerning Mr. Montana's career, but he must have been able to enjoy an artistically enriching career with the various opportunities to play in many different styles that are the lot of the studio musician's life. At least, this is what I imagine, based on the wild array of musical genres touched upon here. There's a smooth up-tempo Latin jazz instrumental with a flute accompaniment, there's a heavy 70's style blues-rock number, there are covers of songs originally done by Procol Harum (yes, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"), Steve Miller (a very entertaining "Ying Yang" with punchy horns) and Sonny Boy Williamson II ("Somebody Help Me," with tenor sax replacing the usual harmonica). Hey, there's even a nine-minute instrumental "Beatles' Medley," where Mike Clark's tenor sax is the lead voice on the chorus of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," set to a reggae beat! That one, I must say, is just plain weird. But aside from this faux pas, Montana has got to be admired for sheer breadth of vision and chameleon-like adaptability. Whether his guitar swings delicately, as on his jazz or Latin instrumentals (his wonderful "Soulmates" recalls Jimmy Smith's long-standing guitarist, Phil Upchurch), or whether he attacks it like a rock axeman or caresses it like a country-rock slide guitar specialist, he never overdoes it and always seems to be perfectly at home. The same cannot be said about Montana's singing voice, but it is serviceable and he has learned to stay within his limits. But with his stellar playing and strong musicians on hand to help out (including bassist Greg Carroll) and excellent sound, Ray Montana can say, "Mission accomplished."

More blues-focused is Zola Moon's recent effort, already her fourth album. It bears the unwieldy title of Earthquakes, Thunder and Smiling Lightning, and can be purchased at I am somewhat perplexed over this one. Apparently, Ms Moon has gotten quite a reputation as a blues-belter and showstopper in Southern California. I can't vouch for her live presence, but I must say I was a bit underwhelmed by her voice at first. When she goes for the Koko Taylor all-out approach (as on the opening track, "Meatgrinder"), her voice sounds overly strained. But then, it's when she goes to a more conversational mode that she sounds best. That being said, Moon proves to be an above-average singer, able to convey irony, menace, sadness, by slight inflections in her phrasing. It helps also that she has some meat to work around. Her lyrics are totally cliché-less and written from a feminist's, or rather an empowered woman's, point of view. At their most effective (as the tough "I Don't Think So" or the devilish "The Bottom," which borrows its chorus from Willie Dixon's "Down in the Bottom"), her songs certainly hold their own, even though she relies too often on 12-bar shuffles. In fact, at times Moon goes too far in order to avoid clichés, like on "Camel Cash," lessening the impact of the songs. Unfortunately, she is a rather weak harmonica player, and most guitar tracks are inexplicably low in the mix, especially on the bluesy roots-rocker "Lucky Me". Then again, these problems are mostly attributable to the low budget with which independent records are made, and you can't really fault the artist for them. They should not stop you from giving the CD a listen, especially if you want to know the female perspective.

I should mention one final record, although it is not really a blues record. If you love the blues, you probably need no introduction to Mississippi John Hurt, probably the kindest man to ever play a guitar. But you might not be as familiar with the artists that agreed to play his songs on the recent Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt (Vanguard Records). That's because most of these artists come from outside the blues genre. So for every Chris Smither or Alvin Youngblood Hart or Mark Selby, you'll have as many country artists (Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch), pop rock stars (Bruce Cockburn, Ben Harper, Beck), singer-songwriters (Peter Case, also serving as album producer, Bill Morrissey, John Hiatt), folk rock artists young and old (Victoria Williams and Geoff Muldaur), as well as roots rock cult figure Dave Alvin and bluesman-gone-Hawaiian Taj Mahal. You're expecting a wide array of styles? Well, think again. Most of these performers go for a stripped-down, acoustic and more folk-than-blues approach, meaning that this disk as a whole is a little less entertaining than it could have been. Best performance? I vote for Ben Harper's take on "Sliding Delta", though Alvin Youngblood Hart does a great version of "Here Am I, Oh Lord, Send Me."

Because Kelly Joe Phelps plays slide like a demon and sings in a raspy, sometimes strangled voice, and because he's a huge fan and excellent interpreter of the Skip James canon, he's generally considered a blues artist. Then again, because he makes up songs that fall outside of any pre-set form and that certainly don't adhere to the 12-bar AAB format, and because his lyrics invoke a sort of stream-of-consciousness epic storytelling, he's just as adequately described as a modern folk artist. His latest album for Rykodisc, Sky Like a Broken Clock, is a big departure for him. After three solo records (save for one song on his excellent third disk, Shine Eyed Mister Zen --- reviewed here in the August 1999 issue --- on which he was accompanied by a harmonica player), here he goes for a band sound, enlisting bassist Larry Taylor (better known to blues fans as "The Mole" in Canned Heat, but also a long-time partner of Tom Waits) and drummer Billy Conway (previously in the band Morphine). Cut live in the studio with no previous preparation, with minimal overdubs (spooky organ, majestic cello), the record is a fascinating microcosm of ordinary losers who can't break free of their solitude or their insanity, hypnotic and quite depressing. It is highly recommended. It also has less to do with the blues then any of his previous CDs, unless you're willing to consider the subject matter as a radical update of the traditional down-on-their-luck characters of the classic form. 

--- Benoît Brière

With an angelic voice that belies his physical stature, Aaron Neville has enjoyed an expanded fan base for the last ten years (due largely to his late 80s duets with Linda Ronstadt), even though he has been making wonderful music for over 40 of his 60 years. As a solo artist and with his brothers, Neville has been wowing audiences for years in New Orleans both as a secular artist and singing his beloved gospel songs. His appearances at the Gospel Tent at JazzFest in N.O. are always a highlight (if you go to JazzFest, do not leave before visiting the Gospel Tent, where some of the finest singers you've never heard of perform every year). Late last year, Neville released his first full-length gospel disc, Devotion (EMD/Chordant Records). The disc is a mixture of traditional spirituals, modern pop songs of a spiritual nature, and a few Neville-penned originals. The opening track, "Mary Don't You Weep," done in a quartet setting (as are "Banks of the River Jordan" and "Were You There"), is one of the standout tracks. Two other standouts are Neville's takes on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Morning Has Broken." The only real missteps occur with "Jesus Is a Friend of Mine," with it's spoken-word testimony that is an uncomfortable fit, and the duet with Rachel Lampa, "There is Still a Dream," which veers toward the easy listening vein. The standout track, to me, was Neville's beautiful reading of "Jesus Loves Me" (even though I do enjoy my daughter's version more). Throughout the disc, the message and Neville's pure, soulful vocals are the constants. If you've ever seen Neville perform live, it's obvious that his faith in God is strong. It's also obvious that this CD has been in him for a long time trying to get out. Fortunately for listeners, it has finally seen the light of day. Let's hope it's not his last effort toward gospel.

Another soul legend, Al Green, had a busy year last year, with the release of his autobiography, a new greatest hits collection, and this compilation of his gospel work, Greatest Gospel Hits (Capitol/The Right Stuff). This collection differs from his previous gospel compilation (One in a Million), in that it features more tracks (17 to 10, with only two on both discs), covers a broader span chronologically (1974 to 1995), and doesn't focus as much on standards. It's easy to get into Green's gospel singing because his style is the same as it was for his classic soul hits of the 70s. Most of the selections are pretty good, even though some of the songs from the 1980s suffer from dated production values. His enthusiastic, jubilant vocals overcome some of the weaker material, but there is more wheat than chaff. Some highlights include "The Lord Will Make a Way," the reassuring "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," "He is the Light" (which reunited him with longtime producer Willie Mitchell), and the closer, "The Spirit Might Come - On and On," which builds toward a dramatic conclusion. There are some covers of old soul hits as well ("People Get Ready," "Lean On Me") with spiritual overtones. All in all, this is a fine collection of Green's gospel songs that would serve as a good disc for fans of Green's secular work interested in a sampling of his gospel catalog

--- Graham Clarke

Wrong Time, Wrong Place (Bad Man)  from Marcello & The Machine is a curious CD, apparently recorded in Italy, although there isn't a great deal of information on the sleeve. The 13 tracks are all solid rocking blues, and there are some good musicians tucked away in here. Again, because of the lack of sleeve notes I am having to guess that most of these tracks were written by the band. However, the CD is let down by the recording quality, especially on the vocals, which come across as being almost distorted. Maybe it's just the copy that I was sent, but if not then a bit of re-mastering is needed to rescue what could be a good blues album.

Unfortunately, the sleeve notes for the Bartenders' Black Whiskey & Full Moon (Ace) CD are in Portuguese, so I can't give a great deal of detail on the band, apart from the names of the musicians. The lyrics are in Portuguese too, which detracts a little from the overall enjoyment of the music. However, the music itself is mostly good rocking blues, and there are obviously some good musicians at work here. Julio Afara, who also calls himself Johnny Tequila, shows up well on lead guitar as does Luiz Carlini on lap steel guitar. All except two numbers are written by band members, but as the vocals are in Portuguese, it's impossible for me to comment on the lyrics. However, I have to say they sound OK. Track six, "Nao Ha Perigo," has the best sound to it for my taste, and I enjoyed it despite not understanding the lyrics. I guess in some cases the language of blues is universal.

Here's something a bit different, The Chicago All Star Blues Review at Sopro's 13th Annual Easter Parade (Sopro Records). This CD is jam packed with great live blues from some superb musicians, and the only criticism I can find on it is that the intros are a little long. However, having said this, it does all add to the general atmosphere, and with headphones on and lights out, you can easily imagine that you are there in the audience. There's a nice mixture of blues styles and tempos on this CD, played by some very accomplished musicians, like Sonny Seals, Steve Ditzel, Casey Jones and Johnny Cosgrove, to name but a few out of the many. If you're a fan of blues recorded live, then this CD is worth getting for great versions of "Big Boss Man," "Down Home Blues," and "Sweet Home Chicago."

17th Annual Thanksgiving (Sopro Records) is the sister CD to the one above. It is very similar in quality and content, with a line-up that includes three of the artists mentioned above plus a few new ones. A few tracks are common to both CDs ("Sweet Home Chicago," "Mashed Potato," "Next Time You See Me"), but this one also contains good versions of "Born In Chicago" and "Messin' With The Kid."

Hot Air (Kanie) from Steve Cohen & Jim Liban is refreshingly different, two harp players together playing against one another. The two guys play dual harmonicas on four of the tracks, and take turns playing guitar on the others. They also share vocals --- Jim takes the bigger share of the harmonica playing while Steve takes the lion's share of the vocals. All in all, it works well and there's some amusing combinations of harp/voice. I have to say that the four tracks where the two both play harp are my favourites (maybe because three of the songs I've loved for ever and a day anyway). These tracks left me wishing I could pick up a harp and join in. But there isn't a track I could pick out as being better, or worse, than any other. Just to set the record straight, the four dual harp tracks are "Parchman Farm," "Rocket 88," "Walkin' Blues," and "Done All My Singing." To my mind, this CD is worth buying just for these tracks alone.

--- Terry Clear

Mem Shannon When Mem Shannon burst upon the scene in 1995 with Cab Drivers Blues, he was hailed as one of the most promising and prolific songwriters to grace the blues scene in a decade or two. Well, this talented gentleman has lived up to that promise with every successive release, including his fourth Memphis In The Morning (Shanachie). Critics and fans of his music keep anticipating (some hoping) for him to repeat the formula of his first album which he has yet to do, instead continuously growing with his music and avoiding any type of stylistic typecasting that the music industry might bestow upon him. Memphis In The Morning marks his first recording done away from his home turf of New Orleans, recorded at the prestigious Ardent Studios in Memphis and co-produced by Dennis Walker and Shannon himself. This album undoubtedly is flavored with Memphis soul in addition to Mem's unique gumbo of New Orleans-styled blues that infuses elements of funk, jazz and R&B into both his squeaky clean guitar playing and mellow baritone vocals that tend to remind me of Brook Benton. Always the storyteller, Shannon offers forth 11 original tales drawn from life experiences with which anyone from any walk of life can identify. Opening this very worthwhile album is a power blast of a number, "Drowning On My Feet," that finds the singer up to his neck in life's woes. This number is augmented by the prestigious brass of Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, known more commonly as The Memphis Horns, who also grace four other numbers including a splendid cover of B.B. Kings "Why I Sing The Blues," the only non-original of the 12 tunes. The humorous "S.U.V." will appeal to anyone who has cursed those road hogs for one reason or another. On the funkier side of things, "Invisible Man" spotlights some very sweet guitar soloing, while "Shake Up The Floor" and the album's closer "Doing The Best I Can" are both prime dance material sure to get your blood pumping. When you listen to a Mem Shannon album, you're sure to encounter a ballad or two. This one is no different from the rest with the very touching but somewhat somber story of a boy and his grandfather, entitled "Tired Arms," that may tug a heartstring or two. "You Belong To Him" and "Unconditional Love" are a pair of stories sharing the same theme of heartaches and dreams laid down over sparkling arrangements. The liner notes to this shining work are penned by Mem himself, who readily admits that his brand of blues are unlike most that people are use to hearing. But if you pay close attention you will hear a story which has always really been the main purpose of a blues song. Let it suffice to say that Mem Shannon is the best storyteller that money can buy in the business of the blues today.

Chicago is home to many myths and legends of the blues world. Like many big cities, a great deal of its residents are originally from elsewhere, especially in the vast realm of the blues community. One of Chicago's true native sons that tends to get overlooked in the states, but is acclaimed throughout Europe, is the multi-talented Studebaker John and The Hawks. Howl With The Wolf is his eighth release, his first for Evidence Records, and what a beauty it is. One of the things that I have always found admirable about this artist is his tendency to shy away from doing covers, instead choosing to stand on his own merits as a songwriter by comprising his albums of all originals. A triple threat on guitar, harp and vocals, but originally a harp player, John cites Brewer Phillips, Hound Dog Taylor and J.B. Hutto as major influences in his evolution into one of the nastiest slide players out there today. Howl With The Wolf is 12 tracks of high energy Chicago blues with a hard edge. The opening number, "Burned By Love," just plain assaults your senses, with the pounding rhythm section of bassist Felton Crews and drummer Earl Howell driving the thunderous beat overlayed with John's searing slide accompanying the age old blues story of the tune's title. A zippy little tune entitled "Juke Joint Jump" and the smoldering instrumental "Harpology" and "Don't You Take It" has Studebaker John ripping through some deliciously slick harp licks that would have made his idols Big and Little Walter quite proud. The title track which is also the closing number is an all-out Chicago stomp tempered with a certain amount of gritty street toughness that is over way too soon. A thoroughly wicked shuffling number entitled "Meant To Be" features some of Studebaker John's blisteringly hot soloing that has earned him the label of being an "over-the top" guitarist. This effort by Studebaker John and The Hawks is one you don't want to miss because of its sheer raw energy and in your face delivery. Don't be surprised if you find yourself hitting the repeat button on your player more often than you have in the past with this sizzling collection.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

Robben Ford's Anthology --- The Early Years (Avenue Jazz/Rhino Records) is a double-disc set collecting 19 cuts from several LPs that originally appeared during the period 1972-76 when this young guitar hero first struck out on his own at a mere age of 21. Ford had already put in a lengthy apprenticeship, including stints with his own family band and with harpist/vocalist Charlie Musselwhite. This was a time of transition for Ford, who was beginning to move away from the strictly blues focus of his first recordings, towards an interest in fusion and other jazz forms. At the same time, he and his band teamed with veteran jazz-blues vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon, with whom he recorded two albums during the mid-70s. Many fans may not realize that Ford is a true "triple threat." He not only plays incredible guitar in just about any style of jazz or blues you can imagine, but he's also a convincing blues vocalist and a serious jazz tenor saxist who can even play in a Coltrane-like manner if the spirit so moves him. All of these talents are displayed to great effect within the grooves here (including a couple of his collaborations with Witherspoon, the classics "Goin' Down Slow" and "S.K. Blues," both recorded live). Although Ford went on to tour and record with some of the biggest jazz and pop stars of our time (Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, and the Yellowjackets), to his credit he has never abandoned his love for the blues, and has returned to that idiom repeatedly since these recordings were first released --- and they still sound great today!

Chitlin' Circuit Soul! - The Best of Today's Southern Blues (Rhino) is a 16-cut compilation of contemporary Southern soul-blues artists of the Stax-Volt/Malaco school. The performers include the late Johnnie Taylor ("Cheaper To Keep Her"), Little Milton ("Walkin' The Back Streets and Crying"), Tyrone Davis ("Turning Point"), and Shirley Brown ("Woman To Woman"). Indeed, most of the artists profiled here would probably be categorized as "soul" rather than "blues," and I believe that these recordings all date form the 70s and 80s (when synthesizers and disco beats began to make their presence felt). But even the most purist of blues fans will find it hard not to enjoy such salacious gems as "Strokin'" by Clarence Carter and "Sue" by Bobby Rush. Although Taylor and Z.Z. Hill have passed on to blues-soul heaven, most of these artists are still live, well, and active on the "chitlin' circuit." This disc serves as an excellent introduction to their music, which keeps the blues tradition alive in the region and community which gave it birth.

--- Lee Poole

I missed out on the whole Napster thing, just only recently acquiring a new computer with a CD writer and discovering the joys of MP3 files. One of the coupons included with the PC was for 25 free downloads from I was pleased to find available a new release from one of my favorite contemporary blues bands, New York City's Michael Hill's Blues Mob. As far as I can determine, Larger Than Life is available only by download from emusic or from The whole process was fairly simple and, before I knew it, I had everything downloaded and burned to a blank CD. Isn't technology wonderful? Larger Than Life is just as good as Hill's previous three albums for Alligator Records, jumping seamlessly between songs about serious issues and just plain old good-time blues numbers. The disc starts out with dazzling rockin' guitar work from Hill on "Partner In Crime." As a songwriter, Hill is at his best when dealing with controversial topics; on "Monticello Nights," he goes back more than 200 years to address the illicit love affair between Thomas Jefferson and his 14-year-old slave, Sally Hemmings. This is the kind of stuff that maintains my admiration for Hill, who just never ceases to surprise me with the topics he tackles. He then jumps to a joyful love song, "Undercover," before getting serious again with the title cut, discussing situations in which money seems larger than life. Hill changes style completely on "Blessings," a simpler tune with a Caribbean beat, rhythmic drumming and effective background vocalists. "Haunted" is a cool, funky number that starts out with à capella vocals, followed by a nice bass line then some intricate guitar riffs. "Millie Jackson Love" is a creative number, a shuffling love song on which he equates the love from his woman to that inspired by Ms. Jackson's music. Larger Than Life ends with a nice acoustic guitar and harmonica duet, "Bundle Of Joy," about a woman facing her ticking biological clock. Michael Hill fans will want to find this CD ... maybe this will inspire all of you to upgrade your computer as well as your internet connection.

Sean CostelloJust over a year ago I raved about a new group out of the Southeast, lead by young guitarist Sean Costello (see February 2000 Blues Bytes). Costello and his buddies are back with their second release for Landslide Records, Moanin' For Molasses. There's absolutely no sign of a sophomore slump from Costello with this latest CD, as he and his band mates continue to evolve and improve. Costello's still a hot guitarist, and his vocals are taking on a grittier timbre. The album starts with a hot Freddy King-style instrumental, "Moanin' For Molasses," with fine jazzy piano from Matt Wauchope. While Costello covers a lot of musical styles with his music, the West Side Chicago sound is most prevalent. The funky Bloomfield / Gravenites composition "You're Killing My Love" and the gritty "No Lie" are the best examples here. My favorite song, the original "You're A Part Of Me," is a real conglomeration of styles, with a strong gospel piano intro followed by a mix of Louisiana swamp and country gospel. Costello's best vocal work is on the New Orleans-sounding "Miles Away," on which his voice has a nice earthiness to it. The guest horn section also gives this number a good "second line" feel. Costello ably handles the James Brown number "I Want You So Bad"; while this slow, soulful ballad stretches the capabilities of his voice somewhat, it still works. Costello's best guitar work is heard on the Otis Rush number, "It Takes Time." Harp fans will enjoy the instrumental workout, "The Plumber," featuring Paul Linden. Just like the Michael Hill album reviewed above, this one closes with an acoustic number, J.B. Lenoir's "Good Advice." I stick with what I said about Sean Costello last year ... he's a rising young blues talent. Keep your eyes and ears open for more from him.

Before I begin my review of Sweet Emotion: Songs of Aerosmith (Heavy Hip Mama), here's a disclaimer --- I've never really cared very much for Aerosmith's music. A fan of this supergroup might view this album differently.  Personally, I think it sucks. The concept itself is a bit weird --- Aerosmith's big hits, which of course were influenced by blues and soul, covered by blues and soul singers. Otis Clay, who I think is one of the best singers on the planet, does a version of "Cryin'." Clay sounds good, but it's just not a good fit for him. Blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins is backed by guitarists Rusty Zinn and Ronnie Baker Brooks on one of Aerosmith's biggest hits, "Walk This Way." Pinetop sounds real disinterested in the whole project, and the recording comes across as sounding forced. Two other excellent musicians in Marshall Crenshaw and harmonica player Sugar Blue turn in a mediocre version of "Big Ten Inch Record." Lou Ann Barton's take on "One Way Street" is marred by annoying slide guitar from John Spiegel. The first decent performance happens on the eighth cut when gospel singer Kim McFarland steps to the mic for a stirring version of 
Dream On." With its backing choir, I was able to imagine this one being performed in a Baptist church somewhere. Chicago singer Tad Robinson follows with a decent, New Orleans-influenced version of "Draw The Line," featuring good piano and vocals mixed with raw guitar licks and harp. Just when I had hopes that this album might be saved, Joe Louis Walker turns in an abysmal "Rag Doll." I'm a huge fan of JLW, so this one hurts. The only other song worth hearing is the closing number, featuring David "Honeyboy"Edwards on "Train Kept A Rollin." This was actually a blues hit before Aerosmith got to it, done in the 1940s by Tiny Bradshaw. Aerosmith fans, please feel free to disagree with my review of this CD. But it's one that I hopefully will never have to hear again.

--- Bill Mitchell

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

The Blues Bytes Web Site has been developed by Blue Night Productions. For more info, send an e-mail.

The Blues Bytes URL...
Revised: June 30, 2001 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2001, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.