Blues Bytes

What's New

July 2012

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Larry Garner

Albert Castiglia

Cee Cee James

Liz Mandeville

Omar & the Howlers

Geoff Achison

Paul Thorn

Tommy McCoy

Guitar Mikey

Albert Bashor

Jimmy Bowskill Band

Chris Watson Band

Lil' Ronnie and the Grand Dukes

Gregg Allman (book)

Eric Bibb


Larry GarnerWith Blues For Sale (DixieFrog), Larry Garner did things a little differently. Due to circumstance mostly beyond his control, Garner took a lot longer to complete this recording. He used his band and fellow musicians from the Baton Rouge area. He took more time writing songs, recording two or three at a time. The resulting work features some of his best songwriting and a relaxed, almost laidback approach to the blues. In fact, this is probably the most “Louisiana” of his recordings, both in music and atmosphere.

The songs rank with Garner’s best work, too. “Broken Soldier” is a vivid telling of the plight of an exhausted veteran returning from a rough stint in the Middle East. “If You Come to Louisiana” convincingly sings the praises of Garner’s home state. “Alone and Happy” tells the tale of a woman who’s single and loving it, and a pair of songs achingly convey the pain of splintered relationships (“It’s Killing Me” and “Rebound”).

Of course, Garner’s unique perspective on life, as well as his sense of humor, comes through on most of his material and songs like the thought-provoking “A Whole Lotta Nothing,” the spicy “Talking Naughty,” “Miss Boss,” and “Car Seat Baby” expertly convey these feelings.

Garner’s vocals are spot-on and his guitar has developed a nice B.B. King sting on recent albums. Jared Daigle’s fretwork has more of a rock edge, but he and Garner mesh well and he does a good job when given the opportunity. The rest of the band is solid as well, with Shedrick Nellon and Miguel Hernandez splitting time on bass, Michael Caesar on drums, Nelson Blanchard on keyboards, and the ethereal Mr. Mystery Man blowing sax on a couple of tracks. Debbie Landry adds sass and sinew to several tracks with her strong background vocals.

Blues For Sale took a little extra time to get to us, but like Larry Garner’s other albums, it is well worth the wait.

--- Graham Clarke

Albert CastigliaFormer Junior Wells bandleader Albert Castiglia continues to knock listeners’ socks off with his incredible guitar work and his continuing development as a songwriter with his latest Blue Leaf Records release, Living the Dream. Consisting of 12 songs, five written by Castiglia, this is a masterful set of blues that is sure to please longtime fans and impress newcomers.

To get the picture of Castiglia’s prowess as a guitarist, you really need to look at two cuts. The scorching Freddie King instrumental, “Freddie’s Boogie,” which is really a nearly five-minute free-for-all between Castiglia and keyboardist John Ginty, is one extreme. The opposite end is the nine-minute epic version of the blues standard, “Walk the Backstreets.” He can rock the house when needed, but can also bring it down to a slow burn when required.

That doesn’t mean you should disregard the rest of the disc. Castiglia’s originals include the winning title cut that opens the disc, one dealing with modern subject matter (“The Man”), a blazing instrumental (“Fat Cat”), an old school blues rocker (“Public Enemy #9), and “I Want Her For Myself.” The other covers are also well done, particularly Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart To You,” Paul Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup,” Shakey Jake’s “Call Me When You Need Me” (a solo acoustic track), and a electrifying version of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm “ that closes the disc in excellent fashion.

In addition to Castiglia’s regular rhythm section (Bob Amsel – drums, A. J. Kelly – bass), Castiglia gets support from Ginty (piano, B3), Sandy Mack (harmonica), Juke Joint Jonny Rizzo (acoustic guitar), and Emedin Rivera (percussion). However, they give Castiglia plenty of room to nearly set fire to his strings on most of these songs with blistering solo after solo.

Living the Dream is another fine additon to Albert Castiglia’s catalog. If you’re a fan of modern blues guitar done well, look no further than this release.

--- Graham Clarke

Cee Cee JamesCee Cee James has been on something of a hot streak over the past couple of years. Her 2008 release, Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl, received a big boost in sales and critical reception when it was picked up and re-released by Blue Skunk Music in 2010. Later that year, her live disc, Seriously Raw – Live at Sunbanks, managed to capture the fire and passion of her legendary live shows and won her even more fans. Since then, she’s toured almost non-stop, including a European tour earlier this year, gaining even more fans in the process.

James’ latest CD, Blood Red Blues (FWG Records), should easily continue that forward momentum. Produced by the legendary Jim Gaines (who should seriously consider legally adopting “The Legendary” as part of his name), the new disc features more of James’ wonderful songs, largely taken from her own life and personal experiences, and those incredible vocals, which bring her lyrics to life.

As a performer, James has always been regarded as one who leaves everything out there on stage when she’s done. The same can be said for her albums as well. On songs like the title track, “Wounds,” “Worn Out Sins, and “Right To Sing The Blues,” she’s opens up her soul for all to see, recalling the painful times in her life and how she’s worked through that pain and suffering to get to where she is now.

There’s also some lighter moments as well, with tracks like “Let’s All Get Loose,” which should get you on your feet, and “100 Ways to Make Love.” James also praises the power of love on songs like “Cover Me With Love,” “Thick Like Blood,” “Feel My Love Come Down,” and “Comfort of a Good Heart.” James sounds as good as she’s ever sounded on these tracks, displaying an astonishing vocal range, playing it soft and sweet where needed, and rough and tumble when that’s required.

Of course, you can’t mention Cee Cee James without mentioning her husband/collaborator Rob “Slideboy” Andrews, whose serpentine fretwork on slide and rhythm guitar punctuates each song perfectly. The rest of the band (Chris Leighton – drums and percussion, Dan Mohler – bass, Rocky Athas – lead guitar, Susan Julian – keyboards) does a wonderful job, as do the background singers (James, Stanley Crouse, Vicki Atkins, Danunielle “Pie” Hill, and Kimberlie Helton).

Blood Red Blues should continue Cee Cee James’ hot streak unabated. Watch for her in a supporting role in the upcoming movie, "We Be Kings," which features Magic Slim & the Teardrops and Grana Louise.

--- Graham Clarke

Liz MandevilleIt’s been four years since Liz Mandeville’s last recording, 2008’s Red Top. In the interim, Mandeville battled with some health issues, but has bounced back recently, touring and forming her own record label, Blue Kitty Music. The label’s debut release is Mandeville’s Clarksdale. According to the liner notes, Mandeville made a pilgrimage of sorts to the cradle of Mississippi blues to recharge her batteries. She returned to Chicago with a new perspective on the blues, and more particularly some of the more traditional female artists of the early blues era, like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, and Lucille Bogan.

For this new release, Mandeville employed a stellar cast of musicians, including guitarist and musical partner (they made it to the semis in the IBC this year) Donna Herula, Nick Moss, Eddie Shaw, and longtime friend Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (in what might have been his final recordings), playing harp and drums on selected tracks.

Clarksdale features a diverse set of tunes. Mandeville narrates her Clarksdale experiences on “Clarksdale/Riverside Hotel Blues,” and has a sharp sense of humor, witnessed on songs like “Roadside Produce Stand,” “Walking & Talking With You” (“You be Yogi and I’ll be Boo Boo”) and the bawdy jump number, “Sweet Potato Pie” (featuring Eddie Shaw’s sax). She also covers current happenings in the world on tunes like “A Soldier’s Wife,” and “4:20 Blues.” Mandeville and Herula team for a few compelling acoustic tracks, notably “Bye Bye Blues” and “Sand Baggin’.”

Smith, who passed away during a break in recording, does a fantastic job on harmonica and drums, and special notice must be given to Darryl Wright, who wrote arrangements for the songs, and played bass on several tracks. However, the spotlight really needs to focus on Mandeville, who comes up big on this disc. The songs are uniformly fine, her guitar work (plugged and unplugged) is first-rate, and vocally, she’s never sounded better.

Hopefully, Liz Mandeville has her health problems behind her and can continue to focus fully on her music. Clarksdale represents her strongest effort so far from start to finish. Maybe she will continue to make regular trips down south….it seems to have paid off handsomely this time around.

--- Graham Clarke

Omar and the HowlersOmar Kent Dykes calls Omar & The Howlers’ latest CD his “Americana" CD. From rockabilly to a ballad, and from country to blues, it’s all over the place.” Maybe we could stop the review right there, because that’s as good a capsule summary as you can get, but it’s also worth mentioning that I’m Gone (Big Guitar Music) also marks the 50th anniversary of playing music for Dykes. What better way to honor that landmark date than by releasing a collection of the styles of music that inspired him to start down his chosen path?

Growing up in McComb, Mississippi, Dykes was exposed to all of these different types of music, and they have all figured into his playing ever since he started playing, or at least as far back as I remember in the early ’80s, when he used to make regular visits to clubs and festivals in Mississippi. Rockabilly gets a bit of a revival (why did it ever fade from the scene?) on the title cut that opens the disc, the enjoyable instrumental, “Omar’s Boogie,” “Move Up To Memphis,” and the wistful autobiographical closer, “Take Me Back.”

“Drunkard’s Paradise” is a mournful country tune, “Let Me Hold You” is a old school soul ballad, and the restless rhythms of “Wild and Free” pay tribute to Bo Diddley. The primary focus is on the blues, as may be expected on an Omar & The Howlers’ disc. “All About the Money” would have been a good fit on Omar’s last two collaborations with Jimmie Vaughan, and “Down to the Station” is a nice touch of Chicago blues. The Texas-styled instrumental, “Lone Star Blues,” is a show-stopper, and “Goin’ Back to Texas” is a fine slow burner.

The disc’s lone cover is John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Mad Again.” If it’s possible to take a song from Hooker and make it your own, then Omar probably does that here. His feral growl is at maximum power on this angry track.

Dykes gets outstanding support from some of Austin’s finest musicians. Casper Rawls plays acoustic and electric guitars on several tracks, while Derek O’Brien adds electric guitar on four tunes. Ronnie James and Bruce Jones alternate tracks on bass, as do Wes Starr and Mike Buck on drums.
Like any Omar & The Howlers release, I’m Gone is a lot of fun to listen to over and over again. There’s always plenty of good blues and you always count on Omar to give 110% whenever he plays. I’m looking forward to his next 50 years of making music.

--- Graham Clarke

Geoff AchisonAustralian Geoff Achison has been described by Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna great Jorma Kaukonen as having “a completely individual style.” Part of that was derived from Achison’s early days as a guitarist in rural Australia, where he was able to learn to coax and recreate sounds and effects from his guitars usually done by pedals or gadgets that he didn’t have. His guitar work incorporates elements of blues, jazz, and funk and he has a soulfully gritty voice.

Achison won the Albert King Award for his guitar work at the 1995 IBC in Memphis, and has released several well-received albums over the past few years. Little Big Men was actually released in Australia in 2005, but is seeing wide distribution in the U.S. for the first time on Jupiter 2 Records, with a few added tracks from Achison’s 2002 release, Chasing My Tail.

Little Big Men has a smooth, mellow, jazzy feel and it’s easy to get lost in the music and miss out on Achison’s songwriting. Highlights include the opening cut, “Crazy Horse,” with a Santana-like riff, “News,” which has a ’70s Steely Dan feel, the funky “Happening” and “Rule The World,” and the rocker, “Feel Like A King.”

All of the songs groove effortlessly, driven by the stellar rhythm section of Roger McLachlan (bass), Gerry Pantazis (drums), James Mack (percussion), and Mal Logan (keyboards). Achison’s fretwork is diverse….he has an almost liquid tone on some tracks, but can get down and dirty when he needs to, and also has a melodic quality that sounds a lot like Larry Carlton’s ’70s work.

Little Big Men is a solid disc of smooth and jazzy blues that you will find yourself returning to regularly. Hopefully, it will help Geoff Achison in finding a wider audience to experience his impressive talent.

--- Bill Mitchell

Paul ThornSo why is Paul Thorn, regarded as a songwriter without peer, releasing an album of songs written by other composers? In the case of What the Hell is Goin On? (Perpetual Obscurity Records), Thorn has decided to take a break from his own songs, just do something different, and have a little fun.

All 12 of the songs on this new disc are Thorn favorites and he puts his own personal spin on each of them. The songs cover the gamut from classic blues, roots rock, country, gospel, and soul, but they all end up sounding like Paul Thorn originals by the time he gets finished with them……key examples include the Lindsey Buckingham-penned opener, “Don’t Let Me Down Again” (from the Buckingham/Nicks era), Free’s “Walk In My Shadow,” and Allen Toussaint’s “Wrong Number,” which, lyrically, could easily pass for a Paul Thorn tune.

“Shelter Me Lord,” the Buddy & Julie Miller gospel tune, is another fine example, with Thorn’s growling vocal giving the song a whole new angle of desperation (great backing vocals here by the McCrary sisters, by the way, as on several other tracks). Gospel was a huge part of Thorn’s upbringing (his father was a preacher), and it shows on a couple of other tracks as well….Foy Vance’s “Shed a Little Light” and even soul/bluesman Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s “Take My Love With You.”

Other standouts include a sweet reading of Donnie Fritts and Billy Lawson’s “She’s Got a Crush on Me,” a soulful reading of The Band’s “Small Town Talk,” Elvin Bishop’s scorching blues title track (with the man himself manning the six-string), and a stellar reading of Wild Bill Emerson’s “Bull Mountain Bridge,” featuring vocals from Delbert McClinton.

Football coach Bum Phillips once said of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, “He can take your’n and beat his’n, or he can take his’n and beat your’n.” You might say the same of Paul Thorn. Not only is he a songwriter of the highest quality, but with this new disc, he shows himself to be a master interpreter, too. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear these were Paul Thorn originals. As it is, What the Hell is Goin’ On? should keep you occupied until the next set of Paul Thorn originals surface.

--- Graham Clarke

Tommy McCoyGuitarist Tommy McCoy has been playing the blues since the early ’60s, and has been a member of the Florida blues scene for over four decades as part of local bands like the Backdoor Blues Band, the Screamin’ Bluejays, and the Telephone Kings. He also served as band leader for soul singer Johnny Thunder, and has played on recordings with Levon Helm, Commander Cody, Garth Hudson, Lucky Peterson, and Double Trouble’s rhythm section.

McCoy’s 7th CD, Late in the Lonely Night (Earwig Records), features a dozen tracks of diverse contemporary blues. He wrote or co-wrote ten of the tracks and the two covers interestingly are sturdy remakes of a pair of ’70s R&B hits from fellow Floridians, the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (“Too Late To Turn Back Now” and “Treat Her Like A Lady”).

The originals are uniformly excellent, including the minor key title track that opens the disc, a song puzzling over a love gone wrong. “Angel on my Shoulder, Devil on my Back” tells of a battle between good and bad and features some sizzling slide from Joel Tatangelo. “Never Should Have Listened” is a clever vocal duet between McCoy and Karyn Denham, and “Spacemaster” is sizzling blues/rock.

Other highlights include “Cars, Bars, and Guitars,” the answer to the question, ”where did all my money go?”, the introspective “Life’s Tides,” and the appropriately titled “Dance Your Pants Off.” The disc closer is “My Guitar Won’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues,” and gives McCoy an opportunity to display his fretwork.

Late in the Lonely Night is a first-rate set of modern blues that features some strong songwriting, seasoned vocals, and amazing guitar work from Tommy McCoy. Though his last couple of efforts have focused more on Americana, this set shows that his roots are firmly in the fertile soil of the blues.

--- Bill Mitchell

Guitar MikeyGuitar Mikey, aka Mike McMillan, started playing the blues as a youngster in Canada. Over the years, since the early ’80s, he has taken a long, winding journey from Canada to Clarksdale, Mississippi, with extended stops in Boston and Chicago in between, working and honing his craft with his band, The Real Thing. Since 2006, Guitar Mikey has been a resident of Clarksdale, making quite a reputation from himself with his fiery guitar work (acoustic and electric) and impassioned vocals.

His fourth and newest release, Out of the Box, is his first for Earwig Records, and features an all-star roster of musicians in support, including harmonica wizard Billy Gibson, singer Nellie “Tiger” Travis, guitarist Bob Margolin, and keyboardists David Maxwell, keyboardist Mark Yacovone, Terry “Big T” Williams, and three, yes three, different rhythm sections.

McMillan wrote or co-wrote all 15 of the tracks, and they run the gamut from crunching blues/rock numbers to straight roadhouse blues to smooth R&B. Highlights include the rousing “Back To You,” which kicks off the disc with a mandolin/banjo intro, but kicks into high gear pretty quickly, “Blues Attack,” which features his impressive slide guitar with Travis’ vocals and Gibson’s roaring harmonica, the manic “It’s A Sin,” and “Blues Head,” a fun track that teams Mikey with Travis again, along with Super Chikan, who plays guitar and offers moral support as the track closes.

“The Bigger Fool,” has a definite Chicago feel to it, with Gibson, Margolin, Maxwell, and young Delta drummer Lee Williams doing a fine job. “Need $100” is a funky little number that showcases Yacovone, and the rocker “Who Is She” is another. “She Needs Time” is a country blues cooker with Travis on backing vocals, and “When Leo Starts To Growlin’” is a deep soul number, one of several that feature Alphonso Sanders on sax and the Hammerhead Horns.

Out of the Box is an enthusiastic, ambitious set. There’s plenty of great music here for everybody to enjoy, whether your tastes run more toward traditional blues, blues/rock, R&B. Guitar Mikey is well-versed in all of these genres and you’ll be hearing more from him.

--- Graham Clarke

Albert BashorAlbert Bashor is a Florida-based bluesman who has paid his dues over the years playing with Bo Diddley, James Peterson, Alex Taylor (brother of James), Dr. Hector and the Groove Injectors, and the immortal Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. Over the years, Bashor has developed as a songwriter and singer, and he caught Earwig Records head Michael Frank one night as half of an acoustic duo called 32-20 who was opening for Honeyboy Edwards in Chattanooga one night. Frank, who accompanied Edwards on harmonica, was impressed by Bashor’s songs. The duo broke up, but Bashor and Frank soon crossed paths again in Clarksdale, MS and Frank’s interest was rekindled in recording Bashor.

The results can now be heard on Bashor’s debut Earwig release, Cotton Field of Dreams, where Bashor gives us a taste of what impressed Frank, 14 highly original songs with a unique perspective of the blues. Bashor’s vision of the blues takes in elements of soul, pop, rock and even folk, and he has a warm, inviting voice that engages the listener immediately. He has great support from a fine cast of musicians including Frank (who plays harmonica on a couple of tracks), Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, and guitarist Pat Travers.

Highlights include the funky opener, “Jukin’ Down on Johnson Street,” the rollicking “Rockin’ Red Rooster” (originally covered by Lonnie Brooks…this version features Payne’s rowdy barrelhouse piano), “So Blue,” with Mike McConnell playing some tasty acoustic guitar and Shay Jones’ contributing vocals, and the atmospheric title track. The humorous “Seeing Eye Dog Blues” and “Tater Digging Woman” are also standouts, and Travers’ six-stringed contributions to “Fetch Me,” make a good tune even better.
We can’t close this review without mentioning the “Poodle Ribs.” Bashor introduces the song with the story-behind-the-song, which is pretty funny in itself. The song is also entertaining as well, and serves as good advertising for one of Bashor’s favorite Florida eating establishments.

Cotton Field of Dreams is not your run-of-the-mill blues album, and it’s certainly different from the usual Earwig fare. However, Bashor is a talented songwriter who mixes personal perspective into his songs, a gifted performer, and his love for the blues comes through on every note. Hopefully, he has more to say and gets the opportunity to do so.

--- Graham Clarke

Jimmy Bowskill BandBack Number (Ruf Records) is the latest release by The Jimmy Bowskill Band. Amazingly, it’s the fifth release from the 21-year-old Canadian, who’s mastered that ’70s southern blues/rock sound in the tradition of groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie, or even more modern-day artists like the Black Crowes. Bowskill is an exceptional guitarist, but also has an incredibly expressive vocal style as well. He’s backed by the powerhouse duo of Ian McKeown (bass) and Dan Reiff (drums), along with Aaron Hoffman on keyboards.

Back Number has 11 tracks, with Bowskill writing or co-writing (with the band or with songwriter Ron Sexsmith) nine of them. “Take a Ride” is the opener, a slow rocker. “Linger on the Sweet Side” picks up the pace a bit and is a highlight. The Sexsmith/Bowskill collaboration, “Little Bird,” is another standout, and the ballad, “Spirit of the Town,” a ballad with Bowskill manning the trumpet and McKeown the trombone, is an interesting change of pace.

The band also covers Mark Farner’s (of Grand Funk Railroad) “Sin’s a Good Man s Brother,” retaining the original’s down and dirty vibe, and “Sinking Down” also is in that vein as well. “Down the Road” is a churning rocker that features some of Bowskill’s most impressive fretwork. “Seasons Change” slows things down before the final two tracks, a basically bluesy “Broke Down Engine,” and the Sexsmith composition, “Least of My Worries,” a breezy jazz nugget that showcases Bowskill playing some rousing piano.

It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Bowskill’s only 21 years old. Back Number is a diverse, but fully developed set of blues/rock that shows him to have a bright future in the genre, if there’s any justice in the world at all.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris Watson BandHo hum…..another day, another great guitarist from Texas. This time around, it’s Chris Watson, from Denton, Texas. He’s all of 20 years old and has been playing since he was 13, joining his father’s blues band as lead guitarist in 2005. He’s been the leader of his own band, the Chris Watson Band, since 2006 and has made quite a mark in the D/FW area clubs and with his debut release in 2010, Just for Show. Oh yeah….this guy is the real deal. His sophomore release, Pleasure & Pain (Gator Groove Records), is all the proof you need.

Watson wrote nine of the 12 tracks. They range from the funky opener (“Heart on My Sleeve”), to the blazing Texas shuffle, “Untrue,” to contemporary blues (the title track and “She’s Wild”), to soulful ballads (“Heartache”), to straight-ahead blues/rock (“Mama Told Me”), to country-tinged blues (“Happiest Day of My Life”) to swamp blues (“Wanted Man”). The three cover tunes are also first-rate, the traditional gospel tune, “Going Home,” a scrappy cover of Sean Costello’s “Hard Luck Woman,” and Bobby Womack’s ’70s soul classic, “Check It Out.”

Watson has a smooth soulful voice and his guitar work is really impressive. He doesn’t overplay or try to bombard you with walls of sound. His fretwork is very tasteful, and he says what he needs to say and lets the song do the rest, displaying a maturity beyond his years. His band (Billy Acord and Chris Gipson – bass, Jon Zoog and Jason Thomas – drums, Scott Morris and Eric Scortia – keys, Justin Barbee – trumpet, Jeff Dazey – sax, and Kristin Major – backing vocals) provides excellent support.

Rest assured that Chris Watson is not just “another great Texas guitarist.” Pleasure & Pain is a marvelous, well-rounded set of blues, soul, and R&B, from a young man who can play, sing, and write with the best of them. We’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the coming years.

--- Graham Clarke

Lil Ronnie and the Grand DukesLi’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes have been singing and playing the blues for over a quarter century. Ronnie Owens got his start playing drums at the age of 8, playing gigs at 13, and playing swing, jazz, rock & roll, and R&B, but fell under the sway of the post-war Chess-era urban blues. He switched from drums to harmonica and has never looked back.

Gotta Strange Feeling (EllerSoul Records) is the band’s fourth CD and like their previous output, the focus is on American roots music blending blues, swing, and rock & roll. Most of the songs were writing by L’il Ronnie and guitarist Ivan Appelrouth, and they focus several blues styles, including the Chicago blues sound of the ’50s, with songs like “Can’t Buy My Love,” “She’s Bad Bad News,” and “Fat City,” but there’s also a healthy dose of swinging blues with songs like the title track, “Sweet Sue,” and “Bring Your Love Home.”

Other selections, like “I Won’t Take It Anymore,” “Cold Hard Cash” and “Love Never Dies,” have a strong Gulf Coast flavor. The band also offers a swinging cover of Louis Jordan’s “Buzz Me” and a pretty straightforward rocking version of Chuck Berry’s “C’est La Vie.”

L’il Ronnie does a splendid job on vocals and harmonica. The rest of the Grand Dukes (Ivan Appelrouth – guitar, John Sheppard – bass, Mark Young – drums, John Fralin – piano, and guest North Side Slim on percussion for one track) handle the blues, rock & roll, and swing with ease. If you like your blues and rock & roll in the old school style, then you need to pick up Gotta Strange Feeling.

--- Graham Clarke

Gregg AllmanGregg Allman has long been regarded as one of the finest rock singers ever, and he also ranks pretty high as a blues singer as well. In the late ’60s, The Allman Brothers Band provided the blueprint for both blues/rock and Southern rock with their intriguing mixture of rock and roll, soul, blues, and jazz, also setting the stage in the process with their lengthy jam sessions for the jam bands of today.

Gregg Allman provided the voice of the band, while his brother Duane provided the musical vision of the band, and for a brief amount of time, until Duane’s untimely death in 1971, no one could touch The Allman Brothers for sheer musical originality, talent, and virtuosity.

After 1971, the band pushed on, coping with the 1972 death of bass player Berry Oakley, power struggles within the band, excessive drug and alcohol use, and clashes about musical direction. Gregg Allman was at the center of much of this, juggling drugs, a solo career, multiple marriages (notably to Cher), and difficulties with management as well as fellow band members. While most of his problems came and went, the drugs and alcohol persisted until the mid 2000s, when he finally cleaned up for good.

Allman recounts these star-crossed day with his new autobiography, "My Cross To Bear" (William Morrow) with help from frequent Rolling Stone contributor Alan Light. In fact, Light does a wonderful job allowing Allman to tell his story, which begins at the beginning, of course, where the brothers grew up without a dad, who was ruthlessly murdered when Gregg was two, by a hitchhiker he had picked up. They also spent time in a military school, while their mother went to college.

Allman was a shy child and teenager, who was drawn out of his shell by the allure of music. It was he who first learned the guitar, not Duane, while the two were teenagers in Daytona, Florida. The older brother soon caught up with and surpassed the younger, but in the process, Gregg Allman developed into an amazing singer, courtesy of support and coaching from local musicians like Floyd Miles.

The brothers bounced around with several groups, recording as the group Hour Glass, before The Allman Brothers came together. Allman candidly discusses the friendly rivalry and fierce love and loyalty between the two brothers and the rest of the band. By this time, the drug use had emerged and was beginning to affect the band. One of the most heartbreaking and haunting sequences in the book is Gregg and Duane’s last conversation prior to Duane’s tragic death, a drug-fueled argument that still eats at Gregg Allman today.

He also takes the reader through the band’s inevitable decline that paralleled the ’70s, his ongoing battles with bandmate Dickey Betts, the band’s break-ups and reunions through the late ’70s, the ill-fated relationship and marriage to Cher (with some scathing commentary on her singing abilities), and his own solo career that reignited in the late ’80s, prior to the Allman’s last reunion that was triggered in part by the release of the retrospective box set, Dreams. Since the early ’90s, the Allmans have enjoyed great success, and their current line-up is probably as potent as the original with a sober Gregg Allman and guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.

The final quarter of the book is devoted in large part to Allman’s attempts to clean up once and for all, and his subsequent recovery, followed by his greatest challenge, hepatitis C and a liver transplant. He also talks about his attempts to reconcile with his children, most of whom he had little contact with until recent years, and his emerging spirituality and relationship with God.

As mentioned, Light basically lets Allman narrate the story in his own voice, which was the right move. It feels almost like he’s talking directly to you, telling you stories about wild nights on the road with drugs, drink, and women. Some of the anecdotes are downright hilarious and some are poignant and even tragic. Best of all, though Allman is often critical about the supporting characters in his life (notably Betts and Capricorn Records head Phil Walden), he is equally critical of his own behavior and conduct, taking responsibility where it’s due and setting the record straight where needed as well.

All in all, if you’re a blues/rock fan, this book is an essential read….an eyewitness account of the development, success, failure, death, and rebirth of arguably the greatest blues/rock band ever, plus a rare intimate look at one of the most enigmatic performers of our time.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric BibbIt's been a good year already for acoustic guitarist Eric Bibb, who was recently named Acoustic Artist of the Year by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. Not one to rest on his laurels, Bibb is already making a case for next year's award with his new album, Deeper In The Well (Stony Plain Records). For this one, the New York native went about as far south as he could get, recording the CD at Dirk Powell's studio in Pont Breaux, Louisiana. In addition to the versatile instrumentalist Powell, participating in the session were a host of other local musicians, including fiddle player Cedric Watson, harmonica player Grant Demody and drummer Danny DeVillier. Christine Balfa adds Cajun triangle.

The result is an excellent addition to Bibb's rich discography. If you're already a fan, then you'll want to hear what the man can do when he goes all Louisiana on us.

The title cut is the highlight, a version of the classic song of encouragement done over the years by a host of bluegrass and country artists. Bibb's version was most influenced by Doc & Merle Watson's rendition, but this one really carries a feel of the Louisiana bayou.

There's even more a Cajun influence to "Money In Your Pocket," with Cedric Watson's fiddle playing and Powell's accordion work. The opening cut, "Bayou Belle," has a real swampy, haunting feel to it that takes the listener deep into the bayou country late at night.

Perhaps Bibb is anticipating that a portion of his fan base will not accept this album, since it's much more diverse than his previous recordings. He answers those critics musically with the up tempo "Music," stating, " ... music is more than rules rules or tradition, I'll play what I want, don't need no permission, If I feel it - that's good enough for me ..." Even more descriptive is the verse, " ... music is more than the words used to pitch it, I don't see the point wastin' time trying' to niche it ..." Great!

Bibb gets political on "Movin' Up," encouraging his listeners to keep on trying and help your fellow man. I especially like the topical verse, "....We got some billionaires out there, But the poor stay poor, Spendin' too much money on weapons an' war, Can't keep hidin' our heads in the sand, Time to see what's goin' on an' take a stand ..."

The Taj Mahal cover, "Every Wind In the River," features nice vocals from Bibb on a number with a real spiritual feeling. Michael Jerome Browne accompanies on banjo and mandolin.

Deeper In The Well finishes with one of the more interesting numbers, a cover of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'," with Powell's banjo work providing tasteful accompaniment to Bibb's provocative vocals.

Bibb is an artist who's operated somewhat out of the blues mainstream over the years with more of an audience on the folk circuit. With a Blues Foundation award in his pocket and this fine CD to promote, here's hoping that Bibb's popularity is about to get a big boost.

--- Bill Mitchell



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