Blues Bytes

What's New

July 2014

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Mannish Boys

Andy T - Nick Nixon Band

Ronnie Earl

Too Slim & the Taildraggers

David Vest

David Michael Miller

Dudley Taft

Planet Full of Blues

Colleen Rennison

Kelley Hunt

The Nighthawks

Alistair Greene

Christopher Dean Band

Michael Packer

Shawn Amos

Little Mike and the Tornadoes

Billy Pierce

Dave Specter

Deanna Bogart

Janiva Magness

Selwyn Birchwood

Alvin Lee


Mannish BoysIt’s a tour de force every time the Mannish Boys sit down to record a record. It’s not enough that the core band of Sugaray Rayford, Randy Chortkoff, Kirk Fletcher, Frank Goldwasser, Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott get together in the studio; Randy Chortkoff always makes sure to sprinkle in a few guests along the likes of Monster Mike Welch, Kim Wilson, Candye Kane, Laura Chavez, Steve Freund and others to ensure an amazing project. Wrapped Up and Ready is just that, another amazing record from the Mannish Boys on Delta Groove, so let’s give it a listen.

The band kicks off with a tune by Monster Mike Welch, with Sugaray at the vocals for “I Ain’t Sayin.” Mike’s guitar leads are tasty and Sugaray is making sure the object of his attention is aware of his interest. “Take my word…take my hand…take a walk with me sometime…I will show you pretty baby…what I have on my mind…I ain’t sayin, girl…that you could use a man like me…if you talk to me baby…I know I can make you believe.” Sugaray’s pretty persuasive and I’m sure he’s got this well in hand. Kid Ramos is next up on guitar as the band tackles a Roy Brown classic, “Everything’s Alright.” “I’ve got a whole lotta money….God knows I’ll treat you right….Baby, everything’s can get a lot of loving… both day and night.” Sugaray’s in love and he’s determined to keep this girl and treat her right.

Franck Goldwasser takes the microphone for the next cut, a tune he wrote called “Struggle in My Hometown.” “I went back to my hometown…I tried to do better for myself…my whole family won’t accept me…my old friends…have put me on a shelf.” Franck’s not respected in his hometown and it’s always been a struggle for him to succeed there.

The title cut, “Wrapped Up and Ready,” is next with Kim Wilson on the harp and it’s a tune Sugaray wrote. “I’m wrapped up and ready…come down and get me….I’m ready for your love.” It’s his girl’s birthday and Sugaray’s more than eager to present her with the present he has in mind, in fact, he’s wrapped up and ready to go. We move on to a tune Randy wrote, “It was Fun,” and Sugaray remains at the microphone for the vocal. “You are a real good woman… thought we could make a run…but it was too much work, baby…but baby, it was fun.” Sugaray thought he had a keeper but it was too much work to please her and it’s time to move on.

Kirk Fletcher’s guitar intro leads us to another Chortkoff tune, “I Can Always Dream.” “Aint no big time lover…but I can play a long, long time…if I don’t drive them crazy…I can pacify their mind…I ain’t no big time playboy…but I can always dream.” Candye Kane and Laura Chavez are the next guests to appear on Wrapped Up and Ready as Candye tackles the vocal on an Ike Turner tune, “I Idolize You.” “All I want baby…is just a touch from you…just a little attention…is going to see me through…you know you’re my kind…I want you to realize…I idolize you.” Laura’s tasty licks compliment Candye’s soulful vocals perfectly, and it’s an astute song choice for them to perform on this disc.

Fred Kaplan’s on the keys front and center for our next cut, “You Better Watch Yourself,” and I’m assuming its Randy’s harp I’m hearing as well though I’m losing track on my scorecard. Sugaray’s vocals on this tune are spot on and it’s pretty clear, “you’d better watch yourself.” Robert Ward’s “Something for Nothing” is the next cut Sugaray and the band tackle, and it’s Kim’s harp I’m hearing as Monster Mike Welch’s guitar fills in the blanks. As Sugaray sings, “When I come home in the morning…my days at work were never through…well, I had to cook my own food, yeah…and then I go out…and look for you…I love you baby…but nobody does something for nothing for love.” Sugaray’s woman needs to straighten up or he’s bound to cut her loose and move on.

Randy’s back at the microphone for another of his original tunes, “Can’t Make a Livin’.” It’s a fairly up-tempo tune that has Randy lamenting his misfortunes. “Can’t make a livin’….no matter how I try…times are really hard…I’m going to make it bye and bye.” We’ve all gone through times like this and Randy’s no different. He’ll figure out a way but it’s not easy. Steve Freund makes a guest appearance next, singing and playing the lead guitar on a song he wrote, “The Blues Has Made me Whole.” “Sometimes I wonder…what am I doing here…but I pick up my old guitar…the answer’s very clear…I used to walk the street…I had no purpose to my soul…I was just a half a man…but the blues has made me whole.”

“I Have Love” is the other track that Mike Welch contributed to this Mannish Boys disc, and Sugaray is eager to tell us just how he feels. “Well, you know I have love, baby…and nothing else…I’ve got nothing for you baby…nothing but myself.” Bob Corritore is adding some tasty harp to this cut and I’m convinced that Sugaray by himself is probably just enough. “Troubles” is the final tune that Sugaray wrote for this disc, and Kim’s harp is at the forefront as Sugaray shares his misery with us. “As I sit in my room…staring at these four walls…something’s stuck in my throat, baby…makes my skin begin to crawl…things have gotten so wild, baby…I can’t get next to you.” I’m hoping Sugaray will figure it out but he’s definitely depressed over the current state of affairs with the woman in question.

He seems to be happier on the next track, “She Belongs to Me,” and it sounds like his woman problems are over. “Everything about you is so sweet and I’m glad…so glad…that you belong to me.” The Mannish Boys close out Wrapped Up and Ready with another Goldwasser tune, “Don’t Say You’re Sorry” and the instrumental “Blues for Michael Bloomfield”, composed by Kirk Fletcher. Franck’s adamant his woman isn’t at fault, “Don’t say you’re sorry, baby…you didn’t do no wrong…I brought in on myself…I didn’t treat you the way you ought to be…don’t say you’re sorry…cause you didn’t do no wrong. Kirk’s tribute to Michael Bloomfield is at once emotive and thoughtful and his playing reflects the deep appreciation he has for Michael’s legacy to the Blues. It’s definitely a very satisfying ending to another great recording from the Mannish Boys.

The Mannish Boys have established an almost impossible to reach bar for their work and still continue to reach and surpass it. Their last disc, Double Dynamite, won the Blues Music Award for Traditional Blues Album of the Year and I would expect Wrapped Up and Ready to receive the same consideration come nomination time. Sugaray Rayford has clearly taken over the vocal reins from Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer, and his vocal style clearly fits in the tradition of all the great Mannish Boys front men. Throw in stellar guest appearances from Kim Wilson, Candye Kane, Laura Chavez, Steve Freund and Monster Mike Welch; what more could a Blues fan ask for?

The Mannish Boys will be touring all summer in support of their new disc, so grab a copy from them on the road or through the Delta Groove website. Wrapped Up and Ready is another outstanding release from the Blues force we know as the Mannish Boys, so get ready.

--- Kyle Deibler

Ho-hum…..another year, another fantastic release from the Mannish Boys. Wrapped Up and Ready (Delta Groove Music) offers up 16 tracks of pure blues heaven featuring the core group (Sugaray Rayford – vocals, Randy Chortkoff – harmonica/vocals, Kirk “Eli” Fletcher – guitar, Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser – guitar, Willie J. Campbell – bass, Jimi Bott – drums) along with a huge list of guest stars that includes Candye Kane, harmonica aces Kim Wilson, Bob Corritore, and teen phenom Jacob “Walters” Huffman, guitarists Steve Freund, Kid Ramos, and Monster Mike Welch, and piano man Fred Kaplan.

Having shared the lead vocals on the previous release, Double Dynamite, with Finis Tasby, who suffered a debilitating stroke in late 2012, Sugaray Rayford takes the lion’s share of the vocals this time around and anyone who heard his work on that previous release (or his own 2013 solo effort for Delta Groove, Dangerous) knows that he is more than up for the task and he proves it on tracks like the strong opener, “I Ain’t Sayin’,” the Roy Brown cover, “Everything’s Alright,” the rollicking title track, the Robert Ward tune, “Something For Nothing,” and the Magic Sam standard, “She Belongs To Me.”

Rayford gets help in the vocal department from fellow Mannish Boys Chortkoff, who tears up his own composition, the blues rocker “Can’t Make A Livin’” (with vocalist Trenda Fox), and Goldwasser, who ably handles the jumping “Struggle In My Hometown” and the uptempo “Don’t Say You’re Sorry.” Blues belter Candye Kane joins the fun with a very nice vocal turn on Ike Turner’s “I Idolize You,” which also prominently features her guitarist Laura Chavez, and Freund turns in a solid vocal on his own Chicago-styled “The Blues Had Made Me Whole.”

There’s also plenty of great musicianship on Wrapped Up and Ready, as has come to be expected on any Mannish Boy release. Fletcher’s “Blues For Michael Bloomfield” is a tribute to the late guitarist and Fletcher really captures his sound well on this extended instrumental, which also features Wasserman and Welch solos, bringing a spectacular disc to an appropriate close.

Simply put, if you happen to see a new Mannish Boy release, whether online or in a record store, you can rest assured before you even hit “Play” that you are getting the blues at its very best, played by some of the genre’s finest musicians. Wrapped Up and Ready continues that tradition… that we hope doesn’t end any time soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Ronnie EarlRonnie Earl & the Broadcasters have set the standard for instrumental blues bands for over 25 years. Earl (guitar), Lorne Entress (drums), Dave Limina (keyboards), and Jim Mouradian (bass) have developed an almost seamless rapport, which enables them to play their brand of the blues (mixing in a healthy dose of jazz and soul) in a style that’s endlessly inventive and intense.

For their eighth album on Stony Plain Records, Good News, Earl and the band invited a few talented guests --- singer Diane Blue and guitarists Zach Zunis and Nicholas Tabarias. The guitarists show up right away on the opening cut, “I Met Her on That Train,” engaging in a good-natured cutting contest as each takes a sweet solo over the propulsive train rhythm. The other originals include the title track, a gospel-inspired romp penned by Earl and Limina, both of whom are showcased, and the minor-key “Marje’s Melody” features Earl and Tabarias.

“Blues For Henry” is a heavenly slice of Chicago blues (written by Earl and the late Hubert Sumlin), and “Puddin’ Pie” explores the Windy City side of the blues further. Both feature some great interplay between Earl and keyboardist Limina. Neal Creque’s “Time To Remember” finds the band exploring the jazz side of the blues with excellent results.

Blue, who appeared on Earl’s previous release, Just For Today, shares her lovely, soulful vocals on four tracks, notably a standout take on Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come,” where she more than holds her own. She also shines on the exquisite slow blues, “Six String Blessing,” and the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells composition, “In The Wee Hours,” though the bulk of that 11 minute piece is devoted to Earl and Zunis’ expressive fretwork. The closer, “Runnin’ In Peace,” is a mournful blues with a great, mournful vocal from Blue and some piercing guitar from Earl.

Ronnie Earl recently took home the Best Guitarist award at the Blues Music Awards in May, and there are few who are as deserving as he was. He has compiled a body of work over the past 30 years as a solo artist and previously with Roomful of Blues that puts him in the upper echelon of blues guitarist. Good News is indeed that for Ronnie Earl fans and blues guitar fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Too SlimToo Slim and The Taildraggers roared out of the starting gate 28 years ago and they haven’t eased up on the throttle very much since, gaining a huge number of fans in that time span based on their relentlessly energetic shows and 18 uniformly excellent recordings. Too Slim (a.k.a. Tim Langford) is a triple threat with his rugged, passionate vocals, his often-brilliant songwriting, and his dazzling guitar work.

For the past 15 years, Slim and company have recorded on the Underworld Records label. The recently released two-disc set, Anthology, features the best of his work for Underworld, 31 total tracks, plus three new tracks, produced by Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, Joe Louis Walker), who also was behind the helm for Slim’s previous release, 2013’s Blue Heart.

I like the way the set is split up, with the first disc focusing more on harder, more rock-edged fare, and the second disc taking a more serene approach with an acoustic and bluesier edge. The 17 tracks on the first disc include a pair of new tracks…..”Wishing Well,” a sweaty, atmospheric rocker, kicks off the disc in great style, and the boogie shuffle, “Little Gun Motel,” gives Slim ample space to stretch out on slide guitar. The previously released tracks, like “Stoned Again,” “Mexico,” “Devil In A Doublewide,” “Wash My Hands,” and “Been Through Hell” rock hard and relentlessly, both musically and lyrically, but the last two tracks on the first disc, “Wish I Was Fishin’,” and “She Sees Ghosts,” are a bit lighter sort of set the pace for the next disc..

Disc two begins with the uplifting “Everybody’s Got Something,” with an inspirational lead vocal from Curtis Salgado. Some of the other highlights on this disc include the incredible acoustic instrumental, “La Llourna,” which features Slim solo for three minutes of slide guitar heaven……if this gorgeous track doesn’t raise goose bumps, check your pulse. Jimmy Hall contributes lead vocals on the slow blues, “Good To See You Smile Again,” and the gospel tune “The Light” features a stunning vocal turn from Lauren Evans, as does the third new song is on disc two, the haunting ballad “Big Ole House.”

Anthology is loaded with top notch performances, no question about it. However, the one thing that it really shows well is just how versatile an artists Too Slim really is. These songs run the gamut from blues to Americana to rock and a whole lot of soul and it all blends together seamlessly, thanks to the amazing talents of Tim Langford and his always excellent band. Longtime fans will love it because it features so many favorites on one collection and newcomers will certainly get their ears full and will be wanting to hear more when they’re done.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy T - Nick NixonAndy T & Nick Nixon’s debut release, Drink Drank Drunk, made several Top Ten lists for 2013, and it was well-deserved. Guitarist Andy Talamantez’s crisp guitar and Nixon’s powerhouse vocals, plus peerless production from Texas guitar legend Anson Funderburgh made that disc one worth seeking out as a prime example of great contemporary blues that didn’t turn a blind eye to the original source. Now the duo has returned for their second effort on Delta Groove Records, Livin’ It Up. Funderburgh also returns as producer this time around, but there’s more of a focus on original tunes, with ten new songs along with three covers.

Funderburgh is an appropriate fit for this pair because their approach is very similar to the Funderburgh/Sam Myers combination that was such a formidable pairing for over 20 years. Talamantez’s clean and crisp fretwork, paired with Nixon’s robust vocals are a potent combination. Nixon wrote or co-wrote most of the original tunes, including the rousing opener, “Baby Right Now,” the Jimmy Reed-based “Best In Town,” the downhome “Back Down South,” “Snake In The Grass,” and the supremely soulful “Love At First Sight.” Other originals include the Texas blues ballad, “Good Man,” and the swampy “Last To Leave.”

The three cover tunes include the Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson title track, which features a sharp vocal from Nixon, “My Baby Is Now On My Mind,” a T-Bone Walker track from his early ’50s Imperial Records days, and a strong take on Alvin “Shine” Robinson’s “Whatever You Had You Ain’t Got No More,” which features some stinging guitar and a ragged, but right vocal from Nixon.

Throughout the disc, Andy T lays down some of the tastiest guitar work you’ve heard in awhile, never a note out of place, just where it needs to be. The player he most reminds me of is Clarence Hollimon with his sharp, economical leads. His playing is standout from start to finish, but he really gets to take center stage on the cool, calm, and collected instrumental, “One Note Shuffle,” duking it out with Larry Van Loon on B3 and Dana Robbins on sax.

Livin’ It Up will certainly please those who enjoyed Andy T and Nick Nixon’s previous release. With its solid set of original tunes, a dynamic lead singer and guitarist, and excellent production from Funderburgh, chances are good you’ll be hearing more about this release during Awards time at the end of the year.

--- Graham Clarke

The Andy T – Nick Nixon Band were recently here in Colorado and I headed down to catch them perform a complete show for a change. Their new disc, Livin’ It Up (Delta Groove Records) had just come in the mail and I used that as an opportunity to tease them. Given that their last disc was entitled “Drink...drank...drunk,” I thought the appropriate name for this one should be “Throw up…get up…do it all over again.” Andy, Nick and I shared a good laugh over that and then they proceeded to tear the roof off of the Boulder Outlook. Nick has one of the great voices in Blues today and Andy T’s guitar playing is beyond reproach. Let’s give their new disc a spin.

The band kicks off with the up tempo “Baby Right Now” and Nick’s voice is front and center. He’s in love and having a tough time living without her. “Come back baby…I’ve got to see you…all I do…is weep and cry…come back baby…baby right now.” Andy’s guitar kicks in and I can tell by his fretwork that I’m in for a treat. Having seen the band live, I know how tight they are and I’m happy to be along for this ride. Christian Dozzler adds his harp to the mix and Nick delves into the virtues of a dishonest woman as he segues into “Best in Town.” “I tried to leave you…and forget you…I tried real hard…to put you down…but I stick with you, baby…cause…you’ve got the best in town.” I think we’ll leave it at that but needless to say, Nick is at least happy for the moment anyway..

His tone changes as he tells us about a woman he’d be happy to be without in “Livin’ It Down.” “She’s living it up…and I’m trying to live it down…just when I got it together…it’s all about to come unwound…she’s out there living it up…and I’m trying to live her down.” Andy jumps in with a nice solo and Larry Van Loon chimes in on his keyboards while I’m really hoping Nick finds his way out of this mess he’s in.

The shoe is on the other foot and Nick’s in love this time as the band tackles “My Baby is Now on My Mind.” “She’s been gone four weeks today….at some town in Tennessee…I wish I was somewhere, baby…where I could get you back to me.” It sounds like she’s left for good this time and Nick is missing her big time. We move on to “Good Man” and Andy starts us off with a very passionate guitar solo as Nick chimes in, “Going fine…going fine…get yourself a good man…catch you when you fall…come when you call…go and find a good man.” Good men are hard to find and Nick is telling the woman in question to be selective and find herself a good man to hang onto.

Larry Van Loon’s at the B3 this time with Dana Robbins on the sax as the band segues into the instrumental “One Note Shuffle.” This is a veteran band that’s been together awhile now and their musicianship really shines through on “One Note Shuffle.” The tempo slows down a tad and Nick is telling us about his decision to go “Back Down South.” “It ain’t nothing wrong…with living up North…down South is my real home….you, know the blues took me away from there…and now it’s taking me back to where I belong.” Nick’s true roots are in the South and he’s very happy to be heading back home.

Larry’s back pounding the keys and Nick decides to tell us about the “Last to Leave.” “First to walk in…last to leave…everybody’s wondering…what’s he got up his sleeve.” The “first to walk in” doesn’t always get what he wants but at least the good folks in the club are talking about him. The band moves on to “Let’s Say It’s For Good” and Nick is admonishing a woman for always envying the grass on the other side. “There’s something you ought to consider…as you cakewalk…into town…you think you done caught…something a little bit better…baby, I think you should…but every time you leave…you say it’s forever…this time, let’s say it’s for good.” Nick’s had enough and she can go check out the greener grass on the other side for all he cares.

This theme of manipulation continues as Nick sits down to tell us about the “Snake in the Grass.” “He’s waiting in the weeds…he’s got his eyes on you…his blood is cold…he’s the Devil’s son…when you see him coming…you’d better run…he’s nothing but…a snake in the grass.” Wise words from a man who’s seen it all and you’ll listen if you know what’s good for you. Nick moves on to wrestle with what to do with his woman in “Whatever You Had You Ain’t Got It No More”. “You don’t love me no more…that’s why, baby…you’ve got to go…whatever you had…child, you ain’t got it no more.” Nick’s woman is messing around, lying to him and whatever the attraction was…she aint’ got it no more.

“Oh Baby” finds Nick back in love and he’s sharing it with the world. “Oh, baby…I miss you…oh, baby…I need you here by my side…I think of other things to do…so my mind won’t be on you.” Nick’s got it bad and when his woman is gone…he’s beside himself until she returns.

The final cut on the disc is a nice, slow, piano driven ballad entitled “Love at First Sight.” “Sit right down beside me…whisper in my ear…tell me that you love me…that’s what I like to hear…there couldn’t be nothing better bout you…because you look so good to me…they say…looks sometimes will fool…I just love you…can’t you see…it was love…at first sight.” A true love song and I find it interesting that my favorite tune on the disc ends up being the last one.

I can’t say enough about the musicianship and vocals that exist on this record from the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band. They’re a veteran unit and their familiarity with each other and the style in which they blend everything together is impeccable. Nick’s a living legend going all the way back to the days of the Imperials and Andy T can play guitar with the best of them. Throw Anson Funderburgh back into the mix as the producer of this disc and it’s another fine release from the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band. They’re touring all year in support of Livin’ It Up and I highly recommend you catch them live. It was a real treat for me and I’m sure it will be for you as well.

--- Kyle Deibler

David VestAlabama-born boogie-woogie piano man David Vest has been playing professionally since the late ’50s, touring at 17 with Jerry Woodard and the Esquires (some of whom went on to became members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Horns), backing Big Joe Turner at 21, working the southern gospel circuit, writing Tammy Wynette’s first recorded songs, touring with Faron Young and Red Foley, and much later sharing frontman duties in the Paul DeLay Band. You might say he’s covered a lot of musical ground in his lifetime.

Now based in Canada, Vest has released Roadhouse Revelation (Cordova Bay Records), an outstanding collection of boogie-woogie and blues piano. Backed by The Willing Victims (Gary Kendall – bass, Teddy Leonard – guitar, Mike Fitzpatrick – drums/percussion), Vest tears through a dazzling set of ten irresistible originals and one well-chosen cover.

Trains are a familiar theme in boogie-woogie piano, and Vest revisits the theme with a couple of tracks, the aptly-titled opener, “Freight Train Rolling” and the relentless instrumental “Santa Fe Steamer,” which gives a nod to boogie-woogie keyboard pioneers like Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, and Albert Ammons. “Stand Your Ground” is a crunching blues-rocker, and the live track, “Heart Full of Rock and Roll,” follows that same rocking vein.

For R&B fans, there’s the tender ballad “You Came Through,” a nice showcase for Vest’s vocal talents, the lovely “Streetcar,” and the Crescent City-styled “Gone Too Far,” and “Crooked Politician,” a song Vest started co-writing with DeLay and later completed after DeLay’s death. Vest also shows he can play the blues on a couple of great tracks, a wonderful cover of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” and his own “That Happened To Me,” a standout autobiographical country blues. The closing track, “Pretty Things For Anne,” is a brief jazzy instrumental that you’ll wish lasted a bit longer.

Roadhouse Revelation is a wonderfully diverse set of boogie-woogie, rock & roll, blues, and R&B that will prompt listeners to hit “Replay” a few times. It looks like fifty-plus years of plying his trade is starting to pay off for David Vest and the rest of the world is catching up to his musical gifts.

--- Graham Clarke

David Michael MillerDavid Michael Miller grew up in Buffalo, New York, raised in the church singing gospel music, though he was also inspired by blues and soul music as well. In the mid ’90s, he began playing gospel music with a band called Painted by Moses, before venturing into roots music, first with a band called Beautiful Bones, and most recently with the band Dive House Union, which has built a big local following and competed in the I.B.C.

Miller has a voice that just oozes with soul and is a fine guitarist and songwriter as well. For his debut solo release, Poisons Sipped, he ups the ante by adding the Campbell Brothers (guitarists Darick and Chuck and drummer Carlton) to the proceedings, along with keyboardist Jim Ehinger (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal), and several other noteworthy musicians from the Buffalo and Rochester areas. The result is an album that powerfully blends soul, R&B, gospel, and blues in equal doses.

The opening track, “Hand Me Downs,” features some sizzling lap steel guitar from Darick Campbell and Miller’s gritty vocals are complemented well by the backing vocals by Serena Young and Jasmine Neeley. “Edge Of The End Of The World” is a smooth R&B track augmented by saxophone from Barry Abrogast. “Memphis Belle” is a real highlight, a stunning slow blues track with an amazing vocal from Miller and sweet pedal steel work from Chuck Campbell.

“Hope Finds A Way” is a blues rocker with some nice guitar work from Miller, and “Moonshine” is jazzy R&B with a strong Miller vocal and a breezy rhythm. The rocker “Spent” brings back Chuck Campbell and he really helps make a great track even greater with his pedal steel. “Carolina Steel,” a lovely ballad, teams Miller’s soulful vocals with Darick Campbell’s understated lap steel. “Careless” is an acoustic effort that gives Miller an opportunity to strut his stuff on guitar, with accordion backing from Ron Davis, and “Diggin’ On Bill” features jazzy keyboards from Ehinger and horns from Abrogast and Stephen Jacob Mclean, Jr, along with some stinging lead work from Miller.

“Once” turns on the funk and should get a listener or two moving on the floor or in their seat. “Movin’ On” is a pretty straight blues rocker with a relentless beat, and the closer, “Extraordinary,” sounds like ’70s era R&B, with a emotional vocal from Miller.

Trust me, if you’re a fan of blues or soul music, then you pass up Poisons Sipped at your own peril. David Michael Miller will impress with his grasp of soul and blues vocal styles and while the presence of the Campbell Brothers on several tracks doesn’t hurt one bit, it’s quite clear that Miller is more than capable of carrying the show himself. This is a blues and soul tour de force and deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Dudley TaftFor blues-rocker Dudley Taft’s third solo release, Screaming in the Wind (American Blues Artist Group), the guitarist traveled to Nashville to work with producer Tom Hambridge, who has had the magic touch working with artists like Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, Susan Tedeschi, and Johnny Winter. Hambridge co-wrote a couple of tracks with Taft and played drums as well. Taft also recruited former SRV keyboard player Reese Wynans to play with his regular band members John Kessler (bass) and Jason Patterson (drums).

The disc opens with a scorching cover of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” one of only two non-originals. The other is the second track, a funked up version of Freddie King’s “Pack It Up,” featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns in support. The blazing “Red Line” is next, showcasing some excellent fret work from Taft. The ominous title track started out as an instrumental track Taft composed for the American Blues Scene website, but Taft and Hambridge added lyrics with impressive results.

With its rock melody, “3DHD” has a bit of a ’60s feel, but Taft really soars on guitar. “I Keep My Eyes On You” is a funky rocker, and “The Reason Why” is a strong ballad with strong guitar and nice keyboard backing from Wynans. “Rise About It” is a gritty blues-rocker with a Southern Rock edge to it. “Barrio” is a mellow tune that Taft sings with a lot of soul and complementary vocal backing from the McClary Sisters. “Sleeping In The Sunlight” has a country rock swagger to it, and the final two tracks, “Tears In The Rain” and “Say You Will,” are a bluesy ballad and mid-tempo rocker, respectively.

Dudley Taft has taken in a lot of music styles over his career, growing up in the Midwest listening to rock, blues, and country, playing hard rock and blues rock with a number of bands, and mixing those styles into his own unique brand of blues, along with enough Seattle-styled grunge and grit to make things interesting. Screaming in the Wind should be required listening for any blues rock fan worth his salt.

--- Graham Clarke

Planet Full of BluesFor Planet Full of Blues’ second release, Hard Landing, the group recruited Jim Gaines to produce and engineer the project, which is never a bad idea. This blues-rock trio previously gained a lot of attention with their 2008 self-titled debut, and this follow-up should garner even more notice. This time around, there’s a more basic focus, featuring only the band itself (Johnny Ray Light – guitar/vocals, Brock Howe – drums/vocals, Ron Dameron – bass/backing vocals) in a stripped-down setting.

Light provides the bulk of the vocals, ranging from the opening track, “Big Mouth, “a solid blues-rocker, “So Special,” “So Special,” a modern blues track with a deep funky backdrop, the Windy City blues-styled “Mashed Potatoes and Gravy,” “Open Your Eyes,” an up-tempo R&B track, the slow blues, “I Had A Dream,” and the hill-country rocker, “Snake Lady.” He demonstrates some impressive vocal range and guitar work as well.

Howe’s vocals include “Busboy,” a Texas-flavored rocker, “Big Bright Light,” best described as a country-soul tune, and “Felt Like A Tourist,” a straight-up rock & roll track. The hard-driving instrumental, “Shugrue Shuffle,” closes the album on a high note.

All in all, Hard Landing is an exceptional sophomore effort for Planet Full of Blues, featuring some great tunes and performances.

--- Graham Clarke

Colleen RennisonColleen Rennison has been acting since she was a child, appearing in various movies and television series since the mid ’90s in the U.S. and Canada. More recently, she’s served as lead singer for the Canadian band, No Sinner, noted for their frenetic live performances, and Rennison’s raw, raucous vocals. However, her debut solo recording, See The Sky About To Rain (Black Hen Music), is a definite change of pace from her previous musical forays, with the talented singer threading her way through a wide range of musical styles.

Rennison has an amazing voice that is as comfortable doing Stax-based soul (Robbie Robertson’s “All La Glory,” replete with Wurlitzer and three-piece horn section), bluegrass (Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner”), and country (“Whiskey, Whiskey,” and Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy,” channeling Patsy Cline on the Leonard Cohen tune, “Why Don’t You Try”). She’s an ideal mix of tough and tender on these tracks, doing a standout job on Tom Russell’s “Blue Wing,” and “Stage Fright,” another Robertson cover, and a daring re-do of Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote.”

Not that Rennison needs a lot of help with the set of pipes she’s packing, but several tracks also feature the lovely backing vocals of the McCrary sisters (you wonder if they ever sleep these days), and Steve Dawson serves as producer and plays…..let’s see…..electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, National Steel, dobro, electric slide guitar, pump organ, banjo, pedal steel, mellotron, weissenborn, and mandotar throughout the disc. As on his own release, using vintage recording equipment gives the disc a warm and comfortable feel and is the perfect background for those wonderful vocals.

See The Sky About To Rain was part of an ambitious week-long session by Dawson that will eventually yield five different albums for five different artists, and also features the musical talents of Darryl Havers (keys), Geoff Hicks (drums), and Jeremy Holmes (bass). If you were, like me, pretty impressed with Colleen Rennison’s contributions to No Sinner, prepare to be blown away by her performance on this outstanding solo effort.

--- Graham Clarke

Kelley HuntKelley Hunt’s roots are showing on her sixth release, The Beautiful Bones (88 Records). The Kansas City singer/songwriter/keyboardist grew up listening to blues, jazz, soul, R&B, pop, and gospel records, and some of her influences include Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Wanda Jackson, Professor Longhair, Ruth Brown, and Chuck Berry. Berry’s piano player Johnnie Johnson took young Hunt under his wing when they began sharing concert bills in the ’90s. One hears a lot of these influences on the 12 tracks featured here, in the performances and the songs themselves.

The upbeat R&B of “This Time” opens the disc in great style, and “Golden Hour” has a gospel flair to it as Hunt’s robust vocals are complemented by the backing vocals of the McCrary sisters. “Let It Rain” is a dreamy R&B track with a strong vocal. “Release And Be Free” is pure gospel soul, with more great backing from the McCrarys, and Hunt’s performance would surely make Aretha proud.

The title track is a lovely R&B ballad, with an excellent vocal turn from Hunt. “Gates of Eden” has a southern soul feel, with some shimmering guitar work from former Bob Dylan guitarist John Jackson. The ballad “I Want You There” features a great heartfelt vocal from Hunt and a nice pop-styled melody with a sax solo from Mitch Reilly for good measure. The disc ends as strongly as it began with “The Sweet Goodbye,” an outstanding slice of Memphis soul with Hunt’s vocals and piano front and center.

In addition to the McCrarys, Jackson, and Reilly, Hunt gets first-rate support from drummer Bryan Owings, B3 players Mark Jordan and Tony Harrell, bass player Tim Marks, and trumpeter Jon-Paul Frappier. I love it when an album comes out of nowhere and blows me away and that’s what The Beautiful Bones did. It will do the same for you and rest assured that you will want to hear more from Kelley Hunt.

--- Graham Clarke

The NighthawksThe Nighthawks, now in their fifth decade of performing and recording, find themselves on a new record label, EllerSoul Records. Their formula for success hasn’t changed, however. 444 offers a great mix of originals and covers that span the blues, rock & roll, and Americana. Longtime fans are familiar with the line-up --- drummer Mark Stutso is the “newbie” with five years of service, guitarist Paul Bell and bassist Johnny Castle are decade-plus veterans, with founding member Mark Wenner still going strong at well over 40 years.

The opening cut, the Du Droppers’ “Walk That Walk,” is a marvelous surprise, mixing rock & roll and doo-wop for a cool change of pace. The Nighthawks all pitch in on the vocals here and it’s a lot of fun. There’s more rock & roll in the Elvis Presley vein, as the band covers a pair of Presley movie tunes, “Got A Lot of Livin’” and a swampy take on “Crawfish,” and the Everly Brothers’ “Price of Love,” presented here in a rocked-up version with some sizzling slide guitar from Bell. The title track also rocks hard.

Of course, the blues are never too far away from the scene with the Nighthawks. “Livin’ The Blues” is a laidback blues shuffle, and “Nothin’ But The Blues” is a splendid slow blues. “No Secrets” is a fiery blues-rocker with more great slide work. The group also turns in an acoustic cover of Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues,” that will remind listeners of the band’s award-winning release (Last Train To Bluesville) from a few years ago.

The Nighthawks always provide listeners with an excellent survey of American music and its myriad sources and influences. Bum Phillips once said of Earl Campbell, “He may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call the roll.” The same applies to the Nighthawks, and 444 is the latest in a long line of top notch releases. They just keep getting better and better.

--- Graham Clarke

Alistair GreeneThe Alastair Greene Band has backed a number of blues artists in the studio and on stage since their formation in 1997, notably James Harman, Mitch Kashmar, and Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser. Guitarist/vocalist Greene has also backed Alan Parsons since 2010, and has appeared on recordings by Aynsley Dunbar and Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket). The band has also released five albums (four studio, one live) of their muscular blues-rock since 2002. Their latest, Trouble at Your Door, is their first for Eclecto Groove Records.

The disc offers a dozen tracks of high-energy blues-rock, with Greene’s superior guitar work front and center. On tracks like the searing opener, “People,” “Back Where I Belong,” and the southern rocker “First Born Son,” his slide guitar work is superlative. On other tracks like the James Gang-styled title track, the countryish “Love You So Bad,” the hard-charging “Last Train Around The Sun,” “The Sweetest Honey,” and “Make The Devil’s Day,” Greene’s fretwork is equally strong.

For a change of pace, there’s “Red Wine Woman,” which finds Greene tearing up a National Steel guitar, “Calling For You,” a moody ballad, complemented by Erik Norlander’s fluid keyboards, and the funky “Pretty Price To Pay.” The album’s lone cover is a good one, an intense version of Michael Burks’ “Strange Feeling.”

After a few years of transition, the AGB seems to have settled into the trio of Greene (guitar/vocals), Jim Rankin (bass), and Austin Beede (drums). Norlander plays Hammond organ on a pair of tracks, and Sean McCue lends harmony vocals on “Make The Devil’s Day.” Trouble at Your Door and Alastair Greene have plenty to offer blues-rock fans with this excellent new release.

--- Graham Clarke

Christopher DeanOn Call Me Later, the third release from The Christopher Dean Band on Lost World Music, the singer/guitarist continues his dynamic exploration of traditional Chicago blues and Southern soul/blues, a combination that you rarely see with up and coming artists these days, who tend to stick to the more rock-edged blues sounds. Dean, who worked with Big Jack Johnson in the mid to late ’90s, really demonstrates his versatility as a singer and a guitarist on 14 tracks, four originals and ten covers.

As on his previous releases, Dean’s choices in cover tunes range from the Southern soul/blues of Mel Waiters (“Got My Whiskey”), Johnny Rawls (“Red Cadillac”), and Omar Cunningham (“Hell At The House”), to the funky R&B of Van McCoy (“On And Off,” a hit for David Ruffin), to straight traditional blues from Muddy Waters (“Crosseyed Cat”) and Willie Dixon (“Same Thing”). He handles all of these styles with ease and charm.

This time around, however, Dean ups the ante a bit by including several acoustic tracks into the mix. He recreates the old Bobby “Blue” Bland hit, “Share Your Love,” on acoustic guitar accompanied by Jess Wilkes on flute, and breathes new life into classic blues tunes from Lonnie Johnson (“Get Yourself Together”), Robert Johnson (“Honeymoon Blues”) and Blind Blake (“Leadhearted Blues”).

Dean also contributes four original tunes, including the soulful and touching “Fall Never Came,” the R&B-fueled “Now I’m Glad,” the funky “Woman On Loan,” and “Believe For Just A Day” has a pop/soul feel.
Call Me Later will certainly charm fans of traditional blues and soul/blues with it’s diverse mix of well-chosen covers and solid originals. It’s obvious from his performance that Dean loves the material, and you will feel the same way after listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Michael PackerLate last year, Michael Packer released I Am The Blues – My Story, a mixture of songs and narrative that told his personal story, including his early recording career in the ’60s and ’70s and his subsequent fall from grace due to drug addiction, which resulted in prison time and homelessness. Packer has been clean for nearly 20 years and has become a respected member of the NYC blues scene, having been inducted into the NY Blues Hall of Fame in September of 2011.

Recently, Packer released Volume 2 of I Am The Blues – My Story, which is now collected with Volume 1 as a double CD set from Iris Music Group. Packer picks up the story at the time of his release from Riker’s Island Prison and recounts his time living on the streets in Staten Island, sleeping on the Ferry at night, and his subsequent rescue and resetting of his life and musical career.

He also discusses his long friendship with Honeyboy Edwards, and his role as New York ambassador to the Blues Hall of Fame striving to get recognition for many other New York blues artists that are equally deserving. From listening to Packer, it’s obvious that he realizes he was able to get a second chance that many others like him didn’t get or didn’t take advantage of, and he’s determined to make the best of it, both for himself and for others. He says in the introduction of Volume 2 that he’s not telling his story to romanticize any of it, but to serve as a warning for others in the hope that they will avoid the path that he took.

As on the first volume, the new disc mixes music with narration very effectively, with original songs from Packer and his band, Free Beer, and his Blues Band that fit closely with the stories being told, including a couple of highly personal tunes, “Recovered Soul” and “Good,” describing his spiritual rebirth. He also covers the B.B. King standard, “The Thrill is Gone,” following his narrative of the events he witnessed during 9/11, and a wonderful duet with Edwards, “61 Highway.”

In closing Volume 2, Packer reprises his “Mr Packer,” which opened Volume 1, reasserting that he does indeed have a right to sing the blues. Once you listen to both volumes of I Am The Blues – My Story ---and if you’re a blues fan at any level, you should --- you will agree that he does. His life is a story of struggle, survival, and revival.

--- Graham Clarke

Shawn AmosShawn Amos, the son of Wally “Famous” Amos and R&B singer Shirlee May, grew up in L.A. in the ’70s, when his dad, also an agent for William Morris, was booking popular R&B acts of the period. He grew up to produce and perform with artists like Solomon Burke, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and releasing his own recordings as well. He was bitten by the blues bug and has recently issued a six-song EP called The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It (Put Together).

Amos, who is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, sings and plays harmonica and is backed by Don Medina (drums), Chris Roberts (guitar), and Ed Terrio (bass), with help from Anthony Marinelli (B3), and Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough (vocals). The six tracks consist of four covers and two originals written by Amos --- "(The Girl Is) Heavy,” an interesting track that moves from hard rocker to funky shuffle, and “Sometimes I Wonder,” a nice R&B track with a strong vocal from Amos.

The covers include a smoking version of Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues,” that even has guitarist Roberts playing through a Leslie a la Buddy Guy, and the Who’s “I’m The Face,” which reinterprets the rocking original into a classic Chicago-styled burner. An ethereal take on Elmore James’ “Something Inside of Me” showcases some shimmering, stinging guitar from Roberts, and Amos channels Wells once again on a fun reading of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

Indeed, the Reverend Shawn Amos does “tell it” on this release. The only complaint about this album is that there’s not nearly enough of it. Hopefully, we’ll get a full taste of the good Reverend’s testifying very soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Little MikeAll The Right Moves (ELROB Records) is an appropriate title for the latest release from Little Mike & the Tornadoes. The new album reunites Little Mike with the original incarnation of the Tornadoes, guitarist Tony O, bass player Brad Vickers, and drummer Rob Piazza. All have gone on to make their own mark in the blues genre, but it sure sounds great to have them back in the same studio again (along with piano man Jim McKaba), doing what they do best --- playing those old-school blues in the classic Chicago style.

The Windy City vibe is present from the very beginning with the opening cut, “Hard Hard Way.” “Since My Mother Been Ill” is a slow blues burner with some great guitar from Tony O and a nice vocal turn from Little Mike, “(I Got) Drunk Last Night” has a strong West Side feel, and “Sam’s Stomp” is a torrid instrumental with some fiery harp from Little Mike. The title track is Chicago through and through, with some solid interplay between Little Mike, Tony O, and McKaba.

There’s also “So Many Problems,” which is Chicago with a touch of Excello rhythm, and “Blues Is Killing Me” an excellent boogie track. “All The Time” is a change of pace with its funky backbeat (compliments of Vickers and Piazza) and Little Mike’s playful vocal, and “I Won’t Be Your Fool” is a relentless jump blues with some scorching harp from Little Mike. The closer, “Close To My Baby,” is a groovy slice of Jimmy Reed-styled blues.

If you’re a longtime fan of Little Mike & the Tornadoes, you know what to expect from …All The Right Moves --- a disc of exceptional, well-played Chicago-style blues from a band of seasoned veterans. However, this recording will appeal to any fan of traditional Windy City blues. It’s great to hear the original band making music together again like they’ve never been apart.

--- Graham Clarke

Billy PierceBilly Pierce is a slide guitarist based in Wilmington, Delaware. Now, you may not be familiar with him, but his song, “Take Me Back To The Delta,” won the Big City Rhythm And Blues Magazine’s first round CD Sampler Contest in 2013. He also travels with a pretty impressive group of friends, many of whom are lending him a helping hand on his new CD, also entitled Take Me Back To The Delta. They include a host of New Orleans and Louisiana-based artists such as fellow slide wizard Sonny Landreth, Cajun fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux, Charlie Wooton of Royal Southern Brotherhood, piano man Johnny Neel, and the Bonerama Horns.

Pierce is a more than capable vocalist, but his slide guitar playing is the real star of the show here, as he blazes through 11 diverse tracks that mix blues, rock, soul, R&B, and Zydeco. Highlights include the rocking opening cut, “Happy Home,” the rugged title track, which features Pierce and Landreth in tandem, “Cajun Boy Blues,” the moody “Rooster,” the poignant story song “Tojo,” and the funky “Big Joe,” with it’s insistent second-line rhythm.

Pierce also shows good taste in cover tunes, with a really nice take on the classic “Key To The Highway,” which includes the Bonerama Horns and Johnny Neel on piano, the Hank Williams masterwork “Jambalaya,” with Thibodeaux on fiddle and Henry Ramato on accordion, Johnny Sansone’s “Give Me A Dollar,” and Landreth’s “Zydecoldmobile,” with Thibodeaux, Neel, and Steve Ruth on accordion. Pierce also pays tribute to Landreth on the splendid instrumental, “Song For Sonny,” another track with Thibodeaux.

On Take Me Back To The Delta, Billy Pierce, with a little help from his friends, successfully captures the swampy feel and authenticity of the Gulf Coast blues and R&B. This is the real deal, folks. The only way it could be more real would be if it came with a bowl of gumbo.

--- Graham Clarke

Dave SpecterI find it interesting that Dave Specter’s latest release on Delmark Records, Message In Blue, is the label’s first blues release on vinyl since the 1991 release of another Specter record, Bluebird Blues. Dave is an extremely talented instrumentalist who leaves the vocal work on his disc to Otis Clay and Brother John Kattke. The result is a tasty mix of instrumentals and vocals with something for everyone. Let’s give it a listen.

The first cut up is the guitar-driven “New West Side Stroll.” Dave’s got a top notch band behind him and I’m enjoying the rawness of his guitar work. It’s got just the right amount of “bite” for me to appreciate, and we’re off and running as Brother John chimes in with some righteous B3. Otis is at the microphone and the band gets after “Got To Find A Way.” Otis is in fine form and I’m enjoying another great vocal from one of the finest soul singers of our time. “I can’t stand…being alone…without your love…I can’t go on…but, baby…please hear my plea…and bring your love on home to me.” Dave and Otis definitely nailed a great version of this classic Harold Burrage tune. Otis continues at the helm as the band tackles “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” and the tune is intended as a tribute to the late, great Bobby “Blue” Bland. Dave’s intensely emotional guitar playing echoes the pain in Otis’s voice and the tune is a beautiful homage to Bobby.

The title track, “Message In Blue,” is the next instrumental track on the disc and I find it to be intensely passionate in a way that’s hard to describe. Dave does a great job of conveying the emotion intended for this track and I’m appreciative of the outstanding instrumentalist that he is. Horns come into play and Brother John is at the microphone for “Chicago Style.” A European tour favorite, “Chicago Style” pays homage to all of the greats who have come before on the Chicago Blues scene. “Muddy Waters…and Otis Rush…Sunnyland Slim, they had the touch…Willie Dixon and Mighty Joe…there’s not a song they didn’t know…from the west side…to the magnificent mile…Blues had a soul…they called Chicago style.” Up-tempo and aggressive, “Chicago Style” is a great tune and much appreciated. Otis is back on the vocals for an outstanding version of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found a Love.” “I found a love…that I need…oh, yea…I found a gift….that I just can’t resist…I found a love…oh, that I need…Lord, that I need.” This is Otis’s final vocal contribution to Dave’s record and it’s another great, impassioned performance from Otis.

“Funkified Outta Space” is the next instrumental track on the disc, and this one is heavily influenced by all of the great tunes from the Meters. It’s catchy, the B3 is jamming and Dave is testifying. It all adds up to a special cut and the band absolutely flat nails it. The band moves on to a Don Nix tune, “Same Old Blues,” and here we have Brother John tackling the vocal with gusto. “I can’t help…can’t help but thinking…when the sun used to shine…in my backdoor…now, the sun…has turned away…all my laughter…turned to pain…it’s the strain…strain of the same old blues.” I’m continually impressed by the band Dave has surrounded him with and Brother John gives a brilliant performance on this tune.

Up next is “The Stinger” and Dave plays a slow, emotional intro before the band turns the heat up with a Latin beat. The tune rocks and I’m definitely thinking about salsa dancing in my mind. A very delicate intro is provided by Dave as the band segues into “Jefferson Stomp,” and then takes on a swing country feel as Bob Corritore joins the band with his harp for this tune. Bob’s playing is tasteful and a welcome addition to the band on this cut.

A Lonnie Brooks tune, “Watchdog,” is up next and Brother John is testifying. “Your little brother…ain’t nothing but a watchdog…follows us everywhere we go…tells everything he knows…he’s a watchdog.” The date is obviously not going to go well with her little brother running this kind of interference so Brother John would probably be best served by just leaving the girl at home. There’s some serious saxophone at play as the band moves its way to another Latin influenced tune, “The Spectifyin’ Samba.” I’m really loving the saxophone and appreciating the slower rhythm found in this instrumental.

Bob Corritore returns for the final tune, “Opus De Swamp,” and here we find the influences of Pops Staples tremolo-styled guitar on Dave. Deliberately paced, I appreciate the diversity of all of the instrumental cuts that Dave chose to include on Message In Blue and the result.

Message In Blue is Dave’s 10th release and its noted that he considered singing a tune for the first time on this disc. I honestly think he should have gone for it since it’s the last frontier in terms of Dave’s own personal contributions to his music. This is a very strong recording and something new would have been appreciated. Maybe on the 11th.

--- Kyle Deibler

Deanna BogartDeanna Bogart was just here in Colorado, at Blues from the Top in Winter Park, and I was struck by the thought of how just two degrees of separation exist between most of us in the Blues community. I met Bobby Messano last May by virtue of Deanna joining him for a couple of gigs here and Deanna met producer Joe Michaels through Bobby. I met Joe through my friend Andy Shaffner and on it goes. No matter how you look at it though, Joe coaxed an amazing record out of Deanna for Blind Pig Records and I was more than happy to sit in the studio to see some of the magic happen. The end result is Deanna’s latest, Just a Wish Away, and it’s a good one. Let’s give it a listen.

Deanna starts out with “If It’s Gonna Be like This,” and we find her musing about the possibility that a random inability to connect might lead to a missed opportunity for a meaningful encounter. “Whiling away the time and thinking…was I too late or too soon…it’s a pity what we may miss…but it might just be over…if it’s gonna be like this.” One never knows and I continue to appreciate the muse of one Deanna Bogart.

Much of this disc was recorded at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, and that may have provided the impetus for our next cut, “Fine by Me Good Bayou.” The Bonerama horns make an appearance here that’s much appreciated as Deana spends time on the levee. “Hey you…what is it that we do…lay low…something only we do…say it ain’t so…Joie de vivre and a mite taboo…it’s fine by me if it’s good bayou.” The southern influence is good for Deanna and I appreciate the beautiful duet with Cris Jacobs that’s up next, “If You Have Crying Eyes.” It’s my favorite tune on the disc and the tale of two lovers caught in that space between wanting to stay and wanting to go. “And if you still love me…I’ll be around…Now, I can see by the look on you face…that you hurt…guess you wouldn’t be here…if you weren’t…it’s alright…cause you know it might be your night…and then again,…it might be mine.” While the question of the moment is never clearly resolved, what’s apparent is the love they have for each other, a feeling Cris and Deanna convey to perfection.

Next up is “Back and Forth Kid,” and I find myself pondering the sentiments behind the tune. It’s a song of a mother’s love for her child who spends time going back and forth with two divorced parents, a feeling the mother never wanted her child to experience since she was a back and forth kid herself. “Back and forth kid…nothing you did…all you wanted was someone wanting you…back and forth kid…all I wanted…when our world slid…that yours would never be…like when the back and forth kid was me.” It’s never an easy life for a kid with divorced parents and given that Deanna’s life as a single mom is well-chronicled, I can’t help but wonder if this is a song she wrote for her beautiful daughter, Alix.

The band segues into an instrumental, “Collarbone,” and it’s a perfect interlude after the emotional force I’m feeling from “Back and Forth Kid.” Joe assembled an amazing array of musicians behind Deanna for this disc and they more than do an admirable job on “Collarbone.” In perfect Deanna fashion we transition back into a tune with a frenetic feel to it in “Tightrope.” Here D’s back on the edge, trying to make it all happen and walking the tightrope is her way of getting it done. Deanna takes a wicked piano solo here and I’m appreciating her genius on the keys as she lets us know, “Lookin back in front of me…in the mirror’s grin…through the eyes of love…I see I’m really looking at a friend…we’ve all had our problems..that’s the way life is…walking the tightrope…trying to make it right…walking the tightrope…every day and every night.”

A very delicate piano introduction by Deanna takes us to “What Is Love Supposed to Do,” a tune that ponders Love and what it really means. “From nowhere she’d crossed his mind…wondering now that they’re older…what it is his arms might find…if he chose to play the part…where only he would hold her…what is love supposed to do…take a dusty memory and make it look new?” This theme of Love’s contradictions continues on in another beautiful ballad by Deanna, “Maybe I Won’t.” “Your hand is out there for me…but do we want enough the same…gotta admit that I’m pretty sure we don’t…so maybe I’ll write you…and maybe I won’t.”

Up next is the enigmatic “Conversing with Lincoln,” a song whose title was developed by producer Joe Michaels. I’m getting to hear some of Deanna’s beautiful sax work as she proceeds to relay to us her conversation with Lincoln. “Wanna sit by the water…in the sand by the sea…with the world in order…if it ever gets to be.” The 24 dollar question…will the world ever be in order? I’d like to know the answer to that one myself.

Deanna’s back at the keyboards as she and the band tackle a Sylvester Stewart tune, “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” The horns are back in full force as Deanna sings on, “I ‘cloud nine’ when I want to…out of school…county fair in the country sun…and everything its true…hot fun in the summertime.” A snare intro from Alvin Ford, Jr. and Deanna’s got her sax in hand for our final cut, “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Cris Jacobs contributes some very intricate fretwork to the mix and the end result is a very satisfying instrumental rendition of a classic Ray Henderson tune.

I’ve enjoyed Deanna’s latest effort for Blind Pig Records immensely. She continues to write some of the most compelling lyrics out there as a songwriter and I truly appreciate her musical genius, having spent some time with her in the studio at Scanhope Sound. It was a pleasure to watch producer Joe Michaels work his magic as well and I thank both Joe and D for the chance to sit in. Grab a copy of Just A Wish Away either from Deanna’s website or get her to sign one for you on the road. It’s definitely a welcomed addition to my CD collection, and it will be for you too.

--- Kyle Deibler

Janiva MagnessThrough the years I’ve come to understand that my friend Janiva Magness is a woman of many layers. The extent to which she peels back the layers and shows you the woman underneath is a measure of her faith and trust in you as a friend. I’ve been privileged to share a few special moments of Janiva’s career with her over the years I’ve traveled this Blues Highway, and they’ve evolved into fond memories of a friendship I’m blessed to have.

That said, I truly understand the courage and trepidation Janiva faced when she made the decision to part ways amicably with Alligator Records and release her new disc, Original,on her own Fathead label. There’s something about hanging your ass way out there that is at once empowering and frightening at the same time, a point I made to Janiva’s bass player, Gary Davenport, at the recent Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival. Now that Original has seen the light of day, Janiva can safely put her fears and anxiety away. This disc is a leading contender, if not the lead dog in the hunt, for record of the year and deservedly so. Let’s give it a listen.

Janiva starts the record off with, “Let Me Breathe,” a reflective tune on a relationship that ended inadvertently. This man was everything to Janiva and to see him walking out the door was a circumstance she didn’t foresee happening. “Standing there…I felt the air just leave the room…now I’m down here on my knees…let me breathe…Lord, I can’t catch my breath since the day he left…won’t you bring him home to me.” Janiva then segues into a tune of empowerment as she counsels a close friend in “Twice As Strong.” “Oh, hold on sister…I know better times are coming…and I swear it’s never hard as it might seem…just lift your head…got to see where you are going…and hold tight to all that you dream.” Life is for the living and you have to believe in the power of your dreams to carry you through the tough times. Hopefully Janiva’s friend is able to hang onto Janiva’s wisdom and grasp the lesson in hand.

This theme of a promise not kept carries on in the form of “When You Were My King.” “Sunday morning…you gave no warning…that you would break your word.” Mournful tone from Zach Zunis’s Strat echo the sadness in Janiva’s voice as she wrestles with the letting go of a man she loved so very much. “You swore you would never just walk out…100 times…100 times…I lived believing that our love would always keep us bound…just like you said….100 times…Sunday morning….you gave no warning….that you would break your word…but under your covers…under your skin…when we were lovers…when you were my king.” Moving on from the loss of a relationship this heartfelt is never an easy thing to do and Janiva’s grief over the end of this one is both tangible and real.

We move on to the up-tempo “I Need a Man,” and Janiva is on the prowl. “I swear I’m so tired…of ratting with the rage…look real close…there ain’t no doubt…you’ll see it on my face….give me one good reason…I’m alone….I need a man…I just need a man…just one good man.” Janiva’s a strong woman and the man who can hold her hand and walk the road she travels has a good chance of staying if he’s up to the task.” The band is in high gear and Matt, Jim, Zach and Gary don’t get enough credit for the excellent unit they’ve evolved into. Jim’s keys are in my ear as the band slows it back down and Janiva settles in to tell her man “Everything is Alright.” “Don’t you worry about wind or rain…or lonely nights…just as long as you’re here with me….everything’s alright.” Janiva’s a fighter and regardless of the circumstances the two of them are facing…their faith and persistence will see them through.

I hear a strong bass line from Gary next in the background as Janiva tackles the tune “With Love,” a beautiful duet sung with Dan Navarro. “He’s a sold out one-man show…he knows how to be alone…still his hand is trembling…hoping she’ll pick up the phone…and then she says hello…and the sun shines through…and love…writes their name across the sky.” Dan does a wonderful job of conveying the anxiety of a man beginning a new relationship and this duet with Janiva is one of my favorite tunes on the new disc.

“Mountain” is the name of our next cut and Janiva’s trying to face the potential end of her current relationship head on if it is indeed ending. “Don’t have to tell me your sorry…don’t want to hear that no more….darling, please don’t lie…I could leave with some piece of my pride…let me walk down this mountain…before the mountain comes down. The playing of Jim on keys and Zach’s guitar form the tender context for the sadness of Janiva’s need to at least salvage her dignity from the end. She doesn’t need to hear the reason…doesn’t need to dredge through the details…just let it go and walk away.

Janiva is indeed a complex woman but one thing she isn’t is a victim and we hear that loud and clear in the anthem “Who Am I.” “Who are you to tell me I’m wrong…I’m not wrong…who are you…you think that it’s up to you…well, you’re not that strong…who am I…I’m just the one who loved…the one who held you when you cried…I was the one you felt there…by your side.” Janiva’s strength continues to shine as she puts a man in his place in “Badass.” “Now, I’ve met a lot of youse before…and I left a lot of youse…I guess you’ll be one more…you think you’re badass….you think I’m waiting around…but I’m not…no I’m not.”

Janiva’s empathy for the human condition continues on as she looks to console a friend of hers through the heartbreak she’s experiencing in “The Hard Way.” “I’m here to tell you friend…that this is not the end…even the strongest of hearts will break…there will be those days…that feeling won’t go away…you might need someone to talk to…well, just call me anytime…baby, we can talk all night…baby, you know I’ll always be here for you…some things you just learn the hard way.” Very few things in life are harder to deal with than the effects of a break up on your heart and Janiva’s been there, done that and willing to share the lessons learned with the friends she care about.

Janiva continues to show the strength of a woman who’s choosing to walk her own path through this whole experience, and "Standing" is a fitting final cut on Original, a tune she wrote with David Darling, “I am standing here…even though I’m scared…if you’re coming back…I am prepared.”

I said at the beginning that Original is a leading contender for record of the year and I truly believe that. Rarely does an artist in the Blues genre take the risks, both professionally and personally, to expose as much of their heart and soul as Janiva does on this disc. She had a hand in writing seven of the 11 tunes, and all of the cuts on this disc are original songs. I know personally how hard it is for Janiva to reveal this much of herself to the world, but I’ve also seen firsthand in Flagstaff how empowering it is for her to perform these songs for her fans. She was more relaxed and in touch with the hearts of her fans there in a way that empowered Zach Zunis, Matt Tecu, Jim Alfredson and Gary Davenport to comfortably play their best behind her.

Now that Original has made it to the light of day, all that’s left for Janiva to do is go out into the world and play her songs. Enjoy your just rewards, my friend. Lord knows, you’ve earned them.

--- Kyle Deibler

Selwyn BirchwoodDamn, will someone please tell me what the hell got into Selwyn Birchwood? I’ve followed his ascent in the IBC to the point where it culminated in a band victory in 2013, but I can honestly say there was no way I was prepared for the aural assault that greeted me when I hit “Play” to give his new disc on Alligator Records, Don’t Call No Ambulance, a spin. I can honestly say Selywn’s new disc blew all of my expectations out of the water. It’s a credit to his dedication to his craft and his stellar band behind him that Selwyn produced this gem of a record. I’ve honestly not been this surprised by a disc like this in several years, and it was very astute of Bruce Iglauer to sign Selwyn to his label. But enough of that, let’s get to it.

A blistering guitar lead from Selwyn takes us into the first cut, “Addicted.” Selwyn’s got a love problem and it’s not getting any easier. “Addicted to your love, baby…I just can stop…can’t quit you baby…you’re my favorite drug.” Given Selwyn’s description of the girl, it’s easy to see why. “Knee high boots…cherry lips…mini skirt….I just can’t resist.” I’m guessing this is a drug problem that isn’t going away any time soon. We move on to the next cut, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” and this tune has a hill country feel reminiscent of R.L. Burnside. “Lord, I feel so good baby…I feel like falling down…don’t you call no ambulance…Lord, I’ll find my own ride home.” Selwyn’s fretwork is spot on and his hill country roots are real.

Our next cut, “Walking in the Lion’s Den,” has a macabre sense to it that gets my attention as a completely different vibe from Selwyn and the band. “Lord, I’m walking in the lion’s den…shaking the hornet’s nest…Lord, rattling the tiger’s cage…and I ain’t done nothing wrong.” Regi Oliver’s sax comes chiming in and lends itself well to the tale that Selwyn is telling.

One of Selwyn’s mentors and friend, Joe Louis Walker, lends his slide guitar to the mix in “The River Turned Red.” “Well, I’m damned if I do…and I’m damned if I don’t…I wonder if it’s still worth fixing…or too far broke…we had a good thing…once upon a time…but now that crystal clear water…is as red as wine…the river turned red.” Not sure that this woman is the one for Selwyn but he’s still considering the option as he lays a blistering guitar solo on us to enjoy.

“Love Me Again” makes its appearance as the first ballad on Selwyn’s disc and I appreciated the change. “I was a fool…in the past…I didn’t know, Lord just what I had…but long as you’re gone…and talk is cheap…spend my whole life saying…I’m sorry…let the rain fall…so my tears don’t show…can you find the strength…to love me again?” It’s a beautiful song and Selwyn is doing the best he can to win back the affections of this woman he loves. Probably my favorite cut on the disc, and well done, Selwyn. The band then cranks it back up and Selwyn throws in some blistering lap steel in “Tell Me Why.” “Why we fill our hearts with hatred…for our fellow man…tell me why we pave the land with blood….time and time again…tell me why…why…why.”

Some smooth harp from RJ Harman provides the intro for our next tune, “Overworked and Underpaid,” a condition most of us have experienced at one time or another. “Labor til the evening…til all my energy gone…double overtime…won’t pay me an extra dime…a change has got to be made…I’m overworked and underpaid.” Another ballad rears its head in the form of “She Loves Me Not,” and Selwyn is definitely in love with the girl in question. “Well now I see…oh that you’re killing me…I can’t believe that…that this is my reality…that she loves me…but now she loves me not.” Regi Oliver’s saxophone is back in the mix and he’s playing some tasty licks that I really appreciate as Selwyn tells us his current tale of woe.

The keyboard talents of Dash Dixon are added into the mix and Selwyn’s guitar provides the intro to the next selection, “Brown Paper Bag.” A tale of despair, Selwyn’s problems can all be traced to what’s in the brown paper bag. “Wine and women…oh, my favorite sins….no I didn’t realize…what kind of trouble I was in…I cashed my paycheck…just to pay my tab…oh, the troubles that I have…from that brown paper bag.” The brown paper bag has done in many a man Selwyn and you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. A funky beat leads us to our next track, “Queen of Hearts,” and it’s a refreshing segue from “Brown Paper Bag.” “Got me hanging on…by a silver string…have me waiting in line…just to kiss your ring…but I know I’m a joker…playing the fool…for the queen of hearts.” Regi’s baritone sax is front and center now and I continue to be impressed with the talent that Selwyn has surrounded himself with in his band.

Regi’s sax continues to figure prominently in the mix as he provides the introduction to “Falling From the Sky”. “Ain’t it a pity…when all hope is lost…stand at the edge…and wish that you would fall…with a handful of liquor…and a heart that’s full of ache…with tears in your eyes…as you make your way…Lord, you’re falling from the sky.” “Falling From the Sky” is a true tale of despair though it isn’t exactly clear who Selwyn is singing about in this tune.

More lap steel guitar from Selwyn provides the intro for the final cut on his disc, “Hoodoo Stew.” “A full moon smiled on that giant pot…oh, the smoldering fire…was bubbling hot…the hoodoo man dancing round and round…that hoodoo stew made of skull and bone.” That’s probably all the ingredients anyone needs to know in terms of the contents of the Hoodoo Stew and the important thing is that Selwyn was able to play the Hoodoo Man a tune and avoid being the final ingredient in that bubbling pot.

Enough can’t be said about Selwyn Birchwood’s first release for Alligator Records. He has an amazing band behind him in the form of Curtis Nutall on drums, Donald “Huff” Wright on bass, and Regi Oliver on saxophone that can damn near play anything he throws at them, and the songs on Don’t Call No Ambulance prove it.

This is an impressive release indeed for this Bluesman from Florida and I’m looking forward to the next chance I get to see Selwyn live, wherever that might be. In the meantime, you can grab a copy from Selwyn on his website or on the road given that his tour schedule is impressive. Well done, Selwyn. The future of Alligator Records is in good hands with the impressive talents of Selwyn Birchwood and label mate Jarekus Singleton.

--- Kyle Deibler

Alvin LeeAlvin Lee was already a legend in 1978, the charismatic Ten Years After front man having taken Woodstock and the music world by storm a decade earlier with his breathtaking solo on "I’m Going Home," also a highlight of this show. Preferring a power trio as he did towards the end of his career, Alvin teamed up briefly with the talented, thunderous drummer Tom Compton and nimble, mesmeric bassist Mick Hawksworth.

From the opening bars of "Gonna Turn You On" from Live at Rockpalast 1978 (Repertoire), this electrifying three-piece, billed here as Alvin Lee & Ten Years Later, makes Cream sound like Peter, Paul and Mary. The performance is a barnstorming avalanche of classic songs including "Hey Joe," "Rip It Up," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Choo Choo Mama," and features Lee’s superb blues harp playing and swaggering vocals on "Help Me."

Compton and Hawksworth deliver pyrotechnic solos and Lee is the consummate showman throughout, plucking his guitar strings with a drumstick using the microphone stand to create slide effects. This beautifully packaged, re-mastered DVD/CD set has excellent sound and picture quality and is a fitting tribute to Alvin who prematurely passed away last year. Gibson had just nominated him the best ever musician to play one of their guitars ahead of Clapton, King and Berry. High quality releases like this enhance Lee’s reputation even further and much credit goes to his family, Evi, Jasmin and Suzanne, for keeping his flame burning brightly, hopefully for an eternity.

This review of Alvin Lee & Co's Live from the Academy of Music, New York 1975 is unique because Alvin is the first musician to feature on the innovative, subscription-based Digital White Label platform launched in May. Over a 12-month period, a previously unreleased collection of audio tracks is downloaded, alongside a variety of other exclusive material accessible on-line, all for the price of a single CD.

The first two songs already released from this live gig are "Let’s Get Back" and "Got To Keep Moving," and whilst they are both from Alvin’s Live In Flight double album of 1974 they are very different in this new format. This is because these are extended, live performances from what was clearly a memorable night in New York, and the fact that the bass and keyboard players for this 1974-75 world tour were the sensational Steve Thompson and Ronnie Leahy respectively. Neither artist was featured on In Flight, but who can forget Steve’s thumping, mesmeric riff on John Mayall’s classic blues/jazz number, "California?"

Leahy, of course, found fame with Stone The Crows and Jack Bruce. The band also includes iconic former King Crimson members Mel Collins on flute and saxophone and the late Ian Wallace behind the drums. Thompson and Wallace are in perfect rhythmic synergy on both tracks, whilst "Let’s Get Back" highlights Leahy’s exquisite keyboard skills.

Not surprisingly, in the 15 minutes of music so far, Alvin’s powerful vocals and trademark blistering, inventive and incisive guitar solos steal the show. And this is just the aperitif, as other tracks to be released include "Time And Space" and "There’s A Feeling." The prospect of hearing new versions of these with Alvin and the band on fire is mouth watering.

Thanks to expert mastering, mixing and executive production, the original tapes are transformed into a crystal clear, high quality recording which is superior to any live album I have heard from that period. With more of Lee’s personal drawings, newly released photographs and memoirs to come, together with the ongoing interactive blog, it is unlikely that owning a CD will ever be the same again. As one Alvin Lee fan commented: “It is like celebrating Christmas every month.” Given the outpourings of grief and universal respect for the legendary musician who passed away far too early at the peak of his creativity, this commemorative package is an important legacy.

--- David Scott



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