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July 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Diana Rein

Heather Newman

Nancy Wright

Mary Lane

Arlen Roth

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson

Eric Jerardi

Tiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson

Nick Schnebelen

Rockin' Johnny and Quique Gomez

Dennis Brennan

The Vegas Strip Kings

Dirty Red and The Soul Shakers


Diana Rein

Three years ago I reviewed the first album, Long Road, by southern California guitarist Diana Rein, remarking then that I was looking forward to seeing how Rein developed as both an artist and a songwriter, concluding the review by saying, "She's certainly got the potential for greatness." Fast forward to 2019 and we now have a very strong follow-up album, Queen Of My Castle (Gulf Coast Records). On her debut disc she had the formidable task of playing all of the instruments as well as singing, but this time around she's backed by producer Michael Leasure on drums, Dave Osti on bass and Drake Munkihaid Shining on keyboards, plus a whole bunch of background vocalists.

Rein kicks off the album with a mid-tempo blues shuffle, "Yes I Sing the Blues," a bit of an autobiographical introduction while laying down the first of many smokin' blues guitar chops. She also sings about herself on the title cut, an up-tempo blues shuffle on which she sends that man away by singing, "... I'm the queen of my castle, and you'll never be king ..." Rein does some of her best guitar playing, handling both the lead and rhythm parts, on "One Foot In," telling perhaps that same man that she caught him being unfaithful.

As much as I like Rein on guitar, it's her vocals that tantalize me the most, especially on the light-hearted romp "Get Down" where she shouts out powerful vocals over wah wah guitar riffs. I mentioned in the review of Rein's previous album that at times her voice took on the same quality as that of a young Emmy Lou Harris, and we hear that again on the slow country-ish tune "Chill of the Night" and on "Time's Ticking Away." Shining contributes a very nice organ solo on the former tune, while Rein lays down a strong guitar lead on the latter as she seeks to inspire the listeners to be better people while there's still time to do so.

Rein pays tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan on the driving blues rock number "Pure Soul," with her vocals showing more range and, of course, she's hitting all of the right notes on her guitar. Another keeper is the 12-bar blues "I Can't Quit You," with Rein again demonstrating her versatile skills on both guitar and vocals. She knows that she should be getting away from that "devil in disguise" but just can't bring herself to leave.

It's worth noting that all 15 cuts on Queen Of My Castle are original compositions, making Rein a triple threat --- guitarist, singer AND creative songwriter. Like before, I'm looking forward to hearing what's next from Diana Rein. Let's hope it doesn't take another three years for album number three.

--- Bill Mitchell

Heather NewmanKansas City-based singer / bassist Heather Newman is back with her second very fine album, Rise From The Flames (VizzTone), showcasing vocals that contain plenty of sass and attitude. Still only in her 20s, Newman is one of the many young blues artists on the rise as shown here on 13 original numbers. Backing Newman is her regular band, including Keith Ladd on guitar, Ryan Matthew on keyboards and percussion, and Adam Watson on drums. It's a tight ensemble, especially highlighted by Matthew's organ and piano playing.

There's a wide variety of styles heard on Rise From The Flames, with the more soulful numbers being my favorites. Most notable are the two numbers on which a horn section is added --- the brassy "Coming Home" and the funky Memphis-style tune "Cheapshot." The horns inspire Newman to add a lot more power to her vocals. The closing number "That's All" is nice bit of anthemic tune that really showcases her ability to be one of the next new soul singers on the scene today.

But that's not all. Newman and the band also show their jazzy side, especially with Matthew's piano accompaniment, on "What Goes Around," as she tries to figure out where her relationship is going. "... Here we are at the gates of hell, where we go from here nobody can tell ..." Ladd comes in with a nice guitar solo around the song's halfway point.

There's also plenty of blues on the album, most notably the slow shuffle "She Sure Looks A Lot Like Me," with Newman injecting an extra dose of sass as she sings about who her ex-man is now dating. Ladd throws in some hot blues guitar licks on the funky blues "You Mean To Tell Me," with Newman's voice absolutely soaring across the octaves. On the slow blues "Water and Wine," Newman tells her man in no uncertain terms just what he needs to know, with Matthew laying down solid organ accompaniment. Still another hot slow number is "His Soul," on which Newman shouts out the blues with plenty of extra emotion.

The youthful Newman has a lot of room for growth in her career, but with this album as well as her debut disc from last year she's certainly is off to a fantastic start. Rise From The Flames will most likely show up on a lot of Top Ten lists at the end of the year.

--- Bill Mitchell

Nancy WrightNancy Wright has been around the blues scene for over 30 years, with the last couple of decades spent in the Bay Area. She's played with a lot of notable artists, a list too long to even begin documenting. While she's appeared on quite a few albums as a supporting artist Wright has also found time to record as a headliner, with her fourth album being a live performance, Alive & Blue (Direct Hit Records/VizzTone). The session took place in late 2018 at The Saloon in San Francisco, recorded by Robby Yamilov and mixed by Kid Andersen, both of Greaseland Studios fame.

Alive & Blue is a nice set of live blues showcasing both Wright's instrumental prowess on the sax as well as her powerful, bluesy vocals. Rounding out the band is Paul Revelli on drums, Tony Lufrano and keyboards, Jeff Tamelier on guitar and Karl Sevareid on bass.

One of the stronger cuts is a version of Allen Toussaint's New Orleans classic, "What Do You Want The Girl To Do," with nice guitar work by Tamelier. Also in a Crescent City vein is the opening instrumental, "Bugalu," giving Wright the first chance to show off on her horn, and then she does her best singing on the Irma Thomas hit "In Between Tears," with her vocals soaring over a funky beat.

Wright's version of Lazy Lester's Excello hit "Sugar Coated Love" varies drastically from the original as it's made into a rollicking shuffle. The mid-tempo blues "Been Waiting That Long" gives Wright a chance to shine on vocals and with a red-hot sax solo, plus Tamelier gets to show off on guitar. Lufrano contributes a nice piano solo on Jay McShann's up-tempo rockin' blues "Keep Your Hands Off Of Him."

Alive & Blue is certainly an appropriate title for this CD, because you get more than an hour of red hot blues that was recorded live. Sound quality is very good, with the crowd noise evident but not intrusive. Recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell

Mary LaneChicago Blues Hall of Famer Mary Lane must enjoy taking her time between recordings. Her last album, Appointment With The Blues, arrived in the early 1990s, but she’s been a mainstay on the Chicago blues scene since the late 1950s. Now, the 83-year-old singer is the first artist to release an album on the new Women of the Blues label, recently started by Lynn Orman Weiss.

Lane’s new release, Travelin’ Woman, is so good that her fans won’t be willing to wait another 20-plus years for another release, with ten original tunes, nine written by Lane with producer Jim Trulio, who plays guitar and bass on most tracks.

The title track opens the disc and serves as an introduction to new listeners as Lane tells her story back to her early days singing the blues down south, backed by slide guitar from Louie Zagoras and sax men Terry Ogolini and Gene “Daddy G” Barge. The feisty shuffle “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” follows, with another sax legend, the late Eddie Shaw, playing harmonica. The uptempo “Leave That Wine Alone” features searing slide guitar from Phil Miller and cool background vocals from Simbryt Dortch and Yvonne Gage. Corky Siegel guests on harp for the jaunty shuffle “Some People Say I’m Crazy,” and the funky “Raining In My Heart” features Sam Butler on guitar with Miller again on slide.

“Let Me Into Your Heart” is an excellent soul ballad. Chris “Hambone” Cameron does a fine job with B3 and piano and Lane turns in one of her best, most heartfelt vocals on the album. The gritty shuffle “Ain’t Nobody Else” features Billy Branch on harmonica and Brazilian Indiara Sfair plays harp on the funky “Blues Give Me A Feeling.” Guitarist Dave Specter guests on the driving shuffle “Bad Luck And Trouble,” and guitarist Colin Linden and Lane collaborate on the haunting acoustic closer “Make Up Your Mind.”

One of the things to enjoy about Lane is that when she sings, it’s always about the song and not about the singer. There’s no over-the-top vocal acrobatics that sometimes get in the way with some of the current crop of vocalists. She has a smooth style that gets the message across, and the album is so much better for it. Here’s hoping that Mary Lane gets back to the studio as soon as possible to give us more top notch blues as heard on Travelin’ Woman.

--- Graham Clarke

Arlen RothMaster guitarist Arlen Roth has assembled an amazing cast of fellow guitar slinging greats for his latest release, Tele Masters (Aquinnah Records). Produced by Tom Hambridge, who also plays drums on the sessions, the album features Steve Cropper, Joe Bonamassa, Vince Gill, Albert Lee, Bill Kirchen, Brad Paisley, Jack Pearson, Will Ray, Steve Wariner, Jerry Donahue, Johnny Hiland, Brent Mason, and Redd Volkaert. Also appearing are lap steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, acoustic guitarists Billy Panda and Bryan Sutton, bassist Tommy McDonald, and vocalists Sweet Mikey C and Roth’s daughter, Lexie.

Tele Masters has something for guitar fans of every genre --- blues, rock, country, and pop. The lively opening track, “Remington Ride,” is an instrumental wonder that features Roth and Wariner with Cashdollar contributing lap steel. Pearson lends a hand on the classic blues “Key To The Highway,” also contributing a fine vocal to go with his excellent fretwork. Meanwhile, Cropper brings in a tune, "White Lightning,” co-written with Hambridge, “ a country-flavored track that also has a rare vocal from Cropper. The torrid instrumental “Bunky” finds Roth and Paisley playing at breakneck speed, while Link Wray’s “Rumble” does just that in the capable hands of Roth and former Hellecaster Will Ray.

Albert Lee and Roth do a wonderful job on an instrumental read of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson,” keeping the song’s basic pop appeal but giving it a real country feel with their guitar dynamics. On the country standard “Satisfied Mind,” Gill and Roth take their sweet time and produce a work of true beauty, but the pace quickens at a jaw-dropping pace as Roth and Brent Mason tear through Roth’s “Roadworthy.” Pearson plays and sings on his own “I Can Fix It,” a funky and soulful blues, while Roth’s daughter Lexie does a marvelous job on the classic “Tennessee Waltz” which is given a jazzy feel via Roth’s stately guitar solo and Panda’s acoustic accompaniment.

Bonamassa, Roth, and Pearson team up for Bonamassa’s inspired tribute to Albert Collins, “Joe’s Blues,” a collaboration that would have definitely left a huge smile on the late Master of the Telecaster’s face. Roth’s tribute to the late guitarist Danny Gatton, “Funky Mama,” is a thumping blues shuffle with a touch of country mixed in. Roth really brings the house down with his amazing cover of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” perfectly augmented by Cashdollar’s steel guitar; it's my own personal favorite track on the disc.

Bill Kirchen joins Roth for the new Roth original, “Tuff Tele,” and Jerry Donohue (another former Hellecaster --- trust me, if you’re a guitar fan, you MUST check these guys out) lends a hand on a rocking cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” with vocals from Sweet Mikey C. The album’s closer is a lovely composition from Roth and Redd Volkaert that deftly blends jazz and the blues.

For guitar fans, Tele Masters will a heavenly delight.

--- Graham Clarke

Colin Linden and Luther DickinsonAmour (Stony Plain) is the first collaboration (but hopefully not the last) between Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson. It’s a wonderful collection of vintage love songs from the blues, R&B, country, and folk genres. The session was recorded in Nashville, presently the home of Linden who serves as musician and music producer/director for the TV series Nashville, as well as producer of the disc. Linden and Dickinson join forces on guitar and are backed by a band called The Tennessee Valentines (Dominic Davis – bass, Bryan Owings – drums, Kevin McKendree – keyboard, and Fats Kaplan – violin/accordion).

Linden, Dickinson, and The Valentines are joined by a host of vocalists who give their all on these classic songs, including contemporary singers Rachael Davis, Ruby Amanfu, Sal Paladio, Jonathan Jackson, and legendary country music singer/songwriter Billy Swan. The latter still has what it takes as he sings his own “Lover Please,”  one of Clyde McPhatter’s biggest hits in the early ’60s and covered in the mid ’70s by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge. Paladio and Jackson are also cast members of Nashville, and Palladio sings Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” while Jackson sings the old Elvis Presley track “I Forgot To Remember To Forget.”

Nashville-based Davis turns in excellent performances on Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” and on the traditional “Careless Love,” a sharp instrumental version played by Linden and Dickinson opening the disc. Amanfu, born in Ghana but now based in Nashville, gives a stirring reading of Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times” and a soulful performance of the Chuck Willis classic, “What Am I Living For.” Linden ably handles vocals on two tracks: Roy Hamilton’s late ’50s R&B hit, “Don’t Let Go” (with backing vocals from Davis and Amanfu), and a fun take on Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling.”

Throughout the album Linden and Dickinson complement each other perfectly on guitar, giving the album a wide range of styles that touch on blues, country, soul, and even Cajun. As stated above, one can only hope that this won’t be their only musical collaboration. Amour is a sparkling set that should please music lovers of all genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric JerardiSinger/songwriter/guitarist Eric Jerardi’s latest album, Occupied (Niche Records), was recorded in Sheffield, Alabama and features the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section (David Hood – bass, Clayton Ivey – keys, Milton Sledge – drums, Kelvin Holley – rhythm guitar) and the Muscle Shoals horns (Charles Rose – trombone, Steve Herman – trumpet, Doug Moffet – saxophone). Produced by David Z, this exceptional but brief set features six originals from Jerardi, plus one cover tune by Jerry Lynn Williams and Jeff Healey.

I have to admit that I got a few goose bumps during the horn-driven intro to the soulful ballad “Do Right By Him,” which reminded me of the Dan Penn classic “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” maybe as an answer to the ’60s classic. Jerardi’s soulful vocals are complemented by some of his gritty guitar work on “Whole Again,” a smooth, mid-tempo blues shuffle speaking of redemption. “Don’t Take It Personally,” penned by Williams and Healey, is a sizzling funky rocker, while the title track is a superb soul ballad that would have been a great fit in the old Stax Records catalog of hits.

“Never Let The Old Man In” is a dose of swampy soul where Jerardi advises listeners to do what they can to stay young and vital, and “Deaf Lead The Blind” is a slow burning ballad. The album concludes with the poignant “In My Life,” a reflective pop-soul ballad reflecting on the singer’s life so far.

Jerardi’s vocals are tailor-made for this material, smooth and soulful with just the right amount of Memphis grit, and the backing vocals of Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker complement his own perfectly. His nimble guitar work gives the album an extra boost as well. Occupied is a most-welcome addition to the soul-blues genre.

--- Graham Clarke

Tiffany Pollack and Eric JohnsonTiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson met when Pollack was reunited with her biological family at the age of 25. Pollack got her start singing backup for her New Orleans neighbor Russell Batiste. She later formed her own band, Beaucoup Crasseux, and also sang in several other local bands. She left music to raise a family, working in the mortuary business for a number of years before returning to form her own jazz band.

Johanson has built a solid reputation and career as lead guitarist for Cyril Neville and Terrance Simien, as well as releasing his debut album, Burn It Down, in 2017 on Whiskey Bayou Records.

The duo recently released their debut collaborative effort, Blues In My Blood (Nola Blue Records), a tasty set of blues, soul, and roots recorded and produced in the Crescent City by Grammy winner Jack Miele, with musical support from Phil Wang and Miele (bass), Brentt Arcement (drums), John Gros (keyboards), Johnny Sansone (harmonica), Sean Casey (backing vocals), and the 504 Horns. The disc features seven originals written by Pollack and Johanson and four interesting covers.

The title track opens the disc, telling Pollack’s life story and her discovery of her biological family and the source of her musical roots, her emotional vocal backed by Johanson’s slide guitar. Johanson takes the mic for the moody “Memories To Forget,” also featuring Sansone’s subdued harmonica in support, and his slide guitar sears behind Pollack’s feisty vocal on the funky “Keep It Simple.” The haunting ballad “Michael” is a tribute to a fallen soldier told from the undertaker’s perspective, culminating with a jazz funeral procession from the 504 Horns.

Pollack and Johanson both sing on the topical rocker “Diamonds On The Crown” before Johanson turns in a dynamite reading of “No Expectations,” a wonderful take of a Jagger/Richards track from the Stones’ Beggars Banquet days, and Pollack delivers a sultry reading of Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You.” The blues rocker “Slave of Tomorrow” is a tough southern rocker with fierce guitar work, and “Get Lost With Me” is a terrific slice of urban blues. Joni Mitchell’s “River” gets a jazz-flavored treatment from Pollack before the album closes with an exceptional duet version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.”

Tiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson are certainly powerful artists individually, but when together on Blues In My Blood, they make beautiful music. Hopefully, this partnership will continue to do so for a long time.

--- Graham Clarke

Nick SchnebelenCrazy All By Myself (VizzTone) is Nick Schnebelen’s debut studio release, after releasing two excellent live releases over the five years following the dissolution of his family’s critically acclaimed band, Trampled Under Foot. The guitarist/singer bowls a strike with this spirited effort, featuring production from Tony Braunagel and solid musical support from a core band that includes Braunagel (drums), Mike Finnigan (keys), Hutch Hutchinson (bass), Johnny Lee Schell (rhythm guitar), and a host of guest stars.

Schnebelen wrote eight of the 13 tracks. The mid-tempo “It Ain’t Me,” the funky “Bad Dream” and the slow burner “I Leaned My Heart On You” were co-written with Braunagel, while the tasty shuffle “Holding On,” was co-written with Braunagel and D. L. Duncan. Duncan also co-wrote the boogie rocker “Ain’t Got Time For The Blues” and the bump and grind title track with Schnebelen. Duncan also ontributed the grungy Harley Davidson anthem “I’m A Fatboy.” Schnebelen co-wrote the moody ballad “Bad Disposition With The Blues” with Gary Nicholson, and the excellent “Soul Magic” with Jeff Paris.

There are also impressive covers: J.J. Holiday’s “Lil’ Death,” a scorching blues rocker, and Jimmie Wood’s “Alter Of Love,” a driving shuffle powered by Jason Ricci’s harp, before heading to the Chicago West Side for a soulful take on Magic Sam’s “Out Of Bad Luck,” and a fun redo of Delbert McClinton’s “Monkey Around.”

Schnebelen is a masterful guitarist and a powerful vocalist, and the band provides superlative support. Other contributing musicians include Paris (keyboards) Reggie McBride (bass), Heather Newman (backing vocals), Dave Knowles (guitar), Dustin Arbuckle (harmonica), Lionel Young and Ada Pasternak (violins), and Melody Perry (backing vocals).

It’s just a matter of time before Nick Schnebelen rises to the upper echelon of contemporary blues performers. Heck, based on the results of Crazy All By Myself, he’s well on the way now.

--- Graham Clarke

Rockin JohnnyRockin’ Johnny Burgin and Quique Gómez recently combined their musical talents to produce a most excellent set of traditional Chicago-styled blues with a modern flair. Guitarist Burgin has worked with Taildragger, Pinetop Perkins, among others, and has released several acclaimed albums on Delmark, while harp master Gómez has issued several albums of his own and has recorded with Willie Buck and Lorenzo Thompson. He also leads his own band, Quique Gómez & his Vipers, is a member of the Spanish band Gatos Bizcos, and also sings jazz and swing with the Bob Sands Big Band.

Burgin and Gómez’s collaborative effort is called Dos Hombres Wanted (VizzTone). It features a whopping 14 songs, 12 originals and two covers. The pair splits the vocal duties and are backed by Eric Przygocki (bass), Stephen Dougherty (drums), Josh Fulero (guitar), Greg Izor (harmonica), and Christian Dozzler (keyboards, accordion). Burgin wrote or co-wrote eight of the 12 originals, including the opener, “Your Charm Won’t Help You,” which rolls along effectively with Burgin’s guitar and Gómez’s harmonica complementing each other very well. Gómez’s mid-tempo “Tell It Like It Is” is equally effective with Burgin’s skittering guitar backing his fiery harmonica.

The catchy blues boogie “You Can’t Steal My Sugar” is from Burgin’s pen but Gómez handles the vocal, while Burgin sings on the Delta-flavored “The Jinx.” Robert Lockwood, Jr.’s “Funny But True” is the first cover, with Burgin capturing Lockwood’s rich guitar tone perfectly on this slow burner. Burgin’s “Ain’t No High Roller” is a funky rocking blues, and “Everybody Loves My Baby” is a fine Windy City blues.

Burgin co-wrote “Coffee Can Blues” with Ilana Katz Katz, a slow blues that features a particularly strong vocal from the guitarist who also provides a sharp guitar solo, and backed by mournful harp from Gómez. Izor contributed “Livin’ Day To Day,” on which Gómez steps up to the mic, and the harmonica master sings his own “Otro Hombre” (translated as “Another Man”), a great Spanish language blues shuffle.

Burgin’s “Step It Up Bro” is a funky blues given an old school Louisiana feel with Dozzler on accordion. “The Right To Hurt Me,” which Burgin co-authored with Wes Race, is a cool stop-time blues, and “Are You Ever” is a fast-paced jump blues that features guest Izor on harp. The album closes with a terrific cover of Tampa Red’s “Don’t Blame Shorty,” a nice relaxed shuffle.

This musical pairing is one that hopefully continues for a while. It’s been fun to watch Rockin’ Johnny Burgin develop over the years as he’s a fine guitarist, songwriter, and singer, and Gomez is an excellent harmonica player and a charming singers. Fans of traditional blues with a twist would do well to check out Dos Hombres Wanted.

--- Graham Clarke

Dennis BrennanHighly regarded in the Boston area as one of the city’s best singer/songwriters, Dennis Brennan has spent the last few years playing weekly with a band of fellow blues lovers called The White Owls (Andrew Plaisted – drums/vocals, Stephen Sadler – pedal steel/vocals, Tim Gearan – guitar/vocals, Jim Haggerty – upright bass/vocals, David Westner – organ). Brennan (vocals/harmonica), whose solo work spans a wide variety of styles, but falls neatly within the roots/Americana category, decided to put an album together, Live At Electric Ladyland (VizzTone), exploring the band’s take on the blues, reHeather Newmanding a dozen tracks, mostly covers, at Electric Ladyland Studio in Somerville, Massachusetts.

The release kicks off with a splendid mid-tempo read of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Cuttin’ In,” which showcases Gearan’s crisp fretwork, before ripping into Bobo Jenkins’ “Nothin’ But Love,” a faster-paced shuffle that finds Brennan’s fiery harp work complementing Gearan’s guitar perfectly. “Yes I’m Loving You” is a rockabilly raver from the pen of Big Al Downing, a perfect lead-in for the sweet slow burner, “End of The Blues,” penned by Gearan. Up next is a great cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Good Lover” and a zany take of a real oldie called “The (New) Call of The Freaks,” originally cut in the late 1920’s by Luis Russell And His Burning Eight.

The somber tale of regret, “Tangle,” was written by Brennan, Plaisted, and Haggerty, and “Three Kinds of Blues,” written by Sadler, is a swampy, atmospheric ballad. Willie Dixon’s ode to the good life, “I Live The Life I Love,” is faithfully recreated, the first of four covers that close out the disc. Other covers are a rocking take on Mose Allison’s “Foolkiller,” a fast-paced, swinging version of Leadbelly’s “I’m On My Last Go Round,” and the second excellent cover of the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” that I’ve heard this month.

Live At Electric Ladyland has the sound and feel of a band that is totally into the music that they’re playing, having a great time playing it and just deciding to record the session on the fly. It’s that free and loose quality that makes listening so compelling. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we hear from Dennis Brennan And The White Owls.

--- Graham Clarke

The Vegas Strip KingsThe Vegas Strip Kings’ roots can be traced back to the group Contino, who recorded Back Porch Dogma for Blind Pig Records in 2012. Two members of Contino, Billy Truitt (keys, accordion, lead and backing vocals) and Rob Edwards (bass), teamed with Al Ek (guitars, harmonica, vocals), Justin Truitt (drums, percussion), and BMA-nominee Jimmy Carpenter (sax, lead vocals). The band’s new release, Jackpot!, is a heady mix of blues, rockabilly, zydeco and Americana, consisting of nine originals and three covers.

The opening two tracks, “Rotgut Run” and “It Ain’t,” were both penned by the members of Contino for their album. The former is a thumping rockabilly boogie that might leave a mark, and the latter is a breakneck-paced rocker punctuated by Carpenter’s yakety sax and Ek’s pedal steel guitar. The mid-tempo “Jesus On The Dash” has a definite Tex-Mex feel thanks to Truitt’s lilting accordion, and “Lately” is a smoky after-hours ballad. Meanwhile, the Latin-flavored “Screeching Halt” features more accordion and Carpenter’s spirited sax, and “Take It Easy” is a ferocious update of a classic Willie Love song.

The upbeat “Back To You” has a unique sound, with Truitt’s zydeco-styled accordion and Ek’s pedal steel. “V8 Ford,” another Willie Love tune, gets a driving guitar-charged update from the piano-driven original, while the funky “Hold On” finds Ek blowing harp but also features a powerful sax break from Carpenter.

“Pawnbroker” mixes Cajun, zydeco, and swamp blues, and the shuffle “Life Of Me” deftly mixes country and the blues. Willie Dixon’s “Same Thing” gets the slow burning treatment, with the band stretching this one out to nearly seven minutes before the hard-charging closer, “Sharp As A Razor,” wraps the album up in slick rockabilly fashion.

Jackpot! is a very enjoyable album. The Vegas Strip Kings show a remarkable versatility with their sound, effortlessly bridging the gap between the blues, rockabilly, zydeco, and Americana. Fans who dig any of these genres will find much to satisfy them with this thoroughly entertaining disc.

--- Graham Clarke

Dirty RedDirty Red & The Soul Shakers represented Oklahoma in the 2018 International Blues Challenge, advancing to the semi-finals. The band is led by Dirty Red himself (a.k.a. Eric McDaniel – vocals/harmonica) and feature guitarist Ike Lamb, drummer Forrest Worrell, bassist John Stendel, and a potent horn section dubbed, what else, the Dirty Red Brass Section  consisting of Matt Blagg – trumpet, Kevin Webb – trombone, Chris Hicks – saxophone). Their latest release, Cloudless Day, was produced by Chris Hardwick, known for his production work with Watermelon Slim (Lamb and Worrell are both Watermelon Slim & the Workers alumni).

McDaniel wrote or co-wrote all but one of the ten tracks and they’re a glorious mix of rocking blues and soul, from the greasy funk of “Hot Sauce” to the horn-fueled “Creepin’” to the old school soul of “Touch Of A Woman” to the raucous fun of “The Party Don’t Get Started Till I Get Here.” “New Day Dawning” mixes swampy blues with twangy surf guitar, and “Sweet Potato Pie” has a southern rock feel, while the title track is a easygoing ballad.

“Hard Bad Habit” is a sturdy roadhouse rocker and “Pretty Boy Blues” is a slow burner that burns indeed with McDaniel’s tough vocal and harp, Lamb’s sinewy guitar work, and keyboards from guest Chris Wiser. The final track is a hard-charging version of the Willie Dixon/Sonny Boy Williamson classic “Help Me Baby.”
McDaniel has a gritty, feral growl of a voice that is perfectly suited for this brand of music and the band provides stellar support. Cloudless Day is a highly enjoyable album of modern hard-rocking blues meant to be played loud.

--- Graham Clarke



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