Blues Bytes

August 2001

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What's New

Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers When I heard that the greatest blues band on the face of the planet had a new release forthcoming after two torturous years of silence, I pestered my editor (the distinguished Bill Mitchell) for the chance to write the review for Beyond The Source (Tone-Cool), the latest from Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers. What I didn't take into consideration was the quandary I would encounter  ... what do you say about one of the most incredibly tight quintets in the history of blues music that hasn't been said a thousand or so times before? I found the answer to be a simple one ... say it all again and who cares if it's all been said before, 'cuz this sucker smokes! This is a typical Piazza & the Flyers album loaded with brilliant songwriting, fantastic musicianship, outstanding production and kick ass performances that are second to none. This time out these guys have delivered an album that captures the spirit and intensity of their live performances only in the studio, but with the crisp rough and tumble edge of their concerts. Produced by Rod himself and guitarist Rick Holmstrom, the 14 tunes are a mix of down to earth originals, exuberant jump tunes, barn burning boogie and smoky ballads served up as only Rod and The Flyers can. Upon my first listen of this smashingly good recording, I knew that trying to single out highlights was not going to be an easy task. So I'll just begin at the beginning with the red hot opening number. "(Who Knows) What's Going On" is a bopping shuffle that has Piazza's vocals being amped through his harp equipment and Bill Stuve laying down a bass line that seems to penetrate through your every nerve ending. "Twist City" is a cool cat groove that will put your hips in motion with its easy driving beat, and is followed up with a jumping jiving number, "Shim Sham Shimmy," that is going to crowd a few dance floors. Inserted directly into the middle of this album are a pair of tunes that epitomize this titanic ensemble. The first is "Shakin Hands With The Blues," a high voltage shuffling stomp that features some explosive harp work from Rod and a few exquisite chops from one of the most talented guitar players it's ever been my pleasure to hear, Rick Holmstrom. The second piece, "High Flying Baby," is a swinging number that is sort of hard to get out of your head, with a bit of a doo wop flavor to it and an outstanding piano solo from the lovely Miss Honey Piazza. On the more mellow side of things is "Lovin' Daddy Blues," a slow bluesy number filled with romantic "what ifs" and maybes, while the moody instrumental "Ghosting" is a piece showcasing the gentler side of Piazza's harp. Two other instrumental pieces adorn this blues party, one of which is "Reece's Boogie," a jazzy tune penned by Holmstrom that allows him to stretch out his fingers somewhat. Closing things out is a duet between drummer Steve Mugalian and the lightning fast ten fingers, that at times sound like 20, of Miss Honey flying through her original entitled "Miss Bee-Havin" that has been part of the live show for some time now and is thankfully recorded for posterity. Why this incredible piano player hasn't been the recipient of the Handy Award year after year for her instrument is beyond my comprehension. Meaning no disrespect to Pinetop Perkins, but I always thought awards were given for being the best that year not for longevity. Miss Honey is the best there is out there today --- period. Rod Piazza &The Mighty Flyers' place in blues history is already reserved, but their legacy continues to be written with Beyond The Source, a brilliant work who's timing was perfect. If I may borrow a quote from the liner notes, "Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers have set the standard for the modern blues band. They continue to raise the bar by which all others will be measured by and walk on it.' They are indeed, both individually and collectively, the blues elite. If there is a better blues band out there today I surely haven't heard them. Make this one a must have.

Deborah Coleman is an artist that could have very easily chosen a path into rock and roll instead of the blues. Instead she elected to combine the two, with the emphasis on the blues emerging victorious. Her fifth album, Livin' On Love (Blind Pig), is a very pleasant and listenable offering that would in my opinion see quite a bit of commercial airplay if such a thing as progressive radio still existet. What I really mean to say is that the tunes on Livin On Love have a very wide crossover appeal due to Deborah's hook-filled songwriting that matures with each passing release. The energetic title track is a classic illustration of this, punctuating Coleman's spirited guitar stylings and husky sweet vocals. Labelmate and one of my personal favorite guitarists, Jimmy Thackery, appears on three numbers adding his penetrating tone to the hopeful message of "Light Of Day," along with "Happy When You're Unhappy" and a hot solo on "Don't Talk In My Sleep." A cover of Mighty Mo Rodgers' "Heaven's Got The Blues" has a slightly dark outlook, but smolders with some fine guitar licks from Deborah coupled with her best vocals of the collection. Deborah gets a little funky on "You're With Me" and "Crazy," two of her six original numbers, along with a blazing version of Lowell Fulson's "Bending Like A Willow Tree." Joining Deborah once again on this outing are Billy Crawford on guitar and Marty Binder on drums. Handling bass duty quite adequately is an old friend from Deborah's first band, Debra "Nardi" Salyer. Adding background vocals throughout is the very underrated voice of Reba Russell. Livin' On Love is finely produced by Jim Gaines. The one problem I had with it was the length of the selections, as almost all of them had a running time of between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 minutes, giving it a more commercial type of sound and feel. Personally I'd like to hear Ms. Coleman expand and perhaps jam out a little more. That one factor aside, this is still an excellent album well worth a listen or two.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

Scott HoltThroughout the 1990s, Scott Holt, originally from Lawrenceburg, TN, was the Buddy Guy Band's secret weapon. At 19, Holt began playing guitar upon hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time. After taking lessons for a year and regularly practicing for eight hours daily, Scott's father took him to see Buddy Guy. After meeting backstage, a friendship formed that would last a lifetime, resulting in Scott joining Buddy's band at the tender age of 23. At the end of 1999, Holt quit Buddy's band to pursue a solo career. On Angels In Exile (Blue Storm Music), Scott severs the ties to his blues musical past, only glancing back occasionally throughout the disc's 12 tracks that last 55 minutes. This is the first Holt disc to contain original material. Eight of his own songs are included in this collection of fiery, hard rocking, pop grooves that mix rock with modern country. The tone of his six strings is impressive on every song and all the rhythms are catchy. It is rare to find an artist who is equally talented with his guitar playing, singing and songwriting. He is strongly backed by Geno Haffner (keys), Tom Larson (drums) and Keith Kenyon (bass). Greg Hampton does a fine job producing and was successful in capturing Scott's coarse energy, resulting in a disc with a clear, crisp sound. Holt is now based in Nashville and the influences of the Music City are obvious on the title track. It sounds like it may have been an outtake from the Rolling Stones' Some Girls sessions. Holt's southern drawl is Jagger-esqe on the song. Nonetheless, its the best original tune on the disc, including a wildly passionate guitar solo, and it should prove to be a huge hit on radio. He borrows a riff from SRV's "Cold Shot," and uses it as the driving force on "Too Far Gone." "Dress You Up" is a modern rock song in the vein of Pearl Jam, with chain-saw, rumblin', crunchin' guitar. A soft medley is interlaced with a power-chorded chorus on "Up In Flames." Guest musicians Paul Barrere and Billy Payne of Little Feat round out the sound on "Spanish Moon" and "Blind Willie McTell." On the former, they add enough funk to make it the best of the covers on the CD. Holt has a winner with this irresistible tune. The guitar work, piano playing and sheer energy will appeal to anyone who has a pulse. Scott gives it his all vocally on the latter. In fact, he delivers the lyrics as if Blind Willie was his all-time best friend. Things are toned down on the standard "Got A Mind To Give Up Living." Here, Holt's always pleasant sounding voice needs some grit to match the intense pain expressed with his guitar. He has the potential to soar to greater heights in the rock arena, and thus should be marketed for that field. If you were expecting a young protégé of the blues, you have come to the wrong place. If you have come to hear a wailing, scorching rocker who is destined to be on the next G3 tour, you won't be disappointed. Catch him in the clubs and at the festivals before your only choice is the nosebleeds at the stadiums. For CDs, booking and information, contact or

-- Tim Holek

W.C. Handy Nominees albumFor at least a decade, there have been yearly compilations of Grammy-nominated artists in rock, hip-hop and country categories. Well, what about the blues? The Blues Foundation, the Memphis-based organization that annually stages the W.C. Handy Awards ceremony (among many other functions), has decided to address this issue with The Blues Foundation Presents W.C. Handy Nominees, Volume 1 (Music Blitz Records). If the title of the album is unwieldy, the purpose it serves (to introduce some of the year's Handy nominees, from Shemekia Copeland to Eddy Clearwater, from Son Seals to Guy Davis, to a mass audience through a selection of the best from their most recent albums) is commendable. What's more, the music is great! Which is not to say that everything is perfect, but this is definitely a tradition in the making (if the "Volume 1" in the title means something) worth keeping. The biggest gripe I have (one which a newcomer to the blues or a casual blues fan, i.e. exactly who this CD is intended for, may not feel concerned with) concerns the choice of who to include (and who to exclude) on the album. While every single one of the artists featured here is entirely deserving (and I know I have to keep in mind that there are only 13 tracks that could fit), why is it that we get no nominee in the Soul Blues categories, nor in the Comeback Artist one, while we get four of the five nominees in the New Artist category? (The only ones missing in that category are the North Mississippi All-Stars, who happened to win it!). All five of the Best Albums of the Year category have one track featured, but only three of the five Songs of the Year (Shemekia Copeland's entry is NOT her Song of the Year winner, "It's 2 A.M.", but rather her duet with Ruth Brown, "If He Moves His Lips"). But these are only minor points that don't deter from the overall quality of this compilation. In fact, I'm surprised at how well the unidentified compilers have managed to come up with something this entertaining; if I was a blues neophyte, I would keep on listening to this CD. But hey! Even if you do own most of the albums from which these songs are culled, you should encourage The Blues Foundation, and there is one added bonus. Taj Mahal's song is a previously unreleased (until now available only as a MP3 file at "Honey Bee". Great cover art, too! (A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this CD goes to the Blues Foundation.)

The Siegel-Schwall Band were never as great, as innovative, as serious in their study of the blues, as that other mid-60s Chicago white blues band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Because of that, their legacy in 2001 is much thinner; for example, there's no mention of the band in MusicHound Blues: The Essential Album Guide. Still, for a time, this low-volume four-piece band played a major role in the discovery of the blues by the hippie/college crowd. Furthermore, even though they are now largely forgotten (especially when compared to Butterfield and his acolytes, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop), co-leaders Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall were every bit as honest and enthusiastic in their approach, and just as genuinely in love with the masters, especially Howlin' Wolf. The Complete Vanguard Recordings & More! (Vanguard Records) is a three-CD package that collects in their entirety the band's first four albums for Vanguard, plus six previously unreleased tracks. The first couple of these, including a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for my Darling," were recorded (under the name Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall Two-Man Blues Band) as demo tracks in 1965, within a year of their discovering the blues! Within a year, they were discovered by Sam Charters, no less, who produced their first three albums, a smooth but ragged self-titled effort in 1966, their big break-though sophomore album, Say Siegel-Schwall, which introduced them to the Fillmore audience, and the demo collection Shake! in 1968, which was then followed by a one-year hiatus. Though their sound was endearing (Schwall was using a battered and bandaged plugged-in acoustic guitar with a tiny amp, except when he played mandolin on "Bring It with You When You Come," and Siegel was an unorthodox but imaginative harmonica and keyboard player), they never achieved any success approaching that of ,say, Canned Heat. They sounded VERY white but didn't rock enough, they weren't great singers, and, well, they never really could pull off a slow blues without making it sound kind of boring. After the release of the slightly "more electric" and definitely more experimental (and partly live) Siegel-Schwall 70, produced by Bill Trout, they moved to the RCA imprint Wooden Nickel, where they released five more albums, before splitting and going in different directions. (Corky Siegel has been involved with his Chamber Blues project, fusing classical music and the blues, while Jim Schwall now teaches music). Since what they recorded at Vanguard happened so early in their career, you'll experience plenty of fine moments over the course of these three CDs. You probably won't be bowled over by instrumental tours de force, but their enthusiasm and fresh take on the blues is often clearly audible, and you'll find yourself grinning quite often. Unfortunately, there are no writer credits listed, which is a no-no in my book. Whether you should go out and buy this three-CD retrospective or try to find a used copy of 1991's Where We Walked (1966-1970), which collected the best of this material on a single CD, is something to decide between you and your accountant.

If you except the opening track, "Big Feeling," which goes for a somewhat bluesy pop feel (with funky Wurlitzer piano and soaring back-up vocals), Jeff Lang's latest album (his seventh), called Everything is Still, is a perfect example that less is more. Besides Lang's masterful acoustic guitar, acoustic lap steel, dobro and bottleneck guitar playing and his fragile yet insinuating vocals, only Angus Diggs' inventive drumming is heard, and believe me, nothing else would make sense. Lang is an acoustic folk-blues performer in his native Australia. His CD can be found on his web site (, but there's a chance it might be picked up for distribution in the States too. (In Canada, it is distributed by Bobby Dazzler Records). Like Kelly Joe Phelps or sometimes Chris Whitley, Lang straddles the line between modern folk and blues --- a minimalist but full acoustic sound, songs that fall outside any pre-set norms or patterns, with strong emphasis on instrumental dexterity, but never to the detriment of the overall song structure. In a word, he's really a singer-songwriter who happens to love the blues, eschewing typical blues song structure but "sounding" all old blues. It makes for a smooth, meditative listen that addresses the intellectual and poetic parts of your brain. After all, life is more than a series of hot electric Texas shuffles.

Like Lang's disk, Harry Manx' first album, a solo effort called Dog My Cat (Northern Blues Records), was also recorded live in the studio (with only his own harmonica overdubbed). This acoustic guitar player traveled to Europe and Asia, busking and perfecting his slide guitar playing. At some point, he fell in love with the music of Indian slide guitarist V. M. Bhatt, who collaborated with Ry Cooder on the 1993 album A Meeting by the River. Not content to study this recording, he traveled to India, met this musician and studied with him for a few years. Now back to his native Canada, Manx brought from these years in India a Mohan Veena (a sort of Indian harp) and a renewed commitment to the blues. Blessed with a throaty, old-before-its-time voice, a master of the subtle and delicate lap slide guitar and an above-average harmonica player, Manx delivers a strong set of originals mixed with some chestnuts (including two Muddy Waters tunes and the Jimmy Reed classic "Shame Shame Shame"), using the Mohan Veena once in a while to add spice to the recipe. In fact, the Mohan Veena is only heard on three short instrumental interludes, as well as during the intro and outro of the traditional "Reuben's Train." It sounds great, but our Western ears might not be ready for large doses of it. What they are used to is the slide, and this is a mighty pleasing sound. Is there a more expressive instrument in the world? This is one of those disks that create an atmosphere that you can ease yourself in, growing on you with every listen. Worth every penny if you can live without screaming electric guitar solos. I know I can.

Dawn Tyler Watson is an incredibly versatile singer, at ease (and able to wow any given audience, with her voice and with her looks), whether she sings R&B and old pop-rock favorites, funk and soul, jazz, and blues, of course (otherwise I wouldn't be talking about her here). She's got a regular Friday and Saturday gig at Biddle's, the oldest (and best-known) jazz spot in Montreal, singing with her quartet. She also performs regularly around town with The Jamm, a soul-funk outfit. She's also been busy, with many festival dates, with her blues project, the aptly named Dawn Tyler Blues Project. The only thing missing until now to spread her reputation beyond the horizon of Eastern Canada was a record --- something everyone kept bugging her about for the last three years. Well, this eagerly awaited first record has now been born. It's called Ten-Dollar Dress, and it's been released by tiny Preservation Records. (You can also visit her site,, for more info). True to her eclecticism, the CD shows the band performing in many different styles, from the riff-laden dobro-driven opening track, "Cigarette," to the slow minor key blues of "You Can't Be True," from the country gospel-ish "Hey Hey" (which will necessarily remind you of Neil Young) to the jump blues stylings of "Take It Outside." Similarly, Tyler Watson's voice is alternately sexy or menacing, showing emotional pain or outrage at life's injustices. Thematically, her lyrics (all songs, save the jazz-edelic version of "Purple Haze" that closes the CD, are originals) deal with the usual love matters (of the love-gone-wrong, addicted-to-love or have-sex-not-love varieties). But they also, on "Hey Hey," "Shoot the Devil" and "Abused," show a keen eye when talking about such social diseases as drug addiction, suicide and spousal abuse. With plenty of great sax solos, the occasional atmospheric guitar and subtle soulful funk, this is indeed an impressive debut. Watch out for this lady!

Sometimes, when you pursue a life-long passion, you end up places you never dreamed of going. Take Pete Fox, whose independent CD, Harp City Blues (on his own Satchfoxo Records), is the culmination of a 30-year love affair with the harmonica. Actually, you can use the plural here --- with harmonicas. This Long Island native and Florida resident has, through the years, built a valuable collection of rare and old harmonicas (some of which are pictured on his web site at, which he's put to use on the cover of his CD. Fox towers above his collection of vintage instruments, arranged to resemble a whole city of skyscrapers. (We can even catch a glimpse of something called a Rolmonica, at the bottom of the picture, with these words printed on the box, "The only player harmonica that plays with a roll. Anyone can play it!" Sounds like something made for me). Not content with collecting harmonicas (and being, for a few years, Muddy Waters' optician!), Fox also designs diatonic harmonicas with mutable keys, allowing him to play two notes at a time. Though his voice is not a great asset (it sounds like James Cotton's voice in recent years), Fox is a good harp player with a serious penchant for the classic Chicago sound. Except for the title track, an instrumental composition, all songs on the CD are covers, faithful and respectful, but played with gusto. Four titles come from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), two more from Little Walter, and one each from Howlin' Wolf, Snooky Pryor and Junior Wells, plus the moldy "Key to the Highway" (credited here to Brownie McGhee). From outside the classic Chicago realm are Lazy Lester's "Sugar Coated Love," Lightnin' Hopkins' "Goin' Away" and Anson Funderburgh's "Lemonade," the only recent composition on this disc (save for Fox's own). The record is a pleasant enough listen, full of unbridled enthusiasm and passion. Any serious fan of harmonica will know these songs by heart, and Fox doesn't try to reinvent them. He's only trying to pay tribute to some masters of the genre, and as such this CD is successful.

--- Benoît Brière

Fans of New Orleans R&B will surely find something to interest them in Sundazed's recent two2-CD anthology Get Low Down, The Soul of New Orleans '65-'67. This collection covers a prolific two-year period in the history of Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn's Sansu Records label. This period is not as well documented as the New Orleans sound of the late 50s and early 60s have been over the years, but it is just as vital a period. During this time, New Orleans R&B was in a transition period, moving more toward a mix of second-line funk and the soul sounds made popular by Memphis' Stax Records, a sound that would soon be taken to fruition by The Meters. Toussaint's fingerprints are all over the 50 tracks included here (four of which are previously unreleased), either as a performer, composer, arranger, or producer. Some of the artists will be familiar to N. O. R&B fans (Lee Dorsey, Benny Spellman, Betty Harris, Art Neville, Earl King), but most of the other artists (Wallace Johnson, Eldridge Holmes, Curly Moore, Willie Harper), although just as talented, were either unable to catch the right break or to sustain any career momentum, which is a shame. Although Sansu only had one chart hit (Harris' "Nearer To You"), several of the tracks included here could have easily duplicated that feat with a little luck. Two hits by Dorsey on the Amy label ("Ride Your Pony" and "Holy Cow") are included, as well as some singles from Tou-Sea Records. The liner notes by Living Blues contributor Bill Dahl are both entertaining and informative. Unfortunately, there is no information on the session musicians, which would have been helpful. While none of these songs are as earth shattering as previous, or later, N. O. recordings, there are not really any bad tracks on this collection. If you're a fan of any 60s soul, you won't be disappointed.

--- Graham Clarke

Francine Reed It isn't often that I can review three of my favorite singers in the same month, so this week's listening has been a real treat for me. The following three CDs are all pretty listenable releases, and the fact that two are "Best Of" doesn't hurt as far as overall quality of tracks. In reality, the tracks on Francine Reed's I Got A Right ... To Some Of My Best (CMO) are all re-sung and not, as first glance would lead you to believe, just reissues of her two earlier Ichiban releases. As the liner notes report, those early Ichiban releases are no longer available, and so many of her fans wanted those tracks. They decided to re-record them since the original masters are legally unavailable. Just a listen to Francine's show stopper song, "Wild Women," and the differences are immediately noticeable. Comparing this to the earlier Ichiban track, and then to the old Bombay Bicycle Club 45 of that tune trecorded by Francine in the early 80s, shows that each version is a classic in its own right. So much for history. There is a great duet with Willie Nelson on "The Night Life," and just Francine and a piano on the old Percy Mayfield tune "Please Send Me Someone To Love." There's a nice cover of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together" and Muddy Waters' fine "I Want You To Love Me," with Tinsley Ellis on guitar, and one unreleased track from the Shades of Blue session. For all of the Francine Reed fans out there, you need this release. To her new fans, welcome a board. 

Irma Thomas The equally fine Irma Thomas release, If You Want It, Come And Get It, culled from her seven Rounder releases and part of their 30-album Heritage Series, doesn't have a weak moment. Starting with "All I Know Is The Way I Feel" and two of my personal favorites,"The New Rules" and the incredible "The Story Of My Life," this release has 16 tracks of soul heaven. There's a previously-unissued track from the excellent album she did with Marcia Ball and Tracy Nelson, and an extended version of "If You Want It, Come and Get It" from her My Heart's In Memphis - The Songs of Dan Penn CD. This is just a beautiful release from beginning to end, one you want to load into the car CD player and have it play over and over all the way to San Diego. Oh, it works pretty well at home, too.

 That brings us to the third release, Barbara Carr's The Best Woman (Ecko), the title of the album and the first track therein. It is a catchy tune and should be getting a bit of airplay on the Southern radio airwaves. The equally infectious "Shont Dont Dont" ( not misspelled), has an early Caribbean sound to it and will also get some airplay. This is the fifth Ecko CD from the "Bone Me Like You Own Me" woman, and her strongest to date. Although there are no songs with quite the graphic title as that one, "Hooked On Your Love Bone" from this release comes close. Considering that this release has a distinct contemporary feel to it (as do most of Ecko's releases), it won't surprise me if it is a top candidate for the best of the new soul/blues releases by a female artist this year, and deservedly so.

I really wanted to like the new CD, Rollin' (Rooster Blues), from Lady Bianca, a veteran of the Bay Area blues scene. Lady Bianca is long overdue for a breakout album. Unfortunately it is not this one. The songs on this release seem contrived, and Bianca sounds like someone just going through the motions. Perhaps she is a "live" entertainer and needs the audience to motivate her, or perhaps it's just the run of the mill tunes that appear here. The musicians play their hearts out, but even that fails to lift this release to the next level. A pity, because so many of the new soul/blues releases rely on drum programming and synthesizers, and this release offers the real thing. I'd be hard pressed to pick the best track, so I'll default to the final one, "Roll Thang," which at least has some dance club potential. Try to hear this one first before you plunk down your hard earned dollars. 

--- Alan Shutro

Louisiana Red - Driftin'Louisiana Red is, without a doubt, one of the most eclectic blues artists of the current generation of performers. Since he spends most of his time in Europe, it's always a pleasure to have him visit the United States, and it's an added bonus when he ventures into the recording studio while on these shores. The result of one of his latest returns to the homeland is Driftin' (Earwig Records), a collection of 15 mostly original songs recorded in Chicago in 1999. It contains a mixture of solo numbers and band tracks. Regardless of whether Red is going it alone or with the band, this is raw blues at its best. "Hard Hard Time" is a deep blues with Red playing some nasty slide on his acoustic guitar. The hottest band track is his lament about his lady slipping out the back door on "Powder Room Blues," a rough and tumble mid-tempo blues with good harmonica from Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. The album finishes strongly as Red blesses us with a traditional country gospel number, "He Will See You," on which his vocals take on more of a shout. Great stuff ... don't miss anything from this wonderful bluesman!

A surprising independent release from Canada comes from singer / acoustic guitarist Rita Chiarelli. Breakfast At Midnight (NorthernBlues Music) shows Chiarelli to be a strong vocalist, at times sounding like a Canadian Marcia Ball and then again occasionally singing in a dark, foreboding Tom Waits tone. There's plenty of variety here, too, witness the Tex-Mex feeling of "Never Been Loved Before," with fine accordion from Richard Bell. Chiarelli's voice takes on a raspier, more soulful timbre on "Memphis Has Got The Blues"; Phil Dwyer's sax work sounds like a whole horn section at work here. "Midnight In Berlin" could have come from the Tom Waits songbook, but is an effective late night, jazzy blues written by Chiarelli. The closing number, "Eggs Over Easy," makes me want to head for kitchen as Chiarelli harmonizes with Colin Linden about having "...eggs over easy with a vodka or gin..." Danny Greenspoon plays pleasant dobro on this folkie blues song. For more info, visit the NorthernBlues web site.

JL Stiles gigs regularly in Northern California, appearing alternately as a solo act, as a duo with a drummer behind him, and sometimes as part of a trio. The name of this CD, Solo Sessions (Shoeless Records), immediately tells you what to expect from the music here. What you won't know until listening to the disc is that Stiles is a very good acoustic guitarist, playing in a fingerpickin' style and at times sounding reminiscent of guitar master Leo Kottke. The best number is the country gospel-ish tune "Fellow Grove," with Stiles' voice overdubbed to accompany himself in harmony. "Slow Rider" and "Fall By The Wayside" both show his wizardry on guitar, as his fingers fly across the strings on these songs. "Never To Grow Old" is a catchy, Ted Hawkins-style number. All tunes are original compositions with the exception of one traditional number. For more info on Stiles, you can check his web site at

Severn Records, the little blues label from Maryland, continues to crank out quality release after quality release. The latest, Rockin' Sugar Daddy, comes from Sugar Ray & the Bluetones. Sugar Ray Norcia is best known for his work as the onetime front man for Roomful of Blues, and is a singer with a rich, bluesy voice and an accomplished harmonica player. The material on Rockin' Sugar Daddy, both original and cover tunes, moves seamlessly between several different styles of blues. The title cut is a Lazy Lester-style swamp blues written by Norcia and showcasing his superb harp playing. Another highlight is the version of "It's My Life, Baby," done in a much slower tempo than the original. Norcia rips off a killer harmonica solo part way through the song, followed by some slashing guitar riffs from Kid Bangham. Previous recordings featuring Norcia have focused more on his vocal work, but this disc does a great job of showcasing his instrumental talents, especially on the Little Walter instrumental "Off the Wall." The best cut on the album is the Bangham-penned slow blues "Room 531," which features Norcia on the chromatic harmonica and more great guitar work from Bangham. Norcia's best vocal work comes out on the mid-tempo shuffle "Warm Hearted Woman." The album starts to lose a little steam towards the end, but it's still a good listen for fans of Sugar Ray.

Replacing Sugar Ray Norcia as vocalist with Roomful of Blues was Mac Odom, who brought a grittier, more soulful sound to the horn-driven big band. While their overall sound is not as punchy as in the old days of the band, this is still a good, fun band. Watch You When You Go (Bullseye Blues & Jazz), the second Roomful CD featuring Odom on vocals, is really the singer's showcase. He immediately shows his pipes on the soulful blues "Roll Me Over." "Salt Of My Tears" has a good Tyrone Davis-style intro followed by stinging guitar solos from Chris Vachon. "You Give Me Nothin' But the Blues" is a bluesier version than the original, and the addition of vibraphone accompaniment is a nice touch. I really like how everything comes together on "Your Love Was Never There," with interesting tremolo effects on Vachon's guitar and some heavy singing from Odom. But after the first few cuts, the band starts to run into a little trouble, and the album gets a little boring. Roomful of Blues is now more of a soul band than their previous role as the country's premier jump blues band. Your interest in this CD will depend on whether you're willing to make that transition with them. But it's not a real smooth ride.

--- Bill Mitchell

The Canadian Stony Plain label has been releasing excellent discs by American artists at a time when our homegrown labels seem to be cutting back (or, as in the case of the New Orleans-based Black Top, regrettably disappearing). Here are two of their latest. Guitarist / vocalist Sonny Rhodes is one of the last living practitioners of the classic Texas blues sound of the 50s and 60s. Although not as well-known as some of his departed contemporaries like Freddie King and Albert Collins, he's one of the most consistently strong artists on the scene, on stage or in the studio. Although his recordings over the past decade have appeared on a variety of labels, they have all been recorded at the Kingsnake Studios in Floria. A Good Day continues this successful partnership with producer / bassist Bob Greenlee, who contributed with Sonny to compose the album's 11 original numbers. In fact, aside from his soulful singing and serious axe prowess on both guitar and lap steel, Rhodes is probably one of the most creative songwriters in the blues today. If you haven't heard this man before, A Good Day is an excellent introduction to his talents.

Blow Mr. Low is the solo debut of baritone saxist Doug James, who has graced innumerable recordings over the past 25 years, most notably those of his former band, Roomful of Blues. The disc's title refers to the sound of his instrument. Although the sound of the alto and tenor saxes may be more familiar to contemporary ears, the "bari" has a long and noble tradition in both jazz and jump blues. Back in the late 40s and early 50s, when the type of jump blues celebrated herein was popular, the sax solo on a record by a singer like Big Joe Turner or Wynonie Harris was almost as likely to be from a baritone as from one of the other, smaller instruments. Although the repertoire here is mostly instrumental, there are four vocal numbers shared equally by two Roomful alums, producer / guitarist Duke Robillard and Sugar Ray Norcia. It's an outstanding disc in every respect, one which can be unreservedly recommended to fans of both Roomful and the Duke.

--- Lee Poole

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