Northern California guitarist/bandleader Mighty Mike Schermer's first CD was titled First Set. It's only appropriate that the follow-up to that disc is called Next Set (Fine Dog Records). Regardless of what it's called, Next Set is a mighty fine album. Schermer has always had the reputation of being a guitar player's guitar player, but this CD also shows that he's a pretty good singer and a talented songwriter (he penned 10 of the disc's 12 songs). While rooted in the blues, Schermer's music goes far beyond the genre, with elements of soul, gospel, jazz and other influences. The CD opens with the soulful groove of "Got My Love On," which has hooks that immediately pique the interest of the listener. "My Big Sister's Radio" has a pleasant, good time soul rhythm in which Schermer reminisces about his formative music years, listening to Soul and R&B music on a cheap transistor radio; Terry Hanck contributes a nice tenor sax solo. Schermer finally gets to show off his hot guitar licks on the Hank Ballard & the Midnighters song "Rain Down Tears," on which he shares harmony vocals with guests Angela Strehli and Maria Muldaur. "That Same Door" is a great tune, starting off with some hot blues guitar chords before turning into a snaky, mid-tempo number with a "mistreated lover" theme. Austin DeLone plays some great B-3 on this one, and then switches to piano on the next cut, "Mama Say," a New Orleans-sounding tune with a touch of gospel spirit. I'm particularly fond of the stripped down, late night jazzy blues number "Real Fine Love." Here, Schermer puts out his most powerful vocals, mixed with tasteful guitar and DeLone's fine piano work. Shana Morrison guests on background vocals on "Big Fine Girl," on which Schermer switches to acoustic guitar for a rootsier effect. Closing the album is one of the stronger numbers, "Setting Sun," a T-Bone Walker-style slow blues with very good guitar playing. Next Set will undoubtedly make this year's Top Ten list.
--- Bill Mitchell
Whenever an artist starts off his liner notes by saying “This was a dream project for me” you know you’re in for something good. This coming from Jimmy Thackery, America’s leading contemporary blues/rock guitarist, completely solidifies his point. For Thackery, delight in his new recording, Healing Ground on Telarc Blues, comes from the fact that famed producer/songwriter Gary Nicholson was on board. Nicholson has had his tunes covered by some of the greats from B.B. and Etta James to rock superstars Ringo Starr and Fleetwood Mac and has produced such greats like Delbert McClinton winning a Grammy for best contemporary blues. Now you have a better understanding of Thackery’s pleasure in this stage of his career. Healing Ground kicks up a storm of blues/rock tunes, a mix-bag of vocals and instrumentals that has become Thackery’s calling card for the last three decades. During that time his backing band, The Drivers, supplied the solid sound to complement Thackery’s ferocious guitar work. On Healing Ground the guys take a break except for Mark Stutso's vocals. Filling out the rest of the recording chores, Kenny Greenberg adds some nice guitar and rhythm guitar licks and Steve Mackey and Michael Rhodes thump along extremely well on bass. Doubling on piano and organ, producer Nicholson shares these duties with Kevin McKendree, with expert drumming by Lynn Williams and Tom Hambridge. Thackery delivers his signature rough and gruff vocals throughout most of the disc but expect a new maturity that has come from years of touring and an understanding of what he can do with his voice in the studio. Along with Thackery, Mark Stutso engages in some truly super singing. Check out "Devil’s Toolbox" and "Weaker Than You Know" to validate my observation. Blazing out of the chute, the lead off track, "Let The Guitar Do The Work," is self- explanatory. This is definitely Thackery’s reason for living wrapped up in a boogie shuffle beat which will bring a smile to every listener. The title track serves up a rocking pop gem of sorts that showcases Thackery’s vocals. In the instrumental department, take a listen to "Fender Bender" and "Kickin’ Chicken" to fully realize why Thackery lets his guitar do the work. As far as writing goes, Thackery couldn’t let producer Nicholson get away without penning some of the disc’s tunes, including the title track. Thackery takes on as tunesmith for the rest of the songs, except for a lovely slide guitar rendition of Muddy Waters "Can’t Lose What You Don’t Have." Thackery even tackles a reworking of Henry Mancini’s "A Shot In The Dark" with wondrous results. In my estimation, Thackery is the only guitarist around today who would even include this song on a blues recording because of his skill and understanding of music as a whole. All you've got to do is click on a couple of sites provided here and let Jimmy Thackery do the rest. Check out www.jimmythackery.com/color> and www.telarc.com. While you’re at Telarc click onto the blues category and then recent releases. Don’t forget to check out some of the other fantastic blues artists, including the late Little Milton who only recently passed away. Good Listening
--- Bruce Coen
One of the real blues surprises of 2005 is the Blind Pig release, Down to the Rhythm, by Australian artist Harper. Originality is something we all look for in an artist, and all ten sides on this release are Harper originals. Down to the Rhythm incorporates amazing harmonica leads by Harper, the introduction of the Australian didgeridoo as a blues instrument and wonderfully supporting efforts by some of Australia’s best, including Simon Patterson on guitar, Roger McLaughlan on bass, Mal Logan on keyboards, Dean Addison on acoustic bass and John Watson on drums.
The result is a record you’re going to be hard-pressed to ever pull out of your CD player. The title cut, "Down to the Rhythm," is reminiscent of early Neville Brothers at their funkiest. It’s a great wake-up call designed to grab your attention and espouse the joy of the powerful call of music. Contrasting the title track with "Big Brown Land," Harper utilizes the soulful sounds of the didgeridoo to paint a desolate picture of Australia’s vast wasteland. It’s a wonderful musical portrait of the land Harper calls home.
The next cut on the album, "Last Cup of Coffee," is my personal favorite. A song about love gone bad, it’s full of attitude and determination to just get out, keep moving and never look back. “Going to pack my bags and go…to see my asses walking is the last thing I will show” says good-bye like only Harper can.
Harper shows a humorous side with the catchy "Gimme the Money," asking payment for services rendered --- “Nice to be your friend, I’d rather have the money” says it all. "I’ll Follow You" reflects the delusional thinking of one who is convinced the object of his affection wants everything to work out right. Harper’s harmonica playing on this song is very soulful and displays the work of a mature artist.
Probably the most powerful song on the album is "I’ve Been Waiting," lamenting the loss of loved ones to war who are never coming back and the loneliness of one who truly misses his loved ones. Very painful, very expressive, "I’ve Been Waiting" tugs at your heart strings and ensures that you feel Harper’s pain as well.
The placement of the next song on the album, "Air," is very astute. It’s a wonderful instrumental that picks you up from the pain of I’ve been waiting and moves you onto “I Believed In You”…an angry anthem of one whose faith in another has been misplaced. "I Believed in You" encourages you to throw off the shackles, think for yourself and never look back.
Redemption makes its appearance with the final track, "The World Starts Loving You," which encourages everyone to just have faith and it will all work out.
All in all this is an excellent work by a mature artist. Harper was awarded “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Song of the Year” at the 2004 Australian Blues Awards. Down to the Rhythm is an amazing introduction of his talents to the states. It’s the most progressive blues album you’ll hear all year!
About damn time. That was my first thought when I heard San Diego’s Queen of Steam, Michele Lundeen, tell me her CD was finished. Song Inside of Me is a project we first talked about over three years ago at Patrick’s in San Diego and since we’re both active in the blues community, our paths have crossed several times in Memphis, Clarksdale and all points in between.
Somewhere along the way Michele found the time to finally get her songs down on tape and the result is a record that was well worth the wait. That said…there’s nothing subtle about Michele. She only knows one way to sing and that’s from the heart. It’s a testament to Michele’s talents that a number of great players showed up to help her get it down right. Players like producer/guitarist Johnny Vernazza (Norton Buffalo), bassist Steven Evans (Coco Montoya) slide guitarist Roy Rogers and many others too numerous to mention. When the players hold you in such high regard you know the singer’s got to hold her own.
Michele opens with "Blues is a Feeling," an upbeat song warmly supported by the trumpet playing of Tom Poole and Dave Stone on tenor saxophone. The title track, "Song inside Me," reflects Michele’s joy and pain at recording this album. It’s a risk for anyone to put your innermost thoughts down on paper, vinyl or CD and you have to have faith in your work to put it out there. Song inside Me celebrates Michele overcoming her fear in order to have her voice heard and I’m truly glad she did. Next up is a rousing rendition of Lavelle White’s "Voodoo Man," a song that allows Michele to display the depth of her amazing voice. She’s every bit as gritty and determined as Miss Lavelle.
"All Day Blues" brings the slide talents of Roy Rogers into play and is followed by the anthem, "Free at Last." "You’re Gonna Make Me Cry" is a classic O.V. Wright tune that finds Michele at her soulful best. Her heartfelt tribute to O.V. is followed by the autobiographical "I’m Still Laughing," extolling the trials of her early days in Oakland. "No Money No Honey" is a sentiment we all know about men big on style, short on substance and provides the perfect introduction to "Starting All Over," time to leave, pack the bags and move on.
"(Darlin) I Know You Love Me," a song by B.B. King, continues the theme of unrequited love before moving onto to a Lundeen original, "Qualify My Love." "Qualify My Love" is a wonderful ballad extolling the virtues of a woman truly in love with her man and secure in the goodness of it all.
The last song of the album, "I Need a Dog," is a club staple of Michele’s and somehow finds its way into a well-produced mix of original songs and well-chosen covers. Song Inside Me is available from Michele and www.michelelundeen.com and is a worthy investment for your CD collection.
Love him or hate him. There’s no denying that Popa Chubby is a bluesman at heart…and a good one at that. His latest release on Blind Pig Records, Big Man Big Guitar – Popa Chubby Live, features Popa at his scintillating best. Armed with a number of tracks culled from French performances, Ted Horowitz (Popa Chubby) shows why he’s at the forefront of the New York blues scene.
Opening with blistering strat work in the song "Hey Joe," Popa takes you on a gamut of emotions throughout the rest of his set list. "Dirty Lie" continues the opening frenzy before Chubby settles into a wonderfully modern rendition of Willie Dixon’s "Back Door Man." You barely have time to catch your breath before he changes gears with his ballad, "I Can’t See the Light of Day." Heartfelt, emotive, "Can’t See the Light of Day" features some of Chubby’s best fretwork on the CD.
Up next is the cynical "If the Diesel Don’t Get You Then The Jet Fuel Will" before Popa steps up to his anthem, "Sweet Goddess of Love & Beer," leaving one to wonder if the song was written for his wife, Galea. Neil Young’s "Motorcycle Mama" is the next song to receive Popa’s special treatment and features Galea’s vocals talents to compliment Chubby’s guitar work. "Somebody Let the Devil Out" is a song that received a lot of notoriety at the time it was written and reflects Chubby’s assessment of the 9/11 tragedy in New York. A gritty, urban interpretation of the events that hit New York that day, it’s a poignant reminder of the defiant New York attitude that refused to buckle under the events of 9/11.
Chubby astutely selected the Leonard Cohen classic, "Hallelujah," to follow and it warmly offers hope for the new day. Turning up the heat, Horowitz moves on to an energized version of "Keep on the Sunny Side" before returning with his original, "Time is Killing Me." The set list closes with an acoustically based version of "How’d a White Boy Get The Blues." Considering the gamut of emotions displayed on Big Man, Big Guitar it’s obvious how Ted Horowitz got the blues…..he lived them.
--- Kyle Deibler
Elam McKnight & Keith Carter’s latest release, The Last Country Store (Big Black Hand), features more of that great Hill Country sound McKnight gave us so well in his previous release, Braid My Hair. Though hard as it may be to imagine, McKnight’s songwriting chops have improved since the last time out as have his vocals and guitar, and Carter’s harmonica work is sublime and adds much to the overall sound of the album. Of the 12 tracks, eight are original compositions, still in the Hill Country or Delta vein, and the standouts include “Ain’t Gonna Plow No More,” the title track, “Cadillac Woman,“ and “Going Away,” which is featured in two versions; the first produced by Grammy-winner Jimbo Mathus and featuring his now-familiar “post-modern primitive” style, and also in a killer acoustic version to close out the disc. The covers are a couple of traditional tracks (“Mamma Killed A Chicken” and “Another Man Done Gone”), Blind Boy Fuller’s “Pig Meat,” and an impressive cover of Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil.” As impressed as I was with McKnight’s last release, I think this one tops it with room to spare. He and Carter both have a bright future ahead. If you like acoustic blues or roots music in the vein of the recent Chris Cotton disc, you’ll enjoy this one. Go to www.bigblackhand.com or www.cdbaby.com to pick this one up.
Mojo Stu (AKA Stu Bryant) may not be a familiar name to most blues lovers, but his latest disc, Real House Blues (Mudbone Records), packs a wallop like a freight train. A regular of the Philadelphia circuit, Mojo Stu plays acoustic, electric, slide, and bass guitar, along with keyboards and even ukelele. He is also a potent singer with a gritty edge to his vocals. He also wrote the nine tunes featured on Real House Blues, which features traces of blues, gospel, and soul with their propulsive backbeat and those tight backup vocals. Highlights include the funky opener, “Leave It Gone,” the peppy “Got A Love,” and the hip-hop slide-fests “My Mama She Don‘t Love Me” and “Hootchie Mama” (with some downright nasty bass by former Joe Cocker band member TM Stevens), but it’s hard to find a track that’s not worth a second listen. Mitch Goldfarb produced the disc and also played acoustic guitar, keyboards, bass, harmonica, and probably validated parking too. Although the music on Real House Blues is steeped in blues traditions, Goldfarb’s production has it firmly planted in the 21st Ccentury as well and the old meshes very well with the new. Best of all, proceeds from Real House Blues go to the Peace, Love, and Sunshine Foundation, an organization founded by Mojo Stu in 2001 that benefits children. This is a powerful, fresh release that should appeal to any blues fans. Real House Blues can be purchased at www.cdbaby.com, or go to www.realhouseblues.com for more information on Mojo Stu.
Based in New York City, Big Frank and the Healers have built quite a following since their formation in 1994. Mixing Chicago Blues with the sounds of the Delta, Big Frank Mirra plays some nasty slide guitar and contributes soulful vocals that fit both styles well. The band has previously recorded an EP, but are renowned for their live shows. Way back in 1995, they met Leonard Kunstadt, a discographer, historian, and producer who also co-authored, with Samuel Charters, Jazz, A History of the New York Scene. In addition Kunstadt was the longtime companion of the great blues singer Victoria Spivey, and helped her run her label, Spivey, continuing it even after her death in 1976. Kunstadt became so enamored of Big Frank and the Healers that he decided to supervise a recording for them in the mid ’90s, a recording which has never seen the light of day, until now. Vintage 1040: From The Vaults (ManHatTone Records) is the result of that session. This early incarnation of the Healers included pianist Dona Oxford, who contributes some fine keyboards and lusty vocals to two Spivey tracks (“Dig Me“ and “Don‘t Trust Nobody“) and one Koko Taylor track (“Please Don‘t Dog Me“), drummer Barry Harrison, who along with Oxford, has toured with Shemekia Copeland (Harrison also did time with Shemekia’s father, Johnny Clyde Copeland), and bassist Margie Peters, who has played with Oxford’s band as well as with the current version of the Healers. The song selection here consists of covers of mostly familiar material, such as Eddie Taylor’s “Big Time Playboy,” Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do,” and a couple of slide numbers that highlight Mirra’s skills, J. B. Hutto’s “I Need Help” and Elmore James’ “I Can’t Stop Lovin’.” The lone original is another slide showcase, the closer “I Love You Baby.” The band plays with that chemistry and quality that demonstrates they had many live performances together under their belt prior to recording this album. This is a fine addition to any blues fan’s collection, especially if you like slide guitar and Chicago Blues. Go to www.cdbaby.com for more information.
--- Graham Clarke
The last Steve Cohen CD that I heard was back in 2001 – Hot Air, with Jim Liban, and I was extremely impressed by the sheer professionalism. Now a new CD, Mixed Feelings (Kanie Records), has landed on my desk – this time it’s The Steve Cohen Blues Band and it has five tracks written by Steve Cohen (Hot Air had just the one), with a mixture of different covers ranging from John Sebastian (no kidding!) to Taj Mahal. Liban makes a couple of guest appearances, and the album certainly benefits from that – he’s on tracks four & eight, “Leroy in Rio” & “Funky Driveway,” and his playing is bang on target, especially on “Leroy In Rio.” This is less of a pure blues album than Hot Air, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good buy, and there are some superb blues tracks included – guitarist Greg Koch’s “Too Broke” is a slow, atmospheric, blues with Cohen blowing some real down home blues harmonica. From my own point of view, I wish the whole album was like this track! J.J.Cale’s “Crazy Mama” is given a good treatment here, changed just enough to make it interesting, but not enough to spoil what Cale had in mind for it. Still talking blues, there’s a fine interpretation of Taj Mahal’s “Strut” showcasing some beautiful guitar work by Greg Koch and the expressive keyboards of Joel Freisinger. I mentioned John Sebastian earlier on – the band has taken “Daydream” and put a different spin on it. It’s not a song that many bands cover, and it’s probably not that easy to change, but Steve and the boys have made a great effort here with some lovely guitar breaks. The album ends with a very catchy instrumental, written by Cohen, called “Roadmap” – it’s a harmonica led track that you just can’t help tapping your feet to – the sort of thing you hear behind a TV programme and just can’t get out of your head afterwards. Great CD!
Shorty's Got The Blues (Solid Gold Records) is a new CD from a man, Shorty Billups, who comes highly recommended from the legendary “Miss Blues”, so it should be good ... and it is! I have to admit to not having heard any of Shorty’s recordings before – my loss!! Here’s a man who’s been about on the music scene for a long time – he had a 45 hit “Black Cat” at the end of the 1950s. I can’t work out why he isn’t better known, because he certainly deserves to be. This is a multi-talented performer – he plays piano & drums, sings and writes. The CD opens with Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” and it’s probably the best version that I’ve heard with the exception of Buddy Guy’s. There are nine tracks altogether, all covers of well known blues numbers, and all very well executed by Shorty. Track two is Shorty’s version of Ray Chinnery’s “Heavy Women” with a big backing horn section giving it a soul/blues feeling. He’s picked a real mixture of music for this album – “Hideaway” is next – the track that Freddie King did so well. There’s a Johnny Copeland track, “Making A Fool,” that I hadn’t heard it before, and I’m now trying to track down the original so that I can make a comparison. Shorty’s version has sparked a real interest in me. There’s another Johnny Copeland track, “Rain,” and it features some very haunting harmonica playing by Joseph Martin. It’s a lovely version of a song I’ve liked for a long time, and this is easily the best cover version that I’ve heard. Also on the CD are “Mother In Law,” a Don Robey track, a very well-adapted version of Denise LaSalle’s “Stepping Out,” and “The Things I Used To Do,” the old Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones) song. There’s not a bad track on this album, and it’s a CD that deserves to sell like hot cakes.
Acoustic Roots (Blue Beet Records) is a new CD at last from Niagara Falls bluesman Richard Ray Farrell, and it’s been well worth waiting for! 19 tracks of acoustic blues, mainly oldies from the great old bluesmen of the past – names like Leadbelly, Bo Carter, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bukka White. If you’re a fan of traditional blues, you can’t help but like this album – it’s just Farrell, a guitar, and a harmonica on the rack……..Oh, and some great blues, of course. The album opens with “Diggin’ My Potatoes” (Leadbelly) to get your feet tapping, and then progresses through Bo Carter’s “I Want You To Know,” “One Dime Blues” (Jefferson), Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” and Leadbelly’s “Ella Speed.” By the time Richard Farrell reaches “Sassy Mae,” an old Peter Chatman track, he’ll have captured you totally. This man has picked just about every great old track that you can imagine – he scrolls through Leroy Carr, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, John Hurt, Son House & Smokey Hogg, plus a few old traditional songs like “Poor Boy,” “John Henry “ and “Buck Dancer’s Choice” (a new one for me this, but I love it). His version of “Poor Boy” is absolutely excellent, with some serious harmonica playing. However, if I have to pick a favourite track, then it has to be the cover of Bukka White’s “Fixin’ To Die.” I’m a big Bukka White fan, and I like to think that he’d be pleased with this version too. I can’t find a thing wrong with it! Having made that statement, “Jinx Blues” comes a very close second as a favourite! The CD closes with a Farrell original, the only one on the album, “Blues-Flamenco,” and it’s a worthy addition. It’s obviously influenced by his time spent living in Spain – he’s touring there again in September & October this year – and it shows his love and understanding of both the blues and flamenco music in his mix of the two. It also shows how closely linked these two forms of music are. Get this CD and enjoy some superb interpretations of music from the past.
Translatlantic Live (Dixiefrog Records) is a double live CD from an artist that, I have to admit, I’d never heard of until the CD landed on my desk. I just know that I want to hear more of Nico Wayne Toussaint – he has a very distinct way of playing the harmonica that is both refreshing and catchy. Disc one was recorded in France with a band called Mudzilla and the Crazy Horns, a sax, trumpet and trombone combo.They all gel together and come up with a full, rich, sound that leaves you almost out of breath. The CD opens with “What A Woman,” a Howling Wolf number given a very individual treatment here that just makes your feet tap.
It rolls easily into a Toussaint original, “Can’t You Tell,” which pushes the Crazy Horns up to the front and gives it a real big-band feel. Another original follows, “I Can’t Stop Playing The Blues,” given a big treatment with the horns again, the excellent guitar work of Mudzilla member Florian Royo shining through. Track four is an almost ten minute version of one of my favourite Muddy Waters tracks, “She’s 19 years Old” – apart from the Muddy Waters original, I think the only better version that I’ve heard of this track is the Buddy Guy cover on his album Feels Like Rain – this is superb stuff! There are four more original tracks on this CD, plus four more covers – tracks by Joe Zawinul, Willie Dixon (“Wang Dang Doodle”), James Moore and another Muddy Waters song, “Close To You,” which is an absolute jewel.
Disc two is recorded in the USA with the Boston All-Stars Band, and it opens with a Muddy Waters track “Blow Wind Blow.” Nico really seems to have an affinity with the Muddy Waters material; he makes such a good job of it, as this track shows to good effect. I just couldn’t listen to this track and keep my feet still! A James Cotton number follows, “Blues In My Sleep,” and I have to admit that I’ve never heard a cover version of this track before. It’s not easy for a harp player to cover a track by someone as accomplished as James Cotton, but Nico Wayne Toussaint has the balls for it, and he gives it all he’s got here, bending notes all over the place! A couple of Toussaint originals follow, and to my mind they’re far better than the original tracks on disc one; “Any Time You Want It” and “Barbara” are both excellent tracks, showing that this man can write as well as he can play!
“Barbara” is a real slow, moody, type of blues and Toussaint’s harp shines through like a beacon in a storm here. A real nice instrumental brings us to the halfway point of disc two – it’s R.J.Mischo’s “R.J.’s Shuffle,” a great choice for these musicians. The second half of this CD has a couple of Toussaint originals; “Give Me A Kiss Baby” is refreshingly different in that the vocals are half in English and half in French – it adds a flavour to what is already a nice track. “Walking Down College Street” is the last original on the album and it’s a fast paced boogie blues – the band obviously enjoyed doing this one! There are great covers here of “Midnight Creeper” (James Cotton), Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing,” the Jimmy Reed song “You Don’t Have To Go” and Rice Miller’s “Mighty Long Time.”
Nico Wayne Toussaint obviously puts a lot of thought into his choice of material, and it works perfectly. This is a CD to listen to over and over again.
--- Terry Clear
From the late '70s to the late '90s, Kris Hollis Key was an owner and producer of first Sunset West Studios (Oklahoma) and the Studio 12 (Hollywood). The music on The Return of Boy Howdy (Stickville Records) is a lively blend of country rock and rockin' blues that tends more toward Tom Petty than Fabulous Thunderbirds. Responsible for almost all bass, guitar and vocals on this album, Key often throws in some big bass lines right up front that summon to mind a Junior Brown sound. As makes sense from Key's background, this is a very produced, polished album of good songs that would be better loosened up and delivered with more soul.
--- Tom Schulte
The Blues Bytes URL... http://www.bluenight.com/BluesBytes/
Revised: July 31, 2005 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2005, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.