Dave Gross is only 22, but given his considerable skills as a guitarist,
songwriter, and singer, it’s downright scary to imagine how good he will
get over time. Influenced by an amazingly diverse group of performers
(T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Brown, Charlie Christian, B. B. King, Jimmie
Vaughan, Tiny Grimes, Charles Brown, Ray Charles, and Duke Robillard, to
name just a few), Gross is as comfortable playing Chicago blues as West
Coast swing and will only get better.
Take The Gamble (Swingnation Records) is Gross’s second release.
Produced by Robillard, it possesses all the elements that are found in
Robillard’s own recordings: impeccable, tasteful guitar, a penchant for
swinging blues, and compelling songs. Vocally, Gross has an exuberant,
natural style that fits the material perfectly.
Gross wrote nine of the 13 songs on Take The Gamble, including
“I’m Leavin’ Baby,” which features some great interplay between Gross
and Robillard, “I’m So Hungry Blues,” a fine tune that gives a nod to
T-Bone Walker’s Black & White days, “Mess On My Plate,” which features a
strong New Orleans vibe thanks to the horn section and some reverential
piano by Dona Oxford, and “Swingin’ On All Six,” a jumping instrumental
with Oxford, Doug “Mr. Low” James on sax and harmonica wizard Dennis
Gruenling all providing sparkling solos. “That’s All You Get” has a more
modern, jazzy feel, and “You Ain’t Playin’ Me No More” and “Once Had A
Girl” have strong country roots and display Gross’ versatility.
The cover tunes vary quite a bit from the normal fare and include
Gatemouth Brown’s “She Walks Right In,” Hot Lips Page’s “Walkin’ In A
Daze,” Walker’s “I Know Your Wig Is Gone,” and the swing standard,
“After You’ve Gone,” which features Al Basile’s cornet.
Fans of swinging blues and guitar will love this disc. Expect to hear
more great things from Dave Gross in the near future.
--- Graham Clarke
Another astonishing release from Swingnation Records features another
22-year-old. Gina Sicilia has a voice that brings to mind Etta James
with its soul and passion. Her debut release, Allow Me To Confess, not
only shows Sicilia to be an extraordinarily gifted vocalist, but also a
gifted songwriter who penned eight of the 11 tracks. On hand to lend
stellar support is a first rate band, featuring Dave Gross (who also
produced the disc) and Arthur Neilson on guitar, and Dennis Gruenling on
Sicilia’s originals include the sassy “I Ain’t Crazy,” a soulful “Rest
of My Days,” and the compelling title track. “Set My Heart On Fire” digs
deep into jazz territory, “There Lies A Better Day,” features some tasty
harp from Gruenling, and “That Much Further” is countrified blues with
nice guitar by Gross.
Cover selections include a sultry version of Esther Phillips’ “Try Me,”
the swinging Big Maybelle classic “That’s A Pretty Good Love,” and a
wonderful take on Etta James’ “Pushover.” Sicilia’s performances
indicate that she’s in good company with these three legends.
This is a remarkable debut by a young artist with a maturity and depth
of style that belies her age. You’ll be seeing this one on many Top Ten
lists this year and deservedly so.
--- Graham Clarke
John “JB” Bigham has a very diverse musical background, playing
percussion and writing music for Miles Davis, playing guitar and
keyboards for the groundbreaking rock-funk band Fishbone, and touring as
a side man and playing on sessions for artists like Eminem, Dr. Dre’,
Nikka Costa, and Everlast. Bigham also released one of the most highly
acclaimed CDs of 2003 as The Soul of John Black, which was recognized as
opening a brand new door on soul music by scores of reviewers and
listeners. On that release, Bigham displayed amazing chops as a
songwriter, guitarist and singer, and mixed elements of hip-hop, funk,
and Afrobeat into his soul concoction, giving the genre a fresh new
Fast forward to 2007, and Bigham has shifted his musical focus to the
blues with his latest release, The Good Girl Blues (Yellow Dog Records),
released with the artist name as The Soul of John Black, with equally effective, and satisfying, results. Things get off to a
great start with the opening cut, “The Hole,” which could best be
described as a 21st Century field holler. Though the song’s roots are
African American folk music circa Leadbelly or Josh White, the funky
guitar riff and spirited harmony vocals propel the song into a higher
dimension. “The Moon Blues” is a slow and shadowy number where Bigham’s
vocal delivery is reminiscent of Al Green. “I Got Work” features Bigham’s serpentine slide guitar (played on an old Stella). “Fire Blues”
is a sultry number that highlights those tight harmony vocals.
The aptly titled “Moanin’” is an emotional lament, highlighted by
Bigham’s wordless vocal and frantic acoustic guitar, while “Slipin’ and
Slidin’” oozes with swampy atmosphere, accentuated by DJ Phizz Ed’s
turntable wizardry. “Swamp Thang” continues the vibe with more sinewy
guitar and a sensual vocal, and “Feelin’s” is classic textbook funk.
Bigham’s acoustic guitar chops are striking and really raise things to a
higher level on these songs.
Like he did with soul music on his first release, John Bigham has taken
the blues and has not only put a fresh coat of paint on them, but he’s
also done some impressive remodeling to the structure as well by adding
elements of hip-hop, gospel, and funk to the mix, while leaving the
foundation solidly in place. Purists may not like the finished product,
but fans with eyes to the future of the blues will be pleased by this
--- Graham Clarke
Mem Shannon started out as a New Orleans cab driver, but has evolved
into one of the more highly acclaimed performers and songwriters in
blues and R&B over the past decade. While his earlier releases were
pretty soundly structured in the blues, Shannon has mixed in more into
soul and funk on his past few efforts, which has really not been that
much of a stretch for him, given his Crescent City roots. After five
well-received studio efforts, Shannon has released his first live album,
Live, A Night At Tipitina’s (NorthernBlues Music), which was recorded
earlier this year (around Mardi Gras time) at the legendary club.
Backed by his incredible band, the Membership (“Rhock” Dabon on
keyboards, Angelo Nocentelli on bass, and Josh Milligan on drums) and
augmented by a tight horn section (Jason Mingledorff, Joe Cabral, and
Tim Green), Shannon features eight songs from some of his most recent
releases, including the hard-hitting “I Smell Something” and the
wonderfully clever “Who Are They.” “No Religion” features perhaps his
best vocal performance on the disc and a scorching guitar break as well.
Shannon also tackles a couple of cover tunes, tackling Tom Petty’s “I
Won’t Back Down” and the Neville Brothers’ “Voodoo.” The band really
gets a chance to stretch out on the 12-minute “Voodoo,” as well as
Shannon’s “Phunkville,” from his last studio effort, which extends to
13 minutes of dead-on funk.
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is captured magnificently in
Shannon’s lone new original, “All I Have.” Shannon fled New Orleans
prior to Katrina’s arrival (it was a no-brainer, he couldn’t swim), but
he returned and experienced the devastation first-hand. “All I Have” is
a poignant but powerful reminder of not only the devastation and
frustration experienced by so many Gulf Coast residents, but also the
determination and resolve that those who remained or returned continue
Mem Shannon continues to expand boundaries with his highly original
compositions and his liberal mixing of funk, jazz, and other genres into
his style. Clearly, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the
blues for the next generation. This is a great live release, with
exemplary sound and production, which will be enjoyed by fans of modern
blues and New Orleans R&B and funk.
--- Graham Clarke
Scotsman Dave Arcari lists artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka
White, and Catfish Keith as his blues influences, but also lists Johnny
Cash, Gene Vincent, and Hank Williams among his favorites. For the past
decade or so, Arcari has fronted the alt.blues band, The Radiotones, who
have released three acclaimed albums. He has also started in a solo
career during that time, having released several EPs since 2004,
including Blue Country Steel. His first full album, on Buzz Records,
is Come With Me, and features Arcari and his National steel guitar and
manages to incorporate all of his musical influences into the mix.
Had Howlin’ Wolf been born in Scotland, he probably would have sounded
like Arcari, whose rough-hewn vocals sometimes seem capable of raising
the dead. His guitar work is ragged but right, focusing more on the
rhythm than intricate picking. He wrote all but three of the 14
tracks and though some are derivative of older songs, there’s plenty to
enjoy in them. “Red Letter Blues,” “Troubled Mind,” “Gravel Road,” and
“She’s Gone” all drip with tension and emotion, the way the best blues
The three covers Arcari tackles include the hoary “Stagolee,” but there
are also two covers of Blind Willie Johnson tunes. He does a fine job on
the gospel guitar slinger’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Going To See
The King.” It’s good to see someone paying homage to the underrated
Unlike some solo acoustic guitar albums, Come With Me never becomes
tedious. Arcari mixes things up enough with his original songs and his
performance on guitar to keep the listener interested. This is a
noteworthy album by an artist who certainly has the chops to make some
noise internationally. Go to
www.davearcari.com for more information.
--- Graham Clarke
West of Memphis, a blues band from the San Diego, has a rare
distinction. They’re one of the few actual blues bands to play the House
of Blues, having enjoyed a long-running regular gig at the San Diego
venue for a couple of years. Having released a regional CD that received
a lot of local attention in 2205, the band has now released their
nationwide debut, Honey Pie, which marvelously recaptures the raw and
ragged sound of ’50s era blues.
Led by harp man Karl Cabbage and guitarist Tom Walpole, West of Memphis
has the same sort of loose feel of those great Chess recordings from way
back, the great harmonica and rhythm section, and even has some studio
chatter mixed in as well. There are 14 songs on Honey Pie,
including the terrific jumping opening cut, “Canary In Her Cage,” and
some dazzling remakes of classic Chicago songs like Jimmy Rogers’ “Back
Door Friend” and “That’s All Right,” and a pair of Willie Dixon
standards (“Who” and “I’m Ready”). In addition to the opening track, the
band also wrote several other keepers, among them the Geoff Starin-penned
title track, an amusing romp complete with boozy chorus, the highly
relevant “Cell Phone Blues,” and Walpole’s “I Can Tell.”
Other highlights include a tasty cover of Muddy Waters’ “Crosseyed Cat,”
a hard-driving take on Little Walter’s “I’ve Got To Go,” and a pair of
original instrumentals that groove hard, “Miss Sugarpuss Boogie” and “Chupacabra.”
Fans of the vintage late ’40s and ’50s sound will love this one. It
won’t make you want to throw away those old classic recordings you have,
but you will want to put this highly recommended set next to it in your
collection. For purchasing information, go to
--- Graham Clarke
Todd Lorenz is a California-born, Wisconsin-based guitarist/singer who
takes an Americana approach to acoustic guitar, mixing elements of
blues, folk, rock, bluegrass, and country into his playing and singing.
Having released three previous CDs over the past eight years, he’s
released two simultaneously in 2007, including My Blues (self-released),
which consists of rerecorded versions of popular songs from his first
Lorenz has a deft touch on guitar and a warm, rich voice. His highly
original songs (20 on this CD) deal with familiar blues themes: pain,
loss, love, etc., but with a modern, and sometimes personal touch.
Highlights include “Tired of Your Pain,” “Life Ain’t Easy,” “To Your
Grave,” “Sundance Groove,” “Good Old Days Again,” and “Kentucky Woman.”
Lorenz is comfortable playing and singing in blues, country, folk, or
any of the Americana styles. Well produced by Lorenz and featuring a
variety of styles and original tunes, My Blues is a fine CD that should
please acoustic guitar fans. Visit his website,
www.cdbaby.com for more information.
--- Graham Clarke
Cole Prior Stevens originally had intentions of releasing Slide-ville
(self-released) as an acoustic project, but as it progressed, he decided
it was a better fit using an electric guitar. Otherwise, the project
consists of Stevens playing guitars and bass all by his lonesome, with
the exception of four tracks that also feature guitar from Stevens’ band
mate, Mike Butler.
The 11 songs, all Stevens originals, include “Red Light Blues,” a
song about a car wreck Stevens was in years ago, the amusing “Land of
Plenty,” which sings the praises of a certain part of a woman’s anatomy,
“Willy Peter Blues,” a current events song dealing with the Iraq War,
the autobiographical “Country Boy,” and the country-tinged “Tumble With
My Baby,” which features some sharp interplay between Stevens and
Other highlights include the moving “Dirty Little War,” which recounts
the struggles of veterans who return from war suffering from PTSD
(Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and “Impatient Blues,” which is a song
that most of us can probably relate to.
Stevens can really burn it up on the slide and his vocal style fits the
songs perfectly, since most of them stem from his own observations or
everyday experiences. This is a very enjoyable CD that will appeal to
anyone who enjoys great slide guitar. It’s available at
While you’re out surfing, visit Stevens’ website,
--- Graham Clarke
Adam Gussow is probably best known as half of the legendary Harlem
street duo Satan and Adam (and, to date, the only white musician
featured on the cover of Living Blues), but he’s also a writer of some
renown, having published his memoirs, Mr. Satan’s Apprentice several
years ago. His other works include Seems Like Murder Here: Southern
Violence and the Blues Tradition, which was awarded the C. Hugh Holman
Award as the best book of scholarship by the Society of Southern
Literature. He also contributed a column to the much-missed periodical,
Blues Access. In recent years, Gussow has served as an assistant
professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of
Gussow’s latest book, Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from
Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York (University of Tennessee
Press), covers a wide range of topics, ranging from Gussow’s
relationship with his longtime partner Sterling Magee (a.k.a. Mister
Satan) to the current status of the blues in New York City, to the
current scene in Mississippi.
Gussow’s relationship with Magee was truly unique, coming from totally
opposite backgrounds, both racially and culturally. It developed from a
teacher/apprentice level to the point where they were near musical
equals as each pushed the other to develop new and exciting sounds.
Included here are some amusing stories about their travels together
(often accompanied by Magee’s lady, Miss Macie). The duo eventually went
on indefinite hiatus after Magee suffered a nervous breakdown, then
vanished, but recently Gussow tracked him down and they have resumed
playing together, albeit infrequently.
The New York scene is also discussed in several brief chapters (mostly
taken from old Blues Access columns) on the Holmes Brothers, Shemekia
Copeland, Popa Chubby, Michael Hill, and the late Bill Perry. There are
also some lesser known NYC figures discussed, such as Irving Louis
Lattin, who’s better known as the “I’m Ready” singer from the early
Viagra commercials, Frankie Paris, who started out in Doo Wop before
becoming a blues singer, and Orville Davis, a country/blues artist who
proves the line between blues and country is pretty much invisible.
There are several pieces about Dan Lynch, the late, lamented bar where
Gussow spent hours honing his craft.
Gussow also discusses the relationship between blues lyrics and the
racial violence that haunted Mississippi and other southern states. This
is coupled with a piece about how the blues influenced the writing of
William Faulkner. Though the blues is rarely mentioned in Faulkner’s
writing, Gussow shows that he was a fan of the genre, going back to the
days of W. C. Handy. Gussow also discusses other writers influenced by
the blues, such as Walter Mosley, Peter Guralnick, Toni Morrison, August
Wilson, and Bebe Moore Campbell, providing a great reading list for
readers who happen to love the blues.
Journeyman’s Road is an engrossing read that features something for all
blues fans to enjoy. Gussow is a rarity in the blues, an academic who
has not only witnessed and written about the blues, but has also
performed and lived it.
--- Graham Clarke
The Chas Burnett Blues Band is a good little blues band, resident in the South of Spain, and
comprising English guitarist and vocalist Chas Burnett, Scottish drummer
Andy McKechnie, and American bass player Karl Hoffman (originally from
Kansas) – it’s a good mix!
The band is based in the Millionaire’s playground of Marbella, but tend
to play along the coast in bars and clubs where the normal people
Blues It Up (self-produced) is their first album and unusually it is 12 original tracks written
mainly by guitarist/vocalist Chas Burnett.It’s only available via the band’s website,
www.chasburnett.com, at the
It’s refreshing to see a band put down a whole album of original tracks,
but personally I would have liked to have seen two or three covers of standard
blues mixed in amongst the original material.
The album opens with “Talk To Me” with some slightly weak lyrics, but
great blues nonetheless, with a nice boogie beat.
Track two, “When The Silence Is Broken,” is much better , a slow ballad
with good lyrics, and guitar a little reminiscent of Gary Moore, with
great support from the rhythm section.
Track three, “Bring The Curtain Down”, brings the tempo back up to
medium, and puts me a little in mind of the later material produced by
Cream – well written and with excellent support from drummer Andy
McKechnie, and a good bass line.
Track five, “I’ve Got My Eye On You,” suffers from having fairly repetitive
lyrics, but the following track, “Ironical Blues,” addresses this problem
and gets the album back in line – the rest of the CD alternating between
ballad, mid tempo and boogie and containing probably the best three tracks on
the CD – “He’s The Man”, “Taxi” and “Green Eyed Boogie” – the latter
probably the best of the bunch.
This is a good start for a new band, and promised good things to come –
keep an eye open for future CDs !
--- Terry Clear
A new CD from Joan Armatrading – her 22nd altogether, and her first
since 2004 – according to the sleeve notes, this is the album she’s
always wanted to do.
It's called Into The Blues (Hypertension), and may should have had the words “Dipping
A Toe” in front of it.
It’s not all blues, but there are some good blues tracks lurking in
there – as a first attempt at the blues, from an otherwise popular music
artist, it’s good. It should be, as she’s a very, very, accomplished
musician and song writer, with years of experience.
She’s drawn on a lot of varied influences for this album, and has come
up with a mix of blues, rock, funk, and soulful sounds that are easy on
the ear and pleasing to listen to.
Probably the bluesiest track on the album is “Liza,” the fourth track
on the CD. It comes across as having a lot of Muddy Waters influence,
possibly from “Mannish Boy” – all in all this is what the album is all
about – Joan getting into the blues – and it shows she has a feel for it
and can do it.
I would guess that maybe commercial pressures stopped the rest of the
album being like this, and it’s a shame if I’m right.
Joan shows that she can play some very fine guitar riffs, even if they
are a little abbreviated – then sometimes less is more, as they say. She
could certainly give a lot of modern blues guitar players a run for
The CD opens with a fairly tame “A Woman In Love,” but gets into a funky
mood with “When You Play The Blues” – showcasing some very good guitar
work that could stand up with the best of them.
Personally, I’d love to hear her play an instrumental blues in this
The title track, “Into The Blues,” follows, and this is where the album
starts to get bluesy, guitar work in the style of Robert Cray opening
this number – well written lyrics, with a throwaway mention of Mannish
Boy, some good piano, and the guitar work make a reasonable, if not
good, blues track.
Then comes track four – “Liza” – and you can see what Joan Armtrading
wanted to achieve – this is good blues! The lyrics (again) are good,
there is emotion here showing through, and a driving pervasive beat.
This one makes you tap your feet.
A couple of tracks later comes “My Baby’s Gone” – with some fairly
uninspiring repetitive lyrics, but some good bluesy music – this track
is a bit of a disappointment, as we’ve already seen what she’s capable
of as a lyric writer.
Things pick up a bit with “Baby Blue Eyes,” acoustic guitar, a little
harmonica, and good lyrics, which put me in mind of a cross between Bob
Dylan and Jackson Browne – if you have to give this one a label it would
possibly be modern folk blues.
There’s some heavy blues rock with “Deep Down”, but it doesn’t quite
seem to work and the lyrics are again very repetitive.
Getting towards the end of the album and Joan springs a huge surprise,
another track that really is blues – as good as “Liza.” The track is
“Empty Highway,” and again you can see what she wanted to achieve with
this album – an insight into what makes her tick musically.
What a shame the whole CD isn’t as good as “Liza” and “Empty Highway” – if
it was it could be rated as excellent.
Leave it to my friends from Missouri, Blue Voodoo, to be the
ones who have managed to create a writer’s dilemma for me that has never
been an issue before. Rest assured their new record, Hot Wire, is
an excellent record. I’ve listened to it many times and find I have two
trains of thought in regards to it. One is that it follows a natural
growth pattern and features everything I like about them: great vocals
by BJ Allen and outstanding musicianship by the rest of the band. On the
other hand, this is a band I’ve heard live; I know them and I find
myself as a listener/reviewer wishing they had taken a few more chances.
The final answer, I’m not sure, let’s give it one more listen and see
We kick things off with “Doin’ Somebody," and the first thing I hear is
the familiar strains of Jerry Fuller’s guitar. BJ Allen’s vocals tell
the story of a woman who is trying to get ahead any way she can. “She
tried to get to the top any way she can…but some ways are just bad
news…but if you’re doin’ somebody you know you’re going to get done to.”
There are no shortcuts to real accomplishment and inevitably it catches
up with all of us. JP Hurd’s bass and David Daniel’s drums stir up a
funky backbeat to the next cut, “Your Blues are My Blues Now.” Here,
BJ’s good intentions to help a friend are starting to wear her own world
thin, “you’ve taken all my oxygen…taken the wind out of my sails…better
get back on your feet somehow…cause your blues are my blues now.”
Cutting the chains that bind her are the only way that BJ can survive on
her own and cutting this one loose is by far the best way to go.
Next up is the title cut, “Hot Wire (My Heart)” and I hear BJ telling me
how down and out she’s really feeling at this point. “Can’t get my motor
running, cylinders won’t fire…I’m feeling mighty low…got a short in my
connection and the engine just won’t spark…so fire up my engines…it
ain’t that hard to start…prime it up a little bit and hot wire my
heart!” BJ’s heart (and her engine) are just in need of a little TLC to
keep everything running smoothly. Here’s hoping her mechanic knows what
he’s doing! “Gypsy Woman” provides a pleasant treat, some sweet
harmonica work by JP. Evidently the Gypsy Woman is someone to avoid.
“First men, can’t resist her…wanna know what she’s all about…don’t
become her prey…before she chew you up and spit you out!”
I’m glad the band took a song to show off its musicianship on the
instrumental, “Sounds Like ‘L’.” Jerry’s guitar is at the forefront as
he, JP and David take a few minutes to just air things out. This band
has been together for awhile and it shows in an instrumental like this.
Another treat in the form of JP at the piano provides the
introduction to “Blue as Blues Can Get.” BJ Allen sings a ballad as well
as anyone I know and I was wondering when we would get to hear one. “I
need to call someone…someone I can trust…I need to find a number for
Lover’s Anonymous…I’ll take your picture down off the wall…and try to
remember…the thrill of it all…I know its over, but I’m not just ready
yet…I’m as blue as blues can get!” I will never understand why most men
aren’t smart enough to know when they have a good woman. BJ continues
this discussion in “Puddle of Mud,” and at least she’s come to her
senses. “Said when I left I would cry you a river…but you ain’t worth
the tears it would take to fill a puddle of mud.” He wasn’t worth it,
she knows, and BJ’s able to move on from here.
Piano and harmonica fill my ears as BJ stops to tell us she’s a busy
woman in “Too Much to Do.” “I feel like a dog who is chasin his tail…I’m
in a hurry and I don’t know why…I’ve got too much to do before I die!” I
find that the next cut, “Written on My Heart,” is probably my favorite
cut on this record. It features classic fretwork by Jerry on his guitar
and BJ Allen is at her best when she’s able to wrap her arms around a
microphone to tell us how she’s feeling. “I don’t want you…and I damn
sure don’t need you…so why can’t I bring myself to ever leave you…I
guess you’re written on my heart…and that’s where you’re going to stay.”
“Noose Around Your Neck” finds our heroine in a reflective mood. Its
time to tell her man that either he shapes up or there will be hell to
pay. “It's time to step up boy…you need a reality check…either you put a
ring on my finger or there’ll be a noose around your neck!” The edge in
BJ’s voice on the next cut, “Deep Valley,” is something I wish we’d hear
more of. “As I passed through the door…I felt a chill in the air…the
notes written on the pages…they told the story well…they told how a man
lived…and they told how a man fell…down in deep, deep valley.” A sad
story of a man’s love for the woman in his life, the pain she caused him
and the consequences that arose out of his despair. JP Hurd wrote a
great song here and I appreciate the craft that went into it.
Hot Wire ends on a high note with “No Right or Wrong Way.”
Everyone’s definition of what blues means to them is bound to be
different, so, “there ain’t no right or wrong way to play the blues!”
Now that we’ve finished this spin of Hot Wire I can still see why
I’ve struggled with this disc. “Deep Valley” shows everything I feel
this band is capable of, outstanding lyrics, a great score and BJ Allen
just nails this song. “Written on My Heart” is a classic ballad as well
that will keep me coming back to this record to hear it again. Make no
mistake about it, Hot Wire is a very good production by an
independent band that works hard at its craft. But I also hear sounds of
a band in a comfort zone, and it’s the flashes of brilliance like “Deep
Valley” and “Written on My Heart” that continue to show me what they’re
truly capable of. I’m hoping that on the next record Blue Voodoo takes a
few more chances and really tries to bear its soul. I just have a
feeling the best is yet to come from this band and I’m looking forward
to it. Hot Wire is available from the band through their website,
www.bluevoodooblues.com, and it’s definitely worth a listen.
--- Kyle Deibler
I’ve got Elvin Bishop’s new record, Booty
Bumpin, in front of me and I’m thinking, what the hell does Elvin
know about booty bumpin. I’ve seen him dance and his booty bumpin days
are sadly behind him. But his new release on Blind Pig Records will
definitely get the majority of us up off our couches to shake some
booty. The bumpin is up to you.
A wicked instrumental, “Stomp,” kicks the party off with Elvin’s slide
guitar, solid drumming and a taste of accordion thrown in for good
measure. It's time to get up and get moving. Next up is “Stealing
Watermelons,” classic Bishop from 1970, an era where this particular
record could be found on eight track tape. Elvin and the band are in
fine form, although the sad fact is that Elvin gets caught lifting the
watermelon. “Farmer Brown caught me one dark night…stealing his melons
by the yellow moon light….he cocked his gun…his old dog bit me…you ought
to heard me scream when the rock salt hit me!” The band is in fine form
and Elvin is not against allowing them to stretch out the instrumental
portion to suit his fancy. This record is a live recording and the crowd
at Constable Jack’s in Newcastle were definitely treated to classic
A piece of sound advice can be found in the next cut, “Keep A Dollar In
Your Pocket.” “You will find in the end…that a dollar is your very best
friend!” It seems no matter what situation confronts you, having a
couple of bucks in your billfold will go a long way towards keeping you
out of trouble. Elvin and Mike Schermer exchange guitar licks as the
band cranks up the title cut from Elvin’s last album, “What the Hell is
Going On?” “Bloody mugging and molesting…running airplanes into
buildings…every time I turn around…something else is going wrong…now
somebody tell me, what the hell is going on!” The rhythmic, hill country
beat emphasizes the notion that every day the world experiences a new
evil to be confronted and dealt with.
Ed Earley takes over lead vocals on the next cut, “Feel Alright Again.”
Fine keyboard work from Steve Willis provides the backdrop for Ed’s
pronouncements, “I finally got the feeling, I feel alright again!” Ed
gives guitarist Mike Schermer his props for his guitar solo and its
great to hear a band having this much fun. Next up is the title track
and an up tempo band fest, “Booty Bumpin.” John Németh lends his harp to
the attack and Earley’s trombone leads the way as the band attacks this
piece. The band takes turns soloing and everyone is definitely letting
it rip. I see Elvin in my mind’s eye as he steps back from the
microphone to enjoy the mayhem that obviously is surrounding him.
“Half Way Out The Door” has Steve Willis taking the microphone to tell
us about his woman who’s walked out the door and left his heart behind.
There’s a child involved and Steve is missing his little girl. “I ain't
so young…I’m sure no pretty man…I swear that little child…she was my
last best chance”. Elvin’s slide work lends just the right touch of
desperation to Steve’s sad tale, “come back baby…can we be a family…I
swear that miss nobody…doesn’t mean a thing to me!” At least now we know
why Steve’s woman left him. Hill country rhythms and a strong bass beat
provide the backdrop for Elvin’s dissertation on his pet in “My Dog.”
Sounds like Elvin’s dog is a hell of animal, “when you’re drunk and
stoned…my dog will show you the way home…he’s my dog!” Obviously there
are goods reasons why dogs are a man’s best friend.
“Belly Rubbin” is up next and it’s another instrumental. Tactical use of
distortion lends a raw feel to this song and I’m back in the Mississippi
jukes swaying in time to the music. Piercing tones find their way
through my ears and are promptly replaced by some outstanding trombone
work by Ed Earley. I’m still getting used to the trombone as a blues
instrument but it's right at home here. Bobby Cochran grabs the
microphone as the band breaks into “I’ll Be Glad.” “Things have got to
get better…they can’t get no worse…I’ll Be Glad…I’ll Be Glad…when I get
my groove back again!” A classic Elvin song and Bobby’s giving it just
The band slows way down on the next cut, “Blue Flame.” A wonderful
instrumental with an airy, jazzy feel to it, Danny Castro’s lead guitar
work on this song is wonderful and then Elvin lets us know the reason
for the song’s inclusion. “The reason we play something as slow and
draggy as possible, is because we want to put all of you folks in the
mood to stay in between the ditches all the way home…we don’t want you
crashing your car on the way home and to tell you the honest truth…we
don’t have many fans and we can’t spare none of you!” Elvin and the band
closes out this fun ride with a rousing rendition of the Allen Toussaint
classic, “I’m Gone.” “Now and then you’d say you love me…and you’d even
kiss and hug me…but then you slam the door…on my big toe…I’m gone!”
Booty Bumpin has been a fun album and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
I recently had the opportunity to see Elvin at the Beale Street Music
Festival and this record reflects the essence of a live Bishop
performance. The band is in top form, Elvin is having a great time and
it doesn’t get much better than that.
--- Kyle Deibler
Blind Pig Records positions their latest artist, Peter Karp, as a
soulful storyteller and brilliant lyricist. He is indeed a very talented
musician and his perchance for telling a story is admirable. I’m not
sure he’s quite at the level of John Prine or Jackson Browne, but his
latest record, Shadows and Cracks, is definitely a record that
requires your attention as a listener.
Peter opens up his record with “Goodbye Baby.” His woman has managed to
keep him in a state of confusion to the point where the lines tend to
blur between reality and the truth, so its time for her to go. “Goodbye
baby, goodbye…I can live with mine but not your lies.” “Air, Fuel and
Fire” finds Peter with the Pontiac all gassed up and ready to hit the
road. “Air, fuel and fire, ‘till we run out of night and day…watch out,
watch out; you’re in the way!” Peter and his woman are hitting the
highway and you’d best watch out for them!
Love has captured Peter’s imagination and he tells us all about his
woman in “All I Really Want.” “I sing about you until I’m blue…and I
believe every word is true…cause all I really want is you!” Andy
Goessling’s work on the mandolin is impressive and it’s an instrument we
don’t hear enough of anymore. Popa Chubby grabs his guitar to provide
the context for “Dirty Weather,” a tribute to some of Peter’s
influences. “There was Ochs, Dumas, Cash and Thompson, Dickens,
Mayfield, even Dixon and Johnson. A room full of records and books in my
bed….me and the giants, all very dead.” Peter weaves a twisted story and
it’s easy to appreciate the genius in his lyrics.
It’s hard to imagine “Rubber Bands and Wire” as a metaphor for a broken
heart, but Karp manages to do so in his next song. “So I stared up at
the moon and it looked down on me and there’s a dull ache in my heart
tonight…’cause you’re no where to be…so roast another weenie and throw
another book on the fire…’cause without you I’m held together by rubber
bands and wire.” The next cut has Dennis Gruenling sitting in on
harmonica as Peter struggles to figure out the new woman in his life in
“I Understand.” “I understand: the power of seduction…being sussed,
red-faced and blue…mind manipulation…but, Ophelia, I’ll never understand
you.” Sometimes we just never can figure a woman out.
Up next is the title cut, “Shadows and Cracks,” with Poppa Chubby
backing on electric guitar with Peter playing some slide acoustic as
well. Sometimes, knowledge can be gleaned from the most unlikely of
places and that’s the lesson in Peter’s story here, “An old fool once
cried to me, you got fat in them books of facts…all you need to know is
in between the shadows and the cracks.” “I Ain’t Deep” finds Peter
coming to grips with the fact that he’s really not a complex person.
“I’ve been punched, clocked, docked, tuned in and found out…I ain’t deep
baby, I’m just down.” Self-realization continues to be the theme as
Peter hammers notes out on his piano in “The Lament.” For whatever
reason, life is just not falling together the way it should for Peter.
“Let Sinatra sing away my blues; let my existence be my own to choose.
Now let’s raise a toast…hold me close…while the bottom falls out of
everything”. Garth Hudson is backing Peter on the Hammond B3 and the
organ tones lend their air of depression to his problems as well.
“Runnin” seems to find Peter ready to embrace his fate. “Yeah baby, I’m
runnin to meet my maker…and I can’t get there fast enough from here…oh
I’m runnin' to meet my maker…’cause in the end I’ll end up there.” This
sense of leaving continues in the Delta-influenced “The Grave.” “The
woman who believes in you…wants to know what’s bothering you. She says,
‘Talk to me baby, don’t be afraid’ Some things are best taken to the
grave.” The haunting notes of Peter’s slide guitar lend a note of
finality to his end of days.
Shadows and Cracks closes in a festive mood with “Strange
Groove.” Peter is in hot pursuit of a woman who wants nothing to do with
him. “You’ll never get to know her…in all the times you meet her…She’s
got more faces than Kabuki theatre…the girl’s got a very strange
groove…the girl’s got a very strange groove!”
All in all this has been a very interesting listen and a nice departure
from the blues I normally listen to. Karp is definitely a witty lyricist
and his writing will challenge you as a listener to pay attention to,
and appreciate, his stories. I’ve heard enough to be curious to see what
pops up on his next recording and for me, that’s a good start.
--- Kyle Deibler
I’ve been a fan of Ana Popovic
since the release of her first record, Hush. I was in Memphis for
the W.C. Handy awards when she made her first splash in the states and
Ana’s intense performance at the Blue City Café was so loud it blew both
my dad and me out the door in search of earplugs. Unfortunately, Ana’s
next two records strayed from the promise she first showed on Hush.
But Ana’s back, with arguably her best record since then, Still
Making History, on the new eclecto Groove division of Delta Groove
Ana’s sonic assault on my ears starts with
the first song, “U Complete Me.” Displaying some of the incendiary
guitar that she’s known for, Ana lets the world know that this man is
the one she’s been looking for. “If you ever love another…can I be that
one?...cause, baby…U Complete Me.” The next song, “Hold On,” begins to
flesh out what Randy Chortkoff calls World Music, and the reason he
created eclecto Groove in the first place. Ana grew up in third world
Serbia and has seen some of the worst the world has to offer, “caught up
forever, damn red tape…sent away, not accepted…I’m not from the United
States.” Not everyone enjoys the same rights and privileges that we do
in this country and Ana has witnessed the difference. Some outstanding
sax work by Jim Spake punctuates this song and compliments Ana’s strat
A slower song, “Between Our Worlds,”
offers the hope of bridges between communities of the world. “Woman of
28 down in Africa…deserves the life I live…we are building…bridges of
compromise…we don’t need another hero…to save somebody’s life.” “Is This
Everything There Is?” finds Ana still in a reflective mood,
contemplating the interaction between men and women. “Another
night…won’t find her alone…longing for your affection…is this everything
there is? Who’s about to make a move…tonight!” This theme of desire
continues in Ana’s cover of the Marcy Levy/Dick Sims song, “Hungry.” I’m
hungry, I’m hungry…for your sweet smile…I’m lonely, I’m lonely…I need to
hold you for awhile.”
Mike Finnigan on B3 and Jon Cleary on
piano provide the subtle background to Ana’s self-penned “Doubt Everyone
But Me.” Ana’s jazz influences surface here as she affirms her love for
her man. “”Some say I can’t even know the way you feel…some say that I
won’t love you right…baby…doubt everyone but me.” Love switches from
affection to eviction as Ana covers the Willie Mae Thornton classic,
“You Don’t Move Me.” “You call yourself a man…your tears won’t help you
baby…you don’t move me baby…so move it out my door!” Finnigan continues
to provide sold work on the B3 as Ana clearly lets this man know that
it’s his time to go.
Jazz influences show themselves again on
the next cut, “Still Making History.” A solid rhythm line provided by
Tony Braunagel on drums and Terry Wilson on bass as Ana contemplates the
future of the world. “The more we search, the less we see…another circle
around the sun, be sure…we’re still making history…how much more anger
will be awakened?” A mixture of tempo changes mirror Ana’s mood as she
gets to know her man in “My Favorite Night.” “I’ll fulfill your
love…I’ll place your hands…between my thighs…I’ll see my reflection in
your eyes…this is gonna be by far my favorite night!” Ana’s intentions
are clear and this is one lucky man.
Ana breaks out the slide on her next song,
“How’d You Learn To Shake It Like That?” No matter what matter genre of
music she performs, this lady definitely plays a mean strat. “My daddy
was a preacher…but my mama was an alley cat…how’d you learn to shake it
like that?” Ana goes back to contemplating the world view on “Shadow
After Dark”. “We learn to swim…but we’re swimming with sharks….time is
hard, you better trust no shadow after dark.”
The passing of time in “Calendars” finds
Ana appreciating the changes in her life brought forth by a new man.
“There are calendars before and after…you came my way….just hope I’ll
forever feel this way.” Life is good and Ana is definitely enjoying the
new man in her life. Her physical appreciation continues on the next
cut, “Sexiest Man Alive.” “And when he takes you in his arms, somethin’
else besides his charm holds you there…somethin’ that you can’t
define…he’s the sexiest man alive!” Still Making History comes
full circle with an extended blues version of “U Complete Me” to close
out Ana’s first effort on eclecto Groove.
I have to admit, the bluesman in me misses
the Ana I heard back then in the Blue City Café, but the listener in me
appreciates her efforts here on Still Making History. Ana’s a
woman who follows her muse and in part it influenced Randy Chortkoff of
Delta Groove to develop a new record label for artists who defy any one
categorization. And really, that’s not a bad thing. Ana definitely
pushed her boundaries on this record and her growth as an artist is
self-evident. Her choices cross several genres of music and the end
result is her strongest record since Hush. I’ve heard enough to
be curious about what her next record will bring, and that’s plenty good
--- Kyle Deibler
For those of you who have never been to
the IBC in Memphis, it’s a trip that everyone should make one time. I’ve
been a venue coordinator for the Blues Foundation for the last several
years in part because of bands like Jeff Jensen’s. The first year
they came to compete they checked in early, stayed all night, played
their butts off and supported everyone like true gentleman. The energy
of IBC is contagious and I’m glad to see that they’ve finally released
their first CD, The Jeff Jensen Band.
Notes from Jeff’s Telecaster kick off the
party as he tells us about his latest girlfriend in “Sugar Sweet.” Juke
Logan lends his harmonica talents to this song with a wicked harp solo
as Jeff extols the virtue of this girl, “Well it aint no surprise…she’ll
serve me breakfast in bed…manicure my nails…scratch dandruff from my
head…she’s my baby…what a treat!” Its better treatment than Jeff
probably deserves but hey, I’m not knocking it. Nate LaPointe takes the
vocal lead on the next cut, “I Fell.” It seems all these boys do is fall
in and out of love and Nate’s got it bad. “I was holding back on what I
felt, all night long…I fell; I fell for that girl.” It ended badly but
the boy was definitely in l-o-v-e, love!
“Damn Fine Woman” slows down the tempo
while Jeff speaks on the woman in his life. “I got a damn fine woman; we
talk at least ten times a day on the phone…if she don’t come back here
soon…I’m gonna have to fine that woman and make her place, my new home!”
An inspired guitar solo underscores Jeff’s desire to have this woman
back soon and it’s obvious what he’ll do if she doesn’t return. I must
admit I’m at a loss on the next cut, “Cat Song,” written by Nate
LaPointe. I get the fact his wife left him and she took the cat with
her, but Nate, if it ain’t a dog…it aint worth fighting for!! Nuff said!
“Something About You” speaks to the it
factor that’s hard to define some days in the people we might. That
definite spark is different for each one we encounter and that’s what
Jeff is telling us, “It’s not that you’re irresistible or some kind of
tease…it is what it is and baby here’s how it goes…it’s just the way
your soul shows!” The flugelhorn solo by George Pandis is appreciated
and I like Jamison Trotter’s piano work as well. This is probably my
favorite song on the record. The tempo picks back up on the next Jensen
original, “Feel Alright.” Jeff’s Tele is screaming notes as Nate deftly
counters with some excellent guitar work of his own, “Come on baby don’t
fuss or fight…you know I’m only gonna to treat your right!”
Nate steps back to the microphone to tell
us, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” “I don’t want to brag about you
too much…giving others ideas…trying hard to express myself…cause baby
that’s the way I feel…that’s what love will do for you…that’s what love
will make you do!” “Find Myself All Alone” has Jeff in a funk pondering
some of the pitfalls life has brought him. “But in the end so many
nights, Lord I just find myself…always seem to find myself. Always seem
to find myself all alone!” Tom Ryan’s organ work stands out on this cut
and the guitar solo by Jeff poignantly underscores the depression he
feels. Better days are ahead.
Another relationship gone badly rears its
ugly head on, “Can’t Believe We’re Through.” “But you always got one
foot out the door…you want to fight…I say what for…the repetition is
such a bore…I can’t believe we’re through.” Considering all that’s gone
on in this relationship…she’s better off gone and Jeff’s better off
alone. Nate’s woman has found another man to run off with and we find
him loaded for bear in “Here I Come Again.” “Got a shotgun in my left
hand…whiskey bottle in my right…well I’m headed down to New Orleans
searching out the man who done me wrong…whiskey bottle empty…shotgun
smoking slow and strong.” This ended badly for the man who stole Nate’s
woman and the shotgun firing at the end of the song is a nice, emphatic
touch to his demise.
“Driving Wheel” is a tribute to everyday
partying and playing, something Jeff and most of the band are noted for.
“Sometimes I drink…and then I drive…I guess it’s just the Good Lord
still keeping me alive!” The band closes out their record with an up
tempo version of the Jimmy Rodgers classic, “Rock This House” and end
with a self-penned instrumental, “Something in the Water.” “Something in
the Water” highlights the other side of the Jeff Jensen Band, these guys
are very good musicians who can play a variety of styles and they know
how to have a good time.
I’ve known Jeff and the band for going on
four years now, and I find this record is a good reflection of their
tastes and the diversity of their backgrounds. They’ve played together a
long time which is evident in how tight this record is and they’re not
afraid to take chances, which is good. I ran into Jeff down in the Delta
at Hopson’s in May and I appreciated the fact that he took three weeks
out of his summer to really explore what Willie Dixon calls “the roots”
of the blues. I’m sure some of the lesson’s that Jeff learned will make
their presence felt in the next record, and all I can say is “bring it
on.” I’ll be waiting. This first record is very good and I’m sure the
next one will be better!
--- Kyle Deibler