Blues Bytes

What's New

August 2008

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Boo Boo Davis

Bocce Boogie

Hollywood Fats and the Paladins

Jimmie Vaughan (original US release)

Nellie Tiger Travis

Howard Tate

Garnet Mimms

Solomon Burke

Mike Zito

Robert Johnson book

BooBoo DavisBooBoo Davis was born and raised in Drew, Mississippi in the heart of Delta. Charley Patton stayed in the area for many years and several legendary performers spent time there, so there are plenty of influences to be absorbed by musicians growing up there. Boo Boo's father, Sylvester Davis played with John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and Robert Pete Williams, and these and other musicians rehearsed at their house. At the age of five Boo Boo was playing the harmonica and singing in church with his mother. By 13 he was playing guitar, and by 18 he was playing out with his father and older brothers under the name of The Lard Can Band and travelling all throughout the Delta. In the early 60s he moved to St Louis but he remained a southerner at heart. He never learned to read and write, but he found ways to deal with modern society enough that he has toured Europe playing his blues.

Name Of The Game (Black & Tan Records) is BooBoo’s fifth CD, and his previous one, Drew, Mississippi, was listed with the 10 best blues records of 2006 by MOJO Magazine. This is one of those albums that grabs hold of you the minute you start to listen – all sorts of influences percolate through (either intentionally or otherwise), like Hendrix, R.L.Burnside, Buddy Guy, but the music remains strictly BooBoo Davis. The line-up is unusual in that there is no bass! Just BooBoo on vocals and harmonica, with a guitarist and drummer – Jan Mittendorp and John Gerritse. It takes a while, though, to realise that there isn’t a bass in the band as the guitarist plays some nice bass riffs on his baritone guitar.

The CD has 13 tracks in all, 12 of them written by BooBoo Davis with a combination of other members of the band, the odd one out is a fantastic version of “St. Louis Woman,” the origins of which seem to be lost in time, but I can remember a version by Memphis Slim back in the 1950s. The opening track, “Dirty Dog,” is a good medium-tempo, foot tapper with wa-wa guitar, and it lays the groundwork for the rest of the album, which just gets better and better as it sails through the different tempos and influences.

Track two, “I’m Coming Home” slows things way down, and features some good, moody, harp playing, before track three, “Stay From The Casino,” lifts the tempo up again to the level of track one. The songs move back and forth between slow and medium tempo until you reach a lovely boogie shuffle at track seven – “Who Stole The Booty,” a compulsive, driving rhythm that really makes you move, and one of the best tracks (for me) on the CD.

I really can’t make my mind up between “Who Stole The Booty” and “St. Louis Woman,” but one of them is the best track on the album, and either of them are reason enough to buy this CD.

--- Terry Clear

Bocce BluesWell, Dallas-based Top Cat Records have been busy searching out some classic old material again, and they’ve come up with another fine album. Bocce Boogie features Big Walter Horton, Ronnie Earl, Johnny Nicholas, Sugar Ray, Ted Harvey, Mudcat Ward and Anthony Giarossi, recorded at a concert for a wedding reception in 1978. The CD is actually released as a Johnny Nicholas album and it was recorded in the renowned Bocce Club in Rhode Island at the wedding reception for Joan and George Nicholas – the club holds 75 people, and the fact that there were in the region of 150 people there for the reception will give you an idea of the atmosphere!

The audience are vocal, and get into the music with a lot of support for the band, but they aren’t obtrusive, they just add to the flavour! Live recordings have to have an audience, after all. What a good thing that the lost tapes of this gig turned up, and what a good thing that Top Cat Records had the foresight to release it on CD so we can all share the music.

Four of the 15 tracks are credited to big Walter Horton, together with some classics from Memphis Slim (“Every Day I Have The Blues”), Willie Dixon (“My Babe”), Robert Nighthawk (“Sweet Black Angel”) and Big Joe Williams (“Baby Please Don’t Go”), and some Johnny Nicholas originals, including the fantastic instrumental Bocce Boogie.

Fifteen tracks altogether, with Walter Horton, Johnny Nicholas, Ronnie Earl and Sugar Ray all taking the lead at one time or another – and every track full of atmosphere and good blues. For me, the two boogie tracks on the album stand out above the rest, although it’s close run thing – I just couldn’t sit still when I was listening to “Walter’s Boogie” or “Bocce Boogie” – close your eyes and you could be at the reception, especially if you listen through headphones!

This is great live blues, full of flavour, full of atmosphere – give it a listen!!

--- Terry Clear

Hollywood Fats and the PaladinsIt’s taken 23 years to surface, but Top Cat Records has just released the fabulous live recording, Live 1985 by Hollywood Fats & The Paladins, from the famed Greenville Avenue Bar & Grill in Dallas, recorded in December of 1985. Hollywood Fats sadly died the following year aged just 32, so there won’t be many, if any, later recordings around of this talented guitarist.

During his brief time on this Earth he managed to play with many of the greats of the blues world: John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and lots of others, so you just know he had to be good.

This CD is a mix of Texas Houserockin’ Blues & Jump Blues, with a few other influences thrown in for good measure, and it’s one of those albums that starts your foot tapping from the first chord of track one - which is, incidentally, an extremely good cover of Freddie King’s “Hideaway.”

The guitars of Hollywood Fats and Dave Gonzalez of the Paladins merge together really well, and the music just makes you wish that you’d been at the gig to see these musicians in action. There’s another Freddie King track, “Sidetracked,” as well as covers of tracks by Jimmy Reed, Chuck Willis, Jerry West and others, and also a couple of Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann) originals.

The recording quality of the vocals isn’t 100% (it was 23 years ago, remember), but it adds to the flavour, rather than spoiling the effect – and the music itself is just great.

Of the two Fats originals, “The Groove” (track 6), is possibly the best track on the CD, closely followed by the other Fats track, “Tear It Up,” a real rocker! There are two Freddie King tracks, a brace of Jimmy Reeds, and a fine cover of Little Milton’s “That Will Never Do,” as well as a good selection of others.

It may be 23 years old, but this is a must for any blues collection – especially if you like something to tap your feet to, or to dance to!!

--- Terry Clear

Moore and NailsStarting off here with an admission – I hadn’t heard of Rick Moore & Jimmy Nalls before I got my hands on this CD, Slow Burnin' Fire (Blues Boulevard). I don’t know why, because they are very good. This is another release by Blues Boulevard – oh boy, are these guys busy bringing some good blues to Europe!! This CD is a mix of various styles of music, centred around the blues, but taking in some soul as well. They have a good sound, these guys, and the CD is well worth a listen.

Rick Moore hails from Tennessee, near Memphis, and so he was exposed to a lot of good music early in his life – later on he toured with Willy Deville and added another influence to his broad base of music. Jimmy Nalls played with Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett, Percy Sledge, and others, so there is a good music background there too – add these two guys together and you can’t really fail to get some good music coming out! Jimmy Nalls was unfortunately diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1995, but continues playing and making music.

The CD opens with a rocking blues, “Talk To Me Baby,” written by Rick Moore, who was involved with the writing of most of the tracks on the album – either on his own or with help from others. Track 5, “Let Me Down Easy,” is a soul-based track, very obviously influenced by Percy Sledge, complete with horns!

For me, the track that got most of my attention is “Muddy water fever,” a basic slow blues, with harmonica from Bill Howse, a portion of slide guitar from Noel Roy, and no fancy add-ons. The last five tracks, out of the 18 on the CD, are live – four of them live versions of other tracks on the album – which gives a good idea of how good the band are outside the studio.

--- Terry Clear

Jimmie VaughanAnother great re-release from Blues Boulevard records! This Belgium-based outfit are re-releasing into Europe a series of great CDs from around 2000, and they are certainly picking some beauties!

Jimmy Vaughan's Do You Get The Blues? was always a fine album, but it didn’t do very well in Europe. With a couple of European visits under his belt, Vaughan should do well second time around with this CD.
The album has guest stars, including Lou Ann Barton (no surprise there), James Cotton, Double Trouble and others, and they all make a good job of teaming together for a great album of blues.

The CD opens with the instrumental “Dirty Girl,” and in my view this was an inspired pick for the opening track, as it is pure Jimmy Vaughan, with just guitar, drums and Hammond B3, and really whets the listener’s appetite for more. Track two, “Out Of The Shadows,” adds bass and some backing vocals (including Lou Ann Barton) for a slow pulsating blues, that keeps your attention ready for the next track “The Deep End.” Here is where guest artist James Cotton blows his stuff on a haunting harmonica, always in the background, but always visible – what a shame it’s the only track that he appears on.
Things slow down with “The Power Of Love,” with Lou Ann Barton taking the lead vocals, and Jimmy Vaughan helping out – the guitar work here is inspired, and Bill Willis provides all the help they need with his Hammond B3.

A couple more slow songs follow up before the beat starts to pick up with “Robbin Me Blind” and nice medium shuffle beat with Billy Horton changing the flavour with his upright bass. The aptly named “Slow Blues” follows – pure late night blues ecstasy! Jimmy on guitar and vocals, supported by George Rains on drums, Bill Willis on the Hammond again and Greg Piccolo on mellow tenor sax in the background. This track is haunting and atmospheric and should be listened to in the dark!!

The CD is worth buying for this track alone. And then, just when you thought you’d listened to the best the album has to offer, comes “In The Middle Of The Night,” with Jimmy sharing vocals again with Lou Ann Barton – her voice definitely at her absolute best – and Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, better known as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble backers, lay down a great rhythm.

The album comes to an end with the strange “Planet Bongo” with some flute addition, courtesy of Herman Green, and a jazzy feel to it.

--- Terry Clear

Nellie TravisI'm A Woman (CDS Records), from Nellie "Tiger" Travis, is an easy CD to review. I enjoyed it from start to finish. Sure there were a few tunes I won't be humming in the morning, but as a whole, and from a new independent label, this is an exceptional release. I'm sure there will be comparisons to the successful Ecko Records since both labels aim at the radio stations in the southern states, and both rely heavily on programming and house song writers.

What makes this one shine above the others is Nellie "Tiger" Travis. She's the real deal as far as singing goes and makes rather routine songs seem important. I had the privilege of seeing her perform at the Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival in 2007 and she stole the show, so it's not surprising that with quality songs and production, she can be a star.

Rather than go from track to track, the majority of the songs were written by Floyd Hamberlin Jr. which gives a sort of sameness to them. My favorite tracks though were the ones written by Travis, "Amnesia," and the great duet with label mate Stan Mosley, "Who Knows You," written by Robert Newsome and Bob Jones. I hope that with Mosley and Travis both with CDS Records there will be more duets coming since their voices go together well.

In all fairness I do like the ballad "Don't Talk To Me," written by Hamberlin Jr. and he also gets credit for the song title of the month "Slap Yo' Weave Off," obviously not a love song, but two women fighting over the same man. I sure hope he was worth getting your weave slapped off for.

Check out Nellie's website at and you can listen to sound bites and check out the great photos. Recommended.

--- Alan Shutro

Howard TateI was excited when I heard that Evidence was releasing a new Howard Tate album and surprisingly a new Garnet Mimms disc (also reviewed in this issue) so I couldn't wait to get them into the old CD player.

Here's what I have to report. Blue Day starts with arguably the worst opening track I have heard in a long time. "Miss Beehive" is a song about Amy Winehouse with such ridiculous lyrics as" Miss Beehive likes to misbehave." Why would anyone choose to open an album, and especially a Howard Tate album, with a song about Amy Winehouse is beyond me.

As I got further into the album the answer became quite clear; all the songs were written by or co-written by Jon Tiven and his wife Sally Tiven. The strongest song, "Good And Blue," was co-written by Dan Penn, and as you listen to this as compared to some of the others, it makes this track sound like a "hit" among many misses. The Mack Rice collaboration, "Stalking My Woman," is a bluesy number that really goes nowhere as does the Syl Johnson collaboration, "If I Was White," a song obviously about racism, but nowhere as potent as Johnson's "Is It Because I'm Black."

The primary band is Jon Tiven and his wife Sally, with Chester Thompson on drums. They never really get a groove going because the arrangements are so pallid. To quote from Tiven's liner notes (yes, he wrote them, too), "But every singer needs a great song and this time the responsibility for my coming up with these songs fell on me. I know I did my best to come up with the goods...and when it came to putting them across, Howard brought the fire." Jon, I think the only fire Howard brought was for the barbecue after the session was over.

The problem as I see this release is that this is a Jon Tiven ego project and Howard and the additional songwriters were just collaborators. When the producer was deciding on Bettye LaVette's last CD they listened to thousands of songs and narrowed it down to a hundred or so for Bettye to decide the final 10 or 12. I would think that took a bit of work, but it paid off in a big way.

So Jon, I would say as far as this criticism....."Get It While You Can."

If you want to see a current Howard Tate at his finest, I would like to direct everyone to YouTube and Howard doing "Louisiana 1927" at a recent concert. A legend for sure.

--- Alan Shutro

Garrett MimmsI have listened to Garnet Mimms' music since the emergence of soul in the early '60s. His 1963 smash, "Cry Baby," made it to #1 on the Billboard charts and is familiar to all those who listened to pop music of that era. He released several albums for United Artists during that period and all of his albums and singles are highly sought after by collectors. He left the music business in the late '70s and kept busy with singing gospel music and taking an active roll in his church. The 74-year-old Mimms, a West Virginia native and a long time resident of Philadelphia, is pastor of the nondenominational Glory Land Ministries on West Cheltenham Avenue in West Oak Lane, PA.

I approached this new CD, Is Anybody Out There (Evidence), with great trepidation once I saw that it too was produced by Jon Tiven, who I feel didn't do much justice to Howard Tate's release that I have also reviewed in this issue. Of course, Tiven wrote or co-wrote 13 of the 15 songs, and was responsible for being the band leader once again. Where this release differs from the Tate release is that none of the songs would be out of place at Mimms' Sunday service. As with most of his secular music, it is filled with a joyous gospel feeling. A couple of the songs, such as "I Know The One" and "Thirty Three," are overtly Christian, but most are inspirational uplifting songs not unlike some of the fine releases Aaron Neville has given us in recent years.

There are no cheating songs or Amy Winehouse references here. Mimms' voice may not be what it was in 1963, but at 74 years young, he hasn't lost much. By adding classic backing by the Heart for Christ Choir and adding the incredible Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns on trumpet and trombone, this CD has a much fuller sound than does the Tate release.

Mimms does a credible version of Johnnie Taylor's "God Is Standing By," Dan Penn lends his songwriting talents to "You'll Lose What You Got," and a thanks goes out to Pat Cambell for allowing them to use Milton's lead guitar on "Let Your Love Rain On Me."

I enjoyed this release much more than the Tate CD, and I guess we owe a bit of gratitude to Jon Tiven for seeking out and allowing us to visit once again with one of music's true icons. Perhaps if there is another release to follow, they should take the time to research and pick songs from the vast and diverse repertoire of inspirational music.

--- Alan Shutro

Solomon BurkeI have to admit that I was rather cool on the last few Solomon Burke releases, partly because they never really got off the ground musically and partly because my younger years were filled with all his great releases on Atlantic. Who can forget his killer Bell album with perhaps the best version of "Proud Mary" ever, from his post Atlantic years. Now those were "soul."

I can't really say that about Like A Fire (Shout Factory) although his voice still is filled with emotion and able to put over a song. He is joined on this release by Eric Clapton who offers two songs, Keb Mo' and Ben Harper with one each as well as several other fairly well known writers and performers. The Clapton tracks are "Thank You" and also the title track. They sound like ballads you'd find on a Clapton album, just substitute the voice and you pretty much know what you have here.

The Keb Mo' offering, "We Don't Need It," is perhaps my favorite on this release, about a man who loses his job and whose family stands behind him in his time of strife. Quite a poignant song with a fine message. The Ben Harper track, "A Minute To Rest and A Second To Pray," is a bit too rocky for my taste.

Another of the better tracks, "What Makes Me Think I Was Right," written by guitarist Jesse Harris, takes a country slant somewhat like the tracks on Nashville. Harris also wrote the mid-paced "You And Me" and it too is a bit country. The album ends with a cabaret version of the 1950s chestnut "If I Give My Heart To You," kind of a weird choice to end the album (or just a weird choice in general), but one that allows Burke to croon a bit over piano, celeste and drums.

This is in my opinion the best release of his last few and one that has grown on me over repeated listening. My one complaint is that it contains only 39 minutes of music. I guess 39 minutes by a master is better than 79 by a pretender. I can recommend this release, but it may take a few listens.

--- Alan Shutro

Mike ZitoJust got back from the Heritage Music Festival in Wheeling, WV and watching Ana Popovic perform there perfectly illustrates the mission of Eclecto Groove Records --- to present the music of artists whose music defies categorization. Mike Zito’s new release on Eclecto Groove, Today, is a perfect example of that. Part R & B, part Soul, part Blues, its all good and a very impressive debut recording.

“Love Like This” is the first track up and it’s a reflection of Mike’s memories of growing up and being shown what true love is by his mother. “Don’t you ever turn your back on love…or ever give up on a friend…love is all that you need…and with a love like this, you’ll breathe.” “When you got a love like this my son…you’ve got to hold on tight…when you’ve got a love like this…you’ve got to love it 'til the end!” Truly giving…truly living is the lesson imparted to her son by Mike’s mother. The groove takes a different turn on “Superman.” A funky back beat finds Mike working to soothe the fears of a new love. “I know you’ve seen me here before…girl before you lock that door…I think you’ll know exactly what you’ll find…this man of steel surely understands…you need a Superman!” Mike’s vocals are very soulful…very expressive…very soothing as he works to win over the object of his desire.

The next cut, “Holding Out For Love,” finds Mike in pursuit of a wounded woman. “So take me down to the bottom level…make it hurt like I never know…still I look at you and can’t deny…say how long…you’re going to need to be strong...I’m holding out for love.” We’ve all come across situations where one needs to heal before they can move on to love again; hopefully this love of Mike’s will be able to do that. Next up is the cut that surprised me the most on this new release, a soulful version of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” “You’re the kind of person who believes in making out once…love them and leave fast…but it was Saturday night…what have I got to lose?” Fast living leads to fast loving and more often than not, a swift end to a fiery flame.

“Universe” finds Mike pondering his existence in the world. “Why are we here…driving our cars…loving one close…hating one far…no one really knows why.” Life needs to have a sense of purpose…a reason why one should carry on and it isn’t always apparent to any of us why we’re here. Mike’s living a hard life in “Blinded.” “Blinded…blinded by the life…but amazing grace…it took away my knife!” Faith brings Mike out of the depths of tough times and gives him the faith to move forward…to live a better life. A soulful guitar intro begins the process of reflection for Mike in “Slow It Down.” “When I look back…on my life…you know it’s hard to remember…anything I did right!” Self-exploration can be a painful process and Mike’s struggling to find meaning in a lot of his past life experiences and the way he treated others. “You know I pray to God…at least baptize the ring!” But from the past comes the lessons for the future and at least Mike is looking toward the light.

Up next is the title cut, “Today,” and we find Mike trying to do his best to live in the present. “I take my time about…growing older…try to live like…I’m getting younger.” He’s got a good woman, life so far is being good to him and at least everything is good. “I know life is going to bring a little bit of pain…but with some help from above…I know its going to be ok…just for today!” “No Big City” finds Mike reflecting on how life in the city is no longer the daunting proposition it used to be. Mike’s spent the majority of his year’s growing up in East St. Louis and the longer he lives in the city, the more of a sense of the need for community he feels. We need to stand up, persevere and fight the good fight to preserve a healthy way of life for everyone.

“Life ain’t no mystery…its all about you and me…you pay your bills…you go to church…its making life easy to serve…so tell me what you think you’re made of!” “Deep Down in Love” finds Mike asking these questions of his friend…no matter how he’s professing to live…love ultimately is what will bring him the most happiness. “Dirty Things” finds Mike realizing that he’s the one on the other end of the relationship this time. “Something inside is telling me to walk away…but I see your body and my mind starts to go astray…it’s all because of you and the dirty things you do.” This evil woman definitely has the charms to keep Mike at bay, no matter what his brain is trying to tell him to do.

Hollywood is part of the LA mystique, charm and ultimately home to all of the sins and temptations that lure many an artist to its shores. “But everybody is doing their thing…they’re keeping in line…they’re keeping in swing…I want to live in Hollywood!” Mike is determined to make it in this city of temptation and his resolve will hopefully go a long way toward keeping him out of trouble. The ballad, “Time to Go Home,” closes out what has been an enjoyable record from this new artist on Eclecto Groove. “It’s about that time again…I pack my bags full of where I’ve been…all the guitars and mics have been loaded up…we’re ready to roll.” “It’s time…time to go home.” The road can be a lonely place for the traveling musician and there are good reasons to return home from the road…to see a loved one…to hold your little girl again…to feel the love of the ones you miss. A nice way to end an impressive debut by Mike Zito.

Today is a good record. Mike’s voice is an impressive instrument that he uses to convey the emotions he feels in his soul when singing. His songs reflect heartfelt emotions and he lyrically tells an impressive story. Mike is passing through Phoenix soon and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to see his live performance match the emotions he conveys in this soulful release.

--- Kyle Deibler

Guitar RedIf you venture down south to Decatur, GA, you might chance upon a street musician that plays in and around the square. His name is Billy Christian Walls, but he goes by Guitar Red. Even though he’s lived a tough life (losing his family in the span of a decade, battling alcohol, drugs, and homelessness), he has used music as his means of expression and as a coping mechanism. He writes songs that mix humor and pathos in equal blends and is a fiery guitarist and passionate singer.

Backspace Records ( has released a collection of Red’s songs. Entitled Lightnin’ In A Bottle, the disc was recorded live with only a couple of overdubs and presents an artist playing his own idiosyncratic style of blues. While there are songs that are derivative of other blues styles (“Box Car No. 9,” “Chain Gang Blues,” “Three Legged Dog Blues,” and the hilarious “Lips Poked Out”), Red gives these a unique polish that only he could offer.

Other songs, such as “Ain’t Got Nobody But Myself” and “I Believe,” have more than an autobiographical edge to them. The manic title cut features Red on clavinet, and “Out My Mind” sounds like it has roots in the Mississippi Delta. At the end of the disc, there’s a three-minute snippet of Red rambling in the studio that captures his eccentric personality perfectly.

While street musicians aren’t nearly as widespread as they were in the ’20s and ’30s, Lightnin’ In A Bottle captures one of them in his element and gives you a glimpse into the uniqueness and originality of his style. Wonder what it was like in the days when there was one on nearly every street corner in these southern towns? However it was, I’ll imagine not many of them could have held a candle to Guitar Red.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon JusticeJon Justice was born in the Chicago area and toured as a teen with various bluegrass and gospel groups. The lure of those two musical genres led him to relocate to Memphis, where he developed his own unique musical vision mixing blues, gospel, and soul with a touch of the swamp. His second release, The Rebound (self-released), is an amazing ride through these genres which results in some of the best Southern rock heard in a while.

The opening cut, “Nobody’s Bizness,” is a delicious variation on the old blues classic “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” complete with Stax-like horns and groovy backing chick vocals, all driven by Justice’s gravelly vocal, his slide guitar, and funky Hammond Organ provided by co-producer Phillip Wolfe. If this was a fair world, you’d hear songs like this on your radio on a regular basis. “Bad Bad Man” is a swampy blues track with more fine fretwork and “Mean Old World” is another upbeat number that’s bound to get you on your feet.

The title track features more tasty slide work from Justice, as does the rocker, “Leavin’ To Stay.” Coming at the disc’s midpoint, “You and Me” is a nice change of pace, in more of a pop vein and featuring Ben Walkenhauer on saxophone. The soulful “Lose It All” features a strong vocal by Justice, and “Get You Good” demonstrates Justice’s flair for catchy lyrics and is one of the disc’s standout tracks.

The Rebound is a strong effort by Jon Justice. His gritty, powerful vocals, splendid guitar work, and songwriting skills make this one a keeper for fans of blues/rock with a touch of soul.

--- Graham Clarke

Barbara BlueBarbara Blue’s second of three sets recorded at her Memphis stomping grounds at Silky O’Sullivan’s is appropriately entitled Live Volume 2 (Big Blue Records). Recorded at the same time as Volume 1 (September and October of 2007) and featuring the same band (Nat Kerr – piano, Lannie McMillan – saxophone, Corey Osborn – guitar, and Kerr, Nancy Apple, and Reba Russell on background vocals), Volume 2 features Blue tackling a diverse set in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

Highlights include a powerful take on Etta James’ “At Last,” featuring Kerr on the keys, a sax-drenched soulful take on Henry Glover’s “What Makes You So Tough” and Nancy Apple’s “Moonlight Over Memphis.” Blue also does a nice version of Dorothy LaBostrie’s “You Can Have My Husband,” a sensitive reading of Paul Siebel’s “Louise,” and Lucinda Williams’ “Drunken Angel,” a favorite from her Sell My Jewelry CD.

Since the setting is stripped-down and somewhat relaxed, the band is pretty low-key, other than Kerr’s wonderful support throughout and the occasional sax break from McMillan. Blue’s performance is, as always, first-rate, as she continues to prove herself capable of handling any song style that comes her way with relative ease.

If you liked Volume 1, you’ll love Volume 2. Barbara Blue continues to stand out in a crowded field of female blues vocalists. If you’re in Memphis, drop by Silky’s one Saturday night and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

--- Graham Clarke

Jake LearJake Lear is a Vermont native based in Binghamton, New York who was captivated by the music of Buddy Guy as a youngster. He also absorbed the music of artists like John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His music has been touted as “High Octane Bob Dylan/Stevie Ray Vaughan fueled blues.” His gravelly vocals do bring Dylan to mind, but besides the SRV influence, he sometimes reminds me of Mason Ruffner when he plays guitar.

His debut release, Love and Charm (self-released) combines his own blues/rock compositions with Elmore James (“Sure Enough I Do”), Richard “Rabbit” Brown (the gentle “James Alley Blues”), and the old reliable rocker, “Dust My Broom.” Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” demonstrates how much Lear’s vocal style mirrors Dylan’s.

The original tracks range from the scorchers, “Kiss Me” and “Leave This Town,” to “Cry Cry Cry,” which has more than a touch of the Mississippi Delta present, to the Texas shuffle of the title track to the hard-rocking “Breakdown Shakedown,” one of several tracks featuring the searing harp work of Pete Ruddle, who also shines on “North Mississippi Bound.” “Ruth’s Boogie” brings out Lear’s SRV roots, “Trouble In My Mind/Trouble In My Soul” has the Ruffner influence going with the guitar work, while “Early In The Morning” could pass for a lost Dylan track.

Providing stellar backing for Lear is a tight group featuring Ruddle, Carlos Arias (bass), and Brad Gordon (drums). Love and Charm is a blues/rock treat that will reward fans of the genre.

--- Graham Clarke

Based in Savannah, GA, Jimi Ray is a three-piece band that, as the name indicates, plays high energy Texas-style blues, boogie, and blues/rock. The trio consists of New Yorker Chris Carusos (guitar and vocals), Louisiana native Doc J. Black (bass and vocals), and Georgian Calvin Williams (drums and vocals).

Their latest release is a self-released effort called Just Passing Through and features eight tracks, a mix of familiar covers and original tunes. The covers include a funky take on Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” and the Hendrix standard, “Hey Joe.” There’s also a sharp acoustic version of “Pallet on Your Floor.” The originals include “Day Late Dollar Short,” which is driven by a familiar SRV riff. The amusing “Please Don’t Take (My Guitar)” and “Turning Gray” are also worth a listen.

Carusos is a strong guitarist in the Hendrix/SRV mode, but he shows much more on several of the tracks featured here. Black and Williams are a tight rhythm section who can also spice things up as well.

Just Passing Through is a solid set of Texas blues/rock via Georgia and will please fans of the genre. Check the band out at

--- Graham Clarke

Robert JohnsonThere have been several attempts to write a biography of blues legend Robert Johnson over the years, most notably by Peter Guralnick and Elijah Wald. While both efforts were well-done, they seemed incomplete due to the fact that there are a ton of gaps in Johnson’s story and the accurate information available at the time was simply not enough to carry an entire book (Guralnick’s book was actually more of a dissertation and Wald incorporated Johnson’s story into a general history of the blues).

Tom Graves, former editor of the magazine Rock & Roll Disc, and contributor to publications like Musician, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Book Review, and others, has taken a stab at separating fact and myth from Johnson’s story with Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson (Demars Books). Like the other bios, Graves has painstakingly researched his subject and presents the facts as currently known, separates fact from myth, and even addresses at length all the events of the past couple of decades, including Johnson’s renewed popularity based on the early ’90s release of his complete recordings, the discovery of Claud Johnson, who was determined to be Johnson’s son and heir, and the controversy over the bit of film found in 1998 that was rumored to contain footage of Johnson playing on a street corner.

Graves also discusses the “Crossroads” legend that has been part of the Johnson legend for so many years and it’s amazing to read how this story has thrived for so many years given its humble beginnings. There’s also a chapter devoted to the third photo of Johnson (pictured with his nephew) that has only been seen by a few people since coming into the possession of researcher Mack McCormick. Graves also looks at the sometimes contentious, and sometimes complicated, war of wills between McCormick and Johnson archivist Stephen LaVere (who wrote the foreword for this book).

This is, by far, the most complete and accurate book so far on Robert Johnson. Graves’ main goal, however, is to entice readers to “connect the dots” between Johnson’s legacy and modern blues, jazz, country, and even hip-hop. Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson is an interesting and absorbing book that not only will be of interest to new fans, but will fill in some gaps for longtime fans.

--- Graham Clarke


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