Blues Bytes

What's New

August 2010

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Eddie Turner

Cee Cee James

Albert Castiglia

Beth McKee

Ron Hacker

Chaz DePaolo

Brad Vickers

Steve Wiggins Band

Small Blues Trap

Jose Alvarez


Super ChikanIf you have a Fred’s in your town, I strongly encourage you to stop by and pick up one of the most enjoyable blues CDs of the year. That’s right…..Fred’s has copies on hand of Chikadelic (Bluestown Records), the latest CD by the one and only Super Chikan. Obviously, the reason for this unlikely partnership is due to Chikan’s latest masterwork, “Fred’s Dollar Store.” The Fred’s franchise was so tickled about the free pub that they reached a licensing agreement where Chikan serves as their spokesman. How’s that for a nice story.

As mentioned above, Chikadelic is a rollicking good time, which is to be expected on any Super Chikan release. The disc was recorded in Norway at Notodden’s Juke Joint Studios, a studio used previously by artists like Louisiana Red, Pinetop Perkins, and Jeremy Spencer. Produced by Norwegian harmonica ace Jostein Forsberg (who also contributes some delta-flavored harp) the disc still sounds like it was recorded deep in the Mississippi Delta. The band includes Morten Omlid on guitar, Jens Haugen on bass, and Eskild Aasland on drums.

If you’re familiar with Super Chikan, you know that not only can he write a song about anything; he can also make it fun to listen to. His blues is typical of most Mississippi Delta Blues these days in that it incorporates soul and funk as well. “Ain’t Nobody” is a funky, crowd-pleasing opening cut, while “Hey Super Chikan” brings the Bo Diddley beat into the 21st Century. “Juke Joint Saturday Night” is a mix of the delta with a slick Memphis groove, and “Front Porch Boogie” is a rocker that belies its downhomey title.

“Hello Mississippi” relates the joy of returning home from the road. “Bad Ass Bass” is a hilarious variation of the classic “Catfish Blues” theme, and “School In The Field” is also pretty funny, too, talking about the “school of life” that most Delta musicians get most of their education. “Eyeball Blues” and “Dance, Rock, & Sway” are two clever originals that close out the disc in upbeat fashion. There are also a couple of remakes, the Chikan standards, “Down In The Delta,” and “Shoot That Thing.”

If you’re a Super Chikan fan, you already have this or want it. For those blues fans unfamiliar with the man and his music, this is a great place to start. You can even stop by your local Fred’s and pick it up…..for a discount price, of course.

--- Graham Clarke

Larry GarnerLast fall, Larry Garner recorded an appearance at the Tivoli Theatre in the U.K. with British blues mainstay Norman Beaker. Blues Bytes readers are familiar with Garner, but maybe not so much with Beaker, who has been deeply involved in the British blues scene since the late ’60s as a performer and producer. Joined by a first-rate band (Dave Baldwin – keyboards; John Price – bass; Steve Gibson – drums; Kim Nishikawara – saxes; Stephen “Howie” Hallworth – trumpet/flugel horn) on Live at the Tivoli, Garner and Beaker have themselves a good old time playing some of their favorites to an appreciative audience.

The set actually serves as a “greatest hits” of sorts for Garner, who reaches back to some tunes from his earlier JSP recordings (“No Free Rides,” Scared of You,” “Shak Bully”), a few from his mid ’90s period with Verve and Evidence (“Jook Joint Woman,” “The Road of Life,” “Had To Quit Drinking,” “Kleptomaniac,”), and a couple from his newer material (Henry Gray’s “Cold Chills,” “Heavy Pieces,” Raised In The Country”). He gives a smooth, relaxed performance. He’s perfectly at home in front of this audience, even sharing a few amusing stories with them along the way.

Beaker provides excellent support, contributes some solid guitar work, and even takes the microphone for a couple of his own songs (“Option On You Baby” and “Lies Like A River”). He and Garner work exceptionally well together. The band also does a fine job, complementing each of the front men equally well.

This is a well-recorded performance that will definitely please fans of Garner and Beaker. For newcomers, it’s a nice introduction to the music of Larry Garner. The only thing better would have been a DVD of the proceedings. Oh well, maybe next time. The CD can be purchased from Beaker’s website.

--- Graham Clarke

Eddie TurnerEddie Turner has been playing the blues since the ’70s, including stints with Tracy Nelson, Mother Earth, the 4-nikators, and, most memorably, with the Otis Taylor Band. Since 2005, he has released a pair of memorable and well-received albums for NorthernBlues Music. His third, and latest, release for the label, the much-anticipated Miracles & Demons, continues his hot streak.

The disc is split up into “Side One” and “Side Two.” Side One highlight tracks include “Booty Bumpin’,” the opening cut, which is a funky shuffle that gets things off to a fine start. The slow blues, “I’m A Good Man,” is next, with Turner making his case backed by his sharp guitar fills and sparse instrumentation. “Say” mixes funk, psychedelic, and some raw slide guitar, and the swampy blues of “Ride A Painted Pony” sounds like an imaginary Jimi Hendrix session for Excello Records. The title cut (Part One) ends the first half of the disc with what can best be described as psychedelic Hill Country groove.

Side Two (resist the urge to take the disc out of your stereo and flip it over) kicks off with “I Remember,” a mournful R&B track with a soaring guitar break from Turner. “Blues Fall Down Like Rain” is another highlight, with its insistent groove, and “Monkey See, Monkey Do” is an entertaining tune that Turner plays up to the hilt with an exaggerated vocal and swagger. “Mr. Blues” is a menacing slow track, with Turner’s guitar starting out acoustic and turning into furious, unbridled electric rage at the end of each verse. Part Two of the title track wraps things up, much longer and more intense on the second run with some hair-raising guitar that threatens to blow out your speakers.

It’s been over four years since Turner’s last release, so the arrival of Miracles & Demons is a welcome sight to his ever-growing fan base. It should also draw a lot of new listeners as well with its eclectic mix of blues, rock, psychedelia, and funky R&B. Eddie Turner waited a while to get started on the solo track, but the results, so far, have been rewarding.

--- Graham Clarke

Cee Cee JamesCee Cee James has turned some heads recently with her release on Blue Skunk Records, Low Down Where The Snakes Crawl, which charted on both the Living Blues Charts and the Roots Music Report and is still being played quite a bit. Striking while the iron is hot, James has released Seriously Raw (FWG Records), an electrifying live set recorded at the Sunbanks R&B Festival in 2009.

James starts the set with “Crossroad Blues,” which is punctuated with some smooth slide guitar by Rob “Slide Boy” Andrews, and a funky version of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Next up is a pair of her own songs, “Make It To The Other Side,” from her recent album, and “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues,” where the intensity really starts to build with her performance. “Give Me Back My Wig” is taken at a breakneck pace and probably had the audience moving, and “Done Love Wrong,” another James composition, is an intense eight minute slow burner. James’ vocal style is similar at times to Janis Joplin, so it’s only appropriate that she tackles a couple of Joplin tracks (“Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee”).

The rest of the set consists of classic blues tunes. Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” gets a funky reworking, and the B. B. King standard, “Rock Me Baby,” gets a feral makeover. The remaining tracks are Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” Luther Allison’s “Living In The House of The Blues,” and “Going Down,” which closes things out strongly with James encouraging the audience to sing along.

Don’t push that stop button, because there’s a bonus track included….about seven minutes of James’ conversations with the audience between songs. It’s pretty neat to hear and shows that James has a great rapport with her audience. She also has an impressive band, with Andrews and Jason Childs both dazzling on guitar, and a rock-solid rhythm section of Chris Leighton on drums and Dan Mohler on bass.

Seriously Raw is a fitting title for this disc. Cee Cee James gives a stunning performance in front of an appreciative crowd. Visit her website to check out song clips and to purchase the disc. You’ll be glad you did.

--- Graham Clarke

Albert CastigliaAlbert Castiglia’s fifth album, Keepin’ On (Blue Leaf Records), is a high-energy set of blues in the tradition of his previous releases that shows the Miami native continuing to develop as a top-of-the-line composer, guitarist, and singer. His solo career is now in its eighth year after a stint as Junior Wells’ lead guitarist and with Sandra Hall. He was nominated for a Blues Music Award for 2008’s Song of the Year for his “Bad Year Blues,” from his previous release, These Are The Days.

Castiglia opens with a powerful version of Albert King’s “Cadillac Assembly Line,” then launches into a blistering version of Bob Dylan’s “Till I Fell In Love With You.” Among the other cover tunes are a fine acoustic take on Robert Nighthawk’s “Murderin’ Blues,” that features Toby Walker on dobro, Peter Green’s “I Could Not Ask For More,” a slow burner with Sandy Mack guesting on harmonica, T-Bone Walker’s “My Baby Is Now On My Mind,” which gets a funky reworking, and John Lee Hooker’s Delta boogie workout “Goin’ Upstairs” gets an amped-up reworking.

Castiglia also contributed five original compositions, which include the swampy “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Sweet Southern Angel,” another acoustic track with Walker on dobro, the smooth instrumental, “Mojo 305,” and the mournful “Closing Time,” which closes the disc.

The rhythm section of AJ Kelly (bass) and Bob Amsel (drums) are steady and dependable and allow Castiglia plenty of room to shine on guitar. In addition to Walker and Mack, other contributors include Bill “Mighty” Quinn (B3 and piano), Emedin Rivera (congas, cyclone shaker), and Nicole Hart (background vocals).

Keepin’ On is an appropriate title for Albert Castiglia’s latest disc. He’s maintaining his path to the upper echelon of blues performers, continuing to improve with each release. This is his best effort so far.

--- Graham Clarke

Beth McKeeBeth McKee got her start in music playing piano in church in her native Mississippi. She honed her craft playing the blues on the chitlin’ circuit and eventually ended up a member of the country-cajun group Evangeline. Her first solo project, I’m That Way (Solo2 Productions), focuses on the music of a Louisiana music icon, Bobby Charles, who wrote such classic hits as “See You Later Alligator,” “But I Do,” and “Walking To New Orleans.”

Listening to McKee sing these songs, it’s obvious that she really has an affinity for this type of music. She has an easy, but exuberant style that really grabs your attention. She really tears through Charles’ catalog, too. “See You Later, Alligator” is a fun romp with a delightful piano break from McKee. Her vocal on “But I Do” is somewhat melancholy, but still hopeful, and her interpretation of “Tennessee Blues” is achingly beautiful.

The title cut sounds like a ’60s swamp rocker with the cool background vocals and McKee’s lusty vocal. “Small Town Talk” has a country-soul feel to it, and “Walking To New Orleans” has an easy Crescent City groove, punctuated by some soulful sax. “Last Train To Memphis” brings things back to the blues, and the closer, “I Don’t See Me,” is a sad ballad that features a heartfelt vocal by McKee (who also plays accordion on the track).

McKee is supported by a stellar group of musicians, including husband and co-producer Juan Perez (drums/percussion), Tommy Calton (guitars), Tony Battaglia (electric and slide guitar/bass), Tim Kelliher (guitars/ukulele), Gery Wilhelm (bass, backing vocals), Barry Dean (bass), Charles DeChant (sax/harmonica), Jerry Embree (sax), Bill Delk (B3), and Abdias Garcia (backing vocals).

I’m That Way was released in 2009, so Charles had an opportunity to hear it before his death in early 2010. He and McKee became good friends. McKee sang with Charles on the track, “You Will Always Live Inside of Me,” for his last album, released in February. I’m That Way is a terrific album of Louisiana R&B that is done with passion and love that you will find yourself listening to over and over again.

--- Graham Clarke

Ron HackerRon Hacker didn’t start playing guitar until he was 27 years old, but he has certainly made up for lost time during the ensuing few decades. A slide guitarist extraordinaire, his influences include Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Yank Rachell, and R.L. Burnside. Hacker has played all the major festivals in Northern California and several festivals in Europe. Teaming with his powerhouse rhythm section, the Hacksaws (Artis Joyce – bass, Ronnie Smith), Hacker has unleashed a winner with his latest disc, Burnin’, (Blue Skunk Music).

Burnin’ is a tantalizing mix of covers (sometimes obscure) that Hacker has been playing for years, along with some strong original compositions. The common factor in each tune is Hacker’s scorching slide guitar and his weathered vocals. Highlights include tracks like the rough and rowdy opening cover of Robert Johnson’s “32/20,” Yank Rachell’s “Peach Tree Blues,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Welfare Store,” Leadbelly’s “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” Sleepy John Estes’ “Broke and Hungry,” and a spot-on version of ZZ Top’s “Fool For Your Stockings” that takes the blues-rock original deep into the Delta.

The original compositions are a smooth fit with the diverse set of covers. “Prison Blues” and “Mailman Blues” are Delta-flavored tracks, one mid-tempo and the other a slow burner. The title track closes the disc and is a slide guitar tour de force that grooves hard, thanks to Joyce and Smith’s stellar support.

Burnin’ is a super set of blues showcasing some dynamite slide guitar work. With their highly original interpretations of older blues songs and some clever original tracks, Ron Hacker and the Hacksaws deserve to be heard and this disc is well worth tracking down.

--- Graham Clarke

Chaz DePaoloBluestopia, the fourth and latest release by Chaz DePaolo on Blue Skunk Music, offers a wide-ranging mix blues styles, ranging from New York to Chicago all the way down to the Mississippi Delta. DePaolo is an acclaimed New York-based singer/guitarist who has toured extensively in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

The opening cut, Albert King’s “Down So Long,” gets a upbeat treatment, with some great sax work from Robert Chaseman and inspired guitar work from DePaolo. Other standout tracks include the slow blues, “Woman In A Black Dress,” the jumping blues instrumental, “Look At That Girl,” and Rosco Gordon’s classic “No More Doggin’.”

“Pearly Gates” allows DePaolo to show off his acoustic slide guitar work, and ranks with “It’s Not You It’s Me” as the best of the original compositions on the disc. The title cut is the final track on the disc, an instrumental that features some fantastic interplay between DePaolo’s liquid slide guitar and Jason Ricci’s harmonica.

Bluestopia is an excellent disc that shows Chaz DePaolo is adept at several different blues styles. His guitar work and singing is first-rate and he’s developing into a solid songwriter. You’ll be hearing more from him in the coming years.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad VickersStuck With The Blues (ManHatTone Records), the second release by Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans, finds the band expanding on the foundation established with their first release, Le Blues Hot. Like that earlier release, the new disc features some fine vintage blues and roots music, but expands into Chicago blues, Mississippi Delta blues, ragtime, and even Hill Country blues with satisfying results.

The Vestapolitans are a versatile, talented crew of multi-instrumentalists. They include Margey Peters (bass, fiddle, vocals), Jim Davis (clarinet, tenor sax), Matt Cowan (baritone sax), Arne Englund (electric/acoustic guitars, piano), Bill Rankin (drums), V.D. King (guitar, percussion, vocals), and producer/guitarist Dave Gross, who plays upright bass on several tracks.

The title cut, an old timey Chicago blues shuffle, opens the disc. One of Vickers’ musical idols is Tampa Red and the group does a lively version of Red’s “I’m Betting On You.” The next cut, “Cold Fish,” features guitarist Bobby Radcliff laying down some sharp Hubert Sumlin-flavored licks. The Chicago influence continues with a couple of Jimmy Reed tracks (“Can’t Stand To See You Go” and “I’m A Love You”), and the Reed-influenced “Coming And Going,” with Radcliff channeling Magic Sam on guitar.

Other highlights include “Vestapol Rag,” a cool instrumental with some nice acoustic guitar from Vickers, and a couple of tracks that pay tribute to Chuck Berry (“What About Me,” penned by Vickers, and Berry’s own, “Jaguar And The Thunderbird”), and a dandy pair of Crescent City-flavored tracks (Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winding Boy” and “I Want To Tell You Right Now,” a slice of New Orleans R&B in the Fats Domino tradition).

Vickers and band tackle a diverse set of musical styles on this release, but it all fits together seamlessly. Stuck With The Blues is another winner that will be welcome in any blues fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve WigginsFor a rousing set of good time piano-based blues, look no further than The Steve Wiggins Band’s newest CD, Precious Cargo (Roosterfish Records). Recorded live at the Marina Civic Center in Panama City, FL, the band is in excellent form and offers up a crowd-pleasing set of original compositions, instrumentals and some choice standards.

Steve Wiggins has been making music since the mid ’70s, inspired by keyboardists like Gregg Allman, Chuck Leavell, and Jimmy Smith. He’s played with Allman, John Lee Hooker, and Tab Benoit, among others, and has recorded three discs of easy listening music.

Precious Cargo is his first official blues release. With an inspired band consisting of lead singer/drummer Lenwood Cherry, Jr., bass player Bruce Hebert, and saxman Wally Tirado providing strong support, Wiggins kicks things off with “Steve’s Boogie,” a rocking instrumental that really starts things off with a bang. Wiggins shines on two other instrumentals, the soul/jazz workout, “Roosterfish,” and Herbie Hancock’s classic, “Watermelon Man.”

Hebert handles lead vocals on two tracks, which include an interesting cover of “Cold Shot” (sans electric guitar) and James Taylor’s “Steam Roller.” Drummer Cherry sings on six of the 11 tracks, which include a trio of strong originals (the funky “Doin’ My Thing,” “Black Cat Woman,” and “My Last Tear”), and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Closing things out is a studio version of “Doin’ My Thing,” which adds former Allman Brothers bass player David Goldflies and Ted Shumate on electric guitar.

Precious Cargo is sure to please fans of high-energy blues and boogie. Check out the disc at CDBaby and the band at their website.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog

Small Blues TrapSmall Blues Trap never ceases to amaze me with their feel for the blues – they might be from Greece, rather than Mississippi, but they know what the blues is all about – they play it and they write it.

The band was formed in 2004, led by guitarist/vocalist Paul Karapiperis. On Red Snakes & Cave Bats (Home Studio Records), their fifth CD by my count, they show that they are continuing to progress in the blues. The 13 original tracks on this album go to prove that point.

The CD opens with “Mr.Jack,” a medium tempo driving blues with Paul Karapiperis playing some inspired harmonica along with the vocals on the track that he wrote in conjunction with bass player Lefteris Besios. “The Sky Will Always Be Blue” follows, with a very subtle hint of backing riff on “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” this one written by Karapiperis with talented guitarist Panagiotis Daras. Karapiperis again picks up his harmonica to add some depth to the track.

All of Small Blues Trap’s CDs contain an odd track, sometimes strange sound effects, sometimes strange vocals, and track three, “This Train Is Full Of Madness,” fulfills this task on Red Snakes & Cave Bats. It’s a track with some very accomplished guitar work by Panagiotis Daras, and some strange lyrics about people going out of their minds on a train – weird, but it works!

“Strange Melody” is a slow ballad with Karapiperis playing keyboards and drummer Stathis Evangellou laying down a nice relaxed backing behind the bass of Besios and guitar of Daras. The tempo then picks up a bit with Karapiperis on harmonica again on “It’s True.”

The CD moves through different tempos and styles from there on, a great mix of blues, from the boogie beat of “It Took Me A Long Time” through the slow and moody “Roy B” to the acoustic “Surely My Body Gets The Message” and the slide guitar led “Buy A Dog,” the latter which closes the album.

If you want to listen to some different blues, or proof that the blues is alive in Europe, then have a listen to this CD.

--- Terry Clear

Jose AlvarezJose Alvarez is a native of Mexico City whose formative blues years were spent on the Syracuse, New York blues scene. While his more recent work has been with Terrance Simien's zydeco ensemble, Alvarez returned to the Syracuse area to record his first solo release, Diggin In (Toluca Rocket Music), and is backed by one of his former bands, Los Blancos, as well as guest stars by Simien, Kingsnakes harmonica player Pete McMahon, and others.

Alvarez is a talented guitarist versatile in a wide range of styles. He shows off his licks on the opening instrumental, "Fennel St. Frost," a blues shuffle done originally by Albert Collins, and on his own "Kaffe," a Latin jazzy thing.

One of my favorites on Diggin In is the nice rendition of Taj Mahal's "Queen Bee," with Colin Aberdeen on vocals. At first it sounds a little too much like Taj's version to invite comparison to the original, but then Simien's accordion, Will Terry's tenor sax and Mark Nanni's Hammond B-3 accompaniment put an original spin on the number.

Aberdeen's original "I'll Be Your Man" starts with Alvarez playing a bit of a "Stairway to Heaven" guitar lick before turning into a slow, lounge-y blues that, at over eight minutes, goes on too long. Despite Alvarez's tasteful guitar licks, Aberdeen's vocals aren't strong enough to maintain interest over this span of time.

Terry is featured with on "Down at Turner's Lounge," a jazzy shuffle written by Alvarez that also gives Aberdeen a good piano solo.

McMahon steps to the front of the bandstand, handling both vocals and harmonica, on Joe Beard's downhome blues, "Lay For Me Sometime." This is one of the better cuts on the CD.

Diggin In closes with a mid-tempo jazzy instrumental, "503 Beacon Street," that gives Alvarez one more chance to show off his guitar work. He's skilled in wide range of styles, which actually works against him on this disc. I enjoyed most of the cuts on the album. But with the constant jump from jazz to Chicago blues to New Orleans blues to country blues and back again, there's not the cohesive flow to the album that allows the listener to get into a steady groove.

Still, Alvarez is a talented artist with a good future ahead of him, and Diggin In is worth the search.

--- Bill Mitchell

Billy Price-Fred ChapellierBilly Price traveled to France in 2009 to team up with local guitarist Fred Chapellier, with the results of their collaboration being the fine album Night Work (reviewed in the September 2009 issue). In addition to hitting the studio to record Night Work, the pair also did a concert at Espace Manuréva in Charleville-Mézières. The result of that evening of music is a CD/DVD combo, Live On Stage - Night Work Tour (DixieFrog Records).

There's some overlap with the prior studio album, but it's good to have "live" versions of standards like "Don't Let My Baby Ride" and "Love And Happiness," and of course the title cut, "Night Work," shows up again. Bottom line is that there is enough different material between the studio and live albums that shouldn't discourage fans of these artists to own both sets. The live CD has 11 cuts while the concert DVD is longer at 16 songs.

As I documented in the review of the studio album, Price and Chapellier work very well together. It came across in the studio album, and is now more evident in this live set.

Price is always at his best when reprising hits from the Duke/Peacock Records catalog. Here he includes his obligatory O.V. Wright tributes with "Don't Let My Baby Ride" and "A Nickel And A Nail," plus versions of Bobby Bland hits "Good Time Charlie" and "Further On Up The Road" (the latter on DVD only).

They also bring back Al Green's classic "Love And Happiness" from the studio disc. It's a great version and different enough from the original that they won't get labeled as mere imitators.

While Price is the front man on this live recording, Chapellier gets plenty of face time by showing off his guitar expertise throughout the session, especially on "She Left Me With These Blues," "I'll Take Care Of You" and "Under The Influence." Price's always top-notch vocals are especially powerful on the latter cut.

The sound quality on both discs is excellent. While I'm only an armchair film critic, the camera work on the DVD and the effective use of lighting is good.

In concluding my review of the studio CD last year, I expressed the hope that we would soon hear more from the combination of Price and Chapellier. Little did I know that they would get something out this quickly. This set is a keeper --- a treat for both the eyes and ears.

--- Bill Mitchell


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