Blues Bytes

What's New

August 2014

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Missy Andersen

Bernie Pearl

Arthur Migliazza

Elvin Bishop

Luther Dickinson

The Bluescasters

Celebration of Blues and Soul

Dave Specter

Steve Freund & Gloria Hardiman

Thorbjorn Risager

Davina and the Vagabonds

Raoul and the Big Time

Elam McKnight

Dennis Johnson

Fife & Drom


Missy AndersenWhile I've never seen Missy Andersen perform live, I am familiar with the guitar talents of her husband Heine and I've always said that if you're judged by the company you keep, then you are in good stead. San Diego and Southern California luminaries Sue Palmer, Nathan James, Bill Stuve and James Harman all lend their considerable talents to Missy's new record, In the Moment, and that bodes well for this disc. Let's give it a listen.

Familiar notes from husband Heine's guitar provide the intro for our first cut, "Rent Party," and here we find Missy working to pay the rent. "People came from miles around...DJs laying down some groovy tunes...having a good's my rent party." She paid the rent and had money left over for food, it's all good in Missy's world.

An original, "Whole Lotta Nuthin," is up next and I hear Ben Moore's B3 lending its tone to the mix as Missy tells her man, "Whole lotta nuthin...that's all I got for you're feeling lucky...but honey that ain't true." Don't know what he did or why he's out the door but Missy is definitely clear where she stands and appreciates the love of the good man she has. Horns are in the background and our next cut, "Night Stalker," has a marimba feel to it. Missy's loved a two-timing man and now she's decided to turn the tables and do some two-timing herself. "I'm a shadow creepin...window cracking...GPS tracker...I know how to catch a cheat."

We move onto a beautiful ballad, "More Than Enough," and Missy's telling her man that he's the one she wants in no uncertain terms. "There's always someone...who wants to bring you down...remember your courage...turn it all around...don't let lies defeat you...or crumble to the ground...just hold your head high...and look me in the eye...and know that you've finally" Missy's a strong woman and her man in question has to know she's "more than enough."

James's harp makes its appearance on the next cut, "Better or Worse," another original. "You looked me in my eyes...and you promised me the moon...but now I know the truth,'ll be leaving me real soon...well, I know we had hard times...but I'm still in love with you." Missy's in it for better or for worse but he obviously is not and I'm thinking he left a good woman behind.

Sue Palmer's piano provides the intro for our next tune, "No Regrets," and here we find Missy lamenting the end of a relationship and trying to find the lessons in its ending. "When he tries to go after me...with his sweet talk and apologies...I'm going to lock the door...and throw away the key...I'm moving on...with no regrets...I might forgive the hurt but I won't forget." The lesson is learned and Missy's moving on.

Up next is "Same Things Will Make You Laugh Will Make You Cry," and I'm loving the Memphis-style horns behind it. Missy's man has moved on to a new woman and at this point Missy is willing to impart some hard-earned wisdom to him as a friend. "Wipe that silly grin off your face now darling ... remember when you think about it...don't you know...the same things that make you laugh...will make you cry." Don't know if he will listen to her but Missy has done her best to set him straight.

Heine's guitar leads us in to our next cut, "No Regrets," and I hear Bill Stuve's upright bass loud and clear. "I'm going to oppressors...let my music set my spirit free." Heine has a beautiful solo in the middle of this tune and Missy's clear in her intentions to move onward and upward. A Sue Palmer original, "Ladies Shoes" is up next and we hear Missy's voice at its sultriest. "I'm going shopping baby...I'm going to buy me...some brand new shoes...going walking on downtown...going get rid of these lowdown blues." We're not sure why Missy has the blues here, but some shopping therapy is in order to help bring her out of the funk that she's in.

"Hey Now" has kind of a funky, reggae beat to it and I'm appreciating the curve thrown at me with this tune. Missy's an opportunist and she's ready to pounce. "Hey now...can't you hear me at your door...hey don't come around no more...if you don't come to my house...naturally, I'll come to yours." Missy's willing to go the extra mile here but there's no guaranty that her love will be rewarded.

We close out Missy's record with her interpretation of a Snook's Eaglin classic, "I've Been Walking." "I've been walking...and talking...about you." Heine provides a delicate foil to Missy's vocals before the band kicks it into high gear and we move to more of a gospel revival feel at the end of the tune.

One thing's for certain, Missy Andersen can flat out "sang." She's an extremely strong vocalist with a top-notch cast of players behind her, and it all comes together in one nice package, In the Moment. Missy is a fixture up and down San Diego County in California, and it's not like any of us needs an excuse to visit San Diego. Her new disc is available on her website,, and when you do finally make it to San Diego County, look her up. I have a feeling a Missy Andersen show is definitely one worth seeing.

--- Kyle Deibler

Bernie PearlIt took awhile, but after a couple of miscommunications a copy of Bernie Pearl's Take Your Time finally showed up on my door --- and I'm glad it did! The picking on it is impeccable and I'm appreciative of having this opportunity to hear some of Bernie's work. It's in my CD player now, so let's give it a listen.

Barbara Morrison appears as a guest on the record with Bernie and the opening cut, "Worried Life Blues," features her in a duet with Bernie. Based on an original Fred MacDowell tune, Barbara and Bernie are letting us know they're no longer worrying. "Someday baby, ain't going to worry my life anymore." In essence the passing of one of them will lessen the burden on the other and they "ain't going to worry my life anymore". We move on to a version of a Lightnin' Hopkins love song, "Katie Mae." "Katie Mae is a good girl...folks say she don't run around at can bet your last dollar...poor Katie Mae will treat you right." Katie Mae is a good woman and does all she can to appreciate the love of her good man. Of course, the oil wells in the backyard don't hurt either but I'm convinced Katie Mae is good at what she does.

Up next is an original instrumental, "Kickstart," and it's Bernie's thank you to the good folks who helped fund his campaign to get this record made. Crowd funding is the way things get done in the age we live in, and Bernie's tribute to his folks is intricate and tasteful in the best of ways. A little electric guitar makes its appearance next in Bernie's cover of "Rock Me Mama," the Big Boy Crudup classic. "Rock me mama...hey, hey, hey...rock me mama...rock me time before you go."

We move on to "Mama Don't Dog Me" and Bernie's fretwork continues to shine. "I went to church...called on me to pray...fell down on my knees...I didn't know what to say...Lord, oh Lord...ease this heart of mine...woman keep me worried...and bothered all the time." There's a good chance that she will keep after Bernie, but at least he put in a plea for respite with the good Lord above. A snare drum intro brings Bernie and Barbara back together for a Fred and Annie Mae MacDowell tune, "Jesus on the Main Line." "He will come in a hurry...tell him what you want...Lord, call him up...tell him what you want." We've all got a direct connection to God and the fastest way to resolution is to tell him what you want.

"Como" was a Fred McDowell instrumental tune that Bernie greatly admired. His reworked version is called "Mississippi Raga" and it's a very solemn, majestic instrumental that pays its respect to the intention of Fred's version. "One Room Country Shack" is our next tune and I appreciate the change of pace that it brings. "Sitting here....a thousand miles from this little one room country only worldly possession, this raggedly, old 11 foot cotton sack." Share cropping was a hard way of life for folks in the South and Bernie does a great job of conveying the desperate state of their existence at the time.

Next, Bernie breaks out his National Steel guitar and picks away at a Sonny Boy Williamson I classic, "Sloppy Drunk," as the next cut on his disc. "Yes, I'm sloppy drunk, baby...I'm staggering down the street...I'm tired of running and dodging from...every man I see." The woman in his life is causing him trouble and the obvious solution is to get drunk and ignore the pain she's causing. If you live long enough you'll discover that life is obviously a roller coaster of ups and downs, and Bernie bravely faces a downswing with Barbara at his side in our next cut, "Tough Times." "I had a real good job...working many long hours a week...they had a big layoff...they got poor me...tough here once you don't have no can't live more." Barbara seems like a strong woman and I have no doubt they'll find their way through the "tough times" they're dealing with now.

Our next tune, "10:00 am Blues," came out of the fact that Bernie's first recording session for this disc started at 10:00 am and they warmed up for the session by picking this instrumental. It's a nice juxtaposition of bass guitar and Bernie's acoustic picking that I like quite a bit. Bernie moves on to a Robert Johnson classic, "Traveling Riverside Blues," and I'm thinking the National is making another appearance on this disc. "Going back to Friars Point, darling...going to rock it to my end."

Next we find Bernie's in a spot of trouble but I'm glad he broke out the lap steel for Eddie Boyd's "Third Degree." "They got me accused of murder...I've never harmed a man...they've got me accused of forgery...I can't even write my name...Lord, I can't more of this third degree." Bobby "Hurricane" Spencer's saxophone is in my ear...lending just the right amount of desperation to poor Bernie's plight. I'm thinking the outcome will not be good for one Mr. Pearl.

Bernie chooses to close out this record with an original tune, "This Old Fool". "This old fool...thinks he still attractive...thinks his libido's retroactive...this old fool...Oh, Lord...what a fool."

I'm the first to admit that I've enjoyed this disc by Bernie Pearl. Acoustic Blues is a small segment of what's out in the market today and Bernie is a master at what he does. Take Your Time has been nominated for a Blues Blast Magazine award for Acoustic Album of the Year and deservedly so. I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up on the Blues Foundation's ballot for a Blues Music Award as well. You can learn more about Bernie on his website at and grab of copy of his disc while you're there. It will do you good.

--- Kyle Deiber

Arthur MigliazzaI first saw Arthur Migliazza open for Saffire at the old Rocking Horse in Scottsdale when he was maybe 16 years old. Ann Rabson was a mentor of Arthur's and I'm sure was responsible for Arthur's place on the bill that night. Obviously, I remember more about Saffire and less about Arthur, but I was impressed with the set he played that night and I've been a friend of his mom, Ginny, for years now. So I was happy to get Arthur's disc in the mail and give it a spin. He's a very talented pianist and his new disc, Laying It Down, has Arthur doing exactly that.

Arthur opens with the instrumental, "Overture," and its dark overtones quickly give way to a more synthesized orchestral feel that has interesting fretwork from Jeff Fielder in the mix. Arthur's always been a complex artist and "Overture" is a perfect example of just how his musical vision comes to life at times. Up next is Arthur's take on a Fats Domino tune, "I'm Ready." "Because I'm ready...I'm a willing...and you'd better come along with me...we're going to rock and roll...until tomorrow past 3." It's an upbeat song, Arthur's in complete command of the ivories, and I'm sure he could rock and roll until tomorrow afternoon if he wanted to.

"Rockin' Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu" is up next and Arthur attacks this Huey "Piano" Smith classic full on. "I want to love you...honey...that ain't all...I want to kiss the rockin' pneumonia & the boogie woogie flu." Arthur's surrounded by an excellent cast of musicians and his keyboard work on this tune is impeccable. Up next, "Boogie Woogie Stomp" is just that and Arthur's attacking the keys as he conveys the classic boogie woogie feel of this tune written by Albert Ammons.

Our tempo slows down and the harmonica of Grant Dermody is introduced as Arthur and the band take on "Love You Mama," a tune Arthur wrote for his mother. It's a wonderful tribute to Ginny as Arthur conveys his love and thankfulness to his mother for all she's done to contribute to Arthur's career. I'm sure she's quite touched by this tune that Arthur wrote for her. "I love you mama...and I'm grateful for all you do." Nicely done, Arthur. A heavy tom drum backbeat introduces us to the next tune on our disc, "Sing Sing Sing / Bumble Boogie." Andy Roth is keeping the drums going on this tune while Arthur capably handles the piano gymnastics required by his meshing of the Louis Prima tune "Sing Sing Sing" with the instrumental tune "Bumble Boogie." It's very artistic and is definitely reflective of the chances Arthur loves to take as an artist.

The tempo slows way down before giving way to a Dixieland beat and we're transported to the French Quarter for "Bourbon Street Parade." "I'll take you...and parade you...down on Bourbon'll see all the hot spots...I'll show you all those big shots...down on Bourbon Street." Arthur's got his girl in tow and she's about to see all that New Orleans has to offer. Another original of Arthur's, "Thank You Blues," is our next tune and offers Sean Divine on the harp this time providing the perfect foil to Arthur's piano. "Thank You Blues" definitely has a melancholy feel to it as Arthur plays away down in the bass register of his piano. We emerge from the late night back to a more upbeat tune, "Honky Tonk Train Blues," and I appreciate the change of pace on this roller coaster of a ride I'm on.

Arthur, of course, switches me up by heading back in time to tackle the Hersal Thomas tune, "Suitcase Blues." "I got wings...thick soles on the bottoms of my shoes...I feel like rambling...don't you feel like rambling too?" Arthur's ready to do some adventuring and he's right when he sings, "when you get the suitcase blues...there's just one thing you should know...whether it's now or later...either're gonna go." Next is Arthur's version of the W.C. Handy classic, "St. Louis Blues," and his mastery of the piano continues to impress me. The last of Arthur's originals, "Professor Calling Me," is his tribute to another New Orleans legend, Professor Longhair. "I hear music...calling me...way down in New out in the street...just like they do at Mardi Gras." I've been to Tipitina's and it's definitely Professor Longhair's spirit that is calling Arthur to New Orleans.

Arthur closes out his disc with another Boogie Woogie classic, "The Boogie Rocks," by Albert Ammons and more than does it justice with his work on the ivories. This has been an impressive disc by Arthur Migliazza and I'm happy to have a copy for my collection. Most of the time he can be found in the clubs of the greater Seattle area and I encourage everyone up there to catch a show if they can. The rest of us will just have to be content with a copy of Laying It Down that can be ordered from Arthur's website at

Arthur's star is definitely on the rise and Laying It Down shows exactly why. Enjoy!

--- Kyle Deibler

Elvin BishopYou've got to love Elvin Bishop. He comes to the studio, plugs his Gibson in and just flat gets after it. His newest release on Alligator Records, Can't Even Do Wrong Right, is another great album from Elvin and I'm appreciate of the Paul Thorn artwork that he used for his cover art. Let's throw this thing in and give it a listen.

Elvin and the band start out with the title track, "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," and they're in high gear from the get go. The tune is about a slick dude named Maurice who isn't half as fly as he thinks he is. To hear Elvin tell it, "Between the food and the weed...he sat down on the couch...and he went to sleep...he got the middle of the night...ain't it a shame...the dude can't even do wrong right." There's a heavier bass drum backbeat to help provide the intro for our next cut, "Blues With a Feeling," and Mickey Thomas joins the band to provide harmony vocals on this tune. Elvin's playing a blistering guitar lead and he definitely has "blues with a feeling" as the riff continues. "You know I love you baby...wanna know the reason why....gone and left me baby...and you left me here to cry...blues with a feeling...that's what I have today."

"Old School" is up next and its funky beat is complimented by harp magic from Mr. Charlie Musselwhite himself. "Yea, man...I'm an old fashioned lookee tattoos...I'm an old fashioned dude." Elvin's not a fan of newfangled technology so you'd better call him...don't text...e-mail or won't get to him if you try. "Don't send me an e-mail....send me a female.." I'm liking the way Elvin is thinking on this one.

Mickey is back to take the lead vocal on a beautiful ballad, "Let Your Woman Have Her Way." "Love...honor...and obey...that's what you hear...all the preachers say...but let me tell you know when it says those's not just talking to her....nine times out of ten...all the trouble between women and men will be okay...if you let your woman have your way.." Sound advice from Mr. Thomas and I'm thinking we'd all be better off if we'd just learn this simple lesson. Charlie's harp is back for "No More Doggin" and the band follows behind him as Charlie leads them through an upbeat instrumental that has Elvin's rocking guitar trading licks with Charlie's harp in fine fashion.

Our tempo slows down just a tad and Elvin's guitar is at the forefront of our next cut, "Everybody's in the Same Boat." Elvin's sharing a little bit of country wisdom with as us as we all have to face the fact we're all growing older. "Everybody's in the same boat...and what we can do about it...I don't know...I guess we can just enjoy the road...and go with the flow...everybody's in the same boat." We move on to "Dancin'," which has kind of a gypsy, hill country vibe to it. "Dancin'...with the moon shining down...with the music nice and loud...dancin'." I hear a bit of Steve Willis's accordion in the background and I feel like I'm down in Louisiana. Up next is Elvin's version of the Jimmy Reed classic, "Honest I Do," and this is the first blues tune Elvin ever learned. The band attacks it as an instrumental and Elvin's guitar duels a bit with Steve's accordion to make the whole thing flow. I'm liking Elvin's version a lot.

Another Zydeco- inspired tune, "Bo Weevil," is up next and we're back to the farm where Elvin grew up. "About 12 o'clock...everything get hot...up step old John...we'd start clapping...he'd start singing...a sweet little country weevil...where you've been all'll get a licking...sure as I'm sitting...on this bale of hay." This disc comes to a close with sparks flying off Elvin's guitar as the band tackles "Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop." "Matilda Brown told old King Tut...if you can't say Re-Bop...keep your big mouth shut.'' Irreverent and fun in typical Elvin Bishop fashion, this is a great tune to end Elvin's newest disc.

At age 71, Elvin Bishop has definitely earned his status as one of the legend's of the Blues today, and it's always refreshing to hear a disc from him. He's just a good old boy from the country, playing his heart out and having fun. We all could learn such as lesson from Elvin. Like he says..."everybody's in the same boat." So catch a life show of Elvin's when you can, grab a copy of his new disc if you will, and don't send him an e-mail...send him a female.

--- Kyle Deibler

Luther DickinsonLuther Dickinson is definitely a blues man who follows his own path. The first time I listened to his new disc, Rock 'n Roll Blues, I wondered what his inspiration for the recording was. As I read the liner notes and perused further, it became clear that this is Luther's musical history, from its beginning to its present, all sung into an 8-track reel to reel recorder that he grew up with as a kid. Backed by Lightnin' Malcolm on drums, Amy LaVere on bass and Otha Turner's granddaughter Sharde Thomas on drums and fife; Luther takes us on this eclectic exploration of his formative years. I honestly don't think I can explain it any better than that, so let's give it a spin.

Deep bass notes from Amy and Lightnin's heavy kick drum backbeat bring us to the first cut, "Vandalize." Luther was a punk rock kid to start with and back then it wasn't easy for kids at 14 to hear live music, so a record store show was an adventure for Luther. "There were no all-ages shows in my day..for free and instrumental was how they a record store, free for kids...I get so excited..have to vandalize."

Luther goes on to hit the road as a musician and tells us about it in "Blood 'n Guts (The Ballad Of Boots and Dixie)." Starting out as a road musician is no easy task but Luther managed, "Like a Mexican road case, keep on rollin'...'til the cardboard gives out...and I fall thru the bottom again...hit the ground runnin' for your life...You better run for your life". Life at home isn't any easier and Luther readily admits he's not a handy man in "Yard Man." "I ain't no yard man...ain't no yard man's son...bought a ridin' lawnmower...the dirty sunbitch won't run." Luther's wife likes the yard kept up and she won't pay to have it mowed, so if the mower ain't working it won't get mowed.

Next we hear of a revelation from God that Luther experienced at the dog track in "Goin' Country." "Get you some cowboy like you supposed to do...White boys ain't born to sing the blues." Fortunately for us the Nashville country inclination didn't last very long and father Jim intervened, "Son, you did the one thing I told you not to do...Memphis boy never hang up his rock 'n roll shoes." Sharde's fife leads us into the next tune "Mojo, Mojo." With its wartime inflections, "Mojo, Mojo" is a song of survival. "Told the hangman, swingin' from the cut me loose and set me free...mojo, mojo...where you been...been to hell and back again."

Survival leads to a return to his rock 'n roll roots in "Rock 'n Roll Blues." "Po' boy got nuthin' to lose...singin' those ol' rock 'n roll blues." Luther had everything to gain and nothing to lose by pursuing his rock 'n roll blues roots, and they welcomed him with opened arms. Everyone hustles when they're young to share their music with the world, and Luther shares those experiences with us in "Bar Band." "Ad in the Flyer said...local bands needed...lost the battle of the bands because we got cheated...yeah...never be nothing...but a bar band...pack up your gear...and load up the'll never be nothing...but a bar band."

Opportunity knocks every so often and the adventure continues in "Stone's Throw." Here Luther is knocking at the door of prosperity, and in the critical moment it just didn't happen. "But I missed my mark by a stone's throw...blacked out for a few minutes...while it meant the most...I can hit the bull's-eye with both eyes closed...but I missed my a stone's throw". We encounter folks along the way in this journey that is our life and every now and then we wonder what happened to someone we met along the way. Luther explores this further in "Some Ol' Day." "Someday, if you ever come lookin' my way...don't believe what you see or hear them say...I broke free...disappeared...and changed my ways."

"Karmic Debt" is the final cut on Luther's record, and here he acknowledges the debt that's due for a dream come true. "It's a karmic debt of a dream come true...starless nights...searching for you...set sail out on the rollin' sea...let the mermaids...flirt with me."

I have to admit I've enjoyed the journey that Luther Dickinson has managed to take me on in Rock 'n Roll Blues. He's been privileged to see some amazing happenings in the musical evolution of his life and has so much more to share with us as times goes on. I'd love to see a show with Luther, Amy, Sharde and Lighnin' and who knows, perhaps someday I will. This disc was recorded at the Dickinson's family studio, Zebra Ranch, and is available from Luther on his website, This disc has been one of the more interesting recordings I've heard in quite awhile and I appreciate the complexity of one Luther Dickinson and his muse.

--- Kyle Deibler

The BluescastersIn addition to sporting the cover of the year, with a mantis sitting on a harmonica, this latest Bluescasters disc, Something Going Down, represents some of the best blues that the region has to offer. Perhaps its greatest appeal is that it offers 13 original tunes written by the quartet of Phil Ryski (harp, keys and guitar), Doug Wolgat (bass), Brian Delaney (guitars) and Harry Rodman (drums).

Here is a band that subscribes to the theory that music ought to be dangerous. Think of Link Wray's "Rumble" or Roy Buchanan's "Sneaking Godzilla Through The Alley." You know, dangerous like the opening "Something Going Down" or "Warlock's Grave" or "Smokin' Your Mama." The guitar work is on fire.

Check out the instrumental "Wildman Blues," with the finest guitar work I've heard all year, and some serious ivory work, as well. Impressive harp work, too. Sometimes I hear shades of Rick Estrin ("Who Told My Wife" and "It'll Find You"). Most of the time, I hear a band of extremely talented blues men. The swinging "A Woman Like You" (“I've been waiting some time to meet a woman like you”) is juxtaposed by the ego-blues of "Don't Tell Me" (“I wanna do what I wanna do”).

There's more than a little rock in the mix, but given that the fellas are from Detroit, of course there is! The vocals are excellent, the rhythm section rock steady, One of the standout discs of the year so far.

--- Mark E. Gallo

A Celebration of Blues and SoulIn 1989 George Bush the senior was taking the reigns from Ronald Reagan. All was not right in the world politically, but it was just fine musically on January 21 at the Washington Convention Center, captured on the Shout Factory DVD A Celebration of Blues and Soul – The 1989 Presidential Inaugural Concert. This wasn't about any political party, but just about partying.

Following the opener Chuck Jackson ("Any Day Now" and  "I Don't Want to Cry") and Percy Sledge ("When A Man Loves A Woman"), Dr. John did a superb version of his "Right Place, Wrong Time," and then it was on. Joe Louis Walker gives a fantastic turn on "747" and the spectacular triumvirate of Willie Dixon, Albert Collins and Delbert McClinton rip it up on "Wang Dang Doodle." McClinton may have gotten too much mic time on this, but it's a blast, nonetheless.

Bo Diddley follows, William Bell does "Born Under a Bad Sign," and Carla Thomas and Billy Preston perform "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." After turns by Eddie Floyd ("Knock On Wood") and Sam Moore ("Soul Man") it pumps into high gear. Delbert McClinton, one of the great voices of our time, delivers the goods on "Just A Little Bit," "Standing On Shaky Ground," "Maybe Someday" and "B-Movie Boxcar Blues." He continues to be amazing, but in this performance of 25 years ago he was on fire.

To cap off this celebration of southern soul and Texas blues, the great Albert Collins is joined by brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan on "Frosty." The brothers served as great bookends to the maestro. He cooked even as he strolled through the audience of suitcoats and gowns. The brothers took over on "Love Struck Baby" and "Texas Flood" ---  Jimmie was impressive enough here, but it was all about SRV at this point.

Wrapping it up with just SRV and Double Trouble, the final numbers, "Superstition" and "Scuttle Buttin'," framed the great guitarist/vocalist in a great light. Having had the chance to see Stevie Ray a couple of times at around this period, I can attest and I can testify. The man was soooooo good.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Dave SpecterMessage in Blue (Delmark Records) is Dave Specter’s tenth release, and the guitarist’s heady mix of blues, jazz, R&B, and funk is as compelling as ever. On this new release, Specter offers 13 songs, seven instrumentals and six featuring vocals, and Specter’s taste in choosing singers for his tunes is as good as his guitar playing, which is impeccable. Though he’s more than capable of carrying an entire album with his fretwork, the mix of instrumental and vocal tracks works very well here.

The vocals are split evenly between Chicago soul/blues legend Otis Clay (with masterful covers of “Got To Find A Way,” once a hit for Harold Burrage, Bobby Bland’s “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” and Wilson Pickett’s “I Found A Love,” simply blowing each of them out of the water) and keyboardist Brother John Kattke, who adds powerful vocals to the swinging “Chicago Style,” a gospel-flavored version of the Freddie King standard, “Same Old Blues,” and Lonnie Brooks’ “Watchdog.”

On the instrumentals, Specter really stretches out, touching on blues and soul with the slick title track, channeling the funk of the Meters on “Funkified Outta Space,” jazzing it up with “The Spectifyin’ Samba,” swinging Chicago-style with “New West Side Stroll,” exploring Latin rhythms on “The Stinger,” getting down and dirty with the rocking slidefest “Jefferson Stomp” (with guest Bob Corritore on harp), and heating up the joint with the sweltering “Opus De Swamp.”

Message in Blue gives listeners the best of both worlds…..a great instrumental guitar album and a great set of vocals to boot. Dave Specter is at his best on all of these tunes and certainly deserves mention as one of the best blues guitarists currently working. This album should put any questions about that to rest for good.

--- Graham Clarke

Sugar BlueIt makes sense that rap and hip-hop owe a huge debt to the blues. The lyrical content in rap and hip-hop is basically the same as the blues, though the topics and musical content have been updated and magnified at times. The subject was even part of that PBS documentary mini-series from several years back. Although not all listeners may agree with the theory, it's hard to argue against it when you hear “Next Level,” the recently-released single teaming blues harmonica master Sugar Blue with hip-hop legend Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (of Run-DMC fame).

With oversight from star producer Sonix the Mad Scientist (David Bowie, P.Diddy, 50 Cent), "Next Level" begins with Sugar Blue's soaring harmonica (based on the old "Hoochie Coochie Man" riff) and vocals and quickly segues into DMC's rap and moves briskly back and forth between the two from that point, all backed by Sonix's propulsive rhythms and beats and Sugar Blue's fierce harmonica. I can tell you that you've probably never heard the blues played quite like this, but it is surprisingly successful and effective. This is part of an upcoming EP release from Sugar Blue, and I certainly want to hear more where this came from. This is definitely the blues taken to the "Next Level,” and is available for downloading at iTunes.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve Freund and Gloria HardimanDelmark Records recently reissued Set Me Free, an early ’80s recording by guitarist Steve Freund with vocalist Gloria Hardiman. The album was originally released on Razor Records, the label that also produced the recent Queen Sylvia & John Embry album released by Delmark a few months ago, and the session marked the first recordings for both Freund and Hardiman, as well as keyboardist Ken Saydak, whose debut 45 from Razor is included on this CD reissue.

Freund and Hardiman are joined on the session by a number of familiar faces to Chicago blues fans. Sunnyland Slim plays piano on several tracks, with steady Bob Stroger and Harlan Terson manning the bass, Sam Burckhardt blowing tenor sax, and Eddie Turner and Fred Grady sharing the drumming duties. This group subsequently formed a band called The Blueprints and also worked for as Sunnyland Slim’s last band for a number of years.

The first ten tracks comprise the original Razor release, eight featuring Hardiman’s rich and soulful vocals on covers of classic tunes associated with Bobby Bland (“You Got Me Where You Want Me”), Jimmy Rogers (“That’s All Right”), Aretha Franklin (“Dr. Feelgood”), Guitar Slim (“Well I Done Got Over It”), Tina Turner (“The Way You Love Me”), and Bessie Smith (“New Orleans Hop Scop Blues”).

Freund takes the mic on another Guitar Slim song, “The Things I Used To Do,” and provides sharp six-stringed support throughout the disc, touching on a number of differernt styles, but keeping it all in the Windy City tradition. There are two instrumentals on the original album, an original featuring him with sax man Burckhardt (“Jammin’ With Sam”), and the Eddie Vinson swinger, “Kidney Stew Blues.”

There’s also a pair of previously unreleased tracks from the group, Otis Rush’s “Homework” and the Brook Benton hit, “Kiddio.” Keyboardist Saydak’s two tracks from his Razor 45 round out the set, the first time they’ve been available on CD. He provides solid vocals on the jumping “Shoppin’ and Snackin’” and rocks up the instrumental, “Swanee River Boogie.”

Delmark is doing a great service providing blues fans with these previously hard-to-find releases. They’re providing evidence that even though popularity for the blues had declined somewhat during the early ’80s, there was still some mighty fine music being produced. Hopefully, there’s much more where this came from.

--- Graham Clarke

Forrest McDonaldTexas-born Forrest McDonald may not be a familiar face, but you’ve probably heard his work as a guitarist for artists like Bob Seger (that’s his guitar on “Old Time Rock & Roll”), Bobby Womack, Kathi McDonald, Bonnie Bramlett, and for numerous sessions by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. A 50-year vet of the music scene, McDonald has also released a dozen of his own albums over that time on World Talent Records, including his most recent release, Turnaround Blues.

McDonald’s standout fretwork is worth the price of the disc alone, but he is ably assisted from a powerhouse band which includes vocalist Andrew Black, drummer John McKnight, singer/harmonica player Jon Leibman, bassist Lee Gannon, and keyboardist/co-producer (with McDonald) Tony Carey. Singer/guitarist Darell Cobb and background vocalists Becky Wright and Kaylon McDonald also lend a hand as well.

The title track is actually a tune that McDonald originally performed over 40 years ago with his band at the time, Choker. The update is a raucous blues rocker that proves the song has aged well, with impassioned vocals from Cobb serving as a highlight, along with some scorching harp from Leibman. The Southern rock–styled “I’m A Fool” is a sublime and soulful ballad with origins dating to the ’70s, as does the slow blues, “Woman Across the Ocean,” loosely based on the Freddie King classic, “Woman Across the River.”

McDonald’s newer compositions are equally effective, too, with the heartfelt “River of Tears,” taken from his own experiences, as is the masterful slow blues, “Now I Know.” “Only Love” is deep soul with some nice keyboard accompaniment from Carey, “Funny Thing Baby” has a greasy country funk feel, and “Stay or Walk Away” leans more toward the country side of blues as well. The two-part instrumental, “Two For The Money” allows the individual band members to strut their stuff.

The band also does a fine job on the covers, Junior Wells’ “Checking on My Baby,” James Cotton’s “V8 Ford,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “I’m A Fool,” and Mercy Baby’s “Rock & Roll Bye Bye Bye.”

Turnaround Blues is a great set of traditional blues and boogie by a marvelous set of musicians that will appeal to fans of both styles as well as blues-rockers. The entire album shows Forrest McDonald to be not just a fantastic guitarist, but also an outstanding songwriter.

--- Graham Clarke

Thorbjorn RisagerOn the cover of his new CD, Too Many Roads (Ruf Records), Thorbjørn Risager resembles Frank Sinatra in his mode of dress. Listening to his latest release with his band, The Black Tornado, the singer he most brings to mind with his powerful and earthy vocals is Howlin’ Wolf. Pretty nice draw for blues fans --- looks like Sinatra, sings like the Wolf --- but there’s a whole lot more beneath the surface, as listeners will be delighted to hear.

Risager and his band made their start in 2003, with the band’s sound mixing blues, soul, and roots-rock together. The singer/guitarist was influenced by an old B.B. King record, with its hard charging, horn-driven sound. With virtually the same line-up as when they began this journey, ten-plus years of touring in their native Denmark and beyond, plus eight recordings under their belt, the band has developed into the proverbial “well-oiled machine” on these twelve stunning tracks.

Risager and band show their versatility on tracks like “If You Wanna Leave,” the rugged rocker that opens the disc. Risager sounds like a man possessed with crunching guitar and a peppery sax section punctuating his roar. The ethereal title track is next, and is followed by the album’s lone cover, “China Gate.” A track originally done by Nat King Cole in the movie of the same title, Risager gives it a nice interpretation with subtle guitar backing.

Other standout tracks include the optimistic “Paradise,” the gently swinging “Drowning,” the haunting “Lost Forgotten Track,” and the splendid “Through The Years,” a wistful tune looking back at a long-lost love which mixes deep soul and some sharp, stinging blues guitar. “Red Hot & Blue” is a nice blues track punctuated by the stellar horn section, and “High Rolling” is a straight rocker. The band even delves into rockabilly with the rousing closer, “Play On.”

Though Howlin’ Wolf was who I originally thought of when I first heard Risager, his vocals are amazingly versatile. There’s a lot of Ray Charles in the more soulful tracks, which almost take on an impassioned gospel plea at times. He can rock the house like nobody’s business when the circumstances allow, and knows his way around a tender soul ballad, too. Something tells me that Thorbjørn Risager’s name will be coming up a lot more often in blues circles, based on his performance on Too Many Roads.

--- Graham Clarke

Rev. KM WilliamsLast year, Rev. KM Williams fulfilled a lifelong dream and visited Israel. When he wasn’t busy sightseeing and visiting the holy sites, the good reverend sat down for three live shows, all in front of standing room only crowds. His recent CD, Jukin’ in the Holy Land – Live in Israel (Nobody’s Fault Productions) captures ten of Rev. Williams’ most memorable songs during those dates.

If you’re familiar with Williams’ music, you will know that this is the real-deal, downhome authentic blues…..raw, visceral, and ragged, with traces of Mississippi Delta, hypnotic Hill Country, and Texas-styled country blues. He plays acoustic, electric, and cigar box guitars on these tracks, and he’s accompanied by Yonatan Bar-Rashi on drums and washboard, and Dani Dorchin on harmonica. The sound on these recordings is spectacular.

The ten tracks include “One Suitcase Blues,” which is pretty similar to Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues,” as he acknowledges in the intro to the song. “Louise McGee” is the old Son House tune, with Dorchin providing sympathetic backing on harp. “Meet You At The Station” features some electric slide work and nice percussion work from Bar-Rashi, and “Poor Boy Long Way From Home,” like “Feel Like Hollerin’,” “Something On Your Mind,” and several others, probably had the enthusiastic crowd on their feet.

The coolest thing is how well Williams and his accompanying musicians work together on these tracks. As far as I know, none of them had played together prior to these appearances, at least not a lot. They have an almost uncanny rapport.

If, like me, you’re not familiar with Rev. KM Williams’ music, Jukin’ in the Holy Land – Live In Israel seems like it would be a nice starting point, but, if you’re like me, you will probably be wanting to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

Davina and the VagabondsBased in Minnesota, in the Twin-Cities region, Davina and the Vagabonds really received a lot of attention with their 2011 release, Black Cloud, earning a 3 ½-Star review in Downbeat magazine, and making appearances at several key festivals in the U.S. and Europe. The band’s modern take on traditional blues and jazz stylings is driven by the distinctive, soulful vocals of Davina Sowers. Their latest effort, Sunshine (Roustabout Records), is a continuation of the band’s musical vision and it actually improves on its predecessor.

Sowers’ vocals are a pleasure to hear on tracks like the sweet title track that opens the disc. If there was any justice in the world, this tune would be heard from the rooftops. “Flow” is equally upbeat, but with a New Orleans backdrop. She also shines on the original tunes, “Fizzle Out,” a lovely pop ballad, “Away From Me,” an superb after-hours blues, and she has a ball with the light-hearted rhumba, “I Try To Be Good,” and the funky “You Better Start Praying.” “Red Shoes” and “Throw It To The Wolves” both revisit the Crescent City, the former with an irressitible second-line beat and the latter with its clarinet and trumpet backing.

The band also mixes in three covers, though they are given the Vagabond treatment. “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” is appropriately sassy. Fats Waller’s “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” is a perfect fit for the band’s sound and Sowers really struts her stuff on the keys for this track. The last cover is a wonderful gospel-flavored take on Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day.” There’s also a bonus cut included to close the disc, a reworking of the title track from the group’s 2007 release, Under Lock and Key.

Sowers is a marvel behind the mic and on the keyboards, singing and playing with amazing versatility. The Vagabonds (Andrew Burns – upright bass/sousaphone, Connor McRae Hammergren – drums/percussion, Benjamin Link – trombone, Daniel Eikmeier – trumpet, with guests Zack Miller – vibraphone, and Tony Balluff – clarinet) are just outstanding in support, really giving the vintage sounds of Sunshine a modern finish that will appeal to both blues and jazz fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Elam McKnightOn his latest release, Made to Fall (Big Black Hand), Elam McKnight is looking beyond the limits of his four previous recordings, which focused on blues, soul, and roots music. Though not necessarily in a musical rut, the Tennessee-based singer/songwriter/guitarist is merely seeking the opportunity to prove that there’s more to his musical palate than those genres, and he succeeds in a big way on this latest release.

For example, take “Glow.” It’s a stunning piece of music with catchy lyrics, a light melody, great background vocals, and a positive message that would have been a great fit on a late ’60s pop/rock album. You’ll find yourself humming this one in the back of your mind after just one listen. “A Little Bit of Love,” the opening track on the disc, has a powerful testifying vocal from McKnight that’s reminiscent of those great Rare Earth tunes, backed by a propulsive Ray Manzerak-styled keyboard and some hard-driving, relentless drumming.

“It’s So Hard Living Without You” finds McKnight delivering a gritty, heartfelt vocal, with more sweet backing vocals, and “I Love You” and “We All Fall Down” have a nice country feel. “Rosa Lee” is a driving blues-rocker, and the moving closer, “Don’t Understand” is amazing in its subtle beauty and meaningful lyric.

As you can probably deduce, McKnight’s latest release take its cue from the blues and branches off into connecting genres, but the blues is still there on each tune, which only makes sense since the blues is at the base of all of today’s music. Made to Fall finds Elam McKnight blending the blues, rock, country, soul, and roots into a very distinctive and exceedingly catchy mix, and is recommended listening for fans of all those genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Raoul and the Big TimeRaoul and The Big Time is a Toronto-based blues band led by singer/harmonica player Raoul Bhaneja, who also works as a TV and stage actor. The band won the Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year in 1999 and enjoys a big following in Toronto. In addition to Bhaneja, the band consists of Darren Gallen on guitar, Terry Wilkins on upright bass, and Tom Bona on drums.

On Hollywood Blvd (Big Time Records), Bhaneja employs several additional musicians who will be familiar faces to most blues fans….Curtis Salgado, Johnny Sansone, Franck Goldwasser, Rick Holmstrom, Jeff Turmes, Junior Watson, Rusty Zinn, Larry Taylor, Fred Kaplan, and Richard Innes. They join forces with The Big Time to give you a heady mix of Chicago-based blues and West Coast blues, with eight original tunes by Bhaneja and four classic covers.

The eight originals are split evenly between instrumentals and vocals. Bhaneja does a fine job as composer and vocalist on the funky opener, “Nothin’ Gonna Take Me Down,” “High Roller,” an old-school shuffle, “Spoken For,” a smooth jump track with Junior Watson laying down some clean and crisp lead guitar, and “Tired,” a classic slow blues with some nice harp work from Bhaneja. The four instrumentals range from West Coast-styled blues (“Left Coast Fred”) to classic Windy City (“Amphetamine”) to Latinesque (the title track). The final instrumental, “Curtis Charm,” finds Bhaneja and Salgado blowing harp in tandem.

The band covers the Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey standard, “Get Out of My Life Woman,” with Zinn joining in on guitar, the old Bobby “Blue” Bland tune, “Someday,” “Why (Am I Treated So Bad),” the Staple Singers hit (recorded here appropriately with current members of Mavis Staples’ band), and the atmospheric closer, “In the Shadow of the Pine,” with acoustic guitar work from Bhaneja and accordion from Sansone.

A most excellent and well-balanced release, Hollywood Blvd should bring some much-deserved attention to Raoul and The Big Time and expand their audience well beyond the Toronto area.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul KGreek bluesman Paul Karapiperis is the front man for the band Small Blues Trap. He plays a mulitude of instruments, including guitar, harmonica, and bass, and has a very unique vision of the blues, which is evidenced from the very opening notes of his latest recording, One Sin In Seven Parts (Shelter Home Studios). This seven-song effort (actually one continuous song divided into seven parts, as the album title indicates) encompasses a wide variety of blues styles from traditional Mississippi Delta-based blues to the British blues-rock of the ’60s to the sweaty swamp blues of the Gulf Coast region.

From the opening track, the haunting “Welcome Boy,” with Karapiperis’ slide guitar and harp, along with the interesting percussion (including a metallophone and baglamas), you know this is not only something different, but something special, too. The somber “In This World of Madness” features acoustic slide guitar, and “Your Ticket To Adventure” begins with a taste of the electric Delta-fused boogie of John Lee Hooker before dropping into a more gentle vein.

“Callin’ Down The Riverside” features Karapiperis’ harmonica and his rugged, but powerful vocals, leading into “A Secret Place,” a track with starts out in a mellow acoustic vibe, but suddenly surges into blues-rock territory about midway through. The shimmering “Dig In Your Soul” has a country soul feel with some sharp skittering electric guitar licks mixed in with traditional harmonica. The closing tune, “The Dreamland’s Door,” is a slow blues that ends the disc with some jazzy liquidy electric guitar.

As a blues composition, One Sin In Seven Parts is the real deal, loaded with sweaty atmosphere and gritty soul. Karapiperis is a gifted musician and his rugged vocals really fit the bill on these tunes, with excellent support from the band as well. The entire sequence of songs can also be viewed as one video on YouTube, and is definitely worth a listen, as is the disc.

--- Graham Clarke

Fife & DromFife & Drom consists of a husband and wife team (Mark Marshall – guitarist, Abby Ahman – vocalist) dedicated to recreating and updating the sounds of Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues, focusing on modern themes and ideas while continuing the musical traditions of both styles. Joined by bassist Adam Minkoff and drummer Sean Dixon, they have released their debut recording, Introducing Fife & Drom.

The seven tracks include the sultry opener, “Wicked Tongue,” which features some wicked guitar from Marshall and a nice, smoky vocal from Ahmad. “Barnburner” is a loose country-blues that will make you move your feet. “Ghosts” is a tale of retribution with some skilled fretwork from Marshall. Other highlights include the sassy and funky “Who You Think You’re Foolin’?” and the lovely closing ballad, “Please Please Please,” which features a breathtaking vocal from Ahmad.

The duo is assisted by the excellent rhythm work of bassist Adam Minkoff and drummer Sean Dixon, along with guests Jackson Kinchloe (harmonica), Michael Leonhart (flugelhorn, mellophone, trumpet, trombone), Scott Kettner (drums, percussion), Jon Cowherd (piano, Wurlitzer), and Gene Back (strings).

All in all, this is a very well-crafted debut release from Fife & Drom. Marshall is a talented guitarist and Ahmad is an exceptional vocalist and songwriter. This very brief (27 minute) session will leave listeners wanting to hear more, and hopefully, we will soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Dennis JohnsonSlide guitar master Dennis Johnson plays like a house afire on his latest release, Slide Avenue, a more-than-worthy follow-up to his impressive 2010 debut, Slide Show. On this sophomore effort, Johnson ups the ante by mixing his searing slide guitar with saxophone, fiddle, and keyboard arrangements, while exploring beyond the blues into other genres.

Johnson pays homage to a couple of other notable slide guitarists on a few of the ten tracks, covering three Robert Johnson tunes. “Terraplane Blues,” is reworked into a lively, swinging number taken from a Roy Rogers (another slide guitarist of note) arrangement. “Phonograph Blues” and “Hellhound On My Trail” are both covered as well, with Johnson playing 12-string dobro. “The Wind Is Howlin’,” a Johnson original, gives a nod to Elmore James, and the rootsy “Ain’t Nobody’s Fool” has a nice, gentle touch that mixes delicate picking with slide.

“Swingin’ At The Savoy” brings to mind ’50s R&B and swings hard, as Johnson’s soaring slide guitar is backed by Sam Levine’s sax. A pair of songs feature Johnson playing with violinist Joe Craven, the funky New Orleans-styled “Rollin’ On The River” and the fiery closer, “She Looks Good,” and Kirt Shearer adds keyboards to several tracks. Johnson’s interplay with each is impeccible, and his rhythm section backing (Tim Metz – drums, David O’Keefe – bass) is first-rate as well.

Slide Show is a slide guitar clinic, courtesy of one of the best slide guitarists currently practicing.

--- Graham Clarke


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