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August 2017

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Order these featured CDs today:

The Nighthawks

Janiva Magness

John Mayall

King James and the Special Men

Andy T Band

Gina Sicilia

Michael Packer

Micki Free

Lighthouse Sweden

Hot Roux

Michele D'amour

Gordon Meier

Jim Allchin

North Mississippi All-Stars

Paradise Kings


NighthawksThe opening title cut of All You Gotta Do (Eller Soul), the old Brenda Lee minor hit, “That’s All You Gotta Do,” reminds of NRBQ. And so it is with the Nighthawks. Like NRBQ the Nighthawks don’t shy away from any classic American sound. Blues and country, and anything else that strikes their fancy, cohabitate. and what comes out is guaranteed to strike a chord.

Formed in 1974 or so with Mark Wenner and Jimmy Thackery at the forefront, they learned at the feet of the masters. They opened many shows for Muddy Waters and for rockabilly’s Carl Perkins. Wenner is still at the helm 30 albums later. Following Thackery’s departure the band went through many guitarists and other band members. The 2017 version is Wenner on vocals and harmonica, Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass, and Mark Stutso at the drums. Bell and Castle have been on board for a decade and Stutso joined in 2010 after spending 20 years with Thackery.

What matters most is the music --- and the music is heavenly. Three originals share space with the nine covers. “When I Go Away” written by former Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell is followed by Muddy’s “Baby, I Want to be Loved.”

Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down the Corfield” is powered up with some spooky guitar shredding. This is followed by Stutso’s “VooDoo Doll” (“Every day I wake up/I feel a brand new pain/is it my trick ne y’all/or is it gonna rain?/my feet swell up/my elbow hurts/I got bumped into the wall/someone stickin needles in my voodoo doo.”).

“Ninety Nine,” from the pen of Sonny of Sonny Boy Williamson, is a workout for Wenner’s superb harmonica blowing and “Three Times Your Fool” is another Stutso vehicle, co-written with Pittsburgh rock 'n' roll legend Norman Nardini. It could have been written in the 1950s. “If I’m a fool for loving you/then I’m a fool for so long.” The vocals are gorgeous and the harp impersonates a horn section.

Isn’t That So,” from Jesse Winchester, is followed by R.L. Burnside’s “Snake Drive,” which is about killer guitar and killer harp with a break from the instrumental for the refrain, “Let my baby ride/won’t you let my baby ride.” There’s enough voodoo here to get you through the day.

The set closes with Wenner’s “Blues For John,” a re-imagined Freres Jacque that’s guaranteed to coax a smile, and “Dirty Water,” The Standells’ hit from the '60s. Instead of singing about Boston, it’s “DC, You're My Home.” Another smile inducer. There’s your theme. Smiles and loads of fun. This is a keeper.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Janiva MagnessJaniva Magness further cements her already sterling reputation with this six song gem, Blue Again (Blue Elan). Opening with the classic Bo Diddley tune, “I Can Tell,” she sings, “I can tell because it’s plain to see/I can tell the way you look at me/the way, you know, you hold my hand/Yes lovin’ daddy I can understand/I can tell, I can tell/I know you don’t love me no more.” This is no mere rote reading. She infuses the tune with her powerful vocals backed by Kid Ramos sharing guitar chores with Zach Zunis and Garrett Deloian, the guitarists on the bulk of the disc.

Speaking of classics, Magness next covers Al Kooper’s impassioned “More Than You’ll Ever Know.” With timely and delightful guitars and Arlan Schierbaum’s organ she serves the classic well while putting her own spin on it. It’s a song that requires a good deal of passion. She delivers. Her duet with Sugaray Rayford on the Etta James nugget, “If I Can’t Have You,” is playful and served up nice and sweet. Both singers are amazing and reminiscent of vocal duos of the past, like Ray Charles and Betty Carter or Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. In other words: Whew!

Her take on Joe Hinton’s “Tired of Walking” is given a spirited rendition, enhanced by great guitar workouts. When she sing, “I walked downtown/and I walked back home/when I got back my baby was gone,” you know you’re listening to a woman who loves to sing. Andy Stroud’s “Buck” is thick with imagery and enhanced by T.J. Norton’s harmonica. “Oh Buck," she sings, “you’re a whole lotta man/just take a look at your great big hands… I know just what you’re thinking by the look in your eyes…hold me close/squeeze me til I cry/please love me honey til the day I die.” Got to like a woman who says what’s on her mind!

The final song on this mini-opus is Freddie King’s “Pack It Up.” Just a taste of funk from the guitars backs her up when she sings, “I get so messed up baby/and I don’t know what to do/I’m gonna pack it up/gonna give it up/I’ve gotta put you right out of my mind,” and you can feel the pain in her delivery.

Janiva is more impressive with each album. This is proof positive.

--- Mark E. Gallo

John MayallJohn Mayall claims to be 84 years old. I think it’s a ruse. Listen to his crystal clean voice on Talk About That (Forty Below), and you’ll think the same. There’s not a lot of change discernable between music from 50 years ago and now. Here is a man who clearly loves his job. He continues to write good songs, still plays a hot harp – although he plays the keyboards more often, as well as a bit of guitar. He has always surrounded himself with high caliber musicians, most notably guitar players. The band on hand here is Rocky Athas, guitar, Greg Azab, bass and percussion and Jay Davenport on drums. Joe Walsh pops in to play lead on two songs. Ron Dziubla plays tenor and bari, Mark Pender plays trumpet and Nick Lane has the trombone.

From the funky opening title cut to the closer, “You Never Know” (…”how your life is gonna be/full of tangles and uncertainty”), this is a typical John Mayall album, which is to say that it’s a treat top to bottom. “Hard Going Up,” a frequently covered tune, most notably by Little Sonny, is given a tasty rendition, embellished by the horns.

Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby” sees Mayall showing off those still impressive harmonica chops. Vocally he sounds a little rough here, but it doesn’t detract from its authenticity. Those two and “Don’t Deny Me” are the covers. Everything else is a Mayall original.

“Blue Midnight” is the standout on the disc. Athas’ guitar work is stunning and, in conjunction with Mayall’’s electric piano is a winning combination. ”Across The County Line” is a rocker and “Gimme Some of That Gumbo” is, natch, loaded with the sounds of Louisiana.

Mayall fans will eat this up. Solid.

--- Mark E. Gallo

King JamesAnyone who knows me is more than aware that I am a Grade A, ’50s/’60s New Orleans R&B nut. Since I first started listening in earnest after my first Jazz Fest in the late ’80s, I’ve jumped into it with both feet every chance I get. I’m not sure what it is --- the irresistible Second Line rhythms, the driving piano, the groovy horns, the hint of blues, rock n’ roll, funk, and Caribbean music that gets thrown into the mix --- but I just know I dig it, and I really dig King James & The Special Men, because their captivating sound encompasses all of the above, as witnessed on their debut release, Act Like You Know.

The band is fronted by singer/guitarist Jimmy Horn, who may be the funkiest cat to ever emerge from Utah. He produced the album and wrote all six of the songs, and is backed by a powerhouse unit (Ben Polcer – piano, Robert Snow – bass, John Rodli – guitar, Chris Davis – drums, Jason Mingledorff – tenor sax, Dominick Grillo – baritone sax, Travis Blotzky – tenor sax, Scott Frock – trumpet, and Jason Jurzak – tuba). These guys capture the feel and vibe of New Orleans R&B so well, you’d swear they’d been there from the beginning, and Horn sounds a lot like Dr. John’s baby brother behind the mic.

Crescent City fans will settle right in with the opening cut, “Special Man Boogie,” and if it doesn’t get you on your feet, listeners are advised to call 911. With that lively, manic New Orleans rhythm teamed up with Spanish-styled guitar work and the Secret Agent Man segue midway through, this one should be blaring from speakers during every Mardi Gras. A pair of slow blues, “Baby Girl” and “Tell Me (What You Want Me To Do),” sound just like lost tracks from the vintage Bartholomew R&B/blues catalog of the late ’50s with Horn’s soulful vocals, ringing guitar, and those wonderful horns, which gave me goose bumps. The rollicking and ribald “Eat That Chicken” was written by Horn in tribute to local legend Jessie Hill (of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” fame), and the driving R&B of “The End Is Near” surges to a chaotic near-psychedelic conclusion.

The closing tune is the nearly 14-minute “9th Ward Blues,” which deserves a paragraph of its own. The song itself encompasses all of the things that make that area, and New Orleans music, so great, beginning with a rocking round of Indian chants before jumping into Second Line parade mode with a relentless groove that will actually leave you disappointed when it finally draws to a close.

Seriously, you will be sorry when Act Like You Know ends, but at least you can restart it at the beginning and give it another listen. You’ll be doing that several times, for sure. To these ears, King James & The Special Men bring an excitement to New Orleans R&B on a par with when I first heard the music. Do not let this one slip past.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy TThe Andy T Band has featured vocalist Nick Nixon for several years, winning acclaim and multiple BMA and Blues Blast Awards nominations for their previous three albums, two with Delta Groove (Drink Drank Drunk, Livin’ It Up) and one with Blind Pig (Numbers Man). Nixon retired last year due to some health issues, so band leader/guitarist Andy T (Talamantez) approached singer Alabama Mike to replace the ailing Nixon, and after a few tryout gigs, the new band was ready to roll.

Talamantez actually decided to feature both Alabama Mike and Nixon on the band’s latest release, Double Strike (American Showplace Music), which has a mix of mostly original tunes and well-selected covers. Anson Funderburgh returns as producer and guitarist, and the cast also includes keyboardists Mike Flanagin and Larry Van Loon, rhythm section Johnny Bradley (bass) and Jim Klingler (drums), harmonica player Greg Izor, and the Texas Horns (Kaz Kazanoff – tenor sax, John Mills – baritone sax, Al Gomez – trumpet).

Alabama Mike’s gospel-influenced tenor is a nice contrast to Nixon’s warm-with-a-touch-of-grit vocals and their vocals are split evenly between 12 tracks, with each vocalist alternating in two to four song sets (Talamantez tackles Funderburgh’s instrumental “Landslide” at the mid-point of the album). Alabama Mike’s set includes the rousing opener, “I Want You So Bad,” the upbeat soul rocker “Somebody Like You,” the blues ballad “Sad Times,” and the feisty slow burner “Doin’ Hard Time.” He closes the disc with “Dream About You,” a spirited early Rock n’ Roll romp, and the reflective album closer “Where Did Our Love Go Wrong” has a Gulf Coast R&B feel.

Nixon’s studio stint was cut short due to his health, but he made the most of his time, cutting Andy T’s Jimmy Reed-inspired “Deep Inside,” his own “Sweet Thing,” and a pair of Chuck Willis tunes: an energetic reading of “I Feel So Bad” and the ballad “Juanita.” He also covers Goree Carter’s “Drunk or Sober” and Talamantez’s “I Was Gonna Leave You,” which also features Funderburgh on lead guitar. More than likely, these tracks represent Nixon’s final recordings, but he certainly goes out on a positive note.

It looks like Nixon is leaving The Andy T Band in good hands with their new lead singer, Alabama Mike. Double Strike serves as a great coming-out party for him and a fitting tribute to their longtime stalwart, Nick Nixon.

--- Graham Clarke

Gina SiciliaGina Sicilia relocated to Nashville a few years ago while dealing with a difficult time in her life. During the process, the singer and songwriter took advantage of the circumstances to challenge herself as a songwriter. The voice has always been there, Sicilia is one of the strongest and most distinctive of the current collection of female vocalists in the blues genre, but she’s actually as good a songwriter as she is a singer, and the eight originals she’s written for her latest release, Tug of War (Blue Elan Records), rank with her best efforts to date.

The opener, “I Don’t Want To Be In Love,” really kicks off the disc in superb fashion. There’s a distinct shot of Memphis grease mixed in this fine effort, and Sicilia leaves nothing on the table, with one of her best vocals. In a perfect world, you’d be hearing this one on your radio every two hours. The lyrics to “Damaging Me,” coupled with Sicilia’s vocal, are so heartfelt, you just know she had to have lived them. Sicilia’s world-weary, but determined, vocal on the gospel-fueled “I’ll Stand Up” are inspiring, and she revisits the genre with the upbeat closer, “Heaven.”

Last year, Sicilia released a five-song EP, Sunset Avenue, which included five of the 11 tracks on Tug of War. Your humble correspondent reviewed the EP in Blues Bytes’ December 2016 issue and as stated back then, the four originals, the country-tinged “Abandoned” and “I Cried,” the soulful “They Never Pay Me,” and the acoustic “Never Gonna End” are all excellent and well done, as is the fun cover of the Exciters’ “Tell Him.”

The remaining two cover tunes are equally impressive. “He Called Me Baby” was a hit in the mid ’60s for both Patsy Cline on the Country charts and Candi Staton on the R&B charts, and Sicilia’s measured reading leans more toward the soul side. She also takes on the Beatles classic “All My Loving,” transforming the upbeat pop hit into a bluesy ballad.

Gina Sicilia’s move to Nashville appears to have paid dividends. Her already excellent songwriting and vocals have never been better, and the mix of country and soul on several tracks is really engaging as well. All of this talented vocalist’s work is worth hearing, but to these ears, Tug of War may be her best yet.

--- Graham Clarke

Michael PackerIn March of 2016, NYC blues man Michael Packer discovered that he had terminal liver cancer. In recent years, Packer, who enjoyed a bit of success as a recording artist with Papa Nebo and Free Beer in the ’60s and ’70s, had overcome many obstacles --- homelessness, alcoholism, and drug addiction, which resulted in prison time. Clean and sober for over 20 years, Packer returned to the NYC blues scene and was eventually inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.

In recent years, he had begun to record his life story with a pair of riveting releases, I Am The Blues – My Story Volumes 1 & 2, which mixed narration with music. Despite his grim diagnosis and prognosis, Packer never slowed down, continuing to work, and performing as much as he was able, and he began to record what would be Volume 3 (Iris Music Group) of his story, completing it just days before he passed away at 66 on May 6, 2017.

Volume 3 finds Packer covering his ill-fated Blues For Peace project, in which he attempted to organize several music events in hopes of bringing attention to the need for world peace. He follows the story with the lovely acoustic “Blues For Peace.” “Fields of Sorrow” is Packer’s recollection of a 2011 trip to Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale with his band, and the eerie feeling he had when he discovered that the old slave shacks have been converted into tourist cabins. Packer and bandmate Ed Jackson penned the accompanying tune of the same title and Jackson does the lead vocals with assistance from Irving Louis Lattin.

On “Yo Staten Island,” Packer briefly discusses the death of Eric Garner, who tragically died during an attempted arrest by NYPD near Packer’s house. The accompanying song mixes hip hop with the melody from Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Island.” The funk-based rocker “Flash Flame” features guitarist Adam Valk and vocalist Alexis Suter and describes the terrible accident during the aborted Blues For Peace event in NYC on Memorial Day, 2016 that nearly killed Packer’s drummer, Guy Powell (Powell recovered and actually plays drums on this song, which he wrote, and the rest of the album).

“Chicago” was recorded live at Buddy Guy’s Legends. It’s a loving tribute to the city and its many blues legends by Packer, who’s backed by a first-rate band of the city’s finests (guitarist Mike Wheeler, keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, drummer Willie “The Touch” Hayes, and bassist Melvin Smith). The poignant “Do It All Over” is a love song to the love of Packer’s life and, given the events that follow, will bring a lump to the throat of even the most unfeeling.

On the closer, “Mr Packer,” Packer reveals his condition and what lies ahead, but vows he won’t be giving up hope and that shows with his fiery and defiant vocal on the accompanying tune of the same name. Though he was nearing the end during these sessions, there’s only the occasional hint of weakness in his narration and singing, but you’ll hear none of that in this performance.

Those who knew Packer are aware that he fought this battle to the very end and was supposed to perform the evening that he passed away. I Am The Blues – My Story, Volume 3 is a touching farewell to an underappreciated blues man, whose struggles in life certainly earned him the title “bluesman,” which is how he wanted everyone to remember him.

--- Graham Clarke

Micki Free’80s music fans may remember Micki Free from his ten-year stint with the R&B group Shalamar, a period which saw some of the group’s biggest success on the pop charts with the hits “Dancing In The Sheets” and “Don’t Get Stopped In Beverly Hills,” which earned Free and the band a Grammy as part of the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. Free’s sizzling guitar work added a rock-edged dimension to the group, and the guitarist later put that talent to subsequent good use, working with Prince, Carlos Santana, and Billy Gibbons, among others. A Native American of mixed Comanche/Cherokee blood, Free has won five Native American Music Awards over his career, as well.

Free combines his previous excursions into R&B, rock, soul, and funk into a heady blues concoction on his latest release, Tattoo Burn-Redux (Mysterium Blues Records). Free provides powerful, nimble vocals to match his excellent guitar work (lead, rhythm, and slide) and he’s joined by a formidable supporting cast that includes former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and Little Feat’s Kenny Gradney on bass, keyboardists Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach and Brother Paul Brown, drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, and his former Shalamar mate Howard Hewitt on vocals.

Hewitt joins Free behind the mic on “God Is On The Phone,” the stirring funked-up gospel track that opens the disc. The title track is a churning blues rocker and is backed by “Greens & Barbecue,” which mixes blues and R&B into a swampy mix. One of the disc’s standout tracks is “Six Feet Deep In The Blues,” a tasty slow blues that simmers nicely with Free’s mournful blues and spot-on fretwork complemented superbly by the B3 and keyboards. “Mojo Black Coffee” is a roadhouse boogie rocker built on the “Hoochie Coochie Man” melody, and “Co-Co-Gin” is a smooth R&B story song about a woman’s battle against the bottle.

Free pulls out all of the guitar-related stops on the fierce rocker “There’s A Hole In The Heart Of The Blues.” The moody “Angels In The Room” has a taste of the Delta, and Free shows that all of those Hendrix comparisons he’s garnered over the years were completely justified with his blistering cover of the guitar legend’s “Hey Baby (The New Rising Sun).” The disc closes with a pair of holiday-related tracks, the rowdy rock and roller “Five Minutes Till Christmas” and the soulful ballad “Sometimes In Winter.”

Micki Free has explored a lot of musical styles in his career with successful results. With Tattoo Burn- Redux, he not only ventures into the blues world, but breaks fertile new ground while doing so. The blend of R&B, soul, and rock, combined with Free’s fiery fretwork and versatile vocals, makes for an interesting and exciting brand of blues that will appeal to a variety of blues lovers.

--- Graham Clarke

Lighthouse SwedenLighthouse Sweden, led by the husband and wife team of Mats and Linda Brandemark, continue to make some of the best Americana music around, despite being located several thousand miles away from the music’s home country. Their second release, Silence In The City, includes 11 distinctive songs of Americana, blues, rock, pop, and country that will stay in the listener’s consciousness long after the disc has finished spinning.

The opener, “Love Can Seriously Damage Your Heart,” is a bluesy piece of advice for lovers and would-be lovers with lead vocals shared by the Brandemarks, while “Neon Lights” has an ’80s pop sheen. “Everybody’s Been A Fool” is a sturdy blues with Mats Brandemark on lead vocals, and the missus takes the lead on the catchy countrified pop of “Easier To Lie,” and “Hole In My Soul,” which focuses on the funkier side of the blues.

The Brandemarks join forces again on “Silver and Gold,” which is a lively country-flavored rocker. “Silent City” falls into the same category, with Linda Brandemark shining on vocals, along with the great keyboard and steel guitar accompaniment. Mats Brandemark takes the mic for “We Used To Be Lovers,” his laconic vocals bringing to mind a bluesy Lou Reed, and the swinging “Can’t Find My Way,” a perfect mix of country, rock, and pop which would be a hit song in a perfect world. Linda Brandemark sings on the final two tracks, “Window To The Sky” and the lovely, haunting “Angel.”

In addition to the Brandemarks, Lighthouse Sweden is comprised of Tobias Bergstrom (electric guitar), Thomas Bjorklund (drums), and Marc Gransten (bass, backing vocals), who are joined on selected tracks by Johan Von Feilitzen (drums, percussion, keys, harmonica, guitar, backing vocals), Martin Hogvall (mandolin, lap steel), Sven-Olov Kontio (pedal steel guitar), Magnus Larsson (lap steel), Olof Aslund (sax), and Derrick Big Walker (harmonica).

An even stronger effort than their 2014 debut, which is really saying something, Silence In The City is an excellent release in any number of genres. Anyone who appreciates American music done well will want this release in their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Hot RouxHot Roux’s debut release, Stranger’s Blues, featured a notable set of original tunes with an irresistible blend of Louisiana-flavored blues, R&B, and rock n’ roll. Drummer/vocalist Jerry McWorter’s seasoned vocals were a perfect fit for the material and the band was rock solid. This time around, Hot Roux revisits the same territory with their sophomore effort, Hometown Blues (Hi Hat Records), which offers 11 distinctive, crowd-pleasing new original tunes played by the band (McWorter, bassist Brent Harding, and guitarists Ed Berghoff and Kyle Jester), along with a few associates.

The songs, written by McWorter and Harding, are well-crafted and catchy. The opener, “Don’t Wanna Talk About Love,” has a smooth, but swampy vibe complemented by R.J. Mischo’s harmonica, and “Della Be My Baby” teams McWorter’s second-line drumming with some splendid slide from guest Franck Goldwasser. The old-school ballad “Woman You Haunt Me” sounds like it could have been a hit back in the day. “Down And Out” adds sax (via Bill Flores, who plays baritone and tenor) to the mix for a taste of Memphis soul.

“Misery Misery” is an entertaining rockabilly rave-up with hot guitar work from Jester, and “One More Train” ventures toward country territory with appropriately twangy guitar from guest Jon Lawton. The mid-tempo “I Hear’m Talk’n” features the fluid guitar work of Berghoff, while Jester’s stinging lead work shines on the whimsical lament about aging, “Can’t See.” The driving rocker “Rent Party Boogie” should get listeners to their feet as Johnny Main’s guitar and Jimmy Calire’s tenor sax propel things along. “What A Lie,” which reintroduces Mischo’s harp, and “Wake Up Slim” close the disc on a humorous note.

Hot Roux’s heady mixture of Gulf Coast blues, rock, R&B, and pop will remind listeners of the vintage sounds coming from Texas and Louisiana in years gone by, a pretty impressive feat for this Ventura, California-based band. Hometown Blues will appeal to any music fan that digs the sounds of the Deep South.

--- Graham Clarke

Mark CameronWhile awaiting their performance at the 2016 edition of Blues on the Chippewa in Durand, Wisconsin, The Mark Cameron Band’s bass player, Scott Lundberg noticed the high quality audio equipment in place and suggested to singer/guitarist Mark Cameron that it might be a good idea to ask about the chances of getting a recording of the band’s upcoming set. Cameron did so, and the resulting performance was preserved for posterity on Live At Blues On The Chippewa (Cop Records), a wonderful unanticipated collection of some of the band’s most recent work, plus a few new previously unrecorded tunes.

The sound is amazing on this nearly 45-minute, 11-song set, which features seven tracks from the band’s 2016 release, Playing Rough, including the tough rocking title track, the smooth “Hammered By The Blues,” the boogie rocker “Doctor In the House,” the funky “Somewhere Down The Line,” and the amusing “Rusty Old Model T.” The Delta-styled “Done Me Wrong” and the haunting slow blues “Borrowed Time” are also present.

The band also breaks in three new originals; “Dicey,” an engaging little blues rap which puts the “fun” in funky, the driving “Mojo Shuffle,” and “Back Seat Boogie,” a winning rock ‘n roller that closes out the set. The band also turns in a groovy cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor,” for good measure.

Cameron sounds great on vocals and provides some stellar guitar work. The band, including the aforementioned Mr. Lundberg (bass), Dan Schroeder (drums), Bill Keyes (harmonica), and Sheri Cameron (percussion/flute), bring their A-Game to the proceedings as well. Sometimes everything falls into place perfectly and magic happens, such is the case with the Mark Cameron Band and Live At Blues On The Chippewa, a great recording of a great blues band in action.

--- Graham Clarke

Michele D'AmourThe Seattle-based ensemble Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers have been on the scene since 2011, and have played numerous festivals and club dates all over the West Coast and were Washington Blues Society finalists for the 2014 I.B.C. Lead singer/songwriter D’Amour has been singing and writing songs since she was knee high to a grasshopper, and her bandmates (guitarist Ryan Higgins, bassist/trombonist Patrick McDaniel, and drummers Ronnie Bishop and Rick Bowen) all boast impressive musical resumés themselves.

Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge is the band’s third release and it consists of 12 tracks, all written or co-written by D’Amour, that focus on contemporary blues, blues-rock, and R&B. Beginning with the crisp uptempo shuffle, “No Good,” the group ventures into smoky blues ballad territory with “Trouble,” which showcases some fluid, T-Bone-like fretwork from Higgins. “Leopard Lounge” is a funky rocker about a fictional club that encompasses stories the band shared from their experiences at various venues.

“Move on Down the Line” keeps up the funk, with some sharp work on the bass from McDaniel, but the band really outdoes itself on the funk with “Lost My Mojo,” D’Amour’s frank look at approaching middle age (McDaniel and Higgins double up on trombone and trumpet, respectively). “All I Do Is Work” is another slow blues with a hint of gospel thrown in for good measure, and “When the Blues Come Calling” is a strong R&B track.

“I Didn’t Know,” “What the Cat Dragged In,” and “Last Man Standing” are straight-forward blues rockers, the latter with a bit of a southern rock feel, while “Blue as Blue Can Get” has a jazzy noir feel. The bonus track that closes the disc is the lighthearted shuffle “Black Cat Boogie.” This song was originally written when the band played a series of family-oriented summer events and has since become a fan favorite.

Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge is an entertaining disc of engaging songs and excellent performances that should appeal to any fans of contemporary blues with its mix of blues, R&B, rock and funk. Be sure to check out Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers, should you venture to the upper West Coast and need to satisfy your blues fix.

--- Graham Clarke

Gordon MeierThe Gordon Meier Blues Experience’s new release, Magic Kingdom (Reverberocket Records), pays tribute to two of guitarist Meier’s biggest influences (“game changers” as he calls them in the liner notes): Magic Slim and Freddie King. Learning his craft in the ’70s, Meier was obsessed with King’s fret work, learning to play all of his instrumentals, but he discovered Slim while searching a record store of obscure recordings, which led to a trip to Chicago where he met the man himself and subsequently became friends and later played with the Windy City legend.

On this marvelous set, Meier turns in romping, stomping covers of several Chicago blues classics, most of which were part of Slim’s vast repertoire at one time or another. Meier does a terrific job on A.C. Reed’s “Buddy Buddy Friends,” Jimmy Rogers’ “Gold Tail Bird,” “She Belongs To Me” from Magic Sam, and Muddy Waters’ “Gypsy Woman.” Meier also covers longtime Slim compatriot John Primer’s “Stop Draggin’ That Chain Around,” with an assist from slide guitarist Joe Taino and harmonica ace Dennis Greunling.

He also tears into a pair of Freddie King instrumentals with great results (“In The Open” and “The Stumble”), and tackles Johnny Otis’ ribald “Signifying Monkey” and the hard-charging shuffle “Red Headed Woman,” from the Hollywood Fats Band. Meier’s guitar playing is appropriately reverential toward Slim and King, but he brings plenty of his own game into the mix as well Proving that this is not merely a tribute release, he includes a pair of his own tunes, “Just Keep Ridin’,” which features Gruenling and Taino, and the roadhouse rocker “Someday Baby,” also with Gruenling.

Meier is backed by his regular band mates, Lester Veith (drums) and Mark Freidman (bass), along with guests Taino, Gruenling, guitarist Dean Shot, and keyboardist Tom Hammer. It’s a powerhouse unit, which is only appropriate, since Magic Kingdom is a powerhouse set of blues presented just like Meier’s influences would have done it. I think most will agree that Magic Slim and Freddie King would be pleased with the result.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim AllchinI really like how Wikipedia now introduces their article on Jim Allchin --- ”an American blues rock guitarist, philanthropist, and a former Microsoft executive.” There was a time when the first and last description were switched around in Allchin’s write-up, but when a fellow releases one stellar album after another for long enough, the description will just about change itself. Allchin has previously released three stunning albums of fiery guitar-driven blues-rock since 2009 and his fourth, Decisions (Sandy Key Music) is poised to eclipse the previous three.

The opener, “Artificial Life,” is a hard-charging boogie rocker with Reese Wynans providing a supple B3 cushion for Allchin’s guitar. “The Mexican End” channels Albert King with some sizzling fretwork and a jumping horn chart from the Heart Attack Horns, and the standout title track, “Bad Decisions,” is a driving blues rocker. The pace eases a bit for “Healing Ground,” a understated, soulful ballad with guest Keb’ Mo’, who shares lead vocals with Allchin, but quickly picks up again with the freewheeling shuffle “Blew Me Away.” The pop ballad “She Is It” is noteworthy for Allchin’s heartfelt vocal and Wynan’s superlative work on keyboards

The instrumental “Just Plain Sick” is a fun-filled boogie woogie rambler with Allchin really reaching into his bag of tricks, and “Friends” is a fine slow blues with some nice string bending from Allchin and plenty of Memphis grease provided by Wynans. The easygoing “You Might Be Wrong” leans toward the country side and includes a message that should be heard by everyone, and the instrumental “After Hours” features soaring Santana-esque guitar work from Allchin.

“Don’t Care” is a fiery rocking blues shuffle with a defiant vocal and stinging lead guitar, while “Stop Hurting Me” is a blues ballad of the first order. “My Father’s Eyes” is a tender ballad from Allchin, which will touch anybody who has lost a loved one at a young age, and it provides a smooth segue into the reflective instrumental “Destiny,” which closes this marvelous disc.

Decisions is Jim Allchin’s best release to date. He continues to impress not just as a guitarist, but as composer and vocalist. Blues-rock fans will definitely want to have this, but it will also appeal to a broader range of music lovers as well.

--- Graham Clarke

North Mississippi All-StarsOn their latest release, Prayer for Peace (Sony Legacy), the North Mississippi Allstars continue to combine their love for the traditional blues and roots music with an sharp ear toward modern sounds. The result is a 12-song set of mostly cover tunes recorded all over the country on which Luther and Cody Dickinson are joined by a diverse set of musical associates, which includes former Allman Brother Oteil Burbridge and Jack White’s Dominic Davis on bass, Terrapin Family Band guitarist Grahame Lesh, vocalists Danielle Nicole and Sharisse Norman, and longtime NMAS contributor Shardé Thomas on fife and vocal.

The opening pair of tunes, the title track and “Need To Be Free,” are appropriate selections, given the turbulent times. “Prayer For Peace” is a spare number, with drums, guitar, Burbridge’s popping bass line, and Thomas’s fife and harmony vocal teaming with Luther Dickinson’s pleading vocal. The ominous and raw Hill Country funk of “Need To Be Free,” a collaborative effort from Luther Dickinson and Junior Kimbrough, works well with the opener and these two tracks are the limit of political discourse on the album. Direct in getting their message across, but not overly preachy.

The remainder of the album features the brothers paying tribute to their numerous musical influences and continuing updating the music into the 21st century in their inimitable fashion. There are several tunes credited to R.L. Burnside, the romping, stomping “Miss Maybelle,” the grinder “Bird Without a Feather,” the raucous rocker “Run Red Rooster,” and a hypnotic reading of “Long Haired Doney.”

Memphis country blues legend Will Shade’s “Stealin’” is given a jaunty unplugged treatment, and the brothers’ energetic take on the traditional “Deep Ellum” sounds like a combination of Little Feat and the Grateful Dead. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway” gets a rip-roaring treatment as well. The band touches on the gospel side as well, with a spirited version of McDowell’s “You Got To Move” (with guitarist Kenny Brown) and a cheerful cover of “We Bid You Goodnight,” which closes the disc (some discs add a bonus alternate version of the title track).

Prayer for Peace is another excellent release from the North Mississippi Allstars, who really seem to have hit their studio stride with their last few releases, coming about as close as possible to capturing the fiery energy, enthusiasm, and sheer joy that makes up their live performances. By all means, be sure to catch these guys live if you get the opportunity.

--- Graham Clarke

Paradise KingsIndependent self-released CDs from obscure bands that show up in my mailbox are often a hit or miss affair, with more misses than hits. With that said, Controlled Burn from California-based Paradise Kings is more hit than miss. This basic four-piece ensemble (vocals, guitar, bass, drums) plays basic, high energy blues on the eight original cuts here.

The best tune on Controlled Burn is the up-tempo shuffle that kicks off the disc, "'69 Chevy," starting with an extended lead guitar intro from Jeff Gring before singer Henry Garrett steps up to the microphone. This one swings. Up next is the creative mid-tempo shuffle "I'd Sing The Blues If I Had 'Em," a twist on the normal blues theme in that everything goes right and the subject just can't get the blues.

The Paradise Kings show an ability to get funky on two numbers, "Three Strikes", another song that gives Gring the chance to stretch out on guitar, and "Butter Me Up," featuring sassy soulful vocals from guest singer Jan Ingram.

Controlled Burn starts to lose a little steam towards the end, making me think that this would have made a killer six-song EP instead of an uneven eight-song album. The energy is still there, but the rock-influenced "Poor Me, Poor, Me, Pour Me Another Drink" just isn't as good as the previous numbers, and a live number to close the album just seems like a throw away to get the number of songs up to eight. But overall there's something to like here. That's the great thing about the current era of recorded music --- you can listen online and then download the songs that appeal to you.

--- Bill Mitchell



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