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August 2021

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Order these featured albums today:

Debbie Bond

Rodd Bland

Tito Jackson

Chris Daniels

 Dexter Allen

Mark May Band

Too Slim and the Taildraggers

Jeff Fetterman

Dustin Arbuckle

Sean Ardoin



Debbiie BondWhile we've reviewed plenty of previous Debbie Bond albums in Blues Bytes, her latest, Blues Without Borders (Blues Root Productions), was my first chance to hear something from this very nice Alabama singer and guitarist. What an introduction!

This album was planned to be released a year ago in advance of a planned tour for the summer of 2020, but you all know what happened last year. The idea was to bring together musicians from around the world, hence the title Blues Without Borders. But the inability to travel to Europe didn't stop Bond and her husband "Radiator" Rick Asherson from pulling in contributions from various musicians via the internet. The result is a delightful collection of 10 songs featuring Bond and a host of other musicians playing the blues with seamless doses of soul and jazz mixed in.

Everything here is good but for my money the best cut is "Radiator," an up-tempo soulful blues number with a big horn sound as Bond sings about her man with the automotive nickname. The title cut, with its jazzy Latin-ish intro, is also very strong. We hear plenty of good harmonica, keyboards and percussion here, and Ray Carless checks in with a nice sax solo while Lea Gilmore contributes guest vocals. The sound of Joelle Barker's conga playing puts this one over the top.

Asherson steps up with solid harmonica accompaniment on the album opener, the mid-tempo blues "High Rider Blues." His harp playing also contributes to the slow blues, "Winds Of Change," which includes backing vocals from Carla Don and Rachel Edwards.

Bond shows that she's more than just a good singer, playing solid blues guitar on the slow blues, "Blue Rain." She's quite the versatile artist. The album closer starts with a harmonica intro from Asherson before heading into a steady travelin' beat, although I could have done without the background male vocalist who sounds out of place here. Like much of the album, it inspires the audience with positive thoughts.

Now that I've heard Blues Without Borders from Debbie Bond, I will start exploring her previous albums. I suspect that I'm going to like what I find.

--- Bill Mitchell

Rodd BlandIt doesn't take a lot of logical thinking to realize that Rodd Bland is the son of the late blues legend Bobby "Blue" Bland. It's not just the last name but also that he is recording here with The Members Only Band, named after one of his father's biggest hits. While only six cuts, the music on this live recording, Live on Beale Street - a Tribute to Bobby "Blue" Bland, packs a lot of quality music into the half dozen songs from the Bland songbook. It's high quality stuff, with a tight, full band sound and three very fine soulful blues singers, and the younger Bland keeps a steady beat on the drums.

Chris Stephenson is the lead vocalist on two numbers: the mid-tempo shuffle "Up And Down World," showing off his vocal range and backed by a wall of sound from the horn section, and then again on "Sitting On A Poor Man's Throne," highlighted by funky Memphis-style guitar from Harold Smith and Stephenson's piano work. Ashton Riker, who like many other members of this ensemble performed with Bobby Bland over the years, steps up to the mic for the Tin Pan Alley number "St. James Infirmary," giving this classic tune a heavy modern gospel feeling.

Jerome Chism takes care of the last three cuts on the album and shows he's got the pipes to compete with Stephenson and Riker. "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (the Way You Treated Me)" has always been my favorite lesser-known Bland hit, and I believe Bobby would smile while hearing Chism's delicate phrasing and emotional voice. Smith contributes a strong guitar solo on the slow blues "Soon as the Weather Breaks," while the horns provide tasteful accompaniment, and the band gets funky for a version of "Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time," with sharp horn effects, a wonderful sax solo from Kirk Smothers, and still another killer guitar solo from Smith.

Listening to this EP over and over makes me wish I had been at this show on Beale Street back in 2019, although it hopefully lasted longer than the six cuts we hear now. Live on Beale Street - a Tribute to Bobby "Blue" Bland has just whetted my appetite for more from Rodd Bland and The Members Only Band.

--- Bill Mitchell

Tito JacksonI was very curious when I heard that Tito Jackson, part of the famous Jackson family, was coming out with a blues album. Hmm ... consider me intrigued. The list of guest artists is also extremely impressive, with names like George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Ray Wonder, Bobby Rush, Kenny Neal, and others being predominantly listed on the album cover for Under Your Spell (Gulf Coast Records). So does the final product tally up to the sum of its parts? For my tastes, not really. There's stuff to like here and I'm certainly impressed by the talent involved in assembling this project, but too often the music sounds sterile and over-produced. Most of the cuts here were both written and produced by a combination of Tito and Michael K. Jackson.

The songs that appeal most to me include a horn-heavy "Big Leg Woman," with lead sax from Jason Parfait, although I'd like to hear more power from Tito's vocals. Grady Champion plays some nice harmonica on the up-tempo blues shuffle "That Kind Of Love." The album hits its real high note with a version of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," with really nice lead guitar from Tito, Benson and Wilbert Crosby, trumpet from James "Boogaloo" Bolden and backing vocals from B.B's daughter Claudette King. Michael Lee and Russell Jackson also join in on vocals, so it's really a full group of contributors here.

Those three cuts are what turns me on for this album. I've got a very broad spectrum of what I consider to fit in the blues genre, but this album doesn't have enough to warrant a lot of interest from me. It's trying to be too many things to too many tastes.

--- Bill Mitchell

Chris DanielsColorado blues standout Chris Daniels was asked to help a worthy cause, Inner City Health, during the pandemic, so he gathered a bunch of his friends, many of whom play in Daniels' band, The Kings, and others from Big Head Todd and the Monsters, to put together a virtual concert. The result is this new album, What We Did (Moon Voyage Records), with Daniels, singer Hazel Miller and keyboardist Dana Marsh forming the core band. The result is a rather interesting collection of 10 songs that at times will have you marveling at how well everything fits together and at other times rolling your eyes at the song selection.

I listened several times to the opening cut, an acoustic version of the Doobie Brothers' 1976 hit "Takin' It To The Streets," wondering why they choose to do this song. Miller and Freddi Gowdy share the vocals, and as much as I don't want to admit it I started digging the song after about the third time hearing it. I still don't know why, but I'll try not to overthink it.

Up next is a slower version of Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign" that had me thinking "that's more like it!" Big Head Todd shows up to play lead guitar, with Gowdy and Miller again taking turns at the vocal mic. The song selection again heads in another direction with Irving Berlin's "Check To Cheek," with Sam Bush coming in with very nice mandolin accompaniment. I especially like Miller's vocals on this one, and can envision her singing this classic in a 1940s-era supper club. She sounds even better on a jazzy Daniels original, "I'm Still Lookin'," on which she succinctly answers Daniels that while she does her fine dining at home she still likes to check out the menu when she's away. Note: she's not talking about food, if you catch my drift. Very nice piano from Marsh here.

Marsh provides a gospel piano intro on Al Jarreau's "Could You Believe," a slow spiritual number that gives Miller plenty of room to express her emotions. We then head in a completely different direction with a very mellow version of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." Does this fit the format for this album? Why not.

Big Head Todd is back on slide guitar on the up-tempo version of "Down Home Blues." with Daniels and Miller again trading vocals and Kenny Passarelli providing a steady bass beat. A very mellow "Stealiln' Candy" features acoustic guitar picking from Daniels and piano from Marsh.

I still haven't bought into the final two cuts, a version of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend" and Daniels' own inspirational number, "Better Days." But like I did with the Doobie Brothers opener, I'll give them another listen to see if either number starts to do it for me.

What We Did isn't by any means strictly a blues album, but there's some nice, heartfelt music here. If you're looking for Daniels' usual jump blues and funk sound, it's not here. But if you keep an open mind, you'll find some very nice music. You may even start liking their Doobie Brothers song after awhile.

--- Bill Mitchell

Dexter AllenA native of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, Dexter Allen has paid his dues playing the blues. He got his musical start playing bass in his parents’ gospel band, The Gospel Travelers, eventually relocating to Jackson, Mississippi and serving as Bobby Rush’s lead guitarist for several years before launching a solo career that has seen him release several well-received albums since 2008.

His most recent effort, on the Endless Blues Records label, is Keep Moving On, and it captures the essence of Dexter Allen about as well as it can be done. Allen wrote all 11 songs, a heady mix of blues, soul, funk, and R&B, and he also produced the album and played guitar, bass, and drums on most tracks.

On the optimistic title track, a funky mid-tempo stepper which opens the disc, Allen encourages us all to overcome our daily struggles in the hopes that things will be better the next day. The swinging “Love Talk” is a nice, upbeat shuffle with a crisp guitar break, and “Blues Eyed Girl” is a soulful number about the search for his ideal mate. It's followed by “Pack Up My Bags,” a tough straight-ahead blues about being fed up enough to pack up, and “I Just Love That Woman” a marvelous old school R&B slow burner.

I could easily see B.B. King tackling and testifying to “F.A.B.U.L.I.S.T Woman,” an amusing urban blues about a woman who just can’t tell the truth. Some very King-like guitar work on this track, too. “If I Ain’t Got You” is a mid-tempo blues about having everything but the right thing, and “Sleeping In My Bed” is a sharp and funky blues with a unique look at a familiar blues topic when the one you’re with isn’t the one you want.

“I Can’t Live Without You” is a deep soul blues ballad, and Allen is more than up to the task on this track with a heartfelt, powerful delivery, his best vocal on the album. “I Like The Way” picks up the tempo with a funky backbeat and some stinging fretwork from Allen. The closer, “My Cup of Tea,” is a great slice of blues and soul about that woman who’s just what the doctor ordered.

Keep Moving On is a wonderful set of contemporary blues from one of the genre’s best. Dexter Allen should definitely be better known in the blues world and, hopefully, this album will help that happen.-

-- Graham Clarke

Mark May BandDeep Dark Demon (Gulf Coast Records), the latest release from the Mark May Band, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this exciting artist and his broad range of musical influences. A mainstay of the Texas blues scene May incorporates numerous other genres into his vision of the blues, including various phases of rock music, R&B, soul, and funk. May (lead vocals, lead/rhythm guitars) wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks on this stellar set, where he’s backed by Billy Wells (lead/rhythm guitars), Darrell Lacy (bass), Brandon Jackson or Geronimo Calderon (drums), Eric Demmer (sax), Barry Seelen or Shawn Allen (keyboards), Al Pagliuso (percussion) and Gulf Coast head honcho Mike Zito, who plays guitar on one track.

May opens with the ferocious blues rocker “Harvey’s Dirty Side,” which takes a pointed look at Hurricane Harvey, the terrible 2017 storm that devastated Houston in 2017, and its after-effects. The mood lightens thanks to the light and breezy shuffle “BBQ and Blues,” before May takes things in a Latin, Santana-esque with the excellent “Back.”

The title track is a moody slow burner with great guitar interplay between May and Zito. “Sweet Music” has a tough Texas roadhouse kick and the playful and funky “Rolling Me Down” describes the love of a good woman (sizzling slide guitar work from May on this one).

“My Last Ride” has a southern rock feel, thanks to the dual lead guitars, reminding listeners of the Allman Brothers Band (May played with Dickey Betts and Great Southern for several tours and an album). Meanwhile, the band slows things down on “For Your Love,” not the Yardbirds classic, but a fine soulful ballad with Demmer on sax and a superb vocal from May.

“Walking Out That Door” is a strong blues rocker singing the praises of a good woman, while the easy-going “Something Good” ventures into country blues territory. “Invisible Man,” the closer, mixes the blues with funk and a few modern, electronic flourishes that work just fine.

I’ve only recently become familiar with Mark May in the past couple of years, but based on what I’ve heard so far, he makes mighty fine, compelling music that should satisfy any discriminating blues or blues rock fan. Deep Dark Demon is a great place to start listening, if you’re new to this fine singer/songwriter/guitarist.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff FettermanPennsylvania blues-rock guitarist Jeff Fetterman opened a few eyes and ears with his previous release, 18 Miles To Nowhere, and his appearance at the 2018 I.B.C. (advancing to the semi-finals). His powerful brand of blues includes healthy doses of rock, soul, and funk, and it’s all on his most recent release, Southern Son, which was recorded at Greaseland Studios under the guidance of Kristoffer “Kid” Andersen, who produced, recorded, mixed, mastered, and probably catered the entire affair. The new disc features ten tracks, nine written by Fetterman, plus two bonus tracks that you don’t want to miss.

The opener, “I Don’t Want To,” has it all --- a driving blues rocker with fierce guitar work, a relentless rhythm, Hammond B3, horns, and a robust vocal from Fetterman. “49/61” keeps the momentum going, a tune paying tribute to the fabled crossroads of blues lore. The ballad “Memphis Sky” has an easy-going Americana feel (with some nice slide guitar mixed in), and the rousing “Goin’ Down To Nashville” recycles that familiar Elmore James riff. “Living With The Blues” is a splendid slow burner with a soulful vocal and inspired fretwork from Fetterman.

“Ain’t Got You” is a second cousin, albeit a Texas blues-edged one to the old blues classic previously recorded by Jimmy Reed and Billy Boy Arnold. The catchy “Feels Like Rain” is a mid-tempo venture into Americana territory. “Tell Me” is a tight shuffle, while “Blues For Charlie” is an instrumental paying tribute to Fetterman’s father (he poignantly elaborates in the liner notes) with fine interplay between guitar and keyboards (provided by Andersen).

The album closer (pre-bonus tracks) is an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “All Along The Watchtower” (you’ll want to hear this one through headphones to really appreciate the guitar work). Two bonus tracks, both instrumentals, close out the disc, the appropriately-titled “Voodoo Funk,” featuring some nasty bass, greasy B3, and sizzling guitar, and “Southside Blues,” a smooth, slow-burning urban trip that will just draw you in. I’m assuming these were jams in the studio, and they were so good it was decided to include them. If so, great decision.

Southern Son is an extremely enjoyable album that really showcases Jeff Fetterman and his musical vision. Blues and blues-rock fans alike will love this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Too SlimToo Slim and the Taildraggers return with another powerhouse set of blues rock and roots that will thrill longtime fans and probably bring in a whole new crop of fans in the process. The Remedy (VizzTone) features ten original tracks penned by Too Slim and/or bassist Zach Kasik and drummer Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes, who certainly make up the rip-roaringest power trio this side of ZZ Top. A trio of harmonica players guest on several of the tracks – Sheldon “Bent Reed” Ziro, Jason Ricci, and Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt (VizzTone head honcho).

The album opens with the tough blues rocker “Last Last Chance,” a southern-flavored rock ‘n’ roller that sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the record. Fortunately, Slim and the gang are more than up to the challenge, as heard on the gritty “She’s Got The Remedy,” the churning “Devil’s Hostage,” which has a cool ZZ Top groove, and “Reckless,” with its skittering Bo Diddley beat. Meanwhile, “Keep The Party Rollin’” is a scorching breakneck boogie rocker, followed by the album’s lone cover, Elmore James’ “Sunnyland Train,” a wild and woolly slidefest.

“Sure Shot” is a nice change of pace, a sparse roots/blues ballad with Kasik on banjo complementing Slim’s slide guitar. The mid-tempo “Platinum Junkie” nimbly mixes blues and funk, and Kasik breaks out the banjo again on the intriguing “Snake Eyes,” which is a little bit blues, a little bit roots, and a little bit rock. “Think About That” marries Texas roadhouse blues with the swampy swing of the old CCR sound.

The album closer, “Half A World Away,” is a reflective song of the road, blending blues and jazz most effectively.

Blues fans know what they’re getting with Too Slim and the Taildraggers --- gritty, straight-forward, hard-driving blues and blues rock, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The Remedy indicates that the trio is as powerful and potent as ever and shows no signs of taking their foot off the gas.

--- Graham Clarke

Dustin ArbuckleThe debut release of Dustin Arbuckle And The Damnations, My Getaway, can be called a sequel of sorts to Arbuckle’s time spent collaborating with Moreland & Arbuckle, one of the toughest blues rock and roots combos of the past decade. The new line-up brings all of those elements together once again, but at the same time it has a distinctively different vibe from Arbuckle’s previous work, mixing in more of a rock edge and even a touch of folk. Fans of M & A can relax, because Arbuckle’s robust vocals and harmonica is still right up front where they should be.

Arbuckle is backed by a stellar group in The Damnations --- Brandon Hudspeth (guitar), Dr. Mark Foley (bass/harmony vocals), Kendall Newby (drums/percussion/harmony vocals), and Caleb Drummond (bass on three tracks). Hudspeth, founder of the band Levee Town and BMA-nominated for his release with Jaisson Taylor (Folie a Deux) from a couple of years back, provides superlative support on guitar and the rhythm section is rock solid.

Highlights include the rumbling blues rocker “Say My Name” that kicks off the disc, a great vehicle for Arbuckle’s vocals and harp, the ferocious boogie “Across The Desert,” “You Got To Go,” which blends rock and R&B seamlessly, the Americana-flavored “Dealer’s Lament” and “Half A Piece,” and the countrified blues “Darlin’ Dear.” Meanwhile, the gentle ballad “Daniel Fought A Lion” is also noteworthy, and “My Getaway” has Windy City overtones, while the closer, “Swingling,” is a marvelous jazz/blues instrumental with superb interplay between the band.

My Getaway finds Dustin Arbuckle building on previous releases with this marvelous new band, expanding his musical palette from his previous blues and blues rock, leaning into new and interesting territory. It will be interesting to hear where Arbuckle and the Damnations move from here.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric JohansonLouisiana-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Eric Johanson has built a strong reputation, serving as lead guitarist for Cyril Neville and Terrance Simien. He also released a fine album, Burn It Down, in 2017 on Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records, as well as an impressive album, Blues In My Blood, on Nola Blue Records with New Orleans vocalist Tiffany Pollack in 2019. More recently, Johanson collaborated with Luther and Cody Dickinson at their Zebra Ranch Studios to record Below Sea Level (Nola Blue Records), a compelling set of blues and southern rock.

The rip-roaring blues boogie stomper “Buried Above Ground” opens the album, Johanson’s searing guitar work perfectly complemented by drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist Terrence Grayson’s driving backbeat. Johanson’s slide takes center stage on the powerful shuffle “Down To The Bottom,” before the trio slows down to the soulful side with the slow burning “Changes The Universe,” which also includes Ray Jacildo on B3. Meanwhile, the catchy “Never Tomorrow” is a strong blues-rocker that leans more toward the rock side, while “Hammer On The Stone” and “Have Mercy” are slower-paced rockers, both with a dark, swampy mood.

The somber “River Of Oblivion” takes a hard look at addiction and drug abuse, but the mood and tempo pick up a notch with the irresistibly optimistic rocker “Nowhere To Go.” The noteworthy “Open Hearted Woman” is a slinky, funky blues, and “Dose Of Forget” is an engaging mix of sharp lyrics and musicianship.

The acoustic/electric ballad “Love Is Rebellion” has a powerful message, that love will overcome a divisive world. The closer, “Riverbend Blues,” goes full acoustic, a lovely track where Johanson pays tribute to New Orleans with vivid lyrical imagery and nuanced guitar work.

Luther Dickinson produced the album, giving it the same earthy feel of their North Mississippi Allstars releases, but Johanson’s crisp, edgy guitar work and songs retain a definite Crescent City vibe. Blues fans can expect to hear and enjoy much more of Eric Johanson’s music in the future and Below Sea Level is a great place to get on board.

--- Graham Clarke

Sean ArdoinSean Ardoin previously released Came Thru Pullin’ (Zydekool Records) as Ven back in 2019. Ven, meaning 20 in Creole was designed to celebrated Ardoin’s 20th anniversary as a solo artist (he previously led the acclaimed zydeco band Double Clutchin’ until 1999). The set consists of ten previously released songs from Ardoin, though it isn’t really a greatest hits collection as much as a “re-imagining” of those songs with updated, modern production values and assistance from his son Sean II (vocals/programming), guitarists Corey Stoot, Andre Thierry, and Trey Ardoin, Linden Smith (scrubboard), Brian Malbroux (bass), Savar Martin (drums), and Zane Gipson (keyboards).

The exuberant title track is mostly traditional zydeco that will put a hop in your step for sure, and the aptly-titled “Bounce” follows suit, keeping the party out on the dance floor.The mid-tempo “No That Ain’t Right” has a bit of a blues spin, and “Get Right Girl” leans more toward R&B with the added keyboards. “I’m Not Gonna Wait” is a soul/R&B-flavored ballad with a nice heartfelt vocal from Ardoin.

“Gumbo Time” adds hip-hop and rap to the zydeco framework, with Ardoin and friends (Bryson “New Cupid” Bernard and Shawn “Uncle Luck” Bernard) singing/rapping the praises to the delicious Louisiana dish. “It’s Love” is another soul/R&B ballad, although a bit more upbeat than previously, and the lively “Kool Rolling” describes Ardoin’s “Kreole Rock and Soul” musical approach. “Nothing Like Our Love” is a modern pop-styled ballad and the closer,. The guitar-fueled rocker “Shut Them Down” closes the album.

I don’t get to hear a lot of new zydeco releases these days, so Sean Ardoin’s musical method of mixing in other genres is probably the norm for new releases, which is perfectly fine. It keeps the music vibrant and alive. Came Thru Pullin’ will certainly please new fans of the genre and there’s enough traditional fare to keep the old folks interested, and dancing.

--- Graham Clarke

CrosCros formerly served as bass player for James Cotton and Lucky Peterson. He won the Phoenix Blues Society’s Blues Challenge in 2018 and 2019 and was a finalist at the I.B.C. in 2019. He recently issued his debut single, “My Kind of Woman,” which will leave fans of blues, soul, funk, and R&B hungry for more.

Cros takes lead vocals, backed by singer Rosalee’s encouraging shouts and a band (Pete Galanis – guitars, Walter Jones – bass, Chris Foster – drums, Darren Sher – piano/organ, Rick Mutter – Rhodes piano, Wayne Bliss – baritone sax, Richard Little – trumpet, and Johnny Cotton – trombone) that knows how to lock into a groove. This song will get you on your feet and keep you there. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more from this dynamite band soon.

--- Graham Clarke



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