Blues Bytes

September 2003

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What's New

Little George SuerefThe first time I heard selections from Little George Sueref and the Blue Stars' debut, self-titled album on Pussycat Records, I thought 'Hmmm, this is some cool Excello swamp pop, I wonder which reissue this is from?' I was a bit embarrassed to learn it was Little George Sueref, a harp player from Great Britain. Lucky for me, Excello Records veteran Lazy Lester redeemed my credibility by contributing brilliantly on harp and guitar throughout most of the album. For this reason, I wasn't too far from the '50s- and '60s-rooted sound that I identify these recordings with. George, former harp player for Big Joe Louis, combines his obvious vocal influence of J.B. Lenoir, Magic Sam, Chuck Berry, and Ted Taylor, with a high register voice of sweet soul blues, producing 15 tracks recorded the right way. I commend his choice of predominately original material, authentic style and ability. The song "3-6-9" has received the repeat button treatment in my house. It begins with Sueref's rooted Mississippi rhythm guitar, reminiscent of Jesse Mae Hemphill (on that particular song), and quickly joined by a hard, thumping, rockabilly-esque groove set down by Matt Radford (bass) and Mike Watts (drums). Guest vocalist Jimmy Thomas adds a little soul power that really takes me to church. Other notables: the swamp pop groove and bass dance in "Finger Lickin'," and a dirty Chicago influenced "Living In the City," with nice harp à la Junior Wells, courtesy of Little George. Thankfully, George sticks to his own style when covering songs, and really stands out on his version of Johnny Aces' "The Clock." I can't speak for his taste in hats (wearing a straw country hat on the cover), but Little George can definitely wear the blues well. Like most blues releases these days, I found it difficult to locate it in local record stores, but it is widely available on the Internet, and is one of the most impressive albums of 2003.

 --- Drew Verbis

Clifton ChenierJust like, according to some blues specialists, the blues genre has gradually been simplified through the history of recorded music (the 12-bar blues form, being heard on record more often than other, less regular song structures, has been copied more often by artists of following generations, who then recorded it even more extensively, etc.), so Zydeco music has gradually come to be more one-dimensional than it was at the beginning. Want oral proof? Listen to The Best of Clifton Chenier, The King of Zydeco & Louisiana Blues, a 17-song sampling of the creator of Zydeco’s output on Arhoolie Records (plus a 15-minute previously unreleased interview of Clifton Chenier conducted by Arhoolie founder and radio personality, Chris Strachwitz). You’ll hear plenty of fast-paced dance fare, to be sure, but also beautiful waltzes, accordion-based honest-to-goodness blues, and even a Jimmy Reed-like take of “It’s Hard,” where Chenier totally foregoes accordion in favor of a harmonica. Zydeco is one of the most propulsive types of music in America, and Chenier was truly the king of this style. Expect not to be able to stand still while listening to these tracks, which cover a period of 20 years, from 1964 to 1983. Even though Chenier won a Grammy with his Alligator album I’m Here!, his best work was done for Arhoolie, time and again, so this sampler serves as a very good selection of the best of his latter-day career. Check out the three live cuts, but also the earliest track, a rough and loose “Why Did You Go Last Night,” for examples of the sheer joy this music can bring. And remember, “laissez le bon temps rouler”… (

Every town, big or small, has bred artists who, like Winnipeg native Big Dave McLean, seem content for the longest time to simply play gigs, tour a bit, befriend other musicians, learn and live the blues, without bothering to make records. In McLean’s case, his first album (save for a live 1989 cassette sold at his shows) came in 1998, with For the Blues… Always, a collection of standards released by Stony Plain; by that time, McLean’s career as a bluesman was already almost 30 years in the making. Still, even without a recorded legacy, the man was considered a living legend in Western Canada. Now finally comes a CD that gives a better understanding as to why he was held in such high regard: Blues from the Middle, also on Stony Plain. With five covers and nine originals, it shows McLean to be more than a mere interpreter; his originals, written and performed in the classic Chess style, show his profound admiration for Muddy Waters (there’s an 11-minute rendition of the self-explanatory “Muddy Waters for President,” but also a song called “Sweet Delta Jones,” about Muddy Waters’ mother), but also his fondness for Bo Diddley (see the only instrumental of the set, the big beat guitar fest “B. Meets Bo,” featuring guests Duke Robillard and Sue Foley). The musicians, all recruited from a Winnipeg band called The Perpetrators, offer solid support and provide real input; producer Rick Fenton has chosen to focus on an organic sound that uses no modern gimmickry. With his gruff growl, efficient harp blowing and solid National Steel playing (most clearly evident on the final track, Bukka White’s “Fix’n to Die,” done entirely solo), plus the support of guitarists Chris Carmichael and Jason Nowicki, McLean succeeds in offering us a '50s-sounding electric blues album that never sounds derivative. For that, he’s to be commended… and recorded more often.

Even if we at Blues Bytes don’t review the releases of contemporary R&B artists like India.Arie, Alicia Keyes and other megastars of the nu-soul genre, we must be grateful for at least one side effect of this genre’s popularity: there seems to be a renewed interest in older forms of soul as well, including soul-jazz and soul-blues. Younger artists, such as pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph and the hot trio Soulive, will use this music as a pretext to jam and dance and are often associated with the jam band scene. But veteran bands are also given a chance to record. Two such groups are The Headhunters, a New Orleans-based outfit whose latest release, Evolution Revolution (Basin Street Records), has much more jazz than blues, and Oakland’s own Tower of Power, whose latest is called, appropriately, Oakland Zone (Or Music). If you don’t know this 35 year-old group, try to imagine Roomful of Blues with a lesser emphasis on blues and '50s R&B, a reduced presence from the guitar and harmonica, and a stronger emphasis on '60s soul and '70s soul-funk. The band features a very good singer, Larry Braggs, a strong rhythm section and a discreet guitarist (Jeff Tamelier, who takes only two solos), as well as an excellent keyboardist (Roger Smith, making a major contribution), but the five-man horn section, led since the beginning by saxophonist Emilio Castillo, is the real star of the group. (You may have heard this horn section, in one of its various incarnations, backing artists such as Elton John, Santana, Rod Stewart, Toto and scores of others, including Huey Lewis, who co-wrote one title on this new release). Featuring only original compositions, Oakland Zone offers plenty of good, bouncy tunes (no glaring weakness among the lot) with impeccable horn arrangements and irresistible riffs. Good time music for all, really. (

I’ll admit I knew absolutely nothing about the Rockit 88 Band, whose first CD, Too Much Fun, has just been released in Canada on a new label, 7 Arts Entertainment (see for detail), so I had to dig up some facts. Here’s what I found: band leader, singer and pianist Bill King, though born in Indiana, has been living in Canada since 1970, where he came as a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. It seems that around Toronto, King is mostly known as a jazz pianist, but he used to play in rock & roll bands in his youth (he backed Chuck Berry, among others); he also publishes and writes in Jazz Report, THE Canadian jazz magazine. On Too Much Fun, the program is entirely made up of covers, played in a bluesy rock & roll way, with lots of boogie-woogie piano and fuzzed-up guitar (guitarist Neil Chapman steals the show on most of these songs). King is a workmanlike singer, but he’s a very capable pianist (and organist), and the whole album comes off as a jolly good time brought to you by a seasoned bar band. When things get a little on the jazzy side (as on Charles Brown’s classic “Drifting Blues”), the band proves able to work the delicate emotions just as surely as it can start a party on most of the other, faster paced fun tunes. But, to quote the title tune (a C.J. Chenier cover), “too much fun is like no fun at all.”

I remember liking Glamour Puss’ last album to come though my hands, 1999’s Blues du Jour. It was good, honest and sometime silly fun, it reminded me of large family gatherings with dancing and drinking. It was also somehow exotic: here was a band of Acadians (descending from the same ancestors as today’s Cajuns, Acadians live in Eastern Canada and, like their Cajun cousins, have kept some French language and culture) singing a few songs in French, merging Acadian music with some Zydeco and New Orleans R&B flavorings, that was also a potent blues band. So I have a hard time to understand why I the band’s brand new Wire & Wood (on NorthernBlues) has failed to provoke the same enthusiasm. It sounds better, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Though this quintet has plenty of soloing strengths, with guitarist Travis Furlong, keyboardist and accordionist Roger Cormier and sax player Don Rodgers, it lacks a good singer; what sounded charmingly rough and spontaneous now appears cleanly and crisply limited in range and expressiveness. The same could be said about the originals, which sound less joyfully put together, more painstakingly polished and smoothed out. Still, things do catch fire for a few tracks about midway through the album, when the band goes folkloric (zydecajun, like) on “Maman Don’t Play no Zydeco,” with producer Michael Jerome Browne helping out on fiddle, followed by the title track, a nice acoustic guitar showcase, with Browne and Charlie A’Court joining Furlong. “If You Miss Me (So Much)” drags a little bit, but it offers the best lyrics of the bunch, a hard look at how we tend to neglect our friends when we start getting too busy, ultimately losing them. The French element, as well as the typically Acadian flavor, is paired down a lot through the CD, which puts Glamour Puss in much the same pigeonhole as countless other northern blues bands, making the band sound less distinctive. I’m not saying Wire & Wood is a bad album; but, in a world where our ears are solicited by countless musical acts in many different genres, it simply doesn’t jump out and grab your attention above other discs. (

You might not know it, but Jack Casady, erstwhile bassist extraordinaire for '70s blues-rock act Hot Tuna (as well as for Jefferson Airplane), has just released his first ever album under his own name, Dream Factor (Eagle Rock Records). It’s an average release aimed to please baby-boomers who liked his old band in the first place; many songs are typical middle-of-the-road fare, with inconsequential lyrics and a sound that is designed to play well in your car without being too aggressive. The many guests (Hot Tuna partner Jorma Kaukonen on guitar for two tracks, Little Feat’s Paul Barrere, hotshot guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, Matt Abts and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, and even Fee Waybill of arena rockers The Tubes) should also appeal to the same public. Vocalist Ivan Neville sings on two songs, including the soulful “Trust Somebody,” where he puts in the best vocal performance of the CD – it helps that the song is also one of the few that has anything more than absolute cliché to say. Also worth your time is the drummerless “Weight of Sin,” a simple acoustic ditty that has Casady playing balalaika, of all things. Not bad, just desperately average. (

I wouldn’t use “average” to describe BB King’s latest, titled Reflections (MCA); “soothing” is more like it, with more than a touch of class. It’s also, how should I say it, a bit boring. But the man acts his age, and one cannot fault him for that. The concept: record, with an unnamed large string and brass orchestra, a collection of well-worn classics, with BB’s guitar reduced to a supporting role (but it is still as instantly recognizable as ever). If you like those old movie scores that put strings everywhere, say, from the '40s and '50s, with tons of ballads and a few “uptempo” numbers here and there, you’ll be pleased with this outing. But if you just can’t stand another remake of “What a Wonderful World,” you’re probably best advised to buy the recent BB King boxed sets instead of this geriatric release.

I’ll say it bluntly: stay away from ex-Rolling Stone and ex-Bluesbreaker Mick Taylor’s Shadowman CD (Pilot Records). The sticker on the jewel case says: “Brand new studio album! Limited edition 2 CD set […] Includes bonus live album recorded at the 14 Below Club in California, 1/2/95.” Well, that’s a lie. The “Brand new album” was actually released in 1996 in Japan, credited to “Mick Taylor featuring Sasha”, which in itself was also a lie; Shadowman is actually a Sasha Gracanin album (never heard of him, right?), with Mick Taylor playing (some) guitar on an unspecified number of tracks. Oh, and the bonus live album, you’re asking? It too was released before, in 1995 actually. It is Mick Taylor singing and playing guitar, with Joe Houston on sax; both were actually guests of the Hollywood Blues Kings that night. There’s only one glitch: Taylor didn’t approve of the release of this disc in 1995 (the music is pretty ordinary, and I’m being generous), and I doubt that he will be better inclined towards this rip-off.

I wasn’t expecting much more from Roadhouse Blues, a various artists collection put together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson motorcycles (released by Capitol/EMI). In fact, the first half of the record is exactly what I thought I was in for: from George Thorogood through Jonny Lang and on to Kenny Wayne Shepherd, it’s full of rocking blooze music that, unfortunately, is synonymous to real blues for a lot of people. But the second half of the record, from Mississippi Fred McDowell to Freddie King, from James Cotton to Otis Taylor, actually goes a bit deeper into real blues than I expected. Which just goes to say: bikers actually know what the blues is.

Boston area guitarist Peter Malick is no powerhouse name, but he’s a dedicated blues fan and bandleader. In 2000, as he was wondering who was going to record a set of new songs he had written that he felt he wasn’t suited to sing, he stumbled onto an unknown singer with a great husky voice, played a few gigs with her and his band and then went into a studio to record four of those new songs (plus two covers, including a jazzy take on Magic Sam’s “All Your Love”). Maybe he meant to record more songs later; maybe he just didn’t know what to do with these tapes that were so unlike his usual blues recordings (smooth, jazzy, with a rainy day feel). But fate intervened: that unknown singer with a great husky voice released an album of her own in 2002 and promptly sold more than two million copies of it… Her name? Norah Jones! Which explains the Koch Records release of New York City, a six-song EP (plus an additional radio edit of the opening track, which is the title cut) credited to The Peter Malick Group featuring Norah Jones. The good news is that, based on this recording, Koch will release a proper Peter Malick CD soon, to be titled Chance and Circumstance. The other good news is that Norah Jones has got a really great husky voice. But I think I’ve said that already… (

Soul singer Carl Carlton has released at least seven albums in the course of a career that goes back to 1969, including Main Event, released in 1994 on Evejim. If you check out, the huge music database associated with the ongoing series of All Music Guides, you’ll discover that there is a brand new Carl Carlton album, titled Love & Respect. There is only one problem with the info provided by this new album is by another Carl Carlton!! How do I know? Well, the soul singer with the long career was born in Detroit and he’s black; the author of Love & Respect, credited to Carl Carlton & The Songdogs (on the German label SPV), was born in Ostfriesland, Germany, and he’s definitely white, blue eyes and all. And, if you take a minute to listen to his album, you’ll quickly notice that it isn’t a soul record. With Sonny Landreth helping out on slide, Richard Comeaux on pedal steel, and Levon Helm on drums, Love & Respect has more than its share of rock ’n’ roll, with a touch of country, a bit of R&B, an old spirit and plenty of youthful drive. There’s even a pretty good reggae song called “Love, Understanding & Respect.” The promo copy I have doesn’t give me all the details (Are all songs original? Who’s playing on which songs?). One thing is clear from the biographical outline provided in the notes -- Carlton has worked in the past with Mink Deville, and he’s been working closely in recent years with Robert Palmer, who makes a guest appearance here (maybe on the Rolling Stones-ish “Queen of Attitude”?). Indeed, a quick look in my record collection tells me that Carlton plays on four tracks on the 1999 Robert Palmer album Rhythm & Blues. But back to the CD at hand: if at times a slight German accent makes a few words hard to get, there’s no denying the excellence of the music, bluesy at times (see “Lucky” or “Deep Colors Bleed,” for example), soulful too, with good horn charts (The White Trash Horns, heard to good effect on “Kingston”), rocking just hard enough to please all fans of classic blues-based rock ’n’ roll, early Stones and all. By the way, the Stones unofficial keyboardist, Ian McLagan, also makes a guest appearance here… (

You know how some skiers go into uncharted territory, descending huge, avalanche-prone mountains just for the thrill of it? Extreme skiing, they call it, I suppose; not the same thing as your run of the mill weekend on the slopes with your closest hundred friends. Well, Eric Sardinas’ latest album, Black Pearls (Favored Nations Entertainment), is a sort of blues-rock album that plays on an entirely different level than most blues-rock records: extreme blues-rock, I guess, is how we should describe it. It features plenty of Sardinas’ excellent National Steel slide, with many lyrical references that update old blues imagery, even classic blues chord progressions. But the “rock” part has more to do with heavy metal than with rock ’n’ roll. In fact, the sonic assault and vocal histrionics on the opening track, “Flames of Love,” should ensure that many first-time listeners will abandon right there in disgust. But maybe they should listen further. Even if Sardinas is not exactly a master of subtlety, he tones down a bit down the line, and his mix of blues structure and head-banging rock sound (produced by legendary rock engineer/producer Eddie Kramer), though not as trendy as that of the White Stripes or Black Keys, make a strong case in favor of the continued pertinence of the blues (true, in modern settings). And give Sardinas his due --- he knows how to write a melodic, memorable tune, relying very little on such blues-rock clichés such as the inevitable pretext-for-unstoppable-solos slow shuffle, and he’s no mere SRV or Hendrix clone. In fact, compared to Devil’s Train, his last album for Evidence, his voice, which is almost always strained to a painful point, seems better suited to the sonic barrage on this new album. At least it’s straining to be heard above the loud volume, not simply because of its own intrinsic limitations. Not for every listener nor for every occasion, Black Pearls nevertheless does its best to modernize the blues. Whether you feel the blues need to be modernized in the first place is an entirely different question. (

--- Benoît Brière

Stan HirschAt last, the eagerly awaited new CD from guitar maestro Stan Hirsch - and it's been worth the wait! Covered In Blues (BFM) shows Stan's continued love affair with traditional blues, the influences of bluesmen such as Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker shining through. However, Stan has cleverly mixed in a few surprises, too, with a couple of Jimi Hendrix tracks, a Tim Rose number and .........."Amazing Grace!!" This is Stan at his very best --- solo and acoustic. The album opens with a beautifully rendered version of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," and right from the start your ears are treated to Stan's trademark guitar playing.Those who have heard his music before will know what I'm talking about --- this man makes it sound as though he's playing two guitars at the same time. No multi-tracking here!! Following is Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary," and it makes you wonder if this should have maybe been an acoustic number all along, Stan's sensitive string fingering here is almost hypnotic. The version of Tim Rose's "Hey Joe" (often credited to Jimi Hendrix, as he had the big hit with it) is another track that makes you wish that Hendrix had produced an acoustic version --- at least then we could make a better comparison. Along the way are versions of "Red House," Freddie King's "Hideaway" (another track where you'd swear there were at least two guitars playing), tracks by Lightnin' Hopkins, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy ("Key To The Highway"), and some old trad blues whose composers' names are lost in the sands of time. If I had to pick out a favourite track, and it's not easy, then I think it would have to be Willie Dixon's "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" or James Oden's "Going Down Slow"; I really can't choose between the two of them. Coincidentally, they follow one another on the CD, so maybe Stan had similar thoughts about these two superb tracks. Criticisms? Well, just one --- the sleeve notes are sparse, and anyone new to the blues will be left wondering who wrote what. Aficionados won't have this problem, of course, but it would be nice to include the names of the songwriters. However, the pure beauty of the music itself overrides this very small criticism, and this CD will provide hours and hours of listening pleasure. BUY IT!! (If you have trouble finding this CD, have a look at

Nuno MindelisTwelve Hours (Beast Music) is the latest of four CDs released by Nuno Mindelis, a refugee from the war in Angola. Nuno's background in blues started with him making his own guitars at home in Angola, and carried when he went to live apart from his family in Canada, where he refined his blues technique. He was then re-united with his family in Brazil, where he has become of the country's top blues artists. This latest album features nine self-written tracks and two tracks written for Nuno by Paul Orta, one of which, "You Better Believe It," opens the CD in great style. This is a rocking blues track that really drives along with some great guitar work from Nuno Mindelis. Listen out for some superb Hammond organ playing on this track by Flavio Naves --- unobtrusive, but right there on the line! The first of the tracks written by Nuno follows ("Stormy Minded Man"), and it shows that this guy can write good lyrics as well as playing faultless guitar. The second of the Paul Orta tracks is third on the CD, and it's entitled "Shake It." Thiago Cerveira blows some inspired harp on this one; what a pity he doesn't play harp on more of the tracks, as he blends in so well. The real showcase for Nuno's guitar playing, I think, is track five, "Dizzy Slow Blues" (closely followed by trac eight, "Dana's Song" ). The vocals have a strange treatment on this track, Nuno sounding like he's in a different room. It sounds strange but it seems to work. Flavio Naves' work on the keyboards on this track is exceptional. Most of the time he's so deep in the background that you really have to concentrate to find him, but then he pops up to the fore and captures your attention totally, and holds you there. Track six, "Rats & Leeches," is possibly the blusiest track on the album; the lyrics put me in mind of some of Van Morrison's writing from the late 1990s. The track is very reminiscent of "Going Down Geneva" on the CD Back On Top ---maybe that's what makes it my favourite track on the album! Most blues styles are catered for on this CD, and if you want moody you just have to go straight to track eight, "Dana's Song" --- an instrumental, even though it has the word song in the title. This is perfect late night listening for blues lovers. The album finishes off with "Chica & Sarah Loops," a track that had me perplexed --- what does the title refer to? why are there dogs barking in it? why is it so short ? (one minute,  22 seconds). This track is a solo acoustic guitar boogie that left me confused about the dogs, and left me wanting more! Maybe that's the point of it! The lasting impression that I get from listening to this CD is how all the band members fit together so well --- the music blends all the different instruments together perfectly. All in all, a very good album --- and one that you'll listen to a lot if you buy it.

--- Terry Clear

New Orleans Rhythm & Blues may not be dead, but the coroner is standing by to apply the toe tag. It did enjoy a long, fruitful run, spanning from the late '40s to the early '70s, and influenced countless musicians from other places during that time. However, today whatever R&B is still being played in New Orleans is being played mostly by the people who made it famous, most of whom are either semi-retired or on the golden oldies circuit. A good portion of the young folks in N.O. are either into rap, funk, brass bands, jazz, gospel, or even Zydeco. This makes Deacon John Moore’s new CD an even more exciting event. The CD, Deacon John’s Jump Blues (Image Entertainment), is a loving tribute to this music. Though it is a tribute album (and also a film), it sounds as fresh as when the music was getting its start 50 years ago. The performances here indicate that this music, far from being dead in the water, still has a lively pulse. Deacon John has surrounded himself with some New Orleans legends, including Allen Toussaint, legendary arranger Wardell Quezergue, Dr. John, Herlin Riley, Amadee Castenell, and Carl Blouin. Deacon John himself is no stranger to visitors of the Crescent City, as he has been entertaining music fans for decades as a studio musician in the '60s and as an entertainer in clubs all throughout New Orleans. His vocals, while outstanding, won’t make you forget the original versions of these songs, but he more than holds his own, and his guitar work is just excellent. It’s hard to select a favorite track on this CD because they’re all so good. The opener, a tasty version of Ray Charles’ “Jumpin’ In The Morning,” really kicks things off in fine fashion. Also included are covers of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out,” the Spiders’ “I Didn’t Want To Do It,” “Losing Battle” (made famous by the Tan Canary, Johnny Adams), and a wonderful medley of “Let The Good Times Roll/Feel So Good,” with co-lead vocals by Teedy Boutte´, who also shines on Erma Franklin’s classic “Piece Of My Heart”. Boutte´, along with Davell Crawford, whose solo piano version of “Nobody Knows You…..,” closes out the CD, are a couple of younger musicians who are continuing the New Orleans R&B tradition. Dr. John also chips in with a short, but lively take on “Tipitina.” There is also a moving a capella version of “Jesus On The Mainline,” with Deacon and the Zion Harmonizers. The standout track for me was the cover of Smiley Lewis’ “Hook, Line & Sinker/Go On Fool”. Deacon really hits the groove on this one vocally and the band is really cooking behind him. The only real complaint is that it’s a relatively short disc, clocking in at less than 40 minutes. As mentioned above, there is also a documentary film and DVD of this performance (neither of which I’ve seen yet). Hopefully, this wonderful CD will get Deacon John some long-deserved recognition outside of New Orleans. For fans of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, I can’t recommend this disc highly enough.

Another documentary, Last of the Mississippi Jukes, directed by Robert Mugge (Deep Blues, Hellhounds On My Trail) has garnered much attention this year. The film covers music performed at Jackson’s Subway Lounge and at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club at Greenville (neither of which is the last of the jukes, by any means, in Mississippi) by such artists as Vasti Jackson (guitarist for Katie Webster and Michael Burks, among others), Alvin Youngblood Hart, Chris Thomas King, Eddie Cotton, and several others. Sanctuary Records has released a soundtrack of the film and it features some noteworthy performances. Hart, who does a blistering version of his “Joe Friday” with Sam Carr and Anthony Sherrod, King, who does an original “John Law Burned The Liquor Sto’” that sounds like it could have been done on Paramount in the '30s, and Jackson, who does a timely “Casino In the Cottonfield,” all acquit themselves well. However, the stars on this disc are the lesser-known artists. Singer Patrice Moncell will make you wonder “Shemekia who?” with her blistering versions of “Stormy Monday” and a spicy version of “Strokin’.” The old juke joint standards “The Blues Is Alright” and “Hole In The Wall” are well done by Dennis Fountain & Pat Brown and The King Edward Blues Band, respectively. Other standout performances include a soulful “You Know I’ve Tried,” with Levon Lindsey & J. T. Watkins, and Abdul Rasheed’s version of “Members Only”. Also appearing is the legendary Bobby Rush, who disappointingly offers only a solo version of “Garbage Man,” accompanied only by his harmonica. It would have been nice to have had something more reflective of his live act. King Edward’s band and the House Rockers, which are the house bands at the Subway Lounge, provide superb backing for most of the songs here. While it would have benefited from a few additional tracks, especially since, according to the liner notes, Eddie Cotton was also performing at the time (What will it take for this guy to get some recognition?), it’s a fine overview of the current blues scene in Mississippi, which is alive and well, thank you.

Yellow Dog Records, out of Memphis, Tennessee, is building up a terrific catalog of releases. Another Yellow Dog release, Mark Lemhouse’s Big Lonesome Radio, was reviewed last month in Blues Bytes by Arthur Shuey, so I’m here to affirm the positive. Lemhouse, an Oregon native, moved to Memphis several years ago and woodshedded with Fat Possum recording artist Robert Belfour. Lemhouse is an excellent guitarist who plays electric, acoustic, lap steel, and National Resonator, with great taste in cover tunes, including acoustic takes on tracks by Tampa Red, Johnny Shines, Yank Rachell, Charley Patton, and Charles Brown (a neat take on “Driftin’ Blues” that sounds nothing like the original). There’s also some sparks that fly as Lemhouse plugs in for a cover of Fred McDowell’s “What’s the Matter with Papa’s Little Angel Child” and also for “No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby” from Tom Waits. Lemhouse’s original tunes are also impressive, particularly “Electra 225” and “Jealous Moon.” There’s also a cover of Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly tune, “One Hand Loose.” Keep an eye on Mark Lemhouse. His debut shows tons of promise and will leave you wanting more.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnnie TaylorIt's hard to belive that it has been more than three years since Johnnie Taylor's premature death, ending the career of perhaps the greatest of all soul/blues performers. Debates have raged over who was the greatest soul singer of all time, and although there are considerable arguments made for Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, this reviewer has always placed Johnnie Taylor at the top of the list, sharing that exalted spot with James Carr. A listen to "I'm Not The Man You Need" from his 1998 Malaco release, Taylored To Please, will win over even the most skeptical listeners. This collection, There's No Good In Goodbye (Malaco Records), contains 15 outtakes from six of Taylor's Malaco albums, plus one song, "If You Take Your Love Away," that was released on a seventh album and is presented here with a new stripped down mix dispensing with the strings, horns and background vocals heard on the original recording. The earliest cut here was originally recorded in 1984 for Taylor's debut Malaco album, This Is Your Night, the Frank Johnson-penned "If You're Looking For A Fool." As is the case with many of his recordings, you can hear various vocal gestures that can be traced back to Sam Cooke. Just listen to the "woh-oh-oh-oh" that Taylor injects following the title of the song. This is a case where the student absorbed all there was from his teacher, and then topped him at his own game. Another interesting track is Paul Simon's "Take Me To The Mardi Gras," recorded in 1988 at the In Control session but not included on that release. When Paul Simon had first recorded the song for There Goes Rhymin' Simon in 1973, he had come down to Malaco to overdub New Orleans' Onward Brass Band on the track. During the sessions for Taylor's fourth album, someone suggested he try a run through on the Simon tune. You have the results here. To quote Rob Bowman's excellent liner notes --- "For a lot of Johnnie's sessions, explains producer Wolf Stevenson, we would come up with an off the wall cut by a pop artist that his fans had never heard that might get a little crossover. That was one we were very familiar with because of the fact that Paul cut the horns at our studio". It was co-producer and label owner Tommy Couch Sr.'s idea to have Johnnie's son, Floyd Taylor, duet with his dad on the track. Ironically, given the fact that Couch had met Johnnie Taylor when he sang at Z.Z. Hill's funeral, he first met Floyd Taylor when he sang at his father's funeral. Floyd was subsequently signed to Malaco. We favorably reviewed his album in the June 2002 issue of Blues Bytes. The remixed track (April 2003) also has the benefit of some great background singing by Valarie Kashimura and Freddie Young. The remaining seven songs included on this collection come from Taylor's last session for the company, cut in 1999. Thankfully he cut enough songs for two albums. One of the finest tracks from this session is the wonderful "I Found All These Things," a C.P. Love single cut for Malaco in 1970. When Malaco assembled the six-CD box anthology, The Last Soul Company, in 1999, they rediscovered the Love recording and thought it would be a great song for Johnnie Taylor. Amen. A great CD to add to your Johnnie Taylor collection. Even though many of these tracks were skipped over when the original releases came out, this CD ranks right up there with the best Taylor had to offer. Don't miss it.

Dorothy MooreWhat a delight. Not only do we get a Best Of collection from Dorothy Moore, but we get all new versions recorded live between 1989 and 1995. Gittin' Down Live (Farish Street Records) was recorded at concerts in Shreveport Louisiana, Paris France, The United Kingdom and Kyoto Japan. The 13 track CD has nine Dorothy Moore classics and four tracks she never recorded previously. The new works include "Dr. Feelgood," "Respect" and two duets. "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" is a duet with Eddie Floyd. It was recorded on tour in the U.K. They deliver a version to rank among the best of this often-recorded song. Dorothy added Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do" as a third encore in one of her shows in Japan. She is joined by one of her band members, Charlie Jacobs, to deliver a winning version to her adoring (as witnessed by the audience response) legion of fans. Great music is universal. Dorothy Moore's "Dr. Feelgood" is delivered as a hot slow blues. She had sung "Respect" early in her career and has now added it to her more recent performances. Of the familiar Moore classics, "Talk To Me," "Funny How Time Slips Away," the absolutely fantastic "All Night Blue" and the equally fantastic "He Thinks I Still Care" are concert favorites, but it is the mega hit "Misty Blue" that brings the house down. What a song!! What a singer!! Produced by Dorothy Moore, the CD is on Farish Street Records of Mississippi, her own label. If you are looking for an introduction to Dorothy Moore's work, this CD is a great place to start. If you are already a fan, as we are here, this CD is a must have. Even the cover art is great. It is from Peaches Cafe on Farish Street near the Alamo Theatre, where Moore started her career in Jackson. Dorothy Moore Gittin' Down Live is available in stores and online at

--- Alan Shutro

Eddy ClearwaterTime for a blues riddle. What do you get when you cross a bluesman with wild taste in headwear, with a band that looks like refugees from the world of professional wrestling? If your answer is Rock ‘N’ Roll City (Bullseye), the latest album from Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater featuring Los Straitjackets, then you would be absolutely correct. Give yourself a pat on the back because I never said there was a prize for answering it right (the sly wink and silly grin go here ok folks). But in all seriousness .... Rock ‘N’ Roll City is one hell of a good album from one of the genre’s truly fun journeyman. Eddy took some time off from recording to open his Reservation Blues Club in Chicago, and returns with his first album in three years that explores a side he has only hinted at on his previous releases. Covering everything from good old fashioned Westside Chicago blues to raw rockabilly, R&B and classic 1950s rock & roll, Clearwater delivers a record that will be hailed as one of the best cross genre albums since Muddy and The Wolf invited the royalty of British rock to sit in with them. Eddy goes for the knockout punch immediately on the album’s opening track, ”You’re Humbuggin Me,” with a tune that has been covered by just about every blues artist worth his salt. Though this tune might be a victim of overexposure, this is one of the best versions of it I have ever heard. While you’re still reeling from that, he follows with a sparkling rendition of Jerry McCain’s “Ding Dong Daddy” that just sort of grabs hold of your feet and makes them take on a life of their own; this song is gorgeously supplemented by wicked guitar solos from The Chief himself. “Lonesome Town” is penned by Eddie Angel, of Los Straitjackets, and slows things down a bit and allows your heart rate to level out with its woeful tale of loneliness. The rocking “Hillbilly Blues” is up next with a very danceable beat and a trade-off of guitar solos with Angel that crossbreeds rockabilly with surf music and is punctuated by Clearwater’s aggressive vocals. Los Straitjackets take over the spotlight for “Monkey Paw,” a sizzling instrumental number that showcases this band's rough and tumble style. “Back Down To Earth” is a honky tonk shuffle, which is no surprise considering this album was recorded at George Bradflute’s Tone Chaparral Studio, which country legend Jim Reeves called home. Echoes of Carl Perkins’ influence abound in “Old Time Rocker,” with Clearwater and Angel each taking a solo set against a loping beat and its story of past R&R glory that at times is just plain funny. The Chief handles all guitar duties on “Midnight Groove,” which lives up to its title by being just a cool instrumental groove. A cover of Fats Domino’s classic, “Let The Four Winds Blow,” is one you surely won’t want to miss, as it will rock the roof off your house. The closing number, “Good Times Are Coming,” is also its longest at over six minutes, and is a study in classic blues while delivering its message of hope in times of despair. A three year break from recording has in no way affected the magic that Eddie Clearwater brings to his records, and this one in particular seems to have an aura around it that exudes good times and fun. His bold decision to record with Los Straitjackets (who, besides Eddie Angel, are Danny Amis on guitar, Pete Curry on bass and Jimmy Lester on drums) raised a few eyebrows I’m sure, but damn, it works like a charm. This one is going to sell a lot of copies and deservedly so. The Chief is back and better than ever!

Four years is way too long to wait between recordings from an outfit as fine as Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, but one listen to Which Way Is Texas? (Bullseye Blues) makes all those torturous years well worth it. If you compared this record to a summer day in Texas, odds are you would think this album is hotter. What I mean to say is, this bad boy is RED HOT! Funderburgh & The Rockets are in exquisite form on this 13 track exercise in primo Texas blues, featuring Anson’s first ever recorded vocals on two original numbers, “One Woman I Need,” a pretty ballad, and “Toss & Turn,” a rambunctious bop with with a few fiery, signatory guitar licks. Now, the beautifully smooth baritone of Sam Myers is in no danger of being replaced in this band, but Anson’s twangy, high-pitched pleasing vocals are quite adequate, and possess a pretty decent amount of power that hopefully we will hear more of on future releases. This album peels out and burns rubber with the smoldering groove “Can We Get Together,” with Funderburgh and Myers trading phrases as only the two of them can do, and guests Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff, John Mills and Gary Slecta (aka: The Texas Horns) adding their special brass magic which is heard throughout the whole album. Myers steps up to the plate and knocks one over the fence with a boneshaking cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Tryin’ To Get Back On My Feet Again.” Myers’ harp riffs on this classic are phenomenal. The pace is maintained with the following “Rambling Woman,” a bouncing boogie featuring the squealing piano of “Gentleman” John Street and some well-placed slide runs from Anson. Street also shines brightly on the funky instrumental “Going My Way,” swirling out some very greasy Memphis-laden B3 riffs alongside Funderburgh's piercing solos and the chugging horn section adding some well-placed fills. A simmering cover of Tabby Thomas’ “Hoodoo Party,” a mind-boggling version of B.B. Kings “Jungle,” and fiery treatment of Homesick James’ “Crutch and Cane” are undoubtedly the record’s best numbers. All three tunes allow Sam Myers to soar majestically on vocals and harp, but its “Crutch and Cane,” the album’s closer, that finds the whole band jamming like there is no tomorrow. Mike Morgan & The Crawl alumnus Johnny Bradley provides the thundering bass on half the numbers, while guest Eric Mathew Przygocki, whose name you may recognize from Nick Curran’s band, The Nitelifes, handles the other half. Wes Starr once again fills the drummer’s seat after a one album hiatus. Anson Funderburgh has always struck me as a “less is more” style of guitar player that always relies more on tone and precision than speed and flash, making every note count in the process. In recent years this highly entertaining band has moved out of the clubs, thrilling festival audiences with their dynamic performances, and winning them tons of new fans along the way. Which Way Is Texas is a magnificent addition to an already impressive catalog of albums, and by all means should finally put these guys over the top once and for all. Careful handling --- this one cause it might burn your fingers. The Texas heat ain’t got nuttin’ on this ball of fire!

For all you boogie woogie blues piano junkies who have been jonesing for a decent fix, I’ve got just what the doctor ordered in the form of Gene Taylor’s new album that is simply titled, Gene Taylor (Pacific Blues Recording Co.). Few piano players can boast a resume as impressive as this guy. He is currently a member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and his past credits include Canned Heat, The James Harman Band, The Blasters and Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawks, as well as countless sessions with artists like Gary Primich, Teddy Morgan, Kim Wilson and Junior Watson. This is, in actuality, his second solo album (the first is long out of print and, if anyone has a copy, please get in touch as I am dying to get my hot little hands on it!) and is a very basic meat and potatoes blues record, with just former Blaster band mate Bill Bateman on drums and Dave Carroll adding percussion. Gene pays tribute to several of the piano greats, starting things off with a smashing version of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie.” Now a lot of folks are under the misconception that this classic number is the work of Pinetop Perkins, which it is not. It was written by Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith, a brilliant piano player who was cut down by a stray bullet during a fight in the dancehall he was playing back in 1929. Taylor’s drawling, twangy vocals are first heard on the next number “Sugar Bee,” which has been covered by many artists over the years and is given a smoky treatment here. A traditional tune made famous by Barbeque Bob, “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues,” is next, with Taylor doubling on piano and organ for a smooth stroll through what is actually a somewhat sad tale of a man’s loss due to heavy flooding, but is very enjoyable. I am going to take a wild guess that the harp player on the aforementioned number is James Harman, as he is the only other musician credited on this album, for another tune he co-penned with Gene, entitled “The Loser And The Wheel”, that features Harman’s slashing harp and biting vocals. Two stunning numbers are heard back to back, with the first, “Pete’s Thing,” being a frantic study in boogie woogie piano (and a tribute to Pete Johnson?) and the second, “Blues For Jerry West,” slowing things down a touch and adding a little honky tonk. Baby Boy Warren’s tale of unreturned love, “Santa Fe,” is given a stomping workout, and is followed with Gene pouring his heart and soul into the traditional “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” which was originally made famous by another boogie woogie legend, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis (who used to keep company with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, two other piano greats of the genre) and gets my vote for the best piece on the album. Peetie Wheatstraw’s “Six Week Old Blues” gets a striking treatment, with Gene’s spirited vocals perfectly capturing the essence of the original. Like label mate Jamie Woods’ album, this gem sounds like it could have been cut 60 or 70 years ago, minus the crackles and pops, while still remaining modern enough not to be labeled a retro type of recording. Gene Taylor has heard and played a lot of blues over his professional career, and is undoubtedly one of the best piano players in the business today. The ferocity with which he plays is matched only by the passion that erupts from his music. It remains a mystery to me as to why there are only two solo releases bearing his name to date. Hopefully, it won’t be his last, as Gene Taylor is a terrific record.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

J'ai été au Bal (I Went to the Dance) (Brazos Films) is a film from legendary filmmaker Les Blank (Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Burden of Dreams). This DVD is a shining example of how any celebration of a roots genre should be. Les Blank takes us from the earliest roots of Cajun music springing from traditional French music of displaced Acadians mixing with Creoles to how the music continues to live and thrive in Zydeco. Along the way there are numerous interviews and lots of great, live music. Clifton Chenier, Queen Ida, Michael Doucet, Wayne Toups and more are highlighted in this lively, entertaining and informative feature. It exists as not only a celebration and exploration of the Cajun-zydeco spectrum through first-person accounts and testimonials but a video encyclopedia of the history and variety of Louisiana's aural exports.

Joe Louis Walker, roommate to blues rock architect Mike Bloomfield in San Francisco during the late '60s, systematically leads a set of potentially fiery R&B in front of this German audience at a 1991 concert on In Concert (Inakustik/MVD). However, Walker seems surpassed in energy by his band, especially the exhorting Chicago bassist Art Love. This was only a few years after Walker returned to secular electric soul-blues after a gospel stint. The way he pours his heart into a measured and emotional delivery of "The Gift," one can hear that is where is heart truly is. This was only a year after the two riveting sets cut live at Slim's that were the highpoint of his career. Huey Lewis amped up those shows on harp, but Walker plays the harmonica himself here and thus provides one of the concert's highlights.

Master showman Albert Collins, 'The Iceman,' puts on a dynamic, animate electric blues performance in the 1988 concert recorded on the DVD, In Concert (Inakustik/MVD). Collins' band is a real feature of the show and they stretch out on a lengthy intro before Collins takes the stage. This intro and the rest of the show exhibit the sensible, understated blues playing of second guitarist and John Mayall veteran Debbie Davies. The three-man horn section is Chuck Williams and Sam Franklin on saxophones with Gabel Flemmons on trumpet. There is a rhythm section of long-time Collins sideman on bass, Johnny B. Gayden (Son Seals, Johnny Winter), and drummer Soko Richardson (John Mayall, Ike & Tina Turner). The closing number is "Frosty," with special guest Duke Robillard. The title of this song is one of chill-sounding pieces that led to him becoming The Iceman, although the playing is as hot on this instrumental as on the rest of the set. Other standout tracks include "Mastercharge," "Blackcat Bone," and the vocals duet with Davies, "I Got that Feeling." The set draws largely off the then-current Collins albums Cold Snap and Ice Pickin'. It is amazing to watch Collins get crisp and precise notes and accentuating string bends effortlessly out of guitar in his unique style, finger picking with a capo clamped high on the guitar neck.

Clifton Chenier is singularly responsible for blending the swamp sounds of French Creole music with the popular R&B sound to conjure up the still popular zydeco. The music on The Best of Clifton Chenier – The King of Zydeco & Louisiana Blues (Arhoolie) is wild and exuberant ("Je me Reveiller le Matin (I Woke up this Morning)") or sincere and soulful ("I'm Coming Home") on this bilingual disc. Long-time Chenier producer Chris Strachwitz selected the tracks of this excellent, bluesy compendium from Arhoolie releases and included a previously unreleased alternate take of Chenier's signature zydeco anthem "Zydeco Sont pas Sale (Snap Beans Without Salt)." Chenier left this world in 1983 and the final track here is a 15:30 1978 radio interview with Chenier that allows us to hear Strachwitz gently pull from Chenier the story of fusing the traditional Louisiana accordion music with some fiery R&B.

James Mathus Knockdown Society's Stop and Let the Devil Ride (Fast Horse Recordings) is a recording of down-home rock in a country-blues vein, done at the Kudzu Ranch studio of Rick Miller from like-minded Southern Culture on the Skids. Knockdown Society is like that, but without the humor. Instead that emotion is largely replaced with a big-bottom Chicago blues intent, as heard in Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. The pronounced backbeat in this trio comes from the rhythm section. That team is made up of Mathus' former bandmate in Squirrel Nut Zippers Stu Cole (bass) with Nate Stalfa on drums.

Angola Prison Spirituals (Arhoolie) is a set of 22 tracks recorded by Dr. Harry Oster. It features Robert Pete Williams as vocalist and/or guitarist on several tracks. The late '50s recordings are compelling and starkly spiritual. There is little to no background noises so that this appears to be more of a studio recording than field recording, no matter how makeshift the studio Oster may have used at Angola. This is the entire original LP with a full nine more tracks added to the programming.

Mark Carpentieri has done the world a heap of good by creating such a compelling and shining tribute to criminally forgotten gospel guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Featuring Maria Muldaur and through much of her effort, Shout, Sister Shout: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (M.C. Records) is a who's who of female artists covering the Sister's songs. This includes Joan Osborne, Odetta, Michelle Shocked, Victoria Williams and more. Many of the tracks feature the gospel-tinged blues of vocal group The Holmes Brothers. This is an excellent collection of material, dynamically delivered, and running the spectrum from the spiritual ("Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread") to secular ("I Want a Tall Skinny Papa"). It was that breadth of her art that caused such controversy in Tharpe's career, and overcoming that adversity through her talents made her an inspiration to the talented artists on this CD, like Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey In The Rock, who performs "Precious Memories."  

--- Tom Schulte

Seminal blues label Delmark Records continues the celebration of its 50th anniversary with four budget priced, theme-based anthologies. The compiler did a good job in mixing vintage recordings with contemporary numbers done in the same style. Masters of the Boogie Piano includes recordings from Speckled Red, Meade Lux Lewis, Roosevelt Sykes, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Little Brother Montgomery, plus more recent recordings from Ken Saydak and Steve Behr. Everything here is great ... if you like boogie woogie, you'll want this collection of a dozen keepers. All 12 songs on For Jumpers Only date back to the '40s and '50s, with jump blues standards from Cab Calloway (the excellent "Shotgun Boogie," with a hot sax solo from Sam "The Man" Taylor), Paul Bascomb (a great version of "Pink Cadillac") and the girlish vocals of Earline Johnson ("Jump & Shout"), backed by Plas Johnson on sax. Other notables on this disc include Panama Francis, Illinois Jacquet, Tab Smith and Arnett Cobb. West Side Chicago Blues shifts gears to the gritty urban blues sound of Chicago, with nine cuts from Otis Rush ("Cut You A Loose"), Magic Sam ("I Need You So Bad"), Syl Johnson ("Driving Wheel"), Willie Kent, Jimmy Dawkins, Tail Dragger, Luther Allison, Little Arthur Duncan and Johnny B. Moore. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to have more than nine songs from Delmark's vast reservoir of Chicago blues recordings. The series wraps up with Blues From The Country, with country blues numbers from mostly the '50s and '60s. The gems on this 11-song CD include Robert Nighthawk ("Crying Won't Help You"), Champion Jack Dupree (the classic "Rub A Little Boogie"), Jimmy Rogers ("That's All Right"), Curtis Jones ("Lonesome Bedroom Blues"), Big Joe Williams ("49 Highway Blues") and Arthur Crudup ("That's All Right," a different version than the similarly-named song by Rogers). For those with a wide range of blues tastes who can only choose one of these discs, I'd go for the country blues collection, as it contains the most songs that could be considered essential recordings. But they're all worth having, along with the double-CD compilation reviewed in July 2003.

Putamayo's American BluesA nice collection of contemporary blues comes from Putumayo, the company that specializes in issuing anthologies of various forms considered to loosely fall under the category of "world music." Their recent blues sampler, American Blues, contains 14 cuts stretching across a wide swath of blues styles. The better cuts, at least in my opinion, are the more traditional numbers from Keb Mo' ("Hand It Over"), the wonderful pianist Henry Gray ("How Could You Do?"), Taj Mahal ("Cakewalk Into Town") and Eric Bibb ("Needed Time"). In more of a Chicago style are the fine collaboration between Robert Cray & Albert Collins, "She's Into Something," from the 1985 Alligator album, Showdown, and Otis Rush doing "I Got The Blues." It wouldn't be a celebration of American blues without including something from the King of the Blues, B.B. King, who teams up with Arthur Adams on the album opener "Get Next To Me." The disc closes with Solomon Burke's stirring "None Of Us Are Free." Not an essential purchase and not really a party stomper, but American Blues presents a nice collection of blues music, especially for the normal Putamayo customer that might be looking for an introduction to the genre.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds started out as a swampy-sounding Texas blues band prior to their more commercial, "'butt rockin'" material that can now be heard on automobile commercials. Tacos Deluxe (Benchmark Recordings) captures this early bluesier T-birds sound with nine songs taken from their first four albums, plus two previously-unreleased things and a pair of songs from the hard to find Different Tacos. The early lineup of Kim Wilson (harmonica, vocals), Jimmie Vaughan (guitar), Keith Ferguson (bass), and either Mike Buck or Fran Christina on drums are all here. Many of their classics are here, including "You Ain't Nothing' But Fine," "She's Tuff," "One's Too Many," "Scratch My Back," "C-Boy's Blues," and the south of the border-ish "Los Fabulosos Thunderbirds." Of particular interest is a live recording of "Wait On Time," recorded at the Bayou in Washington, D.C.; it's notable to me since I quite likely was there when this recording was made. It sure was fun reminiscing and hearing songs that I hadn't listened to in a long time. If you don't have these early recordings from the T-birds, do not hesitate ... get it now!

--- Bill Mitchell

I saw Rufus Thomas (1917 - 2001) perform at the Rum Boogie in Memphis in 1990. He was wearing leopard skin shorts and matching suspenders, and he premiered a new song for us, entitled, "Without Rufus Thomas, Y'all Wouldn't Have No Soul Music Whatsoever." While it is hard to imagine anyone other than James Brown being the "Funkiest Man Alive," I am confident, having seen Rufus Thomas, that he would have gotten in Brown's face and disputed the title. To continue the comparison, James Brown used emerging technologies and techniques to polish existing R & B traditions, appearing suddenly with a sound and image that's remained essentially unchanged. Rufus Thomas came out of minstrel show traditions, developed into a popular radio and theater program host, made a big splash as Sun Records' first hitmaker, then found Stax and the dogs, chickens, penguins and various other creatures he encouraged his listeners to imitate in dance. James Brown reached the top of a mountain; Rufus Thomas was the mountain's bedrock. As entertainment personas, Rufus Thomas would have existed without James Brown, but James Brown probably would not have existed without Rufus Thomas. Funk, like later reggae and rap, is a rhythm-driven music. It takes a loud, strident and heavily amplified vocalist to come out on top of big, talking drums and thumping bass. Rufus Thomas had that voice. He also had the resourcefulness to find the funk wave in time to help define it and skillfully ride it on his own material. He was always a great songwriter, which gave him an advantage over most of his competition. While not hesitant to repeat nonsense verses that happened to go with dance beats, he was tapped into the blues lyric stream that ran down extra dirt road in the South. Where James Brown could only grunt (though better than anyone else), Rufus could call on memories of "Sister went to milking but she didn't know how / She grabbed the bull instead of the cow / Come here, mama, come here quick / Sister's got the bull by ..." Because they're a logical culmination of a 40-year trip down African- American Entertainment Road, the  18 funk classics on Funkiest Man Alive -- The Stax Funk Sessions 1967-1975 (Stax Records) are reassuring and familiar while at the same time being funky. Play this record at your house during a party and people will loosen up. Play it in a bar and people will come in off the street for a good time. Play it in a car, and your trip will seem shorter. Play it, play it, play it.

Unexpected and somewhat bizarre, this blues / rock / zydeco / R & B record, Wire and Wood (NorthernBlues Music) from Glamour Puss, is strong, strong, strong. The first great strength evident to the listener is the record's layered rhythm. Double-time bass working closely with drums, a precise horn section and a fat-bottomed organ sound give the band, in essence, three rhythm sections, so when one of the three distinct rhythm entities decides to drop out and explore the front line world of lead every so often, it doesn't detract from the song's drive at all. Among the record's 15 tunes are numbers definitely emphasizing the separate musical genres performed by the band, but few of the tunes are purely "blues," "Zydeco," or whatever. Glamour Puss impressively blends genres that often conflict in other hands. I can think of no musician friends with whom I would not happily and enthusiastically share this release. The band sounds at different times like Huey Lewis & the News, Sam & Dave's backing act, the Edgar Winter band or the Saturday Night Live orchestra. Altogether rewarding.

Chris Cain's Hall of Shame (Blue Rock'It Records) is successfully soulful, jazzy blues. Lyrics, on a scale of one, one being an element of pure musical expression, to ten, ten being an element of pure verbal expression, come in at around three. Cain really shines as a front line and vocal arranger here. In back, the bass is short on ideas, but everything's solid. His vocals are reminiscent of a younger B. B. King. Overall arrangements recognize rests as being in partnership with notes in creating music. The Real Blues Magazine observation that "Chris Cain is one of those artists that all the other musicians groove to" is pretty accurate. Sometimes, it seems that there's no point to a musician devoting all energies to a traditional genre such as blues, because the patterns and songs have all been written, done, recorded and bought; it seems something like continuing to hammer a nail after it's driven all the way into the board. Cain reminds us here that there's plenty of opportunity left to polish the blues.  

An old-style Texas blues-rock record in the tradition of Edgar Winter's White Trash, Another Fine Day (Blue Rock'It Records) from The Ford Blues Band is a guitar/bass/drums/harp quartet with horns and keys grafted on for the studio sessions; this is an outstanding good time record. The title track should be picked up as a theme by morning radio program hosts the blues world over. It's full of punch and blue-eyed soul and a good clue as to what those cracklingly electric horns and keys are going to be doing for the rest of the album. There's a feeling of hip early '60s detective program background music to the whole project, too. It flirts with danger and minor keys, but always comes out right and with another drink and cigarette at the end. Specific delights include the tight, echoing jam between guitar and keys, the crescendos with everyone joining the back line on the last note of song lines to force listeners' feet to move and the tense, dragged out mastery of traditional blues openings perfectly executed. This is a great record in itself and a fine tool for the band. With this release out there, we should see the Ford Blues Band headlining festivals all over the States and beyond for the next few years, and that's going to be a good thing for all of us.

Renee Austin's good songs on Sweet Talk (Blind Pig Records) are very, very good, with vocals and instrumental passages swooping and soaring like giant, predator birds. Her weaker moments are icepick in the ear shrieking forgettables. Ms. Austin has things to say and things to contribute to bandstands and records. Most of these 11 songs are cool. The next album, assuming she develops her persona and sings of real life as it would happen to that persona, will be even better.  

I had heard that "Big Bill" Morganfield was a so-so singer and guitarist getting festival gigs and record deals from his father's name, his father having been McKinley Morganfield, AKA "Muddy Waters." Opening the CD Blues in the Blood (Blind Pig), looking at the titles of Big Bill's songs and even listening to the first cut, I was prepared to continue believing what I'd heard. As the CD played, I changed my mind. The people who'd misled me were guitarists, and the cause of their denigration of Mr. Morganfield quickly became clear as I perused liner notes more carefully. "Aha," I said to myself, "there's only one song on this record that breaks the four-minute mark, and that explains it." Most blues guitarists don't realize that a live set or recording is the same overall length whether it contains 20 short songs or six long ones, and they don't like being cut off after 12 or 24 bars of solo time. Big Bill's a short song guy, deep in that pocket where the recording limitations of his father's seminal years and the attention span of dancers and listeners coincide. In short, once a blues goes over about four and a half minutes, it's usually a song for the players, not the listeners. If you can't say it in that time, you don't need to be on a blues bandstand or record, and if you're still saying it after that time, you're probably repeating yourself. Big Bill's a very good songwriter with a voice that combines the rich, trademark vocal nuances not only of his father, but of his father's Chess Records labelmates. Howlin' Wolf's rusty iron growl is there at times, as are John Lee Hooker's built-in echo, Muddy Water's issuing-from-a-cave-rather-than-a-human-voicebox tone and even Rice "Sonny Boy Williamson II" Miller's tremolo. The band's a barebones quintet with no superstars, so it falls short of sounding like a real Chess Records compendium, despite its reliance on that label's classic, Chicago blues ambiance, but that's exactly where Big Bill's going when budgets and networks mature for him. He's on the right track, and I am happy that this CD has corrected my earlier thoughts about Big Bill Morganfield.

Rory Block has no entry in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, and that is a serious oversight. It must have been around 1978, when she would have been 25, that Polydor included her on a Guitar Gods anthology alongside Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin and others of established, lofty stature. Tangled, snarled and hidden in constant, intensive listening to increasingly obscure blues, folk and gospel records, experimentation with unique tunings and a voice used not just as an instrument, but as a percussion instrument, she has some secret that makes everything she records wonderful. A protégé of Son House and respected interpreter of Robert Johnson, she also gives us what Joan Armatrading and Traci Chapman would give us were they rooted in blues instead of radio. Does she speak for women? Does she speak for the blues? She is simply too large a talent to be fit with tags so tiny. The 14 songs on Last Fair Deal (Telarc Records), ranging from some of the best solo, acoustic Robert Johnson covers this critic has ever heard to a full, choir-backed commentary on the Book of Job that seems to agree with the theory that it was an early Hebrew attempt at formal, classical Greek tragedy, chorus and all, to impressionistic slices of personal life written quickly but at the right moment, as was right and proper, all sparkle like exquisite, inherited diamonds, reset and displayed by a fine artist. Every song on this record deserves to be played widely and often. It is as hard to stop listening to it as it is to stop admiring the liner note photos of Ms. Block, who is also an achingly beautiful woman.  

--- Arthur Shuey

Steve RoweLike so many who are currently part of today’s blues scene, Montreal’s Steve Rowe was bitten by the blues via the British Invasion. He was a hit at the first ever Blues Summit (held January 2003 in Toronto) where he had the unenviable task of opening for two of Canada’s best known blues artists. This fixture of Quebec’s vibrant blues scene is looking to break into a wider market with his second CD, No Refund No Return (Howlin' Blues Productions). In person, Rowe is quiet, reserved, unpretentious and modest as pictured on the cover of the 45 minute disc. However, an alter ego shines forth on the 11 original tracks which were recorded on half inch tape using a 16 track board. Nine were co-written by Steve, and he performs lead vocals and guitar on all tunes. He loves the studio as evidenced by the numerous studio photos included in the liner notes which feature all the songs’ lyrics. "Yes You Do" features a lazy rhythm and Delta sounding, slow-burning, slide guitar. "Four In The Morning" contains a North Mississippi influence. Those who favour rockin’ blues from the hills will dig this track. Here, Steve’s steamy guitar solo strays from the blues and crosses into the state of rock and roll. The melody is mysterious, haunting and enticing on "Same Old Song." Steve’s vocals are the most powerful on this cut, while his guitar takes on the presence of Carlos Santana. "If My Cat Could Talk" is fun, with the rockin’ keyboards of Kevin Komoda. Steve’s guitar has a big, fat tone on the jazzy and swinging "Caviar Blues," which would go down well at a martini bar. Rowe’s British influence can be detected on "Gone Too Long," while "Stop This Dance" has a sense of rockabilly and country & western. Here, Lorraine Baldwin’s background vocals add punch with an impact. "Wasting No More Time" is a funky mix of Pedro Ullman’s B3, Alec McElcheran’s heavy bass and Dave Neil’s drums. Steve Rowe is a stronger guitarist than vocalist, and his music isn’t blues but rather blues-based roots rock. On listening to the disc for the first time, only half of the tunes really grabbed me. Upon multiple listens, I realized the CD is a complete package, yet don’t expect to find it on next year’s W.C. Handy Awards ballot. It has, however, been nominated for "Best Blues CD of the Year" by the board of Quebec's leading blues authority, Le Net Blues.Com. Steve Rowe needs to be more unique and adventurous as he journeys upstream. The songs are not the same caliber as the musicianship of Rowe’s nimble guitar and his band member’s unbridled keyboards, but the potential is present for greater things to come. For CDs and information, contact: or Kathy Wolf 514-362-1257.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Vino Louden gives his best whether he is performing for 20 or 20,000. He was hand picked by Koko Taylor to join her Blues Machine ten years ago. Her interest was sparked while he was in Mighty Joe Young’s band. Later, when she saw Louden in an Otis Clay video, she knew she had to have Vino as her guitarist. If you have seen Miss Taylor during the past decade then you have seen Vino. He is the charismatic showman who plays guitar with his tongue during one of the most tantalizing moments of the performance. It’s more than just a gimmick, it allows Vino to demonstrate he is one of the genuine real deal contemporary blues guitar players. Along with other modern day unsung guitar heroes such as Carl Weathersby, Chico Banks, Kenny Neal, Carlos Johnston, Bernard Allison and Ronnie Baker Brooks, Vino holds the future of the blues in his hands. Although he continues to regularly perform with the Queen of the Blues, he put together his own band a couple of years ago. The six favorable recordings on this 42-minute disc, Vino Louden Live, were compiled from numerous performances at Chicago’s Kingston Mines. They originally aired on WRMN’s Chicago Blues Explosion on 1410AM. Four of the tracks are well known covers. "Black Cat Bone" has a laid back structure yet Vino’s guitar is adrenaline-laced. The organist is set loose and proceeds to shake the walls. Here and throughout, Louden rolls the lyrics out with bellowing force. The band rocks "Bright Lights Big City" up old school style. The piano impresses and holds the rhythms while Vino solos like a forerunner. Here, the entire band cooks and functions as a single unit. The lyrics to "Big Leg Woman" are tempting and satisfying. Perhaps they are what enables Vino to float effortlessly up and down the fretboard. On "Teeny Weeny Bit," the guitar notes bend and curve quickly to the point where you expect the guitar to flip and roll over. Vino stays in control of his six-string engine and weaves through the backfiring notes from the keyboard. The ride ends on the verge of contemporary blues ecstasy. "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" is Louden’s signature 12-minute tune where he becomes the ultimate entertainer. He strings his audience in like a fish -- telling them, ‘you gotta put something in if you wanna get something out.’ You can practically see him licking the guitar strings at one point. Based on the crowd’s reaction, all agreed it was string lickin’ good. The production is less than stellar, the majority of tracks are covers, you can only purchase the disc off Vino’s bandstand, there are no liner notes (so who is in the band and when it was recorded are unknown) and it isn’t near as bewildering as seeing him perform live in person. In a nutshell, the disc only hints at the brilliance of Vino Louden. However, it does succeed at introducing a new modern master whose clever arrangements, high-energy guitar hooks and enthusiastic stage presence will appease a new generation of blues lovers. With stronger production and marketing, Louden will easily be able to make the break from being a constant sideman. For additional information, contact Vino at 773-838-8330 or by e-mail

Occasionally I stray from the blues. When I do, the music has to be full of emotion and excitement in order to match the intensity and passion that is pure-bred blues. One artist who rises to that challenge is Vincent Yannucci. His latest release, Eye Of the Storm - The Best of Vincent Yannucci (Starsound Records), is a "best of," yet most readers won’t be familiar with this obscure Ohio artist. Yannucci fuses rock, boogie, R&B, jazz and pop while he concentrates on drums, congas, percussion and synthesizers. Once again he has teamed up with Gary Lee (guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and vocals), Jeanette Jones (vocals), Mike Talanca (background vocals), Johnny Dexter (alto sax and percussion), Richard Manley (tenor sax), James Lauriente (trumpet), Dominic Ventura (trumpet) and Melvin "Mr. Bowtie" White (harmonica). The CD contains 13 originals that play for an hour. Four were taken from 2001’s popular Soul Groovers CD while the remaining cuts come from singles or were previously unreleased. "On The Road Again" features Leon Russell-sounding vocals. Here, Lee’s strings get a proper plucking while the chorus rolls you over with the power of a tank. The rest of the tune is funky, upbeat and hip. The vocal harmonies are super cool on "Blues Got Control." This is 12 bar, pure bliss blues with hot rockin’ guitar that does not need several rounds of ammunition to complete its deadly massacre. Jeannette’s vocals are so zestful on "Dog Eat Dog World" that soon she will be a household name. It’s a shame that the live audience sounds so false on the track. On "Back To L.A.," she sounds like a Texas crooner in the vein of Lou Ann Barton. No doubt, the tunes with vocals are impressive. But it’s Vincent’s jazz-tinged, Latin-laced, instrumental rumbas that are most poignant, enjoyable and memorable. Drums with a jungle rhythm begin the intense "Nights On Lafayette Street." Here, Lee takes you on a wild safari cruise where the surprises are many and the attacks quick and ferocious. The synthesizer could be heavier sounding to more evenly maintain the tune’s natural, animal instinct. A couple instrumentals, "Santa Ana Winds" and "Night Flight," have a Santana and Allman Brothers Band feel of the early '70s. The former is alluring which will produce mad, passionate actions from your partner thanks to the mysterious magic of the arrangement. Although this effort was not produced on a Hollywood film budget and at times the drums sound like a machine, the guitar, keyboards, percussion and arrangements astound. Gone are the glory days of rock instrumentals like Edgar Winter’s "Frankenstein." It's time for these dinosaurs to move over and make way for the new lord of jazz/rock fusion, Vincent Yannucci. For CDs and information, contact:

--- Tim Holek

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