Blues Bytes

What's New

September 2011

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Earl & Them

Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Brick Fields

Pete Herzog

Trent Romens

Mark T. Small

Julius Pittman


BC ReadThe self-produced 1000 Miles is the first that I’ve heard of Canadian blues artist B.C.Read, and I have to admit to liking what I hear on this CD. He hails from Western Canada and has been putting down live music since the 1970s. His blues is a mix of Chicago, Texas and Delta, so there are a lot of different influences included here on the 12 tracks of the album. Read wrote, or co-wrote 11 of the tracks, the remaining one is a Neil Young track, “Are You Ready For The Country.” I quite like Neil Young’s music, but I hadn’t heard this one before, and it’s good stuff. From the title, I wasn’t expecting a blues track!

The album opens with a 1920s style, “Didn’t Sleep At All," and then slides into “The Blues Boy.” By track three, curiously named “Number Two,” I was really getting into this album. This is a slow, moody, blues with slide guitar and harmonica to the fore, and to my mind this should have been the opening track on the CD.

Track four confuses me. What is it doing on a blues album? It’s a Tex/Mex pop/country tune a little reminiscent of The Mavericks – I’ll say no more!

Track five is back to the blues with the title track “1000 Miles (from Chicago)” – a catchy beat amplified by the organ of Ross Nykiforuk and then picked up on the harmonica later in the track. The following track, “That’s The Deal,” features some really nice vocals from Wilma Groenen, and it left me wishing that she was featured on more than one track.

Another guest musician pops up in “Jellyroll Baker” in the shape of tuba player Brent Longstaff, giving the track a totally different feel. Track eight, “Diamond Bop”, is just what it says on the box – a bop. Nice sax, stand up bass, courtesy of George Tennent, and something to get your foot tapping.

“What Could Have Been” puts me in mind of '70s Bob Dylan, and it’s followed by the funky “(Why Can’t We Just) Walk Away,” which leads into “Train Of Life” before the Neil Young track wraps up the album.

---Terry Clear

D'Mar & GillOne of the most interesting and unique blues albums you’ll hear these days belongs to a duo called D’Mar & Gill. Chris Gill is a guitarist, singer, and songwriter based in Mississippi, who has played acoustic blues, reggae and rock as leader of the Sole Shakers. Derrick “D’Mar” Martin has played drums in numerous sessions over the years and enjoyed a 15-year tenure with Little Richard as well as leading the band Nu Funk.

These two unlikely partners have teamed up to make Real Good Friend (Airtight), a disc that takes the traditional blues Gill plays so well, fuses it with Martin’s irresistible African-based percussion, and creates a fresh new spin on the blues.

The opening track, “Runnin’ Wild Blues,” sets the pace for the rest of the disc. It’s a brisk, spare number with Gill’s lead and rhythm guitar blending seamlessly with D’Mar’s drums. The lone cover on the disc, Little Walter’s “My Babe,” is next, with a Latin beat and no harmonica to be found, which doesn’t matter one bit. The title cut is a slow and easy country blues, and is offset by the up-tempo “Maybe Baby.” “Crawfish Boogie” is reminiscent of those old suggestive ’30s and ’40s “hokum” recordings, with Gill even taking a kazoo solo.

“Harmony Street” takes a jazzy turn, with Gill’s full-bodied guitar work and his relaxed vocal and Martin’s smooth percussion. “Two More Days” is another upbeat tune, a traveling song with Martin really getting after it, backing Gill’s confident vocal. The moody, stark “Tore Down” is balanced by the gentle ballad, “Mississippi Honey,” with some lovely guitar and a touching vocal from Gill.

The closer, “International Blues Stomp,” is a toe-tapping instrumental mixing Gill’s slide guitar with Martin’s dynamic percussion.

Real Good Friend is as fresh and original a blues recording as you will hear this year. D’Mar & Gill have really tapped into something special with this release and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

--- Graham Clarke

Fred SandersMemphis blues guitarist and local legend Fred Sanders was a mainstay of the Beale Street blues scene for many years, serving as house guitarist for the famous Club Paradise for years and playing with familiar names like B. B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Albert King. He also played as part of the Memphis Blues Caravan and with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Count Basie’s band, Buddy Rich, and Johnnie Taylor, when he wasn’t playing at Handy Park. He also released a great set of Memphis blues and soul (the appropriately titled Long Time Comin’) back in the late ’90s that unfortunately dropped under the radar, but is a must-hear set of Bluff City Blues.

Sanders passed away in January of this year after suffering a stroke. Sanders had been battling lung cancer for the last few years, but continued to play and record despite dealing with several rounds of chemotherapy and the after-effects. A couple of weeks after Sanders’ death, I55 Productions released his final studio recording, I Believe, which serves as a fine companion to his earlier release.

Like his first release, I Believe mixes Memphis blues and soul sounds in with some serious funk and the occasional venture into jazz. Sanders wrote or co-wrote all ten of the tracks, with the standouts being the loose-limbed shuffle, “Stop Foolin’ Around,” the slow blues title track, the funky “I Think About You Baby,” and “Wake Up,” which features some tasty guitar from Sanders.

Sanders’ sinewy guitar style is still a joy to hear....there are three tough instrumentals to verify that (“Time Out,” “Blue Bolero,” and “Red Eye Gravy”), and his raspy vocals are spot on. The supporting players, including co-producers Brad Webb (bass/rhythm guitar) and Tony Adams (drums) and Robert “Nighthawk” Toombs (keyboards/harmonica) and Russell Wheeler (B-3) do an excellent job laying down that greasy, gritty Memphis sound.

Given his formidable talents, it’s a shame that Fred Sanders wasn’t able to record more than he did, or that he didn’t venture out of Memphis any more than he did. We owe a debt of thanks to I55 Productions for recording him one last time (and also for rescuing Long Time Comin’ from the cutout bin), so we do have the opportunity to hear what too many blues fans missed while he was still with us.

--- Graham Clarke

Earl & ThemEarl & Them is led by Earl Cate, the legendary guitarist of Cate Brothers fame, who enjoyed a measure of success with the top ten hit, “Union Man,” in the mid ’70s. Cate’s brother, Ernie, decided to retire in 2006, so Earl decided to focus on Them, which consists of guitarist Jason Davis, former Cate drummer Terry Cagle, and bass player Mike Murray. The band’s new CD, Special Blend (Swingin’ Door Records), is a crowd-pleasing set of blues and southern rock.

Davis and Cagle split the vocal duties. Davis’ vocals are similar to those of John Hiatt, a fact made clear on the band’s cover of Hiatt’s “Woman Sawed In Half,” but he also shines on Jimmy Thackery’s “Smoke & Mirrors,” a slow, achingly soulful ballad Cagle takes on several tracks from The Band (he’s Levon Helm’s nephew) and does a masterful job on Robbie Robertson’s “Shape I’m In,” “Remedy,” and, best of all, on “Ophelia.”

Other highlights include the bluesy slidefest (courtesy of Thackery), “Party All Night,” and “Dirt Road Woman.” In addition to The Band tracks, there are two other covers of note…. a swampy version of the Neville Brothers’ “Yellow Moon,” and a bouncy interpretation of the Four Tops’ early ’80s hit, “When She Was My Girl.”

Thackery also wrote the funky opener, “Puttin’ Out Fires,” and plays guitar throughout. Other guest stars include harp master R. J. Mischo, and sax man David Renko.

Special Blend is a disc guaranteed to be played over and over. It’s a great set of original songs and some fun cover tunes that will please fans of blues and roots music.

--- Graham Clarke

Robert ToomsRobert “Nighthawk” Tooms is a 30-year veteran of the Memphis and Beale Street blues scene. He’s worked with B. B. King, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Billy Lee Riley, Big Bill Morganfield, James Cotton, Willie Foster, Little Milton, Bob Margolin, and Jimmy Thackery. He’s been a part of the Reba Russell Band for 20 years and also fronts his own band, the Wampus Cats. Spectator Shoes (I55 Productions) is his latest release with the Wampus Cats and it’s a rollicking set of Memphis blues and boogie.

There’s a diverse mix of tracks here, ranging from the title track, a cool shuffle that opens the disc to “Forgive and Forget,” a swampy Jimmy Reed-esque tune. The late Earl Forrest lends a hand on a couple of tracks, singing lead on “Whooping and Hollering,” and his own “Next Time You See Me.” He’s assisted by Tooms, co-producer Tony Adams on drums, and another recently departed musician, Canned Heat’s Richard Hite, on bass. “Feed The Monkey” features Reba Russell on background vocals.

A terrific set of instrumentals include “Memphis Mike’s Onion Rings,” a smooth track that gives guitarist Memphis Mike Forrest an opportunity to strut his stuff with Tooms playing up a storm on the keys. On “Cotton’s Sack,” Tooms nearly blows the back off the harmonica, and “Ode to Jimmy McGriff” gives him room to showcase his talents on Hammond B-3. The closer, “Crumpy-ta-lump,” gives everybody a chance to stretch out.

Tooms rocks the house on keyboards, harmonica, and adds some robust vocals as well. The Wampus Cats (Forrest – guitar, Mojo Schickie – guitar, John Burgess – drums, Bill Bailey – bass, Wampus alumus Jumping James Cunningham – drums), along with Brad Webb (guitar) provide first-rate support. For fans of old-school blues and R&B, especially the Memphis variety, Spectator Shoes is a memorable set that will fit the bill.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom HambridgeTom Hambridge is best known for serving as producer and songwriter on Buddy Guy’s last two CDs, the most recent of which, Living Proof, won the 2010 Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Recording and also won three Blues Music Awards this year, George Thorogood’s latest CD, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, and Susan Tedeschi’s Just Won’t Burn. He’s written hit songs for Kevin Anderson, Gretchen Wilson, B. B. King, Johnny Winter, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He’s also released six CDs of his own, including his most recent release, Boom! (Superstar Records).

Hambridge produced and wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks on Boom! with an esteemed group of songwriters (Gary Nicholson, Delbert McClinton, Jeffrey Steele, Jimmy Thackery, and Johnny Van Zant). The songs range from rock to blues, sometimes veering over into country territory as well. Hambridge has a voice perfectly suited for the blues/rock vein that he mines. Standout tracks include “I Keep Things,” a rocker about being sentimental to a fault, a strong set of blues/rockers (the amusing “Upside of Lonely,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” and the defiant “Never Gonna Change”).

There are also some country-flavored tracks as well. “The Best In Me,” “I Got Your Country Right Here” (originally covered by Gretchen Wilson), “Things I Miss The Most,” which was originally recorded by Van Zant, and “The Pistol” co-written by McClinton, mix well with a powerful set of rockers that also deserve mention (“Two Thumbs Up,” the dandy instrumental “Bangin’ Around,” and “I Had A Real Good Time”).

Hambridge plays drums throughout the disc and gets ample support from guitarist Rob McNelley, bass player Tommy McDonald, keyboardist Kevin McKendree on most tracks. Also lending a hand are Mark Jordan (piano), Steve Cirkvencic (guitars), Michael Saint-Leon (guitar), Kenny Greenburg (guitar), Billy Panda (guitar), Tony Harrell (keyboards), and Michael Rhodes (bass).

Boom! is a fitting title for Tom Hambridge’s latest…’s guaranteed to knock your socks off. It’s an outstanding set of blues, rock, and country that should be the type of breakthrough that could make it more difficult for others to enlist him as a producer in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Brick FieldsThe number of artists who’ve struggled in the battle between the sacred and the profane over the years includes a staggering number of music legends, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Skip James, Son House, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Elvis Presley, and even modern-day (or sort of modern-day) artists like Prince and Madonna. When you find a band that is able to reconcile both genres effectively, it’s a truly rare thing.

Tne such group is the Arkansas band, Brick Fields, whose musical approach combines the best of R&B rhythms and jazz sensibilities with gospel-based lyrics, and tops it off with the incredible vocals of Rachel Fields. Their new release, Gospel Blue, features nine original and one cover (a jazzy remake of “Amazing Grace” that works really well). Fields co-wrote the nine originals with her husband, guitarist Larry Brick. They are backed by bass player Johnny Ray, keyboardist Randy Fairbanks, drummer Caleb Bomar, and sax player Casey Terry.

The original tunes include some stunners, such as the funky opener, “On The Vine,” which states that “Love grows on the vine, makes the sweetest wine.” Fields really lets it hang out with a hauntingly expressive vocal on the emotional “Cryin’,” but her vocal on “In The Light of Love,” a joyous gospel track, is sheer exuberance.

“Hopelessly Addicted” is more of a straight blues and is highlighted by a steamy vocal from Fields, while “About the Weather,” about the evils of gossip, has a Memphis feel. Fields’ sweet vocal and Brick’s guitar mesh perfectly on “How Long” and “Go On With The Soul.” “These Are The Days” mixes gospel with R&B and “Lord I’m Coming Home” will have them bobbing their heads in the aisles.

Whatever your religious leanings, you need to give Gospel Blue a listen. Rachel Fields has a voice that needs to be heard and with Brick Fields lending solid support, this is a disc that shows that the line between gospel and blues is a thin one.

--- Graham Clarke

Pete HerzogI can almost guarantee that you’ve never hear anything like Steel Guitar: A Blues Opera. Composed and performed by Oregon bluesman Pete Herzog, the opera combines storytelling and original songs on two discs. Herzog has been playing the blues since he was eight years old and has always been drawn to Delta and country blues. He has been presenting this project as a one-man-show at various venues around the U.S., mostly on the west coast and Hawaii, and has received rave reviews for his performances.

Steel Guitar traces the history of one guitar as it’s bought, stolen, won, purchased, and handed down from generation to generation. According to Herzog’s narration, the guitar’s sound is colored by each person who plays it and, in return, each musician absorbs the history of the instrument itself. The 22 songs, all written by Herzog, link the stories of the lives of the various characters that come into contact with the guitar over the years.

Herzog has a smooth, easygoing style both as a narrator (recounting the stories of each character, along with background about the guitar and the music itself) and as a singer and guitarist. The story moves along quickly and you feel genuine sympathy for the plight of most of the characters. Herzog always keeps things in focus though, stopping the character’s story when the guitar leaves their possession (even though sometimes you find yourself wanting to know what happened to them). It’s an entertaining story from start to finish.

As mentioned, Herzog has been presenting the opera as a one-man-show, though his original intent was that it could be performed either by one person or a group of musicians. It will be interesting to see how this concept develops over time. Herzog is undecided on whether to release Steel Guitar on DVD, but hopefully that will happen one day. In the meantime, visit his website to find out more about this fascinating CD.

--- Graham Clarke

Trent Romens19-year old Trent Romens may have a young body, but he’s got an old soul, at least dating back to the 1960s. His debut recording, Aware (New Folk Records), finds the Minnesota guitarist blending the influences of ’60s and ’70s icons like Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia, and Bob Marley with blues and soul. The result is a confident and impressive musical statement by a youngster that bodes well for the future of the blues.

The five-piece band (Romens – guitars, John Wright – bass, Toby Marshall – Hammond organ, Jordan Carlson – drums, Tony Paul – percussion) tears through a ten song set consisting of eight originals and two covers. The originals range from the blues/rock opener “Stimulate Me,” to “Material Blues,” a spooky country blues discouraging the pursuit of material items with gospel-influenced vocals from Cate Fierro and Shalo Lee, to the ’80s rock anthem feel of “Fairy Tale.”

Other standout tracks include “Right Back Where I Started,” a searing blues/rocker, “Love’s Lost Cause,” and the acoustic closer, “Hey Now,” with Romens on acoustic guitar, backed only by percussion.

The covers, though familiar, are well-chosen and uniquely recreated. The 7:35 workout of St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” is masterful, as Romens bares his soul with a stunningly soulful vocal and some inspired guitar work that will have you hitting the “replay” button. In contrast, “Key To The Highway,” goes unplugged, but is no less effective, with Romens’ slide guitar (supported by Wright on 12-string acoustic guitar) subtly getting the job done.

Although Aware is a strong first release, it’s obvious that bigger and better things lie ahead for Trent Romens. The sky’s the limit for this promising young artist. Stop by CDBaby and check out this new release, and visit his website as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Mark T. SmallMark T. Small’s latest release, Blacks, Whites, & the Blues (Lead Foot Music), finds the acoustic guitarist working through a diverse set of tunes --- Blues, Country, Ragtime, and Old Time music --- with origins dating back to the 1800s. Small has been playing this music for over 40 years, beginning in his early teens, leading him to Indiana to play and record with The Brown County Band, a Newgrass group. From there, he started a Chicago style band called The Lonesome Strangers, before returning to the acoustic setting, focusing on pursuing a solo career. Blacks, Whites, & the Blues is his third CD.

Small’s guitar work, whether leaning toward Newgrass, Country, or Old Time, has always had firm roots in the blues and that’s obvious from the first note. While there’s plenty of fine blues cuts on this disc, representing Chicago Blues (“Trouble No More,” “Little Red Rooster,” and a plugged-in take on John Lee Hooker’s “Bang Bang Bang Bang”), urban (a tasty cover of “The Thrill is Gone”), and of course Mississippi Delta Blues (“Hesitation Blues,” Fred McDowell’s “Mississippi 61” and “A Few More Lines,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Catfish Blues”), even the non-blues tracks are steeped in the genre. They include “Old Gray Mare,” and “Six White Horses,” a pair of Old Time tunes, and Small’s own rocker, “Boogie Woogie Guitar Man.”

The last two tracks on the disc, the two oldest songs, are both instrumentals (“A Georgia Camp Meeting” and Scott Joplin’s “Solace”), and allow Small to really stretch out with some exquisite picking.

If you are a fan of acoustic guitar….genre doesn’t matter….simply put, you must have this CD. There is some wonderful guitar being played on this disc. Small is not only an excellent guitarist, but he possesses a warm vocal style that is pitch perfect for these tunes. Blacks, Whites, & the Blues is a winner all around, and is not to be missed.

--- Graham Clarke

Julius PittmanJulius Pittman & the Revival released a superlative set of soul and blues last year (The Bucket List) that received a lot of attention from fans and critics. Backed by a powerful eight-piece band, Pittman’s brand of blue-eyed soul was right on the mark and certainly reminded listeners of those great soul and R&B groups that were so prevalent during the ’60s and early ’70s. As good as their debut was, their follow-up, Live Tonite (EllerSoul Records), is even better.

Recorded at Shenanigans Pub in Richmond, VA, Live Tonite finds the group in fine form as they present a dozen songs, including smoking renditions of songs associated with Wilson Pickett (Rodger Collins’ “She’s Looking Good”), Bobby “Blue” Bland (“I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog”), Jack Mack & the Heart Attack (“True Lovin’ Woman” and “Don’t Need No Reason”), Sam & Dave (“You Got Me Hummin’”), Albert Collins (“A Good Fool Is Hard To Find”), Jr. Walker (“Shotgun) and Sly Stone (“Sing A Simple Song”). Also included are three excellent originals from Pittman…..”It Ain’t What You Got,” “Love Changes Like The Weather,” and “Miss Lovin’ Her.”

Pittman’s soulful singing is top notch and he also plays Hammond B3. You can’t give the band (Velpo Robinson – guitar, vocals, Randy Moss – guitar, Audie Stanley – bass, Chris McIntyre – drums, John Stanley – tenor sax, Howard Smith – tenor and baritone sax, Dave Triplett – trumpet, flugelhorn) enough credit …. they truly rock the house.

People who grew up listening to this music can really appreciate what a revelation it is to have a band like Julius Pittman & the Revival around. Groups like this are few and far between these days. The energy level on this disc is sky high and it’s hard to sit still while listening. For fans of old school soul and blues, the only thing that would be better than listening to Live Tonite is seeing the band in person.

--- Graham Clarke


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