The 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
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
“What Could Have Been” puts me in mind of
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.
One 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.
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.
Memphis blues guitarist and local legend
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
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.
Earl & 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
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.
Robert “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.
Tom 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
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
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
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…..it’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.
The 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,
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.
I 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.
19-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
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
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.
Mark 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
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.
Julius 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
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