Blues Bytes

What's New

September 2012

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

The Blues Broads

Mighty Sam McClain

John Fries

David Ducharme-Jones

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Willie McBlind

The Bluesmasters

Cassie Taylor


Leo Hull

Mike Mettalia and Midnight Shift

Vance Kelly



The Blues BroadsThe Blues Broads concept started a few years back when singer Tracy Nelson would join Angela Strehli and her band for gigs, using a home base of Rancho Nicasio in Marin County, CA. Club owner Bob Brown encouraged them to add additional vocalists, allowing each singer a moment in the spotlight then bringing them all together in different combinations. Singers like Maria Muldaur, Carlene Carter, and Linda Tillery often joined the group, but the group really seemed to gel when singers Dorothy Morrison (lead singer on the Edwin Hawkins Singers hit, “Oh, Happy Day”) and Annie Sampson (from the Bay Area band Stoneground).

The Blues Broads’ self-titled debut CD/DVD set (Delta Groove Music) is taken from a live performance at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA in November of 2011. Backed by a strong supporting band (Gary Vogensen – guitar, Steve Ehrmann – bass, Paul Revelli – drums, Mike Emerson – keyboards, and Honorary Broad Deanna Bogart – keyboards, vocals, and tenor sax), the Broads turn in a pleasing set that mixes familiar tunes associated with each lady and some brand new songs written for the occasion.

The set opens with afine version of Nelson’s “Livin’ The Blues,” with Nelson and Strehli alternating lead vocals. Sampson and Morrison split the vocals on the soulful “Bring Me Your Love.” Morrison shines on a funky cover of “River Deep/Mountain High,” and Nelson knocks Oliver Sain’s “Walk Away” out of the park.

Though a mainstay of the Austin, TX music scene, Strehli is criminally underrecorded, and her strong vocals are on full display as she deftly handles her own “Two Bit Texas Town,” and is joined by Nelson and Morrison on another one of her classic compositions, “Blue Highway,” just before Bogart joins Sampson, Nelson, and Morrison for a stirring “It Won’t Be Long.”

The set closes with Morrison leading the quartet in the Spinners’ classic gospel-flavored “Mighty Love,” before moving completely to the church with the final two tracks, an a capella reading of “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget” (with Bogart lending her voice), then closing with Morrison reprising her classic vocal on the hit, “Oh, Happy Day.”

The DVD includes the same ten songs, in somewhat different sequence, adding Sampson’s stirring solo reading of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

The Blues Broads’ debut release is an excellent set by four remarkable talents, bring nearly two centuries of musical experience in a broad range of genres. Hopefully, these ladies can bring all this enthusiasm and energy to the studio for a future release.

--- Graham Clarke

Mighty Sam McClainSouthern soul master Mighty Sam McClain enjoyed some local success during the ’60s, recording in Muscle Shoals for Atlantic, Malaco and other labels. He faded from the music scene for about 15 years, working regular jobs in Nashville and New Orleans, before several Crescent City musicians helped him restart his career with a single for the Orleans label and an appearance on Hubert Sumlin’s comeback album for Black Top in 1987, which led to his participation in a subsequent Sumlin tour. Although he was 50 years old before he recorded his first album, he has been very prolific since then, releasing 13 albums since that time.

Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey) (Mighty Music) is McClain’s14th release, and it’s a dream release for fans of southern soul. With his powerful vocals (one might even say they are “mighty”), McClain brings to mind legendary artists like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Solomon Burke, and most definitely Little Milton. He also developed into a fine songwriter over the years, co-writing 11 of the 12 tracks with guitarist Pat Herlehy, plus one with Allen Toussaint.

McClain’s new release still features that strong seven-piece band, but also adds elements of funk, at least more so than on previous albums. The songs are still excellent examples of old-school soul, with a good share of gospel sprinkled in for good measure. They run the gamut from mid-tempo “I Wish You Well” and the aching soul of “Missing You,” to the optimistic “Can You Feel It?,” one of those tracks that incorporates funk into the mix (“Stand Up!,” “Hey Baby,” “Dance,” and “Rock My Soul” are some of the others).

“Feel So Good-Feel So Right” is textbook soul, down to the punchy horns and sweet backing vocals from Concetta, while “Tears” is equally effective, but has more of an early ’70s feel, probably due to the clavinet and Fender Rhodes accompaniment, and “Real Thing” (co-written by McClain and Allen Toussaint) is similar. The title track is a bit misleading until you hear it. When McClain quit drinking years ago and began sharing his faith, he noticed that after a while his friends stopped coming around. He found that they were turned off by his testifying about his faith instead of pouring their drinks.

Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey) is another winner for Mighty Sam McClain. He’s not only maintained his consistency over the past couple of decades, but he’s managed to improve and expand his range in the process. If you don’t have any of his other recordings, pick them up after you’ve listened to this one.

--- Graham Clarke

John FriesInspired by the likes of Albert King, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Black Crowes, and Martin Sexton, singer/songwriter/guitarist John Fries has been heavily involved in the Northeastern U.S. since the mid ’90s, playing in various blues, R&B, funk, and rock bands over that span, and releasing three critically acclaimed albums of his own over the past five years. With his latest release, U.S. 50, Fries has unleashed a sterling set of rocking blues that transcends genres and will appeal to a large base of listeners.

The seven-track EP consists of tracks written by Fries and performed by Fries and his band (Pat Perry – bass, Ron Lewis – drums and percussion), plus support on assorted tracks from Nancy Parent (pedal steel guitar and backing vocals), Kerry Pulaski (keyboards), Curt Ramm (trumpet), and Bill Holloman (tenor and baritone sax).

The opening cut, “Another Love,” starts innocently enough with a gentle and hypnotic country guitar riff, but soon transforms to a roaring electric slide track. “Defeat” reminds me of an Allman Brothers track, with the harmony guitar work and “Revival”-like peppy rhythms which belies its somber theme. “My Dearest” is a story of betrayal that moves back and forth between gentle to crunching guitar riffs.

“We Can Lie” is a strong R&B tune that adds horns to Fries’ expressive and soulful vocals. “Technicolor You” features a unique lyric about how the vision of his former lover remains frozen as it was during the good times while his world remains entrenched in reality. It’s one of the highlights of an album loaded with them. “Soaring” is appropriately titled, with Fries’ guitar work fitting the title extremely well, along with the backing vocals. The title track closes the disc. It’s a country-flavored melancholy ballad about the longtime cross-country route, called “The Loneliest Road in America.”

Though only seven songs long, U.S. 50 offers up a strong set of blues and roots music covering affairs of the heart. Fries is a talented wordsmith and guitarist and his weather-worn vocals are excellent. This highly recommended set will not only please blues fans, but will touch fans of other genres as well.

--- Graham Clarke

David Ducharme-JonesAustin guitarist David Ducharme-Jones’ latest release, A LOUD Guitar (Blissed Out Productions) continues his musical journey along the road of American music. Ducharme-Jones’ musical influences encompass blues, rock, soul, country, and even jazz. The tracks range from straight rock and roll (“Long Way to Fall”) to “Left Undone,” a country rock track, like the following track, “Earth Rolls Over,” to the countrypolitan twang of “Welcome to Nashville.”

Ducharme-Jones wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the nine tracks, several were collaborations with Andy Van Dyke, his former bandmate in the Rainravens, including “My Soul and You,” an R&B-flavored track, and “Ruby,” a country-rocker that would be on regular radio rotation in a perfect world. “I Ain’t Never Going Home,” a solo Van Dyke track, has a funk backdrop with some engaging guitar work.

There are also two covers, David Zollo’s dreamy ballad, “I Am A Diamond (Anyway),” and a lengthy take of Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” which allows the band the stretch out into jazz-fusion territory.

Ducharme-Jones produced, arranged, and played most of the instruments on the disc (with help on assorted tracks from Ian Bailey – drums, Julieann Banks – vocals, Richard Bowden – fiddle, Anne Ducharme-Jones (vocals), former Rainraven mate David Evertson – bass, and Michael Kopp – drums). A Loud Guitar is an original and diverse set of blues-based roots music that will please guitar fans who like a lot of variety in their collections.

--- Graham Clarke

Joanne Shaw TaylorBritish blues rocker Joanne Shaw Taylor has been wowing audiences for over a decade, since Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart discovered her in 2002 and added her to his supergroup D.U.P. Possessing amazing guitar chops and a ragged but right vocal style well beyond her years, Taylor has released two impressive albums for Ruf Records and has toured ceaselessly in both the U.S. and Europe, also accompanying Stewart’s Eurythmics mate Annie Lennox for her performance at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee at Buckingham Palace in June.

Taylor’s latest Ruf release, Almost Always Never, is a bit of a departure for the talented performer. Her previous two efforts were produced by Jim Gaines and recorded in Tennessee. For this latest effort, Taylor turned to Mike McCarthy, who has previously worked with Patty Griffin, Spoon, and the group And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. The cast of musicians is a bit different as well….David Garza (Fiona Apple, Blues Traveler, Juliana Hatfield) on keyboards and mandolin, Billy White (Heartless Bastards, Craig Finn, Dokken) on bass and acoustic slide, and J. J. Johnson (John Mayer Trio, Tedeschi/Trucks Band, Doyle Bramhall II) on drums.

There’s also less emphasis on guitar pyrotechnics. The first cut, “Soul Station,” is really the only track with a no-holds-barred molten steel guitar solo. The rest of the disc features more diverse guitar work, especially on the rhythm side. Fans of her previous work shouldn’t fret, however…..there’s still plenty of dynamic fretwork throughout the disc, as on “Tied and Bound,” which features some rock-edged riffs, and the slow-burning rocker, “Standing to Fall.”

“You Should Stay, I Should Go” is a neat shuffle with a catchy groove, “Army of One” is a lovely acoustic track with Taylor exchanging leads with White’s sparkling acoustic slide, “Jealousy,” from British singer Frankie Miller, is a great cover, and “A Hand in Love” has an almost pop feel.

Vocally, Taylor gets better with each release…her powerful vocals are as formidable as her guitar prowess, and her songwriting continues to improve as well. With Almost Always Never, Joanne Shaw Taylor seems to be making an effort to expand her talents, maybe even moving beyond blues into a new direction. The result is an album that will appeal to her growing fan base and bring in a few new listeners in the process.

--- Graham Clarke

Willie McBlindLive Long Day (FreeNote Records) is the third release by the New York-based band Willie McBlind. This CD pays tribute to the train by sending the listener on a blues-fueled journey that is at times exhilarating, at times somber, at times powerful, at times haunting, and at all times interesting. The band’s roots are firmly planted in the Mississippi Delta, but they combine that with a harmonic blues sound using microtonally fretted and fretless guitars, capping it off with a powerful and effective vocal style, courtesy of guitarist/singer Jon Catler (one of the world’s best Harmonic guitarists) and vocalist/autoharp Meredith “Babe” Borden.

From the opening notes of Track One, “Sittin’ In The Train Station,” you know this one is going to be something special. Catler’s guitar work is breathtaking and the vocal harmonies are almost otherworldly. Catler’s guitar work is worth the price of admission as he swoops and soars through these songs (his slide work sounds amazing). The rhythm section of Mat Fieldes (bass) and Lorne Watson (drums) also do a fantastic job.

The disc includes ten tracks. The title cut and “Anywhere” have an almost ethereal quality (thanks to multilayered vocals by Borden). “Slow Moving Train” is more uptempo and rocks pretty hard. “One Thing” is a midtempo rocker with some interesting slide work mixed in, and “Down The Road” may be the most impressive song, sort of a cosmic rockabilly tune with some outstanding fretwork. “Boogie Train” is a close second, really serving as a guitar showcase for Catler.

The disc’s lone cover is of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” and, of course, Willie McBlind completely transforms it. Catler’s guitar electrifies the old tune and Borden gives the vocals a sultry edge.
I guarantee that Live Long Day is unlike anything you’ve heard on the blues circuit this year, featuring some of the most original and unique guitar work heard in a long time. Willie McBlind puts a totally new spin on the traditional sounds of the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

The BluesmastersBack in 2007, noted session guitarist/producer Tim Tucker formed The Bluesmasters. In 2010, the band released their first CD, which featured the standout vocals of former Elvin Bishop/Starship frontman Mickey Thomas. The CD was a success and eventually helped Thomas to a resurgence of sorts, resulting in a subsequent solo release last year.

The Bluesmasters’ sophomore effort, appropriately titled Volume Two (Direct Music Distribution), features Thomas on a couple of tracks (a scorching “Red Rooster,” with the late Hubert Sumlin on guitar, and “Get Me A Car,” which features the late Pinetop Perkins on piano), but the primary vocalist for this follow-up is Cassie Taylor. Taylor, the daughter of bluesman Otis Taylor and one of the members of last summer’s Girls With Guitars CD from Ruf, is the featured vocalist on eight of the 12 tracks.

Taylor is a gifted vocalist and really shines on tracks like the Chess standard “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” which she just about makes her own, starting out with a sweaty, sultry vocal and quickly building to an impassioned roar. She also transforms other familiar standards, like Elmore James’ “Talk To Me Baby,” and the gospel-flavored interpretation of Don Nix’s “Same Old Blues.” She also shines on “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” a duet with Thomas, and Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” accompanied by Perkins.

Hazel Miller, a Colorado resident who occasionallly sings with Big Head Todd & the Monsters, lends her soulful pipes to a pair of classics, the traditional “Tangoray,” and another Reed tune, “Big Boss Man.” Both of these tracks, and many others, feature outstanding harmonica from Doug Lynn, who nimbly weaves in, out, around, and all over the place on every song. Singer/guitarist Eric Gales also appears, dueting with Taylor and playing guitar on the Studebaker John tune, “Fine Cadillac.”

Dedicated to the memory of Sumlin and Perkins, The Bluesmasters Volume Two is an impressive and entertaining listen from start to finish. Tucker’s guitar work and production is top notch and the veteran backing band that make up The Bluesmasters (Lynn, drummers Ainsley Dunbar and Larry Thompson, guitarist Rusty Anderson, B3 master Ric Ulsky, and Taylor, who doubles on bass) is superlative. This is a great set of traditional blues given a modern makeover.

--- Graham Clarke

Cassie TaylorIt’s worth noting that the above-mentioned Cassie Taylor recorded a solo CD of her own, Blue (Hypertension Music), in the spring of 2011. Taylor puts all her talents on display with this effort, singing, playing bass and piano. She’s joined by guitarist James “Rooster” Olson (guitar), Monkeyjunk’s Steve Marriner (harmonica), Jeremy Colson (drums), Tim Tucker (guitar/producer), Rusty Anderson, Eric Gales, William “Fat Willie” Whttaker (Hammond B3), and backing vocalist Hazel Miller, Denise Gentilini, Lindsay Solonycse, and Alyssa Clotfelter.

Taylor wrote all ten of the songs here and her sweet, sensuous vocals owe as much to pop as they do to blues. The songs range from the upbeat and catchy opener, “Memphis,” to the country-flavored “Keys,” to the soul/pop of “Black Coffee,” to the bluesy feel of “Make Me Cry” and “Disappointment.” “Bought Borrowed Stolen” and “Waste of Time” are both moody and mellow pieces, and “Haunted” is another highlight, with its ominous, shimmering guitar.

Overall, this is a very good CD, which showcases the blues in more of a pop setting. Taylor’s sweet and sassy vocals indicate that she would have a good shot at crossover success if she chose that route, but she seems to be comfortable playing the blues, which is a reward for blues fans all over.

--- Graham Clarke

MeenaAustrian singer Meena was singing soon after she started talking and wrote her first song at the age of seven. Her brother, who passed away when Meena was 11, gave her first mix tape, a collection of ’70s music that included “Voodoo Chile,” from Jimi Hendrix. By the time she was15, she was fronting a psychedelic rock band. After a few undecided years of wavering between genres while living in Vienna, Thomas Ruf took the promising young singer under his wing, flying her to Memphis, the Mecca of the blues, to record her CD with the legendary Jim Gaines as producer.

That first release, Try Me (Ruf Records), shows Meena to be a voice to be reckoned with. She’s equally comfortable with soul sounds (the title track, a fine cover of the James Brown classic, or “Just As I Am,” the Luther Allison tune) as she is with the blues (“Put Your Hands Out of My Pocket,” “Send Me A Doctor,” with Eric Sardinas on guitar ) or pop (“Sorry” ) or blues/rock (“Nothing Left” and “I’m Leaving You,” both with guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor).

Sardinas and Taylor are just a couple of the guest guitarists on Try Me. Coco Montoya sits in on “Just As I Am,” with Meena and Shakura S’aida sharing vocals. Sardinas and Erja Lyytinen team up on “I Shoot You Down,” and Donna Grantis joins Meena on a wonderful cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Taylor backs Meena on four songs, including the title track and “Let Your Sweet Love Shine On Me.”

Also lending their formidable skills to the proceedings are Dave Smith (bass), Rick Steff (keys), Steve Potts (drums) and Chris Fillmore (guitar), who also co-wrote several of the tunes with Meena. The backing singers are Vickie Atkins, Sandy Carroll (who co-wrote “Just As I Am,” with Allison), and Amyee Bragg.

Try Me is a wonderful showcase for an up-and-coming vocalist who acts like she’s been singing the blues for years. It will be interesting to see what’s next for Meena.

--- Graham Clarke

Leo HullLeo Hull might have been born in Oklahoma, but that will be forgotten with one listen to the Texas swagger of his new CD, Bootleggin’ The Blues. Hull has been a part of the Texas music scene since the early ’60s, and he’s built a solid reputation for his tough, hard-rocking blues and his songwriting, which reveals his interesting perspective on life. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a superlative backing band like the Texas Blues Machine (Buddy Whittington – guitar, Ron DiIulio – keyboards, Jerry Hancock – bass, Larry Randall – tenor sax, and Chuck “Popcorn” Lowden and Warren Dewey – drums) in support.

One thing you will notice when listening is that one of Hull’s favorite artists and influences is Jimmy Reed. He gives Reed several shout-outs, including the autobiographical title track, which is reminiscent of some of Reed’s recordings. The cautionary tale, “The Hustler,” is next with a couple of stories about hard luck living. “Road Hard” is a hardcore boogie tune, as is “Blowtorch Boogie,” a tribute to the merits of a certain “red hot mama.”

“Whiskey and Women” has a fiery slide guitar break and a relentless groove, and “The Road” is a roadhouse rocker. “Pistol #69” is a slow country-flavored blues with that infectious slow, steady Jimmy Reed groove. “Running Away Again” is a rocker with some hilarious lyrics, and the closer, “Between You and Me,” is a tribute to some of Hull’s musical influences who have passed on.

Hull’s guitar work is excellent, and his warm, weathered vocals are ideal. The tough, road-tested band is also first-rate. Bootleggin’ The Blues is a great little CD that hopefully will garner Leo Hull some much-deserved attention.

--- Graham Clarke

Tall PaulTall Paul Webner was born in Canada, but grew up in Washington D.C., where he started playing guitar at the age of ten. He later migrated to Arizona, where he formed a blues trio, the Tall Paul Band, and got his big break with a gig backing Sam “The Man” Taylor in 1998. Since that time, the band has worked to hone their sound, powerful blues/rock that is equally at home with the more traditional blues fare as well.

For the band’s debut release, Sleeper, the band offers up nine original tracks and two covers. The original tunes range from the funky, churning title track that opens the disc, to “Ridin’,” a tough shuffle based on the motorcycle Webner is pictured riding on the back cover of the disc, to the hypnotically cosmic instrumental, “Space Race.”

“That’s For Sure” is a smooth slow blues with a touch of T-Bone in the guitar work, “Going Back Home” is a straight blues track with some tasty harmonica served up by Webner, and “Don’t Leave” is a jazzy instrumental that closes the disc. The two choice covers are Ike Turner’s “Matchbox,” transformed into a rockabilly rave-up highlighted by two scorching solos from Webner, and a moody take on the Earl Randle classic, “Come To Papa.”

The rest of the trio (Kevin Heiderman – bass and Les Merrihew – drums) provide rock-steady bottom, giving Webner ample room to stretch out with some impressive guitar. Sleeper will please fans of blues/rock with its diverse set of tunes and dynamic guitar work. Check out the band at their website for more information.

--- Graham Clarke

Mike MetalliaFor their latest CD, Midnight Sun (Lost World Music), Mike Mettalia & Midnight Shift continue their mastery of American roots music with a great set of 14 tracks (nine originals and five covers) that sometimes venture into rockabilly and country, but most often stay firmly rooted in the blues, working expertly with several different variations, from Chicago to Texas to New Orleans to swamp and jump blues).

Mettalia’s harmonica work is front and center on blues-fueled tracks like “Work Don’t Work,” “The 796,” “Love Reaction,” “Built For Speed” (which also features harp from Mikey Junior), and “Cheat You Fair.” Guitarist Mike McMillan’s background is in rockabilly and he really gets to strut his stuff on the Chuck Berryesque “Calabash,” “Magic Touch,” “Mama’s Little Baby,” the churning “Sun Record Sleeve,” and the rumbling “Heartsick.”

“The Blues Comes Around” is a countrified tune (written by Hank Williams) with some nice guitar work and a sweet vocal duet from Mettalia and April Mae. Other guest stars include octagenarian sax blower Jimmy Cavallo (who also penned the humorous “Leave Married Women Alone”), pedal steel guitarist Jim Callan, and keyboard aces Dan McKinney and Chicago Carl Snyder. Steve Guyger joins the group on the live bonus track, Jimmy Rogers’ “What Have I Done,” playing harmonica with Mettalia and taking lead vocals.

Six of the tracks were recorded at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, plus songs like “Sun Record Sleeve,” and the easygoing title track also pay tribute to the label. Like the legendary record label, Midnight Shift shows that they are equally adept at playing vintage rock and roll, rockabilly, and country as they are playing the blues. I really like their ongoing efforts to expand their sound into different genres and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

--- Graham Clarke

Vance Kelly is the prototypical Chicago journeyman blues player. He seldom tours outside the Windy City but is a regular at blues clubs and festivals throughout Chicago. As a guitarist, the former A.C. Reed band member stays fairly true to his Chicago roots but also doesn't hesitate to veer into a more funky sound when the mood strikes.

Tell Me Why (Wolf Records) compiles 11 of Kelly's previous recordings, covering  the period from 1987 to 2008, plus four new songs recorded in 2011. It's a mixture of straight Chicago blues (such as a very nice slow blues numbers "Highway Here I Come" and "Tell Me Why") to covers of blues/soul classics like "Members Only" and "You Steppin' Out."

Also included is the uptempo danceable Chicago blues, "Wall to Wall," which garnered some radio airplay for Kelly when it was released by Wolf in 1994 on the Call Me album. One of the better covers is Kelly's version of "Drivein Wheel" --- he stars on both guitar and vocals here.

I would have preferred that the album had been shortened to a dozen cuts --- I could have done without the version of "Purple Rain," and does anyone really need more covers of "Mustang Sally" and "Hey Joe"?

But overall, Tell Me Why is an enjoyable collection of solid Chicago blues.

--- Bill Mitchell



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