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Order these featured CDs today:

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats

Wee Willie Walker

Joseph Veloz

Greg Sover

Lightnin' Willie

Delta Wires

Boris Garcia

Tucci

The Jon Spear Band

Antry

The Halley DeVestern Band

Karen Lovely

Billy Price

Casey Hensley

Mr Sipp

Rick EstrinIf you were a long-time fan of the iconic northern California blues band Little Charlie & the Nightcats, then you certainly know what to expect from that band's current incarnation, Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, on their latest release, Groovin' In Greaseland (Alligator). There's Estrin's creative songwriting, heavy on novelty-type blues compositions, along with his very fine harmonica playing. Replace Little Charlie's superb guitar work with that of the equally capable Kid Andersen, add some of the best backing musicians around, and you've got the formula for another fine album.

Groovin' In Greaseland starts strong with "The Blues Ain't Going Nowhere," a mid-tempo shuffle highlighted by Estrin's dirty-sounding harp breaks coming from the deeper end of the instrument. Versatile keyboardist Lorenzo Farrell comes in partway through the song with a powerful organ solo. Andersen gets to show off his snaky chops on guitar on the next tune, "Looking For A Woman," which has a bit of a funky beat.

There are three instrumental numbers on the album, with two of them especially standing out. "MWAH!" is an Andersen original on which the Kid puts out a guitar chords that at times sound like something from Link Wray and at other times sounds like it's Robert Ward playing through his Magnatone amp. We're also treated to a hot sax solo from Nancy Wright and more good organ playing from Farrell. The instrumental number closing the album is "So Long (for Jay P.)," with Estrin's harp sounding like he's summoning the spirit of Slim Harpo. "Cool Slaw" is the third instrumental number, a jazzy mid-tempo shuffle written by and primarily featuring Farrell's organ. This one doesn't have as much zip as other tunes here, and goes on just a bit too long before finally building to more of a crescendo near the end.

One of my favorite songs is the jumpin' up-tempo number, "Hot In Here," with a good harp intro from Estrin followed by some of Andersen's best blues guitar licks. His style here was so reminiscent of Little Charlie that I had to double-check the liner notes to make sure that Mr. Baty didn't sneak in a brief cameo appearance. Another keeper is the slow blues, "Tender Hearted," featuring Estrin's hushed vocals and tasty chromatic harp playing. Andersen adds nice, subtle guitar accompaniment.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Rick Estrin album without him lamenting about the troubles in his life, and we get that on "Dissed Again." He repeats the line, " .... I can't even get respect out of my so-called friends, the story of my life, dissed again! ..."

There's a lot more here, all of it equally good. If you are a long-time Nightcats fan, then you may have already scored a copy of this disc the day it came out. But if not, be sure to add Groovin' In Greaseland to your collection soon.

--- Bill Mitchell

Willie WalkerMy introduction to the smooth, soulful voice of Minnesota-based Wee Willie Walker came about ten years ago when a friend passed along a copy of his excellent Memphisapolis album, one that now occupies a treasured spot in my "desert island" collection. What struck me most about Mr. Walker was how much he sounded at times like vintage Al Green --- take that as a compliment. For his most recent album, After A While (Blue Dot Records), Walker is capably backed by The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra on this collection of 13 numbers.

There's plenty of good music on this disc, but I came away wanting more. Perhaps the greatness of Memphisapolis set an unreasonably high bar. Mr. Walker puts everything he's got into the vocals, but the recordings are too pristine at times and not as gritty as soul music should be. I kept waiting for the backing band members to turn up the energy on some of the cuts, which finally happens in the last four songs of the CD. These minor quibbles are what make this a good, but not great, recording.

But let's cover the high points, which still make this an album worth pursuing. Opening the disc is a solid mid-tempo soul tune, "Second Chance," with a strong horn section backing Mr. Walker along with tasteful piano from Tony Lufrano. Walker packs plenty of raw emotion into the slow number "After A While," with his voice moving across the octaves while we also get a tasty sax solo from Charles McNeal.

The gem of After A While is Walker's remake of a hit song he recorded for Kent in the '60s, "I Don't Want To Take A Chance." I was familiar with a version done a few years ago by Charles Wilson on his excellent Severn release, Troubled Child, a Blues Bytes Pick Hit in June 2009. It's the highlight of this album, with inspired accompaniment and gritty vocals. I could listen to this song over and over.

Another standout is "Romance In The Dark," a Lil Green song that gives bandleader Paule a chance to shine on guitar. "I Don't Want To Know" is a strong mid-tempo blues, with more nice guitar work from Paule and a solid outing by the horns. Paule and the horns all get to shine on "The Willie Walk," a fun and funky instrumental number.

After A While ends with a couple of covers of soul classics --- "Lovey Dovey," previously done by Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, but here with Terrie Odabi joining the band to handle Carla's vocal lines, and the Isaac Hayes/David Porter-penned song "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)," a slow blues with very good guitar accompaniment from Paule.

Willie Walker is a name to file away for your next music buying binge. Everything he's recorded is worth having, so be sure to add After A While to your collection. You won't regret it.

--- Bill Mitchell

WillaJust to give you a heads-up before you listen to Willa and Company’s debut album, Better Days (Building Records), go to the internet and search for “Sock Garters,” and then order a set. You’ll thank me later because listening to this disc may knock your socks off otherwise! I was not familiar with Willa Vincitore, a two-decade vet of the New York Hudson Valley-area music scene and original member of the award-winning Chris O’Leary Band. She recently started her own band, but boy, I am familiar with her now.

Her debut release has a dozen self-penned tunes that are dynamite on their own, mixing blues, soul, rock, funk, gospel, and pop, but when she opens her mouth to sing them, prepare to be blown away. Opening with the swinging shuffle, “Love Looks Good On Me,” she’s backed by a peppy horn section and gospel-flavored backing voices, the latter of which assist her in bringing the song to a rousing close. The funky “Stop, Drop, and Roll” is another standout, and the silky smooth “Hooked On You” would have been a classic back in the old Stax Records days, and should be one today, while the rocker “Hey Little Sister” has a bit of country flair and gets an assist from O’Leary on harmonica.

While Vincitore has been compared to singers like Susan Tedeschi, Shemekia Copeland, and Bonnie Raitt, I hear a lot of Aretha Franklin in her phrasing and delivery. She brings it all to the stunning title track, a soulful ballad that really gives her room to stretch out. The sassy “Mama Needs Some Company” features a lusty vocal from Vincitore, plus fiery slide guitar from Chris Vitarello, “Crazy Man” and “Say What” are both strong funk workouts, and “Opposite of Lonely” leans toward the jazzy side of the blues. The closer is the acoustic “Demons,” an old fashioned Delta-styled number with Vincitore’s haunted vocal backed only by Vitarello’s National steel guitar.

Vincitore gets fantastic support from “Company,” which includes O’Leary (harmonica), Vitarello (guitars), Lee Falco (drums), Brandon Morrison (bass), Jay Collins (saxes, horn arrangements), Reggie Pittman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Petey Hop (acoustic guitar), and Scott Milici (keyboards). Better Days just hits all the right notes for fans of blues and soul and great singing from Willa Vincitore, who we will certainly be hearing more from in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Joseph VelozJoseph Veloz has toured as a bass player for over 20 years, working with blues artists Lucky Peterson, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Mississippi Heat, James Armstrong, and Joanne Shaw Taylor to name a few. He’s equally adept in blues-rock, reggae, R&B, and Americana, and is also an arranger and composer, and a good one as is evident from his latest release, Offerings (Big O Records), a sterling eight-song set of tunes featuring Veloz with a formidable cast of guest artists lending a hand.

The eight-track album is split between three instrumental tracks and five vocal tracks, with Veloz enlisting five different vocalists on those tunes, which include Eddie Kirkland’s “Good Good Day,” featuring Biscuit Miller’s robust vocals, “Jukin’ and Shakin’,” with former colleague Peterson behind the mic, “I Like Me Better When I’m With You,” a sweet R&B ballad with Greg Nagy on vocals (written by Nagy and Veloz), Dolly Parton’s country standard “Jolene,” with Jennifer Westwood on vocals, and a terrific breakneck-paced readng of Prince’s “Kiss,” with lead vocals from Joey Spina.

The instrumentals include the jazz/rock fusion opener “Just Jammin’,” a fierce, thumping workout featuring Shawn Kellerman tearing it up on guitar, Jim Alfredson’s wonderous keyboards, and Veloz putting down more bottom than the Butt Sisters. “Mules For Biles (Blues For Miles)” is funky R&B-styled blues, and “He Loves Me (God’s Promise)” is a smooth and meditative foray into jazz.

Veloz arranged all of these songs and gets plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff on his instrument of choice. Kellerman and Alfredson play on most of the tracks, along with drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas, who also penned “Jukin’ and Shakin’.” Nagy adds guitar on his featured track as well. Offerings is an outstanding set of blues and soul that also touches on a number of other genres from an underrated master of his craft.

--- Graham Clarke

Greg SoverTry at your own risk to place Greg Sover into one musical category. The Philadelphia-based guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter says himself that his music doesn’t fit into one particular genre. While there’s a healthy dose of blues in the mix, Sover also throws in rock, soul, reggae, and R&B. Learning to play guitar at age 13, he worked on the total package, honing his songwriting skills and his singing, which culminated in a win at the 2015 Hard Rock Rising competition at Philly’s Hard Rock Café.

Since then, he’s made a lot of noise on the Pennsylvania music scene as a headliner and in support of acts like Johnny A, Garland Jeffreys, Ana Popovic, and the Marcus King Band. He also found time to record and release his debut, Songs of a Renegade (Grounded Soul Records), which consists of nine original tunes from Sover, plus one dynamite cover tune. Sover is backed on this set by members of Deb Callahan’s working band (Garry Lee – bass/backing vocals/percussion, Allen James – guitar, Tom Walling – drums) along with keyboardist Wally Smith.

The opener, “Moment,” is a simmering rock ballad with an excellent guitar break, followed by the energetic “Heroes.” Speaking of energetic, “Preacher” is a fiery gospel-flavored blues rocker that might raise the roof if the volume is too high, and “Quicksand” throws a touch of Philly Soul into the musical gumbo, a combination that works really well with Sover’s soulful vocal and his sinewy guitar work. He delves deeper into the soul vein with the ballad, “(Make Me) Say Yeah,” turning in a strong vocal performance.

“After Me” is the purest blues track on the disc, with Sover showing what he has on Resonator, and “Déjà Vu” is a solid mid-tempo rocker with a pop feel. The album’s lone cover is next, and it’s excellent. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” has often been covered, but rarely bettered. Sover comes pretty darn close with this reading, rocking it up considerably with some of his best guitar work on the disc. “Superman” is an interesting tune, taken from the perspective of the super-hero, and the closer, “Cherie,” a love song with an irresistible reggae rhythm.

Songs of a Renegade is an exceptional debut release for Greg Sover, an artist from whom we should be hearing much more from in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Delta WiresThe Bay Area band Delta Wires began over 30 years ago as a college project from bandleader Ernie Pinata. His intention was to demonstrate the evolution of the blues from its Mississippi Delta beginnings to the electric blues of Chicago and, eventually, the West Coast, with the band playing examples of the evolution. If the project didn’t earn Pinata an “A” at the time, the band itself has surely earned one over their four decades of hard work playing the clubs of Oakland and San Francisco and opening for such blues legends as Lowell Fulson, Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and countless others.

Born in Oakland (Mud Slide Records) is the Delta Wires’ seventh release and it finds the band (Pinata – lead vocals/harmonica, Tom Gerrits – bass/vocals, Richard Healy – guitar, Tony Huszar – drums/congas/tambourine, Gerry Jonutz – tenor/alto/bari sax, David Bowman – trombone, John Christensen – trumpet) in great form. The jazzy pop-flavored opener “Sunny Days” will probably put a smile on the faces of music fans who dig those classic ’70s Tower of Power or Chicago tunes, as will “Fun Time.” However, blues fans will definitely dig the swinging read on Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s “Fine and Healthy Thing” that follows, or the blues rocker “Vacation.”

The smoky blues ballad “Your Eyes” slows the tempo a bit, with a nice vocal from Pinata, and “Devil’s In My Headset” is an interesting take on a very different type of love song. The hard-charging “I Don’t Care” finds the horns really cranking up in support to Pinata’s fevered vocal, while “Days of the Week” and “All I Have To Give” revisit the jazzy side of the band’s sound. There’s also an excellent take on Pee Wee Ellis’ “In The Middle,” a funky instrumental that gives the band, especially the horns, plenty of space in the spotlight.

Delta Wires’ brand of blues, on full display with Born in Oakland, will appeal not only to blues fans, but also soul, jazz, and R&B fans. They certainly get an “A” for effort.

--- Graham Clarke

Lightnin' WillieBefore listening to No Black No White Just Blues (Little Dog Records), I had no idea who Lightnin’ Willie was, but after listening, I would love not only to find out more about him, but also to hear more from him. This cat can flat play the blues. He can rock with the best of them, he can swing with the best of them, and he can boogie with the best. Produced by Pete Anderson, the ten original tracks on this disc cover all the bases, but in a stylish, understated, cool style that is decidedly different from a lot of the modern blues fare offered up these days.

“Can’t Get That Stuff” is a jazzy, toe tapping shuffle with piano master Doña Oxford sharing the spotlight with Willie’s fluid guitar work and his laidback, mannered vocal. “Eyes In The Back Of My Head” is a bit more rowdy, on the Chicago side of things with Anderson adding harmonica to the mix, while the slow groover “Locked In A Prison” comes from the T-Bone Walker side of the tracks (nice work on the sax from Rob Dzulbla and Skip Edwards on Hammond B3 on this track, and several others). The lively “Sad ‘N Blue” has a bit of “Chicago Meets South Louisiana” vibe with the addition of Edwards’ accordion in the background.

“Note On My Door” is a jazz-inflected, after-hours take on the old “Dear John” story that finds Willie adding a bit of grit to his smooth vocal delivery. “Heartache” has a Latin flair with some stellar picking from Willie, and the smoky and hypnotic “Fuss and Fight” is another solid slow burner. I really dig the Otis Rush-like guitar work on “Phone Stopped Ringing,” and “Thinking Of You,” is a dandy old school rock n’ roll ballad like they used to do back in the day. The grand finale is the raucous boogie “Shake My Snake,” a great closer that will remind listeners ZZ Top’s early rockers.

The only problem with No Black No White Just Blues is that there just ain’t enough of it at around 29 minutes, but that’s what the replay button is for on your listening device of choice. If you’re like me, after you hear it, you will want to hear a lot more from Lightnin’ Willie.

--- Graham Clarke

Boris GarciaThe Philadelphia-based band Boris Garcia unknowingly created a new genre of music, Outlaw Mystic, with their enticing blend of Americana, bluegrass, and pop music. It’s a style that should appeal to a lot of music lovers across the board and a great place to get started with the band is their most recent release, Around Some Corner (Porchwerk Music). Produced by Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone, the new disc features 11 originals, six written by Bob Stirner (vocals/electric and acoustic guitars) and six by Jeff Otto (vocals/ukulele).

The opening track is “Knockin’ On Wood,” a splendid waltz that tells the story of a man longing for his love, followed by “Mary Fields,” an entertaining piano-driven cut that is reminiscent of mid ’60s pop, and “3 Steps” is a lovely acoustic country-pop confection. “Captain Of The Crew” is a fun tune, while the memorable “Mendocino” revisits the ’60s, with Farfisa organ and slide guitar, and the lilting countrified “I’d Do Anything” is a tribute to a good friend, punctuated by mandolin and pedal steel.

The love song “Desiree” is next, and would be all over the radio in a perfect world with its crisp instrumentation and upbeat, joyous melody. The lively “Feather And Down” ventures more toward the band’s bluegrass roots, and one of my favorites, “Waters Blue,” sounds like a long-lost Grateful Dead tune with its musical approach and lengthy instrumental break. The jaunty “Another Day” picks up the bluegrass vibe, and the closer, “Message At Twilight,” is very interesting, with a reggae beat at its base, along with a taste of Celtic, topped off with bluegrass.

Otto and Stirner alternate on vocals very effectively, and the rest of the band (Bob Burroughs – mandolin/bouzouki/keyboards/accordion, Tim Kelly – drums/percussion/broom, E.J. Simpson – electric/upright bass, Chip Denoyers – pedal steel) with contributions from Carbone (fiddle/guitar/backing vocals) and Tom Hampton (lap steel) is so amazing and versatile. If we were in that perfect world I mentioned a couple of paragraphs above, Around Some Corner would be blasting from speakers everywhere. This is a fun and very entertaining CD that should appeal to music fans of many genres.

--- Graham Clarke

TucciThe Tucci band was originally known as The Toler-Tucci Band, which featured former Great Southern/Allman Brothers Band/Gregg Allman Band guitarist Dan Toler as a driving force. The Toler-Tucci Band released a 2012 album, Doc’s Hideaway, which received great reviews and acclaim, but sadly, Toler, who waged a long battle with ALS, passed away in 2013. The Tucci Band have bounced back with Olivia (Hideaway Records), an 11-track gem which shows that the band is sticking firm to their energetic blues/Southern rock mix.

Tucci consists of guitarist/vocalist Steve Tucci, drummer Michael Tucci, vocalist/saxophonist Shawn Murphy, and bassist/vocalist Harry DeBusk. On several tracks, they are joined by keyboardists Dan Ryan or Donnie Richards, who split duties on 10 of the 11 tracks, and guitarist/vocalist Larry McCray, who takes vocal and/or guitar on eight tracks. All of the tunes were written by the band, and make strong references to the blues and Southern rock both musically and lyrically.

McCray’s robust vocals and guitar are front and center on the rocking Windy City shuffle, “High Roller,” and the smoldering ballad, “I Don’t Need It,” both of which bring to mind Otis Rush’s Cobra days. He also takes the mic on “Without You,” which opens with a twin-guitar attack from McCray and Steve Tucci that will remind listeners of the Allmans, and the scorching B.B. King-styled “You Hurt Me.” He also sings on the hard-charging “Gimme Some of Your Love.”

The remainder of the vocals are shared by Murphy --- the funky title track, “Train Blues,” featuring some sharp guitar from Tucci and McCray in the Albert King tradition, and the captivating “Third Eye,” actually an extended instrumental jam in the great Southern rocker tradition, which teams Steve Tucci’s guitar with guest Bob Dielman’s. Steve Tucci takes vocals on two tracks, the amusing “Overtaxed Blues” and “Hey Florida,” a dandy Allmanesque rocker that even kicks off with the “One Way Out” riff. Al Owen sings “Play by the Rules,” backed by Toler’s soaring guitar in what was probably his final recording.

Though Toler is no longer with us, his spirit is still a huge part of Tucci, and Olivia is a great set of Southern rock and blues that will satisfy anyone who likes either brand.

--- Graham Clarke

Stacy JonesStacy Jones’ latest release, Love Is Everywhere, was inspired in part by a year full of tragedies and dramatic events both near and far. Like most works inspired in that manner, the 11 tracks, all written by Jones, reflect not only on how these events affect her life but also allow listeners to relate to the way that these and similar events affect them, making this a highly personal album for all involved.

Jones can play just about anything you give her (the liner notes for just this album list dobro, acoustic and rhythm guitar, harmonica, Hammond B3, and tack piano), but she’s also a marvelous singer and, as heard on this release, a top notch songwriter. She’s backed by her longtime band, which includes guitarist Jeff Menteer, drummer Rick J. Bowen, and bassist/father Tom Jones, and several guests, which include Sean Denton (guitar), Angelo Ortiz (washboard), Lee Oskar (harmonica), and Mike Marinig (sax, flute).

The opener is “Mojo Potion #61 & 49,” an interesting twist on the Journey to the Crossroad tale, told from a woman’s perspective this time around. The poignant ballad “Wait For Heaven” is a tribute to a friend who perished in a house fire, “Can’t Find Love” is a catchy little country rocker, “Stomp Jump Boogie” is a lively instrumental that features Oskar and Jones on harmonica, and “Can’t You Be Mine,” a soulful ballad with Denton’s guitar and Marinig’s sax and flute blending magnificently, features one of Jones’ best vocal efforts.

The energetic “I Fell In Love” is next, followed by the powerful title track, which Jones wrote following the tragic mass shooting at the Orlando night club in June of 2016. The frantic jump blues “One Stop Light” will gets toes tapping and tail feathers shaking, while the honky tonk stepper “Gotta Get Over You” and “Tough Girls Never Cry” should both be mainstays on country music radio stations. The closer is the old school rock and blues boogie “I’ll Be On My Way,” which brings the album to a fitting finale.

Stacy Jones continues to improve with each release, Love Is Everywhere being her best, most balanced release yet. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the blues world catches up with the Pacific Northwest and starts giving this lady her due.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon SpearThe Jon Spear Band has enjoyed success with both of their previous releases, Old Soul and Live Music Is Better, both of which finished high in the Roots Music Report’s Contemporary Blues Album Charts in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In fact, Live Music Is Better was a nominee for Best Live Blues Recording in the 2016 Blues Blast Magazine Award and also was a finalist in for the 2017 I.B.C.’s Best Self-Produced CD.

The band’s third album, Hot Sauce, contains all of these ingredients with 12 originals written by guitarist Spear and the band (Dara James – vocals/guitar/harmonica, Andy Burdetsky – bass, John Stubblefield – drums). Spear and James split vocal and lead guitar chores throughout. James takes the mic for the edgy coming-of-age opener, “Bottom of the Bottle,” the feel-good Caribbean pop “Geographical Cure,” the zesty R&B-flavored title track, and the lively “Hit the Quarter.”

James also sings on the more serious numbers, “Noah’s Blues,” about man’s occasionally insatiable need to hunt, kill, and poach animals for sport, “Wintertime,” a subdued elegy about the plight of the homeless, “Blues for a Soldier,” an enthusiastic shout-out to those in uniform who defend our country, and “Natchez Burning,” a haunting new song about the 1940 burning of the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez previously made famous in song by Howlin’ Wolf, with haunting background vocals from Yolanda Jones and Nathaniel Star.

Spear sings on the amusing rockabilly raver “Really Great Gig,” the acoustic “Pierre Jourdan,” which is set in the 1800s and tells the story of a New Orleans gambler, “Butt-Dial Kyle,” which really needs no explanation but is great fun, and “Cheap Whisky and Stale Cigarettes,” about succeeding after starting at rock bottom. The band is supported on several songs by Nate Brown (percussion), Marty Metcalfe (accordion), Butch Taylor (keyboards), and Ron Holloway (sax).

Hot Sauce gives further proof to the fact that The Jon Spear Band is one of the most talented bands playing the blues right now. They show an amazing versatility with their music, mixing blues, soul, and rock in equal measures. The two-headed vocal/guitar attack with Spear and James is highly effective and the rhythm section is most righteous. Add a highly unique songwriting approach that includes entertaining party songs, interesting story songs, and other thought-provoking fare, and you’ve got a disc that deserves to heard and heard again.

--- Graham Clarke

AntrySteve Antry worked for the railroad as a track laborer as a teen, lying about his age to get the job. He became enthralled by songs sung by the other laborers as they replaced old track. He joined the church choir to meet cute girls and his vocal talents were noticed by the choir director, who was also Dean of Music at the University of Tulsa and became Antry’s musical mentor, giving him free vocal training for years. However, Antry decided to pursue a career in business and finance, while continuing to sing at weddings, funeral services, and in various gospel groups before retiring and deciding to make music a full-time endeavor.

Now billing himself as Antry, he has decided to heed his higher calling with the release of Devil Don’t Care (Tres Lobas Enterprises), a wondrous ten-song set of Gospel-based blues recorded in Nashville, produced by his manager Peter Carson, and featuring several of the city’s finest musicians in support --- bassist Michael Rhodes, steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, drummer Greg Morrow, and guitarists Rob McNelly, Pat Buchanan, and Bret Mason, along with guest appearances by vocalist Shaun Murphy and guitarist Anthony Gomes.

Antry and Carson wrote the title track, a hard-charging blues rocker, but the remainder of the track list consists of inspirational numbers from a variety of genres. “Always With Me” is a beautiful R&B love song written by Babyface and Darius Rucker, in Antry’s hands, it’s transformed into a different, but still beautiful, sort of love song to the Creator. Gary Nicholson and Kenny Greenberg’s “How Far Down” is given a fierce reading by Antry with vocal support from Murphy, while Don Goodman’s tale “Fishin’” gets a gentle acoustic reading, and serves as a tribute to Antry’s father.

The recently departed Leon Russell’s ’70s hit “Prince of Peace” gets a glorious rocking resurrection with Antry pleading to his listeners to accept our fellow man, despite our differences, and thanks to his comforting vocal his reading of Diane Warren’s tear-jerker “Borrowed Angels” serves as solace for those who have suffered the loss of a child. The second Nicholson cover, “Devil Gone Fishin’,” is a warning to the wicked fueled by Gomes’ emphatic fretwork.

“Sending Me Angels” was written by one of the unsung rockers of the ’70s, Frankie Miller, and noted songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams. Antry’s sensitive interpretation of the song reflects on the many gifts from God he has received in his life. R. Scott Brian’s “Get Up” is a song of righteous encouragement and would have been a great fit during the call and response portion of a tent revival. The closer is a sweet cover of the ’50s smash hit, “Special Angel,” which features an amazing vocal turn from Antry as he pays respects to the musical idols he grew up listening to.

Steve Antry’s vocals are a gift that most vocalists would love to have (a three-octave range) and he does a fantastic job with these inspirational songs of faith. For believers and non-believers, the music of Devil Don’t Care will be manna from Heaven.

--- Graham Clarke

Halley DeVesternThe Halley DeVestern Band has been quiet in the studio since late 2013, when their release Fabbo! Smasho! Boffo! blasted its way through the blues world. Big-voiced DeVestern has been compared to Joplin, and she did tour with Big Brother & the Holding Company once upon a time, but she’s no mere carbon copy for sure. She can do slow burn and roof-raising with equal flair, and she covers a lot of ground on their recent EP release, Keep On Playin’ (DeVestunes & Li’l T), which features five original songs penned by the band.

The title track is a smoldering and defiant rocker, with a fiery vocal from DeVestern and excellent support from the band. “Time For You To Light Things” is loose-limbed and funky R&B, while the sultry ballad “Bangin’” shows DeVestern’s softer side. The sizzling “Song In You” merges funk, rock, and blues to great effect, and the closer of this way-too-short set is another fine blues rocker, “Hit Twice,” which finds DeVestern’s bluesy vocal backed by slide guitar.

While DeVestern is definitely the main attraction of Keep On Playin’, the band backing her (Tom Heinig – bass, David Patterson –guitar, Rich Kulsar – drums, Steve Jabas – guitars/keyboards) deserves accolades as well. There’s a lot of variety and genre-crossing on these five songs and the band handles it as smoothly as the singer does. Based on the results of this EP, blues fans are way overdue for a complete album from The Halley DeVestern Band. Hopefully, their wish will be granted soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Karen LovelyMy fellow Blues Bytes contributor Kyle Deibler really gave <Hurricane Ruth Karen Lovely’s latest release, Fish Outta Water, the five-star treatment in our July issue, so there’s very little that I can add to his review. Born in Massachusetts but based out of the Pacific Northwest, Ms. Lovely finished second in the 2010 I.B.C. and garnered several BMA nominations for her second and third releases. Her latest release was produced by Eric Corne and features a dozen original tracks penned by either/or Corne, Lovely, and others.

What impresses me the most about Ms. Lovely on this disc was her ability to move so easily from blues to soul to roots and Americana. Listeners will get the sense that she lived these songs. She conveys the desperation of being homeless on the title track, perseverance on “Under the Midnight Sun,” haunted restlessness on the chilling “Big Black Cadillac,” and world-weariness on the stark ballad “Hades’ Bride (There Was A Time).”

All of the songwriting is first rate. “Molotov Cocktails” is a scathing commentary on the state of world affairs, while songs like the sparkling shuffle “Next Time” reflect optimism in the next relationship down the road, and “Nice and Easy” is a heartbreaker about a lover pleading to be let down easy by her mate who is cheating with another. “Punk Rock Johnny Cash” has a retro, rootsy feel and is dedicated to a subway musician that crossed Lovely’s path.

Corne’s production makes a great album even greater, blending in a number of artists and a varied array of instruments that really make each cut stand out. Rick Holmstrom adds his distinctive guitar work on several tracks, along with Doug Pettibone, and guests Ben Rice (guitar and Dobro), Eamon Ryland (slide guitar), and Al Bonhomme (guitar and mandolin).

It’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll see Fish Outta Water collecting more nominations for Karen Lovely, mainly because it’s her best work to date and it would be a shame if it didn’t. I really admire how she expanded her musical boundaries on this disc, both as a singer and a songwriter.

--- Graham Clarke

My first introduction to Billy Price was at the 2016 BMA’s where he participated as part of the opening “soul singer” review to kick off the festivities at the Memphis Convention Center. Billy and Otis Clay walked away with the Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Album, and it was a bittersweet moment for Billy with Otis’s passing. So when his new disc on Vizztone, Alive & Strange, showed up at my doorstep, I was happy to have some new music from Billy. Recorded live at Club Café in Pittsburgh, it’s a raucous good time.

Billy and the band open with an original tune, “It’ Ain’t a Juke Joint Without the Blues,” and I’m sure that any good Blues fan in the country knows this to be true. “You’ve got a 40 oz on the table…you got a sassy woman named Mabel…you got a barbecue platter coming up…it ain’t a juke joint without the blues.” Truer words have never been spoken, and I’m pleased to see Billy segue to a tune by William Bell, “Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.” Down on his luck, Billy is lamenting the loss of a woman he loved. “Cause since you’ve been gone…I’ve lived the lifestyle of the poor and unknown…things that we used to do now…I do don’t do anymore…they just don’t seem the same…like they did before.” We’ve all been through break-ups and our routines definitely change when a loved one moves on, and Billy’s no different from the rest of us.

Next up is a funky tune, “Something Strange,” and the guest horns are lending their flavor to the mix. Billy’s talking about a club, real or imagined, called “Something Strange.” “You can’t find it with your GPS…I found an invitation inside my baby’s dress…how it got there…neither of us know…we had an overwhelming urge to go…and it was…something strange.” Sounds like a good time to me and there’s definitely a party happening there. The band strikes up a more somber tone as Billy tackles “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” a tune by Bobby “Blue” Bland. “The many times I’ve left you…but I couldn’t stay away too long…thank God for the strength…he gave to me…to leave home…and stay strong…so when I leave this time…make sure it’s understood…this time, I’m gone for good.” Billy’s band is amazing, with Steve Delach on guitar, David Ray Dodd on drums, Tom Valentine on bass, Jim Britton on keys and Eric DaFade on tenor sax. Tom and Jim add a lot of the background vocals and Eric’s work on this tune is simply sublime.

They move on to “One More Day,” a tune by Mike Schermer and Earl Thomas, and Billy pleads for his woman to hear him out. “Now, these planes and trains and these miles I’ve traveled…to make this living baby, you know I got to go…but we can’t let this make our love unravel…we’ve got a good thing going on…please don’t think I could ever do you wrong…we’ve got to hold on…for one more day.” The road is hard enough without the strain it puts on relationships and Billy appreciates the love of the good woman he has at home. “Nothing Stays the Same Forever,” a Percy Mayfield tune, is the next tune Billy and the band tackle head on. “Because dreams…from little seeds grow…and so does everything alive…because…nothing stays the same forever.” If you’re not growing, you’re not living and Billy’s right, here, nothing stays the same forever.

The attendees at Club Café are having a good time and they appreciate Billy tackling a James Brown tune next, “Never Get Enough.” “She’s got a thing of her own…and I don’t mind staying at home…I never get enough…of that fine, foxy thing…I keep wanting it…all the time…I can’t get enough.” The horns are killer, Billy’s having a good time, and they’re tearing it up on this tune. Next we find Billy wondering, “What Have I Done Wrong,” and his woman is leaving a bewildered Billy behind. “Oh, baby…I feel so bad…you found someone else…you know you’re going to make me mad…I cried…well, I haven’t been myself, baby…since you went away.” She appears to be gone for good and Billy’s just going to have to move on. Steve’s tearing it up on his guitar solo, Matt Ferrero’s right behind him with a stellar sax solo and I’m appreciating the band having such a good time.

Another funky, upbeat tune, “Lickin’ Stick,” is next and Billy’s admiring his woman dancing in the kitchen. “She’s got the radio sky high…this girl’s just a little too fine…mama, come quick…and bring your lickin’ stick.” The rest I’m going to have to leave to your imagination. Jim Britton’s keyboards provide the intro as Billy and the band tackle a Little Milton tune, “R.M. Blues,” next. Joe Herndon’s trumpet solo accentuates Billy’s need to tell his woman the truth, “Baby, I’m in love with you…but I’ve got to let you go…you know the good book says…you’ve got to reap just what you sow.” Billy takes advantage of this tune to let the band show off a little and they do a stellar job with all of the various solos performed here.

Billy closes with a funky original, “Makin’ Plans,” and Steve’s guitar leads the way. “You gave no indication…how would I have known…that you would be so calculating, baby…that you could be so cold…I gave you my heart, baby…placed it in your hands…and when we were making love, you were making plans.” This obviously doesn’t end well and you can hear Billy’s betrayal in his voice as he deals with the aftermath of the pain this woman caused him. She was preparing to leave him from the day their relationship started, and Billy, you’re better off without her!

I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to hear a full set with Billy and his stellar band. It’s obvious they tore up Club Café the night they recorded this disc, and I hope for the club’s sake that it’s still standing. Billy’s based in the East Coast and folks there have to appreciate what an amazing artist they have in their midst. You can find Billy’s schedule and grab a copy of this disc on his website at billyprice.com. Fans of great soul music should run, not walk, right over there and grab a copy of Alive & Strange now. It’s that good.

--- Kyle Deibler

Casey HensleyCasey Hensley is a name I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about lately, and I know she’s coming off a killer performance at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas. She’s blessed to have folks like Laura Chavez and Evan Caleb Yearsley in her corner, and they contributed heavily to her first release, Live, recorded at Thunderbird Analog Studios, the home of the Paladins. I’m glad to see Casey included some original tunes for this disc to complement the well-chosen covers that showcase her talent and appreciation of the Blues.

Laura Chavez’s guitar provides the intro to a Big Mama Thornton tune, “Big Mama’s Coming Home,” and Casey’s leaving no doubt who’s in charge here. “Tell you one thing, baby, not going to take no more…yes, you cheated on me…one of us got’s to go…I’m coming home.” Casey’s got a strong voice and Jonny Viau’s sax compliments the back end that Evan and bassist, Marco C., are laying down. As for Laura’s fretwork, there’s none better and I’m glad she’s a part of this project. “Put Your Lovin’ Where It Belongs” is one of Casey’s originals and it’s full of longing for her man who’s neglecting her and her needs as a woman. “You do me wrong…you did me wrong last week…you do me wrong me next month…oh, baby…please come home…put you love for me…where it belong.” There are times that Casey’s vocals overwhelm the enunciation of this tune’s lyrics and I wish she’d back it down just a hair.

Another cover, “You Can Have My Husband,” and Casey’s clear on her opinions here. “You can have my husband…but please don’t mess with man…I’m telling all you women…I want you all to understand.” Laura’s fretwork is amazing and it speaks volumes of emotion to go with Casey’s vocals. A heavy bass line from Marcus C. to go with Evan’s drum work sets the tone for a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tune, “Spell on You,” and Casey is the enchantress here. “I put a spell on you…because you’re mine…you’d better stop the stuff you do baby…you’re fooling around…I ain’t going to take it, baby…I put a spell on you…because you’re mine.” Jonny’s sax is killer here and the band is definitely having a good time behind Casey. I’m not surprised that Casey also chose to cover “Hard Headed Woman” on this disc, and that’s all I will say about that. “A hard headed woman…is a thorn in the side of a man.”

Things slow down a bit as Casey offers up another original, “Don’t Want It to Stop,” a beautiful ballad. “When you kiss me deep…I can feel it…all over my body…when you touch me deep…I don’t want it to stop…come closer to me baby…let me give you all my love.” I like this original tune by Casey and I’m glad it’s included on this disc. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want Make Love to You” is next, and Casey’s intensity is readily apparent here. “I don’t want you to wash your clothes…I just want to keep you indoors…there ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do…to keep on making…love to you.” Jonny Viau’s blowing another strong sax solo in the background and Casey’s surrounded by a very talented group of musicians for this project.

The last of her originals, “Hot! Hot! Hot!,” is next and Laura’s guitar leads the way on this up-tempo swing. “She’s hot…hot…hot…look at that girl…she’s hot.” Evan and Marcus are keeping the back end rolling along strong and that’s a good thing to go with Laura’s fretwork. Another of Casey’s heroes is Koko Taylor, and she tackles “Voodoo Woman” next. “They call me the voodoo woman…and I know the reason why…cause, Lord…if I raise my name…the sky is going to cry.” We segue to “Too Tired,” a Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune, and Casey more than does it justice. “Well, time to walk…time to run…I’m hear my baby calling…I’m tired…too tired for anything.”

Last, but not least, is another Big Mama Thornton tune, “Ball and Chain.” and I’m impressed by Casey’s song choices for her first release. Laura leads the way and Casey’s set to go out in fine fashion. “Sitting by my window…just looking out…at the rain…I was sitting by my window…just looking out the rain…so he came up and he grabbed a hold of me…and it felt…like a ball chain.”

Live is a good release from Casey Hensley, and she’s only going to get better from here as she continues to make a name for herself in the Blues. It’s a testament to her abilities that Vizztone Records signed her to their label for her next release and I expect big things from her in the future. Casey’s got a powerful voice, a great band, and a passion for the genre I haven’t heard in awhile. You can find out more about this Southern California artist on her website, www.caseyhensleymusic.com. Catch a show when you can. The sky’s the limit and I look forward to hearing more from Casey in the future.

--- Kyle Deibler

Mr. SippCastro Coleman’s on a roll. Two years ago he won the Blues Music Award for Best New Artist, he’s putting the finishing touches on his own club, Mr. Sipp’s, and he’s back with his second effort for Malaco Records, Knock a Hole In It. Though his roots are steeped in gospel, it wasn’t until he switched to Blues did Mr. Sipp make his mark on the world.

Castro starts with the title track, “Knock a Hole In It,” and he’s proceeding to do just that. An accomplished guitarist, Mr. Sipp’s been at his craft for well over 30 years and playing to crowds wherever he goes. “I am playing the Blues…playing with all my heart…can you feel it…I’m traveling all over the world…playing my music….the music has not limits so I have no choice…but to knock a hole in it.” More of Castro’s fretwork lays the groundwork for our next cut, “Bad Feeling,” and I’m hearing Carrol McLaughlin on the organ as well. Castro’s got the feeling that something’s up with his woman and it turns out he’s right. “Well, she don’t treat me like she used to…she’s always in a nasty mood…when her cell rings…she smiles…cause it must be that other dude.” Sounds like it’s time to let her go to me. Castro’s frenetic fretwork echoes the pain he feels and we all can feel his misery.

“Stalking Me” is a tune with a different twist, involving the technology available to everyone today. “I met this girl…at one of my shows…and I thought she was nice…turns out…something was wrong with her…that girl wasn’t right.” She got Castro’s Facebook page information and her stalking of him began. Between Facebook messages and texting, the girl just wouldn’t go away. Castro even told her he was married and the harassment continued. “Why are you stalking me?” We’re not sure what he did to get rid of her but she has to go. “Sea of Love” features an intricate guitar solo to start with and here we find Mr. Sipp madly in love. “I’ve never felt this feeling before…and I will cherish this moment…for evermore…oh, it’s amazing how one can feel…so much love in one place…it feels like I’m drowning…in a sea of love.” There isn’t a better feeling in all the world and Castro is lucky to have found the love of his life.

We move on to “Gotta Let Her Go” and it’s a tale of a different set of circumstances. “Let me tell you about this woman…that I love so much…my friends keep telling me…she ain’t worth a…oh, I love that woman…but I got to let her go…she keep telling all her friends, that…she don’t love me anymore.” She shows one side to Castro, another to her friends, she’s got to go. “Going Down” finds the story continuing as Castro continues to reflect on the pain the woman in his life is causing him. “I treated her like a Queen…every day of her life…she’s the kind of woman…every man wanted for his wife…at least I thought so…she got me going down…down…down.” She moved on and lived to regret her choices when she found her new man didn’t treat her as well as Castro did.

“Baby You're Mine” is another beautiful ballad from Mr. Sipp, and he’s showing the woman he loves just how much she means to him. “Sitting here...just thinking about the things we used to do…no one on earth can compare to you…time and space…has carried me away…Baby, you're mine.” Time and distance can weaken the bond he feels for her but it will never go away. At this point I’m glad Mr. Sipp moved on to the next track, “Juke Joint,” and the mood here has definitely changed. “Everybody…I want you to follow me down to Mississippi…where you can find…the Juke Joint.” It’s a reference to Mr. Sipp’s and I’m going to have to visit it at some point when it opens. As we all know, everything happens at the “juke joint.”

Next up is “Strings Attached,” and here we find Castro having a sit down with the woman he loves to address the relationship he feels is crumbling apart. “If you’re going to love me…there’s going to be strings attached…and the love that I give to you…I hope that one day, Baby…you give it back.” It takes two to tangle and she’s not meeting Castro in the middle anymore. I’m not sure the relationship is going to make it, but kudos to Mr. Sipp for recognizing the problem and trying to make it work. Mr. Sipp’s ready to party and he proceeds to do so in the next cut, “Turn Up.” “There’s a party going on tonight…everything is feeling right…don’t you worry about all of the things…that you’re going to through…just tell the DJ…to play your favorite song…and turn up…turn it loose.” The mood changes back to love as Castro share his pain with us in “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” “Can you please tell me…what happened to the love…that you and I…we used to share…now, it seems like every day…you’re pulling farther and farther away from me…I want to know…know…know..If the love I have for you…lives in your heart anymore?” I’m not sure Castro’s going to like the answer he gets, but his love for his woman is strong and I can appreciate his desperation at potentially losing a love that is his entire world.

I’m happy to hear Mr. Sipp switch trains of thought and sing a song for the ladies, “Love Yourself.” “If your man is trying to bring you down to a level…always tearing you down…to make himself feel better…you’ve got to stop…and love yourself.” Sound advice and Castro’s spot on here, there are so many men in the world who don’t know how to treat a good woman right and ultimately, it’s up to the woman to love herself enough to demand the kind of love and respect she deserves.

Castro and the band close out the record with “Little Wing.” “Well, she walks through the crowd…like a circus clown…running wild…now, when I’m sad…oh, she comes to me…with a thousand smiles…take anything…anything you want from me.” It’s a beautiful rendition of a Jimi Hendrix original, and Castro more than does it justice.

It would seem that the vision Castro Coleman has for his music goes hand in hand with all of the legends that have preceded him at Malaco. He’s definitely in his element, tapping into that Southern soul side of his personality, but make no mistake about it, he can crank out a mean blues riff in a heartbeat if he feels like it. Knock a Hole in It is his second release for Malaco and it continues to show the evolution of this proud Bluesman from Mississippi. You can learn all about him at his website, www.mrsipptmbc.net, and appreciate his journey first hand. And if you get to Mr. Sipp’s place before I do, have a drink for me.

--- Kyle Deibler

Brother Sun Sister MoonBrother Sun Sister Moon is comprised of guitarist Dave Lambert and drummer Donna Dahl. They are the closest thing to a Mississippi Juke Joint Duo that you will find in the woods of Minnesota, and they do Hill Country Blues just fine, thank you. Their latest record is called Liberty, let’s give it a spin and turn the volume up.

Dave Lambert’s guitar provides the intro for “Bentonia Blues” and Donna’s on the mic for vocals as she tells us she’s heading south. “Well, I’m going down south…to Mississippi…my new home…going to stick my feet…in that Muddy waters bank…I’ll play those hometown blues…ain’t going to leave nothing in the tank.” Full out is the only way Dave and Donna know, and I’d expect nothing less from them. “Aint Got No Money” is our next track and it’s a common complaint amongst all of us. “Ain’t got no money…ain’t got no game…no sense in asking if you could be my man…I can’t pay for a thing.” Dave hits a beautiful slide solo in this tune and Donna’s clear that you need to love her for who she is, cause, she ain’t got no money.

Big George Brock joins the party with his harp and the vocal for “St. Paul Woman,” the next cut on this disc. “Well…this north side woman…she acting like a clown…every time I turn my head…the little girl is fooling around.” George’s solution is to cross the river and find himself a “St. Paul Woman” instead. He blows a mean harp here and it’s a cool addition to the mix. Up next is “Old Negro Spiritual,” and it’s based on a poem written by Pulitzer Nominee Maurice Manning. Maurice granted permission to Dave and Donna to set the story to music, as it centers around a character named Catfish. It’s an interesting addition to the mix but somehow it fits just fine.

We segue to “Slavery Blues” and Dave sets the tone here with his guitar. “Go out…and wonder why the black man…he sang the blues…say this country’s free…and people…I look around…I don’t see no freedom here me.” Stark and honest in its truth, this tune definitely harkens us back to that time in our country where music was one of the few outlets blacks had to call their own. We turn to religion as Dave tells us he going to join the church in “Preachin’ Blues”. “I wish I had…a heaven of my own…get all my friends…along in happy homes…going to get religion…I’m going to join that Baptist church…going to be a Baptist preacher so I won’t have to work.”

“Can’t Push the River” finds Dave imparting words of wisdom to us all. “There are some things…well, you just can’t control…you can’t push the river…you gotta know when to let go…you can’t push the river…you can’t push the stream.” Donna’s got a strong backbeat going for our next tune, “Darkness Coming On,” handling the lead vocal as well. “I’ve been crying…I’ve been waiting here for you…I’m so desperate at home…feels like darkness coming on.” Here she’s questioning who she is as a woman and the feelings of emptiness she has inside her soul, hence the darkness coming on. We finally hear a note of optimism as Brother Sun Sister Moon move on to “Everlasting Love.” “I have loved you…with everlasting love…I have you…with everlasting love.” I appreciate a break from the somber tone of the disc so far and appreciate the joy in Donna’s voice as she sings of the lover for her man.

The title track, “Liberty,” is next and Dave sings about a broken woman he knows of. “She’s full of broken dreams…and broken ideas…her broken family…struggle to get by…they don’t know they’re broken…by the tears in their eyes…she’s purified in Liberty.” Leaving it all behind seems to be the only way she’ll truly ever be free and enjoy the purification of Liberty. A more somber tone and mood lead us to “Soldier’s Prayer,” a tribute to all who have served. “Lord, I know that I have been wrong…I am weak…you are strong…please forgive what I have done…give me strength to carry on…Lord, I bring my prayer to you…hoping you’ll know what to do.” Beautiful, probably my favorite cut on the disc.

Our mood lightens as the intro to “Changing Times” leads us to our next cut. “It’s time to do thinks different…time to let the younger’s rule…will they do any better…than me and you? Dave asks the question here and it’s definitely one to ponder. Will the generation that follows be of more service to the world and make it a better place to live than our generation did? Only time will tell.

“Wishing You Were Here” is one of the two final tracks on the disc, and here we have Donna singing lead. “I wish you here…the north shore is nice this time of year…the waters are calling your name…the wild searching heart you got…but your love has got me so shaken…I don’t know at all what to do.” Love is in the air and hopefully Donna will figure it out soon. We close with “Too Much Worry” and Dave’s picking a bass line to kick it off. “I can’t sleep…can’t sleep at night for worrying…you got me walking the floor…wondering where my soul’s going.” The world’s changing and Dave is definitely wondering where he fits in with all the madness that exists these day.

Liberty is an interesting record from Brother Sun Sister Moon. Adam Crowley adds a taste of keyboards to the mix but essentially this is a duo record that accurately captures the eclectic tastes of these two artists from Minnesota. I’ve enjoyed the listen and you will to as this is not a typical record by any means. You can learn more about Dave and Donna from their website at brothersunsistermoon.net. While you’re there, grab a copy of Liberty. It will set you free.

--- Kyle Deibler

Hurricane RuthHurricane Ruth assembled a dream team when it came to recording her latest record, Ain’t Ready For the Grave. Tom Hambridge’s producing and playing drums, Reese Wynans is on keys Michael Rhodes on bass, Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley on guitars. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Let’s throw the CD into my player and see what magic Tom managed to coax out of Ruth and the band.

“Well, it’s Friday night…let the good times roll.” sings Ruth as we kick off with “Barrelhouse Joe’s,” a song about a juke joint that Ruth seems to frequent quite often. “He’s got Jack on ice…and 50 cent schooners of beer…he got red hot Blues…the Rhythm Kings are here…forget about your worries…forget about your cares.” Barrelhouse Joe’s sounds like my kind of place and it ain’t nothing but a good time for sure. Reese is tinkling the ivories and everybody’s having fun. Tom’s got a heavy backbeat going with Michael and Reese joining in as the band plays the lead to “Hard Rockin’ Woman.” “I’m a hard rocking woman…a hard rocking woman…I’m a hard rocking woman…I want the whole world to know…a rebel child…without a cause…I never did give a damn…cause I’m a hard rocking woman.” That pretty much covers Hurricane Ruth and she’s definitely a spitfire, indeed.

A smooth slide guitar provides the intro to “Far From the Cradle,” and I’m appreciative of the change in tone. “One day, the Reaper…he’ll be coming round the corner…but before he gets here…let’s have ourselves a ball…you know we’re far from the cradle…but we ain’t ready for the grave.” Ruth is working hard to coax her man into a few more good times before their time is done and over with. I have no doubt she was successful in her mission. “Estiline” picks the tempo back up and Ruth’s not shy about admonishing a woman playing with a married man. “Estiline…Estiline…leave that married man alone…you’re going to wind up by yourself…with no man to call your own.” The lesson doesn’t get any clearer than that, and hopefully Estiline will heed Ruth’s words of wisdom.

Tom is banging on the pots and pans as Ruth sings about being a “Beekeeper.” “I’m a beekeeper…come and be my honey bee…well, now bring it on home to the honeycomb…bring it own home to me.” Ruth’s clear who the Queen of the hive is and we all should be as well. “I’m your honey dripping mama…you know what I mean.” The band slows the tempo down and I hear Reese on the organ in the background as Hurricane Ruth sings the beautiful ballad, “My Heart Aches For You”. “Just me and my old friend, Jack Daniels…he’s always there to handle…my shattered world…as it crashes to the ground…baby, I wish you could see…what your leaving has done to me…my heart aches for you.” Ruth’s pain is real and her man meant the world to her. Her good friend Jack will help but this pain is going to stay with Ruth for a long time to come.

A funky groove provides the intro to “Cheating Blues,” on which Ruth tells us about another man who treated her badly. “Used to hold your hand…used to kiss you right…used to take you home…and rock you all night…I can’t believe…that was real love I wasted on you…you blinded me with lies…with your low down, cheating blues.” You might fool Ruth once but definitely not twice, and this no good man is gone for good. I love the hard rocking intro to “Whole Lotta Rosie,” a tune Ruth wrote about a big woman she knows. “I never saw one…a woman like you…doing all the things you do…you’re a whole lotta woman…a whole lotta Rosie…and you’re a whole lotta woman.” She may be big but there was magic in Rosie’s hips and she knew how to work it right.

A wicked slide guitar intro along with Tom’s drums and we’re transported back into the Hill Country somewhere as Ruth brings us “For A Change.” “Now, if you want me baby…that can be arranged…how you’d like to be treated right…for a change.” Ruth comes across a man whose woman mistreats him badly, and Ruth’s clear that she will take better care of him than he’s ever known. “For a change of heart…won’t you let me in…I’m the one…I’m the one…you’ll never spend a lonely night again.” This theme of Ruth taking better care of a man than the woman he has continues with “Let Me Be the One.” “We could be so good together, yea,…we could damn sure have some fun…you won’t find no body better…oh, no…well, come on baby…let me be the one.” One thing you have to love about Ruth is that she’s definitely direct and to the point. There aren’t any games played when she’s around.

Reese is back at the organ and the McCrary Sisters join the band for the final two tracks. “Good Stuff” is up first, and again Ruth is making the case for her good loving. “I’ve got the good stuff for you in the morning….I’ve got that good stuff in the night…I’m like a smooth shot of whiskey…going to make you feel alright.” I have absolutely zero doubt that Ruth will more than make good on everything she’s promising here. Considering a good portion of the record has more to do with sinning than salvation, I find it fun that Ruth chooses to close her record out with the gospel tune “Yes I Know.” “But, wherever I may walk…I never…never…go alone…because I have my savior…by my side…and if I know…if my Lord will comfort me…yes, I know…my Lord will give me peace.”

I think it’s fairly easy to say that Hurricane Ruth is definitely nowhere close to being ready to leave this earth. Ain’t Ready for the Grave is ample proof of that. A wonderful collection of original tunes that producer Tom Hambridge does a masterful job of blending into the final product. An A-List of musicians to work withm and its obvious Ruth had a great time in the studio. You can find out more about this artist on her website at www.hurricaneruth.com, and be sure to grab a copy of her new record while you’re there. It will stay in your CD player for most of the year. When you get it, turn it up!

--- Kyle Deibler

 

 

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