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September 2020

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Order these featured albums today:

Jimmy Johnson

Kern Pratt

Popa Chubby

Katy Hobgood Ray

Betty Fox Band

Waylon Thibodeaux

Warren Storm

11 Guys Quartet

Rae Gordon Band

Jay Gordon's Blues Venom

Will Wesley and Kern Pratt single

Larkin Poe

Kirsten Thien

Crooked Eye Tommy

Andy Watts

Sean Ardoin



Jimmy JohnsonSince I started listening to the blues, Jimmy Johnson has been one of my favorite artists. Ever since I heard his two Delmark albums (Johnson’s Whacks and North/South) and his Alligator release (Bar Room Preacher, a reissued version of his French release Heap See), I’ve been a fan of his distinctive guitar and vocals and his fearlessness at incorporating other genres into his already-unique brand of blues. The fact that he’s still active and vital at the age of 91 is a real treat for blues fans, and it’s been great to see him performing on Facebook on a regular basis (he even took a minute to wish my wife a happy birthday a few weeks ago).

Johnson released Every Day Of Your Life (Delmark Records) just a couple of weeks after his 91st birthday, but truthfully, listening to the album wouldn’t give you a clue as to his age. The nine tracks include five originals from Johnson, along with four choice cover tunes, and he’s backed by two top notch bands, with Rico McFarland (guitar), Roosevelt Purifoy (piano/organ), J.R. Fuller (bass), Pooky Styx (drums) on four tracks, and Brother John Kattke (keys/guitar), Curt Bley (bass), Ernie Adams (drums) on four tracks.

The familiar sounds of Johnson’s guitar work will bring a smile to the faces of his fans as they introduce the title track, which opens the disc. This original has a sage message --- to live every day as if it’s your last --- and Johnson’s high tenor is as welcome as his guitar work. Purifoy gets an extended solo on B3 and Johnson’s vocal is complemented by Typhanie Monique’s gospel-inflected backing vocals.

Johnson also smoothly covers B.B. King’s “I Need You So Bad,” his guitar work taking a bit of a cue from King’s own style, but still retaining that characteristic Johnson feel.

Johnson originally recorded the bittersweet “My Ring” on his mid-’90s album I’m A Jockey. This version adopts a funky reggae rhythm that proves the guitarist is still not afraid to take risks with his music. The menacing “Rattlesnake” is a great new original, with Johnson serving notice to a rival for his woman’s affections and serving up a tasty guitar solo in the process. Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” is done about as well as possible, Johnson’s vocal effectively conveying the pain and suffering present in the lyrics.

The upbeat, swinging “Down In The Valley” is another classy Johnson original that makes the best of a tough situation, and Percy Mayfield’s “Strange Things Happening” gets a terrific slow blues treatment with ample opportunity for Johnson and Purifoy to strut their instrumental stuff. The instrumental “Better When It’s Wet” is Johnson on the jazzy side with stellar support from Kattke on B3.

The album closes with a solo track as Johnson sings the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic, “Lead Me On,” accompanying himself on piano. It’s an amazing performance, highlighting Johnson’s soulful vocals and his underrated skills on keyboard and wrapping the disc up perfectly.

Jimmy Johnson sounds like a man who’s not ready to ride off into the sunset. Based on what’s heard on Every Day Of Your Life, it sounds like the 91-year-old has a lot more to offer blues fans, and that is a gift we should all savor.

--- Graham Clarke

Kern PrattI regret that I didn’t get an opportunity to listen to Greenville, MS…What About You? (Endless Blues Records) from Kern Pratt until after the end of last year, because I surely would have found a place for it on my Top Ten list. I really enjoyed his 2015 release, Broken Chains, a lot and this one is even better.

Pratt (vocals/guitar) offers ten excellent tracks, three of them originals, and surrounds himself with a host of talented musicians who provide superlative backing throughout, among them Bob Dowell, who produced the album and played bass, keyboards, trombone and guitar, guitarists Jeff Jensen and Chris Gill, and Gregg Allman’s horn section (Marc Franklin and Kris Jensen).

The opening track is a simmering pot of southern funk, “Loving That Feeling,” where Pratt has a great time recalling a good time from the past, backed by Gill’s slide guitar. The soulful “Hard Working Man” features keyboards from Nelson Blanchard (of Louisiana’s LeRoux) and Muscle Shoals legend Clayton Ivey.

Mick Kolassa contributed the poignant slow blues, “Baby’s Got Another Lover,” about dealing with a lover’s drug addiction. Pratt’s work on vocals and guitar is heartfelt and pitch perfect on this track. The mid-tempo soul-blues “Torn Between Love And Hate” features Pratt’s clean and crisp guitar work.

Another splendid slow burner, “Something’s Gone Wrong,” was crafted after an argument between Pratt and his lady. This argument paid off with a good song, and Pratt adds some cool B.B. King-inspired guitar to go with his frustrated vocal. Singer Denise Owen joins Pratt on Larry Van Loon’s “Rita,” a sober ballad that addresses addiction. The upbeat “Way She Wears Her Clothes” picks up the mood considerably, Owen takes the mic for the second-line-funky “NOLA,” while “Whatcha Gonna Do” gives Pratt ample space to shine on guitar.

The album closes with a down-and-dirty take on Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads,” a song that never gets old to these ears. Pratt is joined by Jeff Jensen on guitar for this wonderful cover.

Pratt grew up in Greenville, right in the middle of the Mississippi blues scene. He met many of the area’s blues legends as they shopped in his dad’s hardware store and became immersed in their music at a very young age. It’s obvious from listening to Greenville, MS…What About You? that he learned his lessons well. Don’t let this one slip by you.

--- Graham Clarke

Popa Chubbyt’s hard to believe, but it’s been over 30 years since Popa Chubby (a.k.a. Ted Horowitz) has been crafting his trademark brand of blues, funk, and rock. It’s A Mighty Hard Road (Popa Chubby Productions) celebrates those 30 years with an outstanding new set of 13 originals and two cool covers. As usual, Chubby provides all the original songs and vocals as well as the lion’s share of the instrumentation (guitars, bass, keys, drums, harmonica) with assistance on all tracks from keyboardist Dave Keyes, plus contributions from Steve Holley and Don Castagno (drums), and Brett Bass and V.D. King (bass).

The tasty (literally) shuffle, “The Flavor In The Fat,” kicks off this entertaining disc and doubtlessly serves as a mission statement of sorts for Chubby’s life and his musical approach. The title track is next, a certain crowd-pleasing blues rocker, followed by “Buyer Beware,” an R&B-flavored blues. On the roadhouse rocker “It Ain’t Nothin’,” Chubby breaks out the slide to great effect before smoothly transitioning to the soulful ballad. “Let Love Free The Day,” and then blasts the doors off on the fiery rocker “If You’re Looking For Trouble.”

“The Best Is Yet To Come” is another mellow ballad, with Chubby’s vocals, speaking encouragement working well in this format. “I’m The Beast From The East” is a storming blues/rock number loaded with swagger, the mellow instrumental “Gordito” has a distinctive Latin influence and shows Chubby’s versatility on guitar, and “Enough Is Enough” deftly mixes funk, blues, and rock. “More Time Making Love” is a tough straight-forward rock ‘n roller, “Why You Wanna Bite My Bones” is a two-fisted churning boogie, and “Lost Again” is a smoky after-hours blues/jazz ballad.

The album concludes with the two covers. Leon Russell’s “I’d Rather Be Blind” features a passionate vocal turn from Chubby with guitar work that would make Freddie King smile, and the raucous closer, Prince’s “Kiss,” is just first-rate, transformed from slippery funk to gritty blues. Based on Chubby’s no-holds-barred performance vocally and instrumentally, this song is a favorite of his.

If you’re a fan of Popa Chubby’s, you already have It’s A Mighty Hard Road. But if you’re a newcomer to his exciting mix of blues, rock, funk, and soul, this is a great place to get started. Can’t wait for the next 30 years!

--- Graham Clarke

Katy Hobgood RayKaty Hobgood Ray is probably best known for her work in children’s music in New Orleans, but I first heard her singing with Steve Howell on his Good As I’ve Been To You album a few years back. Currently residing in Memphis, she recently issued I Dream Of Water on Howell’s Out of the Past Music label, teaming with her husband and musical partner Dave Ray. The album features ten tracks of blues and folk music, nine originals from the couple, which deal with the horrors of Katrina and its aftermath.

The gentle opening track, “Lollie Bottoms,” has a light, lilting feel that belies the serious tone of the lyrics…an old levee that struggles to keep the river at bay. The gospel-flavored “Washed Away” laments those who were lost by the levees that didn’t hold, and “Oh Devil” is a funky shuffle with gritty slide guitar from Greg Spradlin. The title track has an atmospheric feel, almost like those Daniel Lanois-produced albums of the late ’80s, as Ms. Ray recounts her constant fear of living so near to the constant danger of flooding. “House Divided” features the Rays together on a tune that could be about a relationship or the current state of affairs in the country.

The somber “Dirty Water” reflects on the effects of Katrina on the city --- what’s changed and what hasn’t --- and the album’s cover, Leadbelly’s “Little Children’s Blues,” is a fine tribute to the legendary musician (the Rays are members of Friends of Leadbelly, a group of artists dedicated to promoting his musical legacy).

“Des Allemands” is a swampy reminiscence of traveling to a family reunion, with vivid imagery that will bring a smile to those raised in small towns. Dave Ray takes the mic for “That Really Matters,” a charming blues lesson that everyone should apply to their own lives.

The closer, “Kings, Queens, and Jesters,” finds Katy encouraging all to live for the moment and be positive through all the negativity that life brings. It’s a good lesson to take from a pair who have experienced both good and bad, as most of us have at one time or another. I Dream Of Water will resonate to anyone who’s bounced back from personal struggles of any kind.

--- Graham Clarke

Betty FoxPeace In Pieces fulfills a lifelong dream for Betty Fox. The Florida-based singer has always wanted to record at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, where many of her favorite singers also recorded. She’s joined by the legendary Spooner Oldham on the Wurlitzer, Clayton Ivey on organ and piano, and the Fame horn section (Brad Guin – sax, Ken Watters – trumpet), along with guitarist Josh Nelms, bassist Barry Williams, drummers Chris Peet and Jake Winebrenner, and backup vocalists Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey.

The opening track, “Green Light,” is gospel-flavored soul and Fox really blows the doors off, getting the disc off to a rousing start. “Winter’s Cold," “Marie,” and “Sweet Memories” all dig deep into that southern soul vein, the Fame horns add to the feel, sounding like they could have easily been released some 50 years ago.

The lively title track picks up the pace a bit, mixing a little funk in with the soul and also features a crisp guitar solo from Nelms. Meanwhile, the interesting “Let Go Or Be Dragged” really puts Fox’s vocal range on display in a stirring performance.

“Runnin’ Back To You” is a splendid slow burning blues ballad, “Feels So Good” is a catchy upbeat slice of pop and soul, while the poignant “Sweet Goodnight” is an autobiographical track co-written by Fox with her stepmother for her father, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Fox’s emotional performance will induce goose bumps.

The laid-back “Magnificent Hallucination” is a haunting tune with a steamy vocal, and “Shattered Dreams & Broken Toes,” another track that sounds close enough to home to be autobiographical, has a sultry Latin feel.

“Rising Strong” is a heady mix of jump blues and jazz with a robust vocal from Fox, punchy horns, and a strong guitar break from Nelms. “Fireflies” is a bit of an outlier on the album, with its earthy, Americana feel. This tune, recorded in Largo, Florida, shows the soulful Fox to be equally comfortable in the Americana format. The album closes with a beautiful read of the gospel classic, “’Til The Storm Passes By.”

Peace In Pieces is a stunning shot of soul, blues, and gospel from the Betty Fox Band. Fox has an amazing voice and is a gifted songwriter backed by a most excellent band. If you’re a fan of soul the way it used to be played, put this one on your “must buy” list. You can thank me later.

--- Graham Clarke

Waylon ThibodeauxLouisiana’s Rockin’ Fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux decided to explore his blues side on his third release for Rabadash Records, Here We Go Again. Rabadash owner and album producer, John Autin, calls it “blues with a Cajun accent. Thibodeaux delivers ten songs, with five impressive originals and a far-ranging set of covers teaming the fiddler with a host of guest artists that includes Autin (who plays keyboards), guitarist Josh Garrett, harmonica ace Johnny Sansone, and bassist Benny Turner. The set list not only touches on the blues, but also cajun, rock, country, and swamp pop.

Thibodeaux’s originals include the catchy title track, which opens the disc, the funky “I’m Stuck With The Blues Again,” which features Turner on bass, and “Our Life’s Another Blues Song,” sounding like a long-lost swamp pop classic. “Don’t You Make Me Put My Fiddle Down” is a slow blues where the fiddler pulls out all the stops by using an effects pedal in creating a variety of sounds from birds to a person weeping and laughing to a train whistle, and the rocking “Smoke Signals” tells a story about cruising the bar with a twist.

The covers include a tasty read of the late David Egan’s “Fail Fail Fail,” the country rocker “When Love Comes Back,” an obscure gem from Thibodeaux’s friend Doc Heart, a spirited take of J.J. Cale’s “River Boat Song,” introduced by the fiddle emulating a steam whistle, Edgar Winter’s “Way Down South,” which is given a fresh coat of paint with a lively country feel, and a heartfelt version of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” that closes the album.

Thibodeaux’s fiddle playing is just marvelous and never ceases to entertain, and his vocals are warm and soulful, a fine fit for the diverse set of tunes featured here. Here We Go Again will satisfy any blues fan who also digs any of the various styles of music heard in the Gulf Coast region.

--- Graham Clarke

Warren StormWarren Storm began his professional music career at age 12, sitting in for his father who was the drummer for the Cajun band Rayne-Bo Ramblers. He eventually played with other combos and became one of the most in-demand session drummers in south Louisiana. He and his friend Bobby Charles would travel to New Orleans to listen to the local R&B groups and Storm soon began to incorporate R&B and rock n’ roll into his own group. In 1958 he recorded a single, “The Prisoner’s Song,” an old country & western tune (b/w “Mama, Mama, Mama”). Storm’s combination of R&B, country, Cajun, and Creole music paved the way for what would soon become swamp pop, earning him the tag, “The Godfather of Swamp Pop.”

Singer Yvette Landry met Storm and struck up a friendship, leading to her collaboration with him on his biography, Taking The World, By Storm. Sometime during the process, it was suggested that one of Storm’s old recordings be released to accompany the book. But since the legend is still here, very active and sounding as good at age 82 as he did in his salad days, it was decided to just record a new album. The album, also titled Taking The World, By Storm (APO Records), was recorded at Dockside Studios straight to two-track, live in the studio, just like he used to do them in his early days.

The setlist includes 11 tracks, mostly songs Storm has performed for years, songs like Earl King’s “Lonely Nights,” Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow, Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues,” “Raining In My Heart, Merle Haggard’s “My House of Memories,” and the swamp pop anthem, “Mathilda.” Also included are Storm’s first two songs “The Prisoner’s Song” and “Mama, Mama, Mama.”

The opening track, Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See The Light,” is new to his repertoire. However, John Fogerty and CCR’s sound were heavily influenced by swamp pop, so it seemed a wise choice, Storm does a fantastic job with it, even sharing the final verse of the song with Fogerty himself! Ms. Landry joins Storm on “Mama, Mama, Mama,’ and Marc Broussard accompanies him on “Mathilda.”

The core band on the session includes Eric Adcock (piano), Roddie Romero (guitar), Gary Usie (drums), Chris French (bass) and Derek Huston (sax). Also appearing are longtime Storm collaborator, Willie “Tee” Trahan (sax), as well as Richard Comeaux (pedal steel), Beau Thomas (fiddle), and Sonny Landreth (slide guitar).

Warren Storm has been making this kind of music for over 70 years. At 82, he sounds as great as he did in 1958. If you’re not familiar with the man or swamp pop, Taking The World, By Storm is a great place for new listeners to start, and it’s a welcome addition to the genre for longtime fans.

--- Graham Clarke

11 GuysIn the early 1980s drummer Chuck Purro, bassist Bill “Coach” Mather, guitarist Paul Lenart, and harmonica player (now VizzTone Label Group president) Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt got together as the 11th Hour Band, playing the blues in the clubs in and around Boston. They released an album, Hot Time In The City Tonight, on the Tone-Cool label in 1985 and played together off and on for the next few years, more as a side project to their other interests than anything else. In 2008, the group reconvened and decided to record an album of instrumentals, mostly live takes, nothing fancy, just the blues pure and unadorned.

The album sat on the shelf until late last year, when the group, now billed as the 11 Guys Quartet, decided to release the album on VizzTone (they knew a guy). Small Blues and Grooves is just that, a great set of 14 straight-ahead traditional blues instrumentals --- the very definition of a team effort with all artists sharing the spotlight. Each song is an original, composed by the team, though all touch on themes that will be familiar to most traditional blues fans and should make it a most enjoyable listening experience for them.

The opener is “Road Trippin’,” a lively shuffle, and the uptempo “Jackrabbit” picks up the pace from there. “Sweet Taste” slows things down a slight bit with a dash of funk mixed in, and “Doggin’ It” keeps the funk alive with some nice fretwork from Lenart adding to Rosenblatt’s sterling harp, which drives most of the tunes.

The laidback “Sleepless” is a relaxing front porch track that moves at a casual pace, but gives way to the hard-charging “East Cambridge Cannonball.” Meanwhile, “Speakeasy Serenade” is a leisurely, after-hours ballad, and “Four Maypops” is a loping shuffle, while the slow blues “Down And Dirty” percolates along nicely. The briskly-paced “Swing Low” does just that, and “Hey Daddyo” resurrects the irresistible Bo Diddley beat.

The easygoing “Midnight Streetcar” is followed by “Rhumba Boogaloo,” revisiting the classic blues rhumba motif. The closer is “Swamp Ride,” which ventures down to south Louisiana circa Excello Records days.

Small Blues and Grooves is fun to listen to from beginning to end. Most listeners will just be content to start it up and play it all the way through, just taking in the great atmosphere brought forth from the quartet. Truly a team effort, the 11 Guys Quartet will surely satisfy any fans of traditional blues in a big way.

--- Graham Clarke

Rae GordonThe Rae Gordon Band finished third at the 2017 I.B.C., with their previous album, Better Than I Was, receiving notice on the blues charts in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, winning a Muddy Award for Best Northwest Recording from the Cascade Blues Association. The band (Gordon – lead vocals, Allan Kalik – trumpet, Pat McDougall – keyboards/vocals, Kivett Bednar – guitar/vocals, Scott Franklin – saxophone, Ed Pierce – drums, Joseph Conrad – bass) also won the Best Contemporary Blues Act Muddy Award.

The band’s latest effort, Wrong Kind of Love, boasts ten songs, with nine tunes written by the band, which capture the band’s wide variety of blues, soul, funk, and rock. The upbeat, sassy “Comin’ Back For More” gets the disc off to a rousing start, with funky fretwork from Bednar and the horns blastting away behind Gordon’s fiesty vocal. “Don’t Look Now” is mid-tempo, with a bit of a New Orleans flair, thanks to the horns, while “How You Gonna” is a poignant soul track with a strong vocal from Gordon, The energetic “Might As Well Be You” cranks things back up to full speed.

Portland guitarist Rod Furlott penned the slow burner “Sea of Blue,” which gives both McDougall and Bednar an opportunity to stretch out on organ and guitar respectively. Gordon shines on the former and then especially on the title track, a horn-fueled blues rocker. The retro soul of “How Much I Love You” is a nice touch and Gordon’s vocal is a keeper, the moody “Got To Have You” has a smoky, after-hours feel, and “Last Call” is a pretty cool “kiss-off” song. The album closes with “Get Right With The World,” a funky R&B-styled rocker.

The Rae Gordon Band seems to have the total package --- great, smart songwriting, a gutsy and soulful lead vocalist in Gordon, and a first-rate, versatile band that easily handles a variety of styles. Wrong Kind of Love is a great fit for any blues fans who like a little bit of soul and funk in the mix.

--- Graham Clarke

Jay GordonJay Gordon and Blues Venom seldom disappoint with their high-energy brand of electric blues rock. Fans of the aforementioned style will find much to savor on the guitarist’s latest gem, Slide Rules! (Shuffle Music). Gordon’s fiery slide guitar is unleashed on 13 powerhouse tracks, including ten originals, and his attack is backed by his rock solid rhythm section (Sharon Butcher – bass/vocals, Tom Parham – drums).

The opening track is “Dripping Blues,” a slow burning, almost hypnotic track that slowly builds in intensity with Gordon’s searing slide front and center. “Pain” keeps the same pace and intensity , with the guitarist’s anguished vocals and incendiary fretwork clearly conveying the song’s title. “Lost In Time” is a blazing blues rocker, and “Lucky 13” is a storming blues boogie and one of the best tracks on the album. I could imagine this one blasting out of car and truck speakers when I was growing up. Meanwhile, “Dockery’s Plantation” is a tense account of the Robert Johnson legend.

Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues” is the album’s first cover, and Gordon gives it a sizzling rhumba treatment, and on the original “VooDoo Boogie,” the guitarist takes no prisoners, backed by Butcher’s driving bass and Parham’s propulsive drumming. The gritty blues rocker “El Diablos Blues” is top notch, and Gordon’s cover of Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” is unplugged and no less enthralling than the electric tunes. I’m sure a complete unplugged album from Gordon would be great, too.

“Pure Grain Alcohol” is a splendid slow blues with more of a traditional backing (nice uncredited piano backing adds to the traditional feel) and a couple bursts of spirited slide guitar. “Six String Outlaw” is another powerful blues rocker with more of an emphasis on the rock side this time around (with a near-rap vocal from Gordon to boot), and “Sweetheart Blues” is another slower blues with heaps of slide guitar thrown in. The album closer, “Train Train,” is a faithful remake of Blackfoot’s southern rock classic, punctuated by some tasty slide work.

Jay Gordon and Blues Venom prove that Slide Rules! indeed with this fantastic set of relentless slide guitar-driven modern blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Will Wesley and Kern PrattWill Wesley and Kern Pratt haven’t exactly been sitting on their hands during the recent pandemic. In fact, they have found inspiration from recent events. Baton Rouge native Wesley, who’s previously served as musical director for Larry Garner, Grady Champion, and T-Bone Singleton, teamed up with Pratt, who’s recent album, Greenville, MS…What About You? has made a lot of noise on the blues charts since the end of 2019. The pair produced the single “A New Kind Of Blues” (Endless Blues Records).

Wesley sings the first verse on this track, plays the first guitar solo, Pratt takes the second, and they join up for the third and final verse. It’s a strong track, mixing soul and blues with a touch of rock in the mix. The song was co-written by Wesley and Phillip Chandler, who plays bass, guitar, and organ on the track, which also features Seth Jones (drums), Adam Marchand (trumpet), James Evans (tenor sax), and Emily Nelson (backing vocals).

Wesley and Pratt make a good team and the song topic is one that we all can relate to, and hopefully put in our rear view mirror in the near future. Be sure and check this one out at Apple Music or any of the usual suspects.

--- Graham Clarke

Larkin PoeIf you haven't yet hopped on the Larkin Poe bandwagon, what are you waiting for? If you're not yet aware of this sister duo originally from the north Georgia area, with their roots in bluegrass, they're now often referred to as "the little sisters of the Allman Brothers." That's a high level overview of their music, but in many cases their sound goes much, much deeper than that. Headed by Rebecca Lovell (lead vocals, guitar and various other string instruments) and Megan Lovell (harmony vocals, lapsteel and dobro), Larkin Poe has shifted its sound from blues-influenced rock to sometimes playing the deepest of deep blues and old-time gospel. What really separates them from the rest are Rebecca's deep, throaty voice, sounding like she sold out to the devil to sound this foreboding, and Megan's haunting slide work on her 1940s era bakelite Rickenbacker lap steel.

Larkin Poe's latest album, Self Made Man (Tricki-Woo Records), has more of that deep blues & gospel mixed with a southern rock feel as we heard on recent albums Peach and Venom & Faith. The title cut, "She's A Self Made Man," is a good introduction to what the sisters are doing now, with shouting vocals and fuzzy, heavy guitar from Rebecca while Megan takes us into our own inner darkness with a haunting slide guitar solo. "Holy Ghost Fire" is equally effective, with its gospel overtones and call-and-response chorus, as Rebecca sings, "... burn, baby, burn, with that holy ghost fire, from your fingers to the fret ..." and "...with your voices with the smoke rising higher ..." I'm almost worn out from the energy of these first two songs, but secure in the knowledge that my purchase of the album has already been justified.

The temperature stays elevated with the Tony Esterly composition, "Keep Diggin'," with harmony vocals singing, "...if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen ...," all the while sitting above Megan's heavy-duty slide guitar. Southern rocker Tyler Bryant, who happens to be married to Rebecca, guests on guitar on his own composition, "Back Down South," where Rebecca sings about where Little Richard came from and other various places in the south. Nice guitar solo from Bryant here.

"Tears Of Blue To Gold" just might be my favorite cut on the album. It's a more light-hearted tune that's actually a welcome respite from the heavier songs. Rebecca will make you feel like you're hanging out in an old shotgun house as she sings, "...Tupelo rock & roll, singing in the kitchen ..." The general idea is that by making music like this it's supposed to make you feel better and will turn your tears of blue to gold. It's effective; I feel better now. That's good because the next song, the very gospel-sounding "God Moves On The Water, tells us about people facing natural disasters and how they had to run and pray.

Rebecca shows her gentler side on vocals on "Every Bird That Flies," with plenty of slide from Megan, discordant guitar from Rebecca, and a heavy dose of percussion that kind of resembles Mississippi Hill Country drumming. That leads into the very fast-moving "Scorpion," with Rebecca telling someone how evil they are, just so full of venom. Megan adds that deep and at times frenetic sound by dragging the slide across the strings of her Rickenbacker. Just as foreboding is "Danger Angel," as Rebecca warns about an evil female while Megan's slide work feels like a dagger in your heart.

The tempo slows on "Ex-Con," with Rebecca singing about the difficulty  for someone with a record getting transitioned back into society, repeatedly singing, "...it's hard living ..." Wrapping up this intense but great album is another up-tempo Esterly original, "Easy Street," with a feelgood gospel vibe. Rebecca sings, "...It won't be long until I walk on that easy street ...," and then Megan lays down one of her most incendiary slide solos.

The music of Larkin Poe is deeper and darker than it has any right to be. Perhaps it's embedded in their DNA, as the duo is named after a 19th century ancestor who was a distant relative of Edgar Allan Poe. Regardless, their music takes the listener on a different avenue through the blues than from most performers. It's a rewarding trip, albeit with plenty of dark turns. As much as I like the Peach and Venom & Fire albums, Self-Made Man might be their best yet.

--- Bill Mitchell

Kirsten ThienWe've run reviews of previous CDs in Blues Bytes by NYC-based singer / guitarist Kirsten Thien, but her latest, Two Sides (Screen Door Records), is my first chance to hear her music, and it lives up to what I had previously read. The title refers to the two sides of her music, her vocal styles, her use of acoustic vs. electric guitar, etc.

Thien opens the album with an acoustic guitar solo leading into "Shoulda Been," before turning it into a hard drivin' blues and shouting out the vocals in a strong, tough voice about all the things she could have been. Arthur Nielson pops in later with a strong slide guitar solo. Thien's voice is just as strong on "After I Left Home," a song she wrote for Buddy Guy. It's a slow blues with kind of a John Lee Hooker beat, and Nielson again contributes a really nice electric guitar solo before the tune ends very quietly, quite the contrast from how it started (there's that 'two sides' thing again).

Another favorite number on this album is the New Orleans-inspired "Better Or You're Gonna Get Burned," with the highlight being the guest appearance by Doug MacLeod on acoustic and resonator guitars. Thien shows off her vocal range with spirited, sassy vocals. An even more interesting cut is a song that she sings in Spanish, a joint composition by Thien and Raul Midón called "Montañas." Of course, there's a nice Latin beat with the addition of Fabian Almazan (piano) and John Benthal (South American guitars called cautro and requinto).

Thien issues a call to action on "Say It Out Loud," with her strong vocals over a heavy rhumba beat coming from Alex Alexander's percussion. Two Sides comes to a wrap with the only cover song, a very nice version of Leon Russell's "I'd Rather Be Blind."

While this album is a bit short at only eight songs covering 32 minutes, it's quality over quantity. Two Sides is a very nice addition to Kerstin Thien's discography, and it will have me exploring her earlier releases.

--- Bill Mitchell

Crooked Eye TommyThe California-based blues band with the strange name, Crooked Eye Tommy, is led by brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh, who share guitar and lead vocal duties throughout their latest album, Hot Coffee And Pain (Blue Heart Records). Neither brother is a powerful vocalist, although they are good enough, and both play a fine guitar. The rest of the band (Samuel Corea - bass, Charlie McClure - drums, Craig Williams - sx, Jimmy Calire - Hammond B3) are solid, making this band well-equipped to play the blues.

They go deep into the Delta for the opening cut, a version of Son House's "Death Letter Blues," with Tommy putting out some very emotional vocals, and there's a nice guitar solo partway through the song. Paddy steps up to the vocal mic for the slow, 12-bar blues, "Sitting In The Driveway." The main character in this particular tale can't go in the house because he smells of weed and whiskey, stating that, "...when my baby sees me, it's going to be a most uncivil war..."

One of the better numbers here is the title cut, a mid-tempo ballad with Williams joining the band on sax and Tommy handling the vocals quite well. Another keeper is "Baby Where You Been?," a slow, soulful blues that brings singer Teresa James to the stage to share vocals with Tommy.

Perhaps the popular favorite on Hot Coffee And Pain will be the Marsh brothers tribute to another set of brothers, the instrumental "The Big House," a salute to the Allman Brothers complete with their trademark dual guitar sound. Bringing the album to a close is a cover of the Louisiana standard, "Congo Square," with plenty of solid guitars and horn work.

Hot Coffee And Pain has some high points but also some songs that didn't do much for me. There's potential here, so I'll be eager to see what's up next for Crooked Eye Tommy.

--- Bill Mitchell

Andy WattsThe name Andy Watts is a new one to me, and I was wondering if I was missing out on someone about whom I show have known. But then I realized that he's from Israel and is known as that country's Ambassador of the Blues, so I get a pass on this lack of recognition of a very fine blues guitarist. Judging from his new VizzTone album, Supergroove, Watts' sterling reputation is well-deserved.  It's co-produced by Watts and Louisiana blues cat Kenny Neal, featuring guests from both sides of the ocean. It's a solid blues album from start to finish, with absolutely no cuts that made me say, 'Meh,' and it continued to grow on me the second time through.

Among the recognizable guests on this album are guitarist Joe Louis Walker and singer Eliza Neals, but the one who really grabbed me was soulful singer Roy Young, a native of Jamaica who visited Israel on a tour and wound up making it his home. His rich, raspy voice can be heard on three cuts: the Rick Estrin-penned tune "Living Hand To Mouth," Freddie King's "Pack It Up," and a Watts original slow blues, "Don't Take My Blues Away." Young's voice was best suited to the latter cut, made even better by the harmonica accompaniment of Coastin Hank.

As much as I like Young's singing, I really got into the vocal work of Danny Shoshan, who was at times a singer with seminal Israeli rock band, The Churchills. Shoshan's smooth vocals are heard on the up-tempo blues/rock number, "Straight Shooting Woman," with Watts tearing it up on guitar, and on the pyschedelic rocker, "Don't You Let Me Down," originally done in 1972 by a band called Jericho for which Shoshan was the singer.

Neals takes the mic on the Dan Penn / Gary Nicholson / Carson Whitsett soul classic, "Blues Of The Month Club," with Watts coming in with some powerful guitar chords. Walker's lone appearance happens on the slow blues, "Burning Deep," with his voice really putting out a case of the blues.

The best instrumental closes the album, a re-constructed version of Peter Green's "Super Natural." It's a slow, eerie, jazzy blues with a really tasty trumpet solo from Gregory Rivkin.

Supergroove is a nice cross-cultural representation of the blues, with flavors of rock and soul mixed in. It's perhaps Step One in making Andy Watts a household name among blues fans.

--- Bill Mitchell

Sean ArdoinIt's been way too long since a good zydeco album made its way to my mailbox, but that slump has been broken with the arrival of Came Thru Pullin' (Zydekool Records) from Sean Ardoin. Coming from a long line of notable cajun and zydeco musicians, Ardoin was previously playing drums with his brother, Chris, but is now handling the accordion with his own band. This is just good, basic zydeco over the 10 cuts, although with more contemporary influences than what we were hearing in the genre 30 years ago. Most cuts are consistently good, nothing standing out above the others, but it's all listenable and, of course, very danceable.

One number that stands out for me, primarily because it appealed to my desire to eat food from Louisiana, is "Gumbo Time." This one incorporates more current styles of music and is less of a traditional zydeco tune with an ongoing rap line of, "... don't mess that gumbo up, you better know what you're doing ..." Throughout the song Ardoin gives instructions on how to make a roux and the appropriate ingredients, like crab and chicken, to later add to the gumbo.

"Came Thru Pullin'," the title song, starts with a wall of noise before breaking into a more traditional zydeco sound, with strong accordion playing and good vocals. "Bounce" follows the same zydeco formula, as the backing musicians are harmonizing on vocals with Ardoin.

"No That Ain't Right" is more old-school zydeco, but with more of a blues beat to it. That leads into the very frantic "Get Right Girl," more of an R&B sound at the beginning before Ardoin starts pumping away on the accordion.

The album's last two cuts, "Nothing Like Our Love" and "Shut Them Down," move further away from traditional zydeco so they weren't to my personal tastes, but your results will vary.

Came Thru Pullin' isn't the best zydeco album in my collection, but I'll occasionally give it a listen. Let's hope this is the first of more zydeco releases coming our way.

--- Bill Mitchell



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