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September 2023

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Order these featured albums today:

Blackburn Brothers

Joyann Parker

Coco Montoya

The Count Basie Orchestra

Lee Oskar

Willie J Campbell

Christopher Dean Band

Steve Howell

Willie J Laws

Chickenbone Slim

Jhett Black

Mizz Lowe

Little G Weevil

Ole Lonesome

Corey Ledet


Blackburn BrothersI was not familiar with the name Blackburn Brothers when the latest album, SoulFunkn'BLUES (Electro-Fi Records), from this Ontario, Canada band made its way across the border and landed in my mailbox. This is not their first album reviewed in Blues Bytes, so I should have picked up on their sound long ago. Now that I've learned about them, Blackburn Brothers is one of my newest favorite bands.

This album wasn't going to be enough to get my Blackburn fix, so I searched through the Blues Bytes archives and found that a previous album, Brothers In This World, was reviewed by the late Mark E. Gallo way back in 2015. After sampling the 14 cuts on this previous album, I liked what I was hearing so much that I immediately did a download of it.

But enough of this history. Let's talk about SoulFunkn'BLUES. The title accurately describes what you can expect to hear on the 11 cuts --- a solid mix of blues, soul, and funk from four Blackburn brothers, a cousin, and various friends. Every song is a hit. No throwaways here.

Duane Blackburn handles vocals, often reminding me of the now-departed Sweet Pea Atkinson, most recently known as the lead singer of The Boneshakers. In his 2015 review of the previous album, Mr. Gallo described Duane's voice as either whiskey-soaked or coffee-soaked. Either description fits. Duane also handles keyboards, while brother Brooke is the family guitarist and brother Cory is a quite fine drummer. That's the core of the band, but two more Blackburns --- Robert on guitar on four cuts and Nathan on bass --- are heard on the album.

SoulFunkn'BLUES opens with "Bobby's Blues," a mid-tempo funky, soulful blues with nice piano from Duane, leading into the up-tempo blues, "She's A Heartbreaker," on which Duane adds a vocoder on his scatting vocal tracks. "Let The Devil Play" is a funky blues, driven along by a Cory's steady drum beat while Brooke lays down a killer blues guitar solo.

The title for "Soul Brother" is pretty descriptive of this straight-ahead soul number, as Duane reminiscences about the 1970s while paying tribute to his family. Brooke's guitar work highlights the up-tempo blues shuffle, "Won't You Let Me Go," with Cory laying down a driving, propulsive drum beat. "Sister Rosa" is a funky, funky, funky tribute to Rosa Parks and the civil rights she brought forth with her courageous actions on that bus many years ago. I can imagine James Brown doing this song, with Maceo Parker blowing away on the sax. Written by the Neville Brothers, it's the only cover on the album.

Don't forget that I said Duane reminds me of Sweet Pea Atkinson, and the slow, soulful R&B number "Why Do I Do (What I Do)" makes me think about the sound I often heard during several Boneshakers shows. We're back to funky soul on "Be My Wife," with Duane pumping out some of his strongest vocals.

"Freedom Train" has the vocoder back in use, giving this funky number a bit more funk. Brooke's guitar work stands out here. I'm guessing the dance floor gets packed when the Blackburns play this one in front of the right audience. I haven't yet given props to the work of the horn section (Neil Braithwaite - tenor sax, Ted Peters - trombone), but now's a good time to salute these cats for their work on the funky blues "Little Sister."

Closing the album is a slow, soulful blues, "I Don't Ever Want To Be Alone," with a strong piano intro before Duane's voice projects more energy and strength as the song proceeds. A great ending to a fabulous album.

If, like me, you weren't familiar with the Blackburn Brothers before this, then follow my lead and start getting everything these dudes have recorded. Begin your search with SoulFunkn'BLUES, then download Brothers In This World, and keep digging for Brotherhood. The Blackburn Brothers will soon be one of your favorite bands, too.

--- Bill Mitchell

Joyann ParkerI've been a big, big fan of the music of Joyann Parker since I first heard her Hard To Love album followed by one of my favorite 2021 releases, Out Of The Dark. A lot has changed in her life since then, with a move from her Minneapolis/St. Paul base back to her home area in Wisconsin, but the music is just as good as ever on her latest, Roots (Hopeless Romantics Records).

It's indeed an appropriate title considering her big relocation, and the album liner photos show her in various outdoor snow scenes in what looks like a rural area, bundled in a snow parka and holding an acoustic guitar. As I sit in Arizona typing this review on still another 100+ degree day, looking at the snow in the photos is just the way I like to see wintry weather. No more shoveling snow or driving on icy roads for me.

Parker has always covered a wide range of material on her albums, and Roots is no exception, with blues, soul, jazz, country, and rock among the styles heard on this very nice collection of 13 original songs. Kevin Bowe returns to co-produce the album with Parker, and her regular band (Mark Lamoine - guitar, Tim Wick - keyboards, Chris Bates - bass, Bill Golden - drums) provides the core of the backing along with various horn players jumping in at times.

The show gets started with the title cut, a rockin' blues about how she's putting her roots down, Jangly piano accompaniment by Wick drives the song along, with Parker showing how much power she's got in her voice. Lamoine chips in with a strong blues guitar solo. There's a lot happening on "Faintly Optimistic," a little bit of country, a little bit of blues, and a little bit of soul coming together to deliver a pleasing package. Lamoine kicks off the song with a very good blues guitar intro and later jumps in on background vocals, and we also get plenty of horns providing a big sound.

"Wash It Alway" goes the soul route, an anthemic song highlighted by gospel-ish piano. Parker shows restrained emotion in her vocals early on before pumping more juice later in the song as her voice soars through the octaves. There's a mix of pain and defiance in her voice on the jazzy "Closing Someone Else's Blinds," as she tells that man "...she is waiting for you, so you go to her again ..." The defiance comes out when she tells him that she's not going to be his backup plan anymore.

The up-tempo blues rocker "What's Good For You" is driven along by a heavy drum beat from Golden, with Parker telling the man that he doesn't know what's good for him but she knows she's not the one for him. Lamoine throws down some nice guitar licks between Parker's powerful vocals. "Juxtaposition" is a fun ska/blues tune with the right amount of trombone from Scott Graves, still another example of how she is so adept at integrating multiple musical styles into her repertoire.

"Old Flame" starts slow and jazzy before upping the tempo as Parker sings about that old flame that she might not have gotten over yet. We get a different sound on this one thanks to strings by Cierra Hill and marimba by Steve Roehm. Parker sings about being over that man on "Ain't Got Time To Cry," with plenty of powerful defiance in her vocals. I swear I hear a few notes of an accordion early in the song, but no one's credited to playing that instrument. It must be an effect on keyboard, but there's no mistaking the very tasteful muted trumpet from guest Paul Odegaard. Just when you think she can't get more power into her voice, Parker booms to another level.

Lamoine gives us heavy slide guitar intro to "Forsaken," almost a sacred steel gospel sound to put us into a foreboding mood. There's a little bit of echo in Parker's voice as she continues to approach the sound barrier with what's coming out of her lungs and throat. It's all vocals and guitar on this one, but that's enough. This one will run shivers up and down your spine. "Miss Evangeline" is pretty much straight-ahead bluegrass, with Chris Silver picking the mandolin throughout. Parker's vocals are complemented here by background singer Sarah Morris.

"Going Under" is a slow, soulful ballad that gains tempo and power as the song progresses, with piano being the instrument that drives this song along. We get a fun novelty number on "Say Home Mama," with a classic blues sound in which Parker sings about her home life and the difficulty of raising children. Plenty of horns contributing here.

Closing out the album is "Sconnie Girl," more of a country song on which Parker sings about her upbringing in small town Wisconsin, telling what it's like to live in the state --- eating sausages, drinking beer, hunting deer, fishing for muskies, and more. Lamoine gives us one more effective guitar solo.

Joyann, you look so happy on the album cover standing in the snow, but if you need a break from winter next January, we would love to have you and your band in Arizona. In the meantime, I'll be content with listening repeatedly to Roots. It's a fantastic album.

--- Bill Mitchell

Coco MontoyaCoco Montoya continues his streak of putting out very strong albums showcasing his ferocious blues/rock guitar work and raw, raspy vocals with his latest, Writing On The Wall (Alligator Records). If my math is correct, this is his eighth album for Alligator, and it just might be the best of his bunch of rockin'. raucous blues. Montoya uses his regular working band here, with a tight, cohesive sound throughout the 13 cuts.

We hear the agony in Montoya's voice immediately on the opener, "I Was Wrong," a slow blues that gives Jeff Paris a chance to shine on piano. He turns up the intensity and the tempo on "Save It For The Next Fool," with frequent searing guitar licks from our star.

All but two songs are band originals, with a pair of well-chosen covers. Bobby "Blue" Bland's "You Got Me (Where You Want Me)" is an up-tempo blues shuffle that will get everyone up on the dance floor, while Lonnie Mack's "Stop" is one of the highlights of the album. It's a slow blues with eerie guitar work from Montoya. He pleads with that woman to stop hurting him, while his guitar notes echo the agony in his voice.

Still another highlight is the slow blues, "The Three Kings And Me," a number intended for the Christmas season, but needs to be heard all year round. It's a late night blues on which Montoya reaches out to the three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) for advice on what he's doing wrong that results in having the blues when everyone else is in a festive mood. It's already one of my favorite songs of the year. Montoya does another killer slow-tempo song with the soulful "What Did I Say," as he's trying to figure out what he did to make his woman run to someone new.

Ronnie Baker Brooks helps out on two cuts, first sharing guitar duties on the mid-tempo novelty number, "(I'd Rather Feel) Bad About Doin' It," with Montoya citing examples of Eve taking a bite from the forbidden apple and Delilah giving Samson a buzz cut on his locks as examples of doing bad and not feeling guilty about it. Baker Brooks later hops on-stage on the mid-tempo swampy blues, "Baby You're A Drag," this time wrestling away the vocal mic away from Coco at times.

Jeff Paris stars on piano on the aforementioned cut, as he does on the New Orleans-ish "Late Last Night" and the up-tempo rocker "Writing On The Wall."

Montoya has done it again with still another strong 'gator release. Writing On The Wall will likely show up on lots of Top 10 lists for the year.

--- Bill Mitchell

Count BasieI was skeptical when the new album by The Count Basie Orchestra arrived in my inbox, with it being billed as a blues album. The list of guests include well-known blues names like Keb' Mo', Robert Cray, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Shemekia Copeland, and others, leading me to wonder how these diverse musical styles would fit together.

Well, folks, this blend of more straight-ahead blues and big band arrangements works quite well, so don't hesitate to give a serious listen to Basie Swings The Blues! (Candid Records). Every cut is outstanding as the amalgamation of the various styles blends seamlessly. The big band, directed by Scotty Barnhart, never overwhelms, giving each artist the chance to project their own sound and style.

The best number here is Bettye Lavette's version of "Stormy Monday," with this one having the Basie cats backing her throughout the entire song. Her voice is infectious, making for one of the best versions of this oft-covered blues classic. Because I'm an unabashed fan of Shemekia Copeland, it's not surprising that I really dig her version of Koko Taylor's "I'm A Woman," with Charlie Musselwhite joining in on harmonica. and Buddy Guy on searing guitar. Shemekia has never sounded better, and that's saying a lot. Koko would be proud of her for what she does with her blues classic.

Mr. Sipp shows up on two songs, the 12-bar blues "Let's Have A Good Time" and the slow, plodding "Dirty Mississippi Blues." Bobby Rush opens "Boogie In The Dark" with sparse instrumentation, backed just by Mr. Sipp's guitar and his own harmonica playing, before the big band joins in without taking overwhelming. Keb' Mo' handles both vocals and guitar on his rendition of "Down Home Blues," sharing the singing duties with the up-and-coming Lauren Mitchell. Keb' comes in a nice jazzy guitar solo.

Robert Cray steps up to the bandstand to handle the late night jazzy Ray Charles classic, "The Midnight Hour," with Bob laying down some mighty tasty guitar solos. Jazz and R&B singer Ledisi projects her sassy vocals on "Evil Gal Blues," flirting throughout the song with the tenor sax playing of Doug Lawrence.

As the album progresses, we get more jazzy blues that, of course, are well-suited to the Basie backing. Former Basie singer Jamie Davis shows off his big-throated blues sound on "Look What You've Done," leading into the wonderful vocals of Carmen Bradford, who was actually hired by Count Basie himself for a gig in the band. Her version of the jazz number, "Just A Thrill," should be cherished for the masterpiece that it is.

There are two instrumentals here, with "The Patton Basie Shuffle" giving guitarist Charlton Johnson a chance to make us wonder what would have happened if Count Basie and Charley Patton had gotten together to make music. The always brilliant George Benson closes the album with the Jack McDuff-penned number, "Rock Candy." This one jumps, and not just because of what Benson is doing here, as Bobby Floyd tears it up on the B-3.

Basie Swings The Blues! isn't your standard, hard driving blues, but instead takes these dozen songs and shows the blues in a different format. May I say a bit more upscale? Perhaps, but regardless, this album should find its way into every blues fan's collection.

--- Bill Mitchell

Lee OskarThe name Lee Oskar is synonymous with the harmonica, having been a co-founder of the band War and designer of his own line of harmonicas. He goes all around the world with his latest album, She Said Mahalo (Dreams We Share), a collection of 10 instrumental numbers covering a lot of musical styles, heavily populated with World music and island sounds as well as funk. There's nothing here that falls into a blues category, although I was able to work "Funky Rhetoric" into my radio show.

If you've been a long-time fan of Oskar's music, you'll be interested in hearing where he's currently taking his music. The CD jacket and booklet has a lot of original artwork by Oskar, showing another side of this man's multiple talents.

--- Bill Mitchell

Willie J CampbellBe Cool (Blue Heart Records) serves as Willie J. Campbell’s solo debut album and it also serves as a tribute to the longtime bassist who played over a half century with several award-winning groups --- The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Mannish Boys, the James Harman Band, and the Proven Ones. After being diagnosed with ALS Campbell was determined to complete the album before he could no longer perform, so he teamed up with his close friend, guitarist Kid Ramos and invited a host of musicians to help him complete the endeavor, which he did about a week before he passed away on December 18, 2022.

Ramos and Brian Templeton co-produced the album, with Campbell on bass, Ramos on guitar and Templeton handling vocals on several tracks, Jimi Bott on drums/percussion, and Brooks Milgate on keyboards. They are supported by an all-star roster of guitarists (Anson Funderburgh, Mike Morgan, Shawn Pittman, Mondo Cortez, David Hidalgo, and Joe Louis Walker) and vocalists (Hidalgo, Janiva Magness, Pittman, Sugaray Rayford, Kim Wilson, and Jimmie Wood), plus Sax Gordon on tenor sax, Condron Hampton on percussion, Joe “Mack” McCarthy on horns and horn arrrangements, Pat McDougall on piano, and Jason Ricci, Wilson, and Wood on harmonica.

Rayford takes the mic for the funky opener, “You Better Let Go,” which addresses the perils of materialism. Templeton sings his original, “No More,” a fiery blues rocker with Wood on harmonica, and Hidalgo handles the vocal (backed by Wilson on harp) on the leisurely shuffle, “This Time,” the title track of Los Lobos 1999 album, co-written with Hidalgo’s Los Lobos bandmate Louie Pérez.

Magness delivers a masterful vocal on the slow blues “Can’t Stay Away,” and Templeton returns for the hypnotic Hill Country blues “Drone,” with Ricci on harmonica.

The core group, with guitarists Funderburgh, Morgan, and Pittman, take on the rollicking instrumental “Docksidin’,” with Campbell’s walking bass and Bott’s drumming driving things along quite nicely. This same group, with Templeton on vocals, follows up with a rowdy take on “My Fault,” written by Ian McLagan and Rod Stewart and originally recorded by Faces in the early ’70s.

Templeton ably handles the gospel-flavored “Forever Shall Be,” before Rayford returns for the horn-fueled soul burner, “Standby,” which also features fretwork from Walker. Pittman sings and plays guitar on his original “Devil On My Shoulder,” a swampy electric blues featuring guitar work from Funderburgh, Morgan, Ramos, and harp from Wilson.

“She’s A Twister,” written by Templeton and Ramos, is a rowdy rock n’ roller driven by Ramos’ guitar and Milgate’s piano, and Wood leads the core group on “One Man Chain Gang,” a dusty, sweaty blues with a Delta feel. Wilson sings and blows harp on the Huey “Piano” Smith classic “You Can’t Stop Her,” which serves as an homage to the Crescent City legend who passed away in February, while Templeton turns in an emotional, heartfelt vocal on the moving ballad “Use As Needed.”

The album closes with a stirring cover of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac instrumental, “Albatross,” a fitting conclusion to this wonderful album.

“Be Cool” was a phrase often uttered by Willie J. Campbell, so it’s appropriate that his lone solo album would bear that title. Be Cool is a wonderful tribute to one of the blues’ finest artists that should bring a smile to all of his fans and friends.

--- Graham Clarke

Christopher DeanIf the pure, unadulterated blues is what you need, look no further than Need A Friend (Lost World Music), the latest release from The Christopher Dean Band. After a most auspicious start playing guitar with blues master Big Jack Johnson, Dean has led his own band for nearly 30 years and his recordings have always featured a perfect mix of blues and soul, propelled by his soulful vocals and his crisp guitar work. Joining Dean on this release are Lost World Music label chief/keyboardist/living legend “Chicago” Carl Synder, drummer Dave Hollingworth, bassist Walter Jarrett, guitarist Mike McMillan, Nate Meyers on harmonica and vocals, and Steve Lombardelli on horns.

The album includes 12 well-chosen covers, plus one Dean original, all steeped in urban and country blues. The opener is a stirring cover of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” that rolls to a jaunty read of Memphis Minnie’s title track that really shows Dean’s versatility.

More West Side blues follows with a red-hot version of Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time,” and a terrific take of the second Magic Sam tune, “Out of Bad Luck,” which is followed by Baby Boy Warren’s lively shuffle “Mattie May,” and the third Magic Sam track, the splendid slow burner “Call Me If You Need Me” (the first Magic Sam song I ever heard).

Dean’s cover of Snooks Eaglin’s “Country Boy in New Orleans” (one of the New Orleans guitarist’s first recordings in the ’50s) is first rate, highlighted by Lombardelli’s cool sax solo. He also does a fine job on the B.B. King urban blues shuffle “Blind Love,” as well as Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Cold Winter Day,” showing his slide guitar skills in the process.

That tune provides a nice lead-in for the Dean original “Appalachian Women” which incorporates a bit of a country feel and teams Meyers and Dean on vocals. The pair team up again for Robert Lockwood’s swinging “Pearly B,” bolstered by Snyder’s B3 support.

The album wraps with “Strange Feeling,” the smoldering blues ballad previously recorded by Buddy Guy, and Baby Face Turner’s “Blues Serenade,” which closes the album in fine fashion. Dean is superb on guitar and vocals and has a wonderful rapport with the band, especially Snyder, who has played with some of Chicago’s finest over his long career.

Blues fans will find a lot to love on Need A Friend, the latest exceptional effort from The Christopher Dean Band, a band that certainly deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellI’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but it’s always a pleasure to see a new album from Steve Howell hit the shelves. The Texas guitarist goes it alone for this release, just him and his guitar on 11 marvelous tracks paying tribute to some of his guitar heroes. Gallery of Echoes (Out Of The Past Music) features interpretations of songs from Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Rev. Gary Davis, and a number of tunes that date back to the late 1800s as well. Jason Weinheimer produced this lovely piece of work and contributed bass to one track.

A gentle reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1926 track, “Stocking Feet Blues,” opens the disc, and it’s followed by the amusing old (1880s era) Appalachian fiddle and banjo tune, “Cluck Old Hen.” Next up is the classic “Statesboro Blues,” with Howell’s version hewing closer to the Blind Willie McTell version than the version made famous by The Allman Brothers Band and Taj Mahal.

The second Jefferson tune on the album, “Easy Rider Blues,” was one of the blues legend’s best tunes and Howell does a superb job. Rev. Gary Davis’ powerful “Twelve Gates To The City,” taken from Revelation 21, is the first of three Davis tunes on the album.

The heartbreaking “All My Friends Are Gone” is the story of Delia Green, the young girl who was murdered on Christmas Day 1900, a story which has inspired many different songs over the years. Howell’s somber vocal is as effective as his nimble guitar work on this tune. The guitarist’s version of “Mississippi Blues,” originally recorded by William Brown for Alan Lomax in 1942, is incredible in its subtle beauty.

Two more songs by the Rev. Davis follow; the lively gospel “Sit Down On The Banks Of The River,” and the amusing “Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From?,” one of Davis’ secular tunes. The album concludes with the traditional folk song “I’m Going Away,” with Howell using the arrangement used by Nick Katzman, who recorded it with Ruby Green in 1976, and the delicate instrumental “Dallas Rag,” originally recorded in 1927.

Gallery of Echoes is another outstanding set of vintage blues and folk songs brought back to life by the guitar and voice of Steve Howell, whose albums always brings a smile to my face and a hop to my step before I even start playing them.

--- Graham Clarke

Willie J LawsWillie J. Laws, Jr. is called the “Prophet of the Funky Texas Blues,” and his latest album, Too Much Blues (Pilot Light Records), indicates that this moniker is most appropriate. Mentored by the great Phillip Walker early in his career, Laws toured with the blues legend and later teamed with accordionist Flaco Jimenez, serving as guitarist for Los Texmaniacs and becoming one of the few African-American artists to play Tejano music. He’s won multiple honors, including competing in the 2012 I.B.C.’s, where he made it to the semi-finals.

Laws wrote nine of the 12 tracks, and they cover a wide range of topics and musical styles, which include funk and soul, R&B, and even country music blended with the blues. On the mid-tempo opener “Reg’l Ol’ Blues,” Laws cites some of his influences, including Little Milton, B.B. King, and Bobby “Blue” Bland, while extolling the benefits of the traditional sounds.

“Better Off Blue” and “Stuck In Traffic” incorporate funk and soul into the mix with exciting results, the latter track has a smooth Crusaders feel. Meanwhile, “Getcha’ Knee Off My Neck” is an energetic protest decrying the racial divide, and “Love Before You Die” is a supple, soulful ballad encouraging all to focus on the positive while we’re still here.

Willie Dixon’s “I Want To Be Loved” (via Muddy Waters) gets a funky makeover that really pops before harp master Jerry Portnoy and slide guitarist Paul Nelson (who produced the disc) guest on “Sorry Charlie.” The title track is a slow burner that features strong guitar work as Laws pleads for someone to take these blues off of him.

“You Don’t Love Me (u love what I do)” brings back a heavy dose of funk to the proceedings (bassist Dave Johnson is the album’s secret weapon). Laws takes on modern politics on a pair of tracks, the countrified “Ain’t Going To Texas,” and the edgy, funky “The Right” (previously released in 2020).

The album wraps with The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady,” which has a slippery Latin feel in Laws’ capable hands.

Blues fans will find a lot to enjoy on Too Much Blues, via Willie J. Laws, who proves to be a talented singer and guitarist and a thought-provoking lyricist as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Chickenbone SlimChickenbone Slim’s latest release, Damn Good and Ready (VizzTone Label Group), includes a dozen new songs that mix blues, swing, rockabilly, and roots. Slim is joined on these tracks by BMA Best Guitarist winner Laura Chavez (guitar), Marty Dodson (drums), and Justice Guerrera (bass), dubbed The Biscuits. The album was recorded at Greaseland Studios in San Jose by Kid Andersen and produced by Slim, also featuring background vocals from Lisa Andersen and a guest shot from Eric Spaulding on saxophone.

The opener, “High Ballin’ Train,” is a crisp country-flavored rocker that sets the bar high, but the swinging “Let’s Go Lindy” proves that Slim and The Biscuits are more than up to the challenge, as does the rugged Texas roadhouse raver “Drink Me.”

“Rather Be Up” has a rootsy Americana feel and the slinky title track is superb, highlighted by the rhythm section’s moody backbeat and Chavez’s sharp lead guitar work. “Deepest Blue,” despite the title, leans more toward the country side of the aisle, but Slim’s mournful vocal and the shimmering fretwork really sell this one well.

The thunderous “Rock and Roll Soul” tells the tale of a woman deep into blues, rock, and soul, and the mid-tempo “I’m Buying” has a bit of a funky, Latin feel, while on the menacing rocker “Ice In My Whiskey,” Slim warns the bartender against watering down his drink. The raucous “Old Cat Man” and “Ty Cobb’s Chiclets” both serve as fine examples of Slim’s unique songwriting skills, the latter is a story of the baseball legend’s antagonistic ways and, um, his false teeth, narrated over an ominous backdrop. The thumping blues closer, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” has great lyrics as well.

Chickenbone Slim packs a wallop as a musician as well as a songwriter. You find yourself listening to the words as intensely as you hear the music, and he gets the best musical support possible from The Biscuits. Damn Good and Ready is another stellar addition to his catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Jhett BlackJhett Black took second place at the 2022 I.B.C. in the solo/duo category. His brand of blues is dark and moody, and on full display with his new release, Babel (Rumblestump Records). Co-produced with Black by Al Basile and Callie Sioux, the album features 11 tracks, ten written or co-written by Black, who is backed by Dusty Skins on drums/percussion, Déná on bass/keys/percussion on one track, Robbie Coleman on bass for one track, Joe Waters on harmonica for one track. Black plays all other instruments on the remaining tracks, which deftly mix blues, rock, and soul into a potent gumbo.

Most tracks feature Black and Skins only, including the rough and ragged opener, “Roll Out,” which has Black’s rugged vocals and guitar work backed by Skins on the kick drum. “Mama Told Me Not To” is a driving rocker that adds keyboards and backing vocals from Luciana Schiavone, and “Eve” features Black’s searing slide guitar with a fast-paced rhythm.

The title track is another slide guitar showcase with Black’s vocal taking on an ominous echo effect, and “Gold” is a haunting piece with Black’s eerie keyboards battling it out with his screaming guitar.

“Wayward Son,” the album’s first single, is a moody number that is really a fresh look at an old blues topic, while “Eulogy” can best be described as 21st century pre-war blues. “12 Bar Blues Again” is a strong blues rocker with Waters’ harmonica adding another layer of grit to Black’s sound, and the spooky “Devil Ain’t An Only Child” will raise goose bumps on your goose bumps.

“Sonic Tonic” adds surf guitar and synthesizers to this already heady mix, and the album’s lone non-original, a spirited cover of the Freddie King classic “Goin’ Down,” closes the disc.

Jhett Black’s brave new brand of blues is gritty, grungy, raw, and it really rocks. Babel puts a new, modern spin on the blues and has a lot to offer fans of the traditional and contemporary styles.

--- Graham Clarke

Mizz LoweMizz Lowe (a.k.a. Loretta Harris) was born in Holmes County, Mississippi and grew up in Greenville, where she sang in the church and at school, also playing in the band, dance team, and as a majorette. She served as a background singer/dancer for several blues and R&B artists, but her primary claim to fame is serving as lead dancer and personal assistant for Bobby Rush, currently serving as the “Young Hen” on the two-time Grammy winner’s show. Rush co-produced Mizz Lowe’s debut CD, Classy Woman (Mizz Lowe Records), and appears on six of the ten tracks, which the pair also wrote together.

Bobby Rush guests on the first three tracks, contributing harmonica and backing vocals on the steamy opener, “Honey Tree,” and the funky title track, and sharing lead vocals on the R&B/soul-flavored blues “Hip Shakin’ Mama.”

“Easy Baby” is a soulful slow burner that borrows a bit lyrically from the Magic Sam tune of the same title and the change of pace shows Mizz Lowe’s vocal versatility. Rush returns for the contemporary R&B tune, “I Ain’t Givin’ Up My Love,” sharing lead vocals, with Rush taking the heat for possible misbehavior.

‘Drink Drink,” borrows the melody of “Little By Little,” with Mizz Lowe giving her man an ultimatum regarding his alcoholic intake. Rush’s harmonica and the horns give this upbeat tune an extra kick.

“Take My Love” is a cool blues featuring some tasty harp work from Rush, who again shares lead vocals, as the pair demonstrate a strong musical rapport. “This Love” is an excellent R&B-styled ballad, with Mizz Lowe sounding marvelous, and “4 Leaf Clover” is an easy-going country soul number that shows her tender side.

“Christmas Tears,” featuring Rush on harmonica, almost put me in the spirit as I type this during 100 degree Mississippi weather, but should be a nice addition to blues fans’ holiday listening.

Other musical contributors, in addition to Rush, are the ever-versatile Brother Paul Brown (keys, bass, drums, horns, percussion, strings), Dexter Allen (guitar, bass, piano), Paul Black (slide guitar), and CC White (background vocals).

Classy Woman is a great listen for fans who like the blues on the soulful side. Mizz Lowe shows a lot of range and versatility in her singing, and Bobby Rush did a fine job with production and musical support. This one definitely deserves to heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Little G WeevilHungarian bluesman Little G Weevil has been quite active since winning the I.B.C. in 2013 as a solo act, having released several albums and touring internationally prior to the shutdown in 2020. His first post-pandemic release, If I May…, offers ten new original tunes by LGW, who plays guitar and is backed by K.C. Brown (harmonica/backing vocals), Csaba Pengő (upright bass/backing vocals), Mr. Jambalaya (piano/backing vocals), and Tom Kiss (drums). The set mixes blues with swing and jazz, and was recorded in Budapest at Sounday Studio.

The opener, “Yoga Girl (Hold Me Close),” is a rowdy piano-driven taste of Chicago blues describing a special lady. “Spy Balloon Blues” ventures into New Orleans territory, with Mr. Jambalaya channeling Professor Longhair as LGW offers his reflections on the current state of affairs, and “One Last Time” is a cool late-nite blues with sparkling lead guitar.

“Scam Me, Scam Me Not” is a refreshing update on the traditional warning about getting into an ill-advised relationship, and the swinging blues “Doctor Hay” describes LGW’s resistance to his doctor’s advice about curbing his reckless lifestyle.

“Tribal Affairs” blends Hill Country and East African influences and encourages independent thought and living. “Gold Mine” revisits the Crescent City as LGW sings about Africans toiling in mines for change to harvest treasures for the elites, while the jaunty “Tingalingaling (Everybody’s Qualified)” and the slow blues, “We Don’t Learn Much,” both mock education (or lack thereof) in modern times.

The album wraps up with “I Know Ways To Prove My Love,” a rumbling tribute to Willie Dixon’s songwriting as LGW lists a number of ways to prove his devotion.

Little G Weevil incorporates highly creative and original songwriting with excellent musicianship to produce an entertaining set of modern blues. If I May… is another great set for this inventive artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Ole LonesomeOle Lonesome (Zachary Feemster – vocals/guitar, J. Wesley Hardin – bass, Gregory Mosley – keys, Jimmy Devers – drums, Greg Achord – guitar) was founded in Beaumont, Texas. Their powerhouse sound melds blues, soul, funk, and rock n’ roll into a raw, gritty southern gumbo the band calls “swamp rock,” but their sound screams “Texas!” through and through. Their debut album, Tejas Motel (Gulf Coast Records) features ten original tunes, co-produced by the band with Gulf Coast label head Mike Zito, who also guests on guitar for one track.

“Yvette” opens the album, a grungy, rumbling blues break-up song with sharp fretwork and Feemster’s powerful vocal. “Gold Chevy” follows, with the moody feel of an old Bad Company song, and “Steady Mistreater” deftly mixes southern rock and soul. “Momma’s Worry” rocks HARD, and “Easy Street” settles things down a bit, just a little bit, with impressive guitar work from Feemster and Achord carrying the day.

Zito guests on “Lo Key,” which is a gripping blues that slowly builds in intensity, punctuated by some fine soloing from the respective guitarists. “Ain’t No Good” is a well-crafted blues ballad with a soulful vocal from Feemster and superb guitar accompaniment from Achord. “The Fool” is an ominous tune with a swampy, atmospheric feel, and “Natural Fact” is a grinding rocker that really cooks.

The title track closes the disc, a mid-tempo story describing the old hotel in Deep Ellum that the band passed on the road after a gig. Feemster’s lyrics paint a vivid picture and the music swings with a slight Latin flavor.

Tejas Motel is a cool release that fans of classic British blues rock and Southern rock will really enjoy. Feemster has a distictive voice that fits comfortably in multiple genres and his bandmates are first rate. Put this one on your “gotta hear” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Tommy Lee CookI first heard Tommy Lee Cook on his engaging Outside Looking In release way back in 2011, so it was nice to see another release of his show up on my desk. Tommy Lee’s Jonesin’ was recorded at Downtown Buckingham Studios in Ft. Myers, Florida with Cook (vocals/guitar) receiving excellent support on half of the 12 tracks from Danny Shepard (guitar/midi tracks/backing vocals), and also from The Buckingham Blues Band (Rex Bongo – guitar/backing vocals, Harry Cassano – keys/backing vocals, Scott Kamener – guitar, Arne England – slide guitar, T-Bone Fonk (a.k.a. Tim O’Neill) – drums/backing vocals, Andrei Koribanics – drums) and special guests Bobby Capps (piano), Rick Rourke (sax), and Justin Richey (slide guitar) on the remaining tracks.

Cook wrote 10 of the 12 tracks, either solo or with Shepard, Bongo, or Melissa Jones. As with his previous release, his storytelling skills are superb and his warm southern drawl vocals really help sell what are already a great batch of tunes. The music itself has a glorious swampy blues feel that you just want to play over and over.

“Birds and Bees” opens the disc and it’s a funky blues rocker that namedrops Etta James in the first verse, so you know it’s a keeper. “Gimme My Money Mista” is a short narrative that leads into one of the album’s two covers, an edgy version of Willie Mae Brown’s “Turpentine,” which was originally recorded in 1933 for the Library of Congress, later covered by a host of blues artists including Tampa Red and Casey Bill Weldon, but Cook’s version is based on JJ Grey’s version from Country Ghetto.

“Let It Rain” is a swampy slow burner, and the next two songs, “Souleater” and “Satisfied” keep the ominous tone and pace, but Cook’s nimble vocals (and the haunting slide guitar work) carry the day.

The title track is a fun and funky tale about a lovely lady who’s doing all the right things to catch his eye, and his narration will make you want to meet her. “Funky Shoes” reminds me a lot of a long-lost Little Feat tune, Dixie Chicken-era, with the guitar and Cook’s vocal. “Dancing With My Baby” has that same feel, while “Consequences” is just a really cool slow dance tune.

“Working Musician” is a tribute to those artists who spend most of their time on the road, their adventures, and the after-effects. “The Boys From Buckingham” closes the disc, a variation on a Cross Canadian Ragweed tune with additional lyrics from Bongo, describing the intricacies of rolling your own.

This is a fine, laidback album that will certainly please fans of southern rock and blues, and definitely make them smile. Tommy Lee Cook has a vocal style and songwriting style that will hit you where you live and seep into your soul if you’re not careful. Tommy Lee’s Jonesin’ is a disc well worth seeking out.

--- Graham Clarke

Corey LedetCorey Ledet continues to dig deeper into his musical heritage with his latest release, Médikamen (Nouveau Electric Records). Recorded at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, and produced by Ledet and Louis Michot, the new album features guest appearances from Germaine Jack, Anders Osbourne, Kermit Ruffins, and Grant Dermody.

Ledet and his core band (Lee Allen Zeno – bass/backing vocals, Lucien “Big Lou” Haynes – rhythm guitar, Julian Primeaux – rhythm/lead guitar, Cecil Green – keyboards, Je’an Paul Jolivette drums/backing vocals) rip through a dozen songs written and performed entirely in Kouri-Vini (a Louisiana Creole dialect of French his family spoke).

Since I don’t speak Kouri-Vini, about all I can do is tell you that the music is fantastic. Like most zydeco recordings, there are stirring dance numbers and waltzes sprinkled throughout. There’s also a healthy dose of blues and R&B mixed in, as well as jazz and a little bit of rock n’ roll. It’s a perfect mix of traditional and contemporary that should satisfy any fans of the music.

The opening track, “Alon Kouri Laba,” is a boisterous dance number that should put a hop in your step from the get-go, while “Gònn Lamézon Démin” is a Creole version of Fats Domino’s “Goin’ Home (Tomorrow).”

Osbourne adds a funky guitar riff to “Kofè t’fe ça,” a gutsy zydeco-blues track, and Ruffins’ trumpet helps gives the title track a swinging Crescent City vibe. “Lavals a Séléstinn” is one of those waltzes that Ledet handles so well, and “M’apé Gònn a Dauphine” and “Mo Gin In Ta Lamou” (written by guitarist Russell Gordon, who played for Ledet’s father and also Rockin’ Dopsie) are both robust blues rockers that Primeaux’s guitar work and Dermody on harmonica. The lively “Mo Konten To Yê Pou Mò” has a country feel, as does “Penden Koronaj,” a rowdy, but brief mostly-instrumental track.

The pace stays upbeat with “Swiv-Mò,” which will get folks out on the dance floor for sure, and “Vayan Fenm” incorporates funk and R&B, thanks largely to the rhythm guitar work from Haynes and Primeaux. The closer “Two-Step a Ben Guiné,” another fast-paced dance tune, is an excellent track to bring this superb disc to a conclusion.

Corey Ledet’s journey to discover his musical roots has provided him with much insight into his family heritage, but it’s also opened the door for some fresh, exciting music for zydeco fans. It’s obvious this is a labor of love for Ledet and his band members, and it will be a genuine pleasure for any listeners who give Médikamen a spin.

--- Graham Clarke


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