Blues Bytes

What's New

September/October 2013

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Buddy Guy

Robert Randolph

Lurrie Bell

Mike Zito

Studebaker John

Dave Riley & Bob Corritore

Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King

Sugaray Rayford

Dana Fuchs

JT Lauritsen

Grand Marquis

Kara Grainger

Little G Weevil

Jeff Jensen

Candye Kane

Phil Gates

Randy Scott

Tommy Z

Gino Matteo

Snarky Dave

Hank Mowery

The Planetary Blues Band


Buddy GuyWhen you think about it, Buddy Guy has probably inspired as many people to pick up a guitar and play the blues as earlier influences like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Robert Johnson. In fact, he’s arguably inspired as many rock guitarists as he has blues guitarists. When I first started listening to the blues, Guy was one of the ones I heard about when reading about my favorites (Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, Jeff Beck, etc…), but it was hard to find any of his recordings at the time. Thankfully, he’s enjoyed a much larger profile for the last 20 years, so many fans have gotten to see what the fuss was about.

For the past few albums, Guy has teamed with producer/drummer Tom Hambridge and has released some of his most inspired recordings during their partnership. Their latest collaboration is a powerhouse two-disc set, Rhythm & Blues (Silvertone/RCA), that shows how deeply the blues is rooted in all areas of modern music.

The first disc, entitled “Rhythm,” finds Guy working in a soul/blues/rock vein for the most part, with several tracks featuring the Muscle Shoals Horns. Though we rarely hear Guy this way on his recent recordings, and he really stands out on tracks like “I Go By Feel,” “What’s Up With That Woman,” and “One Day Away” (a surprising countified duet with Keith Urban). Besides Urban, other guest stars include Kid Rock, who appropriately joins Guy on “Messin’ With the Kid,” and blues belter Beth Hart, who rips into a rousing duet with Guy (“What You’re Gonna Do About Me”). Guy also covers one of his early influences, Guitar Slim, with a horn-driven version of “Well I Done Got Over It.”

The second disc, entitled “Blues,” is exactly that…with Guy tearing through a solid set of original tunes all co-written by Hambridge. The second disc opener is a Hambridge/Robert Randolph composition, “Meet Me In Chicago,” a tribute to the Windy City with some scorching lead work from Guy, followed by “Too Damn Bad,” which features the driving rhythm guitar of David Grissom and piano from former Double Trouble keyboard man Reese Wynans. Guy is joined by three Aerosmith members (singer Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford) on “Evil Twin,” and recent blues sensation Gary Clark, Jr. appears on “Blues Don’t Care.” Guy closes the disc with a remake of a song he did during his Vanguard years, “Poison Ivy.”

Guy co-wrote several of the songs with Hambridge on both discs, with the autobiographical “I Came Up Hard,” the rousing first disc opener, “Best In Town,” and “Devil’s Daughter” being particular standouts. Most of the tunes have an autobiographical quality to them and Guy really brings life to the lyrics with his heartfelt performances.

The day Rhythm & Blues hit the airwaves (July 30th), Guy celebrated his 77th birthday. It’s safe to say that he is now, and has been for a while, one of the blues’ “elder statesmen,” but the only way you can tell that is by looking at his driver’s license. By listening to his performances on this disc, you’d almost swear he was one of the genre’s young lions with plenty left to prove. This old tiger’s still got plenty in the tank and Rhythm & Blues is proof positive of that.

--- Graham Clarke

Robert RandolphRobert Randolph and the Family Band took a three-year hiatus from the studio after their previous release, We Walk This Road, and it was a well-deserved rest, given their relentless touring schedule over the previous few years. With batteries recharged, the band returned to the studio, this time with Blue Note Records, to release Lickety Split, an exuberant disc that probably captures the qualities of their live performances better than any of their earlier studio efforts.

With every subsequent release, Randolph has moved his sound from its sacred steel roots (which originated in the House of God fundamentalist denomination) and absorbed influences from the blues, funk, and R&B, drawing a larger audience with each passing year. This new release takes in some Louisiana influences with the dreamy “New Orleans” (with vocals from Randolph’s sister, Lenesha), and the thumping “Take The Party” (featuring Trombone Shorty).

The gospel presence is still felt on tracks like the pulsating title cut and the inspirational “Born Again,” which borrows the melody of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With,” and features backing vocals from guest Bekka Bramlett. Another guest star of note is guitar legend Carlos Santana, who teams with Randolph on the impossibly funky “Brand New Wayo.” Santana even channels B.B. King when encouraged by Randolph, while bass monster Daniel Morgan offers up his best Bootsy Collins and Stanley Clarke takes.

The band also tackles the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster,” and Randolph’s steel guitar soars through the heavens, complemented perfectly by the horns. The closer is a cool reading of the Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which will leave you with a smile on your face. Actually, that’s the general vibe for the entire disc. To me, Lickety Split represents Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s finest effort to date. All cylinders are firing with the band and there’s a joy and enthusiasm present that should make this disc recommended listening to anyone who has a pulse.

--- Graham Clarke

Mike ZitoMike Zito is apparently vying for the title “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Since 2012, Zito has been a part of Royal Southern Brotherhood, the supergroup he co-founded with Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Charlie Wooton, and Yonrico Scott. That group has been touring steadily since their formation and has received numerous accolades and awards since their inception.

Even with a full slate as part of RSB (plus producing the occasional album, including Samantha Fish’s BMA winner last year and her new one, out later this year), Zito continues to maintain a busy schedule with his other band, The Wheel, with whom Zito recorded his most recent solo release, Gone To Texas, his debut release for Ruf Records. The state of Texas is significant to Zito….years ago, he retreated to the Lone Star State and conquered his drug addictions and met his significant other there. He’s been there ever since.

The album is a classic model of blues and roots music. Zito produced the disc and the Wheel (Jimmy Carpenter – sax and guitars, Rob Lee – drums, Scot Sutherland – bass) are joined by several noteworthy guests…..slide guitar master Sonny Landreth, vocalists Delbert McClinton and Susan Cowsill, and keyboardist Lewis Stephens.

Highlights include the title track, a gentle rocker that recounts Zito’s journey to redemption and rebirth, “Rainbow Bridge,” a fantastic southern rock gem with some great slide work from Landreth, “I Never Knew A Hurricane,” a soulful track co-written by Zito and RSB mate Cyril Neville, that features a nice backing vocal from Cowsill, and “Voices of Dallas,” another autobiographical track. McClinton joins Zito on vocals for the honky tonker, “The Road Never Ends” (co-written by Zito and Devon Allman).

Though the basic theme is Texas/Gulf Coast music, “Don’t Think Cause You’re Pretty” is a powerful dose of blues/rock, “Death Row” is a fine acoustic Delta blues, and “Don’t Break A Leg” is a funky little number that showcases Stephens’ greasy keyboards and Carpenter’s sax (nice turn on vocals by Zito on this one, too). “Hell on Me” is another solid blues/rocker with cool psychedelic fretwork mixed in.

Zito also does a marvelous job on McClinton’s ballad, “Take It Easy,” one of two covers on the disc. The other is a moving version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Let Your Love Shine On Me,” featuring Zito solo on acoustic guitar. Truthfully, there’s not a bad song on the disc. Based on the content of Gone To Texas, blues fans should be grateful that Mike Zito decided to make the initial journey. We have been rewarded with one of the best releases of the year.

--- Graham Clarke

Lurrie BellFor his latest CD, Blues In My Soul (Delmark Records), Chicago guitarist extraordinaire Lurrie Bell decided to get back to the basics, playing old-school Chicago blues, after stretching his limits and expanding his musical boundaries on his previous two releases. Recorded at Riverside Studios in Chicago, with a solid group of Windy City musicians (including keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bass player Melvin Smith, drummer Willie Hayes, and longtime collaborator Matthew Skoller on harmonica) and a savvy producer (Dick Shurman) behind the board, all the pieces were in place for a dream project.

For this release, Bell went through about 200 submitted songs to pick 11 choice covers that will ring familiar with most blues fans. There are two choice selections from T-Bone Walker (the jumping opener “Hey Hey Baby” and “T-Bone Blues Special”), and a host of tunes from Chicago legends like Junior Wells (“’Bout The Break of Day”), Jimmy Rogers (“My Little Machine”), Little Walter (“I Just Keep Loving Her”), Otis Spann (“Blues Never Die”), and Eddie Boyd (“Just The Blues”).

Bell also takes on “I Feel So Good” (popularized by J. B. Hutto, among others), “She’s A Good ‘Un” (Otis Rush), and a rousing cover of the J.L. Smith tune, “If It’s Too Late.” Blending in seamlessly with the cover tunes are three tracks written by Bell, which include the introspective title track, a nice tribute to Magic Slim (“24 Hour Blues”), which Bell cut the day of Slim’s death, and a funky instrumental track, “South Side To Riverside,” one of two track that include horns (Marques Carroll – trumpet, arrangements, Chris Neal – tenor sax, Mark Hiebert – baritone sax).

Bell recently appeared on a couple of fine collections of vintage Chicago blues (the Chicago Blues: A Living History series, produced by Matthew Skoller’s brother Larry), playing this variety of Chicago blues. It was great to hear him perform on those two double-disc sets and the fact that he continues on that theme for this release will certainly be pleasing to blues fans.

Actually, most blues fans are just supremely grateful that Bell is still around and seems to be at the peak of his powers, given the adversity he’s dealt with over the years. He breathes new life into many of these familiar tracks with his inspired guitar work and his emotional vocals that come from deep within. If you’ve not experienced Lurrie Bell’s incredible talents, Blues In My Soul is a good place to start, but I promise you will be wanting to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

Studebaker JohnStudebaker John Grimaldi cut his musical teeth learning to play his father’s harmonica at age seven in his native Chicago. Years later, he discovered the blues on Maxwell Street, when he saw Big John Wrencher blowing harmonica one day when he was in the neighborhood working with his father’s plumbing business. Later, after hearing Hound Dog Taylor’s hurricane-force slide guitar, he learned to play slide guitar. Obviously, Grimaldi learned his lessons well, and he has enjoyed a fair amount of success over the past four decades, and has been recording on a regular basis since the mid ’90s, with his last couple of releases coming from the Delmark label.

For his third and latest Delmark effort, Studebaker John has assembled rhythm guitarist Rick Kreher (from Muddy Waters’ last band), former Mellow Fellow bassist Bob Halaj, and former Teardrop drummer (and Blues Before Sunrise radio host) Steve Cushing to form the Maxwell Street Kings. Kingsville Jukin’ is definitely an old-school recording, cut with vintage equipment, lo-fi analog to hi-fi stereo. The result is a rough and ragged mix that gives the project a classic feel, loaded with grit and funk and sweaty atmosphere.

All 16 tracks were written by Grimaldi and they ring true to the era to which he is paying tribute. There’s plenty of greasy slide guitar in the Hound Dog Taylor tradition, and the backing is superb. Highlights include the crisp opener, “Mississippi To Chicago,” “When They Played The Real Blues,” “The Rest Is Up To You,” with Grimaldi shining on guitar and harp, and the rocking “Ride Again.”

Grimaldi also takes time to honor his mentors and influences. “I Am The Houserocker” is dedicated to former Houserocker Brewer Phillips. “Howlin’ In The Moonlight” pays homage to Howlin’ Wolf, and “Kingsville Jukin’” is a harmonica workout dedicated to Big John Wrencher. The outstanding slow blues, “Cold Black Night,” is dedicated to guitarist Peter Green, and the manic “Shake Some For Me” surely has Hound Dog Taylor smiling in blues heaven.

Coolest of all is the closing track. “Bad Gasoline” was cut directly to a 78 from a Wilcox Gay Recordio. Grimaldi plays some ripping slide on track and the definitely lo-fi acoustics are a fitting close to this great old school blues recording. Folks, this is how they used to do them back in the day, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more like it every once in a while.

--- Graham Clarke

Dave Riley, Bob CorritoreDave Riley and Bob Corritore have proven to be a highly entertaining duo with their “Mississippi Meets Chicago” approach to the blues. The combination of Riley’s brand of rough and rugged down-home blues and Corritore’s Windy City-based harmonica are a blues marriage made in Heaven, and the partnership and great music continues with their third release as a team, Hush Your Fuss! (SWMAF/Vizztone).

This is old-school blues at its finest. Riley and Corritore wrote most of the songs either individually or collaboratively. The highlights include the rustic Delta-styled title track that opens the disc, the anti-profanity ditty, “No Cussin’,” “Home in Chicago,” “Hard Headed Woman,” “Happy As A Man Can Be,” “My Baby’s Gone,” and “Oil Spill Blues.” The two covers are “Snuff Dippin’ Woman,” penned by the late John Weston, a longtime Riley musical partner, and “Mississippi Po’ Boy,” a gospel tune originally done by the Canton Spirituals.

Riley is in excellent form, with some solid guitar work and that timeless voice that is the perfect combination of grit and good humor. Corritore shows why he’s one of the finest harmonica men in the business with his concise and always complementary harp solos and fills. This is a team that I hope endures for a long time. The closing tune is pretty representative of their partnership…..”Laughing Blues,” which sounds like two buddies having a ball. They are supported by an excellent rhythm section consisting of Riley’s son, Dave “Yahni” Riley, Jr. (bass), and Brian Fahey (drums) with Gloria Bailey adding keyboards on “Mississippi Po’ Boy.”

With Hush Your Fuss!, Dave Riley and Bob Corritore serve up yet another fantastic set of blues just like the old folks used to do them back in the day. Old-school blues fans will want to hear this set over and over again.

--- Graham Clarke

Smokin Joe Kubek, Bnois KingWhen you pop a Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King CD into your stereo (or download it onto your iPod….however, these young whippersnappers today listen to their music), blues fans pretty much know what they’re in store for, some of the best down-and-dirty Texas roadhouse blues currently in production. Kubek’s rugged guitar work, coupled with King’s own sharp fretwork and soulful vocals, are a potent combination, and have been for over twenty years of performing and recording together.

Road Dog’s Life is the duo’s 15th release, and their second on Delta Groove, and it holds true to the band’s standard operating procedure, with ten great original tunes and two choice cover tunes. Lending the pair a hand are members of the Mannish Boys’ rhythm section (Willie J. Campbell – bass, Jimi Bott – drums), Nightcats guitarist Kid Andersen, Kansas City bass player Patrick Recob, and a legendary pair of harp men, Kim Wilson and Delta Groove head man Randy Chortkoff.

Kubek and King’s songs are always original and fun to listen to, like the opener, “Big Money Sonny,” which is a character study backed by a tight R&B groove. “Nobody But You” is a enjoyable shuffle that features King, Wilson, and Chortkoff on vocals, with Wilson and Chortkoff trading harmonica riffs throughout. The title track is a muscular blues rocker, and the canine theme continues with, naturally, “K9 Blues,” a clever tune that showcases Kubek’s guitar and Wilson’s harmonica.

Kubek and King’s guitar interplay is really nice on “Face To Face,” and the rock and roller “I Ain’t Greasin’” is another standout. “Talkin’ ‘Bout Bad Luck” finds Kubek playing some searing lap steel and an appropriately gritty vocal from King. The covers are interesting….a slowed down take on the Beatles’ “Don’t Bother Me,” and a funky reworking of the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire.”

Road Dog’s Life ranks as one of Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King’s best efforts, and that’s already a pretty high bar to top. Let’s just say the bar got raised a little bit higher with this release. Here’s hoping that this musical partnership continue to be fruitful for many years to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Sugaray RayfordSugaray Rayford was a featured vocalist on the Mannish Boys’ 2012 album (and BMA Winner for Traditional Blues Album of the Year), Double Dynamite. Though his name be unfamiliar to most blues fans, Rayford, a Texas native, made a name for himself on the Southern California music scene, leading San Diego band Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz to a 3rd Place finish at the 2006 IBC. Delta Groove Productions chief Randy Chortkoff was impressed and filed his name away for future reference. When the Mannish Boys needed a new front man, Rayford got the call. The rest, as they say, is recent history, with Double Dynamite making many blues fans’ Top Ten List (including mine) last year thanks, in part, to his efforts.

Now Delta Groove has released Sugaray Rayford’s debut solo album, Dangerous. As with most Delta Groove recordings, the backing band consists of a veritable all-star team of the West Coast blues scene’s finest musicians, including several Mannish Boy members (Chortkoff, Willie J. Campbell, Jimi Bott, and Frank Goldwasser), plus Kim Wilson, Monster Mike Welch, Big Pete, Gino Matteo, Kid Andersen, Bill Stuve, Fred Kaplan, and Anthony Geraci. Also joining in the fun is another Sugar Ray….veteran harp man Sugar Ray Norcia.

The opener is a nice Chicago-styled “Country Boy,” written by Norcia and featuring some excellent harpwork from him as well. Rayford’s own compsostion, “Stuck For A Buck,” is next and has a nice R&B feel to it, with some fine guitar from Gino Matteo. The menacing title track showcases a great vocal from Rayford and more standout harp from Norcia, who also teams with Rayford on the appropriately-titled “Two Times Sugar.”

Goldwasser adds some great West Coast-styled guitar on the Pee Wee Crayton number, “When It Rains It Pours,” complementing Rayford’s smooth vocal. Gatemouth Brown’s “Depression Blues” is another standout, with guitar from Kid Andersen. Andersen also contributes lead guitar on the Rayford composition, “I Might Do Something Crazy” and the Junior Parker chestnut, “In The Dark.” The acoustic “Need A Little More Time” and Son House’s “Preaching Blues,” which closes the disc feature Goldwasser on guitar.

As you may have noticed, there is a very diverse set of tunes on this album, and Sugaray Rayford handles each and everyone of these styles with ease. At times, his vocals are reminiscent of Lonnie Brooks with their passion and fire (notably on “In The Dark,” a tune previously covered by Brooks), but he is very much his own man. Naturally, it doesn’t hurt a bit that he’s backed by this superlative set of musicians. He has proven to be a real find as a blues singer, and Dangerous is evidence of his talent and versatility.

--- Graham Clarke

Dana FuchsDana Fuchs’ latest release, Bliss Avenue (Ruf Records), is her most personal effort to date, with all 12 songs co-written by the singer with her guitarist, Jon Diamond. These compositions cover a range of subjects that are close to her, and will also ring familiar to most listeners, and also run the gamut from blues to soul to roots to rock. Good as the songs are, it doesn’t hurt one bit that Fuchs is one of the best blues/rock vocalists currently performing. The fact that these songs are personal to her makes her performances even better than usual.

The title track opens the disc and Fuchs’ blistering vocals bring to mind Janis Joplin (she portrayed the late singer in Love, Janis on Broadway). “How Did Things Get This Way” is a blues rocker that would have been a smooth fit back in the ’70s. I really like the southern rock flavor of “Handful Too Many” and the soul bent of “Livin’ on Sunday,” with the churchy keyboards (from Glenn Patscha) and chick singers (Tabitha Fair and Nicki Richards) is pretty cool, too.

There’s more great deep soul on “So Hard To Move,” with one of Fuch’s best vocal performances on an album loaded with fantastic singing. She also ventures into country/rock territory on several tracks (“Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Nothin’ On My Mind, “Rodents In The Attic,” “Vagabond Wind,” and the closer, “Long Long Game”), indicating that she would certainly be successful if she were to move in that direction in the future.

Diamond’s guitar work is perfectly simpatico with Fuch’s vocals and it’s obvious they’ve worked together for awhile. Patscha’s keyboards and the tight rhythm section (Jack Daley – bass, Shawn Pelton – drums) are also excellent. Bliss Avenue is Dana Fuchs at her best, both as a singer and composer. Blues/rock fans will want to add this set to their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

JTLOn Play by the Rules (Hunters Records), Scandinavian blues man J.T. Lauritsen split time between his native Norway, recording with his regular band and guest Anson Funderburgh, and Memphis, Tennessee where he recorded at Ardent Recording Studios with a band that included Victor Wainwright, Billy Gipson, and Willie J. Campbell. Other guest artists include Larry McCray, Teresa James, Reba Russell, and Sven Zetterberg.

The influence of Memphis permeates all 12 tracks. Lauritsen’s standout vocals bring soulful tracks like William Bell’s inspirational “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” Big Walter Horton’s “Need My Baby,” the swamp pop classic, “Mathilda,” and Big Joe Maher’s “Ever Since The World Began” to rich and vibrant life. Gillian Welch’s Valley of Tears” is given a spiritual twist, and Bo Carlsson’s “The Blues Got Me,” brings the disc to a rousing close.

The six originals compare very well to the covers, with Lauritsen’s New Orleans-flavored “Next Time,” the title track, which features some exquisite slide guitar from Josh Roberts, “I’ll Never Get Over You,” which sounds for all the world like an old Stax tune thanks to a dynamite vocal turn from Lauritsen and some greasy B3 from Paul Wagnberg, and the churning boogie “Find My Little Girl,” which features Funderburgh.

Lauritsen, who sings, plays harmonica, accordion, and Hammond B3, and drummer Jon Grimsby are the only two musicians who appear on each track, but the production and musicianship is so seamless, you will never know the two sessions were recorded thousands of miles apart. Play by the Rules is a great release that showcases the talents of an artist you may not be familiar with, but J.T. Lauritsen is someone you will want to hear more from soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Grand MarquisI was excited when the swing revival took place in the mid to late ’90s, and it seemed like everyone tried to jump on board and several bands actually got some well-deserved national attention, but as is the case with most musical genre revivals, everybody soon moved on to the next big thing. However, several of these bands remain and sound just as good and vibrant as they did in the late ’90s. One of these bands is Grand Marquis, who was formed in 1998, appropriately, in Kansas City, the birthplace of swing.

Grand Marquis has always understood that the blues was a big part of swing music and, more so than most, the blues has always been a big part of their approach to swing. The band also throws R&B, rock, and jazz into the mix, so their music never sounds stale or dated in the least, which is made obvious on their sixth and latest release, Blues and Trouble.

For this new album, the group trots out a dozen original tunes to go along with one cover, a swinging (of course) version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” The original tunes are pretty noteworthy, too. The opener, “Bed of Nails,” mixes profound lyrics of regret with a manic horn chart with some searing slide guitar work from Ryan Wurtz, while “Every Day’s The Same” has a definite Crescent City bounce. “Reputation” is a minor key blues that features a nice vocal turn from singer/sax man Bryan Redmond. The title track is in the same vein with a sweaty, late night feel to it.

Additional highlights include “You’re Still My Baby,” another New Orleans-flavored tune…this time with a Dixieland beat, the jazzy “Ironclad Alibi,” the dazzling swinger “Two by Two,” and the impressive slow blues, “Easy to Be the Devil,” with some splendid slide work from Wurtz. Each member (Redmond – vocals, sax, Chad Boydston – trumpet, Wurtz – guitar, Ben Ruth – upright bass, sousaphone, and Lisa McKenzie – drums, washboard) gets ample opportunity to take the spotlight on most of the tracks, and they sound fantastic.

With Blues and Trouble, Grand Marquis prove that they are on top of their game, and their infectious mix of swing, blues, jazz, rock, and R&B is fresh and innovative enough to maybe spark a swing re-revival, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

--- Graham Clarke

Kara GraingerSinger/guitarist/songwriter Kara Grainger got her start in her native Australia in the late ’90s with the Sydney-based band Papa Lips, teaming with her brother, harmonica player Mitch Grainger. After recording an album in the U.S. in 2006, Grainger moved to the states in 2008, and is beginning to make as big an impact here as she did in her native land. Grainger’s third CD, on Eclecto Groove Records, is Shiver & Sigh.

While Grainger’s sound is rooted in the blues, there are also considerable nods to soul, rock, pop, jazz, and Americana, but most especially the soul side of blues. Her sultry vocals simmer over a slow groove for the most part, and her guitar work is crisp and sharp, a perfect complement to the songs. Grainger wrote five of the 11 songs here, and they’re a solid set, including “Shut Down,” the jazzy “Lost In You,” and a nice R&B track, “You’re The One.”

“No Way You Can Hurt Me Now” is a country-esque track with some nice keyboard from Mike Finnigan, and some excellently subtle slide guitar from Grainger. Mike Zito contributed “Holding Out For Love,” a slow soul burner, and three well-done covers help wrap up the disc….a fine version of Robert Johnson’s “C’mon In My Kitchen” (with harmonica from brother Mitch), a superlative reworking of the Memphis standard, “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,’ and a lovely acoustic read on Wayne Perkins’ “Overdue For The Blues.”

Don’t expect a lot of pyrotechnics on Shiver & Sigh. It’s more a smooth, sensuous, slow burner of a release, as Kara Grainger shows that you can be as effective with a whisper as with a scream. This is a marvelous set of soulful blues that really hits home.

--- Graham Clarke

Little G WeevilLittle G Weevil has had a very productive 2013, beginning a pair of victories at the 2013 IBC (the Solo/Duo Competition and the Best Solo Guitarist Award). The native Hungarian’s previous two releases indicated a fondness for the pre-war blues sound as well as traditional artists like John Lee Hooker, who brought the older style into modern use.

Weevil’s third release, on VizzTone, is called Moving, and continues that pattern with a stellar set of tunes, a dozen in all. What’s different on this release is that he wanted to capture the vintage sound and feel of those old recordings, going without overdubs and other bells and whistles, so he recorded the entire disc in a 20x15 room in a studio in an Atlanta neighborhood where Blind Willie McTell used to play for tips. Microphones were set up throughout the room to better capture the atmosphere. Joining Weevil for selected tracks on the recording are Maurice Nazzaro on harmonica, Danny V. Vinson on guitar, Dustin Sergant on upright bass, and Adam Goodhue on drums.

Weevil alternates between acoustic, dobro, and cigar box guitar on these tracks, a fine set of originals, plus the traditional “Let’s Talk It Over (Come Back Baby).” It’s easy to see almost immediately that his recent IBC awards were well deserved. He’s a gifted guitarist and his vocal style reminds listeners of the old blues artists with its ruggedness and his delivery.

Moving is raw, down-home blues at its finest. Little G Weevil’s songwriting and his performances blend perfectly with the old blues that inspired it all. This is one of the better albums of traditional blues that I’ve heard in quite some time. The IBC judges certainly knew what they were doing.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff JensenWhat is it about the city of Memphis that brings out the absolute best in blues artists? Whatever it is, it’s got Jeff Jensen, who moved to the Bluff City from Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago and teamed up with local harmonica stalwart, Brandon Santini. After co-producing and appearing on Santini’s recent album, Jensen has put together one of his own, Road Worn and Ragged (Swingsuit Records), which was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, and shows the singer/guitarist doing what he does best, blending the blues with soul, swing, and Americana.

The blues/rocker opener, “Brunette Woman,” was a Pick of the Week recently at USA Today, and deservedly, matching Jensen’s robust vocals and guitar with Santini’s smoking harmonica work. “Good Bye Portland” is an autobiographical track recounting Jensen’s move from there to Memphis. “Heart Attack and Vine” is a ’40s styled R&B tune, backed by the slick swinging instrumental, “Pepper.”

Jensen covers the jazzy blues standard, “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You,” giving it an achingly slow arrangement that’s really effective. Two other covers follow….a swinging version of “Little Red Rooster” and a hot reworking of Muddy Waters’ “Crosseyed Cat.” “Raggedy Ann” is a nice mid-tempo track that showcases co-writer, and fellow Memphian, Victor Wainwright on piano.

The emotional “River Runs Dry” features a frank and heartfelt vocal from Jensen, and the closer, “Thankful,” mixes R&B with a solid dose of funk, thanks to some greasy Memphis-styled keyboard from Chris Stephenson.

Road Worn and Ragged has a great balance of blues, R&B, and swing. Jensen is a compelling songwriter and guitarist, but he really covers a lot of territory with his vocals, moving easily and seamlessly within these varied musical styles. He’s definitely worth a listen and you will certainly be hearing more from him in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Candye KaneCandye Kane has had her share of struggles over the years….her most recent and ongoing battle has been a lengthy fight with cancer which has included surgery last year and continuing monthly injections to fight the disease. Throughout these battles, Kane has not only maintained her status as one of the foremost blues singers of her era, but she has also continued to develop and expand her music and range, despite the adversity.

Kane’s latest release, Coming Out Swingin’ (VizzTone), is her third consecutive release to feature guitarist Laura Chavez, and with Chavez, Kane seems to have located a kindred musical spirit. The pair collaborated on eight of the 13 tracks, including the breathless title track, the churning Chicago boogie of “I’m The Reason Why You Drink,” the smooth southern soul track, “When Tomorrow Comes,” and “Rise Up!,” a greasy R&B track straight out of Memphis.

Kane really gets up close and personal on the slow blues track, “Invisible Woman,” maybe her most autobiographical tune yet, goes Texas roadhouse with the twangy “I Wanted You To Walk (Right Thru That Door),” and shows a touch of the Crescent City on the funky “Au Revoir Y’all.” The choice covers include the Motown ballad, “Darling Baby,” a smoldering take on Rick Estrin’s “What Love Can Do,” Benny Carter’s jazzy classic “Rock Me To Sleep,” and a fiery reading of Lalo Guererro’s “Marijuana Boogie.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Kane sound better and Chavez’s amazing fret work is simply some of the best you will hear on a blues recording this year. The rest of the band also deserves mention for their outstanding support…..Fred Rautmann (drums), Kennan Shaw and Thomas Yearsley (bass), Leo Dombecki (organ), Bill Caballero (trumpet), April West (trombone), Jonny Viau (saxophone), Sue Palmer (piano), Billy Watson (harmonica), and Casey Hensley (vocals).

Candye Kane has battled back from her toughest fight yet, resulting in some of her finest music to date with Coming Out Swingin’. Her musical partnership with Laura Chavez is one for the ages and hopefully, we will get to hear much more from them in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Phil GatesThe Chicago-born singer/guitarist Phil Gates comes from a musical family, which helped him to forge his own musical vision of the blues. Over the years, he’s worked as a session guitarist for Phillip Bailey, Maurice White, Peabo Bryson, Regina Belle, Freddie Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Zac Harmon, and many more. He also co-produced Harmon’s The Blues According to Zacariah back in 2005, so, yeah, he knows his way around the music world for sure. His 2010 disc, Addicted To The Blues, was one of the surprise releases of 2010.

Gates’ eighth and latest release, Live at the Hermosa Saloon (DCT Productions), captures his electrifying live act before an appreciative crowd at Hermosa Beach in Southern California. Backed by a tight rhythm section (Ron Battle – bass, Keith Williams – drums, and Morris Beeks – keyboards), Gates works through a strong 13-song set consisting of 11 original compositions and two well-chosen covers.

Kicking off with a loose and limber version of “Addicted To The Blues,” the originals range from the funky “Away I Go” “Take It Out,” “Get Around To Me,” and “Old School,” to the urban blues sound of “Used Me Up,” to “End of Time,” a blues/rock workout. “Evening Train” is a churning new addition to the vast repertoire of train songs, and “I’m Lost” is a reflective tune with a gospel feel. The cover tunes are Junior Wells’ “Messin’ with the Kid,” which features some tasty guitar work from Gates, and “Summer in the City” is given a jazzy makeover.

Gates does an excellent job on vocals and has a nice rapport with the audience. His guitar work is equally impressive as he moves from funky riffs to scorching blues/rock and stinging blues licks effortlessly, and the band is exceptional in support, with Beeks really shining, taking extended solos on several tracks. The set list covers a lot of ground with blues, R&B, soul, funk, and jazz, and covers all of it well.

The mark of any good live recording is that it makes the listener wish that they had been at the performance to witness it in person. Live at the Hermosa Saloon passes that test with flying colors, and if there’s any justice in the world, it should earn Phil Gates a considerable number of new fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy ScottAs a youngster growing up in Detroit, guitarist Randy Scott was inspired by listening to his dad’s record collection, which included LPs from B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Big Mama Thornton. He started playing at age 11 and later graduated from the Guitar Institute, but grew frustrated while trying to break through in the music business and gave up the guitar for ten years.

Scott wandered into a Guitar Center one day, while waiting for some friends, and started playing one of the guitars there. A store manager heard him and encouraged him to enter their 4th annual King of the Blues competition, and Scott went on to beat out over 4,000 contestants to win the prestigious honor.

After winning the award, accompanying endorsements from Gibson, Ernie Ball, Boss, Celestion, and Egnater, and opening for the likes of Paul Rodgers, Edgar Winter, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and Robben Ford, Scott has released his debut recording, Out Of The Blue (Favored Nations Records), which is produced by Grammy winner Pete Anderson, and features Scott with drummer Gary Novak, bass player Travis Carlton (Ford), and keyboardist Jeff Babko (Larry Carlton). Guitar legend Albert Lee also joins Scott on a couple fo tracks.

Listening to Scott’s sharp and economical fretwork, he is adept not only at the blues, but also mixes jazz and rock with equal measure, and his vocals brings to mind the recent work of Robben Ford. Scott wrote all 13 tunes here and while most are rooted in the blues or blues/rock (“Mean-Hearted Woman,” “Rambin’ Man Blues,” “Whiskey From The Bottle,” “Hell To Pay”), there are also forays into jazz territory (“Nothin’ But A Thang”), and even pop/rock (“Kisses Like Cherries” and “Fire”).

It’s a little surprising that someone with Randy Scott’s talents didn’t strike gold the first time around, but with this promising debut release, the second time around should be the charm.

--- Graham Clarke

Tommy ZTommy Z has been a part of the Western New York music scene since he was a teenager, having won so many local honors as a guitarist and performer that he was basically “retired” by being induced into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2007, therefore becoming ineligible for further awards. He has made numerous trips overseas to entertain US troops (his father is a Vietnam vet), and has composed music for film, TV, sports (the victory song for the St. Louis Blues).

Sometimes (South Blossom Records) is Tommy Z’s second album and shows the guitarist to be as gifted a songwriter and vocalist as he is a guitarist. He’s not afraid to tackle current issues, as heard on “Livin’ In A Blue State,” or the regular blues topics, such as lost love (the slow burner, “So Tired of Being Lonely”). He also holds his own with blues/rock (“I Got Your Back”) and R&B (the ironic title track).

There’s also three instrumentals……. “Roger That,” a solid rocker with traces of SRV throughout, the seriously funky “Snooty Funk” (with a shot of “Norwegian Wood” tossed in), and the no-holds-barred closer, “Tommy’z Boogie.” Three cover tunes round out the set….”200 Lbs. of Joy,” a slimmed down take on the Willie Dixon classic, Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Gangster of Love,” and a tender reading of Eric Clapton’s “Old Love.”

Guitar fans will definitely get their geek on to Tommy Z’s latest…there’s some fantastic string bending going on, for sure…but there’s much more to enjoy with a great set of original songs and some terrific covers of classic blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Gino MatteoGino Matteo has worked with artists like B.B. King, Shemekia Copeland, John Mayer, Kid Ramos, Guitar Shorty, and Little Willie G., so his blues credentials are impeccable. His second release, Sweet Revival (Rip Cat Records), is an interesting and diverse album of blues/rock that stands above the standard fare based on Matteo’s talents as a performer and songwriter.

The opener, “Here Comes The Lord,” finds Matteo mixing gospel into his blues/rock, adding a soul-drenched vocal (backed by a choir) and some stinging guitar work. “Pulpit In The Graveyard” is a catchy southern-flavored rocker, and “Coming Out” is one of the highlights of the disc, a blues rocker with pop overtones that adds harmonica from Jason Ricci. “Take A Chance On Me” is a lovely ballad with a nice vocal from Matteo and backing vocals from Jade Bennett (Matteo’s wife), Delgado Brothers drummer Steve Delgado, and Sherri Pruitt.

“Childhood Games” is another strong, catchy blues rocker that’s followed by the Latin-tinged “Grandma Told Me.” “The Longest Night” has a ’60s feel with the harmony vocals and surf-like guitar. “We Can Find A Way” returns to the Latin rhythms, and the closer, “Listen To Your Mother,” is a nice ballad with acoustic guitar and Ricci’s harmonica.

A stellar group provides excellent support to Matteo, including guitarist/co-producer Joey Delgado (also of the Delgado Brothers), James Breker (bass), Tevor Monks (drums), Tony Nouhan (keyboards), and Dave Kelley (keyboards). Sweet Revival is a well-balanced set of blues, rock, and gospel tunes that rewards with each listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Little MikeI first heard Little Mike & the Tornadoes way back in the late ’80s when they were backing Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin on their recordings for Blind Pig Records. I didn’t know at the time that the band had been active since the late ’70s, backing Perkins and Sumlin along with other blues artists (Walter Horton, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Rogers) who played the NYC scene during that time. Influenced by the great Muddy Waters, among others, the band built a solid reputation during this formative years, and eventually recorded four albums of their own from 1990.

Forgive Me is the band’s first release since 1998, and, as might be expected, it’s a strong set of Chicago-styled blues, The band includes “Little Mike Markowitz (vocals, harmonica), Troy Nahumko (guitar), Cam Robb (drums), Chris Brzezicki (bass), Jim McKaba (piano), and a guest appearance on several tracks by the lap steel wizard, Sonny Rhodes. The late Midnight Creepers guitarist Warren King appears on the soulful track, “Nothin’ I Wouldn’t Do,” and another KingSnake Records alum, Ace Moreland, sings backup on one track.

Highlights include the instrumental opener, “Opelousas Rain,” a six and a half minute trip to guitar nirvana showcasing Rhodes and Nahumko, the raucous “Tell Me Baby,” which sounds like it comes straight off the Hound Dog Taylor set list, and the Texas-based shuffle “Walked All The Way.” “Fool Too Long” is a nice little swing blues, and “You Don’t Love Me” is a slow blues, and the title track is Chicago all the way. “My Little Therese” offers 11+ minutes of fantastic old school blues, with Markowitz standing out on harmonica and McKaba with some Otis Spann-like piano work.

If old school blues is your bag, you’ve come to the right place with Forgive Me. Even though they’ve never left the music scene, it’s really great to have Little Mike & the Tornadoes back on the recording scene. Hopefully, it won’t be another 15 years between releases.

--- Graham Clarke

Big SnarkSnarky Dave has probably been called many things, but he’s most definitely one of the most original and entertaining songwriters you’ll hear. He writes from a personal perspective, but the cool thing is that all of us regular folks listening can relate to every word he sings at one time or another in our lives. That’s why blues fans are advised not to pass on his latest release (backed by the Prickly Bluesmen), Big Snark.

With an opening track called “Caucasian Blues,” you know this disc is going to be different. This track is a humorous look at depressing economic and romantic prospects, and reappears at the end of the album rearranged into an acoustic track. This is followed by “Bitchin’,” which finds him seeking relief from a constantly nagging mate (complete with background vocals from the “Bitchin’ Chorus”), and “Big Girl,” an ode to the charms of full-figured women.

“Mother & I” changes the tone a bit….it’s a somber look at what happens to the children of a broken marriage. “Doggone Fool” is a funky self-reprimand over past offenses and is followed by “Pick It Up,” a musical kick in the pants motivational tool. “Mike Sully’s Boogie” is a cool boogie rocker dedicated to a long-lost buddy. “Makes No Sense” is a lament about the state of the world, and the acoustic version of the opening track (retitled “Caucoustic Blues”) concludes this very interesting disc.

Big Snark is not your typical blues disc. Snarky Dave puts out some pretty profound and personal lyrics and manages to do most of it with a wink and a grin. The odds are pretty good that you will be grinning, too.

--- Graham Clarke

Hank MoweryDon’t call Account to Me (Old Pal Records) a tribute album. It’s more of an appreciation of the late singer/harmonica player Gary Primich, who passed away in 2007. Fellow singer/harmonica player Hank Mowery met Primich in the mid ’90s, when Mowery was running a blues club in Grand Rapids. The two became friends and Mowery continued to help Primich during some low points in the latter musician’s career.

In 2012, Mowery put together a tribute show in Grand Rapids that included several other harp players of note, including Doug Deming, Peter Madcat Ruth, and Dennis Gruenling, and was approached by Primich’s sister, Darsha Primich, about recording a couple of the late musician’s songs after his death, along with a few covers of his older songs. Mowery added a couple of original tunes to the mix, and a project was soon in the works.

We are fortunate that the previously unrecorded songs were discovered, or else we would have missed out on a pair of gems. The title track is a deep soul ballad that would have sounded great had Primich had the opportunity to record it. That being said, it would be hard to top Mowery’s version, with Patrick Recob and Troy Amaro on guitars and Chris Corey on piano. The other new track is “Tricky Game,” an R&B track with the Crescent City written all over it.

The Primich covers are also top notch as well, as Mowery ably handles vocals and harmonica on “Put The Hammer Down,” “My Home,” and “Pray For a Cloudy Day.” In addition, the band covers Memphis Slim’s “Banana Oil,” and a lovely acoustic take on the Rev. Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Along,” highlighting Mowery on vocals and harp with Jimmy Swagger on vocals and guitar.

Mowery also contributes a pair of tunes, the rocking opener, “Spend a Little Time,” and the blues number, “If I Knew What I Know.” Recob, former Primich bass player, also contributes the cool original, “Target,” taking lead vocals. Primich’s father, JV, served as executive producer and the liner notes were written by long-time Primich buddy, Tad Robinson, so Account to Me truly is a family affair and it shows with every note played and sung.

--- Graham Clarke

Planetary Blues BandThe Planetary Blues Band is aptly named, as these Indiana cats take traditional blues to another dimension, creating an interesting sound heard on their self-released debut CD, Once Upon A Time In The South Loop. Three brothers --- Martin, Michael and Bobby Schaefer-Murray --- make up most of the band, with longtime friend Nick Evans on drums. This is blues/rock played with a primal beat, and what the members of the band sometimes lack in musical chops they more than make up with relentless energy.

All but three of the ten cuts are band originals, most written by Martin Schaefer-Murray, along with several versions of traditional blues, such as the opening cut, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." As expected, the covers stray pretty far from the original renditions.

My favorite cut is the up-tempo version of the Rev. Robert Wilkins blues/gospel standard, "That's No Way To Get Along." The band captures the "down by the riverside" feeling of the original, with some nice guitar playing along the way.

Another good number is the slow blues "When I Say I Love You," featuring a hot guitar intro. This original number definitely shows that The Planetary Blues Band sound is firmly rooted in the blues.

Closing the disc is a nice up-tempo instrumental, "The Shillelagh," that allows the band a little more room to stretch out and showcase the talents on their individual instruments.

Check out their website at for more info on these dudes from Valparaiso, including a link to purchase Once Upon A Time In The South Loop from CD Baby.

--- Bill Mitchell


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