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October 2022

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Order these featured albums today:

Crystal Shawanda

Mississippi Mix

Rory Block

Bywater Call

The Dig 3

Johnny Rawls

Mick Kolassa

Jimmy Carpenter

Patty Tuite

The Rock House All Stars

Jay and the Cooks

Chris Canas





Crystal ShawandaI first became familiar with the music of Crystal Shawanda not quite two years ago when I read a review of Church House Blues, what I believe was her second blues album after previously performing as a country singer. After editing Graham Clarke's review for the February 2021 issue of Blues Bytes, I sampled a few cuts to find out what she was all about. I couldn't wait to see if I could score a promotional copy for what was then my nascent radio show, but instead paid for an online download, and I've been abig Shawanda fan since then. I waited and waited and waited for a follow-up to Church House Blues, and now we have it!

Ms. Shawanda has a powerful, raspy voice that just needs to be heard to be believed. I'm not surprised she made an easy transition to blues, because a voice this strong and soulful could sing phone book listings and sound great. (I've dated myself with the mention of a phone book --- who uses those anymore?).

Midnight Blues (True North Records) contains 10 strong offerings, starting with the title cut, a mid-tempo blues with the pain in her heart coming out in her vocals. Her husband, Dwayne Strobel, lays down the first bunch of the impressive guitar licks that are heard throughout the album, and he picks up a slide for the next cut, Buddy Guy's "What Kind Of Man," with Shawanda having plenty of questions about the man she is seeing.

If based on the title, you're guessing that "Rumpshaker" is an up-tempo number, you would be correct. Shawanda's vocals take on a sassy sound as she sings about her need for a man who is a cool rumpshaker, with very down and diirty harmonica accompaniment by either Steve Marriner or Harpdog Brown. Up next is the album's catchy single, "How Bad Do You Want It," a soulful number with a bluesy guitar solo from Strobel.

Shawanda's voice wails on the slow blues, "Why Do I Love You," getting even more powerful later on in the song as she is questioning her love for her man. One of my favorite cuts is the version of Howlin' Wolf's "Evil," with a strong harmonica solo giving that downhome Chicago sound. Shawanda's got a bit of Howlin' Wolf's spirit in her. Just take a deep look into her eyes on the album cover and you may see a touch of the Wolf in there.

Her voice gets even more demanding on the funky and soulful "I Want My Soul Back," with strong B3 accompaniment. No, she's not going down to the crossroads to try to retrieve her soul, but really is just trying to get it back from rock 'n' roll. "That's The Woman In Me" allows Shawanda to describe herself to us, as she mixes soul and country sounds while looking for a man to love but also demanding respect from him. This strong number, a hit for fellow Canadian Celine Dion, rides along on a foundation of soulful B3 accompaniment.

"Hold Me" is an up-tempo blues with a piano intro and propelled along by a steady drum backbeat, leading us into the closing number, "Walk With The Moon," a slow, soulful ballad that gives Shawanda's vocals a chance to soar.

Crystal Shawanda is one of the more powerful female vocalists I've heard in my blues listening career. Her voice commands the listener to pay close attention to the lyrics coming from her heart. Midnight Blues is another impressive addition to her discography. Considering that she's still young, there's likely plenty more ahead for her. We'll be ready for the next one.

--- Bill Mitchell

KingfishCombining blues with other contemporary forms of popular music is a way to pull in bigger audiences for the blues, with the latest example coming from Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. One of the biggest rising stars in the blues biz collaborated with Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T for a Mississippi Mix of "Another Life Goes By," one of the better topical songs from Kingfish's Grammy-winning 662 album on Alligator Records.

The original "Another Life Goes By" already had a bass beat that suited this crossover. What is now different is K.R.I.T.'s rap 45-second rap with words that certainly suit this song about the senseless deaths found throughout our nation. K.R.I.T.'s words make this song even more powerful.

It's a single, so the cost of trying it out is minimal. I recommend it.

--- Bill Mitchell

Rory BlockThe worldwide pandemic from two years ago was a terrible thing, but in some ways it forced musicians stuck at home to dig deep for ideas on how they could keep their creative spirits active. In the case of veteran blues singer / guitarist Rory Block, she reached back for songs from women artists from the '60s, '70s and '80s, teaching herself these wonderful gems that she had heard many times on the radio back in the day.

The 11 songs on Ain't Nobody Worried (Stony Plain) will be familiar to all of us, but Ms. Block puts her own spin on each number, not trying to replace the iconic original versions but instead giving them her own treatment. Anyone familiar with her long career knows that she has the musical genius to pull it off, and she does.

One of the songs that compelled Block to do this album was the Staple Singers classic, "I'll Take You There," so she appropriately opens the album with her very nice rendition, with a female background chorus (she did those parts, too) giving it the appropriate gospel vibe. Equally strong is "Midnight Train To Georgia," especially carried by Block's vocals and acoustic guitar work.

For me, the killer tune here is Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." I've heard the original countless times as well as plenty of covers, but to experience this powerful song backed only by acoustic guitar to support the vocals is just plain wonderful. Another outstanding tune is Ms. Block's own "Lovin' Whiskey," one of the biggest hits from her long career, with extra sound coming from drum programming that she did to emulate the sound of the original.

Other songs include Mary Wells' "My Guy," Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," Koko Taylor's "Cried Like A Baby," Bonnie Raitt's "Love Has No Pride," Martha and The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street," and Carole King's "You've Got A Friend."

Closing the album is an excellent version of Elizabeth Cottons' "Freight Train," Block's sublime fingerpicking guitar work raising the bar on other covers of this number from years ago.

Rory Block came up with a brilliant concept with Ain't Nobody Worried. To hear these classic songs done lovingly and in a completely different style from the originals makes each song sound like brand-new compositions. Highly recommended!

--- Bill Mitchell

Bywater CallBased in Toronto, Bywater Call is a seven-piece ensemble (Meghan Parnell – vocals, Dave Barnes guitars, Stephen Dyte – trumpet/trombone, Bruce McCarthy – drums, Mike Meusel – bass, Julian Nalli – saxophones, Alan Zemaitis – keyboards) that blends blues, rock, soul, and roots in a breathtaking style. The band is fueled by the powerful vocals of Parnell and the scorching slide guitar work of Barnes. Their latest release, Remain (Gypsy Soul Records), captures the essence of their musical vision perfectly with 11 dynamite original tunes.

“Falls Away” kicks things off, and it’s a gripping blues rocker from the opening notes, giving listeners an idea of what’s ahead. The tender and soulful “Lover Down Slow” is next, followed by the title track, a slow burning blues ballad that allows Parnell to display her full vocal range. The understated “Let Me Be Wrong” deftly mixes rock, blues and roots, while “Left Behind” is of a like mind, reminding listeners of the music of The Band. The incredibly funky “Sea We Swim” kicks off with a wonderful rumbling bass line from Meusel and never lets up.

“Ties That Bind” has a definite southern feel, with the great horn section and the bubbling B3 and bass, while “Fortune” is earthy roots and soul and “Go Alone” is a stirring rocker. The ballad “Locked” was inspired by time spent in lockdown. Parnell turns in an incredible vocal on this track, building slowly in intensity and mood toward an awesome finish. The closer, “Bring It Back,” is an upbeat rocker that wraps things up on a high note.

Bywater Call’s mix of blues, roots, rock, and soul, plus their masterful musicianship, and the impressive vocal/slide guitar combo of Parnell and Barnes makes for some mighty fine music. Remain is an album that deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

The Dig 3I love it when an old-school blues disc comes across my desk, so when I plugged in the new album from The Dig 3 I was in musical nirvana. This is truly an all-star collaboration with Andrew Duncanson of Kilborn Alley Blues Band playing guitar and singing, Ronnie Shellist blowing like mad on harp, and Garry Hundt playing just about everything else --- percussion, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, bass, etc. The trio got together during the 2020 lockdown, with this fine self-titled album of 14 original tunes (written by Duncanson) is the end result.

The Hookeresque “You’re The One” gets the album started in rousing fashion, Shellist’s harmonica fills adding to the urgency of the driving boogie rhythm. “Every Drop” has a funky, swamp blues feel and the lively “Christmas Coming” recreates the rumbling Jimmy Reed beat, while allowing ample space for Shellist’s harmonica.

“Double Cross” sounds like a vintage Muddy Waters Chess side, and “One Left, One Right” is an acoustic country blues with equal parts country and blues.

“Don’t Slip” is an amusing tune about the pitfalls of having a bit too much to drink, and “Rock That Boat” is an exuberant romp that will get toes to tapping, while “Chicken Kiss” is a playful country blues. I like the funky overtones of “Southern Fantasy,” which gives the song a more modern feel than the rest of the album, while Shellist and Hundt team up on harp for “Reposado Rock,” an instrumental Chicago shuffle in the Big Walter Horton tradition. The spirited “Run & Hide” will put a hop in your step.

The final three tracks are listed as “bonus tracks,” featuring Rodrigo Mantovani on bass. “Love Me Some Of You” is a Texas-styled roadhouse blues with a Fabulous Thunderbirds feel, while “Tell Me The Place” is a hard-charging shuffle. The album closes with the freewheeling acoustic “In My Kitchen,” about a fun evening spent at home with friends.

I’m not sure if The Dig 3 is a one-off project among friends or not. I certainly hope it’s not because these guys sound great together. Duncanson’s vocals and guitar and Shellist’s harpwork are amazing, and Hundt’s multi-instrumental contributions are the glue that keeps it together. These loose, downhome blues sessions that spring up from time to time always put a smile on my face, and this album is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Hopefully, these guys will get together again soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny RawlsFrom the first time I heard the Rawls & Luckett album Can’t Sleep At Night in the early ’90s, I’ve been a fan of soul blues man Johnny Rawls and amazed at the remarkable consistency and quality of his releases (I’ve heard nearly all of them) over that 30-year span. His albums never disappoint, with his new release for Third Street Cigar Records, Going Back To Mississippi, definitely keeping that hot streak alive. Recorded in Copenhagen and in Waterville, Ohio, the album features ten new tunes written by Rawls.

The opener, “Midnight Train,” sets the tone for the rest of the album, solid, mid-tempo soul and blues. Rawls’ vocals are as great as ever, the perfect mix of smooth and grit, and the horn section is top-notch. On the mid-tempo “Reap What You Sew,” Rawls admonishes his lover with the old “what goes around comes around” adage. The upbeat title track finds Rawls reminiscing fondly about his home state --- the food, the weather, his family, and the ladies. Couples will want to dim the lights for the soulful slow burner “If You Ever Get Lonely.”

Rawls vows everlasting loyalty to his mate on the catchy “I Got It,” and has a little bit of fun with the funky “Noki Noki.” He duets with singer Ramona Collins on the sweet soul ballad “Your Love,” and keeps the mellow vibe going with “Amazing Love.” Rawls is tough to beat on any soul blues tunes, but he’s second to none on the ballads. On the amusing “Straight From The Bottle,” about those who eschew glasses for their drinks at their local club, Rawls is joined by the one and only Elvin Bishop on vocals and guitar.

The closer, “Love Machine,” ventures a bit from soul blues. It’s a jumping little rock n’ roller, propelled by the horn section and keyboards from Alberto Marsico, that brings the album to an entertaining conclusion.

Going Back To Mississippi will certainly please Johnny Rawls’ many fans and it should bring a few new ones on board in the process. It’s an excellent addition to a most impressive catalog of recordings for this fine soul blues artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaOn They Call Me Uncle Mick! (Endless Blues Records), Mick Kolassa returns to his acoustic roots, using no amplified instruments on any tracks. The result is a warm, relaxed, intimate feeling to the 11 selections, six originals and five interesting covers, produced by longtime collaborator Jeff Jensen, who also plays guitar. The cast of supporting players includes Eric Hughes (harmonica), Alice Hasan (violin), and guitarist Chris Gill and Brad Webb, but there are a few new faces --- Bobby Rush, Doug McLeod, and Watermelon Slim.

The opener is an entertaining cover of Bo Carter’s early ’30s classic “My Pencil Won’t Write No More,” that more or less lets listeners know that they’re in for a fun time with this disc. Next, Kolassa re-does his “Wasted Youth,” acoustic-style (with Rush on harmonica) and offers up an always-welcome John Prine tune, “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin.” With McLeod on guitar, Kolassa ponders the ever-changing ways of the world in “Used To Be,” and masterfully recreates Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” into a slow burning blues ballad with Hasan on violin.

“My Woman She’s So Mean” is another amusing and unique Kolassa original (with McLeod on guitar). Watermelon Slim appears on vocals and harmonica for a blues version of Jonii Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” Meanwhile, the Kolassa original “Why?” chides a negative acquaintance in his life, but the mood picks up for the old favorite “Sunny Side Of The Street.” “Bless His Heart” is Kolassa’s funny tribute to the classic southern phrase used for different situations, and the closer, “The Cheese Song,” finds him singing the praises of all varieties of cheeses.

As always with Mick Kolassa’s releases, 100% of the net proceeds from the album will go to The Blues Foundation, split between The HART Fund and Generation Blues. They Call Me Uncle Mick! is yet another great set of originals and cover tunes from Kolassa. He has a ball playing the blues and his exuberance is contagious to listeners, so check him out!

--- Graham Clarke

Jimmy CarpenterSax man extraordinaire Jimmy Carpenter spent a dozen years living and performing in New Orleans, so it would make perfect sense for him to record an album paying tribute to the classic R&B sounds that shaped American music over a quarter of a century. Longtime friend and co-owner of Gulf Coast Records Mike Zito persuaded Carpenter to do the project and the duo headed to Dockside Studios in Louisiana to record The Louisiana Record, a superb set of 11 Crescent City favorites that will definitely put a Second Line hop in your step.

Carpenter is joined by Zito on guitar with John Gros (keyboards), Casandra Faulconer (bass), and Wayne Maureau (drums), a relatively small ensemble, but they are more than capable of producing the big sound that these tunes deserve. The opener is “I Hear You Knockin’,” recorded back in the day most famously by Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. Carpenter’s rousing version stands up well to those originals. Little Bob & the Lollipop’s swamp pop classic “I Got Loaded” is next, and should get toes to tapping and heads to bobbing.

Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got” is a New Orleans standard (a hit for Alvin “Shine” Robinson), and Carpenter’s version matches the simmering intensity of the original. I’m not sure if anyone could top Robinson’s superb vocal, but Carpenter gives it his all. Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’” is a funky good time as always, and Carpenter pours his heart into Art Neville’s ballad “All These Things,” giving a wonderful performance on sax and vocals.

Wee Willie Wayne’s “Travelin’ Mood” is a cool New Orleans blues, punctuated by Zito’s slithering slide guitar, and Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me” plays closer to Professor Longhair’s version from Crawfish Fiesta, keeping that Crescent City feel. “Those Lonely Lonely Nights” is another timeless classic, with Carpenter keeping it close to the original version. Nice piano break from Gros on this track.

“Pouring Water On A Drowning Man” was a hit for James Carr and “Bring It On Home To Me” for Sam Cooke. Carpenter and the band give these two tracks a distinct New Orleans flavor, especially the latter tune. Wrapping things up is a rollicking take on Lee Allen’s instrumental “Rockin’ at Cosimo’s.”

New Orleans R&B is a timeless music, as fresh and vital as it was at its original inception. Jimmy Carpenter and his bandmates make that obvious with their wonderful interpretations of these classic tunes. Any music fan who loves this genre of music (and I’ve never found anyone who didn’t) will love The Louisiana Record.

--- Graham Clarke

Patty TuitePatty Tuite is a New England-based singer/songwriter/guitarist who mixes blues, jazz, and rock to create an interesting musical gumbo. Her musical influences include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Bonnie Raitt, and Susan Tedeschi. Hard Case Of The Blues (Thread City Productions) is her fifth release, showcasing 11 original tunes written by Tuite that range from traditional and New Orleans blues to jazz and rock n’ roll. She’s backed by a formidable cast of musicians, including Grammy winners Paul Nelson (who also produced) and Bobby Rush.

Mr. Rush figures in immediately with a guest appearance blowing harp on the spirited opener, “Nothing But Trouble,” which also features tasty fretwork from Nelson. “I Just Wanna Play” is an energetic blues rocker. The swinging “Glad I’m Through With You” leans toward jazz, with nice work on trumpet from Rico Amero and piano from Brooks Milgate. This pair also figure prominently with “Diggin’ Up Outta This Hole,” which is straight outta New Orleans and a lot of fun.

Tuite gets funky on “I Am Strong Enough,” featuring background vocals from Amero, clavinet from Milgate, and a fiery guitar break from Nelson. That track segues nicely into “My Silent Love,” a gentle instrumental from Tuite, who plays all of the guitar parts, and “It Ain’t Over Til’ It’s Over,” a blues ballad where Tuite attempts to salvage a crumbling romance. The Crescent City feel returns for the jaunty “Goin’ Out To Town Tonight” (featuring trombonist Ozzie Melendez), before Tuite turns in a sultry read on the smoky jazz number “I Want A Lover.”

“Double Down” is a lively blues rocker that picks up the pace before the album closes with the title track, a serene, slow blues with acoustic guitar played by Nelson. Hard Case Of The Blues shows Patty Tuite to be skilled in a variety of musical settings, as effective with jazz as she is with playing the blues. This is a fine album with excellent songs and performances that blues and jazz fans will certainly enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

Rock House All StarsThe Rolling Stones released Let It Bleed in November of 1969. The album marked a return to the band’s roots, focusing on the blues during their beginnings, but the band also incorporated more American roots music into the album, with gospel and country songs as well as blues. The album made the Top Ten in the UK and the US, and several songs became part of the Stones’ live shows and made (and continue to make) regular appearances on radio. Let It Bleed was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2005 and is listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Recently, The Rock House All Stars (Kevin McKendree – keyboards/guitars/backing vocals/percussion, John Heithaus – bass, Rob McNelley – acoustic and electric guitars, Yates McKendree – drums) recorded a unique tribute album with freshly re-imagined arrangements, handpicking lead singers and allowing them to interpret the lead vocals of the original songs in their own way. The results are collected in Let It Bleed Revisited – An Ovation From Nashville (Qualified Records).

The songs are presented in the same order as on the original album, kicking off with “Gimme Shelter,” featuring Jimmy Hall and Bekka Bramlett. Their vocal interpretation is as intense as Jagger’s original and Hall adds harmonica throughout the cut. Nashville-based singer Emil Justian takes vocals on a haunting rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain,” backed by James Pennebaker on mandolin and slide guitar. before Lee Roy Parnell tackles “Country Honk,” the Stones’ countrified version of “Honky Tonk Woman,” maintaining the country feel with Pennebaker backing on mandolin and steel with Luke Bulla on fiddle.

Seth James sings “Live With Me,” a version that rocks out a bit more than the original and works extremely well, while Justian returns (with Greg Mayo) for the title track, which is just as greasy and funky as the original. Rick Huckaby shines on “Midnight Rambler,” with Stephen Hanner backing on harmonica. “You Got The Silver” was actually Keith Richards’ first lead vocal with the band, and Nashville rising star Nalani Rothrock’s vocal deftly mixes country and soul backed by Pennebaker on steel guitar.

“Monkey Man” features Mike Farris on vocals, with his reading being different from Jagger’s, but fits the band’s rocking arrangement perfectly fine. The Voice veteran Wendy Moten does an excellent job on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with backing vocals from SaRachel (Tom Hambridge’s daughter’s Sarah and Rachel) and Andrew Carney on French horn.

While that tune concluded the original Let It Bleed, there’s a bonus track included at the end of this album. Lilly Hiatt (John’s daughter) and Bulla share vocals on “Wild Horses” (from the Stones’ follow-up album Sticky Fingers). Their vocals are quite different from Jagger’s original, but they serve the song very well.

Let It Bleed – An Ovation From Nashville is a fine tribute to one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums ever. I think the Rolling Stones would certainly enjoy it, and so will most blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Jay and the CooksJay and the Cooks are a group of mostly U.S. expatriates, veteran musicians now living in France (Jay Ryan – guitar/vocals, Stephane Missri – guitar/banjo, Paul Susen – fiddle/mandolin, Christian Poidevin – harmonica/dobro, Marten Engle – bass/double bass, Marty Vickers – drums/percussion). Dried Up Dreams (Socadisc/The Orchard) is a ten-song set that combines blues, rock, country, and roots with a loose, earthy, kind of retro feel.

The opener, “Alton McCarver,” is a gritty rocker that tells the tale of an African American worker who’s a “bad dude,” and the rootsy “Frontline Worker Blues” finds Ryan expressing his sympathy for those essential workers forced to work through the pandemic. The dusty country-flavored rocker, “Chew The Cud,” features reverb guitar and a spoken word vocal, and “I Just Came To Tell You I’m Going,” a French tune from Serge Gainsbourg, is a jaunty folk tune.

“Poor Everybody” is a storming, ominous rocker, and the intriguingly-titled “Deaf Water” is a cool blues with an urban feel. “Organic Lush” is an amusing jab at living healthy, and the title track is a Cajun/zydeco romp that the band does extremely well. “Empty Glass Of Love” has an ominous, after-hours vibe, with shimmering guitar work. The closer, “Confederate Son,” is a hard-charging blues rocker.

Ryan has a distinctive vocal style, actually more of a growl, that takes a bit to grow on you, but it fits well with the lyrics and the music. Dried Up Dreams is an interesting mix of blues, country, rock, and roots. The lyrics are compelling and so is the music, so blues fans should check it out.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris CanasChris Canas is known as “Detroit’s Prince of the Blues,” but he got his start playing cornet in grade school band, eventually being promoted to the school’s jazz band,. He was overtaken by the blues upon seeing his uncle pull up in a cherry-red T-top Camaro blasting “The Thrill Is Gone” over the speakers. Canas picked up a guitar and the stage was set. He joined Thornetta Davis’ band in 2002 at 18 and eventually graduated to fronting his own band. Canas reached the finals of the 2020 IBC and he’s released eight albums, the most recent being Detroit (Third Street Cigar Records).

The autobiographical title track opens the disc, a mix of rock and blues, scorching lead guitar and horns, as Canas vows to play the type of music his friends and family will be proud of. “Blues Blues Blues” is a brisk, funky blues that will get listeners moving, and the stellar “Addicted” sizzles along, highlighted by Canas’ smooth vocals and searing fretwork. “Juke Joint Jive” is a more traditional blues, but taken at breakneck speed, complete with those tasty horns and Danny Pratt’s harmonica, and the mid-tempo “Cookie” mixes reggae and the blues.

“Queen Of The World” is a superb slow burner, giving ample space for Canas’ powerful, emotional vocal and for more guitar fireworks. Canas turns in an appropriately soulful vocal on “You Don’t Give A Damn,” an old school rock and soul track. “Good Man About To Break Bad” and “Shoot From The Hip” are a pair of gritty blues with an edge of menace, while the simmering “Smoke In The City” locks into a funky groove and pulls the listener in. The fast-paced closer “Put It In The Pot” keeps the funk going and serves as a great conclusion.

Canas is backed by Pratt (harmonica), Mikey Biddle (organ), Derek “DC” Washington (bass), Mark Anthony Guillory (drums), Nikki “D” Brown (lap steel/background vocals), Ray Benson (percussion), and a horn section consisting of Travis Geiman (trombone), Ben DeLong (trumpet), and Bob Manley (tenor sax). Detroit is an excellent set of original contemporary blues that will definitely make you want to hear more from Chris Canas.

--- Graham Clarke

NiecieWhile singing with a rock band in Lincoln, Nebraska many years ago, Niecie encountered the one and only Magic Slim during a set break. Slim had been listening in during a break from a gig of his own at the nearby Zoo Bar. He approached Niecie and told her “Girl, you need to sing the blues,” and invited her to his Zoo Bar gig. The rest is history, as Niecie has honed her blues chops over the past couple of decades to become a formidable vocalist. Queen of the Hill is her sixth and latest release, and it’s a tasty mix of rock, soul, and the blues that shows Slim knew what he was talking about.

The album was produced by Niecie, Doug Jones (who plays guitar on two tracks) and Allman Brothers alum Johnny Neel (who plays keyboards on all the tracks). The trio wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks. The raw blues rocker “Leave It All Behind” opens the disc, with rugged fretwork from principal guitarist Jon Conley. The Ruth Brown hit “5-10-15 Hours” (written by Rudy Toombs) follows and provides a playful showcase for Niecie’s vocals. The feisty title track follows, fueled by Conley’s gritty guitar, which is also prominent on the rock-edged “Hidden Agenda.”

The smoldering “Welcome To My Web” has a seductive, Latin flair that Niecie plays to very well, “Willow Tree” adds a bit of funk to the mix, and “Midnight Rain” is a smoky West Side-styled slow burner. “In The Basement” was originally recorded by both Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto, with Niecie’s version  a little more subdued but no less effective. “Nothing Left To Lose” is a funky mid-tempo R&B-flavored number, while “Two Kinds Of Man” is a swampy rocker. The powerful “Every Kinda Blues” features guitar work from Jones and Luke Davis. Niecie closes the disc with the third cover, a strong reading of “The Hunter,” one of Albert King’s finest.

Queen of the Hill is a well-rounded, versatile set of blues and blues rockers with solid originals and outstanding vocal and musical performances. Blues fans should be glad that Niecie took Magic Slim’s advice back in the day.

--- Graham Clarke



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