Blues Bytes

What's New

October/November 2010

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Robert Randolph

Travis Haddix

Chick Willis

The Mike Hallal Band

Claude Hay

Joe Pitts

Son Jack Jr and Michael Wildman

Ken Tucker

Les Copeland

Andy Cohen

Rob Stone

Watermelon Slim (DVD)

Jay Gaunt

Joe Louis Walker

The Reverendos

Robert RandolphWe Walk This Road (Warner Brothers), the latest release from Robert Randolph and the Family Band, is a different animal from the band’s previous three releases. The first thing you’ll notice is that the manic energy and intensity that permeated the group’s debut, Live At The Wetlands (and was present in varying degrees in their subsequent albums, Unclassified and Colorblind), has been, shall we say, redistributed and refocused in a way that might initially put off some of his longtime fans who might be expecting more of the same.

This time around, famed producer T-Bone Burnett is behind the controls and the result is a rootsier mix of the band’s principal elements, gospel, blues, and rock. The thing to keep in mind about this band’s progression is that Randolph was only allowed to listen to gospel music as a youth and was a relative late comer to the sounds of the blues and rock. His learning process is still evolving as he absorbs new (to him) music and new sources of music. Teaming up with Burnett was a stroke of genius because there are very few who know more about American roots music than he does. We Walk This Road covers a much broader scope than the band’s previous releases and that is due in part to Randolph’s continued immersion in the music of the past.

There are 11 tracks on the disc, with six “segues” that precede and follow three of the songs, meshing old songs with the new versions. The best representation of this is with the group’s revitalization of Blind Willie Johnson’s “If I Had My Way I’d Tear This Building Down.” Randolph’s variation of this tune, called “If I Had My Way,” is one of the best tracks on the disc, and features Randolph’s searing pedal steel guitar butting heads with guest Ben Harper’s slide. You’ll definitely be hitting “Replay” on that one!

Other standout tracks include a reflective “I Still Belong To Jesus,” written by Peter Case, and Bob Dylan’s “Shot of Love.” John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama,” features Doyle Bramhall II and Burnett on guitar with Randolph, and drummer Jim Keltner (who played drums on Lennon’s original version). There’s also an exhilarating version of Prince’s “Walk Don’t Walk,” and a stirring closing track called “Salvation,” with Leon Russell on piano and Bramhall on acoustic guitar.

There’s been some speculation in the past from critics that Robert Randolph has previously released some excellent recordings, but that he had yet to hit the mark. We Walk This Road is probably not what some of them had in mind because it moves Randolph away from the jam/funk band mode he had been set in and actually moves him closer to his roots. I think this is the great album that Randolph had in him….with a brilliant mix of gospel, blues, rock, soul, and folk. Even better, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg and there’s much more brilliance to come. This is an exciting jumping-off point for the band and I am eagerly look forward to their next change of direction.

--- Graham Clarke

Travis HaddixTravis “Moonchild” Haddix started out playing piano as a youngster, but after seeing B. B. King playing guitar one day at the Memphis radio station WDIA, he soon switched to guitar. By the ’60s, he had played with the D. L. Rocco Band and with Little Johnny Taylor, and had even released a few singles before starting his own group. In the late ’80s, he signed with Atlanta’s Ichiban Records with the assistance of label mate, Clarence Carter, and recorded five albums. Since that time, Haddix has recorded on his own Wann-Sonn Records and for Earwig Records, improving with each subsequent release.

Haddix’s 17th release, If I’m One, You’re One Too (Benevolent Blues), follows true to form, resulting in his strongest effort yet. As always, Haddix wrote all 12 tracks, all featuring his highly original and unique outlook on life that will appeal to fans of both soul blues and electric blues. A couple of the tracks, notably the clever title track and “Hard To Teach, Hard To Learn,” both mesh the blues over a funk backdrop.

The opening track, “Scared Half To Death, Twice,” describes the dangers of slipping around on your mate and features a muscular horn section, along with some funky wah-wah guitar. “Dollar’s Worth of Gas” bemoans the tough economic times and just how little $1 of gas will get you these days. “Getting Old, The Alternative” catches Haddix musing on how much better it is to age gracefully than it is to stop aging completely.

There are also tracks devoted to the eternal man/woman trials and tribulations, albeit with a modern twist (“Clean Out of Love,” “Can’t Get You Back,” “A Little Snack,” “Lump In My Throat”). Closing the disc, in a first for Haddix, are a pair of acoustic tracks featuring him solo on guitar, “Who Are You Asking?,” and “It’s Rooster Again,” a tribute to his father, Delta blues artist Chalmus “Rooster” Haddix.

In addition to being a gifted songwriter, Haddix is a fantastic guitarist in the tradition of B. B. King and a singer that blends Bobby “Blue” Bland with Little Milton. Given those qualities, not to mention his exceptional catalog of recordings, it seems like he should be even better known than he is. Hopefully, If I’m One, You’re One Too will remedy that situation.

--- Graham Clarke

Chick WillisTo some blues fans, Chick Willis may be perceived as a “one trick pony,” given his inclination over the years to ride the “Stoop Down” bandwagon until the wheels fall off. However, that would be unfair, because the 76-year-old Willis is a remarkably diverse artist, as comfortable on the straight blues and soul as he is with the more ribald, novelty tracks he’s noted for. Hit & Run Blues (Benevolent Blues) probably comes the closest to capturing the real and complete Chick Willis.

Over the years, Willis learned his lessons well, touring in the late ’50s with his cousin, blues legend Chuck Willis, the “King of the Stroll,” working as his valet and chauffeur and playing in his band. After his cousin died in 1958, Willis worked with Elmore James and eventually on his own before hitting it big with the 1972 release of “Stoop Down Baby,” which managed to sell over 3 million copies via jukebox play, and despite never being heard on the radio due to its risqué nature. Though he’s managed to continue his career by focusing on the risqué tracks on recordings for Ichiban, Deep South, Paula, and Ifgam, he’s always been an exceptional singer and multi-instrumentalist, focusing on guitar.

Hit & Run Blues, like many of his more recent releases, features Willis playing it straight and dabbling in the ribald. There’s another visit to “Stoop Down” territory with an update called “Stoop Down Low,” plus “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Shots of Whiskey,” a new spin on the “caught my old lady cheating” theme, “Country Lovin’ Man,” and “Houdini Lover.” Other highlights include “Love To See You Smile,” “Recess In Heaven,” and a live cut, “Blues Man,” that appears at the end of the disc.

Willis also tackles a pair of Bobby “Blue” Bland tunes (“Soul of A Man” and “Millionaire”) with satisfying results, along with a remake of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again,” that moves that country standard deep into R&B territory. Though he is in his mid-70s, Willis has lost very little, if any, of his vocal skills over time.

Willis gets plenty of help from a tight backing band, a three-piece horn section, solid work on Hammond B-3 from Bobby Felder, and some understated, but strong backing vocals on most tracks, but it’s still Willis’ show. He’s as strong and vital a blues personality as ever and shows no signs of slowing down in his 53rd year of making music. Hit & Run Blues should please longtime fans and bring a few new ones into the fold.

--- Graham Clarke

Barbara BlueWillie Mitchell had promised Barbara Blue that he would produce her next CD, an exciting prospect for any singer to imagine, especially so for one with the talent Ms. Blue possesses. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s health began to fail and he was unable to even start the project. He eventually passed away in January of 2010. However, all was not lost as Mitchell’s son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell stepped in to assume production duties and the project proceeded at Mitchell’s fabled Royal Studios. The result, Royal Blue (Big Blue Records), is like stepping back in time to the glory days of Hi Records.

Ms. Blue is joined by a crack Memphis band with roots to those storied days…..Lester Snell (keyboards), Skip Pitts (lead and rhythm guitar), Steve Potts (drums), and Dave Smith (bass), and you can’t have a Memphis soul and blues recording without a horn section (Lannie McMillan and Gary Topper – tenor sax; Marc Franklin – trumpet; Jim Spake – baritone sax). There’s also a boatload of guest stars on various tracks, including Preston Shannon on guitar, harmonica players Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms and Brandon Bailey, Cody Dickenson and his amazing electric washboard, and slide guitarist Josh Roberts.

When those horns kick in on the opening tune, “Beware,” you’ll feel the goose bumps starting if you’re a fan of that old time Memphis soul. “Beware” is one of many songs covered on Royal Blue with origins in the Bluff City. Pitts breaks out the waka-waka guitar for a tasty cover of Al Green’s “Rhymes,” and Blue does a smooth-as-glass take of Syl Johnson’s “Back For A Taste of Your Love.” Other Memphis covers of note include “If I Could Reach Out,” the O. V. Wright standard, “8 Men & 4 Women.”

Blue also penned several tracks on the disc, including “Blue,” which sounds like it was penned back in the day….a nice addition to the Memphis soul catalog. “All You Got,” is a straight blues track that teams Blue with Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms’ harmonica and Josh Roberts’ guitar. “Too Late” features Preston Shannon on guitar.

Blue also re-invents a pair of familiar classics. “Heartbreak Hotel” is transformed into a soul number, complete with horns, background vocals, and some sweet guitar licks, courtesy of Skip Pitts. “Let’s Stay Together,” the Al Green classic, is stripped down to Snell’s piano, McMillan’s tenor sax, and Blue’s vocals.

Mitchell’s production is first-rate. Based on this disc, it’s obvious that the future of Memphis blues and soul is in good hands. “Poppa” would be proud of his efforts. Come to think of it, he’d be proud of Barbara Blue’s efforts, too. She continues to amaze and impress with each release. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and check Ms. Blue out at Silky O’Sullivan’s, but if you can’t make it to Memphis, pick up Royal Blue. It’s the next best thing to being there.

--- Graham Clarke

The Mike Hallal BandThe Mike Hallal Band’s latest release, Hatchet Blues, (Pi Records) picks up where their previous release, the well-received Live At Lizard Lounge, left off. Although recorded in the studio this time around, the new album still has that live-in-the-studio feel, and their powerful, unvarnished blues/rock approach is still in place.

The standout tracks include the opening rocker, “Skywriting,” which features guitar work from Doug Batchelder (who also adds background vocals to multiple tracks, and keyboards to the ballad, “Liv”), “World’s A Place,” a topical song whose title is borrowed from a phrase used in Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, and the title track, an impressive nine-minute slow blues that struggles between forgiving and forgetting and revenge. Bass player Robert DeCorte wrote and sings the Beatlesque “Last of the Great Train Robbers.

Four cover tunes are included, including two lesser-known tunes from the ’30s. Charley Patton’s “Poor Me,” one of the last songs he recorded gets the full band treatment, and a modernized treatment of Henry Townsend’s “Doctor Blues,” which the band also covered on their previous live set. There’s also a cover of Blind Joe Reynold’s “Outside Woman Blues,” that sticks fairly close to Cream’s version, and a typically rocked-out version of Don Nix’s “Going Down.”

There’s also a bonus cut, a fun-filled and funky “Levels Jam,” done off-the-cuff in the studio with some sparkling interplay between the band members (Hallal – vocals, guitar, Jim Antonellis – drums, Robert DeCorte – bass, vocals, and the impressive Chris Schluntz – lead guitar).

Hatchet Blues is another strong set roadhouse blues and rock from the Mike Hallal Band. For more information, check out the band’s site.

--- Graham Clarke

Claude HayI have to confess that I listened to Deep Fried Satisfied (Ingot Rock) about four times before I realized that Claude Hay was playing all the instruments himself. I was too busy playing percussion on my steering wheel and nodding my head to the music to even notice that this fantastic music was being played by one man, but it is and it’s unlike anything you’ve heard this year. The Australian’s brand of blues incorporates plenty of funk and world music into traditional blues. Think of Muddy Waters fronting the P-Funk All Stars. Hay does it all himself, from building his own instruments to customizing his own van (that includes a recording studio) to putting his own music together.

The inspiration for his latest release was his addiction to junk food, which really came out during his 2008 U.S. tour. The opening song, “Get Me Some” recalls Hay’s love for New York-style pizza. Another standout track, “How Can You Live With Yourself,” has already given Hay a major hit on Australian radio.
Other must-hear tracks include the infectious title track, “Don’t Give Me That,” “On Hold,” and “Miss You So,” written for his mother. Hay’s lyrics capture modern situations in a unique manner and his slide guitar mixes perfectly with the assorted funk production values. He wrote 10 of the 11 songs, but the 11th song is, appropriately…given his DIY reputation, an “extreme makeover” of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” that turns the original version on its ear….to say the least. It would be neat to hear his interpretation of other old songs on his future releases.

Given Claude Hay’s talent, it’s guaranteed that there will be future releases. In the meantime, savor every morsel of Deep Fried Satisfied and tell your friends about it.

--- Graham Clarke

Joe PittsTen Shades of Blue (Kijam Records) is Joe Pitts’ seventh CD in ten years. The Arkansas guitarist was first inspired by the guitar legends of the ’60s and ’70s…….British stars like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page as well as Southern rockers like Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. Like many fans his age, he traced his heroes’ music back to the original source and discovered Son House, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, and B. B. King.

Ten Shades of Blue consists of ten cover tunes from musicians who have inspired Pitts over the years, from Muddy Waters (“Crosseyed Cat”) and Elmore James (“I’m Worried”) to Luther Allison (“Pain In The Streets”) and Walter Trout (“Clouds On The Horizon”). There are also selections from Eric Gales (“Freedom From My Demons”), John Mayall (“Walkin’ On Sunset”) and Peter Green (“The World Keeps On Turning”).

Pitts is an excellent guitarist and moves seamlessly from style to style on these tracks. His slide work on “I’m Worried” is particularly impressive, but he also excels on the moody minor key tracks like the Gales track and A. D. Prestage’s “No Stranger To The Blues” (originally done by the Kinsey Report). There’s also a funky version of Albert Collins’ “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot,” and John Mayall’s swinging “Walkin’ On Sunset.”

Vocally, Pitts brings new life to these tracks with his world-weary, soulful vocals, particularly on “Freedom From My Demons,” the Memphis soul masterpiece “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” and the closer, an acoustic take on Peter Green’s “The World Keeps On Turning.”

Ten Shades of Blue will be spending quite a bit of time in my stereo. For fans of blues guitar, this should be an essential purchase. Joe Pitts has learned his craft well and obviously knows the blues from beginning to end, as this disc proves.

--- Graham Clarke

Son Jack Jr and Michael WildeSon Jack Jr. returns with harpman Michael Wilde in tow for Walk The Talk, his third release. This time around, there’s more focus on electric blues than acoustic, but it’s still the same approach to Delta blues that made his previous two releases so noteworthy. In addition to Jack and Wilde, other contributors include Eric Robert on keyboards, Mark Davies on bass, and Billy Barner on drums.

Eight of the 12 tracks are original compositions. The title track opens the disc on a high note with Jack contributing a swaggering vocal. Wilde’s mournful harmonica is a highlight on “Crying Time,” as are Robert’s keyboards. “Down So Low” is another highlight, with Jack’s guitar taking on an almost Hill Country quality mixing in with Robert’s punchy keyboards. Wilde’s rollicking “Maximum Insecurity” will remind listeners of those manic Sonny Terry cuts from long ago.

Other standout tracks include a droning cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake,” “Requiem,” a lovely acoustic guitar track, and a fiery remake of Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues.” “Howlin’ Poppet” is another fine Delta-influenced track that showcases Jack’s Delta chops and Wilde’s harmonica together.
Fans of Delta blues, new and old, will enjoy this disc. Jack and Wilde’s styles mesh perfectly together, and this marvelous music, recorded in Lynnwood, Washington, is as authentic as anything you’ll hear coming out of the Mississippi delta.

--- Graham Clarke

Woody RussellTexas guitarist Woody Russell’s fourth release, Up Against It (CUTS Music Group), is a fine mixture of blues and soul with an interesting background. Russell offered this disc to his fans as an “In Session Project,” where he allowed fans to pre-order the disc to receive access to a “Behind The Scenes” look at the making of the album….in real time….from Russell’s website ( So if a fan preordered, they were able to view possibly the entire process of making the album from beginning to end. A portion of the fans’ investment was donated to Austin’s SIMS Foundation, which is a mental health service provider for local musicians. This successful endeavor was tagged by Russell as a “fan investment business model,” and could serve as an inspiration for future releases by independent artists.

As for the music itself, Russell put as much effort into the recording project as he did the business model. He produced the disc, wrote all the songs, engineered and mixed it, designed the cover, and played nearly all the instruments. The opening track, “Make It Tough On Me,” kicks things off in fine fashion with Russell’s stinging guitar leads bringing to mind Albert Collins at times. “That’s Just The Way My Wheels Roll” is a Chicago-style blues track with some strong harmonica from Jose Ruiz, who plays on two other tracks as well. “They Won’t Know What Hit Them” is a blues rocker and “Under My Door” leans more toward the soul side, with some smooth guitar.

“The Right Side of The Grass” is a more upbeat R&B number with Russell laying down some falsetto vocals and a pull-out-all-the-stops guitar solo at the end. “Moonshine (For My Wounded Heart)” has an unusual funky arrangement and vocal, while “Don’t Bring It Home” and “The Things We Do” showcase Russell’s diverse guitar work. The closer, “Between Nowhere And Goodbye,” is an acoustic number that features Russell’s best vocal performance on the disc.

Russell’s guitar work is exemplary and his vocals alternate between fiery and soulful, sometimes reminiscent of Jimmy Hall. He’s also a strong composer with a unique perspective on the blues. In addition to Ruiz, drummer Doug Marcis guests on a pair of tracks, but otherwise it’s all Woody Russell. If you like your blues with a touch of soul and rock, Up Against It will be a satisfying purchase.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom FeldmannTribute (Magnolia Recording Company) is the latest release from Tom Feldmann & The Get-Rites. It’s a salute to many of the artists that influenced guitarist Feldmann, whose vision of the blues is steeped in the gospel music of the late ’40s and ’50s. Though Feldmann does show reverence to these old classic sides, his noteworthy slide guitar work, as well as his interplay with the Get-Rites (drummer Jed Staack, upright bassist Paul Liebenow, and pedal steel guitarist Jed Germond) is thoroughly modern in approach.

Feldmann covers ten songs previously recorded by both secular and non-secular sources. Among the secular artists covered are Muddy Waters (a spirited “Live So God Can Use You”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (a tender version of “Needed Time”), Charley Patton (“Lord I’m Discouraged”) Bukka White (“I Am In The Heavenly Way”), and Mississippi Fred McDowell (“The Lord Will Make A Way”).

Religious artists covered include Washington Phillips (“Leave It There”), Blind Willie Johnson (“It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine”), Robert Wilkins (“Stand Your Test In Judgement”), and an eerie version of Alabama singer Dock Reed’s “I’m Going Home,” punctuated by Germond’s pedal steel.

Feldmann’s guitar work is superlative, and his vocals are weathered and possess just the right amount of grit and passion to get the job done. The Get-Rites provide first-rate backing on the six tracks on which they appear. Feldmann plays unaccompanied on four tracks…..the Patton, Johnson, and White tracks, plus the closer, a brief snippet of “This Little Light of Mine,” attributed to Son House, featuring some outstanding slide work.

The late Robert Ward once said that there was little difference in blues and gospel (“…just substitute ‘baby’ and ‘Jesus’,” he once said in an interview). While that may be oversimplifying things a bit, Tom Feldmann & The Get-Rites provide ample proof that there is a thin line of sorts between the two. Tribute is a wonderfully played homage to some legendary artists who walked that line with ease.

--- Graham Clarke

Ken TuckerKen Tucker has been playing guitar for 27 years, in styles ranging from Christian rock to hip-hop to the blues. From the sound of his latest CD for Benevolent Blues, Juke Joint Serenade, it’s obvious that the blues are where his heart is, and appropriately so. This new disc features a powerful hard-rocking blues attack mixed with some solid roots rock and even ventures into acoustic blues territory.

While Tucker’s guitar work is excellent, he also possesses a rugged, gritty vocal style and is a first-rate songwriter as well. Among the disc’s standout tracks are the roadhouse rockers, “Brother Whiskey,” “One Stop Man,” and “Street Walking Woman.” Other memorable tracks include “Desperately Need,” which has a Springsteen ’80s era vibe, the scorching and fittingly titled “Let It Slide” (with slide guitar courtesy of Jack “Spooky Foot” Stevens), and the slow blues, “Highway 61.” The disc closes with a pair of acoustic cuts that spotlight Tucker’s songwriting, “Killer’s Mind,” and “Worst I Ever Felt,” which features a co-lead vocal from Kelly Adams.

Producer Tim Bushong also plays guitar, bass, drums, and supplies background vocals on most of the tracks, but also lending a hand are Adams, Stevens, Mike Reid (keyboards, organs, background vocals), Josh Hammond (harmonica), and Karen Harris (guitar and background vocals).

Juke Joint Serenade is a powerful, intense set of modern blues from a seasoned vet that will please fans of hard-edged blues rock and roots music. Years of honing his craft as a guitarist, singer, and composer are about to pay big dividends for Ken Tucker.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris AntonikToronto guitarist Chris Antonik may not be a familiar name to most blues fans, but he’s been impressing Toronto blues fans for some time now as a sideman, currently playing as part of a trio. Antonik has now stepped forward and delivered a dynamite debut solo recording that’s loaded with a mix of traditional blues and powerful blues-rock. Chris Antonik shows that the guitarist is a gifted songwriter as well as guitarist.

Antonik’s songs deal with themes such as fixing broken relationships, learning from mistakes, and other related blues themes. The crisp opener, “More To Give,” rolls along with a strong vocal by keyboardist Josh Williams (Fat Cats), who supplies the bulk of the vocals on the disc. Antonik shines on slide guitar on “Roll With It.” “The King of Infidelity” is a blues-pop tune in its arrangement, and focuses on the consequences of stepping out on your mate. “If We Start From Here,” teams Antonik (playing some fat B. B. King-influenced licks) with singer/harmonica player Mark “Bird” Stafford. A haunting solo track with Antonik on dobro (“Dhyana”) at the disc’s midpoint shows the guitarist’s versatility.

Jerry Ragovoy’s “She’s A Burglar,” (the Freddie King track from the ’70s) is a highlight, as Antonik rips it up on guitar behind Williams’ fiery vocal. The only other cover on the disc is Otis Rush’s "Double Trouble," where Antonik makes his debut on lead vocals. The remaining tracks include “Almost Free,” which sounds like a funky ’70s southern blues-rocker in the Wet Willie tradition, “Reap What You Sow,” and “Persevering Kind,” a bouncy, optimistic track featuring Henry Lees on vocals.

Chris Antonik is a surprising debut recording with one highlight after another, thanks to Antonik and his supporting cast of fellow Canadian blues artists, who definitely came to play. If he continues to improve in the vocal department, Antonik is well on the way to becoming a triple threat with his outstanding fretwork and imaginative songwriting.

--- Graham Clarke

Les CopelandGuitarist Les Copeland started out playing country blues when he launched his professional career, but added music by guitarists as diverse as jazz legend Wes Montgomery and the immortal Chuck Berry. This expanded his repertoire considerably, and now he’s as comfortable playing jazz, flamenco, pop, and classical as he is with the blues. Don’t Let The Devil In is Copeland’s debut recording for Earwig Records, and it’s an exceptional collection of acoustic and electric blues.

Copeland wrote 14 of the 15 tracks, including the lovely “Distant Train,” “Ry Cooder,” a virtuosic instrumental tribute to the influential guitarist, “Riding The Sky Train,” a too-brief slide guitar workout, “Long Lost Love,” which features some intricate finger picking, and “Ginseng Girl” is a plugged-in swinging blues instrumental. The poignant closing track, “Crying For An Angel,” was written by Copeland for his first daughter, who died a few days after she was born.

Copeland is joined by Honeyboy Edwards for a pair of tracks, a sturdy remake of Robert Nighthawk’s “Anna Lee,” and the humorous “How’s That Drummer.” Earwig Records founder and Honeyboy Edwards’ manager Micheal Frank also adds some sweet harmonica to three tracks, the country-tinged “What’s Your Name,” “Silently,” and the ominous title track.

For fans of acoustic guitar, this disc is an essential purchase. However, Don’t Let The Devil In will appeal to music fans of all genres because of Les Copeland’s amazing versatility. Don’t miss this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy CohenAndy Cohen is as close to a modern-day troubadour as you’ll likely see these days. The Memphis-based musician specializes in the preservation and presentation of prewar blues, plus folk and rags, from artists as far ranging as Woody Guthrie, Memphis Minnie, Henry Spaulding, and Big Bill Broonzy. In other words, Cohen brings music to listeners that they probably would never hear otherwise, which should make him a national treasure.

Cohen recently released Built Right on the Ground on the Earwig record label. He dusts off 14 prewar tunes, with songs from a diverse list of performers like Teddy Darby (the sparkling title track), Jimmie Rodgers (“My Old Pal” and “Miss The Mississippi and You”), Jim Brewer (“Shake-A-You Boogie”), Meade Lux Lewis (“Honky Tonk Train”), Sam McGee (“Railroad Blues”), and Jelly Roll Morton (“Grandpa’s Spells”). Broonzy’s “Mopper’s Blues” is a highlight, as are the two Memphis Minnie covers (“Soo Cow Soo” and “Me and My Chauffeur”).

Chances are that you will be introduced to some blues songs that you’ve never heard before, and that you will dig deeper to the sources to hear where the music came from. That’s the best thing about this disc…..that and Cohen’s relaxed performance. His guitar work (and piano on two tracks – “Honky Tonk Train” and the lone original track, “Jim Dickinson Stomp”) is first-rate, of course, and his vocals are warm and comfortable. He gets assistance on a couple of tracks from his wife, Larkin Bryant, who plays mandolin and shares vocals on the album closer, a lovely version of Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues.” Kurt Anderson provides leads vocals on “My Old Pal” and guitar on “Miss The Mississippi And You.”

Built Right on the Ground will be a fine addition to any music lover’s collection. This is a wonderful collection of rarely heard songs from the early part of the 20th century. Thanks to Andy Cohen for allowing them to see the light of day again.

--- Graham Clarke

Rob Stonet’s been seven years since Rob Stone recorded an album, but he hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands during that time. He’s been playing assorted venues in Chicago and even has a regular gig at the House of Blues in the Windy City. He’s also appeared in support of his former C-Notes bandmates, Chris James and Patrick Rynn, on their two CDs for Earwig. James and Rynn return the favor on Stone’s latest release for Earwig, Back Around Here, a superlative set of modern Chicago blues that sounds it sprang from the vintage days of Chess Records.

Stone wrote eight of the 12 tracks on Back Around Here, and they include the rousing opener, “You’re No Good For Me,” and the swinging title track. “I Need To Plant A Money Tree” is a tough Jimmy Reed-type shuffle, and “Can’t Turn Back The Clock” is a swing track that spotlights piano man Dave Maxwell and drummer Sam Lay. There’s also a decidedly upbeat instrumental, “Dragon Killers,” that shows why Stone is considered one of the best harmonica players in the Windy City. Speaking of the Windy City, “Chicago All Night” is a celebration of the never-ending music scene.

The covers are all well-chosen and the highlight is Magic Sam’s rarely-heard “Give Me Time,” which is closer to R&B. John Lee Williamson’s “Love You For Myself” is a more traditional blues with Aaron Moore on piano. “Sloppy Drunk Blues” harkens back more to the Leroy Carr original version than the more familiar Jimmy Rogers version, and the “5” Royales’ “It’s Hard But It’s Fair” gets transformed from doo-wop to horn-driven R&B.

Also contributing to Back Around Here are drummers Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Willie Hayes, guitarists Michael Weisman and Jeff Stone, and sax men Rodney Brown (tenor) and John Bowes (baritone). If you’re a fan of Chicago blues, you will be pleased with Rob Stone’s latest. Hopefully, it won’t be another seven years before he returns to the studio.

--- Graham Clarke

Joe Louis WalkerJoe Louis Walker’s third release for Stony Plain, Blues Conspiracy: Live on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, is a sequel of sorts to two earlier projects; his pair of Live at Slim’s releases for Hightone in the late ’80s and his Great Guitars disc released by Verve in the mid ’90s. Walker combines the live setting with the guest artists on this release and the results are a very enjoyable set of familiar tunes performed by familiar artists.

Walker tears through a fast-paced mix of his own songs and a few choice cover tunes. The highlights include Walker’s “car” song, “Slow Down GTO,” with Mike Finnigan on organ, “Ain’t That Cold,” a slide guitar fest with guitar legend Johnny Winter, and a swinging version of “Eyes Like A Cat,” with Tommy Castro, Deanna Bogart, Tom Poole, and Keith Crossan. There’s also a blistering guitar duet with Kirk Fletcher on “Ten More Shows To Play” (nice to hear this one again), and Nick Gravenites’ “Born In Chicago” gets the royal treatment with some fire-breathing harmonica from Jason Ricci and guitar from Paris Slim and Nick Moss. “Tell Me Why” is another great guitar battle between Walker, Duke Robillard, and Todd Sharpville.

John Lee Hooker’s “Sugar Mama,” which teams Walker with Watermelon Slim on harmonica, has some nice moments, and was probably a crowd pleaser in person, but at nearly 12 minutes goes on a bit too long on CD. Kenny Neal joins Walker for a stirring cover of Junior Wells’ “Poor Man’s Plea,” and Walker’s own “747” closes the disc with Tab Benoit and Paul Nelson on guitars and Mitch Woods on the keys.

Walker and his band (Linwood Taylor – guitar, Henry Oden – bass, Kevin Burton – keyboards, Jeff Minnieweather – drums) provide solid backing on all the tunes, and even get one track all to themselves, a funky cover of J. J. Malone’s “It’s A Shame.”

If you’ve never had the opportunity to take one of these blues cruises, Joe Louis Walker’s latest effort will certainly get you that much closer to making your reservation. This is a fun set that sounds like it was as enjoyable to play as it must have been to watch.

--- Graham Clarke

Jay GauntHarmonica ace Jay Gaunt is only 16 years ago and is a player of amazing skill and diversity. He’s comfortable playing any melody in blues, jazz, rock, and pop. His latest release, Harmonicopia (JBG Music LLC), is a set of astonishing depth and breadth, with seven instrumentals that take in the above mentioned styles, plus five blues tracks featuring the vocals of Victor Wainwright. The disc was recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio in Memphis and was produced by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and Charley Burch.

Kicking things off is a greasy version of Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here,” that drips with Memphis soul. Gaunt replaces the tenor sax of the original with his harmonica (supported by the Royal Horns). Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” is another highlight, featuring stellar support from Memphis guitar legend Skip Pitts and the Memphis Strings, with Gaunt’s harmonica replacing Allman’s vocal. Wainwright makes his first appearance on vocals on Bobby Charles’ New Orleans R&B standard, “Why Are People Like That?” The tune also features some outstanding slide guitar work by Josh Roberts.

Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” drips with sweaty, swampy atmosphere with Gaunt doing his best Little Walter, along with Wainwright’s understated vocal, the electric washboard of Cody Dickinson, and Dave Cousar’s slide. Producer Charley Burch wrote “Devil Dealt The Blues,” a shuffle in the Jimmy Reed tradition, and “Home of the Blues,” a tribute to the Bluff City.

Next up is a surprisingly hip version of “Greensleeves,” definitely not standard fare for a blues album, but here it’s presented as a jazzy shuffle. “Double Shuffle” is another instrumental, featuring Gaunt and fellow harmonica player Brandon Bailey exchanging licks, playing in unison, and even head-to-head.

The closer, Peter Green’s “Rattlesnake Shake,” wraps things up in fine fashion and features Gaunt along with another solid Wainwright vocal, the twin guitar attack of Pitts and Roberts, and Dickinson’s electric washboard.

If harmonica blues is your bag, then look no further. You’ve found the disc that will fulfill your needs. Harmonicopia is a well-balanced and invigorating set that you’ll listen to over and over again. Jay Gaunt is going to be making some beautiful music for a long time.

--- Graham Clarke

Watermelon SlimnWatermelon Slim and The Workers have taken the blues world by storm over the past few years. Slim (AKA Bill Homans) has received a record 16 Blues Music Award nominations in the last four years. More recently, Slim has ventured over to the country side of blues with his last couple of releases, but NorthernBlues Music has released a DVD of a masterful performance by Slim and the band at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS from 2007.

Live At the Ground Zero Blues Club captures the band in an ideal setting, with an enthusiastic crowd. There are 16 tracks on the DVD, with a lot of songs from Slim’s first four albums (Big Shoes To Fill, Up Close & Personal, Watermelon Slim and the Workers, and The Wheel Man), plus some often performed/never recorded gems (“My Babe,” “You Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life No More,” “Long Distance Call”).

Slim’s work on the dobro is second-to-none, as is his harmonica, and his craggly, weathered vocals are perfect. The Workers (Ronnie McMullen, Jr. – guitar, Michael Newberry – drums, Cliff Belcher – bass) are rock solid in support. There are also a few guest stars involved, including guitarist Jimbo Mathus (“Peaches,” Who’s Gonna Pay?” and “My Babe”), Charlie Musselwhite (“Buick Fifty-Nine”) and the sartorially splendid Big George Brock, who takes the vocal on Little Walter’s “My Babe,” and Slim’s “Who’s Gonna Pay?”

The DVD production is simply incredible. The picture and sound are so clear; it’s almost like being there in person. The special features included on the disc are also worth a look. There’s an interview with Slim by Chip Eagle of Blues Revue and Blues Wax, an introduction to the Workers, and a couple of behind-the-scenes glimpses of Slim at the club.

Live At the Ground Zero Blues Club provides an interesting look at one of the driving forces on the current blues scene and is well worth checking out. If you’ve never experienced the force of nature that is Watermelon Slim, this is a mighty fine place to start.

--- Graham Clarke

The ReverendosBack In Town is something different from The Reverendos, a band based in the Basque region of Spain. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of this band until I received their CD, but listening to their music is refreshing and reinforces the thought that the blues is alive and well in Spain.

This nine track self-produced CD draws on a variety of influences and the band provides a jump-blues and rhythm & blues flavour to their work. There are two very good original tracks written by the band members, and a variety of covers by Muddy Waters, Arthur Crudup, Leroy Carr, Elmore James, and Lennon/McCartney!

The CD opens with an original track, “Mr.T-Bone,” an instrumental written by the band, a good jump blues with a lively tempo, and a good way to open the album and to show what the band are all about. It’s followed up by Muddy’s “She Moves Me,” given a different tempo and flavour with the band stamping their own signature on it. The speed lifts a bit more with a fantastic version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright,” one of the best cover versions of this track that I’ve heard for a long time.

The band slows down for another original, “My Way Of Loving,” a track that shows they can write as well as play – how does a band from Spain write such good lyrics in English?

“Just Can’t Hold On,” an Elmore James song, speeds things up a little, and then runs into “One More Time,” keeping the tempo at a similar pace before lifting a bit with a good driving blues, “Shot Down,” which was written by Gerry Roslie of The Sonics.

When I saw “Can’t Buy Me Love” (Beatles) listed on the CD cover, I wasn’t too sure what to expect or why the track was there. However, the band gives the song a jump-blues/Stray Cats type flavour and it really works.

The CD closes with an old favourite of mine, Leory Carr’s “How Long Blues” – it’s well-performed and a great way to close the album, showcasing some very inspired guitar work by band member Alvaro King.

Well worth a listen!

--- Terry Clear

Roland Bowling BandI first heard about The Roland Bowling Band from Dorothy Ellis (Miss Blues), who is pretty good at spotting talent in the blues music scene. Dorothy suggested to Roland that he send me his CD, Redemption (Baconpilot Records) and I’m pleased that he did, as it contains some fantastic music. Oklahoma based Roland is a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, suffering from colon cancer, so he knows a bit about feeling the blues and he writes some excellent songs.

This 2009 recorded CD opens with “Old Man” - respect for an older generation and possibly biographical referring to Roland’s father. It’s the first of ten tracks, all of them written by Roland, and played by a trio of Roland on guitar and vocals, assisted by Vegas on bass (a student of Tommy Shannon) and Slammin’ Dan on drums. In addition, track 10, “Everlasting,” features Obadiah Stephen Bowling on acoustic guitar – I’m guessing that this is probably Roland’s son, although the CD notes don’t say.

The medium tempo of the opening tracks stays in place for “Things Changed” before slowing down to a moody instrumental, “Utopia,” showcasing some excellent guitar work by Roland Bowling, with a lot of Jimi Hendrix influence in it. Obviously, from this, Bowling was (like a lot of his generation) a Hendrix fan and has studied the man’s music closely.

The tempo lifts again with “Mystery,” a song about a beautiful, mysterious woman, and stays there with “Cajun Love,” all about a trip to Louisiana to find a Cajun girl. This is a really well-written track with a lot of melodious guitar work – it puts me in mind, just a little, of the work that Creedence Clearwater Revival did in the 1970s.

Things slow down just a bit with track 6, “Rentiesville.” I Googled Rentiesville and found that it’s a small town in Oklahoma (population in 2000 was 102). A blues singer, D.C. Minner, was born in Rentiesville. He owned the Down Home Blues Club in Rentiesville, where he and his wife Selby Minner held a long-running annual blues festival, the 'Dusk 'til Dawn Blues Festival', so I can only guess that Bowling visited the area and fell in love with the place.

“If I Beg” comes next, with some interesting guitar riffs, and then the lovely “Songbird,” a track written by Roland Bowling as a tribute to Miss Blues (Dorothy Ellis), another Oklahoma resident. To me, it pinpoints Miss Blues’ performances exactly, even describing the way that she sits down to sing on stage. Again, some Hendrix influence on the guitar work shines through here.

The tempo lifts again with “Take The Blues Away” before settling down to the last track, “Everlasting,” which as I mentioned earlier has Obadiah Stephen Bowling on acoustic guitar.

Although a lot of these tracks have Hendrix influenced guitar, it’s not obtrusive, and it’s more than made up for by the well-written songs.

--- Terry Clear


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