Blues Bytes

What's New

October/November 2012

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Mississippi Heat

Hans Theessink and Terry Evans

Memphis Gold

Maria Muldaur

Tom Feldmann

Ian Siegal

Lou Pallo

Big Walker

John Lee Hooker Jr.

No Refund Band

The Bopcats

Corey Lueke

Simon McBride

Big James

Altered Five

Elmore James Jr.


Mississippi HeatThis year marks the 20th anniversary of Mississippi Heat, one of Chicago’s finest blues ensembles. Founded by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque, one of the Windy City’s premier harp men, the band has included some of the city’s heavy hitters over the years, including Bob Stroger, Robert Covington, Jon McDonald, Deitra Farr, Bob Carr, Allen Kirk, Zora Young, James Wheeler, and Billy Flynn. In celebration of their anniversary, the band has released Delta Bound, their fourth release for Delmark Records and tenth overall.

The regular group includes Lacocque (harmonica), Inetta Visor (vocals), Giles Corey and Billy Satterfield (guitar), Chris “Hambone” Cameron and Johnny Iguana (keyboards), Joseph Veloz (bass) and Kenny Smith (drums), but, as with other Heat releases, Delta Bound is loaded with special guests. Alumni Flynn and Farr return to grace several tracks, along with frequent guest guitarist Carl Weathersby and zydeco standout Chubby Carrier.

Ms. Visor has served as Mississippi Heat’s lead vocalist for well over a decade, and her powerful, distinctive vocals shine on tracks like “Granny Mae,” the creole-flavored “New Orleans Man” (with guest Carrier), the smouldering cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and the piano-driven “Padlock Blues.” “Goin’ to St. Louis” has a jazzy feel, complete with vibraphone from Kenneth Hall, and she just tears up the more traditional fare like “Trouble In His Trail,” and “Mr. Mistreater,” with Weathersby on guitar.

Farr sings on three tracks, “Look-A-Here, Baby,” “What’s Happening To Me?” and “Sweet Ol’ Blues,” while Flynn plays on the latter two tracks, plus “My Mother’s Plea” and “Sweet Ol’ Blues,” and Weathersby plays on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Mr. Mistreater.”

Listeners have a good idea of what to expect from a Mississippi Heat recording…excellent performances and musicianship, a mix of fine new compositions and well-chosen, unique covers, and a great representation of traditional blues tempered with enough modern flourishes to keep things fresh. Delta Bound may be their best release yet, no small feat in itself. We eagerly await the next 20 years of music from Mississippi Heat.

--- Graham Clarke

Hans TheesinkIn 2008, Hans Theessink and Terry Evans recorded the album, Visions, a relaxed, informal acoustic collection of original and classic tunes that was well-received, even garnering a nomination at the 2009 Blues Music Awards. Four years later, the pair have reunited for the excellent follow-up, Delta Time (Blue Groove), continuing along the same lines with 13 tracks, including four originals from the pen of Theessink. Four tracks also feature Evans’ occasional employer, Ry Cooder, on guitar.

The combination of Theessink’s weathered baritone and Evans’ gospel-flecked tenor makes for compelling listening. On five tracks, including the title track that opens the disc, the moving J.B. Lenoir track, “Down In Mississippi,” and the righteous Theessink original (“Shelter From The Storm”), backing vocals are provided by Arnold McCuller and Willie Greene Jr.

The intriguing list of cover tunes includes Bobby Charles’ “How Come People Act Like That,” the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away From Me,” Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too,” and the James Carr classic, “Pouring Water On A Drowning Man.” One really unique tune recreated is the 60’s pop hit, “The Birds And The Bees.” Evans sang as a member of The Turnarounds, who backed Jewel Aikens on the original version.

Musically, Theessink plays guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, and percussion on these tracks, while Evans provides steady backing on rhythm guitar. Cooder’s guitar work is, as always, immaculate. Delta Time is a marvelous disc from start to finish with its relaxed setting, warm vocals, and stellar fretwork, and is a must-have for fans of acoustic blues guitar.

--- Graham Clarke

Memphis GoldMemphis Gold (a.k.a. Chester Chandler) learned guitar from the legendary Memphis guitarist, Reverend Robert Wilkins, and started a musical journey soon after that eventually found him playing guitar with one of the Bluff City’s most revered blues bands, the Fieldstones. For a number of years, he has resided in Washington, D.C. where he formed a duo with harmonica player Charlie Sayles, playing various D.C. clubs and serving a year-long stint in Deborah Coleman’s touring band before setting out on his own.

Pickin’ in High Cotton (Stackhouse Recording Co.) is Memphis Gold’s fourth release, and, like the others, it offers up traditional blues with modern touches. There’s plenty of greasy Memphis soul in the mix, too, as might be expected, but there’s definitely more emphasis on the traditional blues styles of artists like Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.

Memphis Gold is one of those composers w ho can write a song about nearly any subject, and he covers a broad range on this release. “How You Gonna Play The Blues” is sort of an autobiographical track, about how he’s paid the same dues (picking cotton, working in the fields, wearing cardboard in his shoes) that his predecessors did. This is a strong, down-home track, with harmonica wailing in th background, as Memphis Gold declares, “I am the Blues, I own the Blues!”

Memphis Gold also takes on the plight of the homeless (he was himself homeless for a while in D.C.) on “Homeless Blues,” and also relates the story of the doomed 19th Century abolitionist in “John Brown,” while tracks like “Plow My Mule” and the title track discuss the hard work done in the fields, albeit in different ways (the former goes the urban blues route, while the latter does more of a down-home approach, with a “Smokestack Lightnin’” backdrop).

There’s also more lighthearted fare as well, with “Biscuit Boogie,” an upbeat track that will make you want to dance and grab a pan of biscuits at the same time, the Hooker-esque “Ice Cream Man,” the fine instrumental, “Back Po’ch Tennessee,” and the splendidly funky closer, “Standin’ By The Highway.”

Pickin’ in High Cotton is probably Memphis Gold’s most personal album yet. There’s lots of biographical references here in nearly every song. It’s the kind of disc that makes you think, but also makes you move your feet, thanks to Memphis Gold’s standout guitar work, plus contributions from artists like Jay Summerour, Linwood Taylor, and Robert Lighthouse.

--- Graham Clarke

Maria MuldaurFor her 40th album, Maria Muldaur decided on a tribute album to one of her heroes, blues icon Memphis Minnie. ….First Came Memphis Minnie (Stony Plain) features Muldaur and includes performances by Rory Block, Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster, Phoebe Snow, and Koko Taylor, and a cast of musicians in support that includes Alvin Youngblood Hart, Steve Freund, David Brombert, Del Rey, Roy Rogers, and Steve James.

A singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Memphis Minnie played a key role in developing the electrified Chicago blues band sound. She was one of the first to record using an electric guitar. She dominated the Chicago blues scene for nearly two decades, recording over 200 songs during her 40-year career. She easily transitioned from the rural, acoustic blues of the 20’s into the more urban style that began in the 30’s and continued her dominance into the 1950s.

Muldaur sounds fantastic on her eight selections, which range from “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” “I’m Goin’ Back Home” (with Alvin Youngblood Hart on guitar and second vocal), “I’m Sailin’,” “Long As I Can See You Smile,” Lookin’ The World Over,” “She Put Me Outdoors” (again with Hart on guitar and vocal), “Tricks Ain’t Walkin’” (the first Memphis Minnie song she ever heard, in singer Victoria Spivey’s apartment), and “Crazy Cryin’ Blues.” Though her vocals are a tad grainer than during her “Midnight At The Oasis” days, I think she sounds as good as I’ve heard her. Her handling of this material is masterful.

Bonnie Raitt and guitarist Steve Freund take on “Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’,” and it’s always good to hear Raitt on acoustic guitar. Rory Block, no stranger to tribute albums herself, does a fine job on “When You Love Me,” and Ruthie Foster (with Freund, bass player Tanya Richardson, and Samantha Banks on percussion) ably handle “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed.” The tracks from the late Phoebe Snow (“In My Girlish Days”) and Koko Taylor (the raucous “Black Rat Swing,” with Bob Margolin on slide guitar) are from previous releases (Snow’s 1976 release, It Looks Like Snow, and Taylor’s 2007 Old School).

A tribute album to Memphis Minnie is long overdue. The fact that this one is so well-done is a bonus. Each of these singers (and most other female blues singers) owe a huge debt to Memphis Minnie because of her ground-breaking talent and fierce determination to be successful in what then was almost exclusively a man’s world. Muldaur is two for two in 2012 with this release and the excellent Steady Love from earlier this year. Blues fans would be wise to track them both down.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom FeldmannFor the last few years, guitarist Tom Feldmann has been exploring the music of country blues and gospel guitarists in lieu of his own compositions. His first release in that direction was 2010’s Tribute, an excellent set that found Feldmann and his band, the Get-Rites, recreating songs by artists like Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Charley Patton, Reverend Robert Wilkins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and many others. He’s also released several instructional DVDs for Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop that have been well-received.

Feldmann’s latest album, Lone Wolf Blues (Magnolia Recording Company), continues his exploration of country blues and gospel. This time around, he mixes in a few of his own compositions among the 16 tracks featured on the disc, which include songs by Oscar “Buddy” Woods (the title track), Bukka White (“Special Streamline Blues” and “Sic Em Dogs”), Rev. Gary Davis (“Oh Glory, How Happy I Am”), Mississippi Fred McDowell (“Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning”), Blind Willie Johnson (“God Don’t Never Change”), Blind Boy Fuller (“Homesick and Lonesome Blues”), Sylvester Weaver (“Guitar Rag”), Barbecue Bob (“Yo Yo Blues”), Son House (“Shetland Pony Blues”), Mississippi John Hurt (“Here Am I, Lord Send Me”), the traditional “Delia,” and a closing Muddy Waters medley.

Feldmann’s own compositions are “We Have Overcome,” “Ever Flowing Fountain,” and “Level the Hollow,” and they stand up well with the old standards. Feldmann has a warm tenor voice that fits these songs and this music perfectly, but his guitar work is what you will be listening to this set for. His guitar playing is just wonderful, with plenty of intricate picking as well as some marvelous slide work throughout the disc.

Frankly, I could just sit and listen to this disc all day long, same as with Feldmann’s other releases. If you’re a fan of acoustic guitar, particularly the Pre-War country blues and gospel music variety, you will find yourself doing the same thing. He deserves a big “Thank You” from all of us for his efforts in helping keep this music going.

--- Graham Clarke

Ian SiegalBritish blues rocker Ian Siegal made the move back to Mississippi to record his follow-up to 2011’s highly acclaimed release, The Skinny. Returning to the Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi, Siegal recaptures that hypnotic North Mississippi hill country rhythm on Candy Store Kid (Nugene Records) with an able assist from Cody Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, and Alvin Youngblood Hart, dubbed the Mississippi Mudbloods by Siegal.

Siegal’s wrote six of the 11 tracks, but only two were done before he arrived in Coldwater. He worked on the others during the recording process. The results are satisfying, from the relentless groove of tracks like “Earlie Grace jnr,” “I Am The Train” to the greasy funk of “Hard Pressed (What da Fuzz?)” and an awesome cover of Little Richard’s “Green Power” to crunching, hypnotic vibe of “Loose Cannon” and “The Fear.”

Siegal also offers a splendid cover of Duke Bardwell’s “Bayou Country,” and Garry Burnside contributes “Strong Woman,” and Lightnin’ Malcolm wrote and sings on the soulful “So Much Trouble.”

The rapport between these musicians is particularly noteworthy. Since most of them worked together on Siegal’s previous release, this one seems to pick up right where its predecessor left off with the perfect mix of hill country blues, rock, soul, and funk. The disc is aptly titled, since blues fans will feel like a kid in a candy store when they give this one a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

Lou PalloIt is really hard to imagine where modern American music would be without Les Paul. His impact on music and guitar playing is almost too huge to imagine. He invented the solid-body electric guitar, which was a big factor in the development of rock and roll’s sound. He also was one of the first to use overdubbing and multitrack recordings, plus his guitar playing itself, developing chording, trills, licks, and fretting techniques inspired many current-day guitarists. Best of all, Paul took on all comers. In other words, he worked with jazz musicians, blues musicians, rock and rollers, country pickers, and punk rockers and they all learned at the feet of the master.

Paul passed away in 2009, and his longtime musical partner, guitarist Lou Pallo, has assembled an all-star cast of musicians to join him in paying tribute to the musical pioneer with Thank You Les (Showplace Music Productions). Pallo is backed by members of the trio, along with a guest list that includes guitarists Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Billy F. Gibbons, Jose Feliciano, Slash, Johnny A, Bucky Pizzarelli, Arlen Roth, Nokie Edwards, and singers Blondie Chaplin, Nicki Parrott, Eddie Brigati, Jr., and American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle. The tribute spans a vast array of musical styles, including pop, jazz, blues, country, rock, and blues.

It’s interesting to see these musicians doing some of these songs….sort of stepping out of the box at times. Steve Miller (who also penned the liner notes) teams with Pallo on two tracks (“Mr Day/Tell Me What’s the Reason” and “Nature Boy”) and Keith Richards does “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” with Pallo. Gibbons does a nice job on “September Song,” and Roth’s guitar work is crisp on “Mister Sandman” and introspective on “Vaya Con Dios,” (where he’s joined by his daughter, Lexie, on vocals).

Slash rocks the house on his selection, “Deep in the Blues,” Pizzarelli and Pallo do a masterful job on “Just One More Chance,” which has a nice hollow-body T-Bone Walker feel to it, and Jon Paris throws down some ripping slide guitar and harmonica on “St. Louis Blues. “ Those are just a few of the highlights….I haven’t even mentioned Johnny A’s funky take on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” or Feliciano’s letter-perfect reading of “Besame Mucho,” or the closing tune, a lovely version of “Over the Rainbow,” from Ms. Doolittle.

Pallo worked with Paul for over 25 years, basically rejuvenating the legend’s career in the early ’60s after a brief retirement. They performed together up until Paul’s death. These 21 tracks really capture the spirit of Les Paul and you can really feel the love and respect that each artists had for the man as they strive to give their best performances possible on these tracks.

Thank You Les is also available as a DVD, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the album with interviews, photos, performances, and other features. Tribute albums are a dime a dozen sometimes, but you won’t find one that’s done with as much love and respect as this one. Simply put, if you’re a guitar fan or player, you need to check out this set.

--- Graham Clarke

Big WalkerDerrick Walker, a.k.a. Big Walker, was born and raised in Oklahoma, but made his way to San Francisco in the ’60s, then to Europe. During that time span, Walker played with Lowell Fulson, Michael Bloomfield, and Big Mama Thornton, developing a love for blues, country, and folk music in the process. He is a mix of European, African-American, and Native American ancestry, and, as he points out in the liner notes to his new release, Root Walking (BWK Records), so is American music.

Vocally, Walker has a gruff, sort of talky style, sounding like a cross between Johnny Jenkins and Jimi Hendrix. His harmonica work is first-rate, too. The songs mix blues, gospel, rock, jazz, and old timey music, just like all good roots music. The music sometimes is reminiscent of Jenkins’ Ton Ton Macoute album, with a bit a swampy, eerie vibe. Some of the songs date back to several hundred years ago (the uptempo “Raise a Ruckus,” “Wild Black Bill,” and the gospel track, “You Got a Home In That Rock,” all date back to the 1700s, and the harrowing “Run Nigri Run” and the humorous country-flavored “Hypocrite Blues” are from the 1800s. Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special” also makes an appearance.

Walker updated and edited some of the lyrics of the older tunes, often adding verses as well. He also wrote several of the other tracks, including the catchy opener, “It’s Hard,” the story song, “Can’t Take No Train,” and the last third of the disc, which includes the funky “Papa Guede,” the spooky “Devil’s Cloth,” “Thirteenth Full Moon,” a gritty tribute to Walker’s friend, the late guitarist Olle Boson, and the closer, “Slave.” Actually, the closer is a fun little rocker that features Walker singing in a “Monster Mash” style vocal and a cool sax solo that starts a few seconds after “Slave” ends.

Walker gets a musical assist from a handful of talented musicians, including drummers James Bradley, Jr., Fredrik Hellberg, bass player/co-producer Surjo Benigh, guitarist/co-producer Stevie Klasson, guitarist Maxie Dread, percussionists Calle Drugge and Bai Jack, piano player Slim Notini, and background singers Paris Renita, Nevada Cato, and Derek January.

Root Walking has something for everybody. It’s an outstanding mix of blues and roots music and is an expansive look at the blues now and the blues the way that they used to be. Big Walker does an excellent job recreating and interpreting this tunes. This is recommended listening for any roots music or blues fan.

--- Graham Clarke

John Lee Hooker JrOver the years, there have been scores of sons and daughters of blues legends who have done their best to follow in their parent’s shoes. Most of them, with a few notable exceptions, have either imitated their mothers or fathers, or at least retained part of their parents’ original sound. I would put John Lee Hooker, Jr. under the column of “Notable Exceptions.” The younger Hooker spent a large portion of his teen years backing his father, including on the elder’s Live at Soledad Prison album, but fell into a 25-year battle with drug and alcohol dependency.

Over the past ten years, he has shaken off his demons and has launched a fairly successful solo career, which has found him blending the more traditional down-home blues of his father with R&B, soul, rock, and funk. Hooker’s latest release, and fifth overall, is All Hooked Up (Steppin’ Stone Records), and is another solid entry into an increasingly diverse catalog. Hooker wrote all of the songs (three with producer Larry Batiste) and they run from the story of a neglected wife declaring her independence (“Tired of Being a Housewife”), to a dazzling tribute to our military men and women (“You Be My Hero,” with guitar from guest Lucky Peterson), to a soulful duet with “The Cleanup Woman” herself, Betty Wright (“I Surrender”).

“Listen to the Music” has a cool, funky Second Line rhythm, and the two closers, “Pay the Rent” and “Tears in My Eyes,” both have a jazzy R&B feel. On tracks like “Hard Times” and “Let Me Be,” however, Hooker gives a solid nod to the traditional blues, one punctuated with harmonica, the other one with horns. The title track is a keeper, too, an autobiographical track about the trials of being the son of a famous bluesman.

Production by Batiste is first-rate and Hooker is backed by an All-Star assembly of Bay Area musicians who keep things tight and in-the-pocket. In addition to the album, All Hooked Up also includes a short DVD animated video of Hooker’s autobiographical song, “Dear John.” He pulls no punches describing what he has been through to get to where he is today.

All Hooked Up is guaranteed to continue John Lee Hooker, Jr.’s steady climb to the higher echelons of blues popularity. He continues to improve and develop and it will be interesting to see what his next move will be. In the meantime, there’s plenty here for blues fans to enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

No Refund BandIf your musical bag includes the rocking Texas blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the slick urban blues of B.B. King, or even the gritty blues-based rock of Grand Funk Railroad, then The No Refund Band has what you’re looking for and plenty of it. Even though the band has been around since 2007, they are just now getting around to releasing their self-titled debut recording.

Based in West Texas, the No Refund Band is fronted by charismatic singer/lead guitarist Ricky Jackson, bass player Rik Robertson, drummer Walter Cross, and rhythm/lead guitarist/founder Mike Crownower. The band also sports a tight horn section (Diamond Jim Brady – trumpet and flugelhorn, Anthony Terry – saxes), and for the disc they’ve also added strings (Max Dyer – cello, Aleph Yonker – violin). The album consists of twelve tunes, half covers and half originals.

The originals are strong, with tunes like the Latin-flavored acoustic “Come Down Slow,” and the country/pop ballad, “Fall Again,” but the group really shines on the more bluesy tunes like “Just To Be Blue” (a horn-soaked duet with Texas singing legend Tommie Lee Bradley), “Got Whiskey,” “One More Drink,” and the slow blues, “One More Drink.”

The cover tunes are sort of unusual. Rarely on a blues album do you see songs originally done by the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) or Three Dog Night (Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain”), but the No Refund Band is unafraid to take chances and both songs work in the blues format, though the Axton song retains much of its rock underpinnings. The other covers are a rousing version of “Blues Is My Business,” popularized several years ago by Etta James, “Willie the Wimp,” and Warren Haynes’ “Soul Shine.”

The No Refund Band offers a great mix of electric and acoustic blues, along with a discerning ear for catchy cover songs and a strong set of original tunes. The mix of roadhouse and more upscale, horn-driven blues is an attractive one and makes their debut release worth seeking out.

--- Graham Clarke

The BopcatsOne of the coolest things about writing these reviews is that you get to hear a lot of music from artists that you might not have otherwise heard…artists that have been working together for years, playing certain regions of the U.S., building a following among their local fans and mainly just doing it for the love of the music. They might never get beyond that area, but in reality, they’re not much concerned about it. The music, or the love of playing it, is the thing.

Take The Bopcats, for example. The Richmond, Virginia band has been playing bars, clubs, and frat parties since the ’70s. In the tradition of other roots bands like the Blasters, the Bopcats play blues, rockabilly, R&B, and rock & roll. They recorded an LP in 1984, but since then, they have mainly recorded demo tapes for promotional purposes, preferring to let their live performances speak for themselves. These recordings have been compiled into a collection from EllerSoul Records, called 25 Years of Rock n’ Roll.

The collection gathers 17 of the band’s track remastered from the original vinyl and tape recordings. Eleven of the songs are Bopcat originals and the six covers range from Johnny Cash (“Get Rhythm”) to the Rolling Stones (“Venitilator Blues”) to Dave Bartholmew (“Who Drank My Beer”) to Dave Alvin (“Marie Marie”). Their original tunes are a lot of fun, too, and some highlights include “I Don’t Want To Be Alone,” a cool rockabilly number (one of several, including “Crazy Li’l Baby”), the country-flavored “Dark Train,” “Broke Down,” the rocker, “All I Need,” and the surf guitar groover, “Jenny Jenny.”

This is a great disc of roots music from a band that has been playing these songs for years….long enough to have completely mastered the sound. I love these kinds of records that feature different kinds of music, all played extremely well. Simply put, if you like blues, rockabilly, rock and roll and like to move while you’re listening to it, then you need to check out The Bopcats’ 25 Years of Rock n’ Roll.

--- Graham Clarke

Corey LueckCorey Lueck and the Smoke Wagon Blues Band have been playing in clubs and various festivals around the Ontario area since their beginnings in 1997. Musically, they offer an interesting mix of Chicago and New Orleans blues with a little rock tossed in for good measure. The group’s latest CD, It Ain’t Easy, is loaded with 15 stellar sides reflecting these styles.

Lueck plays a mean harmonica and sings in a raspy, whiskey-soaked growl for the most part. Mike Stubbs does an excellent job on guitar, and Steve Sherman assists on bass and drums, with a trio of keyboard players (Jesse O’Brien, Nick Succi, and Scott Pritchard), Gord Aeichele on bass and sax, and Gavin Robertson on drums.

14 of the 15 tracks were written by Lueck and members of the band. The lone cover is Rudy Stevenson’s “Ain’t No Use,” a piano-driven ballad with some sweet jazzy fretwork from Stubbs. Other highlights include “Josephine,” which has a funky Meters vibe, “Devil Got My Woman,” which benefits from Lueck’s gravelly vocal, the smooth keyboard work from O’Brien, and Aichele’s saxophone, the loose-limbed “Drinking Hard and Steady,” the R&B track, “Some Other Fool,” and the traditional-sounding blues, “Drink By the Sink.”

Singer Robin Banks guests on two tracks. She shares vocals with Lueck on the swampy cut, “That Voodoo,” and she takes the lead vocals herself on the soulful, “Where Did I Go Wrong.” It Ain’t Easy is a solid, well-done set of blues and R&B original tunes. Lueck and company do an excellent job and make this a highly recommended set for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott McBrideSimon McBride has been turning heads since he was 15 years old, when the Belfast native won Guitarist’s Young Guitarist of the Year competition as a 15-year-old. He’s been playing for a living since he was 16, in the metal band Sweet Savage and then with Andrew Strong, the ex-Commitments lead singer. When the guitarist signed a solo deal with Nugene Records in 2008, and releasing the critically acclaimed debut, Rich Man Falling, it was clear to many that McBride was a star in the making. He has continued along that track, picking up multiple British Blues Awards nominations and releasing two other well-received discs in the process.

Crossing The Line is McBride’s third release, and on this album, McBride receives assistance from Paul Reed Smith, who invited the guitarist to record in his own personal studio, Dragon Xing Studio in Annapolis, Maryland. The youngster doesn’t disappoint either, laying down some masterful fretwork on these 11 tracks.

The powerhouse trio (McBride – guitar, Carl Harvey – bass, Paul Hamilton – drums) rip through a stunning set of tunes, nine originals, two covers (Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Go Down Gamblin’” and Gareth Dunlop’s soul rocker, “Home To Me.”). Highlights include the strong rocker, “Heartbreaker,” the soaring ballad “No Room to Breathe” (one of several tunes featuring Mia Simone on backing vocals), the acoustic “A Rock And A Storm,” and the magnificent closer, a reworking of McBride’s “Down To The Wire.”

McBride’s guitar work is superb, and his vocals are also strong, bringing to mind Paul Rodgers at times. The band is also great, and are augmented on one track (“Alcatraz”) by saxophone from Davy Howell and trumpet from Linley Hamilton. The world of blues/rock is already loaded with some outstanding young guitarists, but Simon McBride is in position to raise the standard with this impressive release.

--- Graham Clarke

Ron BeerCanadian Ron Beer’s latest release, The Blues Don’t Say It All (Boogie Boy Blues), offers up a versatile set of blues that take in elements of jump blues, R&B, and roots. Beer teams up with lyricist Lou Sabatini as on his previous effort and provides warm, engaging vocals. He is assisted by guitarist Neil Chapman, keyboardist Bill Evans, and a rhythm section of John Meydam and Alex Paris. Producer Paul Schofield also plays the horns that punctuate several of the ten tracks.

The songs, as mentioned, are a diverse lot. The title track and “If We Don’t Talk” are pretty straight blues numbers. “I Understand” is a slow-drag R&B track, and “Close To The Fire” is pure jump blues. “Call Me A Doctor” is a fun, old-timey number that is backed by clarinet and banjo and old school lyrics, and “Give Me Shelter” has a jazzy blues charm to it with its tropical rhythms and smoky saxophone, an approach revisited with “Who’s Fooling Who.”

The Blues Don’t Say It All is a well-rounded set of original tunes that mixes R&B, jazz, and traditional sounds with the blues. Ron Beer is a talented performer (and author as well….check out his Boogie Boy Blues graphic novel series) and he and composer Satabini make a good team and have released a highly enjoyable set.

--- Graham Clarke

Words escape me when I think of Paula Harris from the Bay Area. As a long time volunteer of the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, I’ve had the pleasure over the years to witness a number of scintillating performers come to the Bluff City to do battle with the world’s best and was fortunate enough to have Paula’s band assigned to my home away from home, the Rum Boogie. Paula went on to take third place at this year’s IBC and has released a new disc, Turning on the Naughty, that showcases everything I love about her. She’s big, bad, and bawdy and apologizes for none of what I consider to be her most endearing qualities. This is quite a disc, so let’s give it a listen.

Paula kicks off with a tune of her own, “Nick of Too Damn Late.” Here we find Paula blindsided by a new love. She rushed into it very quickly and is definitely having second thoughts. “I rushed in…I didn’t try to wait…now I’m scared…my heart will break…I should have slowed down…now it’s too late!”

Paula’s impetuousness continues in our next tune, the title cut, “Turning on the Naughty.” “Babe, we need to leave this place…I want to be in your embrace…going to let it all hang out…you know what I’m talking about…turning on the naughty!” Paula’s found her man and she definitely wants him now. It’s worth noting that a plethora of the Bay Area’s finest musicians worked with Paula on this project. Her guitarist, Terry Hiatt, absolutely tears it up on his guitar solo in this tune.

A full complement of horns is backing Paula on our next cut, “Touch of the Blues.” Here we find Paula at the end of a relationship and she’s definitely feeling a touch of regret. “I caught you cheating…I thought we were through…but I still had…a bad case of loving you…just a touch of the blues!”

One of the tunes Paula favored at the IBC was “Damn Your Eyes” and it’s here that the full range of her vocal talents really begins to shine. I appreciate the huskiness in her voice that is a departure from the full on vocal style that she’s capable of. “I guess I see what I wanna see…maybe my heart’s deceiving me...damn your eyes.”

“Cast the First Stone” is another Paula original and here we find another relationship coming to an end. “I’ll take the blame…for anything I’ve done…we’re living in a glass house…but it sure ain’t a home…people in a glass house…shouldn’t throw stones…if you think it’s all on me, Babe…cast the first stone!” Another original, “Learn from My Mistake,” is up next. “Learn from my mistake…he’s a real good man to do you wrong…learn from my mistake…leave the man alone.”

“Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore” is another of Paula’s originals and the tune just cracked me up the first time I heard it. I’ve had a private conversation with Paula on this tune and for the sake of the review, I’ll just politely have to disagree with her. “ “I went to the doctor for my yearly exam…he saw me in the buff and he said ''damn''…am I dying doc? I need to know the score…he said, “you ain’t dying girl…you just don’t look good naked anymore!”

Paula cranks the funk up on our next cut, “Baby Love.” “You give me a reason…to be a fool for you…I’ll be your slave…yes, I will…give me your command….ah baby love.” The tempo finally slows down as Paula eases into the ballad, “Some of My Best Friends are the Blues.” Paula’s musical roots run deep in jazz and soul as well as the blues and this entire disc features some of the strongest female vocals that I’ve heard in quite awhile. “I know my daddy left me…cause they came and brought the news…well, some of my very best friends are the blues!’

Restraint is not a word that comes to mind when thinking about Paula and she’s letting an ex-lover know exactly how she feels in “Gates of Hell.” “God should make you pay…for what you did to me…but Lord, help me…I can’t break free.” Next up is an excellent cover of “Dust My Broom,” and then the horns come to the forefront on the cut, “I Play Dirty.” “I believe in a lot of jiving…and sweet talking with my man…before I drop you…I’ll let you know…between hello and goodbye…my love will make you melt!”

Turning on the Naughty closes with another Harris original, “Mr. Right for a Night,” “I don’t need it all honey…I just need a little bite…he’s Mr. Right….for just one night,” and the ballad, “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Here we find Paula at her sultriest, “You don’t know what love is…until you’ve kissed…and had to pay the cost.” Pay the cost, indeed.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Turning on the Naughty by Paula and her band. She’s held nothing back and the result is a disc that showcases her formidable vocal range, the impetuousness of her songwriting and a vast array of very talented Bay Area musicians backing. I’m a firm believer that the best is yet to come for Paula and look forward to her presence on next year’s festival circuit. Grab a copy of this disc from Paula on her website,, and enjoy.

--- Kyle Deibler

Big JamesI first met Big James at the Blues Music Awards the year they were held in Tunica, Mississippi and have been a fan ever since. I still have the Chicago Cubs lid that L-Dub gave to me at Blues Blast and really liked their performance there. Horn-driven Blues/Soul was a rare treat for Blues Blast fans and that was definitely one of the more memorable festivals that I’ve been a part of. On the heels of his successful Blind Pig release, Right Here, Right Now, Big James and the Chicago Playboys have followed it up with a live disc, The Big Payback. Recorded at the famed Lionel Hampton Jazz Club in Paris, Big James and the Playboys do it up right. Let’s give it a listen.

The band opens up with one of their anthems, “The Blues Will Never Die,” and right away I can tell they’re in rare form. Big James on trombone and Charles Pryor on trumpet lead the way as Big James tells us his life story. “I don’t care…don’t know why…I know these blues will never die!” Big James loves to perform and the band is right in step with him as he proudly proclaims that our favored genre, the Blues, will never die.

I hear Larry’s bass introducing us to the next tune, “The Big Payback,” our title track. Here we find that a friend of James has punked him, let him down and Big James believes in getting even. “But I can’t take…backstabbing…so brothers get ready…that’s a fact…get ready for the big payback!” Mike Wheeler’s guitar provides the intro for “Coldest Man I Ever Knew,” a tune about the mentor in James’s life, his father. “He schooled me about people...he said, son…do the best you can…don’t back down from nobody…stand up and be a man…people I want to tell you…about the coldest man I knew!” James learned all of his important life lessons from his father and learned them well.

The band continues its Chicago blues fest with James’s telling us about “All Your Love.” “All your love…I got to have one more time…want to love you baby…love you…peace of mind.” James is more than happy to take care of his woman as long as she treats him right and stays true to him. Next up is “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone.” The lesson here is that every town has a character like Jody, someone who will flash cash around town and take your woman if you’re not careful. “When you get home…after working hard all day…Jody’s got your girl…and he’s gone away…ain’t no sense in going home…Jody’s got your girl and gone!” Jody’s definitely a wanted man but he’s long gone and he’s got your girl.

“That’s Why I’m Crying” finds James in a reflective mood. All’s not right in his world and he’s missing the woman he loves. “I went to the places…we used to go…and all of your friends…told me you don’t come around no more….I looked over and saw…that same man who took you away from me…that’s why I’m crying.” James loved this woman dearly and the pain of losing her is staying with him, he’d love to get her back but that’s not going to happen. James definitely has the blues.

Up next is another favorite tune of James, “Trying to Live My Life Without You.” “Trying to forget the love that we shared…is the hardest thing I’ve ever dared…wooh, in my lonely room baby…I had the worst reputation around…for chasing all the women in town…I thought changing my way of living was hard to do…but the worst habit to break baby, was long you.” The tempo slows way down and we heard Joe Blocker on the keys as Big James tackles a George Clinton tune, “I’ll Stay.” “I’ll stay…though friends may ridicule…I know for her…there is no substitute…talk I can’t ignore…when she returns…but that’s all right…mother says…my reward…when she returns...she’ll come home…keeps me hanging on…I’ll stay."

The Big Payback closes with a Big James original, “Low Down Dirty Blues.” “You told me that you loved me…you were messing with my mind…somewhere out there for me….there’s a lover I must find…I’m so tired of being misused…all you left me with is the low down dirty blues!” Big James leaves the listener with an instrumental version of the Deep Purple classic, “Smoke On the Water."

The Big Payback is an excellent live disc by Big James and the Chicago Playboys. It’s a very crisp live recording and the audience at the club were truly enjoying themselves. The band is definitely at the top of their game and this carries over to their live performance. This disc will definitely tide me over until Big James’s next studio recording. You can pick up a copy of this disc from Big James on his website at or order directly from Blind Pig Records.

--- Kyle Deibler

Altered FiveI love it when I pop in a CD from an unknown band and get blown away by how good it is. I just had that feeling from the sophomore release from Milwaukee-based band Altered Five. These cats know how to play the blues with plenty of grit and soul. They get a bigger sound out of a five-piece band than some ensembles twice their size, bringing a taste of Memphis to the upper Midwest.

Gotta Earn It (Conclave/Cold Wind Records) consists of only 10 cuts, but there's not a weak one in the bunch. Most cuts are original compositions by the various band members, but the listener gets hit in the face on the opening cut, an uptempo version of the Marvin Gaye classic, "Ain't That Peculiar." We're introduced to frontman Jeff "J.T." Taylor's powerful, gritty vocals and the solid backing accompaniment as Altered Five takes this well-known cover and makes it their own.

Altered Five brings out their more soulful side on the mid-tempo original, "Three Wishes," featuring gospel-style piano from Raymond Tevich, who consistently provides solid instrumental work throughout this fine disc.

Guitarist Jeff Schroedl gets to shine on the driving blues shuffle "Keep The Best," which also gives Tevich a chance to stretch out on Hammond B-3. Both Schroedl and Tevich also trade instrumental riffs on the uptempo blues, "Older Wiser Richer."

The uptempo rocker "Watch Yourself" is another favorite, with tasty piano work from Tevich. Closing out this strong collection is a blues shuffle, "Bounce Back," with Taylor starting out with more subdued vocals before he pours more soul into the number.

I kept checking the album credits to find out how many guest instrumentalists were on the CD, because the sound is so full throughout the disc that I kept thinking there had to be more than four players backing Taylor. But, no, these guys know how how to pack a wallop into each song.

Gotta Earn It is worth checking out. If you're anywhere near their Milwaukee base, you can find the touring schedule as well as more info on their recordings on the band website.

--- Bill Mitchell

Elmore James JrThe first few notes of the opening cut, "What's Wrong," on Old School Lover (Wolf Records), will immediately show you that there's some serious Elmore James-style slide guitar to be heard on this disc. Not surprising, since this strong CD comes from Elmore James Jr. and the Broomdusters Blues Band. Eddie Taylor Jr. and Illinois Slim also play guitar on the disc, giving fans of old-style Chicago blues guitar an extra treat.

James is also a good singer, as can be heard on the Eddie Boyd classic, "Third Degree," a slow blues that gives pianist Duke Haramdas and sax player Ed Williams the opportunity to show off their skills. Another strong number is a cover of Jimmy Rogers' blues shuffle, "You're The One," that includes very nice (but uncredited) harmonica playing.

James waits until the disc's final cut to cover one of his father's numbers, "I Can't Hold Out," and here his vocals resemble that of Elmore Sr. Williams comes in with a nice sax solo.

This is a very nice album, but with one drawback. There are several places in the album in which "Studio Talk" is interspersed, which takes away from the flow of the music. I believe that studio chatter has its place if used sparingly, primarily to provide historical perspective to certain recordings, but that's not the case here. Instead, it just interrupts. But don't let that keep you away from this fine CD --- after all, that's why our CD players have buttons that allow us to advance to the next cut.

--- Bill Mitchell





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