Blues Bytes

What's New

November 2013

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Toronzo Cannon

Jim Allchin

Bryan Lee

Frank Bey & Anthony Paule

Vincent Hayes

Chris James & Patrick Rynn

Steve Howell

Samantha Fish

Holland K. Smith


Port City Prophets

Howard Glazer

Jon Zeeman

Gina Sicilia

Bobby Messano

Sugaray Rayford

Eric Hughes

Franco & the Stingers

Todd Wolfe Band


Toronzo CannonToronzo Cannon’s fantastic 2011 release, Leaving Mood, introduced a bright new talent to the blues scene…an engaging performer who also happens to be one of the more inspired songwriters currently in action. Blues fans have eagerly anticipated his follow-up, and they will not be disappointed with John The Conquer Root (Delmark), a disc that equals, and surpasses, the promise of his initial Delmark effort.

Though the music of Jimi Hendrix is a profound influence on Cannon’s sound (check out the title track, a crunching blues rocker, and the equally effective instrumental closer, “Root To The Fruit….She’s Mine (Reprise)”), he also has spent plenty of time taking in the Windy City blues sounds as well as R&B, funk, and soul. Tracks like “Cold World,” which comes complete with a tight horn section and a sweet set of backup singers, show the soul influence, and “If You’re Woman Enough To Leave Me,” “Shame” (with Omar Coleman guesting on harmonica), and “Big Ray Bop,” gives us the funk in a strong way.

His highly original songwriting, sometimes taken from his daily observations as a bus driver for CTA, makes a special artist even more so. Tracks like “I’ve Been Doing Fine” and “You Made Me This Way” touch on familiar blues themes, but you’ve never heard them expressed quite this way. “Gentle Reminder” is a frank commentary on blues in the 21st century, discussing the need for the blues to continue to advance and develop to remain a vital genre.

Other highlights include the guitar fest, “Sweet, Sweet, Sweet,” which pairs Cannon with former employer, Joanna Connor, whose guitar must have caught fire during her scorching slide guitar soloing, and “Let It Shine Always,” an observation on death that features vocals from Cannon, Connor with fellow Windy City guitarist/singer Mike Wheeler.

It’s good to know that the future of Chicago blues, and blues in general, is in good hands with these artists. Blues fans will find a lot to love with John The Conquer Root, as Toronzo Cannon leaves us eagerly awaiting his next move, just like he did on his last album.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim AllchinJim Allchin’s last release, Overclocked, was one of the surprise releases of 2011. The former Microsoft exec’s hard-driving blues guitar was as diverse, mixing blues, rock and jazz, as it was relentless. Allchin ups the ante considerably on his third release, Q.E.D. (Sandy Key Music), with improvement at all levels from its predecessor.

The opener “Stop and Go,” a soaring boogie rocker, cranks up the disc to ten immediately. One of several tracks backed by the New York Brass, the double-entendre-laden track sets the bar pretty high and Allchin’s guitar work is jaw-dropping. The swinging shuffle “Getting Old” addresses that topic that we all will face sooner or later, has a nice easy-going vibe. “Reap What You Sow” is a Texas-styled boogie, with a nice vocal from Allchin and some splendid piano work from Brooke Lizotte.

Mycle Wastman turns in a great lead vocal on the soulful “Trust Me.” “Evil Hearted Woman” has a jazzy feel, while “Come on Home” leans more toward R&B, with some Crescent City-based keyboards from Lizotte. The country blues, “Runnin’ Away,” gives Allchin room to show his acoustic chops.

Allchin also mixes in four instrumental tracks --- the lovely ballad, “Chime Blues.” “Thinking of You,” which teams Allchin’s introspective fretwork with Lizotte’s piano, the expressive slow blues, “Drownin’,” and the Santana-flavored closer, “No Way Out.”

Impeccably produced by Allchin and drummer Ben Smith, the album also benefits from a first-rate set of additional backing musicians that includes Smith, Lizotte, Dan Dean (bass), and Owen Gurry (strings), plus background vocals from Wastman, Martin Ross, and Keely Whitney (who also sings lead on “Getting Old”).

Q.E.D. is a guitar player’s dream, but it also showcases Jim Allchin’s songwriting and vocal gifts as well. They’ll be talking about this one for a while in the guitar magazines.

--- Graham Clarke

Bryan LeeBryan Lee has been a New Orleans musical institution for over 30 years, beginning with his long tenure at the Old Absinthe House in the French Quarter. The guitarist/singer has been a regular performer at the city’s Jazz and Heritage Festival for over 25 years and has released numerous critically acclaimed albums during that span on the Canadian label, Justin Time.

Play One For Me is Lee’s debut release for Severn Records, and it teams Lee with the label’s crack studio band (Steve Gomes – bass, Robb Stupka – drums, Kevin Anker – keyboards), a pair of Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson (harmonica) and Johnny Moeller (rhythm guitar), and a massive horn and string section arranged and directed by Willie Henderson.

The disc is a mix of five Lee originals and five choice covers that include a smooth reading of the George Jackson classic, “Aretha (Sing One For Me).” That track, plus Bobby Womack’s “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends),” really put Lee’s soulful vocals to great use. The other covers include a funky reworking of Dennis Geyer’s “Straight To Your Heart,” and the blues side is represented by Freddie King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough),” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil.”

Lee’s originals also mix soul and the blues. The soul side is represented by the silky smooth “Let Me Love You Tonight.” “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t No More),” “Poison,” and “Why” are rough and ready blues. The closer, “Sixty-Eight Years Young,” is a funky testimonial from Lee saying that he’s still got it and plans to keep it for a while.

If you’ve not experienced Bryan Lee for yourself, Play One For Me is a great introduction to his talents. He’s equally versed in the blues, R&B, and soul and there’s plenty here for fans of all three to enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

Frank BeyHot on the heels of their excellent live album, You Don’t Know Nothing (released in February), Frank Bey & Anthony Paule Band have rewarded soul/blues fans with an equally wonderful follow-up, Soul For Your Blues (Blue Dot Records). Though Bey may seem like a new voice to many, he’s performed for years singing gospel and later soul music (serving Otis Redding as a valet and occasional opening act).

Paule has played guitar with a host of blues artists including Johnny Adams, Earl King, Brownie McGhee, Maria Muldaur, Charlie Musselwhite, and Boz Scaggs, and has assembled a tight band to back Bey ….the same band that backed him on the live release. Paule wrote or co-wrote (with Christine Vitale and Karen Falkner) all of the original tunes, which have deep roots in classic Southern soul. You could easily imagine Otis Redding recording “I Just Can’t Go On” or “It’s Good To Have Your Company.”

Other highlights include a couple of nice R&B tunes (“Don’t Mess With The Monkey,” “I Want To Change Your Mind”), and some nice straight-ahead blues numbers. Bey’s growl and Paule’s stinging lead guitar, combined with the powerhouse horn section make “I’m Leavin’ You” one of the disc’s standouts, and “You’re Someone Else’s Baby” is a strong blues ballad.

The covers are pretty diverse, too, ranging from the soulful Willie Mitchell-composed “I Don’t Know Why,” which opens the disc, to Wynonie Harris’ swinging “Buzzard Luck,” and Percy Mayfield’s “Nothing Stays The Same Forever.” There are also a couple of instrumentals showcasing Paule’s fretwork --- the funky “Smokehouse,” and a hip version of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” that closes things out.

Soul For Your Blues is just what the doctor ordered for soul/blues fans. This is classic soul music, just like they used to do it 40 or so years ago, mixed with a healthy dose of the blues and powered by one of the tightest bands currently practicing. Don’t miss this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Vincent HayesSince Vincent Hayes’ debut release, 2010’s Reclamation, there have been a few changes. For starters, the name “The Vincent Hayes Project” has been dropped, and the band has been scaled back down to a trio (Hayes – guitar/vocals, David Alves – bass, Donnie Hugley – drums). Some things still remain though, such as Hayes’ approach to blues/rock, a powerhouse attack that mixes a considerable portion of soul and funk, with timely and reflective lyrics and Hayes’ muscular guitar and vocals.

On Hayes’ impressive follow-up, The Grind (North 61 Records), he wrote nine of the ten tracks, including the invigorating and encouraging opener, “All You’ve Got,” which rocks hard, as does “The Gun.” “Common Vision” is more reflective and has a greasy backbeat that gets next to you. The edgy rocker “Cold Feet” oozes tension and apprehension, but Hayes mellows out somewhat on “Things That Get Me By” and the title track, which features a great vocal.

“Other Side of Town” is the best pure blues track on the disc, with Hayes offering up some seven-plus minutes of sweet fretwork on this great tune. “My Guitar and My Baby” runs a very close second on the straight blues front. The funky closer, “Not Tonight,” is also a keeper. The album’s lone redo is Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” a timely cover if there ever was one.

Not your average blues rockers, Vincent Hayes and company combine equal amounts of funk and soul into their blues. Add that to Hayes’ profound lyrics and the band’s way around a groove, and blues fans will find listening to The Grind will be a rewarding experience.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris JamesYou’d be hard pressed to find two current musicians more devoted to the traditional Chicago blues sound than Chris James and Patrick Rynn. Singer/guitarist James and bass player Rynn have appeared on numerous albums in recent years and have released two excellent CDs of their own in recent years for Earwig Records, 2008’s Stop and Think About It and 2010’s Gonna Boogie Anyway.

For their third Earwig release, Barrelhouse Stomp, James and Rynn draw from four different recording sessions done between 2009 and 2011. Joining them during these sessions were a veritable A-list of Chicago-based musicians that include former Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Jody Williams, piano men Aaron Moore, David Maxwell, and Henry Gray, drummers Willie Hayes, Eddie Kobek, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, tenor sax players Eddie Shaw, Jonny Viau, and Norbert Johnson, and longtime collaborator, harmonica player Rob Stone.

Barrelhouse Stomp consists of 12 dynamic tracks, five originals, five covers, and two instrumentals. The originals include the opening shuffle, “Goodbye, Later For You,” “Just Another Kick In The Teeth” (which features Williams and Shaw, and a rare solo from Rynn on bass), and “A Fact Is A Fact,” teaming James on some old-school slide backed by Viau and Johnson’s twin sax attack. The instrumental “Messin’ With White Lightnin’” features Williams and his guitar, “White Lightnin’, working through a Bo Diddley beat, and the closer, “Last Call Boogie,” features the ageless Gray on keys.

The terrific set of covers includes a rousing take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good,” Junior Parker’s “I’m Gonna Stop Fooling Myself” (with Williams taking guitar chores), a wonderful reworking of Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vickburg Blues,” a nice tribute to Pinetop Perkins (Robert Nighthawk’s “Take It Easy,” and a spirited version of the Elmore James instrumental, “Bobby’s Rock.”

Barrelhouse Blues is a top-notch set of traditional Chicago blues from Chris James and Patrick Rynn that sounds as good as the music that was coming from the Windy City half a century earlier.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellYes, I Believe I Will (Out of the Past Music) finds Steve Howell and The Mighty Men working through a far-ranging set of country blues, roots, and traditional country music. Howell has really shined on three previous albums that mix these various genres with original compositions and tasteful covers, but this time around, the master guitarist focuses on reinterpretations of old tunes with stellar support from Chris Michaels (electric and acoustic guitars, bass), Dave Hoffpauir (drums), and Jason Weinheimer (keyboards).

Among the ten songs covered by Howell and his friends are a pair from Nick Katzman and Ruby Green (the mid-tempo country blues opener, “I Had A Notion,” and the ominous “Devil’s Side”), Mel Tillis (“Walk On Boy”), Dock Boggs (the downhearted “lonesome” song, “Country Blues”), Danny Barnes (the country ballad, “Wasted Mind”), and a pop standard originally done by the Fleetwoods (“Mr. Blue”).

Of course, the blues is front and center on all of these songs, plus reworkings of Willie Brown’s classic, “Future Blues” and traditional favorites like the Blind Willie Johnson tune, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” the country blues “I Know You Rider,” and “Rake and Rambling Blade,” an English-Irish melody.
The guitar work from Howell and Michaels is simply marvelous, and Howell’s vocals strike the right balance with the songs, whether conveying heartbreak or loneliness. As on his previous releases, the production is magnificent, giving you the feeling that the musicians are in the room with you.

Yes, I Believe I Will is a gentle, relaxed session that will reward fans of acoustic blues and roots guitar.

--- Graham Clarke

Samantha FishBased on the fireworks emerging from Black Wind Howlin’, there will be no sophomore jinx for Samantha Fish. Indeed, the second release on Ruf Records from the young singer/guitarist shows significant improvement on her impressive 2011 debut, the BMA winner Runaway. Her new release was produced by Mike Zito and features Zito on rhythem guitar, along with the Royal Southern Brotherhood’s rhythm section (Charlie Wooton – bass, Yonrico Scott – drums).

Black Wind Howlin’ is tougher and bolder than its predecessor. Tracks like the “On the Road” opening cut, “Miles To Go,” “Lay It Down,” “Heartbreaker,” and the feisty “Go To Hell” (with co-lead vocals from guest Paul Thorn) rock relentlessly. “Sucker Born,” one of two tracks with Johnny Sansone wailing away on harmonica, oozes with swampy swagger, while “Over You” is a moody ballad with atmospheric slide guitar, and the closing track, “Last September,” has a nice country flair to it.

Fish mixes in one cover tune, the Howlin’ Wolf chestnut, “Who’s Been Talking,” with harmonica from Sansone. Zito plays lead guitar on one track, the gritty “Kick Around,” and fiddler Bo Thomas adds flair to “Last September.”

Loaded with great songs and performances, Black Wind Howlin’ is a sure bet to keep Samantha Fish’s career on a continued upswing.

--- Graham Clarke

Holland K. SmithHolland K. Smith has been a part of the Dallas/Fort Worth blues scene since the early ’90s, and has played with many of the region’s best blues musicians. He’s played with folks like George Thorogood (and also wrote “Rock Party” for Thorogood’s Hard Stuff album), the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Anson Funderburgh (who produced Smith’s first two albums), Nick Curran, Mike Morgan, Jim Suhler, Jr. Watson, and many others, and has released three critically acclaimed discs since 1999.

For his fourth release, Cobalt (EllersSoul Records), Smith enlists guitarist Anson Funderburgh as producer. This wide-ranging CD offers 15 diverse tracks of blues and roots music with the occasional flourish of other styles like country, rock & roll, R&B, jazz, and even Latin. Funderburgh plays guitar on only one track, the swinging “You Get What You Deserve,” so the bulk of the fretwork is ably handled by Smith.

Smith penned all but one of the tracks, leading off with a smooth, but clever R&B tune, “Love Liquidation.” “Just One Heartache” is a tight Texas-styled blues with a wry vocal from Smith, “The Itch” ventures toward early rock & roll with it’s frenzied piano and punchy sax, and Smith’s crooning vocal makes “Magic Wand” sounds like an old school pop tune. The title track is a jazzy instrumental showcasing Gentlemen John Street’s keyboards and Smith’s guitar.

“Little Bit of Faith,” the disc’s lone cover, has a gospel flavor in instrumentation and with Smith’s impassioned vocal delivery, and so does the next tune, “The Secret,” which is a bit more restrained and reflective than the previous track. “Never Got The Blues” is a straight blues number and is one of the standouts on the album. The closer, “Olhos Verdes (Green Eyes),” is the real wild card on the disc, with its Latin rhythms and guitar work (with a little bit of Dick Dale thrown in), and is a really cool way to close things out.

Smith’s versatile guitar work, his distinctive songwriting, and his seasoned vocals are all well worth a listen. Other musicians helping out on Cobalt are Wes Starr (drums), Eric Przygocki and Ronnie James Webber (bass), Dunye Nasuhoglu (percussion) and Chaz Marie (background vocals).

Cobalt is an excellent release from a Texas bluesman who should be better known than he is.

--- Graham Clarke

MonkeyjunkThe Ottawa-based band MonkeyJunk has only been together for about five years, but it didn’t take the trio long to make their mark, finishing third in the 2009 I.B.C. in Memphis and releasing two critically acclaimed albums. That streak should move to three with the release of their third album, the appropriately titled All Frequencies (Stony Plain Records), a disc which expands the band’s musical palate even more than previously.

The best thing about this group is that they’re not afraid to step outside of their comfort zone. Since the last release, front man Marriner has added a baritone guitar to the mix to offset the band’s lack of a bass player. He’s also running his guitar through a Leslie cabinet (a la Buddy Guy, circa Hoodoo Man Blues) on occasion. Lead guitarist Tony D has added more slide guitar and use of the wah-wah pedal on assorted tracks, and drummer Matt Sobb continues to bang the skins like they owe him money.

Like the album title indicates, MonkeyJunk is coming at listeners from several different directions this time around …. not just blues tunes like “Once Had Wings,” “What I Got To Give,” or “Sirens In the Night,” but rock ‘n roll (“You Make A Mess,” “Say What?”), swamp rock (“Right From Wrong,” a ferocious cover of Bobby Charles’ “Why Are People Like That?”), uptown funk (“Je Nah Say Kwah”), country (“Yearnin’ For Yesterday”), and the closing tune, “Swank,” a groovy seven-minute instrumental that you wish would never end with Marriner doing his best Booker T. on organ.

All Frequencies is the best MonkeyJunk release so far. It’s hard to imagine how they will top this effort, but then that was what we were saying after their last release, too, wasn’t it?

--- Graham Clarke

Port City ProphetsMule, the debut release of South Carolina’s Port City Prophets, is a raw and ragged slice of traditional Low Country blues and soul loaded with emotion and fire. The Prophets are Tim Kirkendall (vocals, bass), Troy Tolle (guitar), and Henry Ancrum (drums), and their live shows are reportedly the stuff of legend. If this disc is in any way representative of that, I hope these guys make it to my area soon.

Kirkendall is surely one of the best vocalists you’ve never heard of. He capably handles the tongue-in-cheek qualities of “Jesus Saved My Soul, But…,” and blows you away on the gospel-flavored “I Already Know,” the soul number, “Let Me Breathe,” and the slow blues of “Done Changed My Mind.” Tolle’s fretwork is a highlight, nothing flashy but plenty of great tone on numbers like “Mule In A One Horse Town,” “When The Lights Go Down In St. Louis,” and “I Used To Love You.” His slide guitar is excellent on “Jesus Saved My Soul, But…”

Ancrum’s percussion work is equally strong. Again, nothing flashy, but absolutely perfect for the style. William Nance sits in on several tracks, contributing some superlative moments on keyboard, especially on the closing instrumental, “Pluff Mud,” where each musician gets a moment in the spotlight.

The Port City Prophets have set the bar pretty high with this fine debut release, showing that they’re equally versed in blues, soul, rock, jazz, and funk. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

--- Graham Clarke

Howard GlazerDetroit guitar man Howard Glazer was recently nominated for the 2013 Downbeat Critics Choice awards for Best Rising Star – Guitar and Best Blues Artists, and has won multiple music awards in the Motor City, and deservedly so, based on the sounds coming from his latest release, Stepchild of the Blues (Lazy Brothers Records). Glazer demonstrates his guitar chops on a variety of tunes that move from scorching blues/rock to acoustic country blues with several stops in-between.

The opener, “Don’t Love You No More,” is your basic blues rocker, with lots of impressive lead work from Glazer. “Shakin’” updates the old Bo Diddley beat, and “Gas Pump Blues” keeps things retro with Glazer on resonator backed by Harmonica Shah as they address a familiar topic to most of us these days. “Telephone Blues” is a nice slow urban blues with some tasty guitar from Glazer backed by Larry Marek on organ, and the soulful “Honey & Spice” features some muscular slide guitar and lead work.

“Somewhere” is a bit of a change of pace, more of a rock ballad that mixes acoustic guitar with some piercing electric lead and organ …. very well done. “Cried All My Tears” offers more great slide work, and “Liquor Store Legend” leans more toward the urban sound again Glazer’s tight lead work is perfectly complemented by Marek’s contributions on the organ. The disc goes out on top with the magnificent “Hurtful Feeling,” teaming Glazer with Harmonica Shah once again. This time around, the duo really go at it with Glazer’s electrifying slide guitar front and center.

In addition to Harmonica Shah, others contributing to the disc include Chris Brown (bass), Charles David Stuart (drums), Marek (organ), and Chuck Bartels (bass on three tracks). The background vocals from Maggie McCabe and Stephanie Johnson make a great disc even better. Blues guitar fans will find a lot to enjoy when listening to the talents of Howard Glazer and Stepchild of the Blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Nino MindelisBrazilian guitar master Nino Mindelis has recorded many albums in his native country, but Angels & Clowns (Shining Stone Records) is his first release for a U.S. label. Though, little-known in the U.S., he is renowned in South America as a guitarist, songwriter, and singer, and this release, produced by Duke Robillard, teams Mindelis with Robillard’s band (Mark Teixeira – drums, Brad Hallen – bass, Bruce Bears – keyboards).

One thing you will notice about Mindelis, after you get past his impressive guitar work, is how catchy his melodies and rhythms are. On tracks like the cool opener, “It’s All About Love” (with backing vocals from Sunny Crownover), the rocker “It’s Only A Dream,” the R&B-flavored title track, and the aptly titled “Perfect Blues,” you find yourself singing or nodding along, even though you’ve only heard it a couple of times.

Mindelis composed most of the songs, but left the lyrics to others. Doesn’t matter, because he pretty much owns these, with tracks like “Happy Guy,” seemingly having a biographical edge to them. Indeed the songs run the gamut from blues to R&B to jazz to pop/rock, and Mindelis handles each change with relative ease. He sings in an understated style, similar to ’70s era J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton, that fits the material well.

Angels & Clowns is a well-styled set of modern blues that should easily appeal to rock and pop music listeners as well. Finally, the U.S. can see what all the fuss is about in South America and Europe regarding Nuno Mindelis.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon ZeemanNew York guitarist Jon Zeeman has been a regular on the NYC music scene since the mid ’80s, working as a producer, songwriter, and session musician, and performing regularly in several downtown clubs. He’s also performed and recorded with Susan Tedeschi, Janis Ian, and the Allman Brothers. Down On My Luck (Membrane Records) is Zeeman’s third release, and also marks his debut as a vocalist.

Zeeman wrote 10 of the 11 tracks on this release, and his musical style shows a mix of blues rockers like Johnny Winter, the Allmans, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even a nod to Hendrix with more traditional blues players like Muddy Waters and Freddie King. He’s backed by Phil McArthur (bass), George Lilly (drums), Tom Regis and Bob Taylor (keyboards), and his daughter, Zoe, plays bass on three tracks.

Highlights include the strong opening track, “You’re Right, I’m Wrong,” the moody title track, the Allman-esque “Hangman’s Bridge,” the stellar slow blues, “Waitin’ For The Storm,” the funky rocker “Money,” and “So Bad,” which will make fans of SRV smile.

Zeeman also does a nice job on vocals, singing with confidence and understated power. It’s hard to believe that this is the first time he’s done it on record. That, combined with his impressive guitar chops and solid songwriting, makes Down On My Luck a set that’s well worth seeking out.

--- Graham Clarke

Gina SiciliaGina Sicilia has a huge voice, one honed by singing at the jams for years at Warmdaddy’s in Pennsylvania and getting out on the road performing. It’s smoky, sensual, passionate and provides us with a full gamut of emotions inspired by her view of the human condition. Gina expands her understanding of the human condition in her latest release, It Wasn’t Real, on the Vizztone label and it’s a soulful, old-school disc that’s got me good. So let’s get to it.

Gina opens with the title cut, “It Wasn’t Real,” and here we find that her affections are being toyed with by a man with less than honorable intentions. “It was not a genuine wish…When he said he wished that we could get to live happily….It wasn’t real…no, it wasn’t real!” Up next is Gina’s take on an Etta James hit, “Don’t Cry Baby.” “Don’t cry…don’t cry babe…dry your eyes…let’s talk it over again!” A broken heart is a broken heart and both Etta and Gina are guilty of that here! The shoe’s on the other foot in our next tune when Gina finds a man she loves and wants in “Please Don’t Stop.” “The way he makes me feel…you know he’s always been trouble….I said no…no…oh…oh…oh…baby, please don’t stop!”\

Wanting to be loved by another is human nature and Gina continues to explore this theme in “Wake Up Next to You.” “Do…you wanna go home with me?...the sun will be rising soon…there’s nothing left for us to do…Baby, I wanna wake up next to you!” It’s never clear if he stays or not but it is clear what Gina wants to happen in this tune. Sometimes out of the depths of despair good things happen and Gina learns this for herself in our next cut, “Walkin’ Along the Avenue.” “Love can bring you up…or make you blue…but take it from me…and my history…that love could be waiting for you!” Following her man along the avenue with his lover led to a chance encounter with the man of her dreams and a love that was real. Good for you Gina!

Not all memories are bad ones and Gina tells of some of her good ones in “City By the Water.” “And I’m gonna remember…all the nights we spent…in the city by the water…gonna meet you my little baby…where we used to kiss!” Some great sax by Jay Davidson and acoustic guitar by Jef Lee Johnson provide the perfect backdrop for Gina’s memories of the “City by the Water.”

Gina continues to search for love in our next cut, “Write a Little Song With You,” with songwriting the metaphor for falling in love. “I wanna sing with you so bad….wanna have what I’ve never had….I want it to be only us two…just making sweet music on a train to Houston…I wanna make a little song with you.”

Gina also realizes that love and passion can also lead to regret, a topic she explores in “Don’t Wanna Be No Mother.” Stuck in a loveless marriage with twin daughters, Gina finds herself at wit’s end. “The stale air of the airplane…smells like my life…don’t wanna be no mother….don’t wanna be no wife”. Life has dealt her a tough hand to play and there’s definitely not an easy way out for Gina in this case. Sometimes though, wishful thinking can take your mind off your problems and we see that in “Oh Me, Oh My.” “Oh me, oh my…look what we have here…another ray of light…shining down right on me…I sing…la-ti-da…maybe that was all just a dream!”

Gina closes It Wasn’t Real with “Walkin’ Shoes,” a tune of optimism and survival. “A long way to go…before you reach that land…a long way to go…before you can stand…in a place where you can say…I’m here now…but I’ve come a long way…oh…you got a long way to go.”

The net result is Gina’s finest work to date and a very strong disc. She’s backed by a tight band, sings her heart out, and I find that Gina is a very astute and talented songwriter to boot. It all makes for a great listen and a disc everyone will appreciate. Can’t wait to hear what’s next from this very talented singer/songwriter. Time will tell!

--- Kyle Deibler

Bobby MessanoI had the pleasure of meeting Bobby Messano for the first time last summer. Deanna Bogart was sitting in and I learned about the gig through D’s calendar. She knows I can’t go a summer without hearing her play at least once and this was a great opportunity to do so in my own backyard. I remember now that I’m supposed to ask Bobby a story about Aretha Franklin and coffee but it’s probably a little too late for that. The entire band played their rear ends off that night and Bobby was extremely proud of his forthcoming new disc, Welcome to Deltaville, and it’s a great listen!

While Deltaville is actually “The Boating Capital of the Chesapeake,” to Bobby and his band, it’s actually a state of mind, a feeling to be treasured. The unusually loquacious John Hammer describes Deltaville this way, “It is a promise of beautifully conceived stories masterfully shared from the heart, deliver with consummate perfection.” Let’s hit play and get our journey started.

So of course Bobby and the band start out with their version of the Rush classic, “All Your Love.” Deanna’s sax figures prominently in the background as Bobby shares his take on the love he needs and is missing. Up next is an original, “The Invisible Man,” and the rock blues side of Bobby is at the forefront of this tune. Here Bobby finds that he’s no longer the object of his woman’s affection, a situation that took him completely by surprise. “The invisible man…here I am…but disappearing wasn’t in the plans!” Sadly Bobby, it’s time to move on my friend. Bobby’s an amazing guitarist and we hear his rock influences front and center in the amazing riffs that accentuate his pain.

The title cut, “Welcome to Deltaville,” is next and has a much mellower vibe. “There’s a place…I can go…where I can lie in the sun…if I lie low…not a care in the world…I’m safe and warm…nothing can hurt me there….welcome to Deltaville!” Deltaville sounds heavenly, a place where we all can let our cares drift by the wayside as we lie safely in the arms of the sun and let its warm rays wash over us. We all should head there soon!

A reggae vibe appears next in the form of “That’s the Way of the World” and is the perfect complement to the relaxing vibe of “Welcome to Deltaville.” The world can be a cruel place and Bobby is telling us to hang onto what we need. “When you got something special child…they want to take it from you…that’s the way of the world!” Deanna takes off into a blistering sax solo that reminds us all to hang onto what we need to survive in this crazy world. Definitely one of my favorite tunes on this disc.

Bobby slows the tempo down and eases into a ballad on our next cut, “My Crazy Dreams.” “When you’ve lived a life…that’s been a helluva fight…it’s the only life...that you’ll ever have….that’s what your dreams become….my crazy dreams…always get the best of me…pick me up when I’m feeling down…there are times in my life…that always feel right…my crazy dreams…never let me down!” Bobby’s passionate guitar work is proof enough to me that his crazy dreams do matter! “I Ain’t got Diddley” has a definitive Bo Diddley influence but here Bobby is telling the woman in his life that he doesn’t have all the answers…or all the money! “I ain’t your gangster of love…pick your number between 1 and 10….I ain’t got diddley…ain’t got diddley for you!”

Deanna’s intricate keyboard strokes provide the intro for Bobby’s take on another classic, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” “You could have been anything you wanted too…and I can tell by the things you do!” Love this tune and Bobby’s version of it with D’s sax in the background. Another Messano original, “Lonely Town,” is next and here we find Bobby describing the life of an individual living in despair. “You got a bad…bad feeling…inside your heart…cause it’s been ripped apart…you’re in Lonely Town!”

Bobby and the band ease into a beautiful instrumental, “Sleepwalk,” featuring passionate riffs by Bobby with Deanna’s piano complimenting Bobby’s emoting before finishing with a Stevie Winwood tune, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” While it starts out with a jazz feel, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” heads into a world of its own and becomes a fitting end to Bobby and the band’s efforts on Welcome to Deltaville!

Welcome to Deltaville is definitely a satisfying disc to my ears. Bobby’s band with Steve Geller on bass, Mel Watts on the drums and percussion with Deanna sitting in on piano and sax is a very tight unit and their expertise shines throughout. Bobby’s a phenomenal guitarist and shines his own light on this project as well. Bobby’s on the road a lot so catch him when you can, and take the journey to Deltaville, you’ll be glad you did!

--- Kyle Deibler

Sugaray RayfordI was fortunate enough to be in the audience at the finals of the 2006 International Blues Challenge in 2006 when San Diego’s Aunt Kizzy’s Boyz took the stage with Sugaray Rayford captivating all of us with his booming vocals and undeniable charisma. Since then he’s parlayed his unique talents into a career as one of the rotating front men for the Mannish Boys and has finally released a disc of his own, Dangerous, on the Delta Groove label. If Sugaray’s not dangerous, he’s at least on the loose, so let’s give him a listen.

This Texas Bluesman opens with “Country Boy” and Sugar Ray Norcia is backing him up strong with amazing harp riffs as Sugaray tells us about his beginnings in the country. “I’m a little country boy…rolling through this big ol town…yes…and when I’m with my baby….I wanna show her around.” The energy is there from the get go and I’m thinking we’re in for a party. Up next is an original, “Stuck for a Buck,” and we’ve all been there. “Baby took the credit cards…went down to the mall…bought herself a new wardrobe….yes, she maxed them all…took my guitar down to the pawnshop…cuz, I’m stuck…stuck for a buck!” Times get tough and we’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do to keep keeping on.

“I’m Dangerous”, written by Delta Groove chief Randy Chortkoff finds Sugaray telling us what a bad man he is. “You don’t know what you got…til you ride around with me…I’m telling you people….I’m dangerous…dangerous as I can be.” With that deep growl of Sugaray’s, I’m convinced he’s a bad man.

Up next is a tune Norcia wrote specifically for this record, “Two Times Sugar,” as if one wasn’t enough. I like the exchange between the two and Monster Mike Welch sits in to play the lead on this tune. “I know they call you the sugar…but that’s what they call me too. Two times sugar….two times better than one.” I’m a fan of both “Sugars” so I’d have to agree with them in this case.

The tempo slows down now as Sugaray gives us his version of the Pee Wee Crayton classic, “When it Rains it Pours”. “When it rain…it pours…the sun stop shining bright…and everything seems wrong…nothing I seem to do is right.” Love the slow tune from Sugaray and he definitely takes me back to a different time and place. A funkier beat ensues and Sugaray next tells us about a “Pretty Fine Mama.” “She wiggles when she walk…she got a healthy fine frame you know…she’s got long blonde wavy hair…Lord, I love that little girl you know.” The tune was written by Randy Chortkoff and he’s on harp for this song, laying it down strong.

Fred Kaplan’s piano is in the background while Sugaray sings our next tune, “Depression Blues,” a song written by Gatemouth Brown. “My papa stole a chicken…my mama fried it hard….the reason why she did it baby…he couldn’t steal no lard…these depression blues.” Kim Wilson lends his harp to another tune written by Chortkoff, “Going Back to Texas,” as Sugaray tells us of his desire to go back home. “Well, I’m going back down to Texas…you know it was where I was born and raised…I’m going to drop down right in Tyler…I’m going to get right down and play.”

A tune written by Sugaray, “I Might Do Somethin’ Crazy,” is next and I’m not sure Sugaray is quite right. “Like a pot left unattended….on a hot burning stove….I might do something crazy….I might explode.” Kid Anderson takes the guitar lead on this tune and his riffs are telling me that something’s definitely not right with Sugaray. Sax notes from Ron Dziubila and the trumpet of Mark Pender fill the background in nicely as Sugaray gives us his take on the Junior Parker classic, “In the Dark.” Kid Anderson continues his guitar wizardry as Sugaray tells us, “what goes on in the dark…will soon see the light.”

More harp from Kim brings Sugaray back to the mic on “Surrendered.” “Put out the white flag…and realize what you always had…give yourself a break…and surrender.” Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and appreciate what you have as opposed to leading the charge for something more. Another Rayford original, “Need a Little More Time,” is next and Sugaray’s woman is trying to elicit a commitment from her man. Franck Goldwasser is laying down the steel guitar as Sugaray ponders his life. “You want to get me to the courthouse…get me up in front of the judge…you want to make this thing official….I say…honey…sure enough….but I need a little more time.” Tying the big man down is tough and she might not get it done. It seems that Sugaray needs “a little more time” for just about everything.

Big Pete takes the lead on harp as Sugaray gives us he take on Franck Goldwasser’s tune, “Keep Her at Home.” “She affect my brain…my soul…and my body. Pete’s an animal on the harp and brings an edge to this tune that is definitely appreciated. Franck’s back on slide guitar with Bill Stuve on acoustic bass as we close this album with Sugaray’s take on the Son House tune, “Preaching Blues.” “And the blues is an aching…aching heart disease…well, it’s killing me by degrees.”

The big man from Texas has put out a stellar effort and I expect bigger and better things from Sugaray Rayford in the future. He’s got an undeniable stage charisma to go with that big voice of his, and the sky’s the limit in terms of where he might choose to go. Dangerous is an excellent debut record for Sugaray on Delta Groove and I need to see a live performance from him pretty soon. Well done, Sugaray, well done!

--- Kyle Deibler

Eric HughesI threw my buddy Eric Hughes’s new disc, Drink Up, into the CD player this morning and had an epiphany. I know at least 12 different blues bandleaders who live in Memphis and they’re all distinctly different from one another. Kudos to Eric for being part of the musical melting pot that is Memphis, Tennessee and the Blues. He’s by far one of the best lyricists of the bunch, so let’s give his new disc a listen.

Of course, he opens with the title cut, “Drink Up.” To Eric’s way of thinking none of us have had enough to drink and he lets us know that in no uncertain terms. “Don’t tell me you’ve had enough….drink up…drink up…drink up!” Our second cut, “That’s My Baby’s Mama,” is indicative of the genius that is Eric’s songwriting to me. “Me and the boys was at the curb…seen a girl so fine….they refused to believe me….when I said you once was mine…that’s my baby’s mama….that’s how it used to be.” Change happens and Eric’s a happy go lucky guy, but damn, the girl was fine!

Eric manages to slow the tempo down on our next cut, “Blues Magician,” and breaks out that harp of his to get it going. “I’m a blues man…I’m only happy when I’m down…and when I’m down and broken-hearted…that’s when I get my finest sound.” Eric’s a great guitarist too and lends some tasty guitar licks to this tune as well.

All of the male species has encountered the cold shoulder on occasion and Eric describes this girl to a T in the next tune, “Frostina.” “Frostina…why do you have to be so cold…’re just too chilly to hold” We find Eric not feeling well on our next cut and thinking a doctor’s visit is in order in “Tested Positive for the Blues.” “You’re ragged and you’re wore down…you’re in the club all night…I’m going to recommend some vegetables…some rest….and some sunlight” Even the nurse said, “You tested positive for the blues” Eric staying out of the clubs? Resting? Not hardly if you know Eric at all. Moving on, to hear Eric tell it, Mama was strict in “Mama Don’t Allow.” “You see what happened…Mama went to the store…she said…”Don’t go in the living room and mess with the piano while I’m gone.” Next thing you know she’s out the door, in the car and what does Eric do? Why tickle the ivories of course.

I hear Robert Nighthawk Tooms handiwork on the organ when Eric takes the mic for our next cut, “Repo Man.” “Repo man…coming to get your stuff…I’m the repo man…should have kept those payments up” Envisioning Eric as a repo man is a stretch, but why tempt fate? Keep those payments up! Rain and thunder provide the background for Eric’s next cut, “Raining on Beale.” I’ve been caught in the rain on Beale Street more than once so let’s see what’s up. Turns out “Raining on Beale” is an instrumental and gives the entire band a nice opportunity to stretch their collective wings and let it fly. Good job, guys!

“Going to Brownsville” seems like an odd duck in this musical menagerie with its old school ’20s blues feel to it, but Eric is persistent in his attempts to get to his girl’s house. “I’m going to Brownsville…going to take the right hand road…not going to stop walking…'til I get to my sweet baby’s door.”

Drink Up closes with the vaudeville-style “The Ballad of Weevil Point Willie” and the more anthemic “My Baby Got a Black Cat.” It seems that Willie just couldn’t get it right. “A Friday afternoon…as the sun began to sank…Willie strolled into the lobby of the Weevil Point Bank….fired his shotgun twice…into the crystal chandelier…and said, ‘You people put the cash…in this bag right here'." Turns out the teller knew him from a child and he wasn’t going to get far so it’s fair to assume that Willie’s goose was cooked. Of course the Sherriff’s bullet holes in Willie’s chest were proof of that. In “My Baby Got a Black Cat,” Eric’s the one who’s fearful of the forces swirling about him in his life. “And so my baby…tried the old black cat on me…now I’m standing on the wrong side…trying to get back to Tennessee.” Good Luck getting back home, buddy.

Eric continues to write great songs and surrounded himself with great players on this disc in the form of Leo Goff on bass, Walter Hughes on guitars and mandolins, Robert Nighthawk Tooms on keyboards, Doug McMinn on drums, congas and percussion, and Chris Stephenson took a turn or two on keyboards as well. You can grab a copy of Drink Up at any club you find Eric playing in up and down Beale Street or order it from him on his website at Well done, Eric --- drink up!

--- Kyle Deibler

Franco PalettaFranco Paletta is a lover, not a fighter. And while I’m sure the good folks in the Rose City know this for a fact. When I threw Franco & the Stingers new disc, I Like It Just Like That, into my CD player, all I wanted to do was break open a bottle of wine, call somebody special over to the house and fire up the fireplace. And while I mean that in the sincerest kind of Bobby “Blue” Bland fashion, there’s a review to write, so let’s hit Play.

I think it’s important to note early on that all the songs were either written by Franco himself or Franco and his bassist Timmer Blakely, with the one exception being “Livin’ the Blues Again,” written by Jason Thomas. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Franco and the band move into “Oh Baby,” and right away Franco is lamenting the love of his good woman that he needs desperately. “Hey there, Sugar…I just need your kiss…you’re the apple of my eye…the one I can’t resist.” Franco’s heart is definitely with the good woman in his life (Jeri) and that’s not a bad thing! The guitar of JT Thomas provides a quick intro as Franco again pleads for the love of his woman in our next cut, “Born to Please.” “When I watch you dancing…I hear what the people say…you shake and then you shimmy…turn your back and then walk away…oh if you love me baby…I would fall down on my knees…cause I was born to love…darling, I was born to please!” This one’s a tough catch and as hard as Franco’s working it, I’m not convinced he’s catching this one.

So of course we move on to another discussion of the feminine wiles in “When She Do That She Thing She Do.” “Well…she gets a drink…she might give you a wink…if you happen to catch her eye…and every man in town…drops straight down to the ground…every time she passes by…she’s a source of great frustration…to every single guy in town…though I must confess…I’m quite impressed…when she do that thing she do." Good luck, guys, this one’s a shark in the water.

Tempo picks up and our next tune, “She’s My Little Girl,” has a nice edge to it. “She’s my little girl…I just love her so…I see on the dance floor…just takes my breath away….well she wants to give me loving…hugs and kisses all the time…she’s my little girl.” The title cut, “I Like It Just Like That,” is dedicated to Franco’s wife Jeri and I think it’s cool to acknowledge her in song. The song starts out with Franco blowing harp in a cool, laidback, summer kind of vibe. “Well you got me…and I got you…there’s not a damn thing we can’t do…I know you love me baby…and I like it, just like that.” Well done, Franco! I’m going to leave the sentiment right there out front where it belongs. JT kicks in with some sweet guitar and this is just a great tune for a variety of all the right reasons.

Franco continues to cater to the ladies in the next cut, “Pretty Baby.” “I can tell by your figure…and your bedroom eyes…if you give me a tumble…I would win first prize.” Definitely a sweet talker here, there’s little doubt that Franco is a lady’s man of the first degree.

JT’s guitar kicks in to provide the intro for “Livin’ the Blues Again,” and it’s probably my favorite track on a very good disc. “Wherever I’m going…wherever I’ve been…I’m livin’ the blues again.” Tight, passionate guitar riffs from JT lend the right sense of desperation to this tune and Franco’s vocal is spot on for the sentiment this song conveys. Nicely written, Jason!

More frenetic guitar work leads to Franco telling us about the “Gypsy Woman.” “Her movements draw me closer…I feel a sense of dread….I’m paralyzed by what I feel…visions…dancing in my head…ah…gypsy woman…I just got to know.” Franco’s sense of wonder has him out of control, “If I give to you this lonely man…will you make me more than what I am?” That’s a lot to put on an encounter with a gypsy woman, but I have a feeling she’s more than up to the task. This obsession with women continues with Franco blowing a mean harp while contemplating the mysteries of “Red Hot Lovers.” “I’ve never been so nervous…never felt like this before…when I’m with you darling…I want you even more…hold you close…give you a long...long kiss…you got me so worked up baby…I just can’t resist…we’ll be red hot lovers.”

Franco finally moves on to a tune about love lost in “It Brings a Tear.” “We were together for so long…I never thought…that you would hurt me…thought we’d be lovers…for all time….it brings me to my knees….when I think about you baby…guess you were never really mine.” Franco’s pain is real and she must have been an amazing woman.

Jonathan Barber’s drums and Steve Kerin’s keyboards bring this disc to a close with the intro to our final cut, “I Really Want to Sing the Blues.” “I like to rock…I like to roll…but I really want to sing me some blues…we’re going to get right down…sing some rocking rhythm and blues.”

I’m reminded of the plethora of great blues talent that inhabits Portland and the surrounding area, knowing full well that I need to get back up that way and visit soon. Franco Paletta & the Stingers are an amazing band that has captivated Portland blues aficionados for almost 20 years now, and rightfully so. The band writes great tunes, plays them with such heart and conviction, and quite honestly, made my day.

I Like It Just Like That is a wonderful representation of their talent and will visit my CD player on numerous future occasions. You can learn more about Franco & the Stingers at their website. It’s a long URL, but well worth the effort to type it and grab a copy of this disc while you’re there. It will keep you and your significant other smiling for a long, long time.

--- Kyle Deibler

Todd Wolfe BandTodd Wolfe has been a force on the blues/rock scene since the late '70s, including a stint backing Sheryl Crow at the beginning of her recording career. More recently he's been the leader, guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter for the Todd Wolfe Band, with their latest disc, Miles To Go, out now on American Showplace Music. Wolfe is a solid guitarist and at least a competent vocalist, and is backed by a steady rhythm section of Justine Gardner on bass and Roger Voss on drums.

Wolfe wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten songs on Miles To Go, with one of the covers being a dirge-like version of Howlin' Wolf's "Forty Four." Voss frames the background with his primal drumming, giving the right accompaniment for Wolfe's guitar work. It's only natural that I would prefer to bluesier cuts, but I also like Wolfe's guitar playing on the rockin' original "Day To Day."

Another cut that will excite the more hardcore blues fans is the sparse blues, "Sunnyvale," which kicks off with a nice slide guitar riff. Another favorite is the more mellow tune, "I Stand Alone," on which Wolfe adds tasteful mandolin playing.

Just when you think you've figured out this band's formula, they close the disc with two real shockers: "Come What May," a blues rocker with a heavy reggae backbeat, and the ethereally pyschedelic George Harrison cover, "The Inner Light."

Miles To Go covers a lot of different styles, with Wolfe's strong blues/rock guitar being the consistent foundation. Your mileage will vary depending on your own musical tastes, but for me there were enough high points to make it a worthwhile disc.

--- Bill Mitchell


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]


The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: November 23, 2013 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2013, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.