Blues Bytes

What's New

October/November 2015

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Laura Rain

Zac Harmon

JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci

Mitch Woods

Andy T - Nick Nixon Band

Tommy Castro

Anthony Geraci

Eddie Cotton

John Mayall

Duke Robillard

Webb Wilder

Colin Linden

Sam Butler

Angels Sing The Blues

Zora Young


D'Mar - Gill

Al Basile

The Claudettes

Andy Poxon

Les Copeland

Deb Callahan

Tommy McCoy

Andy Cohen

The Beat Daddys

Dalannah and Owen

Billy the Kid

Bo and the Bluesdrivers


Laura RainLaura Rain and the Caesars hinted at things to come with their brilliant debut from last year, Closer. Gold (LRC Records) pays off on the promise. With her partner in crime, guitar monster George Friend, Laura Rain has fashioned a super-charged blues/rock/soul kinda thing. To call it impressive is an understatement.

The opener, "Work So Hard," a working person’s anthem, could be the theme for the disc. “They look you in the eye/but they are blind to your smile…you work so hard, hard, hard every day.” "Hard Times" follows that same theme. “You got some hard times comin/you got to pay your dues.” Friend’s shimmering guitar accents Rain’s aching vocals. Much of her appeal is that she doesn’t just sing a song, she moves into and wears it.

"You Can’t Stop" has a fuzzy guitar sound while Rain wonders “how do I lose you?” Her vocals match the intensity of the guitar-bass-drums. “Where do I stop/how does it stop?” And then it stops abruptly. Clever.

On the title cut she sings “you stand alone/it’s never easy but your spirit stands strong.” The horns (Johnny Evans – tenor, Mark Kierne – baritone, John Douglas – trumpet) and rhythm (Daryl Pierce – drums, James Simonson, bass) propel the upbeat number. "Guilty Me" is a bluesy piece on which Friend and company compliment the pliable Rain. She sings, “I don’t think I’m out of this yet,” a tale of an unfaithful wife. She is emotive and convincing. This is a woman with a strong voice and writes songs that help magnify that. Soul music, yes. I hear the influences – Chaka and Patti LaBelle?

"Lonely Girl" is Detroit-bad. “Why did you lie to be/feeling alone on the brink of my sanity/why didn’t you tell me the truth/I didn’t about your other girl.” This is …just jaw-dropping. "Ring On The Table," with the great Leonard King on drums, features an almost recited lyric (“I’m gonna leave my ring on the table/and walk out of here.”). "Better Than Me," with a superb baritone accent, showcases Rains range.

Bluesy, soulful, jazz accents and dipped in a deep soul batter, this is a monster of a record.

---  Mark E. Gallo

Zac HarmonLast summer Zac Harmon presided over what was the finest Gospel Review in the history of Blues from the Top and I was happy to see him at his finest, leading the congregation with a stage full of amazing artists. Now bear in mind that my brother does have a touch of the Devil in him and can sweet talk a woman with the best of us. Zac brings all that and more to his latest release on Blind Pig Records, Right Man, Right Now. With a little help from his friends: Bobby Rush; Lucky Peterson; Anson Funderburgh and Kim Wilson; Zac delivers what is arguably his finest record to date. Let’s hit play and let this Mississippi Bluesman do his thing.

So of course Zac opens with a song entitled, “Raising Hell,” and I rest my case. Zac is letting us all know he’s bringing the band to town and it’s nothing but a good time. “Now get behind me, Satan…we’re about to raise some hell.” Zac’s got a crack band behind him with Cedric Goodman on the drum kit, Buthel on the bass and Cory Lacy on keys. It ain’t nothing but a “low down throw down” and it doesn’t hurt to have Lucky Peterson wielding his organ on the tune as well. We segue on to “Ball and Chain,” a tune that finds Zac in a relationship that just isn’t working for him. It’s not looking good and Zac doesn’t have a whole lot of options here, “I’d rather be alone…cause this woman’s insane…seasons never change…this is my ball and chain.” She’s definitely caused Zac a tremendous amount of pain and hopefully this relationship ends sooner than later for Zac’s sake.

I did mention that Zac does have a touch of the devil in him, right? Our next tune proves me right, with an assist from Bobby Rush, as they tackle “Hump in your Back.” Zac’s playing a mean intro to the tune and Cory’s keys are working their magic as well. “The doctor said…I’ve got just what the girls want…to bring them to their knees…so let me…let me baby, put a hump in your back.” Whatever I postulate about Zac and Bobby from here, only gets me into more trouble, so let me just say this, “the doctor was right about both of them.”

Buthel’s bass and Zac’s exquisite guitar notes lead us into “Stand Your Ground,” and here Zac is wondering why his woman is treating him as badly as she does. She evidently doesn’t trust Zac and is taking it out on him, “Tell me why…you shoot me shoot me down for no reason…just to stand your ground.” I’m really enjoying Zac’s guitar work here and the back end is as steady as can be with Cedric and Buthel in complete control.

The title track, “Right Man, Right Now,” is next and here we find Zac pleading his case for the object of his affections. “You want Mr. Perfect, baby…maybe, I’m not that close…but right now, baby…I’m the man you need the most.” You do remember I also said Zac was a sweet talker as well, right?” Zac may definitely not be Mr. Right, but he will take good care of you until Mr. Right comes along. Our next track, “Feet Back on the Ground,” finds Zac at his soulful best. “I’ve been out so long…like a ship out on the sea…looking for love, baby…love that’s eluded me…thank God I got you around…to put my feet back on the ground.” ”Feet Back on the Ground” is a really beautiful ballad and the leading contender for my favorite tune on Zac’s new disc.

A little funk never hurt anyone and that’s the feeling we get next from “Long Live the Blues,” a commentary on Zac’s view of the music business and how folks distort the industry to their own ends. Folks can mess with music but they can’t mess with Zac. “Well…they keep on trying…but I’m testifying…they can’t make it real…cause it’s in my blood…the Mississippi mud…now let me tell you how I feel…long, long live the blues…the blues is here to stay…long, long lives the blues…they ain’t going to take it away.” Zac continues his social commentary with “Back of the Yards,” a tune about the difficulties growing up in a bad neighborhood. “Back of the yards…life is hard…back of the yards…you can’t get no start…you better be on your guard…in the back of the yards”. It takes real courage and determination to rise above your life’s circumstances at times, but the rewards are real and they’re much better than living in “the back of the yards.”

Kim Wilson's harp finally makes its appearance with the intro to our next cut, “I’m Bad Like Jesse James,” and Zac telling a story of him helping a friend in need. A friend who stabs him in the back, of course. As Zac tells it, “About six months went by…and I found out…he’d been running around telling everybody…that he got my wife…so I goes to the cat…like a good man should…now, I’m going to warn you…just one time…the next time I have to warn you…I’m going to use my gun…I’m bad…like Jesse James.” Zac’s the man in charge and whatever he orders his home boys to do to his friend…they will do.

Mike Finnegan’s on the keyboards for Zac’s next tune, a cover of a Little Milton song, “Ain’t No Big Deal On You.” A relationship went south and Zac worked his way through it without any help from the woman in question, “The way I look at it now…ain’t no big deal on you.”

Hand clapping, Cory’s piano and Zac’s Strat lead us to the final cut of the disc, “Good Thing Found.” Zac has managed to find a woman to love and she’s refusing his advances to a degree. “Soon we were more than just friends…love was in the air….I wanted some kind of commitment…but you didn’t really care…I’m going to tell the world…that you’re not around…I’m so tired of standing on shaky ground…when a bad love is lost and it’s gone…that’s a good thing found.’ Amen, brother Zac! You’re preaching to the choir here.

Zac Harmon is one of the few artists we have in Blues today who bridges that gap between Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton and others by bringing his brand of soul blues music to the world. Right Man, Right Now is a play on a topic of a different matter, but it also applies to Zac’s position in the Blues community today. In some respects he really is the right man at the right time for the Blues he loves to play. Kudos to Blind Pig Records for supporting Zac’s project and bringing it to fruition.

You can find out more about Zac, the band, their schedule and grab a copy of Right Man, Right Now by heading over to his website at Zac’s disc was produced under the watchful eye of one Anson Funderburgh, and they definitely hit a home run here.

--- Kyle Deibler

The JimmysHmm. I'm familiar with The Jimmys as being one of the Midwest's top bands by virtue of event posters my Blues friends in Minnesota share with me from time to time. I have to admit, I was curious to hear what the fuss was all about when a copy of their new record, Hot Dish, crossed my path. A 'hot dish," indeed. Stir in vocalist/keyboard wizard Jimmy Voegeli with guitarist Perry Weber, drummer Mauro Magellan, bassist Johnny Wartenweiler and add a touch of the Amateur Horn Stars and you have a might tasty gumbo. Hot Dish kept me jumping, let's give it a spin.

The band starts out with the Ray Charles influenced "Lose That Woman," and we're off to a good start. This woman is impossible and it seems there's just no pleasing her. As Jimmy sings, "Got to lose that woman...before I lose my mind." The horns compliment Jimmy's keyboard work perfectly, and I'm liking the way this disc starts. We immediately segue into a slower number, "You Say You Will," and Jimmy's still in a state of confusion. "I need a good woman by my when I'm home...I'm suffering, baby....well, I just ain't say you can...then you can't...if your no ain't a yes...then I say goodbye happiness." This one definitely sounds like she's more trouble than she's worth, Jimmy, I'd definitely cut her loose and find one that will treat you better. Perry adds a blistering guitar solo to the mix and it's easy to understand the popularity of The Jimmys.

"Freight Train" starts off smoothly with the horns leading the way and I can already tell I like this tune a lot. We still find Jimmy with woman problems here and I'm beginning to wonder if it's more him than them. "I know I might have taken...just a little bit too far...when I seen you another man's arms...must have been the whiskey...telling me wrong from right...but it should been me that's holding you...every single night." Cut your losses and move on, Jimmy, sooner or later you'll find a good woman to love. Jimmy's got a an amazing range and I'm surprised by just high his vocal register can go on this tune.

Our next track, "I Wonder," takes full advantage of the entire band's arsenal and I'm really appreciating the presence of the awesome horn section the band has. "You're in love with a man...but he ain't me...but I wonder...where we went wrong." Mike Boman's trumpet lends just the right touch to "I Wonder" and I'm appreciating the definitive musicianship to be found in this band. The appropriately named "Funk Scway" is an interesting track and a nice diversion to the previous cuts I've heard. A diverse instrumental, the band tastefully explores a number of avenues as it tackles this arrangement.

Jimmy's keyboards have us up and running with the next track, "What Gives," and Perry Weber is picking some mighty fine notes on his guitar as well. And it seems that Jimmy's bad luck continues. "I went to my boss man...he said, business is bad...I'm going to have to let you go. What gives?" If it's not one thing it's another and Jimmy just can't seem to catch a break anytime soon. Perry's fretwork echoes Jimmy's frustrations and I'm beginning to wish some good luck would cross his path soon.

The band segues into the other instrumental on the disc, "Jacqui Juice," and again I'm finding the band is very tasteful in its selection of fills and the cohesiveness in their sound is impressive. Of course they've received 21 Madison area Music Awards over the years, so one would begin to think they've got this music thing down. Perry's guitar provides the blistering intro for our next track, "What Chur Doin'," and Jimmy's still unlucky at love. "What Chur Doin'...ain't doing nothing for me". I'm enjoying the trombone fills here from Darren Sterud and really hoping Jimmy gets his act together soon. The drum and guitar-driven "Wrecking Ball" is the tune the band tackles next and Jimmy's at least taking a stand this time. " ain't nothing but a high-fashioned wrecking ball...the destruction that you going to tear down our happy home...please...please...don't you tell me no more lies." A lying woman is a cheating woman, Jimmy, let this one go and don't look back.

"Saddest Man" is primarily a piano driven tune and Jimmy's in his element here, tastefully playing his keyboards with just a hint of horns behind him. "I'm the saddest man alive...just watched my girl...walk out that door...I'm the saddest man alive...won't see that baby, anymore." In real life Jimmy is happily married to a beautiful woman, so it's easy to understand the real agony he would feel should she ever chose to leave him.

So of course, Jimmy's eager to please and he explores that in our next cut, "What My Baby Wants". "Without you baby...I can't get no rest...what my baby baby gets." Now you're cooking with grease, Jimmy. A happy wife is a happy life and you're getting there. Pete Ross's sax fill is especially exquisite here and very well done. Our tempo and attitude pick up with the next cut, "She's Wild," and the woman in question is definitely a free spirit. The piano's banging away, the horns are going wild and Jimmy's happy to tell us, "She's wild...a wild don't have to give me all your love...just give me some...she's wild."

The Jimmys close out Hot Dish with a reprised version of "Freight Train," and I'm left satisfied at the amazing musicianship and versatility of this band from the Madison, Wisconsin area. Definitely a band on the rise, Hot Dish, is a disc best served at party time with lots of volume. The band's website is and you can grab your copy of Hot Dish while you're there. I enjoyed reading the bios of the band members as well, and it's rare to find so much talent in one band like The Jimmys. Keep it up, guys!

--- Kyle Deibler

JJ Appleton - Jason RicciI'm the first to admit I don't know much about JJ Appleton but when his disc with Jason Ricci, Dirty Memory, showed up on my doorstep I was intrigued by the obvious chemistry between two apparent strangers. So I did some digging on JJ's website and I loved what he said there: "A what-the-hell series of phone calls to hire led to a joining of forces between JJ Appleton and 2015 Grammy nominated Jason Ricci, a world heavyweight champion harmonica player. Their new recordings are a rebirth and deep breath of fresh air for both parties. Recording 100% unplugged (nary a guitar pick up or bullet mic in sight), the upcoming release mixes gutbucket-noir Blues, Roots with dirt still on them, and a sprinkle of Cajun Americana. The disc is definitely down and dirty.

First out of the box is a tune written by JJ, "Leaning Blues," and Jason's harmonica is front and center with the intro to JJ's tune. JJ's extolling the virtues of loving him to a woman he desires and he's more than happy to show her the ropes. " this cruel, cruel world...I offer you the warmth of home....ain't no need to suffer, baby...ain't no need to be alone." It's not particularly clear that she took JJ up on his offer but at least he's trying.

Next up is a cover of a Blind Willie Jefferson tune, "Nobody's Fault But Mine." JJ's more than willing to accept the blame for his actions and he tells us so here, "Ain't nobody's fault but mine...if I die and my soul is lost...nobody's fault but mine." Having heard Jason blow the roof off the barn before it's nice to hear the subtleties in his playing as he compliments JJ perfectly. "Can't Believe It's This Good" is another Appleton tune and here we find JJ enamored with the woman he obviously loves. "I like the way you wear your dresses's like a roadmap for tonight...I want to ride all your dangerous curves...I want to touch every single nerve...I want it funky and I want it now...I got you and it's understood...I can't believe it's this good." JJ's definitely got a way with a lyric and he's not shy when expressing his desires for this woman.

The first of three tunes Jason wrote, "New Man," is next and here we find Jason at the microphone for his first vocal of the record. Definitely a more somber tone than the first three cuts, Jason's harp stylings are light and airy as he works to convince the woman he loves that his intentions are good. "Well, I'm a new man...feel like a brand new man...(this time I mean it, baby), baby, I'll find some kind of way...if they every let me out of this institution...I'll make it up to you...I'm a new man...feel like a new man." Jason's story is common knowledge and the tune is part biographical but the Jason I saw perform in Greeley this summer at the Blues Jam is definitely a "new man."

Our next track, "Jason Solo," is just that --- Jason performing solo on his harmonica. Jason's in fine form here, blowing his harp the way only he can and this tune is definitely a welcome addition to the record. JJ's guitar and vocals are back as we segue into the next tune that he wrote, "Just Enough." JJ's road hasn't always been an easy one either and he's finding comfort in the small things in life. "I've got just enough...just get me between the lows and the highs." JJ definitely appears to be a survivor and that's a good characteristic to have.

"At the Wheel Again" finds both JJ and Jason playing in perfect unison while JJ sings his tune about moving on. "This road of fools...chasing stained glass dreams...falling south to Mississippi...down to Bowling to get to New Orleans...I'm at the wheel again." While I like the starkness of JJ and Jason's playing on their cover of a Stones tune, "Black Limousine," I'd be curious to know how they decided to include it for this record. JJ's still on the microphone and he's singing about a woman he knows, "You're racked out now...washed up...high on the beach...well, look at your face now, baby...look at you...look at me." Jason's blowing very delicate notes on his harp and it's pretty clear their limousine riding days are over with.

Jason's back at the microphone for the third tune he contributed to the record, "Demon Lover," and it has a very haunting vibe to it. "Demon lover is my baby....demon lover is my baby..." An ode to the days when Jason took heroin, "Demon Lover," is testament to the power the drug held over him at one time. "It Ain't No Use" is a cover of a Gary U.S. Bonds tune and it fits in with the rest of the selections on Dirty Memory, perfectly. "There was a were my pride and joy...woman I loved a child loves his done me you want to come back's no use, ain't no use." JJ's not taking her back and the shoe's on the other foot this time.

The final track on the disc, another tune by JJ, feature's some beautiful slide guitar and is called "Come On Over, Come On By." "You've got that got a way about you, baby... I want to see you all the time....some come on over....come on by...anytime...anytime."

JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci definitely take me back in time to an era where life was simpler, our blues was too and the raw simplicity and expressions of their instruments are spot on. Dirty Memory caught me by surprise and I'm sure it will you as well. The disc is available on both JJ's website,, and Jason's as well, The plan is to tour behind the record in late 2015 and 2016 and I sincerely hope their touring plans bring them through here in Colorado. We don't hear a lot of blues like this anymore, and kudos to both JJ and Jason for their efforts to keep this music in front of all of us. Looking forward to the show, JJ & Jason, looking forward to the show.

--- Kyle Deibler

Mitch WoodsI became a member of the Blues Cruisers family when I went on LRBC#19, a cruise through the Caribbean that included Puerto Rico, Dominica, French Martinique, Barbados and St. Lucia. While I have fond memories of that trip for a number of reasons, it became apparent to me that despite the beauty of the various locales, the real fun was in those magical moments you happened to catch by being in the right place at the right time. So when Mitch Woods' new record, Jammin' on the High Cs, came across my desk, it definitely took me back in time. Victor Wainwright was the main man in the piano bar on my cruise and there were several nights that Victor played until the wee hours of the morning, got back up and did it all over again.

As it turns out, Mitch is the reason the piano bars have become so popular on the LRBCs over the years. Roger Naber invited him on Mitch's first cruise over 12 years ago, and back then the piano bar was an unused location on the ship. Mitch wandered by the piano bar on his ship one night, sat down to play and the rest is history. Other late night jammers and artists began to show up out of the blue and all clamored to sit in and play with Mitch. After closing the bar down late one morning, Mitch went to bed, only to get a call just a few hours later telling him to wake up and get his ass down to the piano bar. Mitch showed up in his pajamas, played to a packed house, and that's how the legend of Mitch Woods' Club 88 began.

Mitch's new record is part commentary, part extraordinary performances with guests ranging from members of the Roomful of Blues, the aforementioned Victor Wainwright, Tommy Castro, Lucky Peterson, Dwayne Dopsie, Popa Chubby, Coco Montoya, Billy Branch and Janiva Magness. All are captured live from the confines of the piano bar, and I'm transported back to those nights I was happy to spend in the piano bar myself.

The songs are familiar: "Big Mamou," "Tain't Nobody's Business," "Rip It Up," "Bright Lights Big City," "Jambalaya," "I Want You to be My Baby," and many others. But what I enjoyed the most were Mitch's stories ---how he got the piano bar rocking, the story of Club 88, a discussion of the nautical 7 Mile Limit, a soliloquy on the friends of Bill W. and of course, a toast to the Legendary Blues Cruise.

While everyone should make it a point to go on at least one Blues Cruise (and Roger Naber and his crew would tell you several), if you're not on the boat at least you catch a taste of the flavor of the goings on in the piano bar on ship and how it's become a preferred late night venue for a number of Blues Cruisers. Recorded live, Jammin' on the High Cs is the next best thing to being a visitor to Mitch Woods' Club 88.

Kudos to Mitch, Roger and the LRBC crew as well as Vizztone for bringing this project to fruition. Jammin' on the High Cs took me back in time, stirred up some fond memories and will probably get me back on the ship here soon. You can grab a copy from Mitch's website at When you do, find a comfortable spot on the couch, grab a cold beverage, turn it up and enjoy!

--- Kyle Deibler

Andy T - Nick NixonI had a good time with Andy T and Nick Nixon the last time they were on the road here in Colorado. Considering the success of their record Drink, Drank, Drunk I good naturedly told them the next one should be Get Up, Throw Up, Start All Over Again. Of course, their next record was entitled Livin’ It Up and earned them a BMA nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.

They’re back again with their third release, Numbers Man, and the record definitely does their label, Blind Pig Records, proud. Anson Funderburgh is back at the producer’s helm and makes a guest appearance as do Kim Wilson, The Texas Horns, and many others too numerous to mention. All provide excellent stellar support to the core band of Andy T on guitar, Larry van Loon on keyboards, Jim Klingler on drums, Sam Persons on bass and Nick on the vocals. This is a lively disc.

Larry’s keyboards and Andy T’s guitar provide a brief intro as Nick begins to tell us his tale of woe over a failed romance in “Shut The Front Door.” “You know my baby…left me dry…since then all I’ve been is high…drinking whiskey…drinking wine….baby that makes me feel just fine…well you know my baby’s gone for sure…done gone and left me…shut the front door.” Well, that didn’t end well but Nick’s a ladies’ man and I’m sure he’ll recover. We move on to “Devil’s Wife,” with Jim providing a heavy drum intro to Nick’s encounter with what seems to be a very evil woman. “Cause you the meanest woman I’ve ever seen in my life…why did I ever meet you…why did we ever wed…rather see me dead, girl…then let me walk away…cause you’re the meanest woman I’ve ever seen in my life.” I’d get out now and don’t look back, Nick.

Larry’s B3 is at the forefront of a change of pace and attitude that we experience with “Deep Blue Sea.” Nick is a charmer here and he’s working hard at it. “I wish I may…I wish I might…I wish I wish…I wish tonight…I wish you’d give me another chance…to steal your heart with a little romance.” I told you Nick was a charmer, but I’m not convinced he’s going to get his way this time. Christian Dozzler lends an accordion to the mix on our next cut, “Tall Drink of Water,” and Nick’s looking up at the object of his attention this time. “I like whiskey….I like wine…but I love the view…up here on cloud nine…she’s a tall drink of water…I can’t get enough…she’s a tall drink of water…things are looking up.” All is good in Nick’s world and I’m happy for him that “things are looking up.”

The title track, “Numbers Man,” is up next, and Andy T’s soulful guitar provides us with the intro to this tune about a numbers runner. “This modern day Robin Hood is known by everyone….numbers man.” If only that was the case where he’s robbing from the rich to give to the poor, but the numbers man is wanted by the law and they will catch up with him soon. We’re back to another discussion of Nick’s wandering eye with our next tune, “Pretty Girls Everywhere.” “If I make it to the beach…there’s a pretty girl there…if you knock me off my feet….you’ll know I’ll see a pretty girl there…pretty girls…pretty girls…everywhere.” A little eye candy is good for the soul and trust me when I tell you that Nick doesn’t miss a thing.

We move on to “Blue Monday” and here Nick is talking to us about his recovery protocol for missing the woman he loves. “Well, the first thing Monday morning…I drink black coffee to clear my head…cause after every Sunday night without you, baby…it’s Blue Monday darling…and you know my soul is dead.” Monday’s aren’t the same without her in his bed and Nick doesn’t want to go to work…doesn’t want to do anything at all other than nurse his hangover and work his way through another Blue Monday.

Andy provides the intro for our next track, “Hightailin.” It’s an instrumental and a nice interlude before we hear Kim Wilson’s harmonica provide the intro for “Sundown Blues.” Here we find Nick still in the dumps, his woman has left and he misses her most when the sun goes down. “Sundown blues…oh, how I hate the sundown blues…sundown blues…I’ve got nothing else to lose…the sun goes down when my baby left me…that’s why I call it the sundown blues.” Kim’s harp is in high gear and he’s clearly setting the tone for the sundown blues that Nick is experiencing.

“Tell Me What’s the Reason” finds Nick back in play, chasing a woman he loves and not having much success at it. “Tell me what’s the reason…you do the things you do…you’re breaking my aching heart…until it pains me through and through.” Andy’s fretwork is scintillating and the best thing Nick can do here is just move on. Larry’s B3 and Andy’s guitar provides the intro to Nick’s next soliloquy, “Be Somebody Some Day.” Nick’s ambitious and he’s working hard to improve his lot in life. John Mills lends some killer baritone sax to the mix as Nick details his plan, “This is what I want to do…I want to sing for me and you…I wanna be somebody…I wanna be somebody some day.” Nick’s already a living legend and I can appreciate his desire to remain on top of his game.

Andy T wrote our next tune, “What Went Wrong,” and Christian’s back with his accordion as Nick ponders what happened here. “Listen to me…don’t throw this away….never find a man who loves you this way…what went wrong, Little darling…what went wrong?” Unfortunately for Nick, the woman in question isn’t interested in telling him what went wrong and would just rather move on.

The band closes with two tracks: “Gate’s Salty Blues,” by Gatemouth Brown, and another Andy T track, “This World We Live In.” Nick is still trying to find love in the first track, “I’m going to get me another woman…going to treat her like a dirty dog…until she tells me I’m the only one.” Not sure that will work, Nick, but good luck with that. The latter is a commentary on our world today. “Can’t turn your back on anyone you meet…don’t matter about religion…or the color of our skin…love is the answer…for this world we live in.” Andy’s lyrics truly reflect the state of our times, we all need to get along and love each other without regard to race, creed or color. Times are hard enough as it as and all we can truly do is love one another.

I’ve enjoyed following the progress of the band over its first three releases, and they’ve definitely found their groove and the message they want to share with the world. Numbers Man is a clear indicator of that. Superb musicianship, Nick’s amazing vocals and a love for the road have all made the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band what it is today. You can grab a copy of the new record and check their touring schedule out on the band’s website, I’m sure they’re already on the bus, heading to a town near you, so enjoy the show.

--- Kyle Deibler

Tommy CastroI’ve known Tommy Castro for a long time now and it’s been quite the adventure. Tommy’s band was the headliner for the first festival I booked as President of the Phoenix Blues Society and our paths have crossed numerous times since then. Tommy’s new CD on Alligator Records, Method to My Madness, takes me back to that time period before Tommy’s big band days and I appreciate the intensity and rawness of both he and the Painkillers on this new disc. Tommy produced it, the band blew the roof off in recording it, and I think you’ll like it.

Tommy opens with “Common Ground” and here he shares the notion that we’re all in this together, looking for the same thing, a reason to believe. As Tommy sings, “We’ve got to stand together on common ground, we’ve got to feel together or we’ll all fall down…everybody looking for some other way…we’re not as different as we’re all the same…we’ve got to stand together…on common ground.” Tommy’s right in that the only meaningful change we can effect is if we all stand together and work toward a common goal. The human condition as we know it will be better off if we do.

Randy McDonald’s bass is holding down a ferocious back end with drummer Bowen Brown as Tommy moves on to our next tune, “Shine the Light.” Here we find Tommy looking for a light to follow and the will to do so. “Shine the light…so I can find my way…give me strength…so I can face the day.” Tommy’s Strat is in its own universe here and I’m appreciating his decision to record this disc as raw as possible and just let the Painkillers find their way through it. Michael Emerson’s keyboards round out the mix and I hear some definite organ fills making their way through the wall of sound that is present for this track.

The title track, “Method to My Madness,” is next and Bowen sets the party off with a quick drum intro while Tommy tells us his strategy for pursing the object of his attentions. “There’s a method to my madness….a secret I keep deep down in my brain….I might be crazy…but I’m not insane.” That’s open to conjecture here but I’ll give my friend the benefit of the doubt and we’ll move on from there.

Our tempo slows down significantly for our next cut, “Died and Gone to Heaven,” and here Tommy is definitely in love and happy to tell us all about it. “I walk around all day….wearing a simple smile…catch myself sometimes…wondering if I’m still alive….I must have died…and gone to heaven.” Tommy’s secure in the love he feels for this woman and whatever the world brings, with her by his side, he’ll be alright. Sweet, emotional tones emanate from Tommy’s guitar and it simply serves to accent the love that Tommy feels for this woman. We’d all be lucky to find a love that moves us as much as the one Tommy sings about in this tune.

Up next is “Got A Lot,” a tune with Zydeco influences and here Tommy is extolling the virtues he finds attractive in the woman he’s singing to. “You’ve got a lot of objects…of my desire…when it comes to love…baby, you’re on fire…you got a lot…of what I want.” Tommy’s happy, the band is tight and all is right with the world. But Tommy doesn’t always get what he wants and he covers that territory in our next cut, “No Such Luck.” “Went out to the racetrack…to watch the horses run…thought I might win some cash back…lately, I’ve been losing some…the odds were in my favor…a solid 3-1…I went and laid down all my dough…the pony didn’t even show…no such luck around here.” Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, luck is more the result of hard work and determination…not a twist of chance.

“Two Hearts” finds Tommy back in a romantic mood and basking in the joy of the love he feels for his woman. “So come on…grab a hold…of my heart…and take a stand…we’ve got nothing to lose…but what we’ve never had…two hearts are better than one.” You never know if love will work out or not, but as Tommy says, “hearts are meant to be broken.” One of the two cover songs on this disc is “I’m Qualified,” written by Clarence Carter. “You need someone to play…I’ll be right by your side…you need someone to play with…I’m qualified.” We’ll have to take Tommy’s word for but I’m sure he is indeed, “Qualified.” Bowen and Randy provide the hard charging intro for our next track, “Ride”, and here we find Tommy striving to survive the demons that confront him. “Drove up to the corner…and popped the trunk…I grabbed my old guitar…and smelled the funk…it’s coming down from French Street and all along the alley….ride…ride…everybody ride.”

Randy’s bass provides the solo intro for the next track, “Lose Lose,” before being joined by Tommy’s Strat and the keyboard work of Michael Emerson. “Some people got love…got money too…but when it comes to you and me baby…I call that Lose…Lose.” Both Tommy and his woman had lovers on the side and that helped bring it all to an end, “we did each other wrong…and I call that…lose…lose.” Better luck next time, my friend. On “All About the Cash,” Tommy is telling us the rules that we all play by. “The world’s at war…and all the people are dying…it’s really not mystifying…if you read between the lines….it’s all about the cash.” It would seem that he/she with the most money sets the rules…after all, “it’s all about the cash.”

Our final track, “Bad Luck,” is a classic B.B. King tune, with Tommy paying his respect to his friend and mentor. Tommy’s picking is clean and sweet as they tackle this classic tune. “Bad luck…is falling…falling down like rain…no matter what I do…seem my bad luck will never change.” Sometimes it goes that way, and Tommy and all any of us can do is try to ride out the storm.

Method to My Madness focuses on Tommy’s soul and blues roots while definitively marking the territory he wanted to explore. The Painkillers are a tight unit behind him, no doubt honed to a fine edge by the constant touring that is part of Tommy’s genetic makeup. I love Tommy’s new tunes and appreciate that he wanted to make a record that was as raw and authentic as possible. The band’s schedule can be found at, so make plans to catch a show soon. The Painkillers will be rocking the house and Tommy will be leading the way. Whether it’s madness or not is up to you to decide, but it WILL be fun!

--- Kyle Deibler

Anthony GeraciIt appears that my friend Anthony Geraci is a Renaissance man of sorts. He's a founding member of two of my favorite bands: Sugar Ray Norcia & the Bluetones as well as Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters. Geraci is also a gourmet cook and the purveyor of Sugar Ray’s Mango Habanero Hot Sauce. It seems the only thing he can’t do is sing. But to his credit, he is a good judge of vocal talent, with a number of his friends agreeing to help him out on his first recorded disc for Delta Grove Records, Fifty Shades of Blue. Backed by the Boston Blues All-Stars (Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass and Marty Richards on drums with Neil Gouvin playing the drums for two tracks), Anthony enlists an array of vocalists including Sugar Ray Norcia, Toni Lynn Washington, Michelle “Evil Gal” Wilson and Darrell Nulisch to record one of the best records I’ve heard all year.

Nulisch takes the microphone for our first track, “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” and I hear Monster Mike Welch’s guitar leading the way. As Darrell sings, “They say…two wrongs never make it right…hoping and praying….I see you tonight…forget about…all that’s in the past…look towards tomorrow…no questions asked…time takes away…and I don’t know what to say…we used to love and share…but, that’s been laid bare.” Mike’s fretwork more than highlights the pain that Darrell is feeling and it’s obvious that no matter how hard he tries here, “everything I do is wrong.” I’m not sure he’s going to get a second chance but his pain is real and his regret here is heartfelt.

We move on to the title track, “Fifty Shades of Blue,” and here Michelle joins Sugar Ray on the vocals. “Well, you bring the blindfolds…I’ll bring the wine…let’s get together and have a good time…silk straps on the pillow…handcuffs on the bureau….every time I think of you…it’s fifty shades of blue.” Anthony is definitely a clever songwriter to go with his amazing keyboard talent and both are front and center here. Anthony explores the pain of loss in our next tune, “Sad But True,” with Sugar Ray back on the vocals. “Was a Tuesday morning…sun shining bright…missed you baby…nothing seemed right…bye, bye baby…I’m still in love with you.” Their love was true and while Anthony has Sugar Ray pining for the love that he lost, the fact remains that it’s over and she’s gone, “sad but true”.

A tune with Mississippi roots, “Heard That Tutwiler Whistle Blow,” is next and Sugar Ray continues at the vocal. Anthony plays a mean piano intro while Sugar Ray tells us all about the whistle. “I heard that Tutwiler whistle blow…going to ride a car to Detroit…to build a car for Mr. Henry Ford. This tune tells all about the migration of Blacks from the Delta to the North in search of better paying jobs. Sugar lends his harp to this tune as well and the mournful notes emanating from his harp are a perfect complement to Anthony’s keyboard work on the piano.

Up next is “If You Want to Get to Heaven,” with Michelle at the microphone here. The journey isn’t an easy one and Michelle is more than happy to tell us about it. “If you want to get to heaven…you’ve got to go through hell.” Michelle’s more than happy to be your guide, but I’m thinking there’s a touch of the Devil in our angelic Michelle. “We used to be together…through the sun and rain…since you’ve been gone….I can’t stand the pain…but since you’ve been gone…there’s no one but myself to blame…we used to be together…through the sun and the rain.” Monster Mike Welch’s fretwork continues to make its presence felt and Michelle’s sorrow is most definitely real.

Our next track, “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” is a beautiful ballad with Sugar Ray telling us about the woman he loves. “Some say the morning…comes too soon…but I’d wait a 100 years…to kiss you at noon…don’t keep me crying…I’m praying with white gloves…don’t turn away…wait another day…for our love.” Can’t blame a man for trying but there’s not much more Sugar Ray can do to win back the love of this woman. Anthony’s piano is beautiful on this tune and it’s apparent that he’s an amazing arranger as well.

Sugar Ray’s harp is at the forefront of “The Blues Never Sleeps,” and here Darrell is still wondering where his woman is. “And if I don’t find my baby…I might break down and weep…walking the streets…trying to clear my mind…can’t see no more….I think I’m going blind…I just want to call her…tell her that I care…I say the blues…never sleeps.” I didn’t expect to hear a waltz tempo on this disc, but it's front and center on our next cut, “Too Late for Coffee”. “It’s too late for coffee….too early for beer….I want to hold you tight…it’s been about a year.” I don’t know that it’s ever too late for coffee but it definitely sounds like it’s too late for this romance to ever get back off the ground.

Toni Lynn Washington makes her appearance on our next cut, “Diamonds and Pearls,” and it appears to me that she’s setting the terms necessary to maintain her affections. “You left me standing…out in the rain…waiting on the tracks…for that southbound train…I never knew our love was in vain…time for you…to feel this pain…if you want me to be your girl…you’ve got to buy me diamonds and pearls.”

Anthony’s piano provides the intro for a ballad, “Cry a Million Tears,” and Nulisch is doing the vocal honors. “If I cried a million tears…there’d still be tears for you…I want to stay with you, baby…no more lonesome and blue.” A passionate tune, Darrell is hoping for forgiveness and praying for the return of the woman he loves. “I want to stay with you, baby…no more…will you have to weep.” The pain is real, they both have cried a million tears and hopefully it all works out for the best. But then you start to wonder as the band breaks out into “In the Quicksand, Again.” An upbeat instrumental that finds Anthony and the Boston All-Stars shedding caution to the wind, I’d like to think that Darrell was able to work it all out.

The band moves onto another beautiful ballad, “Your Turn to Cry,” and Sugar Ray is the one emoting here. “Listen now baby…it’s time we say goodbye…I’ll remember….the time we used to be…but I try and I try…yes, I do…but now…it’s your turn to cry.” Sugar blows a beautiful harp solo that helps convey the sadness of this relationship ending and I’m really appreciating Anthony’s fingers on the keys as well.

The final track on Fifty Shades of Blue is another instrumental, “Blues for David Maxwell,” and in my mind’s eye I can see Anthony playing the piano in tribute to our fallen friend. As sad as I am for the loss of David Maxwell to our Blues community, I don’t have the words to convey just the beauty of this arrangement composed by Anthony in David’s honor. All I can say is, “Well done, my friends,” and that doesn’t even begin to do the composition justice.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Fifty Shades of Blue deserves recognition as one of the outstanding discs of 2015. I’m sure it will be heavily considered for BMA recognition come next May, and deservedly so. I don’t know how much touring Anthony and the Boston Blues All-Stars will be able to in support of this record, but if you live in the Northeast and have the chance by all means make it a point to see them play. You can find out more about Anthony and Fifty Shades of Blue on his website, It seems fitting that Anthony dedicated this disc to Anthony Geraci Sr., Randy Chortkoff and David Maxwell. They’re all smiling down on you!

--- Kyle Deibler

Anthony Geraci asked his parents for a piano when he was four years old and has been playing ever since. At 16, he heard a Jimmy Rogers record and it became what he needed to do. He’s played all over the world, backing such greats as Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner, J.B. Hutto, Big Walter Horton, as well as Rogers himself. He was a founding member of Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters and Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, with whom he’s played for 35 years.

Geraci recently released Fifty Shades of Blues (Delta Groove Music), with the Boston Blues All-Stars, and no group was ever more appropriately named. In addition to his Bluetones bandmates (Norcia – vocals, harmonica, flute), “Monster” Mike Welch – guitar, Michael “Mudcat” Ward – bass, Neil Gouvin – drums), Geraci has enlisted Marty Richards (drums) Darrell Nullisch (vocals, harmonica), Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson (vocals), and Toni Lynn Washington (vocals). Geraci penned all 13 tracks, 11 vocals and two instrumentals.

Norcia takes vocals on six tracks, including the title track, a sweaty duet with Willson that features some dazzling work on the keys from Geraci, the Windy City shuffle “Sad But True,” the traditional “Heard That Tutwiler Whistle Blow,” and a pair of nice blues ballads, “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Your Turn To Cry.” He also ventures toward the country side of blues with “Too Late For Coffee” Nullisch contributes three vocals, the soulful “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” that opens the disc, “The Blues Never Sleeps,” and the slow blues “Cry A Million Tears.” Willson brings her A-game to “If You Want To Get To Heaven, and Toni sparkles on the jumping “Diamonds and Pearls.”

Geraci is a talented songwriter as these tracks cover a wide range of traditional blues topics and themes, but don’t resort to the standard clichés, always bringing something fresh to the song. He alternates between piano and Hammond organ on these tracks and his keyboard work is always spot-on. He stretches out on a couple of cool instrumentals near the end of the disc. “In The Quicksand, Again” rocks pretty steady and reminds me a bit of Ramsey Lewis. The closer is “Blues for David Maxwell,” a wonderful tribute to the last keyboardist that puts Geraci and piano at center stage with outstanding support from his fellow Bluetones (including Norcia on Native American flute).

Blues fans are advised not to miss Anthony Geraci and the Boston All-Stars’ Fifty Shades of Blues. This is blues at its finest. We already knew he could play the keys like a master, but Geraci has certainly shown himself to be an excellent songwriter and arranger as well with this release.

--- Graham Clarke

NOTE: Fifty Shades of Blue was also our Surprise Pick in the September issue.

Eddie CottonAll is right with the world once again because Eddie Cotton has a new album hitting the airwaves. Fortunately, there wasn’t a long a wait-time for the Mississippi blues man’s latest release as has been the case in previous years. One At A Time comes just a year and a half after 2014’s Here I Come, and on the heels of Cotton’s winning turn at the 2015 IBC in the Band category, where he dazzled the crowds with his showmanship and his infectious mix of blues, soul, and funk.

For One At A Time, his second release on Grady Champion’s DeChamp Records, Cotton brings back his supporting cast from his previous effort (Myron Bennett - bass, Samuel Scott, Jr. – drums, Carlos Russell – harmonica). He also adds a tight horn section (The Jackson Horns: Kimble Funchess – trumpet, Jesse Primer III – tenor sax, Mike Weidick – trombone) and keyboards from James “Hotdog” Lewis. Champion guests on one track, playing harmonica, and Cotton’s label mate, the divine Ms. J.J. Thames, adds background vocals throughout.

Cotton wrote all 14 of the songs on One At A Time, and they're some of the best he’s ever done. While most of them focus on the blues (the sharp title track, the engaging “Be Careful,” the slow blues duo “Better Deal” and “Fair Weather Lover,” “Hard Race To Win,” “My Money,” and “War Is Over”), he also ventures into that Memphis-styled soul vein that he does so well. Songs like “Catch I Wanted” and “Dead End Street” have that loose-limbed greasy funk backdrop that Hi Records fans will know and love, and “Ego At Your Door” sounds like a long-lost Al Green track, thanks to Cotton’s supple vocal turn.

There are a couple of other standouts as well: the deliciously funky “Filling Me With Pleasure,” the soulful “Je Ne Sais Quoi,” and Cotton’s bluesy tribute to his home state, “Mississippi,” which the Magnolia State should consider adopting as State Song. Cotton produced the disc, with Champion serving as Executive Producer, and there’s a relaxed feeling that runs throughout the set. On “Better Deal,” Cotton cracks the band up mid-song with some of his lyrics.

It would be hard to top Cotton’s live recordings at the Alamo from the previous decade, but One At A Time definitely sits among those two discs in the upper reaches of his catalog and ranks as his best studio release by far. Fans of down-home Southern soul and blues will want to have this disc in their possession.

--- Graham Clarke

John MayallSoon to be 82 years old, British blues pioneer John Mayall is still plugging away playing these blues, just like he has been doing since the 1950s. His previous album, 2014’s A Special Life, was his first in five years and was well-received by fans and critics. Just over a year later, Mayall has released a follow-up, Find A Way To Care (Forty Below Records), which features his keyboard playing, an aspect of his talents that is often ends up in the background. He’s also added a horn section on several of the tracks.

Find A Way To Care has five original tunes and Mayall’s unique interpretations of seven diverse covers. His choice in covers is always impeccable. and this time around is no exception with songs from the Duke/Peacock catalog (“Mother in Law Blues”), Percy Mayfield (“The River’s Invitation”) , Lightnin’ Hopkins (“I Feel So Bad”), Muddy Waters (“Long Distance Call”), Lonnie Brooks (“I Want All My Money Back”), and Charles Brown (“Drifting Blues”).

Mayall’s originals include the reflective title track, “Ain’t No Guarantees,” the downhome “Ropes and Chains,” and “Long Summer Days.” There are also two bonus tracks that close out the disc, “War We Wage,” a splendid slow blues penned by British guitarist Matt Schofield and Dorothy Whittick and “Crazy Lady,” which features some fantastic Crescent City-styled piano.

Mayall’s bands are always without peer and this edition, now in its seventh year, certainly fits the bill. Guitarist Rocky Athas, the latest in a great line of Mayall band guitarist, gets plenty of room to play and makes the most of it, and the rhythm section of bass player Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport are first-rate. Ron Dziubia adds saxophone on three of the tracks.

The last year has been a really productive one for John Mayall, with this outstanding new release and its predecessor and the accompanying tour, not to mention the recent release of that wonderful live performance by the 1967 version of the Bluesbreakers (featuring Mayall with Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie). Find A Way To Care shows an artist who still has plenty to say and blues fans should take note.

--- Graham Clarke

Duke RobillardDuke Robillard has recorded a lot of albums over his over 50-year career, both with Roomful of Blues (as one of its founding members) and as a solo artists since the early ’80s. As far as I can tell, he had never released a full acoustic album until his latest for his longtime label, Stony Plain Records. The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard fills that gap in the Duke’s catalog most effectively and finds Robillard going unplugged on guitar, dobro, mandolin, ukulele, cumbus, and tenor harp on a whopping 18 tracks that pay tribute not only to the blues, but also ragtime, early jazz, country, swing, soul, and any other roots music you can imagine.

Robillard covers tunes from a wide variety of blues and roots artists, such as Big Bill Broonzy (“Big Bill Blues”), the Delmore Brothers (“Nashville Blues”, with Mary Flower adding guitar and vocals), Jimmie Rodgers (“Jimmie’s Texas Blues”), Tampa Red (“What Is It That Tastes Like Gravy”), W.C. Handy (“St. Louis Blues,” recorded with guitar, bass, clarinet, and a huge conglomerate of mandolins, mandocellos, mandolas, and mandobass), Sleepy John Estes (“Someday Baby”), Robert Lockwood (“Take A Little Walk With Me”), and Hank Williams (“Let’s Turn Back The Years”). The guitarist is skilled in all these genres and handles each with confidence and ease.

Other recreated classic tunes include the timeless “My Old Kentucky Home,” the ’30s standard “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” the classic “Profoundly Blue,” which teams Robillard with the late Jay McShann, “Santa Claus Blues” (with Maria Muldaur on vocals) and Eric “Two Scoops” Moore’s “Left Handed.” In addition, Sunny Crownower turns in a beautiful vocal on the lovely “Evangeline,” the Robbie Robertson tune usually associated with Emmylou Harris. Robillard also adds a few of his own compositions to the mix and they are a perfect fit.

In addition to the guest artists mentioned above, Robillard gets able assistance from Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Marty Ballou and John Packer (acoustic bass), Matt McCabe (piano), Mark Teixeria and Marty Richards (drums), Billy Novick (clarinet), Doug James (baritone sax/harmonica), Dave Babcock (tenor sax), Jon Ross (mandolin), Russell Gusetti (concertina), and the Providence Mandolin Orchestra.

Based on my 25-plus years of listening, I don’t think there’s any musical genre that Duke Robillard can’t take and master. I’m sure he has a hip hop project in the works somewhere down the line. I wouldn’t put it past him anyway, but in the meantime, plug in The Acoustic Blues and Roots of Duke Robillard, take a seat in a rocking chair on your front porch and just enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

Webb WilderSince the mid-’80s, Webb Wilder has been a familiar name among folks in my neck of the woods. Born in Mississippi (Hattiesburg), he was raised in the Magnolia State, but has ended up in Nashville with a stop in Austin in-between. Wilder absorbed the mystical musical magic of all three locales and those components are a vital part of his music, plus a hint or two of British Invasion era-rock. If that sounds like a potentially explosive combination, that’s because it is.

Wilder’s latest release, Mississippi Mōderne (Landslide Records) is his first in six years, and longtime fans will be pleased to hear that all of his edges are still sharp. Wilder offers up 14 stellar tracks, a mix of original tunes and covers from all over the place, all infused with that ragged but right Webb Wilder magic, as he continues to prove that the line between Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Buck Owens is a razor-thin one.

The disc is bookended by Wilder channeling Robert Johnson on the ominous original “Stones In My Pathway,” with a 30-second intro and a sizzling full version that closes things out. Wilder covers a lot of ground in between, beginning with a trio of original: the rocking and roaring “Rough and Tumble Guy” and the twangy “If It Ain’t Broke (Don’t Fix It)” (both co-written with longtime collaborator John Hadley), and “Only A Fool,” an intriguing rocker co-written with Dan Penn that includes electric sitar and vibraphone. Wilder also wrote the reflective “Too Much Sugar For A Nickel,” with Hadley, taking the title from a phrase his mother used to say.

Wilder’s always been a fan of the Kinks and his vigorous reading of Ray Davies’ “I Gotta Move” harkens back to his days with the Hattiesburg band The Drapes. His Mississippi roots also figure in on “Yard Dog,” an old school psychedelic rock nugget from an old garage band from Biloxi, MS (The One Way Street), and “Lonely Blue Boy,” an early Conway Twitty pop hit. In addition to the Johnson tune, the blues is well-represented with tracks from Frankie Lee Sims (“Lucy Mae Blues”), Otis Rush (“It Takes Time”), and Jimmy Reed (“I’m Gonna Get My Baby”).

Wilder also covers “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool,” penned by another longtime musical partner, Bobby Field, and the Charlie Rich classic “Who Will The Next Fool Be?.” He’s backed on these tracks by his regular band, the Beatnecks (Tom Comet – bass, electric sitar, vibraphone, Jimmy Lester – drums, Bob Williams – guitars, mandolin, electric sitar, fuzz bass, tambourine) with guests Joe V. McMahan (guitar), George Bradfute (guitar, bass), Greg Morrow (drums), Bryan Owings (percussion), Regina and Ann McCrary (backing vocals), Micha Hulscher (piano, organ), and Patrick Sweaney (backing vocals, co-author of “If It Ain’t Broke (Don’t Fix It)”).

If you’ve not experienced Webb Wilder’s brand of roots-rock, with equal doses of blues, rock, country, and R&B, you really need to pick up Mississippi Mōderne at your earliest convenience. It’s a rewarding listening experience.

--- Graham Clarke

Colin LindenWith Rich in Love, Canadian singer/guitarist Colin Linden returns to Stony Plain Records, the label that released his debut album, The Immortals, way back in 1986. It’s been a while since Linden’s last trip to the studio (2009’s From The Water), but he hasn’t exactly been sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He’s been busy playing on albums from Gregg Allman (Low Country Blues), Rhiannon Giddens (Tomorrow Is My Turn), and Diana Krall (Glad Rag Doll), serving as Bob Dylan’s guitarist during his 2013 summer tour, playing guitar on multiple feature film soundtracks (including "The Hunger Games" and "Inside Llewyn Davis"), and serving as featured guitarist on PBS’s “In Performance At The White House” saluting gospel music.

For his latest, Linden and his band, The Rotting Matadors (John Dymond – bass, Gary Craig – drums) welcome guest artists Charlie Musselwhite (harmonica), Reese Wynans (keyboards), Tim Lauer (organ), and Amy Helm (background vocals). Linden wrote or co-wrote (with Dymond, Gary Nicholson, Tom Hambridge, or his wife, novelist Janice Powers) all 12 of the tracks and produced the disc with his band.

As always, Linden provides some memorable songs, such as the clever opener, “Knob and Tube,” the poignant “I Need Water,” the wistful “Everybody Ought to be Loved” and “Date with the Stars,” and the heartbreaker “Delia Come for Me,” which was inspired in part by the controversial execution of a Georgia inmate in 2011. Musselwhite’s harmonica punctuates the bluesy “The Hurt,” and the somber title track. “And Then You Begin” and “Luck of a Fool” both have an easy country feel to it, and “No More Cheap Wine” is a gentle rocker about making the most of the time you have. Another standout is the acoustic closer, “Paybacks are Hell.”

Linden plays guitar, ukelele, and mandolins on the disc and his warm heartfelt vocals are as much a pleasure to hear as his fretwork. Rich In Love has a warm, relaxed quality to it and is highly recommended for blues and roots fans. It’s been a long time between albums for Colin Linden, but this disc was definitely worth the wait.

--- Graham Clarke

Sam ButlerGuitarist Sam Butler served a lengthy tenure as guitarist for the Blind Boys of Alabama, and has also worked with Clarence Fountain, Keith Richards, and Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan. Presently, he can be seen in the acclaimed play, "The Gospel at Colonus." Recently, he released his first solo CD, Raise Your Hands. (Severn Records), a fiery collection of spiritual tunes written by some of the most popular secular artists of the past several decades.

Butler tears through these 12 songs with a strong and soulful voice and stinging guitar work that’s influenced by rock and blues in equal measure. He’s backed by a pristine trio that includes the highly regarded Sacred Steel lap guitarist Roosevelt Collier and Nashville’s go-to rhythm section Viktor Kraus (bass) and Marco Giovino (drums). Butler’s performances on these tracks prove that he’s more than capable of being in the spotlight after years of working in the background.

This is a novel approach to gospel music. Most of the time, traditional sources are the norm for these releases, so the set list will be new to most fans of gospel blues and it also open the eyes (and ears) of fans new to the genre. Producer Brian Brinkerhoff and Butler have chosen songs written by familiar names like Bruce Springsteen (the electrifying opener, “Heaven’s Wall”), Eric Clapton (“Presence of the Lord,” from his Blind Faith era), Van Morrison (a passionate reading of “Full Force Gale”), U2 (the aptly titled “Magnificent”), the Bee Gees (“The Lord”), and Johnny Cash (the psychedelic-styled “Lead Me Father”).

Butler also covers tunes from Tom Waits (“Gospel Train”) and Curtis Mayfield (“Wherever You Leadeth”). There’s also a cover from Nick Cave and Paul Kelly (“God’s Hotel”), Eliza Gilkyson (“Sanctuary”), and “All His Saints, written by Mindy Smith and performed by Lee Ann Womack. While Butler is, as expected, an excellent guitarist, his vocals really lift these songs higher, in some cases as good or better than their original versions. Collier’s work on the lap steel make a great album even better, and the rhythm section is, not surprisingly top notch as well.

Full of energy and passion, with a fantastic group of well-chosen covers and superlative performances from Butler and the band, Raise Your Hands. will certainly appeal to fans of gospel blues, but those who aren’t fans pass up this one at their own peril.

--- Graham Clarke

Angels Sing The BluesAngels Sing The Blues (Earwig Records) captures a live performance from 2007 at Chicago’s Taste Entertainment Center that featured Windy City Blues Divas Liz Mandeville, Mary Lane, and Shirley Johnson backed by Johnny Drummer and his band, the Starliters. This was part of a regular event in Chicago that’s produced for the American Society on Aging. The CD contains the 2007 live performance, plus some studio recordings that were done in 2013.

The three ladies take center stage for most of the vocals, with Ms. Johnson taking four solo vocals, “Get Your Lovin’ Where You Spend Your Time” (a studio track), “I’m Going To Find Me A Lover,” “Unchain My Heart,” and “You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Mess With My Man.” Ms. Lane, a seven-decade veteran of the Windy City blues scene, gets two live tracks, a medley of three classic tunes (“I Don’t Want No Man,” “He May Be Your Man But He Comes To See Me Sometimes,” and “Kansas City” and “Ride In Your Automobile,” plus a tough bonus studio track, “Run A Red Light.” Ms. Mandeville gets two solo tracks, “Use What You Got” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You.”

The three ladies collaborate on another studio track, John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” The three ladies sound great together and guitarist Anthony Palmer takes a magnificent solo. Drummer and his band shine on their tracks, with Al “Guitar” Short taking the mic for Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “A Real Mother For Ya,” bass player Danny O’Connor sings on “Cold Women With Warm Hearts,” and Drummer is his usual irrepressible self on “Gonna Sell My Cadillac, Buy Myself a Mule,” “Born In The Delta,” and “Rockin’ In The Juke Joint.”

The live portion is concluded by an amusing reenactment from the Blues Brothers film from album producers Michael Marcus and John Migliaccio. Despite the mix of live and studio, the album meshes together really well and the performance is combines a nice throwback to the old musical revue days with a pretty vivid glimpse of the active Chicago live blues scene. This one is highly recommended for fans of Chicago Blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Zora YoungZora Young has been a mainstay on the Chicago blues scene since the late 1960s. A native of West Point, Mississippi (birthplace of Howlin’ Wolf, to whom she is related), Young was raised in the church and continued to sing gospel even after her family moved to Chicago in the ’50s. She began singing blues and R&B when she reached adulthood and has performed with many of the blues giants, including Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Dawkins, Bobby Rush, B.B. King, Sunnyland Slim, and Willie Dixon. She played Bessie Smith in the stage show, The Heart of the Blues, and has recorded five albums since the early ’90s.

Friday Night (ELROB Records) is Ms. Young’s sixth album, and vocally, she is in fine form. This is a great album of vintage-sounding Chicago blues and a big reason for that is Young’s backing band, the always-excellent Little Mike & the Tornadoes, who may hail from NYC, but they most definitely have roots in Chicago. Young and the Tornadoes work through an 11-track set that feature five original tunes written by Mike or guitarist extraordinaire Tony O Melio and six vintage Windy City covers.

The originals are pretty distinctive, including the punchy opener “I’ve Been A Fool Too Long,” the countrified “A Fool’s Lament,” the easy-going shuffle “True Love Is Hard To Find,” and the funky title track. Melio contributes the Windy City homage “I Love Chicago,” and some fierce stinging lead guitar throughout the disc. Jim McKaba’s keyboards throughout the disc are also a plus, and the Tornadoes (Robert Piazza – drums, Rick Johnson –sax, Gary Smith – trumpet, and alum Brad Vickers – bass) are as great as ever.

Covers will be familiar to most Chicago blues fans, but Ms. Young puts her own spin on each, with a sassy reading of the Wolf’s “44 Blues” and Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool.” She also pays tribute to a couple of her influences on “Country Girl” (Lucille Spann) and “I’m Good” (Bonnie Lee), and her interpretation of “Chains of Love” is just marvelous.

Little Mike and the Tornadoes close the disc with a version of Otis Spann’s “Spann’s Boogie” that’s sure to get toes tapping and heads bobbing. I can’t recommend Friday Night highly enough. This is classic Chicago blues the way that they used to do them. Here’s hoping that these folks can get together again soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Bill AbelBill Abel’s latest self-released CD is called Celestial Train. If you’ve attended a blues festival in the Mississippi Delta over the past couple of decades, you’ve more than likely seen or heard Abel, who plays as many instruments as he can get a grip on in a live setting, switching between electric and acoustic guitar, dobro, and his own cigar-box guitars that he makes himself. He’s played with many of the area’s blues legends, such as Paul “Wine” Jones, Honeyboy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Big George Brock, Cadillac John Nolden, T-Model Ford, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and many others.

On Abel’s previous CD, 2008’s One-Man Band, the Belzoni, Mississippi native played all the instruments himself. On Celestial Train, he’s accompanied by at least one other person on all each track, mostly providing rhythm support, but the guitarist is still the star of the show with his expressive guitar and growling vocals. The new disc features 11 tracks, seven originals and four covers of Delta classics.

The music here is pretty basic, hardcore Mississippi Blues, a mix of Delta and Hill Country. Abel’s guitar work, and his vocals are ragged, but righteous. His original tunes include the relentless slide fest “Slow Down Easy,” the hypnotic title track, the raucous “Poboy” and “Down in Mississippi,” and “No Dog Here” and “On My Way,” a pair of funky Hill Country workouts.

Abel also covers the traditional tunes “Don’t Laugh” and “Sick and Dying,” along with an understated and meditative reading of Skip James’ “Special Rider Blues,” and a hard-charging take on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo” that closes the disc.

Fans of both traditional and modern Mississippi blues need to have a copy of Celestial Train, and chances are very good that they will be playing it over and over again. Abel is selling this disc at his appearances or, if you’re too far away to catch him in person, you can contact him at to purchase a copy.

--- Graham Clarke

MonkeyJunkOn Moon Turn Red, MonkeyJunk’s latest CD for Stony Plain Records, the Canadian roots rockers continue their heady mix of blues, rock, funk, and soul. The trio (Steve Marriner – vocals/baritone guitar/harmonica/vibes/keyboards, Tony D – lead guitar/backing vocals, Matt Sobb – drums/percussion/backing vocals) continues to be one of the more innovative groups currently practicing with this new release, which features ten excellent tracks that mix traditional blues with modern flourishes.

If you like red hot rockers, there are plenty to choose from here, from the superlative opening track, “Light It Up,” to the insanely catchy “You,” to a ripping cover of David Wilcox’s “Hot Hot Papa” (with a guest appearance on vocals and guitar by the composer), to the fabulous “Live Another Day.” In the market for a smooth soulful ballad? Just check out the shimmering “Learn How To Love” or the understated “Meet Me At Midnight.” “Show Me Yours” leans toward the funky side of R&B, and “Love Attack” mixes the funk with a reggae beat.

As on previous releases, the band’s musical contributions are sterling. Marriner’s vocals are as good on the ballads as they are on the rockers. However, the album also benefits from the presence of Wilcox on “Hot Hot Papa,” and Big Sugar and Grady’s Gordie Johnson and Steve O’Connor, who add Hammond B3 to a couple of tracks.

Moon Turn Red is MonkeyJunk’s best release to date and one of the best blues and roots releases you’ll hear this year. If you’re not familiar with this great band, this is a great place to get started.

--- Graham Clarke

D'Mar - GillThe dynamic duo of D’Mar & Gill (drummer Derrick Martin and singer/guitarist Chris Gill) made quite an impression with their 2011 debut release, Real Good Friend. The combination of Gill’s traditional approach to the blues combined with Martin’s irresistible African-based percussion was a highly unique and original creation and ended up on my Top Ten list for the year.

Take It Like That is the pair’s follow-up on Airtight Records, and there are a few changes this time around, with the presence of additional musicians Kid Andersen (2nd guitar, bass), Jerry “Groovemaster” Jemmott (bass), Bob Welsh (keys), Aki Kumar (harmonica), Frankie Ramos (sax), and Lisa Andersen (background vocals).

The session was recorded at Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, and the 13 original tracks lean more toward the traditional side of blues than its predecessor. Highlights include “I Fell In Love With The Blues,” a testimony to the genre, the rambling and rolling “Song For Honeyboy,” which sings the praises of the traveling blues man tradition that Honeyboy Edwards perfected (with nice slide from Gill), the slow blues lament, “Souvenir of the Blues,” and the steamy “Dancin’ Girl,” with Gill on cigar box guitar.

I like the old timey feel of “Three Way Inn” and “Sweet Tooth,” the latter track channeling Mississippi John Hurt, and the swampy drone of “Must Be Love.” The sultry title track has an island feel to it and “Lonesome for Leavin’” is a perfect tune for driving down a dirt road on a late Saturday night with its hypnotic rhythm and Gill’s slide and gritty vocal. “Tore Down & Blue” has jazz underpinnings and a mournful vocal from Gill, but the serene closer, “Since I Saw You,” ends things on a positive note.

Gill is an engaging performer, with versatility on guitar, particularly slide, and his warm and amiable vocals suit this material to a tee. Martin is an impeccable timekeeper and the additional musical support is spot on. Take It Like That is a marvelous look at traditional blues with a few contemporary twists thrown in. I’m really glad that D’Mar & Gill became partners because they make beautiful music together.

--- Graham Clarke

Al BasileSinger/songwriter/cornetist Al Basile apparently enjoyed making his previous release, 2012’s Woke Up In Memphis, so much that he’s paying another visit to the Bluff City for musical inspiration on his 12th and latest release for his own Sweetspot Records. B’s Expression features 13 tracks of Memphis-styled blues and soul. Produced by longtime friend and fellow Roomful of Blues alum Duke Robillard, who also contributes guitar, this disc ranks with Basile’s best recordings to date.

A regular feature on an Al Basile album is creative and smart songwriting, and his latest is no exception with songs like the opener, a message to the ladies called “I’ve Got A Whole Lot Of Good Good Lovin’,” which moves to the spunky “It Wasn’t That Good.” “I’m Running Late” is about stumbling into old, bad habits, and “Never Good Enough” deals with a frustrating relationship. There’s good humor in “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Being Right” and “Not Like I Do,” about underestimating the benefits of age and experience.

“Somethin’s Missing” has an irresistible groove, both musically and lyrically, and songs like “Answer Me” and “I Didn’t Come Here to Lie” both deal with serious subject matter (the former about the silence in a broken relationship and the latter about an intervention). “That Ain’t Bad” deals with our nationwide tendency to spend beyond our means. Basile also touches on spiritual matters on a couple of tracks – “Have I Given My Best” and “Even Jesus Fell.”

In addition to Robillard, whose guitar solos and fills are as consistently fine as they’ve ever been, Basile enjoys backing from his fine group of regular musicians (Mark Teixeira – drums, Bruce Bears – keys, Brad Hallen – bass, Doug James – tenor sax, Carl Querfurth – trombone). Basile did the horn arrangements and also contributes with his distinctive cornet.

B’s Expression is another great effort from Al Basile. You won’t find a more gifted composer in the blues these days. He puts a fresh face on many familiar blues subjects and also brings up a few new ones in the process. If you’ve not experienced his talents, this is a good place to get started.

--- Graham Clarke

Shawn AmosThe Reverend Shawn Amos returns to preach his message of the blues on his latest CD, The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You (Put Together). Amos is the son of cookie magnate Wally “Famous” Amos and singer Shirl-ee May Ellis, and was in A&R at Rhino and at Shout Factory, producing and recording several albums that were nominated for Grammys and running Quincy Jones’ Listen Up Foundation. This is his sixth album and his second blues album, and is produced by two-time Grammy nominee saxophonist Mindi Abair (her producing debut).

The disc opens on a high note with Amos with the haunting “Days of Depression,” which features The Blind Boys of Alabama providing background vocals. The frenetic R&B of “Brand New Man” follows, and is guaranteed to get you moving, and the lusty “Boogie” is also a standout, with vocal contributions from Missy Andersen that will leave you all hot and bothered. The Memphis-based “Brother’s Keeper” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I Get Home)” both give up the funk with some nice fretwork from Chris “Doctor” Roberts.

“Will You Be Mine” is the physical and musical centerpiece of the album, a catchy mid-tempo burner with a fiery vocal from Amos. “Outlaw” has a bit of a country twang to it, and Amos offers up a swaggering lyric and performance. Other Amos originals include the scathing “Hollywood Blues” (co-written with Abair), the smoldering “Put Together,” and the soul ballad “The Last Day I’m Loving You.” There are also two dandy covers, a moving reading of Minnie Lawler’s “Joliet Bound,” with nice guitar work from Roberts, and the Jimmy Reed standard “Bright Lights Big City,” with duet vocals from Abair.

A strong follow-up to his previous blues release, The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You is a must-have for fans of modern blues that nod toward traditional styles.

--- Graham Clarke

The ClaudettesOn their second CD, No Hotel (Yellow Dog Records), The Claudettes present more of their relentless powerhouse piano-driven blues. Chicago-based piano monster Johnny Iguana and percussion master Michael Caskey. Though their primary focus in on blues, the duo also dabbles in other styles (pop and soul), and they’ve added a vocalist this time around, Nigerian-American singer Yana, who makes a mesmerizing debut.

Iguana and Caskey continue to play with reckless abandon, Iguana mixes the best of Chicago and New Orleans piano played at turbo speed, sometimes merging the two into the same song. The opener, “Big Easy Woman,” is a New Orleans romp, and “California Here I Come,” the popular ’20s tune, is presented at a dazzling pace that’s quite different from previous versions. The breakneck pace continues with subsequent tracks “You’d Have To Be Out of Your Mind (to Play These Blues),” and the driving “Southbound Stroll.”

About mid-album, Yana makes her appearance, performing five tunes of her own, backed by Iguana and Caskey. She covers a lot of ground in those five tunes. “She’s So Imaginary” is a dreamy pop confection, and “Laisee Tomber Les Filles” is a sumptuous taste of France, as are the rocking “Mirza,” which sounds like a chase scene in a spy flick, and “Ne T’en Vas Pas” and “Chez Les Ye-Ye,” which leads with a Ray Charles-styled piano run. Yana’s tracks are a fine complement to the piano and drum pyrotechnics and hopefully, we will hear more from her on future Claudette recordings.

The Iguana/Caskey duo returns to the spotlight with “The Swinger Goes Straight,” and an amazing redo of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The buoyant “Summer Finally Came” is a standout as well, and it’s a wonder Iguana’s piano didn’t catch fire on the rousing closer, “Life is Such Fun, and Then Seems To Disappear.”

No Hotel is another fresh and astounding release of piano blues. Iguana and Caskey continue to play their instruments as if their lives were in the balance, and the addition of Yana as vocalist adds a whole new intriguing dimension to their musical recipe. Blues fans are strongly urged to check out this exciting release.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy PoxonNow pushing 20 years of age, singer/guitarist/songwriter Andy Poxon shows no signs of slowing down. How he’s able to maintain this incredible energy and pace at his age is beyond me. All kidding aside, blues fans should find a lot to love with the youngster’s newest release, Must Be Crazy (EllerSoul Records). With the able assistance of keyboardist/songwriter Kevin McKendree (who also co-produced), Poxon has come up with another dazzling set of original tunes that incorporate the blues, jazz, swing, and R&B in equal measures.

Poxon traveled to Rock House Studios in Franklin, Tennessee to record with keyboardist/songwriter Kevin McKendree, who served as co-producer with Poxon and collaborated on four of the 13 songs. Poxon continues his upward development as a composer, writing tunes that touch on traditional themes that will please older fans, while covering topics that will also appeal to up and coming fans closer to his age. “Making A Fool” is a classic example of this, with a subject that younger folks will relate to as well as older.

The title track opens the disc and Poxon mixes a little Elmore James and B.B. King into his playing. “Living Alone” has an almost Crescent City feel, thanks to McKendree’s stellar work on the keys, and “Next To You” really swings. Poxon’s tough but tender vocals work very effectively on the mid-tempo “Give Me The Chance,” and on the T-Bone-styled “Cold Weather,” where he also adds some sweet after-hours guitar. “Harder Everyday” and “Already Gone” are both standout soul-flavored ballads with nice vocal turns from Poxon.

“I Want To Know” revisits the New Orleans region with gently swinging horns and some fine fretwork. “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” is a defiant and moody slow blues with an extended guitar break. The closing instrumental, “Rebound,” channels Booker T. & the MG’s, with Poxon taking on the role of Steve Cropper and McKendree’s son Yates taking Booker T. Jones’ seat behind the B3. It’s a really cool way to close this outstanding set.

In addition to the McKendrees, Poxon is ably assisted by Steve Mackey (bass), Kenneth Blevens (drums), Jim Hoke (saxophones), Chloe Kohanski and the McCrary Sisters (backing vocals). Andy Poxon has shown amazing talent and maturity since he burst on the scene some five years ago and Must Be Crazy shows that he’s progressing even faster than expected. Blues fans should find a spot for this splendid release in their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Les CopelandThe versatile British Columbia guitarist Les Copeland has released his second album, To Be in Your Company (Earwig Records). Copeland’s guitar work is a unique blend of blues, jazz, classical, pop, folk, and Spanish flemenco, but he’s been largely focused on the blues since he first heard Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Red Cross Store” as an 11-year-old. Copeland’s debut for Earwig, Don’t Let the Devil In, featured 14 of 15 original tunes by the guitarist, but his sophomore effort mixes his quirky originals with several well-chosen covers that he makes his own.

There are 18 tracks, with Copeland writing 11 of them. These include the title track, a tribute to his longtime friend and mentor, “Honeyboy” Edwards, played very much in Edwards’ distinctive style, “Friend,” about a would-be wife stealer, “ the menacing “If I Was A Bad Man,” and “Crosstown,” a blues played in the tradition of McDowell. Copeland also touches on matters of the heart with “Stealin’,” one of several love songs to his wife Sarah (the others are “Something Nice and Sweet,” “Knucklehead,” and “I’d Be Lonely Too”). There’s also a moving love song called “Bessie,” written from Edwards' perspective about his wife.

Copeland’s covers span a wide range of musical genres, from Jelly Roll Morton (a “cleaned up” version of “Whinin’ Boy”), to Henry Townsend (“Why We Love Each Other”), to Jim Stafford (the early ’70s classic “Swamp Witch”), to Gordon Lightfoot (the lovely “Ribbon of Darkness”) to Bob Dylan (“Moonshiner”) to Billy Joe Shaver (“I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal”) to the Kinks (Ray Davies’ “Sunny Afternoon”). With this diverse set, Copeland proves he’s adept at playing a wide range of genres.

Copeland and his guitar are the main attractions here, but a talented pair of backing vocalists (Cat Wells and Sari) lend a hand on several songs. I think Honeyboy Edwards would be pleased with Copeland’s approach to the blues….keeping one foot planted in the traditional sounds, but also steering it into the foreseeable future. This is a must-listen for fans of blues guitar.

--- Graham Clarke

Clarence TurnerWhen you’re called Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner, you better be pretty doggone good, and this Washington D.C.-based singer/guitarist/bassist/drummer/songwriter is more than ready for the challenge of measuring up. Turner’s second CD, The Caster Blaster, is more than ample proof that the moniker is well-deserved, with 11 outstanding tunes, eight originals and three covers, that mix contemporary blues with just a touch of soul, R&B, and rock.

Backed by a tight band that includes Sean Graves (drums), Charles Pearson (keyboards), David Satterwhite (bass), Gene Meros (saxophones), and Gary Hendrickson (trumpet), Turner kicks off with “Fame and Fortune,” providing stinging rock-flavored lead guitar over a funky backbeat. “Mojo Hand” is an appropriately swampy original with punchy horns, and “Nadine” is an upbeat swinger. The Turner original “Happily Married Man” is another high energy number in the same vein, and “Pay Day” is a timely remake of the title track from his debut.

Turner also offers up two classy instrumentals, the minor key “Sabrena,” which features some excellent interplay between Turner’s guitar and the horns, and the hard-charging shuffle “Fender Bender,” with some high speed string-bending from “The Blues Man.” The three covers are a swinging version of “C.C. Rider,” Ray Charles’ splendid slow blues “Black Jack,” and a rocking version of Willie Dixon’s classic warhorse “I’m Ready.”

The Caster Blaster is an impressive set of modern blues done right, proving that Clarence Turner has more than earned his nickname. Hopefully, we will be hearing more from this particular blues man for years to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Crooked Eye TommyCrooked Eye Tommy reached the IBC semifinals in 2014, representing the Santa Barbara Blues Society. Fronted by the band’s namesake, guitarist/singer Tommy Marsh, and his brother, guitarist/singer Paddy Marsh, their sound encompasses traditional blues with Southern rock undertones. Having made an impact on the Southern California blues scene, the band recently released its debut recording, Butterflies & Snakes, which is comprised of 11 original tunes written by the brothers.

Tommy Marsh composed and sings eight of the 11 tracks, including the swampy, semi-autobiographical opener, “Crooked Eye Tommy,” which also features him playing some splendid slide guitar. “Time Will Tell” is another standout, a blues rocker with a funky Southern feel whose lyrics give the album its title. “Somebody’s Got To Pay” is an excellent blues shuffle, and “Love Divine” is an upbeat blues, as is “Mad and Disgusted.” “Over and Over” is a fine slow blues and “Southern Heart” closes the disc on a countrified note (nice steel guitar from Jesse Siebenberg).

Paddy Marsh penned and sings on three tunes, the soulful “Come On In,” the raw “I Stole The Blues,” and the contemplative “Tide Pool.” The remainder of the band includes bass player Glade Rasmussen, drummer Tony Cicero, and Jimmy Calire on sax and keyboards. Also contributing are Seibenberg, Bill Bilhou (Hammond B3) and Becca Fuchs and Dan Grimm (backing vocals).

Butterflies & Snakes is a super debut release from a band that should definitely be heard by a wider audience. Crooked Eye Tommy is already on the right track with their superb musicianship and songwriting. Expect to hear much more from these guys in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Deb CallahanSince her last album, 2010’s Tell It Like It Is, singer/songwriter Deb Callahan became a mother to her now 4-year-old son Elijah. This experience brought about a change in focus in her life and on her career. Callahan’s latest release is Sweet Soul (Blue Pearl Records), and her songwriting, she co-wrote eight of the 13 tracks, reflects her current state and outlook on life. Callahan traveled to Los Angeles with guitarist Chris James and recorded this excellent disc with an elite group of veteran musicians which included Tony Braunagel (drums/production), Johnny Lee Schell (slide guitar/engineering), Reggie McBride (bass), Mike Finnigan (keys), and Jimmy Powers (harmonica).

No album was more appropriately titled. Sweet Soul perfectly describes the vocal charms of Ms. Callahan. She shines on original tracks like the funky strutter “Big Love” that opens the disc, and is appropriately sassy on “I Keep Things Running.” “Shackin’ Up” is a rocker with some sharp slide work from Schell, and “I Am Family” is a strong ballad with background vocals from Teresa James.

“Born To Love You” is a crisp soul burner and one of the standout tracks on the disc, with some of the others including “Seven States Away,” which has an almost country feel, and “Step Back,” a great foray into southern soul territory. However, Callahan saves her best for the gripping slow blues “Slow as Molasses, Sweet as Honey,” pouring every ounce of her being into this performance (great guitar/keyboard interplay between James and Finnigan, too).

Callahan also includes five dandy covers, too. There’s a groovy redo of Candi Staton’s “Sweet Feeling,” along with a moody reading of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” and David Egan and Buddy Flett’s future soul classic “You Don’t Know Your Mind.” Callahan acquits herself quite well on the Ike & Tina classic “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby,” and gets deep into the funk on Dr. John’s “I Been Hoodooed.”

Callahan dedicated the album to her son, and blues fans should be grateful for his inspiration to his mother. Sweet Soul is an entertaining journey in the blues and soul world from one of the best contemporary vocalist in either genre.

--- Graham Clarke

Tommy McCoyTommy McCoy is a 40-year veteran of the Florida blues scene, playing with The Backdoor Blues Band, The Screamin’ Bluejays, and the Telephone Kings during that time, but also meeting and playing with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Lucky Peterson (recording the 1998 album Lay My Demons Down with him), and Mark Hummel. He’s been playing guitar since he was eight years old, and has released seven albums over his career. McCoy is the complete package in blues entertainment, soulful vocals, smoking lead guitar work, and mad songwriting skills, so why he isn’t better known is a mystery. Recently, McCoy released 25 Year Retrospect (Earwig Records), a two-disc set that should go a long way toward making him better known.

The collection features 30 songs with tracks representing each of his previous albums, plus three impressive new songs recorded this year. There are two tracks from his 1993 Telephone Kings release, More Than You’ll Ever Know (the moody “Tropical Depression” and “Jive Drive”), six tracks from 1995’s Love N’ Money, which included several tracks with Double Trouble (“No Love Without Any Green,” the Pink Floyd classic “Money,” a fine cover of Bobby Bland’s “Poverty,” the funky “The Change Is In” and “Broke, You’re A Joke” and the instrumental title track). The six tracks pulled from Lay My Demons Down show that Peterson made a pretty good team with McCoy (Jimmy Rogers’ “Ludella,” the greasy “Blues Thing,” “Bitter Soul To Heal,” “A Man Who Cried,” the acoustic “They Killed That Man,” and the title track).

McCoy’s 1999 live effort, Live in the U.K., is also represented by the driving rocker “Talkin’ To Myself.” McCoy’s 2002 album, Angels Serenade, included contributions from two former members of The Band, drummer Levon Helm and keyboardist Garth Hudson. Their influence is felt on several of the five tracks featured from that disc (“Ace In The Hole,” Lowell George’s “Spanish Moon,” Ray Charles’ “Hey Now,” “Blue Water Runs Deep,” and the title track). Kickin’ The Blues, McCoy’s 2006 collaboration with Commander Cody, is well-represented by a swinging “Black Eldorado Red.”

Six tracks represent McCoy’s excellent 2012 release for Earwig, Late In The Lonely Night: the guitar workout “My Guitar Won’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues,” the amusing “Cars, Bars, And Guitars,” the smoldering title track, “Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back,” “Language of Love,” and “Spacemaster.” The three new songs are pretty cool, too, and include McCoy’s inventive tribute to B.B. King (“The King Is Gone”), the R&B-flavored “I Got A Reason,” and “Sugar Cane,” which features McCoy solo on acoustic guitar.

25 Year Retrospect will definitely please fans of Tommy McCoy, who will be glad to get these great tracks on one collection, and will also serve as a fantastic introduction to new listeners, who will be blown away by his talent and versatility.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy CohenWhen he was 16, Andy Cohen heard the Rev. Gary Davis perform, and the effect of Davis’ performance steered him to learn as much about blues and folk music as possible. In the process, he became one of the best purveyors of traditional blues and roots music and a guitarist who is in a class by himself. He’s played with many of the masters (Davis, John Jackson, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, Honeyboy Edwards, Rev. Dan Smith, Son Thomas, etc…) and he mentored many younger players over his lengthy career. He’s been called a “walking, talking folk-blues-roots music encyclopedia.”

Cohen’s second CD for Earwig Records, Road Be Kind, finds the guitarist mixing 16 tunes of traditional and contemporary styles, with a few surprises thrown in. He opens with a humorous autobiographical track, “Five and Ten Cent Blues,” that he says is one of his oldest and favorite original songs. Cohen also includes a couple of story songs, Luke Baldwin’s “Seldom Seen Slim” and Walter Weems Doyle’s “Mysterious Mose,” and also a couple of tunes from a historical perspective, “The Goodnight Loving Trail” (a Utah Phillips tune about the old route from San Antonio to Cheyenne used to deliver meat to the army) and “Ten and Nine,” a song about an early 1900’s Scottish women’s right activist.

There are several pretty straight blues tunes as well, such as Sonny Terry’s “Spread the News Around,” and Sam McGhee’s “Seaboard Train.” The title track is a gentle folk tune penned by Scott Alarik, and songs like “More Wood” and especially “Talking Hard Blues” will put a smile on your face. Cohen also does a few instrumentals that showcase his guitar work, too – the traditional Irish medley “Blarney Pilgrim/Jig McCoy,” John Loudermilk’s “Windy and Warm,” and a really nice reading of the Lennon/McCartney standard “Blackbird.”

Cohen’s fine picking skills and his warm vocals make Road Be Kind a delightful listening experience. It’s an entertaining journey through classic American and European musical styles that sometimes reach beyond the blues, but never leave them completely behind.

--- Graham Clarke

Beat DaddysThe Beat Daddys are fast approaching their 30th year of making outstanding and distinctive music. The band, which features core members Larry Grisham (vocals, harmonica) and Tommy Stillwell (guitar, backing vocals), have nine albums to their credit, and made it to the Semi-Finals at this year’s IBC. Their most recent release, hoodoo that we doo (Melrose Hill Records), is the first studio album in over 20 years to feature both Grisham and Stillwell, who left the group in 1995 but reunited with Grisham in 2007 after Grisham relocated from New Orleans to Nashville following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Grisham and Stillwell co-wrote most of the 11 tracks. They didn’t write the opening track, the gospel-bluesy “These Chains.” This track was penned by Muscle Shoals singer/songwriter Maxwell Russell. “Sorry” is one of six Grisham/Stillwell tracks, a swampy slow blues with ample opportunity for Stillwell to bend some strings. “You Made Me Cry” is a tough rock-flavored ballad with a strong vocal from Grisham.
Grisham and Stillwell team with Malaco tunesmith A.D. Prestage for the soulful “D.U.I. Love.” “Been Thinkin’” follows suit in the soul vein with chick singers and some tasty keyboards from Patrick Preston, while “Luck’s Got To Change” is a fine slice of southern blues rock. The Stillwell composition “The Moment” is a smooth R&B track, with a crisp guitar solo, and Grisham contributes the old school shuffle “Pie or Cake.”

The final two tracks are “The Blues Can Heal Ya’,” Stillwell’s upbeat tribute to the genre that’s dedicated to B.B. King in the liner notes. The song would have been a good fit for the late King of the Blues with it’s upbeat message and spirit. The closer is “I Need A Woman,” a raw and rocking track that showcases Stillwell’s slide guitar.

Backing musicians include Preston (organ), David Parks (drums, percussion, chains), John Gillespie (bass), and Greg Franzman (percussion). The Beat Daddys always deliver with their blend of blues, rock, and roots, and hoodoo that we doo doesn’t disappoint in that department. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait so long for their next release.

--- Graham Clarke

Dalannah and OwenBeen Around A While (Quest Records) is the debut album from the Canadian blues duo Dalannah and Owen. Dalannah Gail Bowen is a singer/community volunteer/activist of African-Canadian/Cherokee heritage and has sung blues, jazz, and gospel for nearly 50 years. Bass player Owen Owen Owen (Owen Veber) is a jazz and classically trained bassist and performer who has over 40 years of experience playing multiple genres in the Vancouver area and all over the world.

The musical arrangement, Veber’s bass combined with Bowen’s vocals, might seem pretty sparse on paper, but not so much when listening. Veber’s bass lines are so nimble and fluid that you don’t really know anything else is missing. Bowen’s vocals, which encompass blues, soul, gospel, and jazz are incredibly so expressive and heartfelt. The results are positively riveting.

The disc features 11 tracks, five originals penned by Bowen and Veber and six covers. The originals include the autobiographical title track, the funky “That Ain’t It,” the sassy “Already Gone,” “Queen Bee,” and “Heaven’s Right Here,” a jazz-flavored slow blues.

The cover tunes will be familiar to blues fans, but mostly by their titles. Veber and Bowen modify and electrify old blues chestnuts like “Early In The Morning,” “Come On In My Kitchen,” and Walkin’ Blues,” along with a classic Billy Eckstine tune, “Blues, Mother of Sin,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” Bowen’s warm and intimate style makes her interpretations of these songs sound like her own songs.
Blues fans will definitely find a lot to like with Been Around A While. Owen Veber and Dalannah Gail Bowen may be small in number, but they’re mighty big in making music and their debut make for compelling and rewarding listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Lara and the Blues DawgzThe Nashville-based Lara & the Bluz Dawgs boasts a well-seasoned group of players who hail from all corners of the country and Canada. Lead singer Lara Germony has a vocal style that’s ideally suited for the blues, but is also a comfortable fit in the rock, jazz, and country genres. She and her husband, bass player Gregg Germony, co-wrote the 12tracks, with help from various bandmates (Al Rowe – guitar, Dan Nadasdi – keys, Ray Gonzales – drums, Reggie Murray – sax), on their second release, Howlin’ (Lock Alley Music).

The churning boogie track, “Uh Huh,” opens the disc on a high note. “Flat Line” is nice and funky and features Rowe’s stinging leads and Murray’s sax, and “I Wonder” is a slow blues ballad with a smooth and heartfelt vocal from Ms. Germony. The sizzling “Wearin’ Me Out” goes into old-school rock & roll territory, and “T-Dawg Lovin’” showcases Germony’s sultry vocals with great accompaniment on sax from Murray. Germony goes from sultry to sassy with the energetic R&B of “Don’t Mess With My Baby.”

“Love Me Tonight” is a laid-back jazzy slice of blues, “I’m Over It” is a slick shuffle, and “Say Goodbye” is a splendid soulful ballad. The swinging “Love of Mine” is next, followed by the moody “Shadow Groovin’,” a smoky slow blues. The title track closes things out with a Crescent City groove that should get feet to moving.

I really enjoyed Germony’s versatility as a vocalist and the interplay between Rowe, Murray, and keyboardist Nadasdi. Lara & the Bluz Dawgs look like they have a bright future in the business, and Howlin’ will definitely please fans of high energy blues rock.

--- Graham Clarke

Billy the KidThe Pittsburgh-based band Billy The Kid & The Regulators finished third in the 2014 IBC and finished in the Top Five in 2013 in the Best Self-Produced Album category. They’ve already won a couple of blues competitions (2013 Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania and 2007 West Virginia Blues Society), and after you’ve heard their latest self-released CD, I Can’t Change, you’ll be inclined to think that those awards were well-deserved.

Band leader Billy Evanochko is a triple threat….a talented songwriter, soulful vocalist, and powerful guitarist. He’s one of three guitarist in the group with Jon Vallecorsa and slide guitarist James Dougherty. The rhythm section (Arnold Stagger – bass, Brian Edwards – drums, Ublai Bey – keys) are spot-on as well, and there are a bevy of guest musicians who participate as well, including Jason Ricci (harmonica), Damon Fowler (guitar/producer), and Sean Carney (guitar).

I Can’t Change consists of ten tracks, six originals written by Evanochko, Vallecorsa, and/or Dougherty, and four far-ranging cover tunes. The originals pack a punch, beginning with the soulful title track, one of three tracks that feature a punchy horn section. Other standout originals include the greasy “Ain’t Gotta Prove Nothing,” and the ballad “What Are We Fighting For” (nice slide guitar from Dougherty). A couple of the originals, “Story of the Blues” and “That Darn Cat” lean toward the funkier side of the blues, and “Saturday Night” is a straightforward high energy rocker.

The cover tunes are pretty diverse. “Who” is a contemporary 12-bar blues number that rocks pretty hard, Dave McKenzie’s “Slender Man Blues” is a slow blues with some strong guitar from Evanochko, and Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand To See You Go” is a nice vehicle for the band and probably goes over big during their shows. The Robert Johnson classic, “Me and the Devil Blues,” closes out the disc effectively, a stripped down arrangement with Ricci’s harmonica in the mix.

All in all, I Can’t Change is an impressive set of modern blues. With music this good, Billy The Kid & The Regulators don’t need to change……not a single, solitary thing.

--- Graham Clarke

Bo and the BluesdriversBased in Hollywood, currently serving as resident band for the House of Blues Sunset, Bo & the Bluesdrivers have a pretty notable résumé. Lead guitarist/vocalist Bo is a veteran of the Florida blues scene who relocated to L.A. in the early 2000s, and the rhythm section of J.J. Garcia (drums) and Brian “Chewy” James (bass) have collaborated for nearly 20 years, playing in the bands Stone and Judge Jackson, as well as doing soundtrack work with horror movie magnate John Carpenter.

As a way of introducing themselves to blues rock fans, the band recently issued a self-titled EP on GES Music that will give listeners a taste of what the band is about - high-energy blues rock with a nod toward funk, jazz, and soul. The EP consists of five original tracks. Three of these tracks feature Bo’s gravelly road-tested vocals (“Out On The Streets,” “Ass, Gas, or Grass,” and “Walkin’ In The Park”) and muscular guitar work. There are also two strong instrumentals (“Sea Song” and “Chillin’”) that showcase his guitar and the rhythm section’s ESP-like rapport.

This impressive EP will please blues rock fans for sure and offers just enough to make listeners want to hear more. Hopefully, Bo & the Bluesdrivers will comply in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke


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