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October/November 2017

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Order these featured CDs today:


Savoy Brown

Billy Price

Chris Barnes

Nick Schnebelen

John Pagano Band

Eli Cook

Scottie Miller Band

Joshua Jacobson

The Nighthawks

Scott Ellison

John Nemeth

Adrianna Marie

Jimmie Bratcher

Dennis Johnson

Dudley Taft

Andrew Chapman

Dry River

Ten Years After


DownchildThe band known as Downchild hasn't been around forever --- it just seems that way. I've been listening to stuff from this venerable Toronto ensemble since my formative years as a blues fan, going back to when they were known by the longer name of The Downchild Blues Band. Listening to this album takes me back to seeing these cats live in Washington, D.C. in several very memorable shows. While bandleader / guitarist / harmonica player Donnie Walsh is the only member left from those early days, this is still one of the hottest bands on the circuit, as evidenced by their new disc, Something I've Done (Linus Entertainment).

The first number here, the rollicking jump blues "Albany, Albany" is one of the best songs I've heard all year. If I had my way it would be up for multiple awards at the end of the year. No, it's not about the state capital of New York, but rather about a woman that tantalizes and intrigues them. Chuck Jackson provides strong shouting vocals and Michael Fonfara's excellent piano playing reminds me of when the late Jane Vasey was tickling the ivories in the early version of Downchild.

"Mississippi Woman, Mississauga Man" symbolizes the band's connection with the blues from the Delta and their Toronto roots (Mississigua is a city just outside Toronto). Jackson shows off his pipes here and also provides a superb harmonica solo. According to the lyrics, good things happen when a Mississippi woman meets a Mississauga man .... everybody parties, everybody dances. Just when the listener's heart is beating beyond control from that song, the tempo slows down as Fonfara's gospel-ish piano intro leads into the slow, soulful "Take A Piece Of My Heart."

Another heart-pounding number is the red hot blues shuffle "Mailbox Money," with strong guitar work from Walsh. The mid-tempo blues shuffle "She Thinks I Do" is marked by a great piano solo from Fonfara, who consistently excels here on Something I've Done. But then he outdoes himself on the boogie woogie title cut that again has me thinking fondly of when Ms. Vasey kept those 88s straight back in the late '70s. We also get our first dose of Walsh's fine harmonica playing on this number.

The final number on Something I've Done is a harmonica instrumental showing off Walsh's skill on the Mississippi saxophone (or perhaps here we should call it the Mississauga sax). He's accompanied by Fonfara on piano, and it's a simple tune that serves as a nice ending to this excellent album.

Something I've Done is a very good collection of ten songs by a very fine band. Get it. Get it now!

--- Bill Mitchell

Savoy BrownHard to believe that Kim Simmons founded Savoy Brown 50 years ago and is still going at it some 30 albums later with the same level of enthusiasm and chops. With bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm in support on Witchy Feelin' (Ruf Records), this 11-song set is chock full of those chops.

One of the finest of the blues and blues rock guitarists to come out of England, Simmons was highly inspired by the Chicago blues scene of the late '60s. Although he has moved on he has not moved away from the blues. There is more blues rock, perhaps, but blues remains at the core. From the burning opener, "Why Did You Hoodoo Me?" it is clear that this is a rocker. Guitar licks shoot sparks that get the listener’s attention right quick.

The following cut, "Livin’ On The Bayou," he takes a new direction. ".... In the back woods of town/close to Baton Rouge/there’s a creole woman sings the blues ...." The guitar is super slinky, fitting the mood he looks to convey. The changes continue and the songs become more impressive. "I Can’t Stop the Blues" is a funky blues number with strong bass and drums backing the guitar work. The title cut is a superb guitar blues on which he sings, "I got a witchy feeling/something bad is coming down."

The shuffle on "Vintage Man" is something a lot of us "older" folks can get next to. " .... I play a beat up guitar made in ’55…that’s the way I am/I’m a vintage man ...." The slide work on "Standing In The Doorway" is exceptional and the wah wah on "Thunder, Lightnin’ and Rain" is exquisite. The closing "Close To Midnight" showcases his guitar on an exquisite instrumental that stands with his best work.

50 years? Hell yes!

--- Mark E. Gallo

Billy PriceBilly Price has been wowing blues and soul fans for many years, initially as lead vocalist for Roy Buchanan in the early ’70s. Since the late ’70s, he’s led his own bands in various incarnations, including the current Billy Price Band. His collaboration with the late Otis Clay, This Time For Real, netted the duo a much-deserved 2016 Blues Music Award for Best Soul Album.

Most recently, Price released Alive And Strange (Nola Blue/VizzTone), a powerful set recorded live at Club Café in the singer’s hometown of Pittsburgh, featuring the Billy Price Band (Steve Delach – guitar, David Ray Dodd – drums, Tom Valentine – bass, backing vocals, Jim Britton – keyboards, backing vocals, Eric DeFade – tenor sax) along with guest artists Joe Herndon – trumpet, Matt Ferrero – tenor/baritone saxes, David Avery and DeWayne Chandler – backing vocals, Jason Hollar – bass, and Bob Matchett – trombone.

Price takes listeners through a ten-song set that mixes originals and covers of classic and shoulda-been-classic tunes in the blues and soul vein. Carl Sims’ "It Ain’t A Juke Joint Without The Blues" kicks off the set, and the band really settles in nicely for an extended run behind Price’s vocal. Next up is the perpetually underrated William Bell’s obscure gem "Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown," followed by a smoking read on the Bobby Bland standard (penned by Oscar Perry) "This Time I’m Gone For Good," where listeners get a great opportunity to experience Price at his best.

There’s also a fine take on Mighty Mike Schermer’s "One More Day," along with Percy Mayfield’s ballad "Nothing Stays The Same Forever," which includes a lung-blasting solo from tenor sax man DeFade. Price also ventures into James Brown territory with "Never Get Enough," with satisfying results from singer and band, and gives a funky reading of George Torrence’s "Lickin’ Stick."

The band also shines on Magic Sam’s "What Have I Done Wrong" (particularly guitarist Delach), and finds the groove on "R.M. Blues." As a bonus cut, there’s a studio cut, "Makin’ Plans," a mellow after-hours ballad penned by Price and Michael Karr that closes the disc on a high note with a fine vocal from Price and excellent support from the band.

Alive And Strange provides a great look at one of the premier soul men (and bands) currently practicing in a live performance in front of an enthusiastic hometown audience. If you’re not familiar with Billy Price’s work, this is a great place to get started.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris BarnesHokum is a particular type of blues music, hugely popular in the Prohibition era of the late 1920s and early 1930s, that were fairly explicit in their references to sexual practices, prostitution, homosexuality, alcoholic consumption, among other things. Among the most renowned sources of this brand of blues were Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, and Big Bill Broonzy, whose Hokum recordings sold hundreds of thousands of copies during that era.

Chris "Bad News" Barnes is a musician/satirist who has written and performed on Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, the Carol Burnett Show, and many other shows. He got his start in the late ’70s improvising original blues songs based on audience suggestions, usually while opening for various blues legends. During this time, he became known as the King of Hokum.

Barnes’ second release, Hokum Blues (VizzTone), pays tribute to the three above-mentioned pioneers of the movement, dubbed the Hokum Boys. Enlisting a stellar set of musicians, harmonica master Steve Guyger, guitarist Jimmy Vivino, bassist Will Lee, drummer Shawn Pelton, and pianist Bette Sussman, Barnes covers 14 classic tracks from the Hokum era, some of which will be familiar to blues fans.

Tampa Red’s catalog is mined pretty thoroughly on this set, and deservedly so. "It Hurts Me Too," "It’s Tight Like That," "Let Me Play With Your Poodle," and "Things About Coming My Way" are blues standards. The first and last song play it pretty straight, while the middle pair are excellent examples of the Hokum genre. Tunes like "You Can’t Get Enough of That Stuff," "I’m Gonna Get High," and "Gin Mill Blues" take you back to the Prohibition era, while "Somebody Been Using That Thing," "Keep Your Mind On It," "Let Me Pat That Thing," the title track, and "Caught Him Doing It," highlight the promiscuity of the era.

Barnes does a wonderful job resurrecting this classic music, occasionally with a reference to modern times thrown into the mix. His somewhat exaggerated vocal delivery is ideal for the material, reverential and entertaining at the same time. The band, with assistance on assorted tracks from Steve Bernstein (trumpet), Charlie Pillow (saxophone/clarinet), Clark Gayton (trombone), and backing vocals from Dennis Collins, Sharon Collins, Lee and Vivino, provides excellent support that reflects both the traditional and modern style of blues.

Hokum Blues is a fun re-creation of a classic blues era that’s rarely heard from today.

--- Graham Clarke

Nick SchnebelenThe Kansas City band Trampled Under Foot earned a lot of recognition with their win in the 2008 I.B.C. and subsequent success with a couple of best-selling albums and a pair of BMA trophies (for Band of the Year and Album of the Year in 2014). The brother and sister team remained active until 2015, when they decided to pursue their own musical directions (though they still occasionally perform together). TUF guitarist Nick Schnebelen took home the Albert King Award for Best Guitarist at the 2008 I.B.C. and now leads his own band.

For his latest release, Live In Kansas City (VizzTone), Schnebelen and his band mates (Cliff Moore – bass, Adam Hagerman – drums) return to the scene of their previous album, Knuckleheads Saloon in K.C. The date, recorded on December 3, 2016, captures the trio ripping through an exhilarating ten-song set in front of a receptive home audience that features several songs from the TUF songbook, but also a couple of Schnebelen originals and a few covers. Schnebelen also enlists producer Tony Braunagel, who also was behind the controls of TUF’s last two releases.

The seething opener, "Fool," kicks off the set in fine fashion, with Schenbelen expressing anguish, despair, and menace through his guitar and his vocals. The reflective "Pain In My Mind" settles things down a bit, as he laments a love that’s lost. The next song is the rarely heard "Herbert Harper’s Free Press News," a track from Muddy Waters’ much-maligned Electric Mud album from the late ’60s. Schnebelen takes an extended guitar solo on this one and Moore and Hageman add a funky edge to this seldom-heard blast from the past.

The mid-set songs will be familiar to TUF fans:"You Call That Love," a fine traditional slow blues showcasing some fine guitar work from Schnebelen, the Diddley-esque "Bad Woman Blues," a blistering cover of Johnny Winter’s "Mean Town Blues," and the driving boogie "Jonny Cheat." The Schnebelen original "Bad Disposition" also appeared on Schnebelen’s first live set and certainly deserved to reappear on this set. The final two tracks, Chris Schulz’s "Schoolnight" and the instrumental "Conformity Blues," give Schnebelen the opportunity to strut his stuff in a jazzy blues setting.

Live In Kansas City is one of the more impressive live blues albums I’ve heard this year. Nick Schnebelen shows some mighty fine skills on this entertaining and adventurous set on guitar and behind the mic.

--- Graham Clarke

John Pagano BandFormerly known as JP Blues, the John Pagano Band has released their first album, One More Round (Midnight Circus Records), under their new name. Though the band has a different moniker, they still retain the rock-solid blues-rock attack and superlative original material as under their previous name. Based in Georgia, the band consists of Pagano (guitar, vocals), Shiloh Bloodworth (drums), and Tony Hossri (bass). Pagano wrote 10 of the 11 tunes.

The opener, "Bottoms Up," is a great pace-setter with its restless rhythms, catchy lyrics, and Pagano’s slide guitar and vocal. The slinky, soulful "Lost In You" mixes funk and rock effectively, while "Trouble On Heels" visits a familiar blues theme, but with a fuzz-drenched Hill Country twist. "Ain’t Mine" flirts with a reggae rhythm, "Rise Up" is a rocking call for self-improvement, and "Ain’t Gonna Lose You" is a pop-ish blues-rocker that would find its way to the radio if there was any justice in the world at all.

The band’s reworking of Ice-T’s "99 Problems," a fan favorite of their live shows, is excellent, with crunching guitar, clever lyrics, and steady beat. The pace is finally slowed for "On My Mind," a lovely heartfelt ballad. It’s only a brief respite, because the band launches into the edgy "Make You Shout," the raucous rocking "Bad Habit," and the southern rock-flavored "Catch That Train."

The band complements Pagano’s guitar work and singing well. Pagano’s tunes are well-crafted and distinctive. One More Round is the band’s best and most memorable work to date and is a must-have for fans of blues-rock done well.

--- Graham Clarke

Eli CookVirginia-born singer/songwriter/guitarist Eli Cook has been around for awhile now. He’s played professionally since his mid-teens, opening for B.B. King at age 18. High Dollar Gospel (C.R.8 Records) is his seventh release, and listening it will surely make you wonder why you haven’t heard of him before now. As a youngster, he grew up listening to the radio and has been influenced by artists as varied as Chet Atkins and Doc Watson to Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine. But his heart is in the blues, as can be heard in this wonderful collection of tunes, eight originals by Cook and covers of songs from Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and Roosevelt Sykes.

The opener, "Trouble Maker," starts slowly, but builds to a rocking slide-driven crescendo quickly, "The Devil Finds Work" is a irresistible country-blues toe-tapper, and "Mixing My Medicine" is a haunting atmospheric lament of heartbreak and despair. The next tune, Pray For Rain," is a definite change of pace, a disheveled electric blues with screaming guitars and a driving beat from drummer Nathan Brown. Cook’s slow and somber take on Waters’ "Can’t Lose What You Never Had" is remarkable, his vocal conveying unbridled pain and sorrow.

The anthemic "King Of The Mountain" is a showcase for Cook’s dynamic slide guitar playing and vocals, and the tender ballad "Mother’s Prayer" offers minimal accompaniment and a mournful vocal from Cook, whose take on Sykes’ "44 Blues" is in the same spare format, a change from the usual somewhat boisterous interpretations of this blues classic. "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight" is more understated than Dylan’s original version, but no less effective, and the two closing songs, the lively "Month Of Sundays" and the optimistic "If Not For You," are both Cook originals.

Cook, who plays acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, banjo, lap steel, percussion, and electric bass, gets excellent support from Peter Spaar (upright bass), Nathan Brown (drums), and Zach Samel (percussion, drum loops, etc.). Blues fans will savor every note of High Dollar Gospel, an album that will appeal to fans of traditional and modern blues alike.

--- Graham Clarke

Scottie MillerSinger/songwriter/pianist Scottie Miller has been around long enough to be a member of the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame. He toured with Bo Diddley before founding the Scottie Miller Band in 2000. Stay Above Water is his tenth album and it combines blues, rock, funk, soul, Americana, and a little bit of jazz. The band roster includes Miller (lead vocals, piano, organ, mandolin), Mark O’Day (drums, percussion), Patrick Allen (guitar, vocals), and Dik Shopteau (bass, vocals), with a guest appearance from Ruthie Foster, with whom Miller as served as touring keyboardist since 2008, and horns by Larry McCabe (trombone), David Eiland (tenor sax), Scott Snyder (trumpet), and John Croarkin (baritone sax).

Miller wrote all 12 tracks, including the opener, "Burned All My Bridges," a blues-rock shuffle. Foster contributes vocals on the soulful, horn-driven "Keep This Thing Going," while the energetic title track has a country feel, thanks to Miller’s mandolin. The lovely ballad "Same Page" and "Come Along" venture into Americana territory with satisfying results, and "Falter," "Guardian Angel," and the closer "Goodbye" are a trio of delicate ballads that really show Miller’s vocal range.

There’s a definite Gulf Coast quality to several of the tracks. "It Better Groove" has a nice, smooth Crescent City vibe, and "Circles" will remind listeners of Meters-era New Orleans with Miller’s keyboards and funky rhythms, and the Dr. John-styled "It’s What You Do" keeps up the pace. The groovy "Rippin’ And Runnin’" is decidedly retro with the ’60s-flavored keyboards.

Miller is a talented vocalist with a catchy songwriting style. His keyboard work is first rate and so is the rest of the band. Stay Above Water is a solid set of southern-influenced music that takes in blues, soul, R&B, and Americana.

--- Graham Clarke

Josh JacobsonJoshua Jacobson’s latest release, Good Little Thing (Fatmouth Records), is a cool update of the legendary Piedmont style of blues. The young Georgia guitarist doesn’t so much update the musical style as he does put it to a modern soundtrack with a sharp set of original tunes that touch on very current themes and a well-selected set of Piedmont classics from days gone by. Produced by Scott Cable, the 13-song set also features guest appearances from harmonica ace Mookie Brill and guitarists Damon Fowler and the legendary Dickey Betts.

Seven of the 13 tracks are Jacobson originals and wisely, he incorporates modern flourishes into his stories. So though the music is old school, you’ll find yourself smiling at the lyrical content of the rollicking opener, "Baby’s Mama Really Don’t Care," the ultra-clingy "Codependent Katie," the menacing protagonist in "Pistol Packing Papa" (featuring Betts on electric guitar), and the riotous "Twerkin’ Lil’ Mama and "Bipolar Mama," neither of which require much description. You could possibly find yourself tapping your foot with the cool ballad "Long Lonesome Day" or the impressive "Mind Blowin’ Blues."

Jacobson also covers several legendary artists, most of which will be familiar to blues fans (especially those who dig the Piedmont variety). Curley Weaver’s "Ticket Agent" gets a pretty faithful reading, with Allan Jolley adding banjo to Jacobson’s 12-string. You have to have a Tampa Red song included on this type of album, and Red’s "It’s A Good Little Thing," is a fun choice, as is Blind Willie McTell’s swinging "Baby It Must Be Love."

Willie Cobbs’ standard "You Don’t Love Me" finds Jacobson leaning toward the Mississippi Delta a bit with Brill and Fowler adding accompaniment on harmonica and slide guitar respectively, and he ventures into gospel territory with an upbeat version of Georgia Tom Dorsey’s "Hide Me In Thy Bosom" and the traditional "Cross The River of Jordan," which closes the disc and features Jacobson on 12-string and slide.

Jacobson’s guitar skills are the real deal and he has a fine vocal style that fits the Piedmont style like a glove. Combine those qualities with his clever original songwriting and his taste in cover material and you have an excellent debut recording that will leave listeners wanting to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

NighthawksIf you’ve been listening to the blues for awhile, there’s a better-than-average chance that you have crossed paths with The Nighthawks, either via one of their recordings or maybe in-person. The band (Mark Wenner – harmonica/vocals, Paul Bell – guitar/vocals, Johnny Castle – bass/vocals, Mark Stutso – drums/vocals) has been making mighty music for nearly five decades and show absolutely no sign, thankfully, of shutting down operations anytime soon.

Currently enjoying favorable reviews and acclaim for The Nighthawks – On the Blue Highway, the award-winning documentary that traces the band’s history, The Nighthawks also recently issued their latest CD, All You Gotta Do (EllerSoul Records), a typically fantastic and diverse set of roots, blues, and rhythm. The disc includes a dozen tracks, four written by the band and the remainder covering blues, rock, R&B, and soul, all delivered in the inimitable Nighthawks style.

The album lifts off with a rousing harmonica-driven cover of Jerry Reed’s title track (originally done by Brenda Lee) that should get booties shaking in a hurry, and is followed by Larry Campbell’s "When I Go Away" (first performed by Levon Helm), an emotional gospel-fueled exposé with lead vocals from Stutso and some nice harmonizing from the rest of the band. Next is the requisite Muddy Waters cover, "Baby I Want To Be Loved," and this one is a good one.

The band also offers an ominous take on Randy Newman’s "Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield" and a swampy version of Jesse Winchester’s "Isn’t That So," which shows their continued expansion beyond their original blues influences. Of course, the blues always figures prominently with The Nighthawks as heard by their Waters cover, Sonny Boy II’s "Ninety Nine," and a wonderfully funky, mostly instrumental capture of R.L. Burnside’s Hill Country rouser "Snake Drive," before closing with the Standells’ rocker, "Dirty Water."

The Nighthawks also feature four originals this time around. Castle’s "Another Day" is a rocking protest song regarding political corruption and animosity, while Stutso’s amusing "VooDoo Doll" will bring a smile to listeners’ faces, as will Wenner’s "Blues For Brother John," a fun reworking of the old nursery rhyme "Frere Jacques." While those are all good, solid efforts, the standout track is "Three Times Your Fool," penned by Stutso and Norman Nardini, a gripping soul ballad that sounds like it came right out of Muscle Shoals, complete with a masterful vocal turn from Stutso.

All You Gotta Do is another superlative effort from The Nighthawks, who as always, are doing what they do best --- mixing blues, R&B, and soul into a musical gumbo that’s sure to satisfy all who want a taste.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott EllisonTulsa-based guitarist Scott Ellison enlisted a formidable supporting cast for his latest release, Good Morning Midnight (Red Parlor Records), which includes over 20 musicians, plus producer Walt Richmond, who’s previously worked with Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale, and Bonnie Raitt. Richmond also served as co-writer with Ellison on several of the 12 original tunes featured on the new disc, which also includes a cover tune from the late Tulsa guitarist Scott Pryor, a friend and associate of Ellison’s who was killed in a motorcycle crash in 2016.

On the opener, "Sanctified," Ellison gives the mic to singer Chris Campbell (who gets an able assist from background vocalist Marcy Levy, another longtime Clapton collaborator), allowing himself to stretch out on guitar. Ellison takes over vocals on the rocking shuffle "No Man’s Land," and shows his versatility as he eases into the soulful "Gone For Good," the reggae-based "Hope And Faith," "Another Day In Paradise," and the smoky blues ballad "You Made A Mess Out Of Me."

The rugged downhome title track is a keeper, too, as are the rockers "Tangled" and "Big City." "Mysterious" has a bit of a funky New Orleans vibe to it, and "When You Loves Me Like This" is a old school blues shuffle that serves as a fine closing tune. Ellison also turns in a fine jazzy instrumental, "Wheelhouse," and the aforementioned Scott Pryor cover, the ominous "Last Breath."

Ellison is backed by a large number of musicians, all of whom provide outstanding support on this dynamic and far-reaching set. A fine singer, excellent songwriter, and masterful guitarist, Scott Ellison deserves to be heard, and Good Morning Midnight is a great place to get started.

--- Graham Clarke

John NemethJohn Németh relocated to Memphis a few years ago, and the move seems to have paid dividends for both the artist and the city. Németh has earned two BMA’s since the move, one for Soul Blues Artist of the Year in 2014 and one for Soul Blues Album of the Year (2014’s Memphis Grease) and in addition to his own solo career, he performs regularly with several Bluff City bands, including the Bo-Keys and the recently formed Love Light Orchestra, which consists of many of the city’s artists who have banded together in an effort to recapture the blues and R&B sounds that were so prevalent in Memphis prior to the Stax and Hi Records days.

Nemeth’s latest release, Feelin’ Freaky (Memphis Grease Records), keeps that Memphis vibe intact with contributions from his band, the Blue Dreamers (guitarist Johnny Rhodes, drummer Danny Banks, and bassist/guitarist Matthew Wilson) plus Bo-Key Marc Franklin (trumpet, flugelhorn), and the legendary Charles Hodges on organ. North Mississippi All-star Luther Dickinson serves as producer, and his no-frills approach, along with a fine set of songs and performances, make this Németh’s best release to date.

Feelin’ Freaky has a decidedly modern feel to it, which was Németh’s intent, and successfully mixes the traditional Memphis groove with more current sounds of pop, rock, R&B, and even a little bit of hip hop. It doesn’t hurt that Nemeth is one of the best songwriters around, and the 11 songs featured rank among his best efforts. There are plenty of great party songs included, such as the rocking title track, the funky and playful "You Really Do Want That Woman," "I’m Funkin’ Out," and the self-explanatory "Get Offa That Butt."

The cover picture of a Kool Aid Pickle is a take-off of the classic Velvet Underground album cover by Andy Warhol, but it’s also the subject of an amusing modern-day blues rocker about a love gone sour. Németh also touches on a few more serious matters as well, such as gun violence ("Under The Gun"), marijuana ("S.T.O.N.E.D."), death (the somber closer "Long Black Cadillac"), but there are several tunes of vintage soul and blues included that will please more traditionally inclined fans as well ("Rainy Day" and "My Sweet Love" for soul fans, and the excellent "Gave Up On You" for the blues crowd).

Németh’s vocals are top notch, as always, and the musical backing and production are first rate. Feelin’ Freaky should be appearing on many blues fans’ end-of-year Top Ten list for 201. More than likely on this blues fan’s list as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Adrianna MarieIf you’re into sophisticated and swinging blues and jazz, Kingdom of Swing (VizzTone), the latest release from sultry chanteuse Adrianna Marie and her Roomful of All-Stars is what you’ve been looking for. Adrianna Marie and her "Dream Team" band: L.A. Jones – guitar/vocals, Al Copley – piano, Kedar Roy – bass, and Brian Fahey – drums, with guest guitarist Junior Watson, harmonica wizard Bob Corritore, and the Roomful Horns (Doug James – baritone sax, Rich Lataille – alto/tenor saxes, Doug Woolverton – trumpet, Mark Earley – tenor sax, and Carl Querfurth – trombone) all shine brightly on these fourteen selections under the direction of producer Duke Robillard.

Of the 14 tracks, six are Adrianna Marie originals, including the title track that kicks off the disc and sets the stage for what’s to follow, the rousing "Sidecar Mama," the smoldering ballad "3 AM Blues," "Gimme a Roomful," a swinging tribute to producer Robillard and the band he founded (with guitar from the Duke), the jumping "Memphis Boogie," and "Baby I Got You," a sweet mid-tempo ballad.

The covers include Johnny Otis’ "Better Beware," a silky smooth take on Duke Ellington’s "Mood Indigo," a sweaty reading of Helen Humes’ "Drive Me Daddy" (featuring Corritore on harmonica), B.B. King’s "Jump With You Baby" (with Watson joining Jones on guitar), Billie Holiday’s classic "The Blues Are Brewin’," Joe Liggins’ "One Sweet Letter," and a fun romp (with vocals from Adrianna Marie and Jones) through T-Bone Walker’s "T-Bone Boogie."

The band gets ample opportunity for solos and instrumentals throughout and they move smoothly between blues, swing, and jazz. Adrianna Marie grew up listening to this music and she leaves nothing on the table with her performance. Her six original tunes fit seamlessly with the standards. Her husband. Mr. Jones. provides some stellar fretwork throughout with several choice solos before getting the spotlight to himself on the closing tune, a magnificent cover of the Pee Wee Clayton standard "Blues After Hours."

Adrianna Marie and her Roomful of All-Stars send listeners back to the glory days of swinging blues, jazz, and R&B with Kingdom of Swing. For any music fans that enjoy this style of music, this glorious set will be an essential addition to their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Jimmie BratcherThis is Blues Country (Ain’t Skeert Tunes) finds Kansas City native Jimmie Bratcher returning to his musical roots. As a young guitarist, he was a fan of both Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, with copies of Axis Bold As Long and At Folsom Prison both receiving regular play at the Bratcher household. For Bratcher, it was a no-brainer to convert a set of his favorite country music tunes to the blues-rock format, so he’s collected ten classics associated with the likes of Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Hank Snow.

There are no rote reconstructions here, either. Bratcher shows with these covers that the line between blues and country is a thin one, indeed. Hank Williams’ "Honky Tonk Blues" is played as a straight-ahead rocker more in a manner that Williams’ son, Hank Jr., would be more than comfortable doing himself. The easygoing "You Are My Sunshine" is recreated in a tense, but lively jazz mode, with Amanda Fish providing tough backing vocals. Marty Robbins’ "Singing The Blues" is presented as a rocking Texas-styled shuffle, while Hank Snow’s "I Don’t Hurt Anymore" is re-crafted as a splendid slow blues.

Bratcher gives Buck Owens’ "Under Your Spell Again," a slick pop-soul sheen, and transforms Jim Reeves’ "Am I That Easy To Forget" into a deeply soulful tune in the Stax Records tradition. Robbins’ "Don’t Worry About Me" gets a lively shuffle treatment, and Williams’ "My Sweet Love Ain’t Around" leans toward atmospheric southern rock with a terrific guitar run from Bratcher. Merle Haggard’s country standard "Today I Started Loving You Again" has been covered by blues artists previously, notably Bobby "Blue" Bland, but Bratcher gives it a true blue presentation, adding resonator guitar to the mix. The final track, Don Gipson’s "I Can’t Stop Loving You," is driven by a tasty second-line rhythm.

Most music fans are aware that there’s little difference between country music and blues as far as lyrical content goes. Most of the difference is in delivery and instrumentation. The great thing about Bratcher’s efforts on This is Blues Country is that he didn’t merely cover these classic tunes. He transforms them into something fresh and unique that should please fans of both genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Dudley TaftBlues-rocker Dudley Taft’s fifth studio release, Summer Rain (American Blues Artists Group), is dedicated to America’s men and women in the armed forces who sacrifice their time and lives to defend their country and to support their families. That being said, fans of Taft’s rock-edged blues will find that his latest release largely explores the same territory as his previous efforts. Returning to assist Taft in this powerhouse effort are keyboardist Reese Wynans, drummers Jason Patterson and Mike Tapogna, bassists John Kessler and newcomer Kasey Williams, and backing vocalist Rachel Williams.

The opening track, "Flying On Love," is a monster and sets the bar really high for the rest of the disc, with Taft really tearing it up on guitar. "Dark Blue Star" leans heavier toward the rock side of blues-rock and that’s perfectly fine, while "Edge of Insane" has a bit of Texas roadhouse flair. The title track has a pop feel with a catchy refrain and guitar riffs (and features Taft’s daughter Charmae on backing vocals), and "Pistols at Ten Paces" is a moody rocker with a political undertone.

The ominous "Live or Die" is a ballad with a jagged edge, thanks to the rugged guitar work. The mid-tempo "Don’t Let It Fade" rocks hard and "Moonbeam" is a lovely tune that mixes electric and acoustic guitars effectively. "Come With Me" is another hard-charging rocker, and the disc closes with a pair of lovely gently rocking ballads, "I Lost My Way" and "Find My Way Back Home."

Summer Rain is another winner from Dudley Taft, and a set that should find its way into the collections of all fans of blues-rock done well.

--- Graham Clarke

Dennis JohnsonBay Area-based slide guitar wizard Dennis Johnson’s latest release, Rhythmland (Root Tone Records), features Johnson with his band, The Mississippi Ramblers (Tim Metz – drums, Jonathan Stoyanoff – bass, Craig Long – keyboards/backing vocals). On his previous releases, Johnson adds a few new ingredients to the musical mix and on this new release, he expands his blues vision to include traces of Americana, rock, Latin, folk, country, and gospel stylings. He also composed nine of the ten songs on Rhythmland.

The album kicks off with the lone cover, Son House’s "Walkin’ Blues," only Johnson takes his version at such a breakneck pace, it can just about qualify as an original itself. The spunky "Timbale" is the first single off the disc, and it adopts a Latin rhumba beat while Johnson’s slide guitar deftly works its way through. "Faith" and "That Way No More" lean toward gospel, the former in a soulful direction and the latter with more of a country feel. Those songs bookend the Crescent City-styled shuffle "Fillmore Street," which showcases Long’s dexterous piano-playing with Johnson’s slide.

The easygoing "Valley of Love" is a keeper with some smooth slidework interspersed with Johnson’s weathered vocal, while "High Heeled Shoes" is a fun-filled romp. The acoustic ballad "My Love Is Here For You" is a playful mix of old school pop and jazz, and the ebullient "Southbound Train" pays tribute to the blues, with Johnson’s imitation of the train’s whistle via the slide a real highlight. The album closer is the rocker "Revolution," calling for all to unite to change the world for the better.

Dennis Johnson has improved with each consecutive release, expanding his musical palette by adding influences from other genres, while also improving vocally and with his guitar work. Rhythmland is his best, most accessible release to date, and should be on any slide guitar fan’s "Must Buy" list.

--- Graham Clarke

Andrew ChapmanAndrew Chapman become involved in the music business in the late ’60s, after meeting drummer Tony Braunagel in a Houston nightclub while watching Johnny and Edgar Winter perform. Braunagel was a member of the band Buttermilk Bottom and Chapman became their manager and helped them release a single on Polydor Records in 1970. Later, Chapman and bassist Terry Wilson formed The Bloontz All Stars, which later included Braunagel as a member. That band released an album and subsequently toured with Johnny Nash of "I Can See Clearly Now" fame.

Eventually, Chapman left the music industry, disgruntled with the business end, and began a successful business career though he still occasionally performed with friends in the studio. Recently, he looked up his former Bloontz All Star bandmate Wilson, now a successful producer and engineer, and recorded an album in L.A., London, Houston, Nashville, and Mobile. They sent the tracks to keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, who liked what he heard and enlisted Braunagel to add drums. The result is Chapman’s "debut," the appropriately-titled Well, It’s About Time! (Upisland Records).

Chapman has a warm vocal style that fits well in a soulful mode or cranking out Texas/Gulf Coast-styled roadhouse rock and R&B. He ventures into Louisiana territory with the funky opener, "That’s The Kind of Day I Had Today," and makes one of several journeys to late ’60s/early ’70s-era rock and pop with a lively take of Stephen Bruton’s "Face of Love," his own "Harley Hotstuff," "The Fit & The Feel," "Will You Recognize Me," "Plane Ride From Paris," and the closer "Butterfly," where his vocals take on a warm sensitivity.

He also stands out on tracks like the driving blues "Bag of Bones," the funky rocker "She Don’t Mess With My Buzz," the catchy "Still Got The Message," the tough Delbertesque "That Takes Some Balls," and the countrified "You’ve Got A Lover," which also includes backing vocals from Teresa James and lap steel guitar from James Pennebaker. There’s also a wonderful cover of the Little Willie John classic, "Talk To Me," which had to be a personal favorite for Chapman, given his passionate reading.

Lending a hand on this fine release are Wilson, who plays bass, guitar, and keyboards (in addtion to co-producing with Chapman), his wife Teresa James on backing vocals and keyboards, Braunagel on drumps, plus Bundrick and Jeff Paris (keys), Pennebaker (lap steel), Billy Watts (guitar), Willie Ornelas and Jim Christie (drums), and Shake Russell (backing vocals/composer).

Well, It’s About Time has a warm, comfortable feel that will certainly appeal to blues, roots, and old school rock and pop fans. The versatility of the songs and performances are first-rate and raise hope that Chapman will return to the studio in a more timely manner next time.

--- Graham Clarke

Dry RiverThe Southern California band Dry River started out as an acoustic duo (Dave Forrest – harmonica, Oliver Althoen – guitar/vocals) playing vintage blues from Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Slim Harpo, and Robert Johnson, as well as modern tunes from Gary Primich, Tom Waits, ZZ Top, and Randy Newman. Eventually, they released their debut, Lost In The World, a set of original tunes recorded live into a single mic.

For the group’s sophomore effort, Prayin’ for the Rain, the duo has expanded to a quartet, adding Joel Helin (bass) and Ruben Ordiano (drums). The disc consists of 14 originals, mostly written by Althoen (who also produced), and is split between electric and acoustic numbers, which address life, death, desperation, and redemption in the finest blues tradition. Althoen has a warm and personable writing and singing style and the mix between plugged and unplugged works really well.

The opener is "Lift This Stone," a spare acoustic blues that showcases Althoen’s spirited vocal and Forrest’s harmonica. "Dry River Blues" and "Lost In The World" feature the whole quartet. The former is an upbeat rocker and the latter is more midtempo, but Althoen’s vocal is edgier. The acoustic country blues "Breakfast" is an entertaining number as Althoen paints a vivid picture of a new love, while "Divided For Love" is a crisp blues rocker, and the acoustic standout "Hildegard" is a memorable venture into folk territory.

The powerful "Death Comes Knockin’" is a slow-building old school electric blues with a superlative vocal from Althoen, and "Free Man" wanders between folk and country. Still in a bit of a country vein, the rocking "Lovesick Blues" picks up the pace before the group tears into another splendid slow blues, the emotional "Lay Down and Die." Forrest’s contributes the moody instrumental "Makin’ Biscuits," before the album closes with a flourish with the upbeat "Shine Your Light On Me," the rowdy blues "Tryin’," and the meditative closer "Who Am I."

Expanding their sound seems to have paid dividends for Dry River, enabling them to move seamlessly from acoustic to electric blues and roots music. They are equally adept in both, so Prayin’ for the Rain should be rewarding listening for fans of both styles.

--- Graham Clarke

Ten Years AfterThe Ten Years After Collection is a significant piece of blues and rock music history because it charts the meteoric rise to supergroup status between 1967 and 1974 of a virtually unknown sixties British band from Nottingham. Indeed, by 1969 Ten Years After had become a global phenomenon and when they split up their legacy continued due to brilliant song writing, mesmerising live performances and outstanding, creative musicianship. All of this is encapsulated for posterity thanks to expert re-mastering from the original 1/4" production master tapes alongside record producer Chris Kimsey’s superb mixing of the bonus disc comprising five Alvin Lee previously unreleased compositions. As a result, on this 50th anniversary limited edition 10-CD box set, every track sounds as if it was recorded yesterday.

In many respects the first, eponymous album is the best because its freshness and authenticity reflect the British blues-rock explosion of that era. What stands out on Ten Years After is the emergence of founding member Alvin Lee as an all-around musical genius. His vocal range is immense through songs of various genres whilst his trademark guitar tricks are all there at this early stage. Alvin plays superb harp on "Love Until I Die" and his carefully crafted lyrics are evident on tracks like "Feel It For Me." However, it is the influence of Lee’s father Sam who loved American blues and introduced his son personally to Big Bill Broonzy which is manifest on "Spoonful" and "Help Me."

By the time Undead was released, the band was touring regularly in America and needed a follow-up album, hence this live recording. This combination of blues and jazz jams culminating in what was to become the band’s national anthem, "I’m Going Home ," cementing Lee’s reputation as the fastest guitarist in the west with fleet-fingered fretwork of a velocity rarely witnessed previously. Stonedhenge was the second studio album and much more experimental and psychedelic, representing the trends in progressive contemporary rock whilst also being innovative. "Going To Try" sets this scene with various effects added to improvisations such as "No Title" and the finale "Speed Kills," the ultimate train song.

It was Ssssh, released in August 1969, that confirmed the British quartet’s definitive blues-rock direction epitomised by the extended jam on Sonny Boy’s "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and the classic blues finale of Hopkins’ "I Woke Up This Morning." The same month saw Ten Years After performing the now legendary set at the Woodstock Festival. Lee’s scintillating guitar solo on "I’m Going Home" was given high profile in subsequent soundtrack and film recordings, thus securing his place in music history as well as boosting album sales. By now, the band was already promoting the next album, Cricklewood Green. combining blues-rock and clever sound effects, "50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain" and the number four chart success "Love Like a Man" are classics of what had become a distinctive TYA genre thanks to Alvin’s lyrical prowess and unique guitar licks and riffs.

Watt is a powerful mixture of blues, rock and roll and jazz influences which showcases Alvin’s incredible vocal range. The opening tracks, ‘’I’m Coming On" and "My Baby Left Me" sets the scene for a more laid back approach which many fans appreciated. A Space In Time reflects the popularity of the hit single "I’d Love To Change The World," and has a more acoustic guitar feel relative to previous albums alongside some axe grinding jamming.

Fans also welcomed the back to basics of Rock & Roll Music To The World with its classic title track plus "Choo Choo Mama" and "Standing At The Station" from a tight and powerful band. Positive Vibrations from 1974 will be remembered most as the final album before the band split up (although a re-formed Ten Years After recorded About Time in 1989.) If vibrations were negative given that Alvin was already pursuing other projects, then it did not show and there are strong compositions here, notably "Nowhere To Run."

The Cap Ferrat Sessions comprises the unique Alvin Lee songs which did not make the Rock & Roll Music To The World album due to vinyl time limitations. The titles are, "Look At Yourself," "There’s Somebody Calling Me", "Holy Shit", "There’s A Feeling" and "Running Around". Those last two did appear on Alvin Lee’s In Flight album but the grooves are different enough to give them special appeal here. Evi Lee discovered her late husband’s recordings which Kimsey set about mixing with astonishing results.

Most TYA fanatics will already have the nine albums in the box set but they won’t have the most prized possession. Are these 30 minutes of new music worth the price of the whole set? You bet they are! The drumming of Ric Lee is so clear and precise, enhanced by the acoustics of the south of France recording location, and he plays technically complex rhythms with aplomb. The interplay between Leo Lyons and Alvin reaches new levels and the extended solos from Alvin and Chick Churchill flow with an ease and beauty rarely surpassed on the other albums. Alvin is in fine form both vocally and on harmonica, his guitar riffs as distinctive and compulsive as his most acclaimed works. This is half an hour of some of the best music from the band’s era.

Alvin Lee was the charismatic talisman of Ten Years After whose solo career took him to another stratosphere until his untimely death in 2013. The rest of the band, retaining its name, toured without him from the start of the new millennium. Now comprising only two original members, Ten Years After have become something of a pastiche, even a parody. This magnum opus therefore presents the best and only opportunity to hear the blues rockers at their peak.

--- Dave Scott



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