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October / November 2018

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Order these featured CDs today:

Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers

Boz Scaggs

The Proven Ones

Ray Bonneville

Bruce Katz

Beth McKee

Rory Block

Al Basile

Kat Riggins

Big Apple Blues

Steve Howell

Whitney Shay

Tom Hambridge

Vanessa Collier

Crystal Shawanda

Blue and Lonesome Duo

Sugar Brown

Russ Green

Steve Krase Band

JP Soars

Brooks Williams

Wily Bo Walker

Waydown Wailers

Little Red Rooster

Bennett Brothers

James House

Travis Bowlin

Little Victor

RC and the Moonpie Band

Joe Filisko and Eric Noden



Mindi AbairChristmas time is fast approaching, which means holiday-oriented releases have already started hitting the stores, both brick and cyber. One new album that will certainly put a hop in any blues fan’s step is All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues (Pretty Good For A Girl Records) from saxophonist / vocalist extraordinaire Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers. Ms Abair (lead vocals/tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes) and the Boneshakers (Randy Jacobs – guitars, dobro, vocals, Rodney Lee – keyboards, mouthharp, vocals, Third Richardson – drums/percussion/vocals, and Ben White – bass, vocals) have assembled a nine-song set of re-imagined Christmas classics and dynamite original tunes.

The group’s Hill Country transformation of the Charles Brown standard “Merry Christmas Baby” is a must-hear with the greasy slide guitar, irresistible rhythm, and Abair’s tough vocal. There’s also a terrific take of the Phil Spector classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” and a lively read of “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” that breaths new life into the much-heard Brenda Lee version. Another standard, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire),” gets a spirited instrumental reading with Abair proving that she’s one of the finest sax players on the planet. Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph” gets seriously funked up.

The four originals are all solid tunes that measure up well to the classics. The rumbling title track sounds like a future classic that blues fans will be hearing in cover versions from now on. “The Best Part of Christmas” is a tender ballad with a sweet vocal from Abair, and the closer is “Christmas Fool,” a back porch-styled jam with Jacobs on cigar box guitar and lead vocals. Abair also recreates her memorable 2004 track, “I Can’t Wait For Christmas.”

All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues is just what the doctor ordered for blues fans during the holidays. Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers offer up interesting and creative interpretations of Yuletide classics, plus they bring a few new tunes to the table that might reach that lofty status themselves one day.

--- Graham Clarke

Boz ScaggsI’ve been a fan of Boz Scaggs’ music since I was in junior high school when “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” hit the airwaves. Like most 13-year-olds at the time, I was completely unaware that Scaggs had been on the music scene for over ten years before I even heard of him, playing on the Steve Miller Band’s (another junior high school favorite) first two albums and earning some degree of success before his mid ’70s breakthrough with a more blues/R&B oriented approach prior to crossing over to the more pop-oriented style that caught on with the public in the mid ’70s.

Over the years, I followed his musical career and his peaks and valleys, really being surprised when he showed up at the Memphis Horns’ 25th Anniversary Celebration in Memphis in 1992, where he played a pair of sizzling blues tracks, and again in 1997 when he recorded Come On Home, a collection of blues and R&B classics. That was my first clue that there was more to Scaggs’ music than that five-year period of chart success.

In recent years, Scaggs has released a pair of albums that consisted of mostly cover tunes paying tribute to the music that inspired him as an artist. 2013’s Memphis acknowledged his debt to the soul and R&B legends of the Bluff City, while 2015’s A Fool to Care focuses on soul and R&B from not only Memphis, but New Orleans. While both of those albums had clear and distinct traces of the blues present, Scaggs jumps into the blues with both feet with Out of the Blues (Concord Records), a great closing chapter to the trilogy and arguably the best album of the three.

The nine-song set includes a pair of tunes from Don Robey, who is credited with many of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s hits for Duke Records back in the day. “I’ve Just Got To Forget You” is a slow burner with Scaggs really giving this one the soulful treatment with great support from the horn section, and “The Feeling Is Gone” is an outstanding late night after-hours blues. Jimmy Reed’s influence is also acknowledged with a cover of “Down In Virginia,” that features that wonderful lump-de-lump rhythm and guitar and harmonica from Bramhall.

There’s also a memorable take on Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’ve Just Got To Know,” with guitar from Sexton, and a tremendous slow blues version of Neil Young’s “On The Beach,” where Scagg’s somber vocal completely transforms the song from Young’s original.

Scaggs includes four original tunes on Out of the Blues, all from his longtime friend and musical associate Jack “Applejack” Walroth, who also contributed songs to Memphis and A Fool To Care. Each of these work perfectly with the choice cover material. The album opener, “Rock and Stick,” is a quirky, but funky shuffle, with guitar from Bramhall and harmonica from Walroth, and “Radiator 110” is a romping, stomping blues with Walroth, Freund, and Scaggs playing guitar. “Little Miss Night and Day” is a dandy slice of old time rock ‘n roll co-written with Scaggs, and “Those Lies” would have been a choice album cut during Scaggs’ ’70s heyday.

Scaggs produced this set with Chris Tabarez and J. Michael Rodriguez, taking the reins from Steve Jordan, who produced both Memphis and A Fool To Care. Several musicians from the previous two sets return for Out of the Blues – Willie Weeks (bass), Ray Parker, Jr. (guitars), Jim Cox (keyboards) – and they are joined by Jim Keltner (drums), and guitarists Steve Freund, Charlie Sexton, and Doyle Bramhall II, with Eric Crystal (tenor sax), Thomas Politzer (tenor sax), and Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax) appearing on several tracks.

Boz Scaggs turned 74 just prior to the release of Out of the Blues and he sounds as good as ever. The voice, like the man, has aged over the years, but the effects of time have added texture to his vocals, making him more of a blues singer now than he was when he got his start in the mid ’60s. Those who stopped listening to him when the hits stopped in the ’80s have completely missed the boat.

All three of Scaggs’ most recent releases deserve to be heard, but Out of the Blues is a must-listen for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

The Proven OnesThe Proven Ones are definitely that, with a cast of blues all-stars that include legendary guitarist Kid Ramos, keyboardist Anthony Geraci, drummer Jimi Bott, and bassist Willie J. Campbell, along with Boston blues icon, vocalist Brian Templeton. Together, these artists have amassed numerous awards, with over 20 BMA nominations, while playing with some of the finest bands of the last 40 years, including Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, The James Harman Band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, The Mannish Boys, and The Radio Kings.

Wild Again (Roseleaf Records) is the debut release for this new blues supergroup, a dynamite ten-track set. The band really smokes on this set, and is augmented on most of the tracks by a horn section (Joe McCarthy – arrangements/trumpet, Renato Coranto – tenor sax, Robert Crowell – baritone sax, and Chris Mercer – tenor sax).

Bott’s composition, “Cheap Thrills,” sets the pace for the rest of the album. It’s a hard-charging rocker that previously appeared on Bott’s 2005 live recording, performed by Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Next up is a nice and greasy version of Dyke and the Blazers’ “City Dump” that really cooks, and Templeton really rips into the soulful ballad “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” penned by Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino. “If You Be My Baby,” a mellow urban blues penned by Peter Green, is highlighted by some sweet Ramos guitar work from the B.B. King School.

Ramos also shines on Geraci’s “Why Baby Why,” a mid-tempo track that shows the band firing on all cylinders, while Clarence Carter’s “Road Of Love” gets a sweet soul blues treatment and a spot-on vocal from Templeton, along with tasty slide guitar from Ramos. “Right Track Now,” penned by Kim Wilson, Ramos, and Bott, keeps that soul-blues vibe going right along before leading into the title track, a fiery roadhouse rocker.

The band’s cover of Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime” follows fairly closely to the ballad version from Boz Scaggs (featuring Duane Allman on guitar) recorded in the late ’60s at Muscle Shoals. Ramos does an outstanding job on guitar and Geraci is rock solid on Hammond. It’s 11 and a half minutes of splendid slow blues. The album concludes with a fine take on The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of the Fab Four’s bluesier efforts.

One can only hope that this wasn’t a one-time collaboration for The Proven Ones. The band is like a well-oiled machine and Wild Again is loaded with powerful, compelling music. Let’s do this again soon, guys!

--- Graham Clarke

Ray BonnevilleRay Bonneville was born in Quebec and moved with his family to Boston when he was 12. He learned to speak English and learned to play piano and guitar. He served in Vietnam and later earned his commercial pilot license, working in Colorado, Seattle, Paris, and New Orleans. It was his six-year stay in the Crescent City that shaped his musical vision, mostly the laidback rhythms and grooves. Though he had worked as a studio musician and played clubs at various locations, a close call while flying in Canada encouraged him to begin writing his own songs and make music his full time occupation.

Bonneville won the 2012 I.B.C. in the solo/duo category and has released eight previous studio albums, all of which are highly acclaimed with one album (Gust Of Wind) winning a Juno Award and one song (“I Am The Big Easy,” his post-Katrina elegy) winning the International Folk Alliance’s song of the year in 2007. His ninth release, At King Electric (Stonefly Records), was recorded in Austin, where Bonneville has resided for the past ten years, and features 11 original songs that take a relaxed, groove-filled approach to the blues and Americana, capturing the essence of the New Orleans music that so enthralled him years ago.

The opener, “Waiting On The Night,” is a moody lament about a broken relationship, “Next Card To Fall” is a midtempo shuffle that features several down-on-their-luck characters hoping to catch a break. “Tender Heart” is a ballad about a heartbroken woman who can’t let the past slip away, and the greasy “South of the Blues” searches for a place to escape life’s travails. “It’ll Make a Hole in You” drips with New Orleans funk as it tells the story of a indigent drifter, and the somber “Codeine” is a desperate addict’s sad tale.

“Until Such a Day” picks up the tempo and the mood a bit as a lover patiently awaits the day his lady decides to make a commitment to their relationship, and “Papachulalay” is the story of a person whose spirits are lifted by a New Orleans street parade, complete with Second Line rhythm. “The Day They Let Me Out” is a conversation between a prison inmate and his brother as they discuss his approaching release date. The disc closes with “Forever Gone,” about leaving a town and hopefully problems behind, and a nice instrumental, “Riverside Drive.”

Bonneville’s songs are marvelous, telling stories and painting vivid images of a wide assortment of characters. Some of these tales are so personal that they have to come from personal experience. The sparse arrangements fit perfectly, and Bonneville’s nimble guitar work and weathered vocals are as essential as the songs are to At King Electric, a wonderful release which should find a place in any music fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Bruce KatzThe latest release from the Bruce Katz Band is Get Your Groove! (American Showplace Music), a stylish 11-track set that finds keyboardist extraordinaire Katz teaming with drummer Ray Hangen and guitarist Chris Vitarello, who provides vocals on a few tracks as on the band’s previous effort, Out From The Center. The band is augmented on several tracks by Matt Raymond (acoustic/electric bass), and drummer Jaimoe, one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band who Katz has played with while touring with the Allmans and with Jaimoe’s Jasssez Band.

Four tracks feature Vitarello on vocals as well as guitar – the traditional “Hesitation Blues,” plus three other tunes he co-authored with Katz and others, “Shine Together (Tribe of Lights),” “Make Things Right,” and the slow blues “Wasn’t My Time,” where he sings about cheating death thanks to his guardian angel, anchored by Katz’s splendid backing and some sweet guitar work of his own. Vitarello is a talented vocalist and superb guitarist, complementing Katz perfectly.

Katz wrote the magnificent instrumental “Freight Train” while playing with Butch Trucks’ Freight Train Band, and Jaimoe plays drums with Hangen on this version, which will surely put a smile and any ABB fan. Though it’s nearly ten minutes long, listeners will be disappointed when it concludes. “Beef Jerky” finds Katz on piano for a shot of Crescent City funk, while “River Blues” is a nice mix of jazz and blues with Katz on piano and organ, and the breezy title track, which also features Jaimoe, revisits New Orleans.

The ultra cool “Zone 3” has a slick groove reminiscent of Jimmy Smith, and “Rush Hour” sounds like a long-lost cut by the Meters. The disc closes with a funky shuffle, “The Bun.”

The Bruce Katz Band will satisfy any music fan who digs blues, soul, R&B, and jazz, and Get Your Groove! stands as strong evidence that Katz is one of the finest, most versatile keyboard players currently practicing.

--- Graham Clarke


Beth McKeeBeth McKee has been deeply immersed in the music of the American South for a long time, working as a pianist since she was 14 in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, where she learned to play the blues from session musicians at Malaco Records. She was recruited by the legendary Fingers Taylor to play in his band, opening for Jimmy Buffett. From there, she moved to New Orleans, where she joined the band Evangeline, one of the region’s underrated treasures during the ’90s, releasing a pair of albums with the band before setting out on a solo career, which has seen her release four excellent albums.

McKee’s fifth, and latest release, dreamwood acres (Swampgirl Music), finds this talented artist mining the region’s varied musical veins --- the blues, soul, gospel, country, folk, pop, and rock --- and forging them into her own intoxicating style. Trust me when I say this release is one that you’ll listen to over and over. Breathtaking in its presentation, the album brings forth more surprises with each subsequent listen, whether it’s McKee’s highly personal, sometimes poignant songwriting, which brings to life her own experiences as well as others, or the superb musicianship throughout.

The opening track, “Angus,” looks at taking the first steps toward independence, whether leaving home or maybe starting a new career or following one’s muse, and the questions, doubts, and fears that accompany it. “Are You Happy Now?” actually follows the same theme, but focusing on a midpoint of sorts after success has come, asking pointed questions as to whether it’s deserved and appreciated. The forlorn “In Between The Lines” focuses on one suffering the aftereffects of a broken relationship.

The haunting rocker “Resurrection Mary” tells the tale of a murdered woman whose ghost still haunts the places she once frequented, and “The Fall” is a moving ballad about the difficulty of dealing with heartbreak and the aftermath. “You Make It Look Easy” is an upbeat, glowing tribute to an inspiration, while “The Balancing Act” brings to mind a duck on the water, smooth sailing on the surface, but paddling furiously underneath, a characteristic no doubt sharded by many listeners.

If you’re from or have spent any time in the South, you will recognize the characters described in the soulful, gospel-flavored “Mercy Point” and the funky “Mad Potter of Biloxi.” The closer, “Echo Chamber,” is a frank look at the current scene and the stubbornness of many in politics and social media, who choose to look at one viewpoint without considering the whole story, something both sides of the spectrum should take to heart.

To these ears, dreamwood acres is Beth McKee’s best release without question. It takes the best qualities of her earlier work and puts them all into one big pot, painting a fantastic picture of the music of the American South and encompassing all of the influences she’s absorbed over her career. Add this one to your “Must Hear” list as soon as possible.

--- Graham Clarke

Rory BlockSince 2008, singer/guitarist Rory Block has been working on a Mentor series of recordings for Stony Plain Records, paying tribute to Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Bukka White for Stony Plain (plus an earlier Robert Johnson tribute for another label). With her latest Stony Plain release, Block moves in a different direction, launching the “Power Women of the Blues” series with A Woman’s Soul, dedicated to the music of the legendary Bessie Smith, “The Empress of the Blues.”

Smith’s recording heyday was in the 1920s and ’30s and she died from injuries suffered in an auto accident in 1937, so her music might not be familiar to many newer blues fans. Block covers ten of Smith’s classic sides, some better known than others, and plays all the instruments – guitar, bass, and all percussion, including guitar bongos, hat boxes, plastic storage tubs, oatmeal boxes, and wooden spoons.

Some of the more familiar songs include “Gimmie a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer,” “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” Empty Bed Blues,” and “Kitchen Man,” while lesser-known but no less effective titles include “Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town,” “Do Your Duty,” “Black Mountain,” “On Revival Day,” and “Weeping Willow Blues.” It’s a good mix of songs that will give unfamiliar listeners a great sample of Smith’s catalog, and will give any of fans enough “wild card” tracks to encourage a listen.

Block does a masterful job converting these songs, originally presented in band format, to an acoustic guitar setting. She also doesn’t attempt to sing them in the same style as Smith. While Block really doesn’t possess the range and power of Smith’s original recordings, she adds plenty of grit and emotion to her vocals and her guitar playing, especially slide guitar, may not be in a class by itself, but it surely doesn’t take long to call the roll.

Rory Block’s ongoing tribute series have provided blues fans with great opportunities to hear the music of the genre’s past masters, while hopefully encouraging them to dig deeper into their own recordings. This first venture into the music of iconic female blues artists is off to a promising start with A Woman’s Soul.

--- Graham Clarke

Al BasileOne of the things I have always enjoyed about Al Basile’s recordings is that each new release is an adventure never before taken. He’s not content to do the same thing over and over, always looking to take his music, the blues itself, into different and intriguing directions. On his latest effort, Me & the Originator (Sweetspot Records), Basile tells the story of a fictional musician who found an old trunk full of lyrics, set them to music, never admitting that he didn’t write them himself, even after they made him famous. He places narratives between each of the 12 songs to set the stage for each song.

As with Basile’s previous efforts he’s joined by producer/guitarist Duke Robillard, Mark Texeira (drums), Brad Hallen (bass), Bruce Bears (keyboards), Doug James (tenor/baritone sax) and Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse (trumpet). Basile himself plays cornet and sings in his usual gruff but warm manner, which is an excellent fit for his songs, which are presented in a variety of styles, from the ominous “Poor Boy’s Day” to the swinging shuffle “My J-O-B,” to the cool baseball story song “Lefty’s Nine Lessons,” to the smoldering slow blues of “She Made Me Believe It.”

“Here Come Your Trouble” leans toward jazz and features a classy cornet solo from Basile and understated keyboards from Bears, “I Forgot How To Care” mixes blues and funk, and “First One To Go” is a somber look at a relationship’s end. “What You Got For Me” has a funky New Orleans feel, with another top notch solo from Basile, “All Right” is a smooth old school blues, and “A Go of It” is greasy Memphis soul. The sober “So Wrong For So Long” finds the narrator lamenting gaining his fame “by standing on another fella’s back,” and with the closing song, “If It Goes, It Goes,” he seems to be grudingly accepting his fate, however hard it may be.

The narratives are a mix of poetry and prose and tell an absorbing tale. Robillard’s guitar work provides tasteful intros to most of these tracks and Basile’s soothing narrative tone makes the spoken pieces as entertaining as the music itself, which is really saying something. Me & the Originator is a compelling piece of work, which should be expected if you’ve ever listened to any Al Basile recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Kat RigginsKat Riggins’ third release, In The Boys’ Club (Bluzpik Media Group), is her best yet. This time around, the little lady with the big voice served as producer and composer of all 12 songs, and those songs are as powerful as her voice. Growing up, Ms. Riggins came to love a wide variety of genres --- gospel, soul, rock, country, and R&B for sure, but blues most of all. Her previous release, Blues Revival, was an indication of that, but this new release even exceeds the reach of its predecessor.

Riggins is joined by Darrell Raines, who doubles on lead and rhythm guitar along with keyboards, and bassist George Caldwell, both of whom also appeared on Blues Revival. Drummer Johnnie Hicks joins the fun this time around and Clay Goldstein contributes harmonica. Guest guitarists Josh Rowand and Albert Castiglia (who also provides co-lead vocals) also appear. Rowland’s contributions are on the two opening tracks, the determined contemporary blues “Try Try Again,” and the country blues “Troubles Away,” while Castiglia shares lead vocals with Riggins and provides nimble guitar work on the energetic “Kitty Won’t Scratch.”

The deep soul of “Hear Me” paints a solemn tale of a lover who’s fed up with her significant other’s cheating ways, and “Second To None” is a freewheeling shot of Stax-flavored R&B, while “Tightrope” mixes in a healthy dose of funk as does “Cheat Or Lose.” The roadhouse rocker “Johnny Walker” is a definite change of pace with Riggins’ feisty vocal backed by Raines pulling out all the stops on guitar and Goldstein wailing away on harp, and “Fistful O’ Water” matches it in rock-edged intensity.

“Don’t Throw Me Away” is a splendid slow blues punctuated by Raines’ smooth guitar work, and her opening a capella testimony for the funky gospel flavored “Live On” will raise goose bumps. “In The Boys’ Club” closes the disc, a R&B-charged rocker where Riggins warns listeners not to take her for granted on account of her size because she packs a wallop. Indeed she does, and so does her latest album.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Apple BluesNYC-based Big Apple Blues consists of five veterans of the city’s blues scene – guitarist Zack Zunis, drummer Barry “The Baron of the Blues” Harrison, bassist Admir “Dr. Blues” Hadzic, harmonica player Anthony Kane, and keyboardist Jim Alfredson. The quintet issued a well-received disc of instrumentals in 2015, Energy, and recently released a superlative follow-up, Manhattan Alley (Stone Tone Records), which features ten original instrumentals that deftly blend blues with soul, rock, and funk.

There’s a very cool retro feel to these tracks. The opener, “You Gotta Start Somewhere,” is an energetic funk workout highlighted by some smooth interplay by the rhythm section, a dazzling keyboard run from Alfredson, and saxophone from Chris Eminizer. The appropriately-entitled “Happy” is an exuberant, bouncy rocker that strikes a gospel-like groove. “Take Two” is loaded with Memphis grease, with Alfredson channelling Booker T with his Hammond B3 and Zunis getting busy on guitar, and the slow burner “SDW,” has a great after-hours ambiance with Eminizer’s sax.

“Deep Talkin’” really reminds me of Jimmy Smith’s ’60s soul-jazz recordings on Blue Note Records, while “Hudson Breeze” captures the feeling of riding down the highway in a convertible on a hot summer afternoon, “Steamroller” mixes jazz and rock, highlighted by Zunis’ sparkling guitar work, and “Subway Rumble” has an irresistible groove. “Love As I Know It” is a soulful ballad with subtle guitar work from Zunis which is followed by “Rock On,” a sizzling blues rocker that closes the discs in excellent fashion.

Manhattan Alley was a listening pleasure from beginning to end. Each song was a standout and offered something different from the one preceding it. I could listen to this one all day long, and probably will for a long time.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellEast Texas guitarist Steve Howell and The Mighty Men return with another great album of classic blues and Americana tunes. Good As I Been To You (Out of the Past Music) features the guitarist/singer with The Mighty Men (Chris Michaels – electric guitar/vocals, Dave Hoffpauir – drums/vocals, Jason Weinheimer – electric bass/organ/vocals) and guest vocalists Katy Hobgood Ray and Dave Ray. The 11 tracks range from blues to country, gospel, R&B, roots, and work songs, all lovingly recreated by Howell, one of the finest interpreters of traditional music of the American South.

The disc gets off to a fun start with a funky version of “Bacon Fat,” a 1957 R&B hit from Andre Williams complete with a zany chorus from the Mighty Men and stinging electric guitar from Michaels. A simmering Lead Belly’s 1933 tune, “When I Was A Cowboy” is next, with Howell and Katy Hobgood Ray sharing lead vocals. Ms. Ray reappears as a solo on the spicy reading of Memphis Minnie’s “New Dirty Dozens” that follows, then Howell gives a sensitive reading of the mid ’60s Gene Pitney pop hit “It Hurts To Be In Love,” one of two songs here by the Brill Building songwriters that generated so many pop hits in the early ’60s.

Walter Davis’ “Come Back Baby” gets a smooth slow burn reworking, and an easygoing “Blues In The Bottle,” originally from 1928 by Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers, is a really cool track with a bit of a country swing. Ms. Ray’s beautiful, gentle vocal on another song associated with Lead Belly, “Easy Rider,” is matched by the band’s performance, one of the album’s highlights. The second 'Brill Building' song, The Walker Brothers’ hit “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” gets a slowed-down reading that effectively brings out the somber tone of the original even more than the original.

Blind Lemon Jefferson is one of Howell’s musical heroes and he pays tribute to the legendary guitarist with a entertaining cover of “Bad Luck Blues.” The work song “Lining Track” was used many years ago when workers laid railroad track. Howell and The Mighty Men recreate it in a moving a capella setting that will raise goose bumps. Blind Blake’s “You Gonna Quit Me” brings this wonderful album to a nice, relaxing conclusion.

Howell also provides some interesting information about each of the selections in the liner notes. Blues fans should be indebted to him and The Mighty Men for bringing these classic tunes to life, and for doing it so well. For me, Howell’s recordings are always something to look forward to, and Good As I Been To You is no exception.

--- Graham Clarke

Whitney ShayWhitney Shay might be a name that blues fans are not yet familiar with, but stay tuned because that may be about to change. Ms. Shay is a two-time San Diego Music Award winner for Best Blues Artist and, trust these ears, this lady can sing! After starting her music career in the theatre, she made the transition to blues in 2009, fronting a band and performing a dynamic mix of blues, soul, jazz, and swing. Her latest release, via Little Village Foundation, is A Woman Rules The World, produced by the ubiquitous Kid Andersen at Greaseland.

Ms. Shay co-wrote four of the ten tracks with her songwriting partner Adam J. Eros, including the no-nonsense opener, “Ain’t No Weak Woman,” which is powered by her defiant vocals and the jet-fueled horns (Sax Beadle on, yep, sax and John Halbleib on trumpet), the feisty shuffle “Don’t You Fool Me No More,” the soulful “Love’s Creeping Up On You” (a cool duet with Brazilian blues superstar Igor Prado), and “Empty Hand,” an outstanding slow burner.

The covers include a swinging cover of Dinah Washington’s classic “Blues Down Home” (with Aki Kumar on harmonica), the inspired title track (penned by Denise LaSalle and recorded by Bill Coday in the early ’70s, an irresistibly funky “Get It When I Want It” (from Candi Staton), the fast-paced rocker “Check Me Out” (from Little Denise), and a pair from Little Richard: the slinky, slippery “Freedom Blues” and the rowdy “Get Down With It” that closes the disc.

Andersen also plays guitar, bass, sitar, and Wurlitzer on selected tracks. The remaining band members not previously mentioned include Jim Pugh (keys), Kedar Roy (bass), Alexander Pettersen (drums), Lisa Andersen (backing vocals), and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin (percussion).

Whitney Shay has a voice for the ages, effortlessly moving from straight blues to R&B, soul, and jazz. Blues fans will definitely want to hear more from the talented young woman after listening to A Woman Rules The World.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom HambridgeIn-between producing Grammy and BMA-winning albums, writing songs for, and performing with a long list of artists from Buddy Guy to ZZ Top to Lynyrd Skynyrd to James Cotton, Delbert McClinton, Kenny Neal, and Joe Bonamassa, Tom Hambridge managed to carve out four whole days a couple of years ago to record his eighth solo album in New Orleans at The Parlor Studios. The NOLA Sessions (Superstar Records) includes appearances from guests Ivan Neville, slide guitar monster Sonny Landreth, those wonderful McCrary Sisters, The Naughty Horns, and a host of the Crescent City’s finest musicians, including the late, great Allen Toussaint.

Hambridge wrote or co-wrote all 13 of the tracks, with contributions on a few from longtime collaborator Richard Fleming, Jeffrey Steele, Gary Nicholson, and Derek and the Dominos alum Bobby Whitlock. Toussaint’s distinctive piano introduces the Big Easy-going opener “Blues Been Mighty Good To Me,” and he shares lead vocals with Hambridge on what was one of his last recordings before he passed away in 2015. Meanwhile, the grungy roadhouse rocker “Bluz Crazy” cranks things up a notch and Landreth’s signature “Slydeco” guitar make the first of five appearances on the slippery funky “This End of The Road.”

The Naughty Horns give “I Love Everything” a true New Orleans party flavor, along with fellow New Orleans resident David Torkanowsky’s dazzling piano, and the reverential “What You Leave Behind” is a tribute to Hambridge’s friend John Flynn which also features the Horns, plus Neville on B3. “Little Things” features Landreth, an irresistible second line beat, and a message that we all need to take to heart. If the haunting Hambridge/Nicholson tune “Whiskey Ghost” rings a bell, it first appeared on Buddy Guy’s Rhythm & Blues album a few years ago. Hambridge’s own version includes Landreth’s guitar with a reggae-like rhythm.

Whitlock’s collaboration with Hambridge, the rocking gospel raver “Save Me,” also features The McCrary’s heavenly backing vocals, the Naughty Horns, Kevin McKendree’s B3, and Shane Theriot’s sizzling guitar. Neville’s B3 and an ominous, swampy vibe permeate “A Couple Drops,” while “Masterpiece” is a moving ballad about a father-and-son relationship, and “Me And Charlie” is the story of Charlie McPherson, Buddy Guy’s longtime bus driver. “Trying To Find It” is a wistful country ballad, co-written by Steele, and the acoustic closer, “Faith,” features guitar from John Fohl, cello from Nathaniel Smith, and a powerful vocal from Hambridge.

The NOLA Sessions is an excellent work from beginning to end, with a great set of songs and performances from Hambridge, who hopefully will be inspired to take a few more days off in the near future to travel down south again.

--- Graham Clarke

Vanessa CollierShe’s already earned three BMA nominations, a Blues Blast Award nomination, the Jammingest Pro Award (given by the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise), and First Place in the International Songwriting Competition, but Vanessa Collier is just getting started. The Berklee College of Music graduate is hotter than ever on her third release, Honey Up. Ms Collier produced the disc and wrote nine of the ten songs featured, which move effortlessly between blues, funk, and R&B, and plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones, acoustic guitar, and Resonator guitar.

The opener, “Sweatin’ Like A Pig, Singin’ Like An Angel,” has a definite New Orleans vibe with Collier playing tenor, alto, and soprano, “Don’t Nobody Got Time To Waste” has a soulful gospel feel, and the feisty title track turns up the ’70s funk. Collier adds a little Memphis grease to the funk with the appropriately-titled “Percolatin’,” then picks up the acoustic guitar for the gentle and breezy “Icarus,” about the youth from Greek mythology.

The rocking “Fault Line,” features the horns along with guitarist Laura Chavez, who plays on eight of the ten tracks. Collier and her guitarist Sparky Parker play Resonators on the sassy “Bless Your Heart,” and “You’re A Pill” is a swinging R&B track, while “You Get What You Get” revisits the Crescent City groove while offering some sound advice. The album closes with the lone cover, Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like A Man,” and Collier gives a steamy vocal performance that rivals Bonnie Raitt’s version.

In additon to Chavez and Parker, Collier is backed by Nick Stevens (drums/percussion/shuitar), Nick Trautmann (bass), William Gorman (keyboards), Quinn Carson (trombone), and Doug Woolverton (trumpet).

Vanessa Collier is the total package --- a powerhouse saxophonist, a great songwriter, and a fantastically versatile vocalist. Honey Up is her best effort yet and there’s even more to come with this exciting young artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Crystal ShawandaCrystal Shawanda was born and raised on the Wikwemikong reserve in Ontario, where her parents taught her to sing and play guitar in a country music vein. However, her brother introduced her to the blues via his Muddy Waters, Etta James, and B.B. King records that he played in the basement of their house while she would sit at the top of the stairs and try to listen to them. She embraced both blues and country, but was signed as a country artist to RCA-Nashville in 2007, where she recorded a Top 20 single (“You Can Let Go”) and a Top 20 album in 2008, and also starred on CMT’s six-part series, Crystal: Living the Dream, the same year.

While promoting her debut album she decided that the blues was her first love and that she wanted to make blues albums, so she formed her own record label and did just that. Her third album (first to be issued in the U.S.) since that revelation is VooDoo Woman on her own New Sun Records. This ten-track disc, now on True North Records, includes eight covers of blues classics plus two originals co-written by Shawanda) and provides ample evidence that the young lady was right to trust her instincts because one listen to Crystal Shawanda, the blues singer, will knock you to your knees.

The cover tunes are mostly songs associated with some of the finest blues singers of any era. The opener is a storming medley of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Smokestack Lightnin’,” where Shawanda recalls Koko Taylor on the first tune before shifting into overdrive on the latter, taking the song into the stratosphere with an intensity that would surely bring a smile to Howlin’ Wolf’s face. “Ball And Chain,” one of two songs associated with Big Mama Thornton, follows with the singer’s passionate approach leaning more toward Janis Joplin’s ’60s reading of the classic. The other Thornton side is a rock-edged read of “Hound Dog.”

Shawanda’s version of Koko Taylor’s title track is another scorcher, with some ripping slide guitar from Dewayne Strobel (Shawanda’s husband and co-producer), while the smoldering “I’d Rather Go Blind,” originally done by Etta James, shows the singer’s tender side as does Dorothy Moore’s ’70s smash, “Misty Blue,” and another ballad, the Beat Daddys’ “I’ll Always Love You.”

Shawanda’s original tunes include the roadhouse rocker “Trouble,” “Cry Out For More,” a sexy mid-tempo blues co-written with her husband, who also provides some great slide guitar, and the moody closer “Bluetrain,” which has a dark and dusty Delta feel.

Based on Crystal Shawanda’s powerful performance on VooDoo Woman, it’s pretty obvious that the singer made a wise choice in moving to the blues. Blues fans will love this one and will be eagerly awaiting the next one.

--- Graham Clarke

Blue & LonesomeThe Blue & Lonesome Duo consists of Ronnie Owens (vocals/harmonica/foot drums) and Gordon Harrower (guitar/vocals), both of whom are members of Li’l Ronnie & the Grand Dukes, a fine Virginia-based band that plays blues, roots, rockabilly, and vintage rock n’ roll and R&B. Their 2012 release, Gotta Strange Feeling, reached the Living Blues Radio Top 25 Charts. Recently, Owens and Harrower (who also fronts his own band, Rattlesnake Shake) teamed up for Pacin’ The Floor (EllerSoul Records), a fine 14-song set of traditional blues classics and originals.

Owens and Harrower tackle a diverse set of standards that include Chicago blues numbers like Honeyboy Edwards’ “Drop Down Mama,” Muddy Waters’ “Mean Red Spider,” Eddie Taylor’s “Country Boy,” and a pair of Jimmy Rogers tunes (“Act Like You Love Me” and “Out On The Road”). They also drift down south for songs from Lightinin’ Hopkins (“Needed Time”) and Slim Harpo (“Raining In My Heart”), along with James Brown (“Try Me”) and the oft-covered “Careless Love.”

The duo’s five originals mesh well with the standards and include “Wine Headed Woman,” a rough and tumble rocking blues, “Too Fast For Conditions,” which showcases Harrower’s slide guitar work, the title track, which is a spirited boogie, the driving shuffle “Can’t Buy My Love,” and the humorous closer “More Than Eye Candy,” which leaves the listener with a smile.

Owens and Harrower split vocal duties and while both have distinct styles and approaches, they both do a fine job and their easy instrumental interplay reflects their years of playing together. Pacin’ The Floor is a great, fun set of traditional blues that will surely please any discriminating blues fan.

--- Graham Clarke

Sugar BrownToronto-based blues artist Sugar Brown was born Ken Kawashima to a Japanese father and Korean mother, both of whom immigrated to the U.S. in the mid ’60s. Brown was raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, but moved to Chicago to attend college where he dove into the local blues scene, playing with Taildragger (who gave him his nickname) and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Willie Kent, Johnny B. Moore, and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin. Currently, Brown is Professor Kawashima at the University of Toronto, where he works as an associate professor of East Asian Studies, but as Sugar Brown he advanced to the finals of the 2017 I.B.C., representing the Toronto Blues Society.

Brown’s lastest release, his third, is It’s a Blues World (Calling All Blues), an arresting set of blues presented in a variety of styles. Brown is joined by Burgin, who plays guitar throughout, and Michelle Josef (drums), Russ Boswell (bass), Nichol Robertson (guitar), Julian Fauth (keys), and Minnie Heart (bass, guitar, fiddle, sax). Brown himself plays guitar and harmonica and possesses a strong, gravelly voice that captures the essence of the blues perfectly.

The opening track is the rowdy, mildly chaotic “Hummingbird,” and it sounds like a vintage recording with a tasty baritone sax break from Heart (a.k.a. Julia Narveson). “Love Me Twice” sounds like mid ’60s Dylan via the Chicago West Side with Fauth contributing Farfisa organ, while “Lousy Dime” takes a Tom Waits approach to the lyrics with fiddle from Narveson, and banjo from Robertson, and the lively “Sure As The Stars” is classic Chicago West Side blues. The title track is a slow burning look at current events and also serves as a tribute to Little Mack Simmons.

Brown shows his versatility on a fine set of acoustic blues (“Hard To Love,” the Lonnie Johnson/Big Bill Broonzy homage “Tide Blues,” and the humorous closer “Brothers”) and a few cool variations on rock ‘n roll (“Out of the Frying Pan,” “Those Things,” and “What I Know”). The boogie rocker “Searching For Two O’Clock” is a barrel of fun, too, as is the jump blues of “Dew On The Grass.”

It’s a Blues World (Calling All Blues) is a fascinating set of blues from Sugar Brown with a great vintage sound, great original songs, and a wide-ranging variety of blues styles that will appeal to all blues fans, but especially those who like their blues with a few twists and turns along the way.

--- Graham Clarke

Russ GreenChicago-born singer/harmonica player Russ Green was inspired to play music as a young adult after listening to Jimi Hendrix. Since studying film at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and making films took up most of his time (and money), he began trying to replicate Hendrix’s sound on a harmonica he’d bought several years earlier. When he returned to Chicago he discovered the music of the incredible Sugar Blue and began learning from him, while continuing to work in film and TV as a production assistant and assistant director. Sugar Blue and Billy Branch continued to influence his music and he has performed and recorded with John Primer and Lurrie Bell.

Green recently released his debut recording, City Soul (Cleopatra Records), a rock-solid set of ten original tunes that pays tribute to the music of his hometown. Backed by Giles Corey (guitar), Marvin Little (bass), Ricky Nelson (drums), Vince Agwanda (slide guitar), and Joe Munroe (B3), Green gets right to work with the dazzling opener, “First Thing Smokin’,” which updates the classic John Lee Hooker boogie sound. The mellow “Believe In Love” mixes blues themes with a smooth R&B groove, and “The Edge” opens with a blazing harmonica intro that would surely make Sugar Blue smile.

Singer/guitarist Eric Bibb joins Green on the Delta-flavored “Going Down South,” and the swaggering “Lover Man” mixes blues and funk with flair, thanks to Munroe’s greasy B3. Green also addresses the myriad problems that inner city residents face on a daily basis with the bleak “Train of Pain.” Meanwhile, Corey’s snaky fretwork highlights “Up From The Bottom,” while “Lint In My Pocket” is a tasty mix of funk and R&B and “Somethin’ New” edges toward blues-rock compliments of Vince Agwada’s slide guitar. The closer, “Love To Give,” is a great shot of funky R&B. Bass player Little really shines on this one as well as the rest of the disc.

Russ Green shows himself to be an excellent harmonica player in the tradition of Sugar Blue and a smooth soulful vocalist, as well as a talented songwriter who tackles familiar blues themes, but with a unique, modern twist. City Soul is a great start to what will hopefully be a long, successful career.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve KraseJust Waitin’ (Connor Ray Music), the excellent recent release from the Steve Krase Band, finds the Houston-based Krase in great form as the harmonica master tears through an entertaining, wide-ranging ten-song set of tunes that span blues, roots, Americana, and even a wicked shot of Zydeco where you might least expect it. Krase is backed by bassist/songwriter/producer Rock Romano, drummer Tamara Williams, and guitarist David Carter on all tracks with a few guests on selected tracks.

Krase leaves very few musical stones unturned on this set, opening with a rousing read of the Hank Williams classic “Settin’ The Woods On Fire,” charging into the Diddleyesque “I Don’t Mind” and the Windy City-styled shuffle “Just Waitin’ On My Brand New Baby,” and the mid-tempo “Irene Irene.” Krase and his friends (especially Brian Jack on accordion) then deliver a wonderful zydeco take on “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” that puts a whole new spin on the original bluegrass version (Brian Jack’s accordion accompaniment should help get toes tapping and booties shaking).

“All In The Mood” is an energetic blues rocker, and “Dirty Dirty” mixes blues and funk deftly, while the jumping “Blame It All On Love” combines blues and country. “Nobody Loves Me” is a fine slow blues with a strong vocal and harmonica solo from Krase and lead guitar from Carter, who does a masterful job throughout. The closer is a houserockin’ version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “My Baby Walked Off.”

Just Waitin’ is a barrel of fun from start to finish. This disc will certainly please blues fans who may not be familiar with Steve Krase. They definitely be looking for more of his recordings once they hear this one.

--- Graham Clarke

JP SoarsFlorida-based guitarist JP Soars won the Band competition at the 2009 I.B.C. (with his band, The Red Hots), and also took home the prestigious Albert King Award for Best Guitarist that year. Unlike many blues guitarists, Soars previously played in several metal bands, but also counts T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim, Muddy Waters, Willie Nelson, and jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt as influences. His fourth and latest release, Southbound I-95 (Soars High Productions) allows the guitarist more-than- adequate space to show his versatility.

The opening track, “Ain’t No Dania Beach,” actually leans toward country and rock with slide guitar from guest Paul DesLauries, while “Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me” mixes blues and funk, and the exuberant title track is a careening surf rocker. The freewheeling “Shining Through The Dark” features tenor saxophonist Terry Hanck, and fellow tenor Sax Gordon guests on the rowdy rock n’ roller “The Grass Ain’t Always Greener,” which also features a rollicking piano break from Travis Colby.

The gentle acoustic instrumental “Arkansas Porch Party” is a brief change of pace,” but the driving soul rocker “Satisfy My Soul,” with Gordon providing sax again, kicks things back into high gear. Soars revives his “Born In California” from his debut recording, providing tough electric cigar-box guitar, then offers a couple of dandy cover tunes, a splendid slow blues reading of Albert King’s “When You Walk Out That Door” featuring a cool guitar intro from Jimmy Thackery, and Muddy Waters’ “Deep Down In Florida,” which teams Soars with Albert Castiglia on guitar and vocals.

The haunting instrumental “Across The Desert” has a Latin/gypsy feel with Soars (on Portugeuse folk guitar) being joined by Lee Oskar on harp, the spirited “Dog Catcher” has a calypso beat, and “Troubled Waters” is a call for unity that features an unusual variety of instruments not usually heard in the blues. The swinging, jazzy instrumental “Go With The Flow” is followed by a radio edit of “Sure As Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me,” which closes the album.

Certainly one of the most diverse blues musicians currently practicing, JP Soars proves it, and then some, with Southbound I-95, a disc that will not only please blues fans, but also fans of other musical genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Brooks WilliamsBrooks Williams is from a town that should be familiar to blues fans --- Statesboro, Georgia. Boasting an acoustic guitar style that combines blues, roots, jazz, folk, and classical, he’s recorded for a multitude of record labels over his career. He’s played festivals and major theatres all over the world. He’s worked in the studio with producers like Colin Linden in Toronto and Phil Madeira in Nashville, hosted instructional guitar workshops and worked and music camps and colleges, and he’s ranked in the Top 100 Acoustic Guitarists.

Lucky Star (Red Guitar Blue Music) is his 28th album release, and it features a dozen tracks of originals and covers, plus a pair of bonus versions that pair him with the legendary Hans Theessink. Recorded in three days at Kyoti Studio in Glasgow, Scotland, the album was Williams’ effort to recapture the feel of those ’50s-era recordings at Sun Studios. The sessions were recorded live in the studio with the musicians (Williams, Kevin McGuire – bass, Stuart Brown – drums) cramped into a small circle, and the tracks have a warm, intimate feel that comes through the speakers. Several tracks include Phil Richardson on piano and Paul Jones plays harmonica on one selection.

The set has a nice, relaxed feel, and Williams is a superb guitarist and his warm tenor adds to the good vibes. His originals include “Bright Side of The Blues,” a perfect tune to kick off the disc with its breezy melody. “Always The Same” has a jazzy vibe and “Mama’s Song” ventures to the tropics with a delightful Carribbean beat. “Gambling Man” sounds like an old ragtime number in the album version, but sounds like an old school blues from the ’30s in the bonus cut with Theessink. The soulful “Here Comes The Blues” is a sobering observation of current affairs, and “No Easy Way Back” describes a friend who’s fallen on hard times. The jaunty “Jump That Train” is a fun track that works really well, and “Whatever It Takes is a tender ballad.

Williams covers Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got,” giving it an acoustic reading but retaining the sunny feel of the original. He also covers Henry Creamer’s “After You’ve Gone,” a popular tune from the early part of the 20th century. Thomas Dorsey’s “Rock Me” gets a lively treatment with Jones on harmonica, then is revisited as a bonus track with Theessink backing Williams on mandolin. The last album track is a toe-tapping cover of Walter Hyatt’s “Going To New Orleans.”

Listening to Lucky Star was a lot of fun. Brooks Williams is an engaging performer with his mad acoustic guitar skills and his amiable vocals, which sounded really well with Theessink’s rumbling backing vocals on the two bonus tracks. There’s a lot of great music here that will satisfy fans of blues and Americana.

--- Graham Clarke

Wily Bo WalkerWily Bo Walker is a 40-plus year vet of the music scene and a member of the U.S. Blues Hall of Fame (since 2016), one of the few blues artists from the U.K. (Glasgow-born, London-based to be specific) to have that honor and has mastered a variety of music styles over the years with blues, gospel, soul, R&B, rock, jazz, and Americana. All of those styles are represented in Walker’s latest release, Almost Transparent Blues (Mescal Canyon Records), an 11-song set that mixes Walker originals with a few canny cover tunes.

The opening track is the memorably-titled “Chattahoochie Coochee Man,” a horn-fueled southern rock rave-up that sets the bar high for the rest of the album. Walker also covers Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me A Dime,” though this reading is closer to the Boz Scaggs ballad-styled reading than Robinson’s original, with a smoking guitar solo from E.D. Brayshaw blasting through at the midpoint. Brayshaw also plays on the next pair of tunes, “I Want To Know,” which has a greasy, sultry feel, and “Storm Warning,” a scorching blues rocker.

“Motel Blues,” from Loudon Wainwright III, is a spare Americana track with resonator, mandolin, and acoustic guitar, while “Did I Forget” is a New Orleans-flavored swinger with honking baritone sax from Ron Bertolet. Another sizzling guitar solo from Brayshaw kicks off the bluesy “Fool For You,” and “Walking With The Devil” joins the muggy swamps of Louisiana (via the funky rhythm section) with the dusty Mississippi Delta (courtesy of Graham Hine’s slide guitar).

“Long Way To Heaven” is a sweet, soulful number with Walker’s weathered vocal blending perfectly with the harmonies of the Brown Sisters of Chicago Gospel Choir). Walker also does a fine job on the terrific jazzy ballad “Moon Over Indigo,” before closing with the somber “Light At The End of The Tunnel.”
Walker’s gravelly, craggy vocals are surprisingly flexible and work very well in this diverse selection of songs. He makes the covers as much his own as he does the originals. Almost Transparent Blues is an extremely interesting release that should appeal to a variety of music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Waydown WailersThe New York-based quartet Waydown Wailers continue to develop their intriguing brand of blues called “Outlaw Jam” with their third release, Backland Blues (Woodstock Records), which mixes blues with rock, jam, pop, Americana, and country. The lineup remains intact with David Parker providing vocals and guitar and his brother Christian on guitar with Connor Pelkey on bass and Michael Scriminger on drums, along with returning guests Professor Louie (producer, keys, backing vocals) and Miss Marie (backing vocals).

Backland Blues consists of 11 tracks, three covers with eight originals penned by the band. The opener, “Back Door Woman Blues,” is a roadhouse rocking blues that features the good Professor on piano. Christian Parker provides some ripping slide work for the crunching rocker “I Want Your Soul,” which is followed by a rumbling cover of Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong, the lively countrified shuffle “Another Bump In The Road,” and “No Mercy,” a funky jam which will certainly strike the right note with Grateful Dead fans.

The group’s cover of Larry Williams’ 1958 rock classic “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is reminiscent of the Beatles’ mid ’60s cover, which is not a bad thing, and the stomper “Every Passing Mile” leans toward the country side of the aisle. “Somewhere In The Middle” revisits the Dead with its mix of rock, country, and folk with lyrics that reflect on the current political strife in the country, and “I’m On The Hunt” is a frenzied blues rocker. The politically-charged romper “State Of The Union” previously appeared as the title track on the band’s 2013 debut, but is presented here in a remixed version. The disc’s final track is a cover of The Byrds’ “Lover Of The Bayou,” and all the band members share the spotlight on this swampy jam.

The Waydown Wailers manage to incorporate a variety of influences into their musical gumbo --- a dash of Allman Brothers, a bit of the Grateful Dead, a little Elmore James here, and a dollop of the Fab Four there. It makes for a very tasty album that will appeal to fans of multiple genres beyond the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Little Red RoostersThe Little Red Rooster Blues Band has been entertaining East Coast blues fans for 30 years with their brand of traditional blues (Chicago and West Coast) covering a variety of both familiar and unique topics that bring a smile or knowing nod to their fans’ faces. The band (Kevin McCann – guitar/vocals, Dave Holtzman – harmonica/vocals, Jeff Michael – bass, Bob Holden – drums) recently released their seventh album, Lock Up The Liquor, which features 15 original tunes written by the band.

The opener, “Pitchin’ Woo,” is a cool instrumental shuffle driven by Holtzman’s harmonica, and it’s followed by the clever and upbeat “Drinkin’ Wine On My Dime” and the hard-changing “Rather Be Lonesome.” “Cotton Mouth” is a raucous instrumental tribute to the late James Cotton that features some stellar harp from Holtzman, and McCann turns in a tender vocal performance on the old school ballad “Ready For Goodbye.” Meanwhile, the amusing “Thrift Shop Rubbers” will open a few ears with its double entendre lyrics, McCann’s smooth guitar and knowing vocals, and Holtzman’s chromatic.

“Nothin’ Left Between Us” is a great slow burning blues with nice instrumental work from McCann, Holtzman, and guest Anthony Geraci, who plays piano on this and six other tracks, while “Oughta Be A Law” is a swinging shot of West Coast blues. “Trouble In The Jungle” rolls along with that classic Bo Diddley beat and lead vocals from Holtzman, who also sings on the gospel-styled lament, “Six Strong Men.”

The instrumental “Livin’ At Jerry’s House” is a Latin-flavored shuffle. Harmonica ace Steve Guyger appears on vocals here and also joins Holtzman on harmonica on the after-hours jazzy blues “4 O’Clock In The Morning. “Can’t Believe She’s Mine” is a swinging shuffle, and the disc closes with the rowdy title track which features more great instrumental work from McCann, Holtzman, and Geraci.

Lock Up The Liquor is an excellent set of traditional blues with some highly original songwriting and spirited performances. Looks like these guys will be going strong for the next 30 years as well.

--- Graham Clarke

The Bennett BrothersThe Bennett Brothers (Jimmy Bennett – guitar/vocals, Peter Bennett – bass/vocals) were born and raised in New York, but they sound like they might have been from the south with their two-fisted musical approach that combines blues, Americana, and southern rock influences. The duo frequently participated in Levon Helm’s “Midnight Rambles” at Helm’s home in upstate New York, opening many of the shows which featured artists like Hubert Sumlin, Johnnie Johnson, Little Sammy Davis, Luther “Guitar” Johnson, Amy Helm, and Alexis P. Suter. Later, the brothers formed the band that backed Ms. Suter on her first seven albums.

More recently, the brothers have appeared on and contributed songs to a pair of Bruce Katz albums, three John Ginty releases, and the new Sean Chambers album. They’ve also found time to release their own album, Not Made For Hire (American Showplace Music), an impressive 11-song set of original tunes written by Jimmy Bennett, with musical contributions from Ginty (keyboards), Lee Falco (drums), and Linda Pino (backing vocals).

The fun starts with the hard-charging rocker opener, “Junkyard Dog,” the sauntering “Hold On Tight,” which has more of a country feel, and the slow-burning “I Just Don’t Want The Blues Today.” The instrumental “Blues #9” showcases Jimmy Bennett on guitar and Ginty on B3, and “What’d I Do” is a funky blues rocker. “Rocking Chair” starts out a slow driving pace, but soon transforms into a rocking slide-fest with Ginty adding rollicking piano to the mix.

The guitar work has a Carlos Santana-like quality on the Latin-tinged “How Long,” while “The Only Way To Be” mixes funk and rock with a touch of pop. The Latin influence returns on the ominous “Walk With The Devil,” and the title track channels classic southern rock with some tasty slide guitar from Jimmy Bennett. The disc closes with “I Got A Woman,” which drives the disc to a hard rocking conclusion.

Not Made For Hire is so good that it will make you wonder why The Bennett Brothers took so long to release an album of their own. Hopefully, they will add to their catalog very soon.

--- Graham Clarke

James HouseJames House is a singer/songwriter based in Nashville who has penned several million sellers on the country charts – “A Broken Wing” for Martina McBride, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” for Dwight Yoakum, and “In A Week Or Two” for Diamond Rio – and he’s also written songs recorded by Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Olivia Newton-John, Bonnie Tyler, and blues artists Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and Joanne Shaw Taylor.

Recently, House released James House and The Blues Cowboys (Victor House Records), a most excellent mix of blues and Americana that consists of ten original songs from House, backed by some of Nashville’s finest musicians. The album is split into “Side A” and “Side B,” with each side featuring a different set of musicians backing House. On “Side A,” House plays B3 and splits guitar duties with Will Kimbrough and the backing musicians are Mike Brignardello (bass), Crash Jones (drums), and Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle).

The haunting opener, “Jail House Blues,” is a stellar blues rocker that sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the set, while “Arkansas Woman” is a strong mid-tempo blues that features a fine vocal from House and Kimbrough’s soaring slide guitar. House and Kimbrough battle it out on the rocking “Ain’t No Way.” The melancholy “Long Way Down” and the yearning “Good Love” close out “Side A” in fine fashion. House’s tortured vocals are a hightlight on both of these tracks.

For “Side B,” House mans the B3 and is joined on guitar by Nashville studio ace Kenny Greenberg, Lou Toomey, and Todd Sharp. Uncle Cracker bassist Michael Bradford and drummer Jones man the rhythm section. “Moving On Over” is a country-flavored rocker that strikes a hard groove and “Well Run Dry” is a guitar-driven shuffle. “Gone Again” has a folk-rock feel, “Boomerang,” the album’s blueiest track, is a funky boogie rambler, and the closer, “Ballad of The Tkings,” is a driving rocker.

James House has produced an excellent blues album with this self-titled effort. His powerful songwriting is matched by his incredibly soulful vocals and superlative musicianship from all involved.

--- Graham Clarke

Travis BowlinTravis Bowlin’s first chart success came in 2014 with his single, “Bad, Bad Man,” which received a lot of airplay and led to him performing another of his songs, “Traveling Man,” on the TLC series 19 Kids and Counting. His song “See You Again” made an impact on the blues/rock charts in 2015 for nearly six month. Bowlin’s second album release, Secundus (Moonbeam Records), features a dozen original tracks penned by Bowlin and associates, and should generate even more attention for the talented Indiana native.

Opening with the funky rocker “Strange Vibes,” Bowlin shows that he’s got a lot of soul with his powerful vocals, while “In The Worst Way” is a simmering mid-tempo blues, “Dancin’ With The Devil” is a barn-burning rocker, “All Over Again” a splendid soul burner, and the kinetic “Don’t Lead Me On” rocks hard. One of the album’s finer moments, at least to these ears, is “Vicksburg Blues,” a strong mid-tempo track that mixes roots and the Delta blues.

“Got To Girl” has a bit of a pop vibe with the rhythm guitar, but the harmonica adds a rootsy feel, and the catchy “You Know You Are” mixes pop and soul while “Casaurina Sand” blends jazz and soul. The acoustic “I Can Let Go” is a heartfelt ballad and “Record Shop” is an old school rocker that make longtime music collectors wistfully recall days gone by. The closer, “Slow Cooker Man,” is a feisty electric blues shuffle with lots of swagger and it wraps the disc up nicely.

Secundus is a strong sophomore effort from Travis Bowlin and shows him to be a great singer and guitarist as well as a rapidly-developing songwriter. Blues fans can expect to hear more from this gifted artist in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

The RefusersThe Seattle rock band The Refusers recently issued their third album, Disobey, a strong nine-song set of fire and fury aimed at government, social injustice, corruption, and poverty. The band consists of Michael Belkin (guitars/vocals/songwriting), Eric Robert (keyboards), Joe Doria (keyboards), Brendan Hill (drums), and Steve Newton (bass).

No entity is safe from Belkin’s scathing lyrics, be it the the government (“Playing With Fire,” the incendiary title track, the funky rocker “Eruption,” “Government Slaves”), Big Pharma (“Why Do They Lie”), the poverty gap (“Free The Captives”), and the media (“Fake News”). However, there are a few moments of respite mixed in, such as “My Baby Loves Rock And Roll,” a fun romp where the group jibes rap music while singing the praises of rock and roll, and the hopeful “Emancipation” which closes the disc.

While the lyrics may capture most fans’ attention, The Refusers make some mighty fine music that is definitely rock and roll for the ages. I especially dig the keyboards that blend so well with the two-fisted rock approach that the band uses. This is not only music that makes you think, it’s music that makes you move, too.

In its beginnings rock and roll was considered a form of protest music, mostly against the older generations, but it’s important to remember that the roots of rock and roll are buried deep in the soil of the blues which is pretty close to being the original protest music. Despite the issues our country faces today, at the end of the day we are all still free to speak our mind against things that we disagree with, and that’s the most enduring feature of Disobey. Hopefully, that will never change.

-- Graham Clarke

Little VictorLittle Victor plays distorted electric guitar, harmonica thru an invented contraption looking like an electrified shell that mounts to a neck rack, and sings with a voice rougher than Joe Cocker and Tom Waits combined, as if he’d just ingested Armagnac acid with a bleach-back.

European blues musicians do two things Americans musicians don’t: A) The innate sense of performing blues as a FEELING (with the same motive as past southern African-American masters), and B) an integrated attitude blurring lines between musical categories and not taking sides. The energy and rebellion of rockabilly is combined with the brand of blues described above. Congregating in musical cliques seems to happen less across the pond. Vocally, Europeans share the same challenge as American blues-rockers: sure, they might be able to replicate a slide guitar of Muddy, but no one will ever sing like he did. The merit of the European singers is they still develop their own style out of the opportunity, sometimes outrageously, while their American counterparts only imitate out of necessity. Instead of asking “how did this happen,” let’s instead enjoy the party.

Deluxe Lo-Fi (Rhythm Bomb) is a mixture of sessions and guests, sometimes in a minor key, other times with a surf beat, but it’s a blues disc all the way thru. That vocal and good guitar is evident thru the program. Lo fi is right, mono too. Hear controlled swing with a backbeat. Victor delays and extends or shortens bars and measures like an old Mississippi blues man. His voice begins to feel like a one-trick pony until track six where it’s so bad it’s good, severe agony.

Continuing are nods to the slide guitar style of Elmore James, swinging barrelhouse piano, slow guitar tremolo tempo, calypsos or bossas, and he really doesn’t play that much of his own harmonica. Individual track guests like Harpdog Brown and Kim Wilson fill those slots. A really good assortment of deep grooves. Fans of old-time harmonica, electric guitar and blues piano will especially like.

--- Tom Coulson

RC and the MoonpiesRC and the Moonpie Band supplies more groove than most American blues bands. There is a little more substance to the arrangements than usual and the frontman is a good vocalist. One problem however is the lead guitarist sounds like a VAUGHN-A-BE, a common trap that many young, especially American, musicians live in. This single dimension totally negates any other guitar feeling like a John Lee Hooker, or any solid example directly from R & B which is all the inspiration you need really need to play R & R.

After a couple enjoyable numbers on All This (Houndsounds), including respect to Ruth Brown, suddenly track three is delivered in noticeably bad taste and the sequence goes downhill from there. An attractive jazz selection is ruined by the vocal (which I can’t believe is the same individual), a funk potential is ruined by the wrong drum figure zapping the groove. By track six an acoustic slide guitar feature may redeem this disc, at least three selections from the second half sound good on blues radio. One unsolicited comment from a listener hearing only one track garnered “this band needs horns.” In the band’s defense, those horns are there and especially nice during the closing number.

--- Tom Coulson

Joe Filikso and Eric NodenJoe Filisko is the harmonica player, Eric Noden the guitarist on Destination Unknown (RootsDuo). They share vocals and double on other instruments, they are original. Favorite tracks: "Path you Choose," "Four Letter “F” Word."

The music has good harmonies and is folky. The kazoo or accordion don’t do it for me but combined they give the music an an old-timy feel, very rural. On "Louisiana Song" it might be accordion with rack-mounted harmonica in unison. Un-amplified harmonica is appealing and attractive. When electrified the tone brings back rare memories of ALAN BLIND OWL WILSON! (Quite different from Kim Wilson). The disc contains present-day serious lyrics, the minimal instrumentation and good tempo equal groove if you will. Other moments are suspended and introspective in emotion. Track four is simply excellent, track five sounds like a Piedmont picking style.

These guys have no inflated sense of who they are, just being themselves makes the results very genuine. The recording is warm, it’s just the duo and no other musicians throughout. No frills, honest. Once a while on a blues track the vocal (alternated between the two) just doesn’t fit the material, but despite that comment, this is one of the few five-star ratings I give for a 2018 blues release.

--- Tom Coulson
(I play all discs I review on radio. Search for Hacksaw Jazz.

Snapshots of new release jazz albums we are playing on-air:

Yellowjackets with Luciana Souza. The group has matured into an intuitive jazz unit beautifully thru the decades, here typically busy and a little Brazilian. If not for Souza’s presence I still might hear it as mechanical fusion.

Lucia Jackson. I like her, something appealing and original about that innocent wavering vocal pitch and despite predictable choice of standards nothing wrong with her taste in material, excellent backing musicians.

Pianist Justin Kauflin. The first background impression sounded pretty fluffy with titles defying truth, like a lot of stuff today. But we liked “Country Fried” and soon became open-minded to hyperactive behavior. The good piano sound and playing in what first felt like a shallow setting soon changed our minds, upon careful consideration the music is quite happening, utilizing fairly standard instrumentation. The caliber of talent, especially the bassist, makes it stand out. We still don’t like all tracks.

Vocalist Cecile McLoran Salvant, The Window. We already liked Cecile’s voice from a previous release, needed no further authentication there. The treat of this release is the piano accompanist who we catch playing Bud Powell to Willie The Lion Smith to George Shearing….in just a few bars.

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff. This material has impact just from an instrumental standpoint. It’s more than technique or talent, it’s a philosophy and positive attitude applied thru playing styles. We don’t know who’s rising to the occasion here, soloists, horns or rhythm section parts, but suspect the pianist is the ringleader. Vocals of the Psalms are simply icing on the cake. Studious progression is obvious, noticed and appreciated.

Pianist Christian Sands. His EP was a drastic sweep between studio fireworks and live extended technical calisthenics. The only useable tracks off this latest disc for us are 3, 5, 6 and 7. Mr. Sands is not showing his promise. We’re out with the tricky time signatures, pseudo-smooth jazz, this guy is talented and we’ve heard him really play with fire. All we have here is kindling. We rate because In past offerings he’s been Tyner and Jamal, here he’s Hancock. The concluding track deals with meditation, just how deep we can’t yet say.

Myriad 3, obviously a jazz trio. Any such thing as “Contemporary Out?” This would be it, piano the strongest link, percussion a bit predictable and limited, perhaps less dimensional. This is not Corea’s and Holland’s and Altschul’s Circulus, nor do we claim those are the intensions, times or conditions here. We only know which we’d cue up next if given the choice.

Paul Simon, In the Blue Light. Paul can do no wrong, at any time in his career. The overproduction of recent releases, such as sampling sweetening here and say since 2000, can be a bit irritating. We feel that could date the material in just a few years, whereas even his ‘70s/‘80s production remains timeless.

Vocalist Kandace Springs, Indigo (Blue Note). Admirable combination of covers and originals. We’d been warned of her voice by those who’ve heard her live. Bits and pieces of audio, tracks that are only preludes, interludes or epilogues are frustrating as only teases (We also detected the same thing on this year’s earlier EP from Kandace). Bad news? A good track is “Love Sucks” but is in bad taste, is she a millennial! Good news: “Unsophisticated” is simply excellent, (the late) Roy Hargrove as guest on trumpet is really nice.

Pianist Xavier Davis, Rise Up Detroit. This release may be the most substantive of what we’ve reviewed lately but still not a TKO. It has a very good vibe which we attribute to its title. We like the leader’s playing. After calling Regina Carter “overrated” all these years, recognizing her success as leader and guest everywhere, this album might highlight her most aggressive playing yet on record? We will play most tracks, favorites are "Exodus" which is Elvin-Tyner-like, and "Oh Henry" with good energy. "Great Migration" reminds us of Tony Williams’ composing side, another track deals with meditation, just how deep we can’t yet say.

Saxophonist Greg Fishman. A rare 5 stars for rising to the occasion. No obligation to cut new ground or look forward at expense of being less than the masters of whom he fits alongside simply perfectly. Perpetuating and respecting tradition, two qualities very much lacking among new musicians.

--- Tom Coulson



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