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November 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Will Jacobs and Marcos Coll

Nancy Wright

Grady Champion

Reverend Shawn Amos

The 44s

Steve Howell

Kevin Breit

Carlo Ditta

Dawn Tyler Watson

Paul Harris

Peter Ward

Kelly's Lot

Tullie Brae

JP Reali

Bonita and the Blues Shacks

Reverend Freakchild

Jon Gindick

Tom Euler

Michele D'Amour


Will Jacobs and Marcos CollI always have a huge pile of CDs on my desk, and I try to get through all of them in some timely fashion. Some I just set aside because I'm just not interested in the music on them or the quality just isn't' good enough. But at times I get blindsided by a band or an artist that I've never heard of. That's the case with Takin' Our Time (Hotsak), recorded in Berlin, Germany by the duo of Will Jacobs & Marcos Coll. It's good. Really, really good.

Jacobs is a young, mid-20s musician from the States who somehow wound up in Germany, and he handles the vocals, guitar, bass and drums on Takin' Our Time, with Spanish harmonica ace Coll joining in for nine very nice blues numbers.

Kicking off the album is a Clarence Carter / George Jackson composition, "It Ain't Safe," with slashing blues guitar and rich, rangy vocals from Jacobs. It's a little bit funky and very catchy. Up next is the original "Going To Berlin," a Chicago-style 12-bar shuffle with driving harmonica accompaniment from Coll. This number shows up at the end of the album in a live version with excellent sound quality and minimal background noise.

Two of my preferred cuts on Takin' Our Time come mid-album --- the instrumental "C.J.s Bounce," with frantic guitar licks and very hot harp riffs, and the Deadric Malone blues number, "Stranded," with Jacobs' slide guitar competing for attention with heavy Little Walter-style harp from Coll. The latter also gets to shine on the instrumental, "Bluescazorla Boogie."

Jacobs gets funky on his guitar on the blues shuffle, "One Too Many Times," an original number with strong vocals. I'm also very fond of the mid-tempo blues, "What U Doing," with Coll going crazy up and down his harmonica similar to what we've often heard from Sugar Blue.

Getting an actual compact disc of Takin' Our Time may not be easy, but digital copies are a breeze to find online. Regardless of how and where you find it, be sure to pick up a copy of this album. It's a keeper.

--- Bill Mitchell

Nancy WrightI knew very little about saxophonist / singer Nancy Wright before her new live CD, Alive & Blue (Direct Hit Records), arrived in my mailbox. She's played with a lot of very fine blues artists, so maybe I've seen her as a backing musician and maybe I haven't. Regardless, I'm really impressed with what I heard on this album recorded just about a year ago at The Saloon in San Francisco, recorded and mixed by the musical geniuses, Robby Yamilov and Kid Andersen, from Greaseland Studios.

Alive & Blue is bluesy, jazzy, funky and soulful, which basically also describes Wright's sax playing and singing. The sound quality is so impeccable that you may not even notice the session wasn't done in a studio. The show starts with an original instrumental, the very funky "Bugalu" that could have come from a studio in Memphis, with backing organ from Tony Lufrano. We then first hear Wright's sassy, soulful vocals on the funky blues number. "Been Waiting That Long." Just as effective in showcasing Wright's dual talents is the soulful anthem, "In Between Tears," and the up-tempo Don Robey cover "I Don't' Want No Man," with Wright demonstrating in no uncertain terms what she's all about.

The sax intro to Lazy Lester's Louisiana swamp classic, "Sugar Coated Love," is great, with Lufrano shining on electric piano and Wright raising the bar even higher with her later sax solo. If you're looking for a slower jazz number, be sure to check out the original "Warranty," with Jeff Tamelier backing with nice guitar effects. Tamelier's guitar work also stands out on the slow, late night blues, "Bernie's Blues." But then the tempo picks up considerably and the mood turns to sheer raucousness on "Keep Your Hands Off Of Him."

Fans of Allen Toussaint's music will especially appreciate Wright's version of "What Do You Want The Girl To Do," featuring outstanding keyboard work from Lufrano on both piano and organ. Closing the set is a jazzy blues shuffle, "Rutabagas," giving every band member a chance to show off on their respective instruments.

The pacing and mood changes on this album are outstanding, as Wright and the band weave seamlessly between the various styles of music and tempos, all brought together by her excellent sax playing. Okay, now I know that I need to dig deeper into her catalog, because Alive & Blue has just whetted my appetite.

--- Bill Mitchell

Grady ChampionZ.Z. Hill played a huge role in the resurgence of the blues in the early ’80s. In the late ’60s and ’70s, Hill was a moderately-successful performer with a few hits under his belt for several different labels. However, upon signing with Malaco Records in 1979, he immediately began paying dividends for the Jackson, Mississippi-based label, with several best-selling albums and a number of songs that even reached the R&B Top 20, including a few that have become modern standards, such as “Down Home Blues,” “Shade Tree Mechanic,” “Cheating In The Next Room,” and “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In.”

Hill’s success is often credited with helping jump-start the whole blues genre, but he wasn’t able to reap the benefits for very long. In 1984 he died suddenly at age 48 from a heart attack arising from a blood clot formed after a car accident a few months earlier. Even today, he still enjoys a big following in Mississippi; I hear his records played frequently on R&B stations in the state.

One of Hill's biggest fans was Jerry Dean Champion, the late mother of current Malaco recording artist Grady Champion. The Canton, Mississippi-based singer/harmonica player honors his mom’s musical idol with his latest release, Steppin’ In: A Tribute To Z.Z. Hill.

The aforementioned songs are all here, “Down Home Blues” opens the disc and Champion plays this one close to Hill’s original, and his gritty vocal is a good fit with this song which has been covered by many blues artists over the years. The double-entendre romp, “Shade Tree Mechanic,” is a standout, and Champion pulls out all the vocal stops on the title track, receiving additional punch from Jewel Bass and Lahlah Devine’s backing vocals and the Jackson Horns. Champion’s read of “Cheating In The Next Room” is soul-blues at its finest.

Longtime musical collaborator Eddie Cotton guests on guitar for two memorable tracks, an intense take on “Bump And Grind” and “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” which he introduces with a scorching minute and a half solo. The blues anthem “I’m A Blues Man” serves as a great mission statement for blues artists everywhere, and Champion’s vocal on this track is a standout. The amusing “Open House At My House” was a less-familiar song, but Champion has a lot of fun with it and with “Who You Been Giving It To” and the Memphis-flavored “Three Into Two Won’t Go.”

Champion is well-complemented by his backing band. Guitarist Will Wesley is always in the right place at the right time, and the sizzling rhythm section (bassist Frederick Demby Sr., keyboardist Sam Brady, and drummer Edward Rayshard Smith) are rock solid. The Jackson Horns (Kimble Funchess and David N. Ware – trumpets, Dr. Jessie Primer III – tenor sax, and Steve Kincaid – baritone sax) are top notch in support as well.

I think Grady Champion’s mom would pretty proud of the treatment her favorite blues man has received from her son on Steppin’ In. I think blues fans will feel the same way.

--- Graham Clarke

Shawn AmosA few months ago Blues Bytes reviewed Vol. 1 of The Reverend Shawn AmosKitchen Table Blues EP series, and now it’s time to take a look at Vol. 2 (Put Together Music). Like its predecessor, Volume 2 consists of five tracks captured during Amos’ two-year YouTube series of the same name, where he cooked meals and performed songs for 90 Sundays in the kitchen of his Van Nuys, Californa home and was usually joined by other performers who just happened to “drop by” during the festivities. On these five tracks, Amos is joined by Sista Jean McClain, the Mudbug Brass Band, Mindi Abair, Lester Lands, and his daughter Piper Amos.

The opener is the blues standard “Sweet Home Chicago,” a subdued acoustic version with McClain supporting Amos’ plaintive vocals. The Mudbug Brass Band joins Amos in what must have been a kitchen filled to near-capacity for a rousing take of “Li’l Liza Jane,” sounding like it must have been a ton of fun. Abair duets with Amos on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” a song that the pair previously recorded on Amos’ 2015 release The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You (which Abair produced). It was really cool to hear Amos and singer Lester Lands team up for a stripped down read of a real blast from the past in Pablo Cruise’s ’70s smash “Whatcha Gonna Do.”

The closing song features Amos’ oldest child, Piper, singing lead vocals on “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Obviously, the daughter and the father share a lot of musical talent, though she’s currently pursuing a pre-med degree. I can just see the Reverend beaming with pride as his daughter sings the heck out of this song.

Hopefully, Vol. 2 won’t be the last we hear of the Reverend Amos’ Kitchen Table Blues series. Both sets have offered great performances and entertaining interpretations of classic songs.

--- Graham Clarke

The 44sIt’s been seven years since we last heard from The 44’s. During that time, the band has undergone a nearly-complete transformation. Singer/guitarist/original member Johnny Main is the lone holdover from the previous band, and he’s assembled a brand new line-up (Eric Von Herzen – harmonica, Mike Hightower – bass, Gary Ferguson – drums) and invited guest guitarist Junior Watson to participate in the band’s much-awaited new release, Twist The Knife (Rip Cat Records), a rock-solid eight-song set of blues and roots.

The opener, “Cuttin’ Deep,” is an original instrumental that really sets the tone for the entire album, a tough shuffle that mixes crisp Texas blues guitar between Main and Watson with a funky swamp blues bottom. “Sugar You” is a slice of old-school R&B originally written and recorded by Richard Berry, with Main’s smooth croon a cool complement to the band’s rootsy approach. Main gets down and dirty with a strong cover of “Howlin’,” giving the Wolf a run for his money. The band keeps it in Chicago for “Champagne and Reefer,” featuring Von Herzen’s harmonica front and center.

“Too Many Drivers,” the Lightnin’ Hopkins standard, gets a Windy City shuffle treatment, and “Rosie,” from Doyle Bramhall II, is a spicy mix of blues and psychedelic rock with a driving, hypnotic beat and Main’s tremolo-laden guitar work. James Harman’s “Helsinki” is a powerful slow blues, maybe the highlight of the disc. “44’s Shuffle” is a cool redo of the classic “T-Bone Shuffle,” closing the disc out in fine fashion.

The only complaint about Twist The Knife is that there just ain’t enough of it --- only 33 minutes. Hopefully, The 44’s won’t wait us wait so long for their next release. More, please, and quickly.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellGuitarist Steve Howell has the amazing ability to take classic songs and completely revitalize and modernize them while keeping the traditional feel of the original versions. Joined by Jason Weinheimer (bass), Dan Sumner (guitar), and David Dodson (mandolin and banjo), Howell offers another fascinating set, History Rhymes (Out Of The Past Music), consisting of a dozen acoustic tracks of blues, jazz, roots, pop, and folk music from the previous century.

Most blues fans will be familiar with at least a few of these songs. The opener, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” has been recorded by numerous jazz and blues artists. Howell and company give their interpretation a light, breezy feel. “Blues In The Night” is another standard recorded by artists from Louis Armstrong to Dr. John to Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald, and Howell’s gentle, melodic version is marvelous. Blues fans have probably heard Rev. Gary Davis’ spirited “If I Had My Way” presented by different artists, but Howell’s version is as inspired as any other versions heard.

Howell and crew also touch on folk classics like “Jack of Diamonds” (a favorite of many pre-war blues artists), the lovely “Frosty Morn,” and “Texas Rangers – The Falls Of Richmond,” the spicy ragtime “Everybody Loves My Baby,” and an achingly tender cover of “You Don’t Know Me.” Other blues tunes presented are Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Shuckin’ Sugar,” “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues,” and a poignant read of Lead Belly’s “Titanic,” where Howell includes the often-omitted verse regarding then-heavyweight champion Jack Johnson being refused passage on the ill-fated ship.

The closer, a relaxed country blues take on Bukka White’s “Pine Bluff, Arkansas,” may be my favorite track on the disc, but that’s a hard call to make because ALL of the selections are favorites. Howell’s always-excellent guitar work, the sympathetic backing from his band mates and his overall love of the music (his comments on each track in the liner notes is always entertaining) make any of his albums required listening, not just for blues fans but for any person who loves music played well.

History Rhymes, taken from Mark Twain’s quote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” is another wonderful addition to Steve Howell’s catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Kevin BreitI’ve heard several releases from Canadian slide guitarist Kevin Breit over the past few years;. His two collaborations with fellow guitarist Harry Manx were lots of fun and his 2018 solo release, Johnny Goldtooth and the Cherry Casanovas, was a blast to hear. However, none of those previous efforts remotely resemble Breit’s latest release, Stella Bella Strada (Stony Plain), a stunning piece of work that defies description or musical classification. If you listen to any music at all, there is something on this thrilling ten-song set that will be in your musical wheelhouse.

“A Common Vow,” the opening number, is a beautiful track with Breit’s slide guitar backed by a string quartet. “Buttons and Zippers” is a funky track that mixes second line syncopation with Breit’s soaring slide, while “Vegas Address” has a haunting film noir edge to it. “Mother’s Cupboard” at first listen sounds like a pretty sedate number, but Breit manages to throw in a few curves throughout the song. The easy-going, delta-esque slide of “Shoo The Bluebird” is punctuated by Mark Lalama’s accordion and a horn section.

The title track (named after the new guitar built for Breit by friend and master luthier Joseph Yanuziello) is a groovy Italian-favored shuffle with strings and Wurlitzer accompaniment from Breit’s brother, Gary. “Of Silk and Honey” features mariachi horns and a Mexican flair, while the delightful “Marcello Loren” includes the horns and a 15-piece choir.

The 11-piece Upper York Mandolin Orchesra join Breit on “If You Knew.” I can’t really describe the closer, “Kick At The Grape,” other than to say that you just need to listen to it to fully appreciate its manic energy and madcap lunacy.

Trust me when I promise that you won’t hear anything else like Stella Bella Strada this year. Also, trust when I say that you need to hear Stella Bella Strada as soon as you’re able. It’s that much fun!

--- Graham Clarke

Carlo DittaCarlo Ditta’s new album, Hungry For Love (Orleans Records) is only his second, but the New Orleans-based singer/songwriter/guitarist has been on the national music scene for decades as a songwriter and performer. With the Orleans label he’s made records for a host of Louisiana artists over the past 30-plus years for Mighty Sam McClain, Little Freddie King, Guitar Slim Jr., Rockie Charles, Ironing Board Sam, Coco Robicheaux, and Roland Stone. As might be expected, his latest effort is pure Crescent City through and through, with ten tracks split between covers and Ditta-penned originals.

The title track opens the disc, Ditta’s semi-spoken, gravelly vocal rumbling over a hypnotic, snaky, swampy groove. Eddie Powers’ mid-’60s single “A Gypsy Woman Told Me” features catchy retro keyboards from Rick Stelma and shimmering guitar work from Ditta. The funky “La MuChaCha Cha” adopts a smoldering Latin groove. “Agnes English,” an obscure track written and originally recorded by Baton Rouge’s John Fred, gets a haunting, ominous treatment, and Ditta goes all soulful for his own “Working So Hard For My Baby’s Love,” with saxophone from Jerry Jumonville.

The next two songs were part of the single released in advance of the album (and reviewed here in January). “Pass The Hatchet” is an updated fun and funky track from the mid-’60s by Roger and the Gypsies (bassist Earl Stanley wrote this track and “A Gypsy Woman Told Me”), and “Life In Heaven” has an ethereal swamp pop feel, courtesy of Dave Easley’s skittering pedal steel guitar.

Ditta’s world-weary vocal highlights the mournful “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail,” originally recorded by the Everly Brothers. The greasy, mid-tempo “It’s Up To You” was written by Ditta, who closes with a raw take on “The House Of The Rising Sun” that ranks with the best interpretations you’ll hear.

The album brings to mind the classic New Orleans R&B sounds of the ’60s, but it doesn’t sound dated at all. Ditta pours his heart and soul into his vocals and his guitar work. Obviously, Hungry For Love was a labor of love for Carlo Ditta and one hopes he will find his way back to the studio soon, and not just as a producer.

--- Graham Clarke

Dawn Tyler WatsonDawn Tyler Watson won the 33rd I.B.C. in 2017, following a painful breakup of her marriage and just a few months after undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery (the first Canadian artist and only the second female to take the honor). She has spent the last two years touring extensively in the U.S. and Canada, captivating audiences with her high-energy performances and powerful voice. On her latest release, Mad Love, she’s backed for the second time by the Ben Racine Band, along with guest artists Steve Marriner, Steve Hill, and Francois Thiffault (who also produced).

The blues rocker “Alligator” kicks off the disc in fine fashion with the hard charging rhythm section of Nicky Estor (drums) and François Dubé (bass) driving the beat and smoking harp from Marriner. The horns (Mathieu Mousseau – baritone sax, Kaven Jalbert – tenor sax, Nicolas Boulay – trumpet) join in for the menacing “Don’t Make Me Mad,” and Watson gives a compelling, heartfelt read of the soul ballad “Feels Good To Watch You Go.” “This And That” is a swinging, horn-fueled original from Watson and the mid-tempo “You’re The Only One” has a nice New Orleans groove, plus a guest vocal from Racine.

On the title track, Watson gives a stunning performance of a woman struggling to leave a bad relationship. Hill adds scorching lead guitar on this track which Watson pretty much makes her own, though it written by Vincent Pollet-Villard. The next track, the funky R&B number “Masochistic Heart,” was written by Watson and might explain her fiery performance on the previous track. “Lost” is an absolutely haunting song written by Watson about her doomed marriage.

Meanwhile, “Away Too Fast” is a bit more upbeat on the R&B side, but still finds Watson trying to get over a recently departed lover, and the peppy “Love To Burn” finds her just about fed up with her significant other. The sassy “I Look Good” is a fun jump blues about getting back on your feet after a romantic setback, and the closer, “The River,” is a moving gospel track where Watson is backed by Liana Primerano.

John Sadowy contributes mightily on keyboards throughout the disc, and other contributors include Alain Talbot (bass trombone) and Thiffault, who plays tenor sax and clarinet on selected tracks.
Dawn Tyler Watson is a versatile singer and charismatic performer who deserves to be heard. Mad Love is a great place for new listeners to get on board.

--- Graham Clarke

Paula HarrisVocalist Paula Harris first received attention with her top three finish at the 2012 I.B.C., along with winning the Monterey Blues Festival’s Battle of the Bands competition that same week. Her debut release, Turning On The Naughty, earned her a BMA nomination and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award in 2013, along with several other subsequent nominations for Best Blues Band, Entertainer, and Female Vocalist.

Her newest release, Speakeasy, finds Harris digging deeper into ’40s and ’50s jazz and blues with 16 mostly original tracks, which feature the versatile singer backed by a trio (Nate Ginsberg – piano, Rich Girard – acoustic bass, Derrick “D’Mar” Martin – drums). Harris sounds incredible on these tracks, her voice a perfect mix of jazz, blues, and soul and the trio, occasionally augmented by Bill Ortiz’s trumpet and percussion from Kid Andersen (the session was recorded at his Greaseland Studios), give the songs a vintage, after-hours feel.

Harris composed ten of the tracks and they’re an excellent lot, from the opening cautionary tale “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight” to the bawdy “I Wanna Hate Myself Tomorrow (For Raising Hell Tonight),” to the bluesy ballad “Haunted,” to the amusing “Soul-Sucking Man.”

“Something Wicked,” another original is a moody, jazzy ballad that also features Ortiz’s trumpet and Big Llou Johnson in a poetic rap. The rollicking “Trouble Maker,” placed near the album midpoint, is a nice change of pace, while “Who Put Those Scratches On Your Back” takes a look at infidelity.

The covers include a smoky rendition of the Billie Holiday standard, “Good Morning Heartache,” the ballad “This Love Is Gonna Do Me In,” originally recorded by Pamela Rose, and Scotty Wright’s “A Mind Of Her Own.” Al Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” originally a hit for Blood, Sweat, and Tears, gets a masterful treatment from Harris, maybe the best vocal on the album but that’s a tough call to make. Harris also contributes new lyrics for Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” that work very well.

Speakeasy is a cool release that will certainly please fans of late-night blues and jazz. Paula Harris is a vocalist of stunning depth and a songwriter of equal merit. Stay tuned for more great music from this wonderful talent.

--- Graham Clarke

Tulia BraeRaised in the church singing gospel music in her native Louisiana, singer/keyboardist Tullie Brae followed in the footsteps of many performers who preceded her by venturing into the world of blues and soul music. A talented vocalist, instrumentalist, and performer, Brae’s latest release, Revelation (Endless Blues Records), shows that she’s also a talented songwriter as well, composing all ten of the tracks on the album. Revelation was produced by Jeff Jensen, who also backs Brae on guitar throughout along with a host of Memphis’ finest musicians.

The opener, “Price Of The Blues,” is a hard-hitting look, both musically and lyrically, at domestic violence and redemption. Brae almost growls the lyrics and Jensen’s guitar is top notch. The soul-searching “Seven Bridges” settles back and softens into a gospel groove with churchy backing vocals from Susan Marshall and Dauniele Hill, while the moody slow blues, “Mississippi Rain," features a sultry vocal turn from Brae and tasteful guitar backing. “Break These Chains” is a gritty, driving blues rocker with Brandon Santini contributing harmonica.

“New Shoes” is an upbeat, well-crafted ballad, comparing friendships to “a pair of new shoes,” and the scorching “Devil In Deville” mixes gospel with Mississippi Hill Country, propelled by Brad Webb’s slide guitar and Brae’s riveting vocal.

"Ain’t No Good” is a muscular mid-tempo look at another bad relationship, and the funky “Watch Her Move” celebrates women who have overcome obstacles in their lives. “Shine” is a pop-flavored ballad that offers encouragement to listeners to keep pushing ahead, and “Thank You Mom,” the closer, is a sweet tribute to Brae’s mother.

I wasn’t familiar with Tullie Brae upon hearing Revelation, but based on what I’m hearing she’s the total package as a performer --- a fantastic singer, musician, and songwriter. I will be looking for more great music from her in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Peter WardFormer Legendary Blues Band guitarist Peter Ward is joined by a host of New England’s finest blues artists on his latest release, Train To Key Biscayne (Gandy Dancer Records). The follow-up to Ward’s excellent debut, Blues on My Shoulders, features guest vocals from Sugar Ray Norcia, Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson, Johnny Nicholas, and the legendary Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson. Also lending a hand are guitarist Ronnie Earl, keyboardists Anthony Geraci and Hank Walther, drummer Neal Gouvin, and Ward’s brother Michael “Mudcat” Ward on bass.

Johnson appropriately takes the mic for the opening shuffle, “The Luther Johnson Thing,” an opportunity for the former Muddy Waters sideman to relay his life story to those unfamiliar. He brings his usual charm and exuberance to the proceedings. Norcia tackles three wide-ranging tracks; the old school rock n’ roller, “A Westerly Sunday Night,” the vintage ballad “When You Are Mine,” and the swinging “As Long As I Have A Chance,” while Willson sings on the muscular rocker “I Saw Your Home” and the spicy but sweet “Coffee Song.”

Nicholas sings the title track, a playful, footloose swinger, and “Change (Ain’t Never For The Good),” a blue shuffle that speaks the truth more often than not. Ward wrote all of the songs, taking vocals on “Blues Elixir (Ronnie’s Here),” backed by Earl on guitar, and the swampy blues “Something Always Slows Me Down.”

There are two instrumentals as well, “Supposedly,” melding country and surf music rather deftly, and “Anthony’s Son,” a short, but moving solo guitar piece Ward dedicates to Geraci’s son, Todd, who recently lost part of a leg in an accident.

Peter Ward’s Train to Key Biscayne is a cool set from a fine guitarist and his friends that makes for fun and compelling listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Kelly's LotKelly’s Lot celebrates their 25th anniversary this year with their 14th release, Can’t Take My Soul. Singer Kelly Zirbes (you may know her as Kelly Z) and guitarist Perry Robertson have released one powerhouse set of blues, roots, rock, and Americana after another for a quarter century, and this latest effort shows that they’re poised to blast through another 25. Zirbes and Robertson penned all 12 tracks, which cover a wide range of blues-related topics and touch on other genres, as well.

The rocking opener, “All I Ever Want Is The Blues,” finds Kelly Z citing a number of her influences, from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters to Koko Taylor and Etta James, while the politically-charged “All Hope Ain’t Lost,” encourages all to hang in there and weather the stormy political waters. “Alyssa” is a poignant tale of a young woman diagnosed with a terminal disease at a young age who fought a courageous battle and lived to young adulthood.

The swinging Cajun track, “Woe Is Me,” picks up the pace considerably, with help from Eddie Baytos on accordion and washboard, and “Safe And Warm” is an acoustic love song with warm musical backing and vocals. The intense French/English “Rise Up ((Lève-Toi)” features a duet vocal from French bluesman Jean-Francois Thomas (guitarist Rob Zucca handles lead guitar on this track), and Frank Hinojosa adds gritty harmonica to the funky “Broke Myself,” and “Let It Breathe” is a gentle acoustic ballad.

“Dirt” is a mid-tempo rocker that calls for one to move on to better things when bad things start to feel too comfortable, and the sweet “Little Bit Of This” finds Zirbes returning to her folk-singer beginnings. The title track should get folks on their feet with its irresistible surf music rhythm and defiant vocal, and the closer, “Mon Ami,” is another French/English song, a lilting love song that closes the album on a joyful note.
Can’t Take My Soul is a delightful set of multiple styles and themes.

As stated above, Kelly’s Lot looks set to cruise through another 25 years with ease.

--- Graham Clarke

JP RealiD.C. guitarist J.P. Reali recently journeyed to New England to meet up with his old friend Duke Levine to record A Highway Cruise (Reali Records), an easygoing five-song EP of blues, country, and rock originals. Joining Reali (vocals/electric and acoustic guitars) and Levine (electric guitar/mandolin) on this entertaining set are Kevin Barry (lap steel, Dobro), Jim Haggerty (bass), Tom West (keyboards), Mark Teixeira (drums), and Dennis Brennan (harmonica).

The opener, “My Baby Likes To Boogie,” is, as you might guess, a lively little shuffle that kicks the disc off in fine fashion. “The Ballad Of A Burglar” is an amusing Berry-esque rock n’ roller with a twist, and the title track has a southern rock feel and offers Reali’s reflections on the current immigration issues. The last two tracks lean more toward country or bluegrass, with the acoustic “Blues For Casey” describing a character who’s suffering from the “working at the White House blues,” and the closer, “Whiskey For Blood,” is a cool back-porch rambler with mandolin and Dobro featured prominently.

A Highway Cruise isn’t all blues, but it’s a very nice, laid-back set that will please blues and roots fans. Hopefully, Reali and Levine will reconvene for a full-length effort in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

BonitaBlues fans may be familiar with the German blues band B.B. and the Blues Shacks. It’s hard to find a current band who plays the traditional blues as well as the Blues Shacks do (Blues Bytes reviewed their latest release, Reservation Blues, in July 2018). One of the band’s side projects is backing an immensely talented R&B/soul/blues singer Bonita Niessen, a longtime German resident originally from South Africa. Sweet Thing (Rhythm Bomb Records) is the second recording from Bonita & the Blues Shacks and it features a whopping 16 tracks, six dynamite originals and ten classic covers.

Bonita and the band opens with a steamy cover of “He Made A Woman Out Of Me,” first recorded by Betty LaVette in the late ’60s, rolling into a stomping blues shuffle original, “Momma’s Goin’ Dancin’,” and the sophisticated urban blues of the title track, associated with B.B. King. The uptempo “Too Much Mystery” was originally recorded by Otis Clay, and “Who’s That Guy,” from The Kolettes, is a delightful retro journey into pop/soul. The sweet ballad, “Me And The One That I Love,” came from Hugo & Luigi, and the upbeat “Singing A New Song,” was originally recorded by Freddie Waters.

Most of the originals are on the second half of the CD. These were co-written for the most part by Blues Shacks guitarist Andreas Arlt and frontman/harmonica player Michael Arlt with Bonita, and include the delicious “Hottest Wings In Town,” and the old school “So Close” (which also features Michael Arlt on backing and duet vocals). Other originals include the Crescent City-flavored “Southern Girl, Northern Boy,” the smoky after-hours “Sunny Day,” a slow blues with a nice touch of jazz , and the driving rocker, “Singing Cadillac Song.”

The album closes with Freddie King’s “You Can’t Hide,” with Bonita and Michael Arlt singing over a rocking surf backbeat. It’s a fun tune and a great way to conclude this highly entertaining release. Bonita shows herself to be a talented vocal in a variety of musical settings and the Blues Shacks are at their very best on Sweet Thing.

--- Graham Clarke

Reverend FreakchildRoad Dog Dharma (Treated and Released Records) is a continuation of the musical journey of Reverend Freakchild. This latest entry combines Freakchild performances of various original songs and covers in the blues, rock, psychedelia, and gospel genres, with snippets of radio spots and interviews compiled during his travels. The mixture will thrill the Freakchild fanatics and possibly shed some light on the man, his mission, and his music to those who are new or relatively new to the Reverend.

There are 13 songs on the album. Freakchild and his associates --- drummer Chris Parker and guitarist/harmonica player Hugh Pool --- rip through the opening jam, “Roadtrance,” a live track recorded at NYC’s The Cutting Room, which mixes a droning backbeat with psychedelic guitar and other special effects. There’s also an acoustic version of “Dial It In,” from one of Freakchild’s previous albums, which was recorded at WBJB in Asbury Park, New Jersey (a funky remix version appears later in the album), “Inferno Avenue,” a rocking track written by Parker which revisits the classic Man vs. the Devil battle, and a cool rocker, “All Across America,” which addresses life and lessons learned on the road.

Freakchild offers up an acoustic live-on-the-radio take on J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” (with Patrick Coleman sharing vocals), a splendid laid back cover of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and an interesting mash-up that begins with Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” and slowly morphs into The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” It's not a merger that most music fans would ever ponder, but in the mind of Reverend Freakchild it makes perfect sense. Listening to it confirms his thinking.

The last few songs lean more toward the blues than the earlier selections. Rev. Gary Davis’ “You Gotta Move” is a great fit in the Reverend’s repertoire, and Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” gets a rousing treatment that might be the best performance on the disc. “Hippie Bluesman Blues” is Freakchild’s recollection of a recent event when the band was robbed of their equipment, money and clothes during a visit to perform in San Francisco. “Keep On Truckin’” and “The Finish Line” are both traveling blues songs loaded with vivid imagery.

The interviews between the songs are interesting. We get to see what makes Reverend Freakchild click ...  sort of. I’m sure there’s much more beneath the surface to inspire his clever and unique musical vision. Blues fans who don’t mind their music venturing out into interesting and compelling new directions will certainly find what they’re looking for with Road Dog Dharma and Reverend Freakchild.

--- Graham Clarke

Jon GindickMany years ago, a friend bought me a book called Country And Blues Harmonica For The Musically Hopeless. You see, I had taken up the harmonica and this friend recognized my musical hopelessness. Unfortunately, my career as a harmonica player was short-lived .... actually stillborn, but it was definitely not the fault of the book’s author, Jon Gindick. Mr. Gindick has enjoyed a long career as a musician and author, creating several instructional videos and CDs, which were sold on TV, mail order, toy stores, and even at Cracker Barrel restaurants. He also created the Blues Harmonica Jam Camp in 2001 and has put on 67 multi-day workshops focusing on teaching harmonica skills.

A couple of years ago, Gindick teamed with multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carter and released the well-received When We Die, We All Come Back As Music, a highly entertaining disc of original songs. He recently released his second recording, Love At The All Night Café (Old Chimney Records), which includes a dozen new originals that Gindick (harmonica and guitar) recorded with Carter (bass, keyboards, percussion, classical guitar, cigar box guitar) and drummer Pete Gallagher, along with guest guitarist Franck Goldwasser.

The opening track, “I Was Born To Wail,” serves as a tribute to harmonica players of the past --- Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry, Big Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. The easygoing “Feeling Her Gone” has a bit of a greasy Memphis feel with Carter’s keyboards, and “Baby’s Got The Blues” is a gritty shuffle. “The All Night Café” has a lilting Latin groove and comical lyrics, and the funky rocker “Load Me Up Baby” brings Goldwasser’s guitar into the fray. “Mississippi Moods” is a slow, reflective ballad with some of Gindick’s finest harpwork.

“Happy Wife, Happy Life, Happy Home” is a gentle and fun swinger that offers sage advice for males looking to please females, and “The Song I Couldn’t Write” is a piano-driven ballad with a heartfelt vocal from Gindick. On the breezy boogaloo, “I Love The Feminine Girl,” Gindick celebrates the curves, so to speak, He also manages to show his sensitive side on “Hand Holding Man.” “Can’t Get That Girl Off My Mind” revisits the Latin vibe heard earlier, and the album closes with the ballad “In The Land Of You.”

Jon Gindick is not only a masterful harmonica player, but he’s also a gifted composer and his warm vocals are a fine fit, too. Love At The All Night Café is a strong set of blues and blues-based original tunes with a few inspiring surprises along the way. It just might also inspire me to pick up his book and give the harmonica another try.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom EulerVirginia-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Tom Euler is an up-and-coming artist who has already won multiple awards for his guitar playing. He reached the I.B.C. semis in 2018 with his own Tom Euler Band and reached the semis and the finals in 2015 and 2016 as lead guitarist with the Bobby Blackhat Band. Euler recently released his debut album, Blues Got My Back, a classy ten-song set of originals with Euler (vocals/guitar) receiving support from Von José Roberts (bass), Lucy Kilpatrick (keys), and Michael Behlmar (drums).

The title track, an upbeat shuffle, opens the disc, followed by “Bridges You Ain’t Burnt,” a rousing blues rocker. “Played Your Part” is a soulful slow blues featuring a heartfelt vocal from Euler, and “Rock N’ Roll These Days” wryly laments the current state of the music. Meanwhile, “Broken Soul” is a bluesy shuffle with a funky edge. On “Forgive Me,” Kilpatrick’s piano takes on a gospel/soul Ray Charles feel and Euler turns in a marvelous vocal.

“Tricky Business” is a scorching instrumental track reprised from his 2016 EP (Fool Me Once), and “Tough Guy” is a fiery Texas-styled blues rocker fueled by piercing lead guitar and defiant vocals. “More To Life” is a nice upbeat shuffle reflecting on what’s really important in the scheme of things, and the closer, “Thoughts Of You,” is an acoustic, pop-flavored confection that feels like a radio hit from years ago.

Blues Got My Back is a solid, well-crafted full length debut from a promising young talent who deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. Hopefully, this fine release will take care of that for Tom Euler.

--- Graham Clarke

Michele D'AmourDuring I.B.C. Week this past January, Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers (D’Amour – vocals, Patrick McDanel – bass, Jeff Cornell – guitar, Dave Delzotto – drums, Brian Olendorf – keys, Noel Barnes – tenor sax) took advantage of some available studio time at Royal Studios with owner/engineer/producer Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell to record Heart of Memphis (BluesKitty Records), a short but potent eight-song set with seven originals and one tasty cover that each spotlight the band’s muscular blues/rock/R&B approach.

The disc opens with “Another Sleepless Night,” featuring a tough Latin rhythm and horns (guests Greg Lyons and Greg Schroeder, trumpet and trombone respectively, join Barnes). It’s followed by “Dirty Pool,” a mid-tempo burner that showcases Cornell’s top notch guitar work, and the slinky and seductive “Come On Over.” The horns kick in once again as the funky “Cradle To The Hearse” picks up the pace with the rhythm section getting good and greasy in the process.

“No Time” keeps the funk going at a hectic pace as D’Amour and company look at, well, the world’s hectic pace. Next up is the title track, which recounts the band’s experiences in the Bluff City and Beale Street during I.B.C. Week, dropping the names of some of the city’s famous clubs and successfully capturing the mood and atmosphere of the city. The King Curtis instrumental, “Memphis Soul Stew,” allows the band to strut their stuff, just before the album closes with “Strange Angels,” a gospel-flavored ballad.

Short, but sweet, Heart of Memphis has a lot of soul and blues in its 34-minute running time, just like the band itself. Fans of those genres are encouraged to check out Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers at their first opportunity.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul KarapiperisPaul Karapiperis’ latest release, Acoustic & Electric Growls, is a most adventurous and intriguing set of blues recorded by the Greek singer/songwriter/harmonica player with eight of his friends (lead guitarists Vassilis Athanassiadis, Panos Badikouthis, and Panagiotis Daras, drummers Ilias Lintzos and Nikos Konstantinou, bassist Lefteris Besios, clarinetist Nicholas Psarras, and vocalist Manolis Aggelakis). Karapiperis himself also plays all manner of guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion, tzouras, and baglamas during the session.

Karapiperis’ vision of the blues is moody and atmospheric, with various traces of blues, Louisiana swamp, Mississippi Hill Country, Chicago and the Delta freely intermingling with jazz, world, and sometimes psychedelic undercurrents. The songs, all originals, paint vivid images of places deep in the mind, of society in general, recovering from various types of loss (“Broken Pieces of My Wasted Time”) , fear (“The Blues In His Veins”) and desperation (“Trapped In A Fox Hole”).

Karapiperis’ vocals range from a deep growl to a soulful croon, sometimes reassuring, sometimes desperate, sometimes angry, always compelling and ideally suited to his material, which captures the feeling of the blues as well as anything I’ve heard in a while. The words and music are completely immersed in the blues. The guitar work is just amazing on the entire set and Karapiperis’ harmonica work is a force of nature throughout.

Paul Karapiperis and Acoustic & Electric Growls stand as living proof that the blues is definitely a worldwide feeling.

--- Graham Clarke



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