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November 2020

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Order these featured albums today:

Kevin Burt

Dennis Jones

Erin Harpe

Danielle Miraglia

Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite

Peter Parcek

Eli Cook

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters

Kid Ramos and Bob Corritore

Bettye Lavette

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers

Watermelon Slim

Forrest McDonald Band

Mick Kolassa

Bill Blue

BB and the Blues Shacks

The Jimmys

Chris Shutters

Harper and Midwest Kind

Val Starr and the Blues Rocket

Mojo Morganfield


Kevin BurtOne of the more underrated albums from the last couple of years was Heartland and Soul, from Iowa bluesman Kevin Burt. I learned about it from one of our other Blues Bytes contributors, and since then it's been on regular rotation for me. Burt now has another equally fine set of blues available, Stone Crazy (Gulf Coast Records).

If you aren't aware of Burt, he's got a rich voice that brings to mind the vocals of Bill Withers, while also being a very fine guitarist and harmonica player. There are a lot of different styles that go into Burt's music, all weaving together into a cohesive and delightful mix.

All but one of the 11 cuts on Stone Crazy are Burt originals, with the lone cover coincidentally being a Bill Withers song, "Better Off Dead." While the subject matter is very morose, it's one of the best cuts on album as Burt sings, "I'm better off dead now that she's gone ..." and "... I must die by my own hand, because I'm not man enough to live alone ..." Producer Mike Zito gives the appropriate sound of doom with a killer blues guitar solo.

On a more positive note, Burt shows off his magnificent voice on the up-tempo "I'm Busting Out," with strong blues guitar throughout the song as he sings about how he needs to get out of this town. Burt shows off both his harmonica prowess and vocal range on the funky "Should Have Never Left Me Alone."

Burt mixes multiple musical styles on  the slow tribute to his woman, "Purdy Lil Thing," kind of a soulful country thing with strong country rock guitar riffs. Another example of Burt's outstanding singing is when he packs a lot of anger and torture into his voice on the slow blues "Same Old Thing," and Burt shows his softer side with the love song, "Something Special About You."

Both the opening and closing cuts are strong blues numbers, with Burt playing more of a muddied harp sound on the beginning tune, "I Aint' Got No Problem With It," and pumping plenty of energy into his voice on the closer, "Got To Make A Change," while also featuring some really nice slide guitar on this slow blues.

Kudos for Kevin Burt for another fine album in Stone Crazy. Keep it up, Kevin!

--- Bill Mitchell

Dennis JonesI was vaguely familiar with the name of L.A. blues guitarist / singer Dennis Jones, but even with five previous albums to his credit I somehow have been remiss in checking out his music. That's my loss if his previous stuff is anywhere nearly as good as Soft Hard & Loud (Blue Rock Records). This is "full speed ahead" blues from Jones' power trio, with a few guest artists sprinkled in. The core of the band, besides Jones, consists of Raymond Johnson on drums and Cornelius Memes on bass.

We get one of the album's better cuts right from the start with the quirky blues, "Revolves Around You." It's funky with plenty of effects on Jones' blues guitar riffs. He follows with his own kind of love song, a tribute to his roots in rural Maryland where he learned to appreciate music. It's a slow blues with a strong guitar intro leading into his passionate vocals on "I Love The Blues," with strong B-3 from guest Bennett Paysinger joining in. I'm right with Jones as he laments the fact that way too many people in our society just do what they're told instead of thinking for themselves on the rockin' blues, "Like Sheep." Kind of sounds like our current political environment, right?

Jones proclaims that he's not fearing the "other man" on "Front Door Man," an up-tempo blues mover in which he tells us that he's not going to sneak around to the back door. Instead, he's at the front door asking where he can park his Cadillac. Michael Turner and Allison August join the group with sweet harmony vocals on the pleasant R&B love song, "Nothin' On You," before Jones gets topical (and tropical) on the reggae-ish "I Hate Hate."

We get a couple more special guests on the heavy slow blues, "I'm Not," with Jason Freeman's B-3 complementing Jones' guitar work. Closing the album is an up-tempo blues rocker, "Burn The Plantation Down," with Jones taking us on a frantic ride through his tortured soul.

I'm way overdue in checking out the complete discography of Dennis Jones, but for now Soft Hard & Loud will keep me busy while I listen to it over and over. This one's a keeper.

--- Bill Mitchell

Erin HarpeOne of the by-products of this cursed pandemic is that many artists have released more stripped-down recordings with fewer supporting musicians, either made at home or in studios where they could more easily socially distance. One such album is Meet Me In The Middle (VIzzTone) in which singer / guitarist Erin Harpe returns to her acoustic roots with an outstanding set of 10 songs on which she's accompanied only by her husband/bass player Jim Countryman. The recordings were made in the Harpe/Countryman home, but the sound is so pristine that you'd swear it came out of a high-end recording studio. Credit goes to Countryman for his in-home recording and engineering prowess.

In addition to Harpe's outstanding guitar picking, what really stands out is her vocals that naturally contain a smidgen of sass. Both attributes can be heard on the opening cut, the original "All Night Long," made even better with Harpe's outstanding slide work and the background vocals that she added. "Hard Luck Woman" stands out for Countryman's steady walking bass line behind Harpe's exquisite guitar picking. Harpe clones herself to harmonize with her own vocals on "Meet Me In The Middle." Some nice mixing and mastering after the fact.

The first cover song we hear is a simply wonderful version of Sippie Wallace's "Women Be Wise." We've heard many other versions of this song but Harpe's rendition stands up to any of them, especially as she takes her guitar picking to another level as well as adding kazoo accompaniment. Ms. Wallace would be pleased. The traditional "Rollin' and Tumblin'" also gets a good play, with Harpe putting just a bit more strength behind her vocals and throwing in a killer slide guitar solo mid-tune. It's hard to pick any one cut on this album as being better than the rest, but "Rollin' and Tumblin'" might be the choice.

Harpe takes it down to the river side for a spiritually-cleansing version of the traditional "When I Lay My Burden Down," a slower number that has the same basic structure and sound of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." We hear more gospel-style vocals on the closing number, the original "One Fine Day," but it's the resonant tone Harpe gets from her guitar (à la Taj Mahal) that makes a definitive closing statement to this gem of an album.

Erin Harpe has recorded multiple other very strong albums and all are worth checking out. But this more stripped-down set that obviously comes from the heart is now my new favorite. Meet Me In The Middle will rank as one of the best in this crazy 2020 year.

--- Bill Mitchell

Danielle MiragliaDanielle Miraglia was a new name to me when her latest album, Bright Shining Stars (VizzTone), arrived in my mailbox, but her name is now ingrained in my memory banks thanks to this very pleasant collection of 11 tunes. This is just plain nice acoustic blues from the Boston artist, done well and with passion, a mix of originals and classic blues covers.

Miraglia plays solo on a few of the cuts, with just her rich vocals and very nice acoustic guitar picking, while adding a partner to form a duo on the others. Most interesting is her use of Lawrence Scudder on viola on four songs to give those numbers a real ol' timey vibe. Especially effective is a version of the classic "C.C. Rider," with Scudder making good use of his solo time, and on the Miraglia original, "Pick Up The Gun," with her feisty vocals and adept fingerpicking standing out.

Obviously a Bob Dylan fan, Miraglia covers two of his tunes: "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," with strong slide guitar from Peter Parcek, and the slow, rhythmic "Meet Me In The Morning," featuring Richard Rosenblatt on harmonica. Parcek returns for more slide solos on Keb' Mo's "You Can Love Yourself."

Other classic blues numbers getting a breath of fresh air from Miraglia include Janis Joplin's "Turtle Blues," Tampa Red's "When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)," on which her vocals show more range, and Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues." Miraglia closes the album with the title cut, a motivational song written by Tom Bianchi on which she proclaims that the world needs bright shining stars, super heroes to lead us on, goodness to be grown, and that we need to give this shining star a new home.

Listening to Bright Shining Stars is like slipping into your most comfortable after-work clothes and sitting back with your favorite beverage and snack. It's comfort food for the soul.

--- Bill Mitchell

Elvin BishopBoth guitarist Elvin Bishop and harmonicist Charlie Musselwhite share billing on 100 Years of Blues (Alligator), they alternate vocals or “hosting” each track.  It’s front porch stuff with an adequate circuit breaker for much electricity. 

It’s hard to accept, to believe, that these guys are the elder statesmen of their styles. We think back to the 1960s (with Paul Butterfield on Elektra for Bishop, Musselwhite as leader on Vanguard) when folk-come-blues record labels marinaded them into authentic and organic blues men to one day represent practically the whole genre.

Communication here is firmly rooted in tradition by which I mean relating a human story, not one class or color imitating another. There are a few classics, mostly Delta blues in style, and a lot of improvised-on-the-spot numbers.  These guys neither master are in much of a hurry, but still in pretty good shape.  

--- Tom Coulson

Paul Reddick - Alive in Italia. Pleasing and fairly effective compositions, this Canadian is a more relaxed and experienced performer than the average blues submission.  Perhaps only a marginal harmonica player and singer, Nils Lofgren meets Dylan?  Attitude is always more important than talent, add in evident humility and you have Alive in Italia.  

--- Tom Coulson

Peter ParcekPeter Parcek - Mississippi Suitcase. Great variety of rhythms and moods, from standard shuffle to half and double time to the Bo Diddley beat. A notable personal opinion as it must be said this release was forwarded to me by a fellow reviewer who rejected it (but evidently still heard potential … I have nixed plenty of releases that other reviewer likes). 

I found Parcek to have released a warm recording, he’s a very good fuzz, slide and standard blues guitarist, with a quality of pulling back the beat slightly, a feature which is usually unattainable without years of practice and experience. Levels above most guitarists calling themselves blues players these days. Parcek’s vocals are passable. In addition he’s a good writer, story lines are interesting to follow.  

 --- Tom Coulson

Eli CookEli Cook - All Night Thing. Here’s a young man who many a blues fan, upon first listen, might call a “Delta style” blues musician, heavy on the slide guitar sound making the atmosphere feel like Mississippi.  Add to that a most raucous deep and raspy vocal style that conjures up a much older man, or perhaps a Tom Waits-type voice. Fact is Eli comes from Virginia, which to me seems a much different style. Top it all off, we have become friends with Mr. Cook, backing him up as a rhythm section whenever he comes thru the desert southwest. 

When local musicians back him, he performs blues standards rather than his originals, until his solo portion of the evening in which his brand catches a buzz and is direct, unencumbered by over-produced studio recordings. He has a number of professional CDs released under his own name going back perhaps to his late teens. Each one seems to have a different personality or theme, perhaps different producers and studios between them. I have yet to hear an Eli Cook CD which captures his musical personality as honestly as a live solo performance does. HE’S got it all right, but is what WE hear what WE get?  

 --- Tom Coulson

Ronnie EarlRonnie Earl and the Broadcasters - Rise Up. We call him “Roomful Ronnie” due to his part in the formation of the group “Roomful of Blues” back in the day, which has gone thru many incarnations and lead vocalists, and is apparently still going out there. 

For this new release on Stony Plain Records, Diane Blue is vocalist. Ronnie has always specialized in instrumental music, usually slow in tempo with organ backing, not being a vocalist himself. We do hear him reciting thoughts over the slow blues “Black Lives Matter,” and hear him address live audiences, as about half the selections are on this release.

Most of the studio tracks oddly don’t even contain guitar solos, giving all the space to the talented keyboardist Dave Limina. This formula can get old pretty fast, and past Earl releases have provided variety in tempo and instrumentation to break it up.  But here it sounds a lot like drawn-out jamming with no arrangements or even said lyrics on the female vocal numbers, as if just winging it, eating up the clock.  Masters are able to get away with this in live performance, but for a permanent recorded document we’d like a little more focus on variety.  

 --- Tom Coulson

Kid Ramos and Bob CorritoreKid Ramos & Bob Corritore (backing various vocalists) - Phoenix Blues Sessions. Re-released and many previously unreleased bonus tracks from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kid Ramos, the fabulous blues guitarist usually associated with the west coast, is on every track.

We especially like and appreciate the Nappy Brown feature, for example, “Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes.” Credit must be given to harmonica man and producer Corritore for achieving excellent and authentic blues, in the traditional sense all around, from the studio audio to the getting the highest inspiration out of his front folks. Many of these veterans are late greats, or surviving elder statesmen of the blues who could often use a little encouragement and inspiration for the right energy. 

Up next to other new blues releases of today, BC discs like this sparkle in comparison. A challenge of not being a front person or vocalist is how to well integrate into every track, which the harmonica man does very well. Other musicians and vocalists from among the many include: Chico Chism, Henry Gray, Chief Schabuttie Gilliame, Big Pete Pearson, Dr. Fish, Johnny Kapp, Paul Thomas and Mario Moreno.

 --- Tom Coulson

Bettye Lavette - Blackbirds. A decade or so ago I’d have compared her voice to Ann Peebles and Tina Turner. Today, Bettye’s voice has seasoned more into the raspy and tangy Ruth Brown range and territory.  Bettye never goes above a medium tempo on Blackbirds, in addition a lot of the lyrical content is a downer.  But there’s a place for music like this, and Bettye has paid her dues, now is her time. And I appreciate the absence of unforeseen profanity jumping out of any track this release, as has happened at least once before.  

 --- Tom Coulson

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom RockersNew Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers-Vol. 1. Blues releases these days tend to fall into one of about three categories: an almost perfect recreation of the sound of 1940s & '50s masters, right down to the audio (as many European roots/rock/honky tonk groups do); a bright, pristine and open sound, sometimes with a piano or second guitar providing the bass parts without even the need for that instrument, or a flat-out “Vaughn-a-be” garage band sound, proving a group, singer or artist may have grown up with plenty of rock, but still obviously clueless about the blues. 

This release belongs in the middle category, recorded in a Mississippi studio specializing in that sound, played by veterans as well as younger players who grew up fairly near that territory. You can almost hear the style in your head just by looking at the list of participants: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, the late Jim Dickinson, and North Mississippi Allstars members Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson. 

--- Tom Coulson 

Quick spins, rapid fire: Six “blues” singles were sent to us from the UK for review, all from longer album releases.  Very few of them remotely simulate the blues style, others flat-out don’t belong in the category.  If there’s no comment, the record goes into file 13.  Artists and single titles are: Elles Bailey “Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You,” Mick Wynne “You Are The Message,”  Archie Brown & The Young Bucks “Lonesomeville,” one which stands out a little, an attractive melody reminding me of Classics IV “Stormy,” giving it pop radio potential.  Ben Hemming “Say You Will.”  Adam Sweet “Trouble” sounds like a Kenny Wayne Shepherd wanna-be, and when you’re imitating an imitator, that’s most often a problem.  Angela Lewis Brown “Better Man” is a FABULOUS example of a lady who never should attempt singing of any kind.  Top it off, her guitarist’s skill is is garage band or jam session quality at best.  I’m keeping that one in case I ever need to play a snippet of how not to even try music.  

 --- Tom Coulson

2019 jazz releases, by “Desert Doug” Miers, guest reviewer for Full Moon Hacksaw LLC:

Andrea Superstein - Worlds Apart.  Mostly original tunes with some covers.  Nice club voice but doesn’t emote much. Better suited for live performance than disc. Solid if somewhat dated arrangements.

Erik Applegate - Woodstock.  I didn’t think I was going to like this but I did.  Reminded me of Steely Dan.  I would have so mixed it differently.  Pop with a modern non-bop slant.  One track completely doesn’t fit, another is like from a whole different band.

Baritone Madness. Yup, that’s what it is. Three bari saxes backed by bass and drums.I don’t know what a baritone sax is supposed to sound like outside of its usual place in a horn section, but on these tracks it ranged from pretty sweet and mellow to cartoonish (like a cheap synth). None of the tunes allow (by design I’m sure) the players to play to type.  

George Coleman - The Quartet.  Saxophonist/Leader Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern have played together and it shows. Drummer Joe Farnsworth adds all the energy and spark you could ask for. Great tone and feel all around.  Well-engineered and mixed.  

Reissue late 1950s Miles Davis on Prestige, “Bluing” (Blue in G)?  All jazz blues selections at various tempo and feel from bop to cool. Top sidemen. 

—Tom Coulson
I play on the air what I review in print, fullmoonhacksaw.com
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Watermelon SlimThe two-disc live set, Traveling Man (NorthernBlues Music), captures the venerable Watermelon Slim at his absolute best, performing solo at two separate Oklahoma venues (The Blue Door in Oklahoma City and The Depot in Norman) back in 2016. Always a compelling performer, he is doubly so in a solo setting where his outstanding slide and bottleneck guitar work and captivating vocals are front and center. The 17 songs over the two sets are a mix of Slim’s interpretations of classic blues songs along with own unique originals that blend seamlessly with the standards.

The first set, recorded at The Blue Door in September of 2016, included 11 songs, including several written by Slim that vividly describe his days as a truck driver. “Blue Freightliner” offers some great slide guitar work, and the country-flavored “Truck Driving Songs” is a real crowd pleaser. “Scalemaster Blues,” the reflective “300 Miles,” and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Highway Blues” (a.k.a. “Highway 61 Blues”) gets the Watermelon Slim treatment. The new song, “Northern Blues,” describes winter in New England, and “The Last Blues” frankly recounts Slim’s near-fatal heart attack and its aftermath.

Slim covers another McDowell tune on this set, the lively “Frisco Line,” as well as an interesting medley that combines Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” and Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running,” picking up the harmonica for “Jimmy Bell,” written by folk blues singer William Carridine (a.k.a. Cat-Iron). The set closes with a version of “Holler #4,” previously heard a capella style on Slim’s Church Of The Blues album. This version adds tasty slide guitar to the mix.

The second set, from The Depot, was recorded in February of 2016 and the run-time is about half of the first set, but the seven songs include six Slim compositions and the songs are taken at a slightly brisker pace for the most part. “Let It Be In Memphis” is greasy and funky, like the city itself, and the up-tempo “Into The Sunset” goes full country & western. Next, Slim enthusiastically covers the folk classic, “John Henry,” for the first time on disc (it’s been a favorite at his shows for a long time). His “Archetypal Blues” gives a shout out to an impressive list of blues men who have influenced him over the years and he plays the guitar fiercely on this track.

“Oklahoma Blues,” written over 30 years ago, honors Slim’s adopted home state. The harrowing “Devil’s Cadillac” retells the tale of the Crossroads (riding shotgun with the devil) and dates back to his days playing with The Workers. The final cut on this set is “Dark Genius,” a political song with a verse about John F. Kennedy and one about Anwar Sadat, and Slim himself --- the things that they did, what each stood up for, and what might have been.

Both sets show that Watermelon Slim is one of the most interesting and truly unique blues and roots performers currently practicing, capable of captivating an audience with just his voice and guitar. Traveling Man is a great introduction to his talents and deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Forrest McDonaldForrest McDonald and band return for his 15th release, Blues In A Bucket (World Talent Records), a dynamite effort featuring 11 brand new original songs with McDonald sounding as great as ever on guitar, backed by a superlative set of musicians including lead vocalist Andrew Black and guest vocalist Becky Wright. McDonald has been playing the blues for nearly six decades and his nimble, versatile guitar work and superb songwriting skills are on full display.

The opener, “Boogie Me Till I Drop,” has a lively Crescent City feel that gets the disc off to a great start. “Blues In The Basement” is a sweet slow burner that really takes its time and allows McDonald (on guitar) and Black (behind the mic) ample space to shine. The title track is a funky blues rock shuffle that puts a positive spin on the blues, and the moving “Blue Morning Sun” is a tribute to McDonald’s brother Steve (to whom the album is dedicated), who succumbed to cancer in early 2019.

“Hard To Lose” is a gritty, soulful blues with impassioned guitar and vocals, and “Windy City Blues” is a splendid slow blues. The inspirational “Go To The Light” offers counsel for those at the end of their earthly journey, and “Misery and Blues” is another slow blues. Black and McDonald handle these slow burners very well, and this one may be the best of the album. The ominous swamp blues “Powerhouse” features guest vocalist Wright and Pix Ensign on harmonica, while “Going Back To Memphis” sounds like a good old greasy, funky time in the Bluff City.

The jubilant closing track, “Let The Love In Your Heart,” strikes a funky second-line groove as Wright and McDonald trade vocals backed by horns and harmonica.

Sounds like Forrest McDonald’s 15th album just might be his best with his usual excellent guitar work and songwriting, combined with some incredibly talented musicians. Blues In A Bucket will definitely put a hop in your step.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaBlind Lemon Sessions (Endless Blues Records) came to be when Mick Kolassa was asked by Thomas Schleiken (of Blind Lemon Records) to perform at a few shows in Germany and to record a couple of tracks for a compilation album. A couple of songs turned into three albums: the compilation for Blind Lemon Records, a future ukelele compilation album (Kolassa also plays ukelele and banjolele), and Blind Lemon Sessions, a dozen tracks mixing original tunes with some of Kolassa’s favorite traditional blues songs.

Kolassa kicks off the album with a lively read of Lonnie Johnson’s “Jelly Roll Baker,” his warm vocal and guitar balanced by Eric Hughes’ sprightly harmonica. His original “Text Me Baby” is a humorous blues take on a modern subject, featuring violin from Alice Hasen. The cheery “Keep On Truckin’” features Hasen’s violin and Kolassa on banjolele, as does “I Want To Be Seduced,” a fun, good-natured tune written by Gary Tigerman. “Mr. Right” is a throwback to the bawdy, sexual innuendo-laden tunes from the pre-war era, and “Bad Things” (Jace Everett’s theme for the series True Blood) follows suit, albeit with a more ominous tone.

Taj Mahal’s “Cakewalk Into Town” is always a ball to hear, and judging from Kolassa’s performance it’s a ball to sing and play, too. He does a great job on the traditional “St. James Infirmary,” breathing new life into the oft-covered classic, and Blind Blake’s “Ditty Wah Ditty” is a lot of fun in his hands, too. “Recycle Me” is another humorous blues that puts a modern spin on a traditional blues topic.

A few years ago, Kolassa and Mark Telesca did an entire album of Beatles covers (You Can’t Do That), and he presents another Lennon/McCartney classic on this album, “Help,” that really works in a blues context. The album concludes with Kolassa’s “The Space Between Us,” a brief, poignant tune about the end of a relationship.

Blind Lemon Sessions is a light, relaxing set of acoustic blues originals and covers, just like we’ve come to expect from Mick Kolassa on a regular basis. Each subsequent album I hear from him becomes my favorite Mick Kolassa album, and this one is no exception.

--- Graham Clarke

Bill BlueA chance meeting with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup triggered Bill Blue’s passion for the blues. He picked up guitar as a youth, developing a potent slide guitar technique. He honed his skills further when Crudup asked him to help assemble a band on the heels of the British music invasion and the reignited interest in the blues in the U.S. Blue and Crudup toured the country, opening for Bonnie Raitt on her first American tour.

When Crudup died in 1974, Blue went out on his own, releasing a couple of albums for the Adelphi label and touring all over the world. In the ’80s, he tired of the road and moved to Key West where he didn’t record for a quarter century, though he continued playing occasionally. In 2013 he met British producer Ian Shaw, who persuaded him to return to the studio, where he subsequently released the well-received Mojolation. Seven years later, he returns with his follow-up, The King of Crazy Town (Conch Town Music), a power-packed 11-song set which features ten new songs written or co-written by Blue.

The opener, “Do What I Say Don’t Do What I Do,” is a fast-paced blues rocker with a shimmering, psychedelic edge. The swamp-flavored “Carolina Time” is a tune about Blue’s home state, and “I Want It All” is a rollicking, horn-fueled read of the Eddie Hinton tune. “Everybody’s Leaving Town” is a somber acoustic tune featuring Blue on Resonator. “Hunker Down” is a Delta boogie “hurricane song” that perfectly captures the tension that Key West residents doubtlessly face every time a new storm heads their way, while the title track is a funky rocker.

“Indianola” is Blue’s heartfelt tribute to B.B. King, who offered the young Blue encouragement when he was starting out on his own, and on the soulful rocker, “You Ain’t Fun Anymore,” Blue is joined by Matt Backer on vocals. The moody, Latin-tinged “Enough Blues To Give You The Blues” features some superb slide guitar from Blue, and “Closing Time” is a sultry, soul burner that aptly describes the mood at that particular time of the night.

The disc closes with the instrumental “Mojolation,” which gives Blue more space to shine on searing slide guitar backed by those wonderful horns featured throughout the disc.

The King of Crazy Town will certainly excite fans of energetic blues, rock, and soul. Hopefully, Bill Blue with tighten the gap a bit between releases, because this particular effort leaves you wanting more.

--- Graham Clarke

BB & the Blues ShacksThe second thing you notice on the cover of B.B. & The Blues Shacks’ latest effort, Dirty Thirty (Rhythm Bomb Records), is the statement “30 years of blues since 1989.” It’s hard to believe that the world class German band has been plugging away for that long, but it’s the honest truth. The band has racked up numerous honors over the years, played over 3,000 gigs, and released a dozen albums. Andreas Arlt (guitar) and Michael Arlt (vocals, harmonica) have been with the band since the beginning and are joined by bassist Henning Hauerken (member since 1996), drummer Andre Werkmeister (2014), and keyboardist Fabian Fritz (2015).

Dirty Thirty consists of 16 original tracks with four brand new tunes intertwined with a dozen remakes of the band’s classic repertoire. As always, the band tears through vintage blues and R&B of the Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis, and West Coast varieties. “Death Tax” is a greasy shuffle, while “Ramblin’ Kind” and “Three Handed Woman” shifts to the Windy City, and “I Run To You” and “Moonshine Blues” both swing in fine West Coast fashion.

“Not The One For Me” is an old school rocker, “It Takes Time” is a easy-going shuffle, and “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” ventures to the Crescent City keyed (sorry) by some great Fess-influenced piano work from Fritz, who also shines on the jazzy instrumental “Crime Time” on B3.

Dirty Thirty comes as a single CD or packaged as part of a three-CD set that reissues two of the band’s best previous efforts, 2012’s Come Along and 2014’s Businessmen. Each album includes a bonus cut not on the original CD: Come Along features a slick live version of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “She Moves Me,” and Businessmen offers a live take of the 1942 classic “Deep in The Heart of Texas.”

Simply put, if you dig Dirty Thirty on it’s own, you will love the other two discs, so spring for the total package. 49 songs in all and not a bad one in the bunch. If you’re late to the game regarding B.B. & The Blues Shacks, this is the perfect opportunity to get on board with both feet.

--- Graham Clarke

The JimmysOne of the more impressive groups I’ve heard in the last five or so years has been The Jimmys, a Wisconsin-based band (Jimmy Voegeli – vocals/keys, Perry Weber – vocals/guitar, Peterson Ross – saxophone, and John Wartenweiler – bass) that mix blues, rock, and R&B into their sound. Their latest effort, Gotta Have It (Brown Cow Productions), is my favorite of the lot, with 13 tracks (11 originals) produced by Tony Braunagel (who also played drums) and featuring Marcia Ball on a pair of tracks.

The band jumps right out of the gate with “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” a boogie woogie rocker powered by a punchy horn section, while “Grim Reaper” is a mid-tempo R&B groover. Ms. Ball co-wrote the amusing “Write A Hit” with Voegeli and Braunagel, adding Crescent City-flavored keyboards and sharing lead vocals with Voegeli.

The swinging title track “She’s Gotta Have It” is a keeper as well, describing a high maintenance lady, and “Started Up Again” has a funky swamp blues vibe that works very well. “Hotel Stebbins” brings the horn section back in a big way and the band digs in deep, and “Drinkin’ is an easy rolling blues shuffle.

Ms. Ball returns on “When You Got Love,” with piano and backing vocals. Gary Koch adds tasty slide guitar on this track, too. The album’s only cover is next, Gary Nicholson and Kevin McKendree’s jaunty “Always A Woman,” followed by the funky cautionary tale, “Words And Actions.” The splendid slow burner, “Someday Baby” (penned by fellow Wisconsinite Jim Liban), offers Weber an opportunity to stretch out on guitar.

Closing the disc is “Take You Back,” a classy urban blues, and “Jose,” a greasy Memphis-styled instrumental tribute to the band’s favorite beverage.

The Jimmys have been making mighty fine music for over 12 years, and hopefully Gotta Have It will be the album that gets them the recognition and accolades that they deserve.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris Shutters & Jimmy BurnsOhio guitarist Chris Shutters has known Chicago soul/blues legend Jimmy Burns for over a decade, having met at an open mic night at Buddy Guy’s Legends club that was hosted by Burns. They played a couple of songs together that night, and the rest, as they say, is history. In the meantime, Shutters has released several top notch recordings, as has Burns, but the two decided to put their talents together with Burns serving as “special guest” on Shutters’ wonderful new release Good Gone Bad (Third Street Cigar Records). The album features ten tracks, seven written by Shutters and three from Burns.

Both artists share vocals and guitar duties throughout. The rowdy title track opens the disc, with the duo joined by Rick Warner of Rare Earth on keys. The funky shuffle, “Stop The Train,” is a Burns original originally heard on his 2003 Delmark release, Back To The Delta. Burns and Shutters complement each other well on guitar. “Can’t Play The Blues Like B.B.” is a good-natured tune that describes a meeting between Shutters and the King of the Blues, and “Miss Annie Lou” was a standout track on Burns’ 1996 Delmark debut, Leaving Here Walking, taken at slightly livelier pace with sinewy guitar work from Shutters, while Shutters’ “Unwind” mixes blues rock with pop.

Shutters also wrote “Poor Boy Blue,” a country blues sung soulfully by Burns that mixes acoustic and electric guitar work. The fiery “Living In A Dream” is a hard-charging rocker loaded with wah-wah guitar, and the upbeat blues “Keep You Satisfied” keeps the blue rock feel going strong. Burns’ last composition contribution is “No Consideration,” from his 1999 Delmark effort Night Time Again. Burns and Shutters (with an assist from harmonica player Mark Shutters) take the intensity down a notch from the original version, giving this one more of a laidback vibe that works really well. The closer, “The Book Of Life,” mixes pop, rock, and a little bit of country.

Chris Shutters and Jimmy Burns come at the blues from different directions, but both artists are able to put those differences aside with each playing off the other well, both vocally and instrumentally. Obviously both come out of their comfort zone a little bit on several of the tracks, but it all works marvelously well. Hopefully, Good Gone Bad won’t be the last time these two collaborate.

--- Graham Clarke

HarperHarper and Midwest Kind’s latest release is Rise Up (Access Records), a sharp 10-song set of original tunes that showcases the Australian singer/songwriter’s deft mix of blues, soul, funk, and world music to excellent effect. Harper (vocals, harmonica, didgeridoo, keyboards, guitar) and his bandmates (Geoff Michael – guitar, Dan “Ozzie” Anderson – bass, Jim Pryor – drums/percussion, and Bobbi Llewellyn – backing vocals, with guest guitarists Paul Nelson and Brent Baxter Barrett) has crafted a most memorable album.

The haunting sound of the didgeridoo kicks off the title track, which opens the disc with a hypnotic rhythm and an encouraging call to improve things around you. “Blues I Can’t Use” has a hill country feel and features guitarist Nelson’s soaring fretwork, and “I Still Got You” describes love enduring through tough times, punctuated by Harper’s splendid harp work. The dark “Hateful” brings back the didgeridoo, and pointedly talks about, well, hate, while “Heavy Horses” features a neat guitar riff from Michael and a wonderfully soulful duet between Harper and Llewellyn, plus a fine harmonica solo from Harper.

The midtempo “Talk To Me” has a rock-pop flavor that’s a good fit, and “World’s Insane” takes a frank look at the current state of the world and the need for improvement. “Welcome Home” is a funky rocker with a buoyant rhythm that plays well with Harper’s harmonica, and the somber “Let You Go” bumps along briskly, driven by Anderson’s bass and Pryor’s drumming. “Peaceful,” the album closer, is an acoustic track that leans toward jazz and wraps things up nicely.

Rise Up is a solid piece of work with provocative songwriting and musicianship not typically found on your basic blues album. To these ears, Harper is an underrated performer, vocally and instrumentally, as well as a fine songwriter who turns out quality release after quality release. This album ranks with his strongest efforts.

--- Graham Clarke

Val StarrLighter Side of the Blues (Sandwich Factory Records) is the fifth release from California blues rockers Val Starr & The Blues Rocket, and it lives up to his title with a baker’s dozen pleasing and energetic upbeat blues originals. Starr (vocals/rhythm guitar) is backed by her husband John Ellis (bass/slide guitar), Timothy Brisson (lead guitar), Frankie Munz (harmonica), and Paul Farman (drums), along with guest artists Todd Morgan (keyboards), Horacio Socarras (percussion), Danny Sandoval (sax), and the intriguingly-tagged Saxophone Zot (duh, sax).

The funky shuffle “Say Goodbye To The Blues (Like You Mean It)” opens the disc with a driving rhythm and twin saxes wailing. “Sactown Heat” keeps up the funk as it describes the summer heat in Sacramento. The theme of the Windy City-flavored “If She Can Get A Man (Anyone Can)” will crack you up, while the jaunty title track will put a hop in your step. “All or Nuthin’ Man” is a slow burner fueled by guest Morgan’s keyboards, Munz’s harmonica, and Brisson’s lead guitar, and it’s hard not to smile at the jubillant “Can’t Get Sad Tonight.”

“Lift A Finger” is a gritty blues rocker where Starr grumbles about getting no help around the house. Her husband Ellis lays down some splendid slide guitar on this track, so he can be forgiven for neglecting the chores. Apparently, all is forgiven, because the next track, “Mister Bassman,” is a love letter of sorts from Starr to Ellis (who’s a force of nature on the entire album) and other bass players.

“Movin’ On” is a energetic R&B tune with Sandoval chipping in big on saxophone, and “24 Hour Blues” has a nice, clean pop sheen. The Jimmy Reed classic “Big Boss Man (#MeToo)” gets a 21st century update.On the closing tracks, “Shame On You” and “The Blues Doesn’t Pick Or Choose,” the band rocks hard (on the former) and wraps up things nicely with a lively blues stepper (the latter).

All in all, Val Starr & The Blues Rocket’s Lighter Side of the Blues is a fine set of blues and R&B that will put a smile on your face and some pep in your step.

--- Graham Clarke

Your humble correspondent has also received a bevy of blues singles over the past few weeks. Let’s take a look at a few of them….

Isaac LindseyOur friend Stevie J. Blues has been very busy during the pandemic, producing and releasing several singles from several acts in the Jackson, Mississippi area that are worth a spin (or whatever one uses to listen to new music these days). There are three new southern soul singles from singer Isaac Lindsey, lead vocalist for the gospel group The Windy City Spiritualaires. First up is a smooth cover of Joe Simon’s “The Choking Kind,” and Lindsey does a fine job with it, balanced by soulful backing vocals and a tight musical arrangement. Larry Addison’s “You Got To Hurt Before You Heal” was one of my favorite tracks from Bobby “Blue” Bland’s 1989 Midnight Run album, and Lindsey’s gospel-flavored interpretation is as good as Bland’s own heartfelt version.

Finally, Lindsey’s take on Ronnie Lovejoy’s classic, “Sho’ Wasn’t Me,” is a keeper as well. Lindsey’s robust vocal comparing favorably to Lovejoy’s original, as he adds a bit of grit to his delivery on this track. All three of these tracks will certainly satisfy southern soul fans, who will want to hear more from Lindsey, who has an album in the works as well.

Stevie J. Blues has also released a funky new single from Urban Ladder Society (U.L.S.) called “Take Care Of Each Other,” which combines blues, funk, hip-hop, and soul in a plea for all of society to persevere through these turbulent times.

ShunteKeeping it in the central Mississippi region, there’s also a very nice single out from up-and-coming southern soul singer Shunté, “I Need 2 Know,” an original composition that has a smooth late ’70s/early ’80s Quiet Storm feel, thanks to the understated, but funky arrangement backing Shunté, who has a sweet and soulful voice. Stevie J. Blues will be recording a duet with Shunté for release during Valentine’s Day. Great things are happening in Jackson, Mississippi on the blues and soul scene.

Delmark Records also recently issued a pair of singles. The first is “The Ballad of George Floyd,” a powerful musical statement by guitarist Dave Specter, with assistance from keyboardist Brother John Kattke and harmonica master Billy Branch, describing the death of the Minnesota resident at the hands of the police back in the late spring and calls for justice and change in the country. Specter’s anguished vocal is front and center with sympathetic backing from Kattke and Branch, who also provide vocal support. Music is said to soothe the savage beast, but it also helps lead to change when done well, and this is a very effective call.

Mojo MorganfieldThe second single is a bit more lighthearted, coming from Muddy Waters’ youngest son, Joseph, a.k.a. Mojo Morganfield. “It’s Good To Be King” is a delightful old school Chicago blues number that features his good-natured vocals backed by Branch on harmonica, Kattke on keys, Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar, and Rick Kreher (Waters’ last guitarist) on rhythm guitar. Morganfield’s strong and confident vocals bode well for his recording future and hopefully, Delmark will reward him with a full album soon.

The Starlite-Campbell Band recently issued another couple of singles from their forthcoming album, The Language of Curiosity. It’s a masterful version of the Blind Faith classic, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” featuring the vocals of Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell. Their vocal harmonies are exquisite and the musical backing is perfect. A few months back, the band issued “Lay It Out On Me,” a luscious slow burner with vocals from Campbell.

Based on the three tracks heard so far, we reviewed Stone Cold Crazy in May of this year, the new album should be a must-buy for any fan of vintage British blues. These two tracks capture the feel of the ’60s British blues recordings very well. You can check out these singles (and pre-order the album) at the band’s website.

--- Graham Clarke



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