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Order these featured albums today:

Annika Chambers and Paul Deslauriers

Mighty Soul Drivers

Rusty Wright Band

Michele D'Amour

Ben Levin

Eric Demmer

Tomislav Goluban


Annika ChambersAnnika Chambers and Paul DesLauriers
met in 2018 at the IBCs, reunited in 2019 at that year’s IBCs and married later that year. Both had well-established careers. Chambers has several fine releases in the soul/blues field and DesLauriers as well in the blues/rock genre, so it’s only natural that the two combine their efforts. They’ve done so, most successfully, with their initial collaboration for VizzTone Label Group, Good Trouble. It’s a strong set of blues, soul, gospel, and rock, with four originals and seven wide-ranging covers.

Ms. Chambers handles the vocal duties on 10 of the 11 tracks, and DesLauriers plays guitar, along with J.P. Soars. The rest of the band consists of Chris Peet (drums/bass/percussion), Gary Davenport or Alec McElcheran (bass), Bernard “Bingo” DesLauriers (drums), Barry Seelan (B3), and Kim Richardson (background vocals).

The opener is the Crescent City-flavored “You’ve Got To Believe,” teaming Chambers’ vocals and DesLauriers’ guitar backed by a second-line rhythm. The soulful “Stand Up” is a funky call for peace and unity, with a fiery solo from DesLauriers, while the duo turns in a great performance with their dynamite cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity.” Chambers takes us to church with a moving performance (with DesLauriers on dobro) on the original “Heavy Load” (talk about some sacred steel!).

Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” gets an excellent interpretation before DesLauriers joins Chambers on Little Willie John’s “I Need Your Love So Bad,” a splendid slow blues that seems to be tailor-made for the pair. A hard rocking version of Cassie Taylor’s “We Got The Blues” turns into a mission statement for the duo, and the original “I’m Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song” is a simmering ballad with a funk edge.

The pair have a big time with Baby Washington’s raucous “Money’s Funny” and Mountain’s classic rocker “Mississippi Queen,” before the album closes with the traditional spiritual “I Need More Power,” which features a stunning vocal from Chambers that slowly builds in intensity.

Annika Chambers and Paul DesLauriers make beautiful music together on Good Trouble, a powerhouse recording that bodes well for these new musical and life partners.

--- Graham Clarke

The Mighty Soul DriversThe Mighty Soul Drivers are a seven-piece band out of New England that specializes in classic southern soul music of the Memphis and Muscle Shoals variety. Drummer/singer/DJ River City Slim started the group in 2012 with singer Bob Orsi, a member of the New England Music Hall of Fame. The band also consists of guitarist Larry Willey, bassist Tony Delisio, keyboardist Steve Donovan, sax man John Smayda, and trumpeter Neil Tint. I’ll Carry You Home (Hog Heaven Records) is the band’s second release, offering seven original tunes and four tasty covers.

The opening track is a cover of the Temptations’ #1 hit from 1969, “I Can’t Get Next To You,” but the band’s version hews closer to Al Green’s slower, funkier 1970 cover, and Orsi and the band really dig into this one. The title track follows, a sweet soul ballad penned by Orsi, and “Party By The Tower” is a smooth blues that settles into a nice groove. “A Little Bit of That” (featuring Paul Gabriel on guitar) has a Stax feel with Donovan’s B3, Smayda’s saxophone solo, and Orsi’s soulful vocal.

“Cry To Me” has been recorded by numerous artists over the years, including Solomon Burke, Professor Longhair, and Betty Harris, who the Mighty Soul Drivers have backed for years. The band does a fine job on their interpretation of this soul classic. Their cover of the Bobby “Blue” Bland hit “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog” is also excellent, with Orsi taking a smoother vocal approach than Bland’s original. Guitarist Gabriel returns for a solo on the funky blues “Cold Cold Night,” and Orsi and the horns shine on “Tell Daddy,” the original version of Etta James’ “Tell Mama” (first recorded by Clarence Carter).

The River City Slim original “Parking Lot Blues,” about a secret love affair, feels and sounds like a long-lost Muscle Shoals classic. Slim also wrote “Piece Of My Pride,” a swinging blues driven along by Donovan’s piano, and Donovan co-wrote the closer with Orsi, “Dressed To Kill,” which serves as a funky mission statement for the Mighty Soul Drivers.

Fans of the classic sounds of southern blues like they used to play in Memphis and Muscle Shoals will absolutely love I’ll Carry You Home. The Mighty Soul Drivers have the sound down pat and they certainly deliver the goods!

--- Graham Clarke

Charlie ThomasCharlie Thomas is best known for his work with The Drifters, one of the most influential R&B groups of the ’50s, performing on such chart hits as “There Goes My Baby,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “This Magic Moment,” while taking the lead vocals on “Sweets For My Sweet” and “When My Little Girl Is Smiling.” Thomas was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of The Drifters in 1988.

The late Doc Pomus, songwriter extraordinaire, penned “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Sweets For My Sweet,” among others for The Drifters, as well as countless other songs that are entrenched in Rock & Roll and R&B history. He was also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 1992 as a non-performer, as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Blues Hall of Fame. Recently, a song Pomus co-wrote with Phillip Namanworth, “Be My Rock” (Mad Hands Records), was unearthed and recorded by Thomas with The Blues Burners in support.

Thomas sounds as good as he did back in the day with The Drifters, with a little seasoning added to his vocals over the years. The song is tender gospel-flavored soul with sweet backing vocals and Joe Martone’s organ in the background. The Blues Burners provide stellar support (especially Arnie Brown on guitar) with an assist from Crispin Cioe and Larry Etkin of the Uptown Horns. “Be My Rock” is a marvelous throwback to simpler times, a wonderful slice of soul from one of the genre’s masters.

--- Graham Clarke

Rusty Wright BandThe Rusty Wright Band’s 2015 release Wonder Man was a favorite of mine, but I hadn’t heard anything else from them until their latest release, Hangin’ At The DeVille Lounge (Sadson Music). At the end of 2015, Wright and his family moved from Michigan to Florida, pretty much starting all over again. A new life and a new band (wife Laurie LaCross-Wright – rhythm guitar/vocals, Billy Agner – bass/vocals, Vail Hayes – drums, Dennis “Torpedo” Toerpe – B3).

Wright narrates the opener, “Welcome To The DeVille,” to set things up for the rest of the album, which gets started in earnest with the haunting “House of Spirits,” telling the story of the lounge in spooky fashion. “No One Cares At All” follows and it’s a funky swinger with a nasty bass line from Agner driving the song along. “Evil In Disguise” is a catchy rock-edged ballad which segues nicely into the hard-driving blues-rocker “Devil Man Blues.” The nearly-eight-minute slow burner “No Man Is An Island” is a great vehicle for Wright’s soulful vocal and soaring guitar work.

The greasy shuffle “Goin’ To NOLA” tells of a trip to the Crescent City, while the upbeat “Devil In The Details” tells of the travails of everyday life. “Trouble’s Always Knockin’” is a sweet blues ballad with a wonderful guitar intro from Wright and only gets better from there.

“No Turnin’ Back” is a fierce Texas-flavored blues shuffle with more great fretwork, “Burnin’ Precious Time” is a tough-as-nails rocker, and “Devil Music” rocks heavy as well, with Wright’s guitar taking on a metal edge on this superb closer.

Looks like the move south definitely rejuvenated Wright as he turns in an inspired performance both vocally and instrumentally. The songwriting is also top notch, making Hangin’ At The DeVille Lounge an album that blues-rock fans will certainly enjoy. Welcome back, Rusty!

--- Graham Clarke

Michelle D'ArmourHot Mess (Blueskitty Records), the latest release from Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers, is similar to their previous efforts, a smartly-crafted collection of original tunes that mix blues, funk, and jazz seamlessly. Ms. D’Amour is a soulful vocalist and her songs are always entertaining. She’s skillfully supported by the Love Dealers (Patrick McDanel – bass, Carl Martin – drums, Noel Barnes – saxophone, and Richard Newman – guitar), along with guest keyboardists Tom Worrell and Philip Woo.

The title track opens the disc, a funky swinger that finds D’Amour trying to get a friend back on track. Next is the album’s lone cover, a swampy read of Dr. John’s moody “I Walk On Guilded Splinters.” “Plum Crazy” is an old school rock n’ roll tribute to a ’46 Ford (as pictured on the album cover), and “Devil In The Dark,” which warns of people who are not what they appear to be, is deep funk with a hill country vibe. “If The Shoe Fits” is a clever original about the often treacherous issues with modern relationships, and the amusing “Muddlin’ Through” addresses the challenges of everyday life.

The R&B-based message of encouragement, “Helping Hand,” was written by Newman, and “It Won’t Break My Heart” is a break-up song despite it’s somewhat sunny musical presentation. The bleak “Cold Red Sun” describes an area ravaged by wildfire, and the funky blues “Nurse With A Purse” is an interesting reverse-take on the “Sugar Daddy” approach.

The closer is the New Orleans-flavored “Your Dachshund Won’t Leave Me Alone,” a double entendre-laden tune that wraps things up nicely with second line drumming from Martin, snaky slide guitar from Newman, and sax from Barnes.

Michele D’Amour and the Love Dealers continue to be a dependable source of great music, well-written originals, and outstanding performances. Hot Mess is a great addition to their already impressive catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Ben LevinBen Levin is a Cincinnati-based piano player who has just released his fifth album despite the fact that he's just 22-years-old. He's proven to be a true triple threat --- an expert piano player, a fine singer, and a promising songwriter.

Album number five is Take Your Time (VizzTone), and it's quite different from Levin's previous releases in that he shares the vocal duties with three Chicago and Louisiana blues stalwarts --- Bob Stroger, Lil' Ed, and Lil' Jimmy Reed.. Levin's voice is heard on four numbers and, of course, he provides outstanding piano accompaniment on every cut.

Levin is a very fine singer in his own right, so in a way I miss hearing his voice on every song as on the previous four releases. But then again, who can complain about getting to hear the vocalists that he brought into the studio? Since he's still very young there will be more Levin albums to come, so let's enjoy this one for what it is, an outstanding collection of piano blues with downhome blues vocals.

Opening the album is the first of four cuts on which Levin sings, the mid-tempo blues shuffle "Take Your Time." Not only does he kill it on vocals, but also pounds out a superb piano solo. "Hole In The Wall" has both Levin and Lil' Ed singing together, starting the cut with an á capella intro while Ed comes in with his usual rockin' guitar. Johnny Burgin supports Levin on guitar on the snaky blues "Out Of Your Own Way," and Stroger backs on bass as well as sharing vocals with Levin on the mid-tempo blues, "Love You Baby." The last cut is especially delightful, with the two singers connecting despite the 70 year difference in their ages.

The 92-year-old Stroger shows up on three more cuts. "Jazz Man Blues" is an up-tempo jumper with raw vocals and bass from Stroger and great solos from Levin and guitarist Noah Wotherspoon. Stroger also handles vocals on Eddie Taylor's slow, plodding blues "Bad Boy," then plays bass on the closing instrumental number, "Mr. Stroger's Strut," also featuring more fine guitar work from Wotherspoon.

In addition to his appearance on the aforementioned "Hole In The Wall," Lil' Ed smokes it on both guitar and vocals on the Roy Hawkins slow blues "Why Do Things Happen To Me," and later on the up-tempo blues shuffle "Longer Hours, Shorter Pay." The latter is just true Lil' Ed, a man from whom we haven't heard enough lately.

Louisiana blues cat Lil' Jimmy Reed pops in to sing and play guitar on three numbers, starting with the blues shuffle "I've Been Drinking Muddy Water." The swampy blues "You Know You're So Fine" gives Levin plenty of space for piano solos, later tackling a slow, late night blues, "Lump Of Coal."

This was a great idea for an album, cementing Levin's reputation as one of the best young blues artists on the scene today. Bringing in these veteran blues men was really a stroke of genius. Take Your Time is the name of the album, but don't take your time in adding it to your collection. There's some mighty fine blues here.

--- Bill Mitchell

Eric DemmerI first became familiar with the name Eric Demmer when I heard a really fine sax solo on the recent album from The B.B. King Blues Band. He played in Gatemouth Brown's band back in the day, and more recently has spent time with guitarist Mike Zito. With So Fine (Gulf Coast Blues), Demmer steps to the front of the bandstand showing he's more than just a good horn player. Not only can he blow his sax, but Demmer also has a decent voice.

I'll start this review by focusing on the last two cuts, as these are my favorite numbers here. Demmer's daughter Danielle, takes the vocal lead on the funky soul/blues "Any Day Get Away," also notable for the funky Memphis-style guitar effects from Hugo Rodriguez. Ms. Demmer is a strong singer from whom I'd like to hear more. The closing number, "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" (not the Freddie King version), gets funky and gives Mr. Demmer the opportunity to show off his best vocal work.

"I'm A Guitar Player" has Demmer  explaining that he's a guitar player at heart who doesn't play a guitar, or something like that. Rodriguez again gets the chance to shine on his axe while Demmer sings and blows his horn. "She's So Fine" is a slow, mysterious blues with a heavy rhumba sound. I like it! Rodriguez again shows off his Memphis guitar chops on the opening funky blues, "Don't TalkeTo Me," with Demmer wailing away on the sax midway through the song.

Demmer's voice also stands out on the Allman-ish blues/rock tune, "Will It Ever Be The Same," and shouts out vocals with some echo on the rocker "I'm Alright." The tempo changes on the slow, jazzy blues "Start It All Again," with Rodriguez throwing down some heavy blues licks and Barry Seelen contributing tasteful piano.

The cuts mentioned here are the highlights, but actually the entire album is strong. So Fine is a good effort from Demmer. If you are a sax fan, then this one is right up your alley.

--- Bill Mitchell

Tomislav GolubanTomislav Goluban is a harmonica player from Croatia, celebrating his 20 years of touring with this new release, 20 Years On The Road (Blue Heart Records). He's backed by three different sets of musicians and eight guest vocalists from around the world, and he shows that he's indeed a world-class harmonica player.

Opening the cut is a rollicking instrumental number, "Express Ride," featuring Goluban backed by The Tobacco Road Blues Band. Following is one of two cuts on which Goluban chooses to sing, "Blow Junkie Boogie," a John Lee Hooker sounding number, and it shows why he added other vocalists for the bulk of the album. His voice is unlistenable, and this one should have been left on the cutting room floor. The same applies to the closing number, "I Love You Baby."

Much better are the songs featuring Skylar Rogers, a very fine blues singer with musical roots in both Chicago and Memphis. "Searchin' For My Baby" is an up-tempo blues, and "Forhill's Boogie" proceeds at a rapid pace that will get plenty of movers and shakers out on the dance floor.

I love the music of British vocalist Malaya Blue, so of course I was digging the pleasant mid-tempo blues shuffle "Electric Lights," on which she handles the vocals, with a strong organ solo contributing extra rich sound. Another fave of mine is Teresa James, showing up on the fast-paced "Speedin' Train." Southern soul singer Gregg Martinez pops in for the slow, snaky blues/soul number "Disappear For Good."

Southern California soulful blues singer Kelly Zirbes contributes her very fine voice on two numbers, the up-tempo blues shuffle "Hittiin' The Road Again" and the 12-bar blues tune "Everyday's Fear." Her vocals make me think I need to dig a little deeper into her discography.

Other singers appearing on 20 Years On The Road include Mark Cameron, Ryan Donohue, and Crooked Eye Tommy. This isn't an essential purchase, but there's enough good stuff here to be intriguing.

--- Bill Mitchell



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