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November 2023

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Order these featured albums today:

Bob Margolin

Lisa Biales

Big Harp George

Jingle All The Way

The Dig 3

Peter Veteska and Blues Train

Popa Chubby

Cassius King

Noah Zacharin

Alex Lopez

Until The Sun



Bob MargolinBlues guitarist Bob Margolin has been "steady rollin'" around the world for most of his adult life, playing the old school Chicago blues that he learned in part during his years with Muddy Waters. He's recorded many albums over the years, with the most recent releases being solo productions from his home in North Carolina. That's the case on his latest, Thanks (Vizz Tone). It's all Bob on vocals and guitar (with the only exception being a bark from the family dog Levon).

Margolin puts his heart and soul into the 10 songs on Thanks, with five originals and as many well-chosen covers. The most recent time that I saw Bob on a show, I was amazed at the energy coming from his voice. I told him during the break that I thought perhaps he was channeling the late Nappy Brown, who he periodically backed  over a couple of decades before Mr. Brown passed away.

Not surprisingly, Margolin includes a song that was often part of Nappy Brown's live shows, the Willie Dixon composition, "Who," with Bob shouting out the vocals with the same power that Nappy used to project. The Muddy Waters influence is heard on several songs, notably the opening cut, "Going Down To Main St.," with Bob tearing it up on slide guitar just like a young Muddy would have done. He co-wrote "Lonely Man Blues" with Muddy, and on this one his voice hits a slightly higher register after an effective slide guitar solo opens this slow blues.

One of the more interesting numbers is a slow blues version of The Band's "Shape I'm In," with Margolin shouting out the vocals but then also providing backing four-part harmony. Another great cover is his rendition of the Paul Gayten blues classic, "For You My Love," with Margolin playing more jazzy guitar on this number that was often done in shows by pianist Pinetop Perkins. He puts a little more resonance in his guitar on the slow blues "Hard Working Man," written by another Muddy cohort, the late great Jimmy Rogers.

Among the Margolin covers, "Mean Old Chicago" is a plodding slow blues with plenty of slide guitar, the mid-tempo shuffle "Baby Can't Be Found," a remake of a song he did 25 years ago, 'No Consolation," and closing the album is the eerie slow blues, "Just Before Dawn."

Thanks is a gem from start to finish, from one of the best bluesmen still around. He's playing it all in the old way and we can be thankful to Margolin for this wonderful collection of songs from his heart and soul.

--- Bill Mitchell

Lisa BialesI was just reminded today that it's time to get the Christmas decorations out of storage and up on the house. I tried to say that it was still too early and that we should at least wait until after Thanksgiving, but I had no chance of winning that argument. So if I have to start decorating the house, then I guess it's time to start listening to Christmas music.

Let's start with a very fine collection of 10 Christmas songs from singer Lisa Biales, nine brand new originals and one cover of a Louis Prima song. At Christmas (Big Song Music) was recorded at Johnny Lee Scheel's Ultratone Studios in Los Angles and produced by Tony Braunagel. Ms. Biales is backed by an army of regular L.A. session cats, delivering tight accompaniment that helps her voice stand out.

I'll start with the very last cut on the album because it's my favorite, the up-tempo blues "Christmas Cheer," taking a traditional Christmas theme and packing it into a blues song. Schell opens with strong blues guitar while Jeff Paris later comes in with a smokin' solo on the Hammond B3. Another fave is the up-tempo blues shuffle, "That's What I Like About Christmas," a Schell original.

The title cut opens the album, a mid-tempo blues that gets just a little funky with the band giving a big, full sound and Schell gets to shine again on guitar. The Louie Prima hit, "Shake Hands with Santa Claus," comes next, taking us all back to a 1940s-era dance hall ornately decorated for the season. As Biales sings the words of this tune, I'm imagining her fronting Prima's big band in a black & white movie.

Biales' voice gets extra strong on the slow number, "When The Snowflakes Fall," with Paris laying down some really special organ accompaniment. The delightfully innocent "The Boy I Met For Christmas" features nice chromatic harmonica accompaniment from the versatile Paris. "Lulu Magoo" is another fun tune taking us back many decades, highlighted by a trumpet solo from Mark Pender, all while Braunagel carries the tune along a funky New Orleans drum beat.

"Mary's Little Baby Boy" starts with such a swampy intro  followed by slide guitar from Schell that you might be envisioning the baby Jesus being born down on the bayou. With her voice turning sweeter, Biales turns in a pleasant love song, "I Like You Mister Claus," as she is inviting Santa to return to her after he's finished his deliveries, with the promise of something more than cookies and milk.

"Christmas Record" is less of a blues and more of a traditional Christmas sound as Biales gets a bit autobiographical by singing about how she's heading to L.A. in the month of September to make a Christmas record .... and indeed she did just that.

Just listening to it one time will make At Christmas one of your yuletide favorites. I'm going to have it playing through my ear buds while I'm stringing lights around the house, and so should you.

Happy Holidays to all!

--- Bill Mitchell

Jingle All The Way‘Tis the season for some Christmas tunes, and blues fans will have several new releases to consider this year. One of the best of the new releases is the compilation from the artists at Blue Heart and Nola Blue Records, Jingle All The Way (Blue Heart Records).

This wonderful set opens with a dazzling version of “Silver Bells” from The Texas Horns that is decidedly more up-tempo than the usual versions, before Benny Turner gives a soulful performance on his holiday original “I Want Some Christmas Cheer,” a real Christmas blues if there ever was one. Lil Red & the Rooster offers a spicy update of “Santa Baby,” Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps give us a Crescent City-flavored version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and Rick Vito presents a raucous, rocking original, “I Was A Bad Boy This Year.”

Jim Koeppel’s swinging “Slim Down Santa” is a lot of fun, and Clarence Spady’s funky read of Chuck Berry’s “Christmas” will get toes to tapping, while Bobby Gentilo’s cover of James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto” is terrific.

“Amazing Grace II” is a cool harmonica-driven instrumental, courtesy of Croatian bluesman Tomislav Goluban, and Mark Cameron narrates “Nick’s Place,” an amusing “behind-the-scenes” look at what transpires at the North Pole during the Christmas season. Laura Tate gives us the requisite “Merry Christmas Baby” appearance on a Christmas collection with a tasty R&B version.

Vaneese Thomas offers a passionate plea for “Peace and Goodwill” on her gospel/soul original tune, while Peter Veteska’s wistful version of the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” backed only by piano, is first-rate. Tiffany Pollack gives a beautiful reading of the Joni Mitchell song, “River,” with assistance from Eric Johanson.

The album wraps with Teresa James and The Texas Horns on the socially conscious “Even Santa Gets The Blues,” penned by Kaz Kazanoff.

Jingle All The Way is a splendid mix of original and classic Christmas tunes delivered by some of the best blues artists currently practicing.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Harp GeorgeBig Harp George (aka George Bisharat) has been recording Christmas songs sporadically since 2018, adding a couple or three tunes of his own making each time he recorded an album. He finally came up with enough tunes (11) to complete his very own holiday album, Big Harp George Does Christmas (Blues Mountain Records).

Blues fans familiar with George’s songwriting already know that this won’t be your conventional Christmas album, and he indeed dubs these “decidedly nonstandard tunes” that are unusual, but still retain the Christmas spirit in their content and delivery.

The opener, “Bad Santa,” is a good example, telling the tale of a Santa focusing more on naughty than nice and generally making George’s life miserable. The delightful Latin-flavored “Carioca Christmas” features George’s chromatic harp, plus horns and flute, and the amusing “Reindeer On Strike” indicates issues at the North Pole with some disgruntled reindeer and “scab elves.”

“War on Christmas!” is a jump blues that addresses the annual holiday hysteria about the “war on Christmas” with a heaping, healthy dose of sarcasm. The Sons of The Soul Revivers contribute wonderful backing vocals on this tune and the preceeding two.

“Snow Shuffle” is a terrific West Coast blues instrumental showcasing that wonderful chromatic sound, which leads into another Latin-styled number, “Coquito Girl,” that also features The Sons of The Soul Revivers on background vocals.

The swinging mid-tempo number “Where I’ll Be For Christmas” is the tune that inspired the album, the first holiday track recorded in 2018 and featuring the late Little Charlie Baty on guitar, and leads into “Fireside Waltz,” a lovely instrumental teaming George with Kid Andersen on guitar and Chris Burns on piano.

“Thee Three Kings” is a tribute not to the traditional three kings in the traditional Christmas story, but the three kings of the blues ---  B.B., Albert, and Freddie --- with Andersen emulating the guitar playing of all three Kings. “That Grinch In Me” finds a grumpy George cynically dismissing all the usual traditions associated with celebrating the holidays --- lights, decorations, giftwrapping, and food.

On the closing track, “It’s New Year’s Eve,” guest Tia Carroll sings optimistically about the coming year.

In addition to Anderson (guitar/bass), Burns (keyboards), Baty, Carroll, and the Sons of The Soul Revivers, George receives superb support throughout from Derrick “D’Mar” Martin, Alexander Petterson, or June Core (drums/percussion), Joe Kyle, Jr. (bass), Aaron Lington or Doug Rowan (baritone sax), Ben Torres (flute), Ed Morrison (trumpet), Michael Peloquin (tenor and baritone sax), and Mike Rinta (trombone).

As stated above, Big Harp George Does Christmas is not your traditional Christmas album, but it’s definitely an entertaining alternative that will bring a smile to many during the holiday season.

--- Graham Clarke

The Dig 3The Dig 3’s debut release was one of my favorite albums of 2022, an example of old-school blues played extremely well. Singer/guitarist Andrew Duncanson, harp master Ronnie Shellist, and multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt demonstrated an undying love and enthusiasm for this brand of blues that came through with every note played.

Needless to say, I was excited to see a new recording hit the racks. Damn The Rent includes 12 original tunes, ten by the trio and two bonus tracks teaming Duncanson and Hundt with bassist Aaron Whittier, drummer Rick King, and backing vocalist Lauren Dukes.

The Bo Diddley-esque “Take A Ride” opens the disc on a lively note, followed by the slippery shuffle “All The Love That I Got,” both tracks boasting great harp and rhythmic support. “Big Water keeps the groove going strong with a bumping boogie in the finest John Lee Hooker tradition, and “Dip My Toe” is a vintage Chicago-styled blues where Duncanson looks back on life, the good and the bad, and accepts it all.

“Chuck & Willie” is a really cool instrumental with Hundt playing what sounds like an old Farfisa organ, along with Duncanson’s guitar and Shellist’s harmonica. The swinging “Coconut Curry Dance” has a delightful island flair that really percolates, while “Gold Tooth” finds Hundt on mandolin, which, teamed with Shellist’s harp really gives this shuffling track a classic feel.

The funky instrumental “Blanco Boogaloo” locks in on an irresistible groove while showcasing Shellist on harmonica. The boogie track “Red-Tailed Hawk” starts at a breathless tempo and never lets up with more great harp mixed in, and “Old Dog” is a jaunty, hokum-styled track with Hundt on kazoo that brings the album to a close, of sorts.

I say “of sorts” because of the two bonus cuts that follow, recorded by The Dig 3 big expanded version, with Whittier, King, and Dukes joining in. “Southern Fantasy” updates the band’s old-school sound into ’70s old-school with the bubbling, funky beat, almost disco if you will, but it works tremendously well. The final track is a reprise of “All The Love That I Got,” soundings like a deep, southern soul track. Duncanson’s soulful vocal turn really sells this version.

Damn The Rent is another fabulous set of vintage blues, plus a few sidesteps into other interesting directions that work perfectly. I’ll listen to anything The Dig 3 decides to play just based on their first two efforts, but I think this second release is even better than their first.

--- Graham Clarke

Peter VeteskaFull Tilt (Blue Heart Records) is a most appropriate title for the latest album from Peter Veteska & Blues Train. The band (Veteska – vocals/guitar, Alex D’Agnese – drums, Coo Moe Jhee – bass) is joined on this release by Jeff Levine (keyboards), Chuck Hearne and Rick Prince (bass), Mike Scott (sax), Tony Perruso (trumpet), Jen Barnes (vocals), and Mikey Jr. (harmonica/vocals). This album, their seventh in eight years, is their best to date, which is impressive in itself considering the quality of their catalog. Veteska wrote eight of the 12 tracks (one with Barnes) and the covers are interesting and well-chosen.

A Veteska original, the feisty blues rocker “Go Find Another Man” kicks off the disc, which features Mikey Jr.’s harmonica. Ms. Barnes takes the mic for the funky mid-tempo blues “I Wasn’t Wrong” before Veteska ably handles the splendid slow blues “Sad and Blue,” turning in a strong vocal and fine guitar work.

Albert King’s “I Get Evil” is the album’s first cover and it’s top notch, with the core band adding keyboards and the horn section to the mix. The smooth “Pack of Lies” mixes blues and rock, with a bit of a pop sheen, and the gritty original “2:00 in the Morning” teams Veteska and Barnes on co-lead vocals.

“One After 909” was one of the first tunes written by the famed Lennon-McCartney combo, with Veteska and the band giving their version a real country blues “train song” feel that sounds better than the original incarnation. “Take Back What You Own” teams Veteska and Barnes on vocals again as the band locks into a soulful groove, and Veteska is joined by Levine on piano for a superb version of the blues standard “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out).” “Slow Down You Crazy Fool” picks up the pace again, and Veteska’s vocals and guitar are equally fiery.

“Man About Town” is a sizzling instrumental that features Veteska, Scott, and Levine taking extended solos on guitar, sax, and B3, respectively. The closer is a terrific version of “Merry Christmas Baby,” the Johnny Moore classic featuring Levine on piano.

I’ve heard five of Veteska & Blue Train’s releases, and Full Tilt is the best of the bunch. Veteska is a powerful vocalist and guitarist and one of the best composers in the genre. This set will certainly satisfy fans of blues with a touch of rock.

--- Graham Clarke

Popa ChubbyPopa Chubby and the Beast Band recently released a scorching live set on Gulf Coast Records. Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint NYC features Popa Chubby’s blistering lead guitar and vocals, backed by bassist Mike Merritt, keyboardist Mike Dimeo, and drummer Stefano Giudici. The 19-song set was compiled from two October dates in front of 25 select fans with no edits, retakes, no bells and whistles added, consisting of songs from his vast collection of original tunes and some cleverly reconceived covers from the most unlikely of sources, in some cases.

A rocked-up and out version of Neil Young’s “Motorcycle Mama” launches the set in splendid fashion, followed by Chubby’s poignant tribute to departed music legends (“Another Ten Years Gone”), and his gritty cover of “Hey Joe,” a staple of his live shows. Next are two Chubby originals, the driving rocker “Dirty Lie” and the mid-tempo blues “69 Dollars,” which showcases Chubby’s versatility on guitar and Dimeo’s keyboards.

Chubby’s blistering interpretation of “Godfather Theme (Speak Softly Love)” is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and the hard-charging “Dirty Diesel” is a keeper as well. “Grown Man Crying Blues” is a nearly 14-minute slow blues that gives the entire band ample space to stretch out with impressive results, and another intriguing cover that works really well in Harold Arlen’s “Over The Rainbow” wrapping up Disc One.

Disc Two kicks off with the tough original “It’s A Mighty Hard Road,” the funky roadhouse rocker “I Don’t Want Nobody,” and the powerful soul blues “I Can’t See The Light Of Day.” Dimeo’s gospel-infused keyboards really enhance this tune. The sweet ballad “Embee’s Song” is dedicated to Chubby’s wife, Mary Beth Stolz, and “Steel Horse Serenade” is a strong instrumental that’s a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” produces one of Chubby’s most emotional vocals, which is complemented well by Dimeo’s keyboards, and his revisit of Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack And Vine” is an inspired choice, while the original “Sweat” is a moody, atmospheric blues that touches on jazz.

The album closes with two covers, the blues standard “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out” and a brisk take of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” which transitions into “Chubby’s Story,” an entertaining rap/spoken word narration of Chubby’s beginnings in music.

Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint NYC captures Popa Chubby and the Beast Band at their very best. Listeners will feel like they’re in the room with the 25 fans who were fortunate enough to witness these intense, high-energy performances in person.

--- Graham Clarke

Cassius KingCassius King has served as an audio engineer and production manager for the past 25 years, but he always dreamed of making his own music. Over the years, he continued writing and playing in his spare time and now he has taken the opportunity to fulfill his dreams by recording a five-song EP, Last Call For The Blues (Big Ear Audio) as Cassius King and the Downtown Rulers. King sings and plays keyboards on these tracks and is backed by guitarist Chalo Ortiz, bassist Chris White, and drummer J.R. Lozano. He wrote four of the five tunes, which effectively touch on several different blues styles.

The loose and funky opener, “Do It All Again,” finds King lamenting his circumstances, but determined to keep his faith and persevere despite the obstacles thrown in his way. There’s also a really cool take on Little Johnny Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say” that really pops. “Feel Good Music” has a bit of a Crescent City feel via the lithe work from the rhythm section, and “Better Man Blues” is a gritty blues rocker with powerful fretwork from Ortiz and stellar support from the rest of the band.

The title track closes the disc, a somber slow blues with a great performance from King on vocals and keyboards.

Based on these five tracks, an entire album should be next on the list for Cassius King and the Downtown Rulers. King is an excellent frontman with a voice tailor-made for the blues and the band is first rate. Hopefully, blues fans will get to hear more from this fine band.

--- Graham Clarke

Noah ZacharinCanadian singer/songwriter/guitarist Noah Zacharin has always incorporated several genres into his music --- folk, blues, and jazz --- but his music is always a great listening experience. His ninth album, Points Of Light (Sonic Peach), is no exception, and the blues is at the root of nearly all 11 of Zacharin’s tunes on this wonderful set, either lyrically or musically or both.

He’s joined on these tracks by Russ Boswell (electric/upright bass) and Gary Craig (drums/percussion), with guests Denis Keldie (piano/B3/accordion), Burke Carroll (pedal steel guitar), Kevin Breit (mandola/mandocello/guitars), Marc Ribot (ukelele), Roly Platt (harmonica), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), and Drew Jurecka (strings).

The opener “Ten Tons of Road” is a gentle, fond remembrance of a long-ago romance highlighted by Zacharin’s delicate fingerpicking. “17 Minute” is a unique train song, as Zacharin thinks about a former lover as the train passes by each 17 minutes, and it’s helped along the way by Carroll’s pedal steel guitar and Keldie’s B3.

The jaunty blues shuffle “Bed of Nails,” from which the album title comes from, narrates the story of several interesting individuals on the road of life (Ribot and Breit guest on this track), and “So Much Work To Be Done” is a solo guitar track written by Zacharin in tribute to one of his musical heroes, Texas songwriter Guy Clark.

The inspirational “Red Red Bird” is one of Zacharin’s most beloved songs, a part of his live shows for many years, and this is the first version he’s recorded for an album. The shuffle “What Have I Got To Show For It” ventures in the direction of the blues, compliments of Platt’s harmonica, and the sprightly “Lester Brown” is a blues swinger and tells the tale of a New Orleans ladies man. Turcotte’s muted trumpet gives the tune a Crescent City feel. “Tom Morrow” is about a resilent, dependable friend and his family.

The country blues “Done Gone Gone” reflects positively on a failed relationship. It’s followed by the beautiful instrumental, “Something Like A River.” The album concludes with “Been A Long Day,” written during a low point in Zacharin’s life where he determines to pull himself up and move forward. Jurecka’s strings add depth and character to this moving closer.

Points of Light is an album of stunning beauty and depth. Noah Zacharin’s amazing guitar work, his warm vocals, and his masterful songwriting make this release essential listening for anyone that loves music.

--- Graham Clarke

Alex LopezLooking For A Change (Maremil Music), the latest release from Florida-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Alex Lopez, pays tribute to his musical influences growing up in Cleveland, Ohio --- the guitar heroes of the ’60s and ’70s, many from the British Invasion.

Lopez wrote nine of the ten tracks and he’s backed by a powerful rhythm section (Kana Leimbach – drums, Steve Roberts – bass) that touches on blues, rock, and funk in equal doses on the tracks, which will certainly bring a smile to the faces of those who dug the same guitar heroes Lopez does.

The hard-driving blues rocker “Train” opens the disc with a real “old school” feel in Lopez’s guitar work, and that vibe continues with “Whiskey Covered Woman,” which has a real Led Zeppelin sound with the powerhouse guitar and drums, while on “Blues They Rock,” Lopez and company prove that they do indeed.

The title track returns to that Led Zep dynamic with impressive results, and “Spanish Blues” is a smoky slow burner with a tasty Latin tinge that picks up the pace in Santana-esque fashion as it concludes.
“Tell Me” is a mid-tempo blues ballad which mixes in blues and rock effectively, “Wild As The Wind” adds funk as the rhythm section really locks in to the groove behind Lopez.

“She” continues in the same funky vein, daring you to keep still, and “Night Closing In” is a sweaty ballad with a strong vocal from Lopez. The album closes with the lone cover, and it’s a dandy.The trio really rips into Cream’s “Politician,” delivering a thunderous version with bass man Roberts taking the mic.

Lopez’s vocals, guitar work, and songwriting are all spot on and the muscular rhythm section of Kana Leimbach and Steve Roberts is first-rate. Fans of classic blues rock, British Invasion variety will find a lot to smile about with Alex Lopez’s Looking For A Change.

--- Graham Clarke

Until The SunUntil The Sun has been described as an alt-blues/rock group, fusing elements of psychedelic rock and jazz into their sound as well. Based in Phoenix, the band (Brandon Teskey – guitars, Alyssa Swartz – vocals, Chris Tex – drums, Micheal Young – keyboards) recently issued Enchantment, a compelling set of eclectic blues rockers which features 14 tracks, 12 originals with two covers. Also contributing are keyboardist Will Kyriazis, and backup vocalists Lori Cooper and Karee Kudebeh.

The title track, a blues-rock instrumental, appears at the beginning and midpoint of the album. Following the short opening instrumental interlude, the album officially opens with “Your Well,” a rumbling rocker, and a decidedly different take on the B.B. King classic

“All Over Again,” with a powerful vocal turn from Swartz driving the track. The funky “Dancing On The Floor” is a catchy upbeat tune that will put a hop in listeners’ step. The haunting “Broken Masterpiece” has an ominous, country-blues feel, while “Dragon Below” rocks hard,. “Death In Disguise” is a moving blues ballad.

The second half of the album kicks off with a memorable, bluesy read of “Hound Dog,” which owes more to Big Mama Thornton’s version than Elvis’. “Animal Within” is a grinding blues rocker that addresses betrayal, and the encouraging “Seek The Sunshine” is a terrific slow blues with superb slide guitar work from Teskey.

The irresistible “Groovin’” is a funky blues shuffle. “Space For Leaving” is a melancholy blues ballad with a soulful vocal from Swartz, and the closer, “Ghost In The Prayer,” is truly a psychedelic blues-rocker that sends the album off with the pedal to the metal before seguing into the final part of the title track.

Enchantment is an interesting set of modern blues that combines traditional themes with modern sounds. Until The Sun’s brand of blues and blues-rock stands out from the norm thanks to their songwriting, musicianship and the powerful vocals of Swartz.

--- Graham Clarke



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