Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2008

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

JW-Jones Band

Willie Big Eyes Smith

Byther Smith - CD
Byther Smith - DVD

Buddy Guy

Magic Slim

Albert Cummings

Robin Rogers

Fontaine Brown

Paul Mark and the Van Dorens


The Vestapolitans

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines

Paul Reddick

Rich Man's War

Ruf Blues Caravan

Ronnie Earl

Nelsen Adelard

JW-Jones“People have been asking for a more ‘guitar driven’ album from me for years – now is the time,” explains JW-Jones regarding Bluelisted. As NorthernBlues’ longest standing artist, he has recorded a total of five discs for the label including their very first CD in 2001.

J-Dub gets better and better with each release, and Bluelisted is no exception. The veterans of the blues scene have taken a shining to singer/songwriter/guitarist Jones as seen by the highly respected guests on this CD. He has wisely taken advantage of that situation to mature as a musician.

Guest guitarists Little Charlie Baty and Junior Watson appear together on the same tracks for the first time in recorded history. The three remarkable guitarists all have a similar style and they play magnificently off of each other on six songs. Guitar enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the credits clarify which artist performs which guitar solo. Other venerable guests include Richard Innes (drums) and Larry Taylor (bass), who have both spent time with The Mannish Boys.

Bluelisted contains ten originals and four covers, and was produced by Jones. If you like stylish guitar and bouncy grooves, with gently played drums, then this is the CD for you. Yet, you’ll hear more than fat-toned guitar. In the liner notes Dan Aykroyd states, “Clearly Mr. Jones is conversant in the Westside and the Southside styles and sound.”

Guitar solos are frequently heard, but none of them contain a ton of notes. Sensibly, each comes loaded with the proper amount of artillery. The Freddie King popularized "Double Eyed Whammy" isn’t a kick ass and rockin’ version like Tinsley Ellis recorded in the late ’80s. Rather, it becomes a West Coast swinging guitar fiesta. "Heavy Dosage" is a jazzy instrumental and "Wasted Life" is a take on "Who’s Loving You Tonight."

Baty’s harp on "Out Of Service Blues" is a nice change from all the six-stringing. "Looking The World Straight In The Eye" is funky and greasy, with a bit of Texas thrown in for good measure. The tempo changes, within the song, keeping it interesting to listen to and complex to perform.

You can almost smell the barbeque on the tasty licks present on the shufflin’ "Can’t Play A Playboy." A honking sax creates a house party on "Mad About You" where a stomping boogie is driven by the pulsating horn section. Jesse Whiteley’s piano is impressive on "The Doctor" and a couple other tracks.

Blues musicians do not usually receive their due acclaim until well in their senior years. Though he may be playing his scintillating swing blues into his retirement years, 28-year-old JW-Jones isn’t planning to wait until then to make his mark on the industry. This CD could be considered the Showdown! CD of white, West Coast-style guitarists. Jones’ vocals have a boyish charm, but they require further enhancements in order to match his guitar skills.

Overall, this youthful artist’s music will attract a younger audience to the blues, and that is exactly what the genre needs.

--- Tim Holek

Willie Big Eyes SmithWillie "Big Eyes" Smith played traditional shuffle style drums for 15 years with Muddy Waters. Later, he co-founded the Legendary Blues Band with other Waters Band alumni. Smith, who hails from Helena, Arkansas, has been a solo artist since 1995.

The core of the extraordinary band backing Smith on Born In Arkansas (Big Eye) includes Bob Stroger (bass) and Little Frank Krakowski (guitar). They are one of the finest Chicago blues bands that you will hear. With the reins of Chicago’s most authentic old school drumming handed down to his son Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, who is as outstanding as his father is on the skins, Willie confidently concentrates on harmonica, his first instrument. Smith is not a sonic harp wailer but rather he plays it softly and melodically. He draws on many of his life experiences for the topics of the 13 original songs. His ordinary vocals are genuine though they are not exceptional. It’s the songs and musicianship that stand out on this scintillating traditional blues album.

Throughout, Billy Flynn plays sharp, short, and strong notes on guitar. Even though he isn’t credited for playing mandolin, you can hear mandolin on a few songs. Barrelhouse Chuck’s rolling and jingling piano fills gaps tighter than fresh asphalt on "Rub My Back." His ’60s psychedelic sounding organ illustrates what the first blues/rock bands sounded like on "Old Woman Sweetheart." The song’s lyrics present the advantages of older women and having a relationship with one of them.

"Dreamin’" is an instrumental that features pure harp with incredible tone that is similar to the tone produced by James Cotton. "Sitting Here Drinkin’" is a modern day uptake based on the classic "Sloppy Drunk." A Muddy Waters influence is also found on "Can’t Rest For Worry" where Smith sings (“Can’t sleep for cryin’/can’t be satisfied”). Other old and familiar lyrics (“Troubles in the east/troubles in the west”) are given a facelift on "World In An Uproar." On the title track, Smith sings he was (“Born in Arkansas on a country farm”). It’s a country blues tune that is ignited with power.

Even though the 13 songs are all fairly similar, it’s a pleasure to hear this dying brand of blues properly performed. This is old-style electric Chicago blues performed with fireball keyboards, burst-full harp, and precisely delivered guitar. Regardless of what today’s media would like you to believe what blues music is, this CD is the real deal.

--- Tim Holek

Byther SmithByther Smith’s life has left him with many scars. He lost both his parents while still a child in Monticello, Mississippi. As a young man, surviving family members shipped him off to Arizona. There, he took up boxing in part to deal with the pain. By the early ’60s he had moved to Chicago and was playing Theresa's Lounge, where he backed Junior Wells. Via songs that contain pain and torment, he puts his scars on display.

There is a peculiar attraction to the unattractiveness of Smith’s rugged music on his first live recording, Blues On The Moon (Delmark). It was recorded at the small south side Chicago club, the Natural Rhythm Forty And Over Social Club. First-rate support is provided by Jimmy Burns’ regular band of Anthony Palmer (rhythm guitar), Greg McDaniel (bass), James Carter (drums), and Daryl Coutts (keyboards). Together, the Smith originals naturally flow out of these guys. Coutts roams the most, but his breathtaking improvisations are a bit self-fulfilling.

Easily the best song is "Judge Of Honor." It has a catchy wall of sound that’s rich in time-tested, electric Chicago blues. On it, Smith’s rusty and weathered vocals attest to years of living the real deal blues lifestyle. Smith maintains a certain pride especially when singing the words to the title track, (“I’m so proud of America, I’ll play the blues standing’ on the moon.”) However, the song’s repetitive rhythm is too monotonous. Repetition will practically hypnotize you during "Give Up My Life For You" which reminds us (“Baby Jesus died/He died for this world.”) It’s a slow-paced, gritty groove, where the band comes together as a tight and cohesive unit. It’s simply one of the heaviest cuts on the recording.

Classic ’50s-style Chicago blues appears on "If I Misused Someone." Minor key "Monticello" is autobiographical in nature. When Smith frantically sings (“Monticello so lonely”), you sense the anguish and torture produced from being left alone. He strays from the usual arrangement of "Don’t Start Me Talkin’"; however, it features some of his best guitar work.

Delmark’s core business is not cinematography so this DVD doesn’t rate the same as a Live At Montreux DVD. The club’s shoebox layout was not an ideal setting to film a band. There is no stage (a pool table normally occupies the spot where the band set up) and the lighting is poor. The band has to cram into a compressed area. Little space is left to set up the cameras. As a result, the camera views, especially from the mobile camera, are too close. Smith looks as mean as his tough blues sound. Yet, extreme close-ups of his face, which fill the entire screen, are not needed. The DVD includes one bonus track and a running commentary where Smith is interviewed by co-producer Steve Wagner. By means of the commentary and David Whiteis’ liner notes, you learn more about Smith than any biography written about him.

There are several shining moments, but overall these mostly original songs aren’t very memorable and neither are the vocals. However, the band is confident and the guitar solos are slashing. Some songs kick and bite, e.g., "Hard Times," while others e.g., "Rock Me Baby" are in need of an energy boost. Blues is best experienced live. The DVD fails to capture what emanates off the CD.

--- Tim Holek

Buddy GuyIf the Buddy Guy you first knew or liked was the Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues Buddy Guy, then Skin Deep (Silvertone) is the CD you’ve been waiting for. After some less than memorable releases – namely Sweet Tea and Bring ’Em In – Buddy Guy is back on top. With regards to the songs and guests, Skin Deep is every bit as good as Damn Right… . However, it features more of Guy’s wildly speedy guitar playing, and this time the message of the songs is deeper. The inspiration for the album title and song comes from a significant series of personal memoirs and observations on the ways in which "underneath we're all the same.” This time Buddy Guy had the freedom to play what he wanted in the studio. "This is the first time I really had more control," Guy says.

The success of the album can be attributed to the veteran studio musicians like Reese Wynans (keyboards). The greatest credit must be given to Tom Hambridge – known for his work with Delbert McClinton, Johnny Winter, and Susan Tedeschi – who produced the CD, contributed all but two songs, and performed drums. Guy’s vocals are usually thunderous, but they lack energy on the opening song "Best Damn Fool." He more than compensates for the deficiency by putting everything he has got into a scintillating guitar that vibrates its way into your blues bloodstream.

"Lyin’ Like A Dog" is a dirty blues with lots of jolting guitar notes. Here, Guy delivers a rant of bad love with the expressive, energetic, and expressive vocals we have come to expect. This seven-plus minute opus gives merit that Guy is still one of the best blues guitarists on the scene. "Show Me The Money" is a rockin’ boogie that sounds highly produced especially the background vocals. As the remaining real deal bluesmen fall victim to attrition, "Who’s Gonna Fill Those Shoes" describes a real predicament. The song itself does not propose any answers to the question, but rather it urges the listener to dictate the future of the blues. Cleverly, hope for the future is delivered on the track via pre-teen guitar whiz Quinn Sullivan.

The contemporary rock song "Too Many Tears" is fueled by Derek Trucks’ slide guitar and Susan Tedeschi’s vocals. "Every Time I Sing The Blues" is a perfect partnering of rock’s greatest blues advocate – Eric Clapton – with the blues’ greatest rock advocate – Buddy Guy. The lyrics and arrangement of "Out In The Woods" are made to sound rural thanks to an accompanying accordion of Nathan Williams. Here, Robert Randolph’s pedal steel guitar is absolutely wicked. He cuts heads with Guy again on "That’s My Home."

Along with the occasional pop song, e.g., "Hammer And A Nail" that could have been omitted, there is plenty of rock and blues on this CD. Broad-minded music enthusiasts will love this release which expands the borders of the blues.

--- Tim Holek

Magic SlimIt was my pleasure to be the handler for Magic Slim at this year’s Blues Music Awards and a nicer man you’ll never meet. So it was a treat to get Slim’s latest record, Midnight Blues, in the mail from Blind Pig Records. Slim put out the word that he was looking for a few extra “Teardrops” for this record and a number of his friends answered the call. James Cotton, Otis Clay, Lil’ Ed, Lonnie Brooks, Elvin Bishop and Gene Barge are all friends who answered the call to contribute their talents to Magic Slim’s latest project. The result is a rocking good time and a disc that is highly recommended.

The first cut up is a Magic Slim original, “Let Me Love You.” The familiar strains of Slim’s guitar light up the intro to a song about respect for his woman. “What I like about you baby…you’re all right with me…” “Let me love you…love you babe…let me love you baby…that’s all I can do!” James Cotton brings his harp to the next tune, “You Can’t Lose What You Never Had.” “You can’t lose what you ain’t got…can’t miss what you never had…you can’t spend what you ain’t got…can’t lose what you ain’t ever had!” Cotton’s harp leads the way as Slim lets us know that you just have to make do with what you have, a good lesson to learn. “Give Me Back My Wig” is the next tune and the slide guitar of Lil’ Ed is front and center here. “Give me back my wig…honey let your hair go bald…I really have no business…honey, buying you no wig at all!” It’s hard for me to imagine wearing a wig and letting my woman go bald, but it works for Slim.

The first of two Little Milton covers, “Lonely Man,” is up next. The exuberant tones emitting from Slim’s guitar tells me he’s having a ball recording this song as he sings…”I want you to love me…I want you to love me…yeah…baby…til it pleases me!” “I’ve been so unlucky baby…I found a spider in my stew…don’t what happened baby…I put so much confidence in you!” Lonnie Brooks lends his guitar to this version of the Willie Dixon tune, “Spider in My Stew.” Seems someone is trying to do Slim harm and discourage his love for this woman. Lonnie’s guitar work is brilliant and Slim is appropriately suspicious of his woman now. “Countrified” is the best way to describe Magic Slim’s next tune, “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.” “My mama won’t buy no shoes…mama won’t buy me shoes…oh, Lord…ain’t going be treated this way…going down the road feeling bad…oh, Lord…ain’t going to be treated this way!”

We stay up tempo with another Slim original, “Full Load Boogie,” an instrumental. Here Magic Slim is at his best, picking his notes carefully and just letting it wail. “Full Load Boogie” is a nice interlude leading on to our next cut, “Crosseyed Cat.” Here is seems that Magic Slim’s woman has a house cat that doesn’t like him and something needs to go. “Every time I go by my woman’s house…he’s in the corner, boy…laying down…he’s too big to be a house cat…he’s too small to be alone…I’m so sorry…got to leave that woman alone…she’s got a cross-eyed cat…living out there with her boy in her home!” A heavy bass line sets the mood on our next cut, “House Cat Blues.” Here Magic Slim is the one with the cat who’s driving him crazy. The last line of this song says it all, “I’m going to get me a fuzzy dog…to get that house cat of mine…cause he’s bad…I’m going to let him choke him!”

“I’ve been waiting on you, Carla…babe, I’ve been waiting all night long…yea, I’m beginning to wonder little girl…girl, when you coming back home?” “Carla” is a woman who obviously is stepping out on Magic Slim and the pain she’s causing him is too much to bear. “I’ve got to find someone….someone who can take her place!” Elvin Bishop supplies the guitar work on our next cut, “Cryin Won’t Let You Stay”. “When you leave little girl…please tell me that you’re gone…leave if you want…cryin’ won’t let you stay…cause the more you cry….girl you’re going to drive me away!” Elvin’s guitar is on fire and I can see the smile on his face in my mind’s eye as he enjoys playing on this tune for Slim. Magic Slim is back to the guitar on another original cut, “What Is That You Got.” “What is that you got baby…tell me, what is that you got…whatever you got…please, Mam…lay it on me!” Whatever she’s got must be hot, everyone seems to want some. The final cut on the CD, “Loving You is The Best Thing That Happened to Me,” features Otis Clay on background vocals, Gene Barge on tenor sax and the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings horn section as Slim attacks this Little Milton tune. Knowing Little Milton, I imagine this is a tune that he wrote for his wife and Magic Slim does it justice. “If I had a chance to live my life over…if I could reset…the hands of Time…well…I want you to know…if this could be done…without you in my life…baby…it would be no fun…cause loving you…is the best thing that happened to me!”

I’ve enjoyed this new record by Magic Slim tremendously. You can always judge a man by his peers and it’s obvious that these Chicago players love and respect him. Everyone played their butts off for Slim on this record and the result will stay in my CD player for awhile. Catch Magic Slim & the Teardrops when you can, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another band that loves to play live these guys do. And grab a copy of Midnite Blues from Magic Slim while you’re at it, he’ll be happy to sign it for you.

--- Kyle Deibler

Albert CummingsI called Albert Cummings after I’d had the chance to listen to Feel So Good. I told him he’d made a great record. Albert’s latest release on Blind Pig Records is a live recording that does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the guitar madman at his best. Albert blew us away out here in Phoenix with his seven-plus minute version of Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile," and Feel So Good gives the listener a hint of what Albert’s like live. So let’s dig into it.

The audience in the house that night at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts was in for a treat. Albert sets the tone from the beginning with “Party Right Here.” “Kick off your boots, let down your hair…let’s party like nobody cares!” And party they did. The house is rockin’ and Albert, Aaron and Daniel are all letting it loose. Makes me wish I’d been there. Next up is a Delbert McClinton tune, “Why Me,” and Albert’s obviously in over his head. “By the time my money ran out…you know my honey was gone…and I was crying out loud to myself as I was walking home.” Judging by the audience response, Albert nailed, “Why Me.” Things slow down with Albert’s original tune, “Sleep.” “Sleep” is a new song of Albert’s to me and his intricate guitar work on this tune is reminiscent of Santana. “Night time…it's time for sleep…while you rest…my love you’ll keep…on your pillow…rest your head…while you dream…of the days ahead!” This may be a song that Albert wrote for his children and it’s beautifully done.

We move on to the “Hoochie Coochie Man/Dixie Chicken” medley that Albert just lights up. I particularly like his version of “Dixie Chicken” and the audience is jumping. “And I don’t remember church bells…money I put down…on a white picket fence and boardwalk…on a house at the edge of town…but boy did I remember…the strain of her refrain…and the nights we spent together…and the way she called my name…” The audience has the chorus to this Little Feat tune down pat and Albert calls for a second…”you can be my Dixie chicken…I’ll be your Tennessee man…we can walk together…down in Dixie land!” A slow, thumping bass line from Daniel Broad leads us into “Barrelhouse Blues,” a tune written by Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon. “You can cry out her name…but she can’t hear you call…she’s had enough…enough of it all…you can crawl on your knees…to your mama’s front door…she can’t hear you no more.” This relationship is definitely over and there’s no going back.

Albert is definitely an outspoken man and sometimes it gets him into trouble. He lets us know why on “Tell It Like It Is.” “Well I never…never hold back…I always tell it like it is…if I hurt your feelings…you’re too sensitive!” I can definitely speak from my experiences with Albert on this one. Albert, you do tell it like it is, you SOB!! Props from Phoenix!! “Rock Me Baby” is the next tune on this musical adventure and we’re in high gear now. “I want you to rock me baby…rock me all night long…I want you to rock me baby…like my back ain’t got no bone…baby!” I seriously doubt that B.B. King ever envisioned the house-rockin' version that Albert and the boys are playing for us here. Another Cummings original, “Your Own Way,” is up next. “You never…never judge a book by its cover…there’s so much more…you might discover!”

The rock in Albert’s life is his wife Christina, and “Together As One” was written for her. “Don’t worry about…all there is to come…just know in your heart…that we’ll…get it done…because we…are together as one!” A beautiful ballad, it’s nice to hear the live version from Albert and the care he gives it. Albert crank things back up with another original, “Blues Makes Me Feel So Good,” and the crowd is definitely into it. “It’s hard to feel bad…when the blues makes me feel so good!” “You people feeling good” is Albert’s question to the audience and they burst out with applause in appreciation for his music and his showmanship. Albert closes out this energetic live album with another anthem he loves to play, “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. A great way to end what had to be an amazing show.

I have to admit Albert is one of my favorite guitar players and this live album shows Albert, Aaron and Daniel at their best. You can grab a copy of Feel So Good from Albert at any of his live shows or from his website at This Massachusetts home builder/guitar hero can tear the house down when he’s a mind to do so and he was definitely in the mood that night in Pittsfield. Next time you throw a party like this Albert, invite me!

--- Kyle Deibler

Robin RogersSomewhere in my house I have pictures from the 2003 IBC. It was my first year as a volunteer coordinator and along the way I met a passionate group of fans of Robin Rogers from Charlotte, NC. Fast forward to last year’s Women in Blues festival where I had the opportunity to meet and hear Robin for the very first time. The finale that night had Robin on stage with E.G. Kight and Robin was blowing a really mean harp. So I’m happy to see that Robin was able to sign a recording contract with Blind Pig Records and put out a great disc called, Treat Me Right.

The title track happens to be the first cut on the record and, if I close my eyes, Robin has the same vocal strength that Janiva Magness is known for. So now I know I’m in for a treat. “Oh baby…you know my love is true…oh baby…you know my love is true…well I do everything…everything you taught me to…you won’t do nothing…try to make me blue…oh baby…you know you ought to treat me right!” Robin’s a strong woman and if she’s not treated right, she will move on. On our next cut, “Don’t Leave Poor Me,” the shoe is on the other foot. Robin’s the one who wants to hang on. “Don’t leave poor me…I’m begging on my knees….don’t leave poor me…have mercy please!” Robin is definitely in love with her man and she’s not letting go easily. A sweet piano intro by Mark Stallings leads us into “Ain’t No Use,” where we find Robin is just tired of the man she’s with. “Ain’t no use baby…you’re too doggone mean…yes I’m tired of paying dues…having the blues…it ain’t no use baby!”

“Can You Hear Me Now” is an original written by Robin and her husband Tony and opens with Robin on the harp. “Can you hear me now…as I’m walking out the door…years of tears don’t count…cause you never heard a word…oh I finally bottomed out…I don’t love you anymore…can your hear me now…as I’m walking out the door?” Robin’s man cheated on her for years and she’s reached that point where enough’s enough. Good for her! Our next tune, “Color-Blind Angel,” pays homage to Viola Liuzzo; a civil rights heroine murdered by the KKK and earned Robin a second place award in the prestigious ISC songwriting contest. Dark Delta overtones, foot stomping underscore the sacrifice that Viola made for her beliefs. “Color blind angel…battled bigotry…Viola…Viola… lives on in history!” The tempo and mood lighten with our next song, “Promised Land.” “I’m going to the promised land…yes, I’m a sinner but…they’ll let me in…I’m going to the promised land….there ain’t no end…open the gates…I’m coming home to the promised land!”

Acoustic bass by Kerry Brooks and the trumpet work of Jon Thornton provide the backdrop for our next cut, “Nobody Stays.” Here we find that Robin is the only one who believes in and fights for the relationship she wants. “I’m so…so damn tired…you know I feel I’ve been denied…nobody ever stays…except me!” Robin’s husband Tony is a very accomplished guitarist and his slide work is heard in the background of our next cut, “Drunkard’s Alley,” a place everyone has been at one time or another. “You got just what you need…to take you where you want to go…down in Drunkard’s alley…where salvation is so hard to find. Robin’s nasty laugh in the background belies her amusement at what can be found in “Drunkard’s Alley.” In “Nobody’s Gonna Hurt You”, Robin is letting her man know his heart is in good hands. “Relax and take it easy…I’ll show you what love’s about…and when I finish loving you baby…you will have no doubt...nobody’s gonna hurt you, baby!”

“Don’t it make you wanna cry…don’t it make you want to moan…don’t it want it make you pack up your pain…and run away from home?” In “Moan,” we find the story of a woman who has found her man has been cheating on her. He’s been out all over town, sleeping around and its time to let him go. Our final cut, “Dark Love,” opens with an appropriately mystical B3 intro from Mark and more trumpet from Jon. “Oh baby…you’re begging forgiveness…like a sinner…begs a saint…oh baby…I just can’t believe you…caught you cheating…with my best friend…dark love…I don’t have the answer…I’m stuck here…between stay and go!” Her trust broken, Robin reaches the only logical conclusion she can, its time for her to go.

Treat Me Right is a very impressive debut for Robin on Blind Pig. She’s definitely a star on the rise although she’s been performing for close to 30 years now. Her band is rock solid behind her and her vocal strength is amazing. We’ll be hearing more good things from Robin and her band for a long time to come. And that’s a good thing!

--- Kyle Deibler

Fontaine BrownFontaine Brown cut his first single at Chess Studios in 1962 (for Chess’ Checker subsidiary), produced some of Bob Seger’s ’60s singles, served an apprenticeship under Motown songwriting legend Mickey Stevenson, played with the band Southwind (who recorded two albums for Blue Thumb), plus he’s done production work and has compiled a 200+ song catalog that includes songs recorded by Dave Edmunds, Percy Sledge, John Mayall, Emmylou Harris, Joe Louis Walker, James Armstrong, and Dave Alvin (and sampled by Gorillaz). Let’s just say he probably knows his way around the music scene.

Tired of having “no fixed address” and years of endless touring, Brown dropped off the radar as a performer, but remained in demand as a songwriter over the past 25 years. Recently, he jumped back into performing with the release of Tales From The Fence Line (Manatee Records), an appealing mix of pop, country, and blues with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

Despite the mixing of genres, the disc falls together pretty seamlessly, from the driving rock of the opening cut, “Ain’t No Brakeman,” and “Wreck At The Crossroads,” to the highly personal title track, which recounts those frustrating days of endless touring. “Detroit Saturday” is another hard-rocking tune, punctuated by Brown’s harmonica, and “Love Come Rescue Me” sounds like a long lost Memphis soul classic. “Southside Story” is a nod to the blues, Chicago style, and “Pool of Light” has a psychedelic feel, thanks to the electric sitar.

Brown sought out Don Dixon (REM, the Smithereens, Marti Jones) to produce the disc. He also added bass and backing vocals. Joining Brown and Dixon are a powerhouse group including Mitch Easter on guitars, Peter Holsapple on keyboards and mandolin, Jim Brock on drums and percussion, and Kelley Ryan on backing vocals.

Tales From The Fence Line summarizes Fontaine Brown’s career pretty succinctly. Like him, it’s a little blues, a little pop, a little Motown, and a little rock and roll, but it all adds up to a whole lot of fun. What it really sounds like is the record Fontaine Brown has always wanted to make. Thank goodness he got the chance.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul MarkOne of the more interesting releases of 2006 was Trick Fiction, released by Paul Mark &The Van Dorens. For fans of roots rock with a taste of Memphis soul, the disc was manna from heaven. Two years later, their follow-up, Blood & Treasure (Radiation Records), offers more of the same, showcasing a tough, gritty sound and songwriting that’s a cut above the standard roots rock fare, again recorded in Memphis at Ardent Studios.

Highlights include “Everything is Nothing,” which is what might best be described as a cleverly offbeat love song that rocks hard and grooves steady, “Don’t Get Me Started,” an all-too-brief slice of deep southern soul featuring a great vocal from Mark, “Raise The Roof,” another smooth soul burner that has Memphis all over it, and “Lotta Things To Say,” a barn-burner featuring Rick Steff’s Hammond B-3 that will get feet moving.

“Feed The Machine” is a cynical jab at the music industry. “I’m Still High” is a hilarious look at the day after a night on the town, and “Wrong Pair of Shoes” is a rockabilly number about cold feet. The closer, “Rock House,” is a splendid instrumental featuring Mark on guitar.

The Van Dorens (James Strain – bass, Harry Peel – drums, Rick Steff – keyboards, and Susan Marshall and Jackie Johnson on backing vocals) provide stellar support, with the right mix of grit and polish.
Blood & Treasure is another winner from Paul Mark & The Van Dorens. Fans of blues, rock, and soul, combined with great songwriting will want to check this one out.

--- Graham Clarke

FreeworldRemember those good old horn-driven R&B bands in the 1970s, like Tower of Power or Average White Band, who mixed soul with upbeat lyrics with jazz and funk? FreeWorld, out of Memphis, continues that great tradition into the 21st Century. They’ve been around since 1987 with their enthralling mix of Memphis, New Orleans, and the West Coast, and feature 78-year-old jazz sax legend Dr. Herman Green, who has played with Miles & Coltrane, B. B. King, Lionel Hampton, Phineas & Calvin Newborn, and Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead), among others during his storied 60-plus year professional music career.

From The Bluff (SwirlDisc) is their fifth release and is produced by Jim Dickinson, whose resume’ includes producing, performing, and recording with artists like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Ry Cooder, and the Replacements. FreeWorld consists of Green (tenor sax), along with Richard Cushing (lead vocals, bass, sitar, shaker), David Skypeck (drums), Brian Overstreet (guitars), E. J. Dyce (vocals, trumpet, maracas), and Captain Phil McGee (alto & tenor sax).

Early highlights include the upbeat “Keep Smilin’,” the punchy “Give It Back,” and “Down On The Bluff”, a nice laidback piece with lead vocals by Harold “Sundance” Thomas and slide guitar from Luther Dickinson, lead guitarist with the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars. The disc jumps into a jazz direction with the next few tracks, including the instrumental “Samurai,” and “Spinning Around,” which serves as an autobiographical piece on the band’s beginnings and history. “Monkey Suit” is a torrid funk workout, and “Spartacus” is another instrumental that sounds like a muscular meeting of Memphis and late ’60s Miles Davis, with the added bonus of Cody Dickinson’s electric washboard for good measure.

Speaking of bonuses, there’s a “Bonus” 11th track, “Save Our Soul,” a fantastic tribute to the music that made Memphis famous in the ’60s that features vocalist James Govan in a pure soul mode, plus Hope Clayburn on sax, Steve Dolan on trumpet, and Rick Steff on Hammond B-3.

25 to 30 years ago, music like this wasn’t hard to find. It made you dance and made you feel good. Somehow, over time, it fell out of favor and basically dropped off the musical map. With their mix of soul, R&B, jazz, and rock, FreeWorld brings it all back like it used to be, and suddenly it’s like it never went away in the first place.

--- Graham Clarke

VestapolitansBrad Vickers is best known as a blues bassist, and has backed up many blues artists during his career. After years of being in the background, he decided to come out front, playing guitar and singing on Le Blues Hot (ManHatTone), his first project as a leader of the Vestapolitans.

This exhilarating collection encapsulates several genres of roots music, including blues, jazz, and ragtime, and features 20 tracks, 12 of which are original compositions. The Vestapolitans include Big Frank & the Healers’ Margey Peters (bass, fiddle, percussion, vocals), Jim Davis (clarinet, tenor sax), Barry Harrison (drums and percussion), and emerging star Dave Gross (guitar, upright bass), along with V. D. King, who plays percussion on one track. Vickers does a wonderful job on guitar and has a nice, soothing voice that is a perfect fit with the material.

Listening to the disc, it’s obvious that Vickers and company had a ball recording it. There are covers by Tampa Red (“Give It Up, Buddy”), Big Joe Williams (“Baby, Please Don’t Go”), Reverend Gary Davis (“Hesitation Blues”), Jimmy Reed (“It’s Gonna Be Me”), and Big Jay McShann (“Hands Off”). What may be most impressive is that the group’s original tunes fit so seamlessly with the older songs. Highlights include “I Don’t Want To,” “Up From The Bottom,” “Our Real Good Thing (…Gets Better Every Day),” a duet with Peters, and “’A’ Rag.” There are also two nice tributes to influences, one for Tampa Red (“Hudson’s Stomp”) and one for Jimmy Reed (“Boogie for Jimmy Reed”).

Le Blues Hot is just what the doctor ordered for fans needing a fix of old-timey blues, jazz, and ragtime.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul Rishell-Annie RainesPaul Rishell and Annie Raines first joined forces in 1992, when Raines sat in with Rishell in a Boston bar. The result has been a productive relationship that has paid off with several U.S. and European tours and a set of well-received CDs (including the 2000 Handy Winner for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year, Moving to the Country). A Night In Woodstock (Mojo Rodeo) is the duo’s first live recording, taped at the Joyous Lake at Woodstock, NY back in 2005.

Rishell has been playing the blues since the early ’70s with many of the legends like Son House, Brownie McGhee, Johnny Shines, Sonny Terry, and Howlin’ Wolf, and enjoyed a solo career before teaming up with Raines, who picked up the harmonica at age 17 and proved to be a quick learner. She was soon sitting in with harp legends like James Cotton, Lazy Lester, Louis Myers, Jerry Portnoy, Kim Wilson, and John Sebastian, and serving short stints with the Tarbox Ramblers and Susan Tedeschi, playing on Tedeschi’s first three albums.

A Night In Woodstock was intended to be a part of a bigger project. Filmmaker Todd Kwait was working on a documentary about jug band music and was going to film one of Rishell and Raines’ shows after seeing the duo with John Sebastian. The date at Woodstock was just a regular club date, with keyboardist (and Woodstock resident) Bruce Katz sitting in. Kwait called and said he would be there to film with Sebastian, who would also sit in with the group, and lightning was captured in a bottle (the date will be released on DVD in early 2009).

Longtime fans will recognize many of these tunes, including the original compositions, “Blues On A Holiday,” “Moving To The Country,” and “Can’t Use It No More.” Rishell shines on covers of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Custard Pie,” Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues,” Johnny Winter’s “Dallas,” Jerry McCain’s “Bad Credit,” and a rocking cover of Lloyd Glenn’s “Blue Shadows,” featuring Katz on keyboards. Raines provides stellar support on harmonica and takes the mic herself for “Got To Fly” and “I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter,” and Sebastian joins the pair on “Can’t Use It No More” and “Orange Dude Blues.”

Raines and Rishell’s bandmates also deserve a nod. Reed Butler (bass), Billy MacGillivray (drums), and Chris Rival (electric guitar) provide solid backing.

This is a superb set with marvelous sound and performances. A Night In Woodstock is further proof that Paul Rishell and Annie Raines are two of the best in Country Blues today.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul ReddickPaul Reddick’s musical palette includes not only blues, but jazz, soul, pop, rock, and folk. His catalog of previous releases show an amazing dexterity in blending and mixing these styles together, as heard in a fine retrospective, Revue, that was released a couple of years ago of his solo career and his groundbreaking work as a member of the Sidemen.

The cover of Reddick’s latest release, Sugarbird (NorthernBlues Music), is a picture of mango hummingbirds done in the early 1800s by John James Audubon, the famed Louisiana ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. This seems appropriate, since Reddick’s performances bring to mind a sultry Louisiana night spent on a porch listening to a moody set of blues. Producer Colin Linden’s efforts bring to mind the work of another Canadian producer from not so long ago, Daniel Lanois.

The set is a mixture of slow, reflective songs and hearty blues rockers. Some of the slower songs are stunning in their beauty, including “I Will Vanish,” “Blue Wings,” and “John Lennon In New Orleans.” Faster paced highlights include ”Morning Bell” (featuring Garth Hudson of The Band on accordion), “Devilment,” with Linden’s rockabilly guitar break, and “It’s Later Than You Think,” and the positively bluesy “Block of Wood,” which features Reddick’s marvelous harp playing.

Vocally, Reddick ranges from a sweet whisper to a soulful growl. His harmonica work is, as always, top of the line. Sugarbird is an example of how great music is supposed to be put together, with outstanding performances, first-rate songwriting, excellent production, and a singer who’s in a class by himself.

--- Graham Clarke

Rich Man's WarI have not been a big fan of protest music in the past for several reasons. 1) Any time you do a protest song, you risk losing half your audience, 2) the songs often sound dated in later years, 3) what if the passage of time shows that your views were maybe not the right ones, and my personal favorite, 4) many fans like to escape from discussions of politics and current events when they listen to their favorite music. Your mileage may vary, but as far as my personal listening preferences go, let’s just say I’d rather hear Trent Lott do a reggae album than listen to most protest records, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the politics involved.

In the past, there have been many songs of protest within the blues genre. J. B. Lenoir made a career of protest songs, as did others like Robert Pete Williams, Bukka White, Josh White and Leadbelly, but usually, blues artists have stuck to its basic themes over the years. Certainly, this era in our country’s history is one of the most controversial, with plenty of reasons for protest on both sides of the aisle. Artists from all genres have taken on songs of protests in recent years, but it seems that more blues artists are getting in on the act these days. Ruf Records has released a compilation called Rich Man’s War: New Blues & Roots Songs of Peace and Protest.

Rich Man’s War is the first compilation of protest songs focusing on the blues genre. It features tracks by Ruf artists like Bob Brozman (the scathing “Follow The Money”) and Candye Kane (“Jesus and Mohammed”), but also collects materials from other labels like Alligator (Guitar Shorty’s searing “We The People” and Eddy Clearwater’s “A Time For Peace”), and JSP (Michael Hill’s reggae-tinged “Fear Itself”).

Others making contributions are Doug MacLeod (“Dubb’s Talkin’ Politician Blues”), Charlie Wood & the New Memphis Underground (a jazzy “You Don’t Really Wanna Know”), and Pat Boyack (the satirical “Mr. Wesola’s Lucky Number Dream Book Part II”). Though advertised as a blues compilation, there’s also a track by bluegrass legends Norman and Nancy Blake and one by satirist Roy Zimmerman.

As stated above, how much you like this collection really depends on either how much you like protest music or whatever your political leanings may be, but Rich Man’s War is a pretty solid, diverse set of songs that mix protest and humor very well. Fortunately, it’s not all fueled by fire and venom, but mostly served with a wink and a smile.

--- Graham Clarke

Ruf Blues CaravanRuf Records’ Blues Caravan has highlighted a different trio of musicians each year since 2006. In ’06, Aynsley Lister, Erja Lyytinen, and Ian Parker made up the first Caravan with their release, Pilgrimage-Mississippi To Memphis. Last year, Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman, and Roxanne Potvin released Time Bomb to rave reviews. Both groups also embarked on well-received U.S. and European tours in support of their releases.

This time around, Ruf brings back Deborah Coleman, a seasoned vet of the blues scene, along with the irrepressible Candye Kane, and British singer/songwriter/guitarist Dani Wilde. Guitars & Feathers is a live set recorded at the Harmonie in Bonn, Germany in January that features each of the ladies in separate sets and brings them together for a rousing finale.

The trio opens with a dandy cover of Ray Charles’ “Won’t Leave” before turning things over to newcomer Wilde, who has shared the stage with artists like Jools Holland and Gary Moore and eschewed a move to the mainstream to stay with her first love, the Blues. Judging by her set, the Blues world is the better for her decision as she rips through a strong set of four self-penned songs that highlight her powerful vocals and guitar, including the smoldering “I Love You More Than I Hate Myself,” and the title track from her upcoming Ruf release, “Heal My Blues.”

Although, Wilde is a tough act to follow, Kane is more than up to the task, as she cruises through a five-song set of her familiar swinging blues. “You Need A Great Big Woman” is accompanied by one of her entertaining monologues about the merits of full-figured ladies. “Crazy Little Thing” is a hard-rocking number from her most recent release, Guitar’d & Feathered, along with “My Country Man” and “I’m Lucky.” Kane was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer along the time of this concert, but she underwent surgery during the summer and seems to be recovering nicely (go to her website,, for regular updates on her condition).

Coleman’s set, only three songs, gets off to a funky start with her own composition, “Bad Boy,” before tackling Jimmy Morello’s “I Got To Know,” from her latest release for JSP Records, and Luther Allison’s “Fight.” Coleman’s sinewy fretwork and expressive vocals are always a pleasure to hear and it would have been nice to have heard another song or two from her.

The trio comes together for the final four songs on the disc, beginning with Wilde’s sizzling take of Z.Z. Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Kane leads the ladies through a torrid cover of Etta James’ “Something’s Got A Hold On Me.” Willie Dixon’s “Whole Lotta Love,” allows Coleman to really stretch out on guitar, and the closer, “Rocking On The Blues Caravan” is a fun track penned by Kane.

Lending strong support is the band, featuring Govert van der Kolm (keyboards), Denis Palatin (drums), Michael Griot (bass), and Laura Chavez (guitar), who really shines on a couple of solos during the set.
If you enjoyed the first two Blues Caravans collections, you’ll find plenty to like with Guitars &Feathers. This series gets better with each release.

--- Graham Clarke

Ronnie EarlRonnie Earl released Hope Radio near the end of 2007. It was well-received and considered one of Earl’s best albums. It was recorded live in the studio over two nights with an audience of invited guests and the end product was Ronnie Earl at his best. No one currently on the scene is as adept as mixing jazz and blues guitar as Mr. Earl. He receives high marks from critics of both genres.

Because Earl has battled health problems in recent years (including diabetes), he has not toured in a long time, so as promised, Stony Plain has released Hope Radio Sessions on DVD. For fans who have missed seeing Earl live, this is a wonderful substitute. Earl is at the top of his game, with an enthusiastic audience, tearing into tracks like “Blues For Otis Rush,” a ten-minute track that you hate to hear come to a close, and “Eddie’s Gospel Groove,’ which sounds like a lost Santana Woodstock track.

Both nights are captured on the DVD, with the first night mixing blues and jazz in equal amounts with “Bobby’s Bop,” “Kay My Dear,” and the somber “Blues For The Homeless.” Night two is a blues thing, with three tributes featured; the aforementioned “Blues For Otis Rush,” “Blues For the West Side,” and “Lightnin’ Hopkins Thing,” a marvelous track that wasn’t on the CD.

As mentioned in my CD review last year, this is an instrumental set that never lags. Earl’s playing is so powerful and so dynamic that you’re literally on the edge of your seat at times, waiting for what he’s going to play next. Plus, he gets sympathetic backing from his band (Lorne Entress, drums; Dave Limina, piano, Hammond organ; Jimmy Mouradian, bass; Nick Adams, guitar; Michael “Mudcat” Ward, basses and piano). They really give him the space to operate, but have plenty of time of their own to shine.

The bonus features are a ten-minute interview with Earl, plus an acoustic performance of “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Simply put, if you’re a Ronnie Earl fan or a fan of great blues and jazz guitar, this DVD belongs in your collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Delta MoonAtlanta, Georgia-based Delta Moon is a new name to me, but I’m damn sure that I’m going to be hearing the name in the future.

This band has not one, but two slide guitar players (Tom Gray and Mark Johnson), and if you can’t imagine how that sounds, then you have to give a listen to their new CD, Howling At The Southern Moon (Blues Boulevard). The sound that this band makes is punchy blues-rock – great music to drive long journeys with as it makes the time just slip away. This album is one of those that it just compulsive listening, you’re not always sure that you like it until it finishes, but you just can’t help but play it. At times this band reminds me of Creedence Clearwater Revival in their heyday, but with more of a bluesy feel mixed in.

The CD opens with “Clear Blue Flame”, a slow country blues written by guitarist Tom Gray, and it’s a great track to open with as it gets the listener’s attention straight away – there’s a great hook in the song – “Good moonshine burns with a clear blue flame,” and I’ve been singing it in my head for days! The tempo picks up ever so slightly with another Tom Gray track “Trouble In The Home,” a tale of love going stale, and then picks up some more with track three, “Jessie Mae,” co-written by Gray & Johnson.

On track 8, “You Don’t Have To Go,” the flavour changes totally with the addition of vocalist Kristin Markiton – and she’s also there for the next three tracks on vocals or backing vocals, before Gina Leigh gets a chance to strut her stuff. The line-up of the band ebbs and flows throughout the CD, the only constant members being Gray and Johnson, and this gives a fresh take on the music all the way through the album.

This CD has a good helping of 18 tracks in total, 15 of which are written, or co-written, by Tom Gray. The three covers that are included are all top notch – R.L.Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South”, the Son House classic, “Preaching Blues,” and a lovely version of Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘em On Down. The latter has been a big favourite of mine for a lot of years, and this is a particularly good version – I’ve played it over and over and haven’t got tired of tapping my feet and fingers to it.

European blues fans are in for a treat, as this band are touring the UK and Europe in the spring of 2009. Get your hands on this CD and see what this band is all about.

--- Terry Clear

Chase The SunThe self-titled CD from Chase The Sun is the debut album of an Australian blues band, and it has been in the US Billboard Blues Album Chart – so you know that it has to be at least reasonably good. Previously, there haven’t been many Australian “blues bands” that have struck me as knowing exactly what the blues is all about. But here is a band that changes my mind.

The band is a trio based in Sydney, Australia, and they have recently been nominated for five Australian blues awards – walking away with Best Group & Best Song awards. Pretty good for a brand new band!
The best song award was, incidentally, for “You Gotta Go,” which is track one on this album. It’s a track heavy on the slide guitar, which gets it straight into my good books, as the slide is played with dexterity and style.

Jan Rynsaardt is the guitarist, and he’s backed by Ryan Van Gennip & Jon Howell; they all met at a jam session and found they had the same, or similar, musical interests. The influences would seem to be Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, with a little bit of Allman Brothers and some Country thrown in for good measure.

I do have a serious criticism of this CD --- there is almost no information included with the CD, other than the names of the guest musicians and the fact that the trio wrote all 12 tracks on the album. I think a brief bio of the band would be welcomed, especially as this is a new band.

That aside, it’s a good first album, with a nice mix of tempos and styles and it bodes well for future output.

--- Terry Clear

Nelsen AdelardNelsen Adelard is one of the more consistently underrated Southern California blues cats on the scene today. South By Southwest (Blue Track Records), his fifth album, continues his trend of first-rate blues delivered in "no nonsense" fashion.

Adelard, who plays guitar, piano and harmonica, is backed by James Slaughter (bass) and Greg Worley (drums) on most cuts. He's also joined by the West Coast Band ---John Duzik (bass), Ben Beckley (drums), Mikey Mo (lead guitar) and Mark Norris (sax).

The disc opens with an up-tempo live cut, "One More Mile To Go," performed in front of an enthusiastic audience, featuring some nice harp from Adelard on the James Cotton cover. The big band stays on for a rollicking remake of Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88"; this song can only be done justice if it's got a smokin' sax solo, and Norris is up to the task.

South By Southwest takes a decidedly downhome turn after the two live cuts, moving on to doing all original material with the trio. "I Ain't Gonna Miss LA" is a pleasant mid-tempo ditty which would sound good played on the back porch; one could easily imagine Randy Newman singing this song.

For anyone who's ever had a new home built that just wasn't right, "Contractor Blues" will strike a nerve with you. Adelard sings with such conviction that you wonder whether this mid-tempo blues is somewhat autobiographical. He also plays a pretty mean harp. Adelard sings, "I got doors that won't close ... and walls that leak ... made me so mad ... well I can't hardly speak ... hey Mr. Contractor ... I need a house that I can use ..."

Adelard shows off both his piano playing and acoustic guitar picking on the jazzy "Do What You Do" before heading back more into an electric blues vein with "Rock It Right." I especially like his bluesy guitar solo laid over top of a fine shuffle beat and Slaughter's walking bass line. Adelard shows off his versatility by also laying down good harp and piano solos.

"Can't Get Through To You" is a mournful slow blues that's got a fuller sound than some of the previous cuts. I'm thinking there's some uncredited accompaniment here. Regardless, they've got a nice blues thing going on.

The album ends with a lazy blues, "Sweet Home In McComb," a song that evokes memories of drinking mint juleps under a cypress tree (regardless of whether or not you've ever had that experience). Adelard plays some nice piano here.

Nelsen Adelard is a performer who deserves a wider audience. South By Southwest is just further proof that more blues fans need to be listening to his music.

--- Bill Mitchell



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