Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2011

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Roy Trevino

Vidar Busk

Dani Wilde

Sarah Jane Nelson

Hans Theessink

Paxton Norris

Sharon Lewis

Bert Deivert

Scott Ellison

Kay Kay and the Rays

Sista Monica

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

Sandy Carroll

Savoy Brown


Roy TrevinoI'm always intrigued by albums from blues artists that I'm sure are going to take me into a lot of different styles of music, and that's true with the debut album from Roy Treviño. This guitarist from South Texas is getting his recording career off right, as the noted Jim Gaines is on-board to produce Treviño's self-titled album for Troubadour Records.

Nine of the ten cuts are original numbers, showing Treviño to be a very fine composer in addition to a versatile guitar player.

The disc gets underway with a nice uptempo blues number, "Gloria," which starts off with nice acoustic guitar accompaniment before Treviño starts to show off just how talented he is when he uses a slide on his electric axe.

If there's any question as to Treviño's main influences, he answers that question on the second cut, "The Boy Can Play," in which he mentions notorious guitar slingers like Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many, many more, all the while laying down some ferocious blues guitar licks.

If you looked at Treviño's name and predicted that there would be some Latin influences on this CD, you guessed right. He goes bilingual on the Santana-sounding "Sin Ella," one of my favorite cuts on the CD, both for his vocals and his guitar playing. David Boyle also comes in with some nice B3 playing. This song is one that I want to hear over and over, and alone is worth the price of admission.

Another Spanish-flavored number is the pleasant, jazzy "La Luna," on which Trevino plays very tasteful acoustic guitar before coming in with another Santana-ish electric guitar solo.

Just when you think you've figured this guy out, Trevino delivers a wonderfully upbeat version of Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself. " It's got the requisite reggae backbeat but also has a nice Latin feel to it.

Artists like Treviño keep the blues genre fresh and invigorated, and we need more performers like him. His first foray into the studio was definitely a successful venture --- although it's a little uneven, the high points are definitely pretty high and show the potential for growth as he continues his blues career. Regardless, I'll soon be assembling my Top Ten albums for 2011 and you can bet that this one's going to make the cut.

--- Bill Mitchell

Sonic BlueCommit a Crime is a small taster of a very good blues band from England, Sonic Blue. The band comprises Steve Brayne (guitar, harmonica and vocals), Matt Percival (lead guitar), Steve Shone (bass) and Richard Marcangelo (drums) and this self-published CD is released as a sampler for the band, but I feel it’s good enough to be reviewed here because the band are obviously very talented. I’m sure they would be happy to send some copies out – e-mail

The CD opens with a good rendition of the old Sleepy John Estes number, “Leaving Trunk.” This is a very good version of an old standard brought up to date, but without losing the flavour of the original. It’s close, in places, to the Taj Mahal version but it has Sonic Blue’s own stamp with great harmonica and guitar work.

One of my all-time favourite tracks comes up next, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” This has guest musician Damon Butcher contributing some keyboard work, which makes this version different from any other that I’ve heard of this great song. The harmonica and keyboards together work very, very well.

The band has bviously worked hard to select some good tracks to showcase their work, and their next track is “Love Her With A Feeling.” The sleeve notes attribute this one to Freddie King and Sonny Thompson, who made a great version of it, but I think it actually goes back to Tampa Red. Whoever did it first, this is another good version with Damon Butcher supporting again.

Unfortunately, this CD only features four tracks, but they are all extremely well adapted and played, as can be witnessed by the band’s version of Howlin' Wolf’s “Commit A Crime.” I haven’t heard too many cover versions of this song, and at first it seems strange not to hear Howlin' Wolf’s gravelly voice. However, that thought soon disappears as you enjoy the way that the band has put the song together. Damon Butcher gets a good keyboard solo going on this track and really drives it along.

If this is just a sample of what this band can do, then I’m looking forward to a full CD – hopefully in the not too distant future!!

--- Terry Clear

Vidar BuskNorwegian guitarist Vidar Busk moved to the USA at the age of 15 and played in US blues bands before returning to his home country of Norway in 1990. He started a band in 1996 and released three CDs, but the band broke up in 2000 and he started on a solo career before starting his new band, Bubble Of Trouble, which is the band on this new CD, Troublecaster (Blue Mood Records). The band is a three piece, with Ole Evensen on upright bass and Alexander Pettersen on drums supporting Busk, and they play a mix of blues, rock and rockabilly music.

The album opens with a heavy rocking blues, “Are You With Me Baby,” before settling down a bit with the Tiny Bradshaw number “Train Kept A-Rollin’.“ This number showcases what the band is capable of and it’s a very well executed number, updating Tiny Bradshaw to the new millennium.

The following track, “Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie,” is a 1950s flavoured up-tempo rock n roll track, easy to jive to (if that’s your thing), with piano supplied by guest musician Dag Yri, and then things slow way down with an old Jessie Mae Robinson song called “Sneakin’ Around.” This is a nice '50s style slow rock ballad, full of the influence of the original.

“Hurry Up and Wait” is a rockabilly number, with the upright bass at the forefront, leading into “Crazy Ol’ Barrytone” which has some fantastic saxophone supplied by Giale Roen Johansen. There is a nice duel going on between the sax and the guitar that really makes your foot tap.

Track seven, “One Eye Open,” is a frenetic rock 'n' roll track performed by the trio without any guests, and it then makes way for “Alabama Bloodhound,” again just the trio, but Busk suddenly lets rip here with some heavy guitar work, some influence from Hendrix & Stevie Ray Vaughan perhaps. The bluesiest track on the album.

The title track of the album, “Troublecaster,” features guest Jerry Jones on electric sitar! Unfortunately, this track did nothing for me at all, and I really don’t see how it fits in with the rest of the music on the CD.
The last two tracks are back to the regular style of the rest of the CD, and finish of the album quite nicely.
Not a bad opening CD for the new Vidar Busk band.

--- Terry Clear

Thorbjorn RisagerDust & Scratches (Cope Records) is the sixth CD from Danish bluesman Thorbjorn Risager, the follow-up to the 2010 Track Record. It features 11 tracks, nine written by Risager himself, and the remaining two by guitarist Peter Skjerning, and it opens with a heavy, up-tempo “Single Tear” before dropping down to almost a ballad, “More.”

Track three, “Back Home,” is a slow and moody blues with good lyrics and an excellent mix of instruments, including some nice saxophone work from Kasper Wagner. The tempo picks up into a nice rhythm for “In The Back Of My Mind,” to my mind one of the best tracks on the CD with lovely keyboard work from the talented Emil Balsgaard.

The album continues, with tempos covering most speeds, through seven more very good tracks, finishing on “House Rocking Band”, a big band number of blues and soul.

All in all, a worthy follow up to the 2010 Track Record.

--- Terry Clear

Dani WildeIt’s already been a good year for singer/guitarist Dani Wilde. The young British artist has turned heads as part of the Girls With Guitars album with Cassie Taylor and Samantha Fish, along with the accompanying tour. Now, she’s released her second disc for Ruf Records, Shine, a strong set of blues and soul that will please her current fans and also attract plenty of new ones in the process.

For her sophomore effort, Wilde recruits veteran producer Mike Vernon to work the controls. She also brings back her brother, Will “Harmonica” Wilde, who does his best to blow the back off his harmonica once again. The emphasis this time around is more on the soul side of the blues, but Wilde’s guitar work doesn’t take the disc off, as she continues to impress on tracks like “Some Kinda Crazy” and “Red Blooded Woman.”

Wilde also penned nine of the 11 tracks for Shine, emerging as a strong composer expanding the scope of blues topics and themes. “Don’t Give Up On Me” bristles with dark passion and “I Don’t Even Care” with defiance. “How Do You Do It” has the feel of a late ’60s/early ’70s Aretha Franklin track with its deep gospel flavored soul and a supple vocal from Wilde, and “Born To Love Him” has a strong Chicago vibe with some taut harmonica work.

On “Abandoned Child,” the young artist takes on a subject near and dear to her heart --- supporting young children and schools in Kenya. This sensitive number features guitar work from Laura Chavez, who shined on the 2008 Blues Caravan tour and who I promise you will be hearing more about in the future.

Providing outstanding support is a large group of musicians, including bassist Roger Innis (Chaka Khan), drummer Jamie Little, keyboard player Pete Wingfield (Chris Rea, Buddy Guy), and Van Morrison horn section members Martin Winning and Matt Holland. In addition to Chavez, guitarists Ben Poole and Stuart Dixon provide superb fretwork.

Shine is an excellent second release for Dani Wilde, improving on her previous effort and also showing that she’s continuing to expand her talents and become a more complete performer. The sky is the limit with this talented performer.

--- Graham Clarke

Sarah Jane NelsonSarah Jane Nelson got it at an early age. While in junior high in Monroe, LA, she found a box set of Robert Johnson’s recordings. One of her favorite musicians, Eric Clapton, had endorsed the set, so she gave it a listen and she understood that the blues was the source of all the other music (rock and country) that she knew and loved. Later, as an actress in New York, she was part of the popular show, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues,” and got her first taste of singing the blues professionally, and she took to it like a duck to a junebug.

Now located in Oregon, Nelson recently released a laidback session of backporch blues called Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues. This set features Nelson’s sweet and sultry vocals backed by her longtime collaborator, singer/guitarist Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, Big Irv Lubliner on harmonica, and Tom Freeman on percussion.

Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues consists of 13 tracks, 12 covers of familiar songs which are given a fresh spin, thanks to the incredible vocal gifts of Ms. Nelson. She’s comfortable performing songs by artists as diverse as Billie Holliday, Ida Cox, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson, George Gershwin, and T-Bone Walker. She moves seamlessly from tracks like the jazzy pop stylings of “Summertime” and “Nature Boy” to the grit and sass of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and the title track.

Herman provides superlative backing on guitar and even adds vocals to the Jimmy Reed track, “Baby What You Want Me To Do.” This sounds an awful lot like a group of buddies getting together to play the music that they love, just for each other, intimate and warm. That alone makes Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues a disc worth hearing, but you really shouldn’t miss the opportunity to give Sarah Jane Nelson a listen. You can thank me later.

--- Graham Clarke

Hans TheessinkHans Theessink is considered by many to be one of the top blues and roots musicians in the world. Over a 40 year career, the Dutch guitarist has released 25 albums, a songbook, a blues guitar instruction manual, and a DVD, and averages about 150 concerts a year. Recently, Theessink was asked by provide the music to Hannes Rossacher’s "Jedermann Remixed," a movie celebrating Jederman, which is an Austrian adaptation of the English morality play, "Everyman." The final product, Jedermann Remixed: The Soundtrack (Blue Groove), consists of 18 tracks, 14 covers of songs by a diverse set of musicians, plus four original compositions by Theessink. It’s much more than a soundtrack, however, as it also gives you a vivid picture of the musician who assembled this collection.

The play "Jedermann" presents God, Death, and Satan as characters. These three abstracts are major pieces of most blues compositiions, so it was only natural that Theessink uses the blues as his musical vehicle. In the play, the wealthy Everyman is faced with Death and Judgment and abandoned by his friends, money, and servants during his final journey, but is given the opportunity for repentance before it’s too late.

The songs, both the covers and Theessink’s originals, capture the mood of the play itself perfectly. The disc is pretty low key, most tracks feature only Theessink playing guitar (or banjo, mandolin, mandocello, mandoguitar, harmonica, and all manner of keyboards) and singing in his fantastic deep, burnished style, but it burns with intensity and emotion. Theessink selected a diverse group of cover tunes for this soundtrack, with songs from Tom Waits (“Way Down In The Hole”), Johnny Cash (“The Man Comes Around”), Jagger and Richards (“No Expectations” and “Sympathy For The Devil”), Bo Diddley (“I’m A Man”), Nick Lowe (“The Beast In Me”), Ray Charles (“I Got A Woman”), Hank Williams (“The Angel of Death”), Memphis Slim (“Mother Earth”), Curtis Mayfield (“People Get Ready”), and Joe South (“Games People Play”). Now that’s not exactly your basic track list for a blues collection, but they really work together well in Theessink’s capable hands.

There are also some fine reworkings of traditional tunes (“Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” “You Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond,” and “O, Sinner Man”), plus Theessink’s own songs are exceedingly well done. He also receives understated, but sublime support on various tracks from a wonderful set of background vocalists (Dumisani Moyo, Blessings Nkomo, Vusa Ndlovu, Meena Cryle, with Bobby King and Terry Evans appearing on a couple of tracks), plus Maximillan Djokic (cajon), Tobias Tautscher and Erich Buchebner (double bass), Knud Møller (electric guitar, viola, pump organ), Morton Eriksen (percussion), and Harry Stampler (drums).

If you’ve not experienced the music of Hans Theessink, I would recommend Jedermann Remixed: The Soundtrack as a good place to get started, mainly because of his splendid guitar work and because this set features some familiar tunes and you will be intrigued by his interpretations of them. You will want to delve deeper into his catalog after listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Strummin' DogDave Galanin may live in Alaska, but the blues of the Mississippi Delta have saturated his soul. He started playing the blues while living in New Zealand, but has opened for acts like Guy Davis, Steve Arvey, and Jake LaBotz. Playing under the stage name of Strummin Dog, Galanin has self-released his third CD, Signify, which contains a dozen tracks, four originals and eight Delta favorites.

Signify captures Galanin’s guitar chops perfectly, and he gets an opportunity to stretch out on this mostly solo tracks (Gary Gouker plays harmonica on three tracks and Lee Asnin adds second guitar on Son House’s “Death Letter Blues.”). He brings something new to each of the old classics, retaining the basic melody for most, but making various changes, like eschewing slide guitar on Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied,” and giving Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” more of a Piedmont flavor. “Catfish Blues” is given a swampy atmospheric feel. Other highlights include another Son House tune, “County Farm Blues,” and Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues.” Galanin’s original tunes fit smoothly with the standards, especially “Bring Her Back Home” and “Good Woman Blues,” with their old-school feel.

For those who dig the real, pure, and unvarnished Mississippi Delta blues, all you need to do is check out the considerable talents of Dave Galanin, a.k.a. Strummin Dog. Signify is an excellent set of blues, both new and old, that will satisfy your soul.

--- Graham Clarke

Paxton NorrisPaxton Norris is a singer/guitarist/songwriter based in Michigan with all the right influences. Having played regularly on the Michigan blues scene since the early ’90s, he’s absorbed the music of blues icons like the King triumvirate (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) and Stevie Ray Vaughan, plus the sounds of local legends like Bob Seger, Motor City Josh Ford, and Larry McCray. The resulting product is a guitar sound that mixes Motor City grit, Motown soul, and blues/rock swagger and a strong vocal style reminscent of the ’70s blues/rock scene (Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, etc.).

Something’s Gotta Give (Paxton Norris Music) is Norris’ debut release, but you’d never know it by the performances. Norris wrote 11 of the 13 tracks and put his own fresh coat of paint on a choice pair of covers (an almost unrecognizable Bobby Bland’s “Love Light” and Freddie King’s “My Credit Didn’t Go Through”). His own compositions are loaded with passion and exuberance. Highlights include “Hear Say,” which would have sounded just fine on a Motown recording some 30 years ago, a pair of timely tracks (“Living Tight” and “It’s Alright”), and a swinging “That Woman’s Trouble,” which features the piano of Victor Wainwright.

Norris gets lots of able assistance as well, with a host of Detroit’s biggest names, including Motor City Josh (who co-produced the disc with Norris, as well as playing guitar and tamborine and writing several songs), guitarist Tyler Mac, bass player Chris Douglas, drummer Justin Headley, keyboardist Mike Lynch, and backup vocalist Cathy Davis and Stacia Ford.

Something’s Gotta Give is an impressive debut from Paxton Norris. He appears to possess the total package, with great songwriting, vocals and guitar work. Hopefully, he will continue to develop and we will be hearing much more from him.

--- Graham Clarke

Sharon LewisSharon Lewis was raised in the church, but discovered R&B and Motown at the age of nine. In the mid ’70s, she moved from Fort Worth to Chicago and encountered the blues first-hand via the Chicago soul/blues singer Pat Scott. Since the mid ’90s, Lewis has been active on the Chicago blues scene, singing with Johnny B. Moore, Dave Specter, and Harmonica Hinds, and later as lead singer for the Mojo Kings, before forming her own band, Texas Fire, in 2005.

Lewis recently released her solo debut for Delmark Records, The Real Deal. Lewis previously recorded for Delmark Records in 2007, as a special guest on Specter’s Live In Chicago CD/DVD. For this release, she wrote eight of the 13 selections, including the timely, “What’s Really Going On?” which addresses the current economic downturn.

Her other compositions ably handle regular everyday blues subjects, like “Do Something For Me,” “Blues Train,” and the sassy title track, one of two tracks which feature the Chicago Horns. She’s also adept at other styles, jazzing things up (with help from guitarist Specter) on “Silver Fox,” and reprising the impressive ballad, “Angel,” from her appearance on Specter’s disc.

The five covers are well-chosen, ranging from the unfamiliar (Sam Taylor’s “Mother Blues,” Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” Wynona Carr’s “Please Mr. Jailer,”) to Ben E. King’s (via Aretha Franklin) “Don’t Play That Song,” and a refreshing reggae reworking of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Lewis is in good hands with support from guitarists Specter and Bruce James, bassist Melvin Smith, drummer Tony Dale, and keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy. Billy Branch stops by to add harmonica on two tracks and Deitra Farr adds background vocals on a couple of tracks as well.

With this impressive debut recording, Sharon Lewis easily proves that she lives up to the album’s title.

--- Graham Clarke

Bert DeivertWhen Bert Deivert was in his mid teens, he saw blues legend Son House on public television. House’s performance so impressed the youngster, that he broke a wine bottle to make his own bottleneck and has been hooked on the blues ever since. Having lived and traveled through much of the U.S. as a youngster, he’s been a resident of Sweden since the mid ’70s, working as a musician (playing mandolin and slide guitar) and singer. He’s worked with musicians of many genres from rock (Peter Case) to rockabilly (Wanda Jackson) to Old Timey (Tom Paley) to Irish (Christy O’Leary) to blues (Eric Bibb, Michael Powers).

Most recently, Deivert has been gigging or recording in Mississippi with some of the Delta’s finest (Bill Abel, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Cadillac John Nolden, T-Model Ford, and the late Sam Carr. Some of these artists appear on Deivert’s tenth and latest CD release, Kid Man Blues (Hard Danger), a project that spanned four years of recording on three different continents.

Seven of the tracks were recorded in Sweden, ranging from R.L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South,” which features Deivert on mandolin and lap steel, plus Memphis Gold on guitar, Nina Pérez on violin, and Suchet Malhotra on cajon, to a winning pair from blues mandolin master Carl Martin (“State Street Pimp,” featuring Brian Kramer on guitar, and the title track, with Deivert, Memphis Gold and My Sohlin on vocals), a scorching slide version of House’s “Death Letter,” Blind Blake (“Keep On Truckin’ and “Diddie Wah Diddie”), and Sleepy John Estes (“Special Agent”).

Three tracks, Skip James’ “Cypress Grove,” “Come Back Baby,” and the enchanting closing instrumental, “Nongharn Blues,” were recorded in Bangkok. On these recordings, Deivert pairs up with Dulyasit “Pong” Srabua for some wonderful interplay. The remaining two tracks were recorded in Duncan, Mississippi with Bill Abel and Sam Carr, with additional performances added during a Swedish session (featuring Sven Zetterberg on harmonica). These two tracks include a fine new composition from Deivert (“Lula”).
Deivert alternates between mandolin and slide guitar, playing both masterfully.

Though the majority of these songs are familiar, older tunes, Deivert's fretwork give them a fresh sound and feel. Kid Man Blues is a marvelously diverse and satisfying set of acoustic blues guaranteed to please.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott EllisonScott Ellison spent several years in Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s band before stepping out on his own and developing his own sound as a performer and a composer. Several of his songs have been featured on TV shows and movies. During that time, he’s recorded eight CDs, including his latest release, Walkin’ Through The Fire (JSE Records), which features 15 original compositions from two different sessions. One session was produced and engineered by Walt Richmond and the other was produced and engineered by Charles Tuberville.

Ellison had a hand in writing all of the songs on the disc, including the funky opener, “Hits Like Dynamite.” “Shakin’ With The Blues” mix the blues with greasy Memphis soul, and “No Way To Live” is a dazzling jump blues. “You Talk Too Much” has a bit of a Crescent City groove, while “Driftin’ Man” is a midtempo blues rocker. On the same wavelength is “Sweet Thunder,” which picks up the pace a notch.

The title track is another standout, with Ellison providing one of his best vocal efforts over a soulful backdrop. “Trouble Times” is more blues/rock, with some sizzling slide guitar, and “The Name of the Game” has a loose reggae rhythm. The next couple of tracks (“All Things” and “Turn Out The Lights”) turn back to the blues, however, and the disc closes on a light-hearted note with the humorous “The Man Who Shot Mustang Sally.”

Ellison’s guitar work is top notch, and his gravelly, whiskey-smoked vocals continue to get stronger with each release. Walkin’ Through The Fire is another strong effort from Ellison. Hopefully, this one will open a few more doors for him, and get him a few more plays on radio.

--- Graham Clarke

Kay KayKay Kay and The Rays got their start in 1997 as The Abner Burnett Blues Band. However, keyboardist Burnett and bass player/composer Bob Trenchard heard about a talented gospel singer named Kay Kay Greenwade, who blew them away when they heard her in person. Soon, the band’s name was changed and good things started to happen. After releasing their debut album and building a big following in West Texas, the band was discovered by soul/blues singer Johnny Rawls, who produced their second release, Texas Justice.

Over the next three years, the band’s popularity increased, thanks to regional and national tours and their 2003 performance at the 2003 W.C. Handy Festival, which was broadcast nationwide on PBS. This was followed by their Big Bad Girl album, which garnered rave reviews, made the top ten blues radio charts and resulted in a Australian tour. The band split up soon afterward and Greenwade suffered a stroke and other medical issues in subsequent years.

Catfood has issued a compilation of Kay Kay and The Rays’ finest moments on the appropriately titled The Best of Kay Kay and The Rays. The collection includes 15 songs taken from all three of the band’s releases, which really showcase the band’s effortless blending of soul, blues, and funk.

The band’s repertoire has always received a lot of attention for their songs that were heavy on social commentary. Songs like “Lone Star Justice,” “Enron Field,” “Lord Save Me From L.A.,” “Junk Blues,” and “Texas Justice – Billy’s Story” focused on social and political injustice, taking swipes at politicians, corporations, and other sacred cows. However, the group also thrived on the more traditional soul/blues numbers, too, such as “No Mama’s Boy,” “Hey Big Boy,” Big Bad Girl,” “Cheater,” “Love Me Baby,” and the duet with Rawls, “Hold On To What You Got.” There are also a couple of covers, including a funky reworking of the SRV classic, “Crossfire.”

Greenwade’s vocals are a thing of wonder, with just the right blend of soul, tenderness, grit, sensuality, and passion. The Rays are, as they continue to prove working behind Rawls and other Catfood artists on tour and in the studio, one of the best bands currently working. For soul/blues fans who might have missed Kay Kay and The Rays the first time around, this is a great place to catch up.

--- Graham Clarke

Sista MonicaSista Monica Parker got her start, like so many other blues singers, in the church, joining her church’s choir as a young teenager, even touring with them in certain Midwest cities. After a stint with the Marines, Parker started her own successful business and moved to California, where she soon decided to embark on a singing career. She enjoyed a strong measure of success, releasing several blues albums and a gospel album and earning the nickname, “The Blues Lioness,” before being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2002. After a grueling couple of years of radiation and chemo, she returned to the music scene in 2004, and has released three strong discs since that time.

Living in the Danger Zone (Mo Muscle Records) is her fourth disc since her triumphant return, and it may be her strongest effort yet, which is really saying something. “Hug Me Like You Love Me,” inspired by a meeting with B. B. King, opens the disc with horns blaring, Mike Schermer’s sizzling guitar, and Andy Just wailing away on harmonica. It’s a great way to kick things off. Parker wrote 10 of the 12 tracks here, and the highlights include the funky title track, the excellent slow blues, “Tears,” “Fierce Force of Nature,” “You Can’t Go Back,” and “Sending You On Your Way.” She also covers Robert Cray’s “The Forecast Call For Pain,” and does a bouncy rendition of the traditional “Glory Hallelujah,” with guest vocalist Kelley Hunt.

In addition to Just and Schermer, Parker gets assistance from regular band members Danny Sandoval (tenor sax), Don Caruth (guitar/background vocals), Leon Joyce, Jr. (drums), Artis Joyce (bass) and Danny “B” Beconcini on keyboards. Guest musicians include Hunt (piano), Ruth Davies (acoustic bass), Schermer, Vasti Jackson, Dan Caron, and Terry Hiatt (guitar), Ron E. Beck, David Tucker, and Jeff Minnieweather (drums), Carolyn Brandy (percussion), Joel Smith (bass), and Abdul Hamid (Hammond B3). The horn section includes Sandoval, Doug Rowan (sax), and Chris Marquis (trumpet), and background vocalists include Jeannine Anderson and Will Russ, Jr.

Whether you’re talking about blues, soul, R&B, or gospel, Sista Monica Parker can do them all, and do them very well. She’s a masterful singer and songwriter. Living in the Danger Zone is a strong, varied set of blues that offers something for everybody.

--- Graham Clarke

Sugar RaySugar Ray & the Bluetones have produced a consistently fine body of work over the past couple of decades, featuring some outstanding guitarists during that time, such as Ronnie Earl and Kid Bangham. The band has also featured horns as a big part of their music previously (front man Sugar Ray Norcia led Roomful of Blues for a period during the ’90s). For their latest release (and fifth overall on Severn Records), Evening, the Bluetones leave the horns at home and play some down and dirty Chicago-styled blues. There’s still an outstanding guitarist on hand…..frequent guest collaborator “Monster” Mike Welch, and the regular core group of Bluetones (Neil Gouvin – drums, Michael “Mudcat” Ward – bass, Anthony Geraci – piano).

Norcia is a masterful harmonica player and a versatile vocalist. He’s also a pretty accomplished songwriter, having penned seven of the 12 tracks on Evening (one track was written by Welch, “Hard To Get Along With,” and one by Ward, “(That’s Not Yet) One of My Blues”). Norcia’s contributions include the humorous “Too Many Rules and Regulations” “I’m Certain That I’m Hurting,” “Dear John,” and “Dancing Bear (Little Indian Boy),” which features Norcia on flute. The closing instrumental, “XO,” is also a Norcia composition.

The three cover tunes all come from the ’40s and ’50s era --- the title track, made famous by Cab Calloway, Johnny Young’s rousing “I’m Having A Ball,” which opens the disc, and an excellent rendition of the Otis Rush classic, “You Know My Love.” The band’s new compositions blend effortlessly with the standards and their performances show why they’re one of the tightest blues bands currently working. Welch’s presence makes a great band even greater.

Evening is a wonderful set of old-school blues, with a few modern touches thrown in, that captures the classic sound of Chicago Blues as close to perfectly as anyone will get these days.

--- Graham Clarke

Sandy CarrollSinger/songwriter Sandy Carroll has spent most of her career in Memphis, becoming a regular presence on Beale Street as a performer, working with Jim Dickinson and Willie Mitchell, and writing songs for Luther Allison, Albert King, Ana Popovic, Barbara Blue, Reba Russell, Ellis Hooks, and many others. She has released several recordings since the early ’90s and her latest, for Catfood Records, is Just As I Am.
As might be expected, Carroll either wrote or co-wrote (with collaborators Rick Steff, who also played organ, William Lee Ellis, producer/husband Jim Gaines, or Bob Trenchard) all ten tracks, nine of which are new for the album. The lone holdover is the title track, which was co-written by Carroll with James Solberg and Luther Allison, who recorded the track for his final studio release, Reckless.

Her new tunes address such issues as cheating Father Time (“Help Mother Nature”), young love (“Romeo and Juliet”), gratitude (“Blessed Be”), even advice for a man wanting to treat his woman right (“Slow Kisses”), and finding what you’re looking for right under your nose (“Baby Comin’ Home”). The title track is a sparse arrangement with Carroll accompanied only by piano and gently wafting accordion that sounds like a totally different number than the Allison version.

It doesn’t hurt at all when your husband is one of the best blues and roots producers currently practicing, but it also helps to have great musicians behind you. Carroll certainly has that with a cast that includes drummers Steve Potts and Derrick Young, bass players Dave Smith and Trenchard (with Mike Lineburger, Scotty Young, and Brian Kingsley), guitarist Evan Leake (with Dennis Lunpkin on the title track), and Rick Steff, who plays piano and accordion. The background singers include Reba Russell, Daunielle “Pie” Hill, Kimberly Helton, and Vicki Adkins.

However, none of that matters if your singer doesn’t have what it takes to get the message across. Carroll’s deep and assured vocals more than meet that criterion. This is a fine set of down-home soulful blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Savoy BrownForty-five years into their existence, it’s safe to say that Savoy Brown is still a force in the blues/rock world. Founder/guitarist Kim Simmonds is still going strong, as he has since the band’s heyday in the late ’60s/early ’70s, when the band was backing John Lee Hooker during his ’67 UK tour and their songs were being recorded by acts as wide ranging as Little Milton, Rare Earth, and Great White. Despite near constant turnover of band members, with the exception of Simmonds, the band has toured and recorded fairly regularly on numerous labels. Recently Savoy Brown signed on with Ruf Records and released their latest CD, Voodoo Moon.

Though the membership changes, the one constant, the x-factor to the band’s success and durability, is the wondrous guitar work of Simmonds. Longtime fans will feel right at home with his impressive leads and his sound is fresh enough to attract newcomers by the bushel basket as well. Indeed, the guitar work really stands out on tracks like “She’s Got The Heat” (with some blistering slide), “Shockwaves,” “Meet The Blues Head On,” and the torrid instrumental, “24/7.” The swampy rocker title track is another standout.

This version of Savoy Brown features sax player/lead vocalist Joe Whiting, Pat DeSalvo on bass, Garnet Grimm on drums, along with keyboardist Andy Rudy and Ron Keck on percussion. Whiting co-wrote a couple of song with Simmonds and his capable vocals suit the material well. Simmonds also takes the mic on a couple of tracks, “Look At The Sun” and “Round and Round.”

Savoy Brown has been making this kind of music for nearly half a century. They show no signs of letting up and Kim Simmonds is still a guitar force to be reckoned with. Voodoo Moon is another fine addition to their remarkably consistent catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

MarkeyMarkey is a blues singer/songwriter based in Nashville. Since she began her career in her late teens, she has performed in clubs, on stage, in theatres, festivals, TV and radio. She’s performed with Anson Funderburgh, Bobby Blue Bland, Guitar Shorty, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and many others. She’s also a successful award-winning songwriter who recently had one of her songs featured on an ESPN special. Most recently, she signed with I55 Productions in Memphis and has released an EP, Markey, which will serve as a sampler of her upcoming full CD to be released in 2012.

The EP features four tracks, all written by Markey. The tracks cover a lot of range from mid-tempo blues/rock (“Rock Me”) to sultry Delta blues (“Comin’ Home”) to late night urban (“When It Rains It Pours”) to that irresistible Bo Diddley beat (“Sweet Corrina Shine”). Markey, with her supple vocals moving from tough to tender, handles all four styles with ease.

Markey serves the purpose for which it was intended. It’s an intriguing sampler that leaves the listener curious to hear more. Visit her website for more information.

--- Graham Clarke


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