Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2013

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Charlie Musselwhite

Eric Bibb

Dan Bubien

Ursula Ricks


Billy Thompson

Sean Chambers

Deb Ryder

Michael Packer

Brad Wilson

Charles Burton Blues Band

Harmonica Hinds


Charlie MusselwhiteCharlie Musselwhite first arrived on the blues scene in the early ’60s, when he moved to Chicago. Since that time, he has played with just about everybody who’s anybody in the blues world, plus he’s made quite a name for himself, releasing over 20 albums since the mid ’60s. That fresh-faced newcomer in the early ’60s is now considered one of the elder statesmen of the blues harmonica scene, filling the considerable shoes of such legends as Big Walter Horton, Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Junior Wells.

Coming off a year which saw him garner Grammy nominations for projects with Ben Harper (Get Up!) and the Blind Pig Records tribute to Little Walter (Remembering Little Walter) along with five BMA nominations (including Best Harmonica Player), Musselwhite’s latest release is a live set, entitled Juke Joint Chapel, recorded at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi for his own Henrietta Records label. Backed by an excellent band (guitarist Matt Stubbs, bass player Mike Phillips, and drummer June Core), Musselwhite tears through a powerful set of five original tunes and seven covers with a vengeance, both on vocals and on his “Mississippi saxophone.”

The cover tunes pay tribute to several of Chicago’s harmonica legends of the past and present, including a torrid nine-minute-plus version of Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” Shakey Jake’s “Roll Your Moneymaker,” and Billy Boy Arnold’s “Gone Too Long.” Musselwhite also does a fine job on Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy,” which opens the disc in great fashion. Tony Joe White’s “As The Crow Flies” features some fine interplay between guitarist Stubbs and Musselwhite.

Musselwhite’s own tunes are equally effective ---- the autobiographical tracks “Blues Overtook Me” and “Strange Land,” the relentless boogie, “River Hip Mama,” and the funky “Feel It In Your Heart,” which reflects the harmonica player’s interest in Brazilian music. While “Christo Redentor” is not really his composition (it was written by jazz pianist Duke Pearson and originally recorded by trumpeter Donald Byrd), Musselwhite has really made the track his own since he recorded it back in the mid ’60s, and he closes the disc with an exquisite version.

Recorded in a live setting with an appreciative audience, Juke Joint Chapel has studio-quality sound. Musselwhite’s inspired performance and the superlative work of the backing band help make this one of his best recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric BibbWhen you hear a recording from Eric Bibb, you get so much more than the blues. Throughout his career, Bibb has been influenced by other genres such as folk, soul, and world music (check out his last release, a marvelous collaboration with West African singer/guitarist Habib Koité), and all of his music has a positive focus, focusing on the inherent good of all people and offering encouragement.

Working with longtime collaborator Glen Scott, who produced, engineered, and played multiple instruments on the disc, Bibb has created Jericho Road (Stony Plain Records), a wonderfully elegant musical tapestry which is not pigeon-holed into the blues category by any means. Bibb’s acoustic and electric guitar is supplemented on several tracks by a horn section (Session Horns Sweden), multiple keyboards, harmonica, wah wah guitar, djembe, kora, kalimba, penny whistle, and accordion.

In the liner notes, Bibb writes that if this record has a theme, it would be “have a heart,” which happens to be the title of one of the album’s best tracks, asking others to reflect on the plight of others and the struggles that many face to get to where they are. “Drinkin’ Gourd,” a traditional song about the old Underground Railroad, the upbeat “Freedom Train,” “The Right Thing,” “She Got Mine,” and the horn-driven “Can’t Please Everybody” are upbeat and positive. Songs like “The Lord’s Work,” “With My Maker I Am One,” and the exquisite “They Know” focus on the spiritual side of life.

On the final track, the inspirational “One Day At A Time,” there are two bonus tracks tacked on following a brief pause, but they’re not filler by any means. “Now,” written by Bibb’s friend Ernie McNally, is a gentle call for a new world where man helps his fellow man, and “Nanibali” is a mesmerizing solo track that features Solo Cissokho, who sings and plays kora.

Jericho Road is the pinnacle of Eric Bibb’s musical journey to date, combining all of his varied influences into one incredible musical statement. It’s a recording you’ll find yourself listening to again and again.

--- Graham Clarke

Dan BubienEmpty Roads, the new CD released by Pennsylvania singer/gutarist Dan Bubien, reminds me of those classic ’70s rock albums by artists like Little Feat, a swampy mix of blues, rock n’ roll, and funk with a heaping helping of classic soul thrown in for good measure. Bubien is a wonderfully soulful singer and his versatile guitar work is equally effective. In addition, he’s a talented songwriter, writing or co-writing (with Roman Marocco or Jonathan Vallecorsa) all 11 tracks.

It’s hard to pick a standout track because they are all so good. Songs like the title track, “Fight Club,” “To Youngstown,” “Exile Blues,” and “Love Games” all have that Southern blues/rock feel to them with traces of the Louisiana swamp sound permeating. Other tracks, such as the gorgeous “Keep Love In Mind,” the Motown-styled “Irony” and “Crazy Days” (which both recall Smokey Robinson’s Miracles days), and “Brother” offer Bubien a chance to shine on vocals. The track “Dizzy Eyes” mixes R&B with Latin rhythms with pleasing results and the closing track, “Sniper,” has a strong country feel, one of several tracks on which Bubien plays Dobro.

Produced by Grammy winner Jay Dudt, Empty Roads is a excellent sampler of American music, blending the blues with soul, R&B, funk, country, and roots music, and should appeal to music lovers of all genres. It’s one of those records that you used to slip onto the turntable back in the day when you wanted to unwind after a rough day and just take in some great music.

--- Graham Clarke

Ursula RicksPossessing an incredible voice, Ursula Ricks has, with no formal training at all, become a crowd favorite at blues clubs over the past 20 years. Like many singers who have flown under the radar for most of their careers, Ricks has a keen sense of what she wants in her music, blues-based soul, and that is made perfectly clear in her debut release, My Street, on Severn Records.

Teaming with the inimitable Severn house band (Kevin Anker – keyboards, Steve Gomes – bass) along with guest Kim Wilson (harmonica), guitarists Johnny Moeller and “Monster” Mike Welch, and a monster horn and string section arranged by Willie Henderson, Ricks proves herself to be as talented a songwriter as she is a vocalist, penning eight of the ten tracks on My Street.

“Tobacco Road,” which opens the disc, is not the old John Loudermilk song, but a new work from Ricks, a funky R&B tune with harmonica backing from Wilson. “Sweet Tenderness” has that laid back early ’70s soul vibe, thanks to the horns and strings. The title track is a funky piece with great work from the rhythm section and Moeller, who throws a little Jimmy Nolen (James Brown-era) guitar into the mix. Moeller teams with Welch on the next two songs (“Due” and “Right Now”) and they complement Ricks’ sultry vocals perfectly.

Ricks also covers a pair of distinctive tunes --- the Bobby Rush classic, “Mary Jane,” and one of Curtis Mayfield’s best, “Just A Little Bit of Love,” which, thanks to the horns and strings and Moeller’s wah-wah guitar, sounds like it came straight from the era when Mayfield wrote it. On this track and others, Ricks’ powerful vocals are balanced perfectly by the background vocalists (Caleb Green and Christal Rheams).

My Street is a nice addition to the recently resurging soul genre. Hats off to Severn Records for getting this talented artist into the studio for what I hope is the first of many great releases.

--- Graham Clarke

DownchildA Canadian institution, the band Downchild has been entertaining The Great White North with their irresistible blend of jump blues and classic since 1969. The inspiration for The Blues Brothers, Downchild is led their founder, Donnie Walsh (a.k.a. Mr. Downchild), guitarist and harmonica player extraordinaire, whose life was changed back in the mid ’60s when somebody played a Jimmy Reed record at his girlfriend’s birthday party.

For the past 15 years, the band’s lineup has remained solid, with Chuck Jackson on vocals, Pat Carey on tenor sax, Mike Fitzpatrick on drums, Gary Kendall on bass, and Michael Fonfara on keyboards. Guest trumpet player Peter Jeffrey provides additional brass muscle. The band’s latest album, their 17th overall, is called Can You Hear The Music (Linus Entertainment) and longtime fans will not be disappointed because it features 11 songs, all original compositions, of what the band does so well.

As always, the jump blues is present, courtesy of the opening title track and the aptly titled “Fasten Your Seat Belt.” The big-voiced Jackson figures prominently on the old-school tracks “I’m Always Here For You,” and “I Need A Woman,” and a dazzling slow blues, “Blue Moon Blues,” with some nice liquidy guitar tone Walsh. Walsh breaks out some sweet slide work for “This Road,” and the dobro on the gospel-flavored “One In A Million.”

“My Mississippi Queen” has a touch of the swamp with a funky backbeat and Fonfara’s supple keyboards, “Don’t Wait Up For Me” is a raucous rocker with more splendid slide from Walsh, and he blows some fine Windy City-styled harp on “Worn In.”

The jump blues instrumental “Scattered” was composed in the studio and closes the disc. If nothing else, this track should be an attachment for an e-dictionary somewhere under the term, “Well-Oiled Machine.”

Nearly 45 years after getting their start, Downchild proves with Can You Hear The Music that they’re as formidable a unit as ever, with no signs of slowing down. Blues fans everywhere owe whoever took that Jimmy Reed record to Donnie Walsh’s girlfriend’s birthday party a huge debt of gratitude.

--- Graham Clarke

Billy ThompsonBefore hearing Billy Thompson’s latest release, Friend (Soul Stew Records), I was not familiar with his music, an issue I plan to rectify shortly. Well-regarded as a guitarist, having played with legends like Albert King, Little Milton, Earl King, and Art Neville, Thompson also played at the 2002 Super Bowl Celebration and played lead guitar for the Broadway show “Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues.” He also represented the DC Blues Society at the 2009 IBC, so the guitar credentials are there. In addition, Thompson’s soul-drenched vocal style is every bit a match for his formidable fret work, and his songwriting skills are first rate, so we’re looking at a triple threat.

On Friend, Thompson shines on 13 tracks that mix the blues with rock, funk, and R&B. “Soldier of Misfortune” opens the disc with a funky backbeat and a sharp horn section. The mid-tempo “Garden” has a Crescent City flavor with some fine slide guitar from Thompson, and is followed by the excellent slow blues ballad, “Interlude,” and the swinging “Farmer Kenny.” The title track, “Friend,” is a cool Southern rocker that would be a chart topper in a perfect world, and on “Half a Man,” Thompson offers one of his most soulful vocal performances.

“Many Faces” should get even the most uncoordinated steppers out on the dance floor and “Satisfied” should keep them out there for a while, with a relentless backbeat (courtesy of Eric Selby) and some scorching slide work from Thompson. “Then I, My Love” is another blues ballad with another outstanding vocal, and the rowdy closer, “While The World’s Winding Down” is a third cousin to the old chestnut, “Further On Up The Road.” The album’s lone cover tune is a good one, Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Thompson is joined by a pretty impressive set of backing musicians, among them keyboardist Bill Payne and bass player Kenny Gradney of Little Feat, sax man Ron Holloway (Warren Haynes, Tedeschi Trucks Band), bass player James “Hutch” Hutchinson (Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt), and keyboardist Mike Finnigan (Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker).

Though Billy Thompson has a well-deserved reputation as a guitarist’s guitarist, I came away equally impressed with his vocal talents. I also came away curious as to why we haven’t heard more from him over the years as a performer. Hopefully, Friend will go a long way toward solving that problem. It’s a disc that deserves to be heard by blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Sean ChambersFor his latest release, The Rock House Sessions (Blue Heat Records), guitarist Sean Chambers headed to Delbert McClinton keyboardist Kevin McKendree’s Nashville studio and enlisted former SRV keyboard man Reese Wynans as producer. Joining Chambers and Wynans on the session is bass player Tommy McDonald, drummer Tom Hambridge, and a host of special guests.

Chambers, who is also currently serving as front man for the legendary Southern rock band Blackfoot, is in peak form on these 11 tracks of blues rock heaven. Chambers wrote three of the tracks, the power ballad, “Meant To Be,” the funky “Your Love Is My Disease,” and the excellent slow burner, “It Hurts To See You Go.” The opener, “World On Fire,” penned by Rick Vito, is a standout, as is “Since I’ve Been Down,” showcasing Wynan’s keyboards and Chambers’ fiery fretwork, and the scorcher, “Money In A Minute.”

Chambers also throws in a trio of well-done, diverse covers --- the Willie Mitchell/Earl Randle soul and rock standard, “Come To Papa,” the Gary Moore ballad, “Holding On,” and a ripping version of the Ten Years After rocker, “Choo Choo Mama,” that closes the disc in rousing fashion.

Wynans does a fabulous job behind the controls and the backing band, which also includes Rob McNelley (guitar), TJ Klay (harmonica), Etta Britt (vocals), Chaz Trippy (percussion), Bob Britt (guitar), Steve Herman (trumpet), and Jim Hoke (saxophone) on selected tracks are superb in their support.

The Rock House Sessions is Sean Chambers’ best release to date, which is no small feat, given the high standard that the guitarist already has in place.

--- Graham Clarke

Deb RyderDeb Ryder grew up in Chicago, where she was surrounded by the blues. Her father, Allan Swanson, was a local singer and exposed her to blues, jazz, and gospel. She later delved deeper into the blues upon her family’s relocation to Los Angeles, courtesy of the record collection of her neighbor, Bob Hite of Canned Heat. Her stepdad owned the famed Topanga Corral, where Ryder opened nightly for many of the blues legends of the time, and was mentored by the great Etta James.

After working as a studio musician, singing on TV commercials, background vocals on several albums, and appearing on the Las Vegas show “Splash,” Ryder returned to her roots and formed the Bluesryders with her husband, bass player Ric Ryder, some 20 years ago. Ryder just released her debut album, Might Just Get Lucky (Bejeb Music), and judging by its contents, it’s long overdue.

Ryder wrote all ten songs and produced the disc. The songs vary in style but not quality, from the opening shuffle, “Get A Grip,” one of several tracks that feature Kirk Fletcher on lead guitar, to the jumping “Blue Collar Blues,” driven by Stan Behrens’ wailing saxophone and the other lead guitarist on the disc, the legendary Albert Lee. The title track is a show-stopper, a sultry slow blues featuring Greg Hilfman on piano and a great vocal turn from Ryder.

Ryder gives us the funk (with some nasty bass accompaniment from her husband) on the steamy “Come On Home To Me,” then heads to the country with Lee’s guitar in tow on the Zydeco blues, “Ce Soir Ce Soir.” “Bad Bad Dream” is another slow blues that really allows Ryder to stretch out on vocals. “Love Stealin’ Liar” finds her giving a cheating lover the old what-for to a boogie backbeat. The closer is a gospel-flavored acoustic track, “These Hands,” which pairs Ryder with James McVay’s Dobro.

Throughout the diverse mix of tunes on this disc, Ryder comes through with flying colors, playing it sexy and sultry when needed, tough as nails where required, or vulnerable and tender. After 20 years of playing local clubs and blues festivals, it’s hard to believe that she hasn’t recorded her own album before now. Based on Might Just Get Lucky, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be hearing from her much sooner than that.

--- Graham Clarke

Michael PackerI Am The Blues (Iris Music Group) is Michael Packer’s life story, told in narrative and in music. After listening, you will have to consider Mr. Packer fortunate to still be here to relate his story. During his lengthy music career, which dates back to the mid-’60s, Packer has recorded albums for Atlantic, Buddha, and RCA , performed with the Matt Murphy Band, battled alcoholism, drug addiction, and spent time in prison and homeless on the streets of New York City. He’s been clean and sober for 18 years and has become a respected member of the NYC blues scene.

Packer pulls no punches. He’s lived the hard way and learned from it. The narrative portions of the album recount his days with the band,Papa Nebo, in the late ’60s, his ’70s band Free Beer, his experiences with other musicians (including Bob Dylan), both found and lost love, his years at rock bottom, and his personal and musical resurrection and rehabilitation.

The sections of the narration describing his low point (“Christmas on the Bowery” and “Doing Time At Riker’s Island”) are jarring in their imagery. Throughout all of it, Packer takes responsibility for his actions and their results, addressing all of it with brutal honesty and good-natured humor. There’s also a story and song about Packer’s great uncle, Alfred Packer, the infamous murderer and cannibal.

The songs between the narrations represent Packer’s 50-year musical journey. There are tracks with Packer’s blues band, Papa Nebo, and Free Beer and a few solo tracks. They blend easily with Packer’s narration and subject matter. The two closing songs, the traditional “This Train” and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” address the inevitable end we all face and Packer’s performance on these (and the other musical tracks) strongly dispute the claims that he heard early in his career that a “white boy can’t sing the blues.”

Despite (or maybe because of) its sometimes tough and frank subject matter, I Am The Blues makes for riveting listening. Once you plug it in, you will be hooked on Michael Packer’s story and his music, too. Though it’s been a hard life, you’ll discover that it’s one that worth hearing about.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris WatsonChris Watson impressed many (including this reviewer) with his 2012 release, Pleasure and Pain. The young Texas guitarist’s sophomore effort was a well-rounded, well-performed set of blues that also mixed soul, R&B, and gospel, and he showed that he had the vocals to match his formidable guitar skills.

To whet his fans’ appetites between album releases, Watson has issued a two-track single, called Last Train Home (Gator Music), that features a pair of interesting new songs. The title track is a horn-driven slice of nirvana for Southern soul fans, with Watson turning in a stellar vocal performance and fretwork.
The second track, “Hooked On You,” is a sweaty funk track that’s just as good as the opener. This great pair of tunes are guaranteed to keep Watson’s fans eager for his next release, and should prompt newcomers to backtrack and see what they’ve missed.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad WilsonThe back cover of Brad Wilson’s new CD, Hands On The Wheel (Blues Boulevard Records), reads that the California guitarist “plays high-octane rocked-up Blues.” Yeah, and Moby Dick was a big fish. That statement is the only understated item about this electrifying CD. Brad Wilson rocks the house, y’all…..pure and simple. If you’re looking for a disc to plug into your car stereo, crank up to 11 with the windows and top down, look no further.

With relentless roadhouse rockers like the hard-charging title track, “Rocket,” “All Kinds of a Fool,” “Hot Stuff,” and the awesome “Slide On Over,” blue rockers like the slide-driven boogie track, “Nobody But You,” and the Z.Z. Top-flavored tribute to John Lee Hooker (“The Ballad of John Lee”), jazzy blues tracks like “Blues Magic,” and blues ballads like “I’m Still Breathing” and “Last Call,” Hands On The Wheel should be pleasing to blues rockers of every ilk.

Though Wilson is certainly an inspired guitarist with tremendous chops, he doesn’t pound you over the head with endless guitar antics. His playing fits the material perfectly …. there’s no overplaying and no endless meandering solos, enough to leave you wanting to hear more. His songwriting is equally effective and his vocals are very versatile, tough when they need to be, but silky smooth when the mood suits.
“High-octane rocked-up Blues” just scratches the surface of Hands On The Wheel. There are mulitple tracks on this disc that should receive airplay and should also ensure that Brad Wilson gets the attention he deserves as a performer and songwriter.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy StephensFlorida-based guitarist Randy Stephens’ latest release is with the The Randy Stephens Band, otherwise known as RSB. No Strings Attached will be good news to those who enjoyed Stephens’ previous release, American Guitar, since it offers more of Stephens’ versatile guitar work, solid vocals and songwriting, and choice selection of cover tunes. Stephens is backed by a tight rhythm section (Carl Grieco – drums, Randy McCormick – bass), and is joined by local singer Lauren Mitchell, Jesse Stephens (bass), and Aaron Neville quartet member David Johnson (keys, bass) on several tracks.

No Strings Attached consists of ten tracks, six written by Stephens and they’re all well done with highlights like the humorous “Bad Economy” the blues rocker “The Fool”, the slow burners “Ambient Love,” the anthem “Everybody Knows The Blues,” and the funky “Ain’t No Lease,” along with the jazzy instrumental “Summer Rain.” The cover tunes include a soulful remake of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” Al Bernard’s “Read ‘Em & Weep,” a great duet with Mitchell (Brook Benton’s “Rocking Good Way”), and the gospel standard “I’m Doing Fine.”

No Strings Attached is a fine and varied set of blues from Randy Stephens that should expand his market well beyond the southeastern part of the U.S. if there’s any justice in the world.

--- Graham Clarke

Nick BlackIt never ceases to amaze me how diverse the musical influences are in the Bluff City. I heard rumblings about Nick Black’s record, The Soul Diaries, before I ever met Nick in person. I knew he was the lead guitarist for Victor Wainwright’s band, the Wildroots, but at that point I had not seen Victor’s band perform live. So I was honored that Nick personally delivered his disc to me this summer when he was sitting in with Southern Hospitality and I was genuinely impressed by how deep his soul roots ran when I threw the disc into my CD player. Nick’s a soulful young soul and that’s definitely reflected in his music, so let’s give the disc a spin.

An amazing group of musicians backed Nick on this disc, and an amazing horn section provides the backdrop for our first tune, “Confirmation.” Here we find Nick searching for approval of the woman he loves. “I need your help…I need your confirmation…I’m finding the truth in me was just a part of you…I’m finally getting to know myself…respect your point of view.” As Nick segues into a blistering guitar riff, it's apparent that her respect and belief in his music is an important part of his journey.

A smoother, more soulful guitar intro continues the story in “You & Your Love.” Nick is definitely in love with one girl and one girl only. “It’s hard to admit to myself…that there is no one else…who’s burning 98.6 degrees…it’s you and your love.” Definitely a romantic at heart, Nick knows what he wants and no one else will do! Tempo slows down as Nick tackles a more acoustic tune with the sweet sounds of violins and violas in the background of “Fairweather Friend.” “Clear sky brother…you only want to see me when there’s sunshine….unless the sky is clear…I never see you near…and when the storm begins….you’re nowhere in sight…you’re my fair weather friend.” You judge your friends by where they are in the hard times and this friend of Nick’s is not there to support him when times are tough…the times when he’s needed the most. Nick’s got an amazing voice and I’m impressed by the notes he reaches in his higher octave when singing about his fair weather friend.

“Hanging On Your Mind” is definitely more upbeat tune and those infamous horns are present once again. Here we find Nick singing about a woman he knows that is single and looking. “It seems for a long time…that things have been bad…but what can you do….it’s just what you’ve had….don’t blame me…if you want love…wait patiently…you’ll find the love that’s been hanging on your mind.” Hopefully she has the patience to wait for the love Nick is promising will happen. Darryl Sanford’s work on the keys is stellar on this cut and adds a nice touch to the tune.

Next up, “Sucker By Nature,” features a rap by Butta MD. Here we find a rival of Nick’s telling him he can lay it down better than Nick. “He’s got his accent…he’s trying to liberate my feet from where they stand…bring it on…you’re a sucker by nature.” Nick’s not lacking for confidence and he’s sure the funkiness of his groove is the winning ticket! More horns lead the charge into our next groove, “Lover for Life.” Here Nick has chosen to speak his truth and tell the woman he loves exactly how he feels. “Baby…living for you…it ain’t hard for me….your one condition…was my loyalty…finally…you found a lover for life.” Nick’s love is true and he’s meeting all the conditions the girl has set forth to have him in her life. Nick’s definitely a lover, not a fighter, so the girl is in good hands!

A gentle touch on the cymbals and a smooth piano intro bring us to our next cut, the melodic “Take It Back.” “Oh, the past is spoken…memory stays in time…you took a good thing and broke it…now you can’t take it back.” What’s done is done and Nick refuses to revisit a love gone bad, even though she’d like to. “Dear Lady” has a funky beat and we Nick with another relationship gone bad. “No matter the ends you must go to…to find the one meant for you…you’ve got to start all over again.” Nick is admonishing this girl from his past to take a stand and demand better treatment from the men in her life than she has been. Only then will she find a man with the love she’s looking for.

More violins make their presence and “Mockingbird” definitely has a huge orchestral feel to it. “I am afraid…that I’m a mockingbird…that I’ll sing…only what I’ve had heard…and on the day…that all the others stop to breathe…you’ll hear a sound…cause this mockingbird will still be copying.” Nick’s stopping to realize that a good bit of his style is the copied work of others and he’s afraid to step out on his own with something new and fresh. The road more traveled is definitely the easier road for sure and even Rufus Thomas has copied from time to time. Fortunately, Nick’s a good songwriter in his own right and the best is yet to come.

A funkier beat returns for the final cut on The Soul Diaries, “Different Man,” and this tune also features a rap by Butta MD. “I ask, sister…what can I say…I’m a man…a different man than yesterday.” Standing up for himself will probably cost Nick this relationship, but at least he’s chosen to make a change. Butta’s rap emphasizes this: “Listen up…I ain’t your maid…this is my show now…so get off my stage…I gave you a chance…you decry my notion…I’m changing…but that was yesterday’s cries.” The girl isn’t having any of Nick’s claims that he’s a different man, and she’s out of here!

I liked The Soul Diaries. Nick is definitely a talented musician and the plethora of players on this disc indicates that the good folks of the Bluff City are behind him. While the best is yet to come, I’m glad that at least one Memphian is true to his soul/blues roots and took the time to share them with us. Nick is on the road a lot with Victor Wainwright, but I’m hoping somewhere down the line I’ll be able to attend one of his own performances. Good job, Nick!

--- Kyle Deibler

Sonic BlueLast Train (SonicRecords2) is refreshingly good music from the British band, Sonic Blue, consisting of Steve Brayne, Les Davidson, Steve Shone and Richard Marcangelo. The CD opens with a great original, “Ain’t The Blues,” written by bass player Steve Shone, and it sets the scene for a great album. This is a well-written track and features some good harmonica playing from vocalist Steve Brayne.

There is one other original track amongst the 11 on the CD, and that is track seven, the title track, “Last Train.” This is a great up-tempo fun number, again with good harp playing, written by Brayne, Shone and Marcangelo.

The other nine tracks are very good covers of tracks from a lot of old favourites – Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, Tampa Red. Track nine is an excellent version of the Bobby Womack song, “All Over Now,” which was made famous by the Rolling Stones. The band put their own spin on it, rather than just copying the Womack version or the Stones version.

There’s a nice cover of “Little Wing” and one of my favourite tracks – Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.”

All in all, this is a great CD – get it and have a listen to some top-class Brit blues.

--- Terry Clear

Charles BurtonThe Charles Burton Blues Band, a San Diego-based blues/rock ensemble, returns with their follow-up to last year's self-titled offering with a heaping, helping of Sweet Potato Pie (no label). Burton's power trio takes us on a fun romp through 13 original compositions covering a wide array of blues styles.

The cut that stands out for me, mostly because it's so different than the rest of the album, is the jazzy instrumental "New York Jump," on which Burton shows off his significant guitar chops, getting a deep resonant tone from the instrument.

Burton represented one of the San Diego blues organizations in the 2009 International Blues Challenge, a trip he recounts in the snaky, mid-tempo blues number "Goin' To Memphis." Burton's fingers then fly all over the fret board on the up-tempo instrumental shuffle, "Crackdown," asserting his place as a guitarist looking to make his place in the blues world.

Thee band takes us down to New Orleans for the funky title cut, on which Burton insists on having just one more piece of sweet potato pie before hitting the road. While he's not a real strong vocalist, Burton does some nice singing here to go with his dirty slide guitar and Asmus Jensen's polyrhythmic drumming.

Guest instrumentalist Karl Cabbage contributes his tasteful harmonica playing on three cuts, most notably on the plodding blues shuffle, 'Used To Love That Woman." That one's followed by the up-tempo blues of "Brown Paper Bag," on which Burton rips off a killer slide solo.

Sweet Potato Pie ends with another jazzy number, "Drop A Dime," a number which could fit into a soundtrack of some 1940s film noir classic. Just another example of Burton's versatility on his instrument.

This is a better CD than I expected for a self-released thing from a regional band, but it shows that the Charles Burton Blues Band needs to be taken a little more seriously as a solid blues entourage.

--- Bill Mitchell

Harmonica HindsHarmonica Hinds is one of those hard-working, "behind the scenes" Chicago blues artists that deserve more recognition than they've gotten over the years. The native of Trinidad & Tobago settled in Chicago in 1973 at the encouragement of harmonica legend James Cotton after starting his blues career while going to school in Ottawa, and has spent most of his career backing artists like Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Pinetop Perkins, Mud Morganfield, and others.

HInds' recent CD, I'd Give You Anything If I Could (Wolf Records), is a collection of tunes recorded in Chicago in four sessions from 2008 to 2010. Along with Hinds' stellar harmonica playing, the cuts here are highlighted by wonderful guitar accompaniment from Eddie Taylor Jr. as he seamlessly weaves riffs around HInds' rough-hewn vocals and harmonica licks. There's also a standout rhythm section of Kenny Smith (drums) and Edward G. McDaniel (bass), as well as second guitar duties split between Tom Holland and Rick Kreher.

This is just good, basic Chicago blues, starting with the opening harmonica lick leading into the mid-tempo shuffle "Stop Complaining," on which we get our first taste of the call and response interplay between Hinds' harp and Taylor Jr.'s guitar fills. The tempo then picks up on the second number, "Wake The Spirit," the first of several smokin' instrumentals on this disc. Another fine instrumental is the slower late-night blues, "Take Your Time," featuring nice meandering fills on guitar complimenting the harmonica riffs.

My favorite cut is the up-tempo "Don't You Steal My Money," on which Hinds admonishes a man trying to steal money from his tip jar.  While I feel that Hinds' vocals are the weakest part of his show, he sounds just fine here as he gives the vagrant various suggestions on how he can instead make his own dough. Taylor Jr. chips in with another smoldering guitar solo midway through this five-minute romp.

HInds and Taylor Jr. team up on the country blues of "Way Down South," with the pair using their respective instruments to produce the sounds of a train heading rolling down the tracks. The full band returns a couple of cuts later for a strong, West Side-style instrumental shuffle, "Cuddle In," with Hinds leading the way with some of his best harmonica work.

The album wraps up with a raucous, Jimmy Reed-style shuffle, "Goin' Down To The River," as Hinds sends a stern message to his woman with both his voice and his harmonica.

I'd Give You Anything If I Could grew on me the more I listened to it. The blues world hasn't heard enough from Harmonica Hinds as a front man. Here's hoping this fine disc will lead to more opportunities for the Chicago blues veteran.

--- Bill Mitchell


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