Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2014

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Howard and the White Boys

Bruce Katz Band

Billy Boy Arnold

Daddy Mack Blues Band

Candi Staton

Markus James

Blind Lemon Pledge

Lisa Mills

Howard Glazer

Nathan James - Hear Me Calling

Nathan James - Natural Born That Way

John Weeks Band

George Taylor

Georgie Bonds

Altered Five Blues Band



Howard and the White BoysI must admit, I've never really been into the long-time Chicago band Howard and the White Boys. But I'm changing my mind based on the strength of their new live album, Rosa's Lounge (3011 Records). It's a solid set of workingman blues, recorded live in front of an enthusiastic audience of Chicago blues fans at the club mentioned in the album's title back in August of 2013.

The set starts with an up-tempo blues, "Heat Seeking Missile," featuring hot guitar solos from Rocco Calipari and/or Pete Galanis, before rolling into a slow blues, "Strung Out on the Blues," highlighted by the powerful vocals of bandleader / bassist / lead singer Howard McCullum.

My favorite song on the CD is "The Blues Are Killing Me," a 6+-minute mid-tempo blues that I could envision the late Chicago blues legend Son Seals doing on the stage of Kingston Mines 20 years ago.

Another strong cut is "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which McCullum introduces to the audience as a tribute to one of his favorite movies. If that movie had instead been done as a a musical, one could imagine Sidney Poitier singing lyrics like ",.. I'm the one that your mama tried to warn you about ..."

The guitarists also get to strut their stuff on the slow blues "What Would I Do," with multiple stinging guitar solos. The band closes out the album with the upbeat "That's Alright," with McCullum singing out the praises of his lady.

The sound quality on this album is very good, with the occasional applause from the crowd being the only reminder that this set wasn't recorded in the studio. Rosa's Lounge is a worthy addition to the Howard and White Boys collection of recordings, and will have me digging through my stacks of CDs in order to re-visit some of their older stuff.

--- Bill Mitchell

Bruce Katz BandHere's another album that I wound up enjoying more than originally expected. Led by a three-time nominee for a Blues Music Award for piano player of the year, Woodstock, New York-based Bruce Katz Band already has six albums to their credit, as well as recordings made by Katz in backing the likes of Ronnie Earl, Delbert McClnton, Duke Robillard and others. With this kind of résumé, I shouldn't have had such low expectations for their latest CD, Homecoming (American Showplace Music). Instead, I found a CD that cooks from start to finish.

Katz alternates between piano and Hammond B-3 and is truly a master on each keyboard. He chooses to let bandmates or special guests handle the vocals on the six of 13 cuts that aren't instrumentals, and he's picked good singers well-suited for the material.

The most notable guest vocalist is blues legend John Hammond, who appears on two cuts. Not surprisingly, Hammond's contributions are two of my favorite cuts on the CD. Katz plays really strong barrelhouse piano behind Hammond's vocals on the Lightnin' Hopkins number, "Santa Fe Blues." Equally good is their version of the Leroy Carr's slow, downhome classic, "Blues Before Sunrise," on which Hammond also contributes nice guitar accompaniment.

Katz's expertise on the Hammond B-3, along with smokin' hot blues guitar from Chris Vitarello, highlight an instrumental number, "No Brainer," that the duo co-wrote. Also standing out is "The Sky's The Limit," a Vitarello-penned blues shuffle featuring Katz on the B-3 and Vitarello on vocals and guitar.

A Katz original, "Amelia," has this master of the keys returning to the piano for an instrumental with a jazzy New Orleans kind of vibe.

Guitarist Jimmy Bennett joins the band for a few cuts, most notably an Elmore James blues shuffle, "Wild About You Baby," on which he handles both vocals and lead guitar. He also contributes an original jazzy number, "It's A Bad Time," the album's closer which features Bennett's vocals and tasteful guitar playing along with Katz's fine B-3 work.

If you aren't real familiar with Katz, be sure to learn more about this fine instrumentalist at his website, and don't hesitate to pick up a copy of Homecoming. You'll be glad you did.

--- Bill Mitchell

Billy Boy ArnoldBilly Boy Arnold is one of the few remaining Chicago bluesmen whose recording career dates back to the ’50s. The 79-year-old grew up listening to the music of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, and later played with Bo Diddley before waxing several seminal sides for Vee Jay Records in the ’50s. Though he continued to perform, he faded from the recording scene after the early ’60s, taking a job as a bus driver and later a parole officer. He returning in the early ’90s with a pair of excellent recordings for Alligator and showed that he had not lost an inch off of his fastball in the interim.

Since then, Arnold has recorded sporadically, but continued to perform regularly. The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold is his second release for Stony Plain Records (the first was 2001’s Boogie ‘n’ Shuffle). Arnold wanted to record some of his favorite songs, regardless of genre. With producer Duke Robillard (who also produced Arnold’s previous Stony Plain release) and his band providing their usual unrivaled support, Arnold works through 14 tracks that demonstrate his abilities as a singer and musician.
As you might guess from the album title, there’s plenty of blues (Mack Rice’s “Coal Man,” Ted Taylor’s “You Give Me Nothing To Go On,” B.B. King’s “Worried Dream,” and standards like “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman,” “St. James Infirmary,” “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water”) and soul (a funky take on Ann Peebles’ “99 Lbs,” and a righteous reading of Joe Tex’s “A Mother’s Prayer”) to be found on the disc.

There are also a couple of tracks on the rock & roll side of things (Chuck Berry’s “Nadine”) and on the jazzy side (Oscar Brown Jr. and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”). Arnold also mixes in several original tracks, the downhome “What’s On The Menu Mama,” the Windy City-styled “Dance For Me Baby,” and the ribald “Keep On Rubbing.”

Vocally, Arnold really demonstrates a kind of understated versatility on these songs. He’s always had a relatively smooth style and these songs really bring that out. Robillard does an excellent job as guitarist and producer. It wouldn’t be a Robillard production if it didn’t swing, and this one really does.

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold won’t be a surprise to Arnold’s many fans. We’ve known all along that his brand of blues has a healthy dose of soul included. This is an entertaining release from beginning to end from a blues legend still at the top of his game.

--- Graham Clarke

Daddy MackI’ve been following the Daddy Mack Blues Band for over a decade now, and I think Blues Central (Inside Sounds) may be their best release yet. Even though Mack Orr’s basic attack has changed very little since his debut in the early 2000’s (Fix It When I Can), straight-ahead greasy, funky Memphis-styled blues, and there have been enough subtle changes with each subsequent release that the band continues to maintain a fresh and invigorating sound.

Over time, Orr and producer Eddie Dattel have gradually added appropriate musical layers, such as horns, background singers, keyboards, harmonica, and have even branched out from the band’s meat and potatoes sound to incorporate traces of other musical styles. Orr and the Bonner brothers (James – rhythm guitar, Harold – bass) forge on like they’ve been doing this for years, and they have, and are joined on this release by Fast Eddie Lester on drums, along with an impressive list of guest stars , including Matt Isbell, Ori Naftaly, and Eric Hughes, among others, along with a horn section led by Carl Wolfe, background singers, and keyboards from Paul Brown.

Orr and/or Dattel wrote all 13 of the tracks, and there’s plenty of the band’s trademark funky blues on tunes like “Watermelon Man,” “Blues Doctor,” “Almost Left You,” and the topical “Daily Blues.” However, there are also a few twists this time around, such as “Sharp Dressed Daddy,” which has a jazzy backdrop, “Everybody Have Fun,” featuring the background singers, and the country bluesified closer, “Lonesome Train Blues.”

You know what you’re getting when you plug a Daddy Mack Blues Band CD in, but Orr and Dattel are working hard to keep things fresh and vital with that great Memphis blues sound and they definitely succeed in doing so with Blues Central, their best release yet.

--- Graham Clarke

Candi StatonCandi Staton’s latest release, Life Happens (Beracah/FAME Records), finds the legendary soul singer doing what she does best, reflecting on the ups and downs of modern romance. Having been married and divorced five times (most recently to former Atlanta Braves outfielder Otis Nixon), Ms. Staton would be familiar with the topic and using her experiences in these matters, she wrote, or co-wrote, nine of the 15 tracks on the disc. The new album also serves as reunion of sorts with her former producer Rick Hall, who produced her early ’70s soul hits for FAME and serves as co-executive producer with her.

Based on Staton’s previous releases (this is her 27th album), which effectively mixed blues, soul, gospel, country, and even disco back in the day, one would imagine that she would be a good fit in the Americana section of your local record store. Life Happens does nothing to disprove that notion. Staton’s vocal talents are basically undiminished from her hit-making days of the ’70s. She sounds marvelous on tracks like “I Ain’t Easy To Love,” where she’s joined on vocals by Americana artists Jason Isbell and John Paul White, the slow burner, “Close To You,” and an emotional remake of “Commitment” (originally a hit for LeAnn Rimes).

The secular ballad “Eternity” is reminiscent of Staton’s gospel work, the funky “Beware, She’s After Your Man” is loaded with sass, and songs like “My Heart’s On Empty” and the angry “Three Minutes to a Relapse” should get the crowd on their feet. “Never Had The Chance,” one of several tracks produced by Hall, is the album’s standout track. Staton pours her heart’s obvious that even though she didn’t write it (Brad Crisler and Cubmie Clay did), she has lived it.

Finally, Staton addresses a few social issues on the frank “Have You Seen The Children” and “A Better World Coming,” a pair of tracks that may hit too close to home for some listeners, but the lady is telling it like it is and it needs to be told. There’s also a bonus cut at the end of the disc, the soulful “Where I’m At.”

Life Happens can be listened to as a concept album, about the joy, happiness, pain, and heartache of love. However, it is also one of the best soul/blues records that you’ll hear this year, whatever your listening approach may be. Candi Staton is still a vocal force of nature, some 45 years after first hitting the charts.

--- Graham Clarke

Markus JamesMarkus James has been playing his brand of blues for over 20 years, performing and recording with traditional West African musicians, both proving and expanding upon the connection between the Blues and West African music. Over time, as his recordings gained popularity, James began playing at various locations, one of which was the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. He was so well received at USM that he began making more appearances in Mississippi, where he was drawn, like a moth to the flame, to the Hill Country drummers of North Mississippi.

For his latest release on Firenze Records, Head For The Hills, James does just that, as he is joined by several great Hill Country drummers, including Kinney Kimbrough (son of Junior Kimbrough), R.L. Boyce (Jesse Mae Hemphill), Aubrey “Bill” Turner (Otha Turner), Calvin Jackson (R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough), and Marlon Green, who was the last drummer to record and perform with John Lee Hooker. James himself provides vocals, along with guitars, gourd banjo, three-string cigarbox guitar, slide dulcimer, one-string diddley bow, beatbox, and harmonica.

James wrote all but one of the 16 tracks featured on Head For The Hills, a moody cover of Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South.” Actually, “moody” is a perfect adjective to describe the entire album, as James manages to effectively convey the atmospheric mood, intensity, and occasional menace of the Mississippi Hill Country sound. He also shows that the line between West African music and North Mississippi music is blurred nearly to the point of invisibility.

With able assistance from these drummers, who also play beatbox, hambone on several tracks, and even buckets (on the bare-bones “Diddley Bow And Buckets”), James just rips through this set, with tunes ranging from the breathless, hypnotic opening track, “Just Say Yes,” to the appropriately titled “Shake,” to “For Blind Willie” (a stark and stunning tribute to the legendary slide master), to the title track, presented in acoustic and electric format and probably the best track to show the comparison between Africa and Mississippi.

On the acoustic “On A Mississippi Porch,” teaming James with Calvin Jackson’s hambone percussion, you can almost feel the heat and humidity of a summer day in Mississippi (take it from someone who knows). The gentle “Sleepyhead” is also a highlight, as is the compelling “Candyland Refugee,” and “Woke Me,” which can best be described as a modern variation of the old “Crossroads” theme.

By the time the closing track, the slide instrumental “Green,” wraps up, you will realize that Markus James has taken you from the land where the Blues began to where it was cultivated and where it continued to develop. With Head For The Hills, he’s proves that it continues to be a vital and vibrant musical form.

--- Graham Clarke

Blind Lemon PledgeThe man called Blind Lemon Pledge (aka James Byfield) has been around music all of his life. He first picked up a guitar at age 14 and his musical journey has covered a lot of territory since then, moving from blues and folk music to rock, country, and even included a five-year detour into Chinese classical music. He has honed his instrumental and songwriting skills over the years while working in graphic design, multi-media, and animation, which has also allowed him to design his albums, videos, and websites.

Since 2008, he has concentrated on his musical career totally, releasing three CDs during that time. Evangeline (Ofeh Records) is Byfield’s fourth release under his Blind Lemon Pledge moniker, and it’s a captivating collection of various blues and Americana styles that have influenced his music. He covers a lot of ground on this set, beginning with “Buley’s Farm,” a tribute to the old prison songs that John Lomax recorded over a half century ago (complete with a capella chorus and cigar-box guitar solo). He explores other facets of the blues with the Louis Jordan tribute, “Go Jump The Willie,” the Crescent City-styled “Brimstone Joe,” “Midnight Assignation,” a blues-rocker with some scorching slide work, and the title track, a moody country blues inspired by Son House.

Byfield also explores folk music with the lovely ballad “Jennie Bell,” old style pop music (“Ham and Eggs”), jazz (the smoky “How Can I Still Love You”), Latin rhythms (“Language of Love”), and country (“How Can I Still Love You”). He has a warm, engaging quality in his vocals and shows serious guitar skills in a variety of styles. In fact, he actually plays all the instruments on the album……the names listed in the credits are all made up.

Evangeline is an entertaining foray through the blues and various Americana styles, all from the fertile imagination of Blind Lemon Pledge. While he may have a funny name, his music is definitely serious.

--- Graham Clarke

Lisa MillsRarely in life does one get a “do-over,” a chance to fix something that wasn’t previously done to their satisfaction. Singer Lisa Mills was not happy with the initial results of her debut recording, I’m Changing, upon its release in 2005, so she decided to “melt down” the original, with assistance from esteemed producer Trina Shoemaker, who’s won three Grammys for album engineering. The result, just released on her Mills Bluz Records label, is an absolutely breathtaking venture into blues, soul, and gospel.

Mills wrote 10 of the 12 songs and they are standouts, from the soulful blues opener, “Better Than This/I Don’t Need You Anymore,” to the easy country flavor of tracks like “I Need A Little Sunshine” and the rootsy feel of the title track. The instrumental work on these tracks is just superb, putting Mills’ wondrous vocals at center stage. You feel every high and low, all the joy and pain deep down.

Mills did re-record a pair of the original tracks. “Take My Troubles” has a jazzy vibe and sort of Mills’ delivery reminds me a bit of Rickey Lee Jones, and the excellent redo of the gospel a capella “Tell Me” is strong testimony to her vocal gifts. Mills also recorded three new songs for the album. “Eyes So Blue” is a light and lovely track with a bit of a reggae rhythm, “Rain In The Summertime” is a gentle ballad featuring Mills accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, and “I Don’t Want To Be Happy,” a tune about a frustrating love affair, features a raw and heartfelt vocal from Mills and one of my favorite lyrics…..”I don’t want to be happy/I just want to be with you.”

The two covers are magnificent. The bluesy take on the Rev. Robert Wilkins’ masterpiece, “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,” will induce goose bumps with Mills’ ethereal vocal coupled with Corky Hughes’ bottleneck resonator. The closer is an awesome cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” with a dreamy vocal from Mills, supported again by Hughes, this time on electric slide guitar.

It would be nice if all reclamation projects turned out as well as Lisa Mills’ reworking of I’m Changing. She has one of the most compelling voices that I’ve heard in a while. This is a disc that would fit in any music fan’s collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Howard GlazerThe versatile Detroit blues guitarist Howard Glazer returns with Looking In The Mirror (Lazy Brothers Records), which serves as a testament to the wisdom of those folks who chose Glazer as Outstanding Blues/R&B Instrumentalist at the 2014 Detroit Music Awards, and inducted him into the Michigan Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. Glazer’s guitar work, always a pleasure to hear, is the main attraction as he moves effortlessly from electric to slide to resonator guitar, but he’s an ace songwriter to boot, penning all 12 of the tracks.

“Midnight Postman” mixes the blues with a funky groove, and tracks like the clever “Broken Down Hotel Blues” and “Feeling So Bad” (which features Glazer on Resonator in tribute to Johnny Winter) both have an old school feel. Tracks like “Take Me Baby,” the title cut, and “Pushing The Limits” focus are in blues rock mode. There’s also a sizzling slow blues, “Eviction Blues,” with some amazing fretwork from Glazer.

“All I Ever Wanted,” features a Hill Country-styled bass line, some shimmering guitar work from Glazer, and the background vocals of Maggie McCabe and Stephanie Johnson. McCabe also joins Glazer on vocals for the upbeat “Walking In Detroit.” Glazer really shows off his slide guitar skills on the lovely pop-flavored “Wandering Trails.” The closing tracks are both interesting; “Misunderstood The Devil,” which mixes the Delta with the swamp and includes backward guitar and vocals, and “Emergency,” a psychedelic slow groover with wah wah guitar and electric flute (shades of Jethro Tull!) from Tom Schmaltz.

Glazer receives excellent support from Schmaltz, Chris Brown (bass), Charles David Stuart (drums), Larry Marek (organ), David Kocbus (trumpet), and the backing vocals from McCabe and Johnson are a plus, as well. Glazer never disappoints, whether with his always-absorbing guitar work, his clever and unique songwriting, and his rock solid vocals.

Whatever your musical cup of tea may be, the chances are good that you will find something to enjoy on Looking In The Mirror.

--- Graham Clarke

Nathan JamesA new album from blues and roots guitarist Nathan James is always a treat, so TWO new releases is a cause for elation. James, who has played and recorded with James Harman and Kim Wilson, appeared as guitarist on the Remembering Little Walter tribute album, and won the 2007 IBC with singer/harmonica player Ben Hernandez. He's blessed blues and roots lovers with a two-disc set, featuring a solo album of traditional acoustic blues and an album with his band, the Rhythm Scratchers (Marty Dodson – drums, Troy Sandow – bass, harmonica), playing their mix of New Orleans-based R&B, swamp pop, and blues.

The acoustic album, Hear Me Calling (Sacred Cat Recordings), offers 11 tracks, eight originals plus three covers. James plays acoustic guitar, National Resonator, his own invention of a washboard guitar, and provides his own percussion with a modified Skyway suitcase transformed into a foot drum kit (complete with foot-operated cymbals and coffee can snare). The track list is a mix of delta blues, piedmont, and gospel.

James covers Curley Weaver (“No No Blues”), Lonnie Johnson (“She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight”), and the traditional gospel tune “I Know I’ve Got Religion,” and his original compositions mix well with these classic era recordings. Instrumentally, he’s a wonder on these tracks, recording these tracks live in the Sacred Cat Studios, and his warm vocal style suits this material well.

Nathan JamesNatural Born This Way is the second disc in the set, featuring James with the Rhythm Scratchers and a couple of guest stars (Carl Sonny Leyland – piano, Big Jon Atkinson – rhythm guitar) on a few tracks. The 11 tracks feature six James originals with five cover tunes, including a rocking take on Long John Hunter’s “Ride With Me,” The 5 Royales’ “I’m Gonna Tell Them,” Freddy Fender’s “I’m Gonna Leave,” and a dandy pair of Earl King tunes (“Take You Back Home” and “It Must Have Been Love”).

James’ six original tunes on the second disc include plugged-in versions of four songs from the first disc (“Look Out Your Window,” “Look Before I Leap,” “Doing The Same to You,” and “Don’t Believe What People Say.” It’s fun to hear both versions of these songs and listeners will be surprised at how different some of them sound in a band setting. There’s also a stomping instrumental (“Cow Pies”) showcasing the band and the funky title track.

If you call yourself a fan of blues or roots music and you can’t find something to enjoy on either of Nathan James’ latest recordings, you might want to reevaluate your musical tastes and maybe head over to the Disco section of your chosen music distributor. Otherwise, you’ll really be hard-pressed to find two better recordings than Hear Me Calling and Natural Born That Way.

--- Graham Clarke

John Weeks BandBased in Denver, The John Weeks Band churns out a modern take on classic blues. Singer/guitarist Weeks was born in France and learned to play the blues in Paris clubs during the ’90s, influenced by guitarists Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman, and Jimi Hendrix. Hungarian bandmate Andras (AC) Csapo adds moody keyboards and harmonica, and the rhythm section (Curtis Hawkins – bass, Tim “Chooch” Molinario – drums) lays down a relentless groove that’s without peer.

The band’s self-titled debut CD offers seven tracks that mixes the blues sounds of Chicago and the Delta, with a bit of funk and even Latin influences. While a bit brief on running time, it’s time well-spent as the band works though the laid-back rocker “All Night,” moves to the ominous acoustic Delta-styled “Devil In My House,” rips through a jump blues instrumental (“Why Don’t We Sleep On It?”), and tackles an aching slow blues (“How Can You Love Me?”) with some exquisite keyboard work from Csapo.

“I Want To Get Back Home” has a funky vibe with some nice guitar work from Weeks and harp from Csapo. “You Never Say What you Mean” is a mid-tempo ballad with a Latin flair, and the closer, “Moving On,” is a nice choice with its down and dirty funk backdrop and stellar keyboard work from Csapo.

The only caveat is, as mentioned above, the short (31 minutes) running time. The songs, all originals written by Weeks, Csapo, and Hawkins, are good enough to make you think that the band still has plenty to say. Hopefully, their next release will build upon what we hear on this fine debut.

--- Graham Clarke

George TaylorGeorge Taylor was a part of the Austin music scene for several years until 2013, when he relocated to his native Virginia. Though he’s focused on Americana music for most of his career, the blues overtook him several years ago prior to his move to Austin. His latest release, Rain or Shine, is Americana with a heavy base in the blues. Taylor plays acoustic, lap steel, and electric guitar, harmonica, and sings, but he writes songs describing the human condition that cut close to the heart and leave a mark.

Taylor understands that the line between country music and the blues is a microscopically fine one……the musical instrumentation may vary, but the underlying messages are basically the same. Listeners will understand this as well after hearing songs like “Goodnight,” “Railroad Song,” “What am I Gonna Say?,” “Only Blue,” and “The Rain.” A few tracks like “The Hard Way” lean more toward country and “Breakin’ In Boots” is on the rock side. “Harvest Moon” is probably the best track on the disc, and the one that captures that merger of blues and country at its best.

Taylor also receives outstanding musical support from Justin Douglas (pedal steel, bass, dobro, backing vocals), Blake Lange (percussion), Cody Ground (keys), and Jerry Reynolds (fiddle).

Rain or Shine is a disc that should satisfy fans of several musical genres (blues, roots, Americana, country) immensely.

--- Graham Clarke

Georgie BondsGeorgie Bonds didn’t start out as a blues singer. Even though he loved R&B music when he was growing up, he was fascinated with horses, eventually becoming a blacksmith even though he continued to sing for his own entertainment. He fell in love with the blues after listening to a friend’s cassette tape of Robert Johnson and attracted the attention of blues legend Sonny Rhodes at a open mic blues jam. Rhodes became a mentor to Bonds and helped get him started on his career as a blues singer.

Bonds’ first CD, Sometimes I Wonder, was released in 2001 to critical acclaim, and he was chosen to appear in the Tony-winning It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues, but his career was sidelined due to health concerns. Fortunately, Bonds has recovered and just released Stepping Into Time (BGB Music), a magnificent showcase for his powerful vocals which should propel him into the upper echelon of blues singers.

Backed by a stellar band that includes producer Neil Taylor and Harry Jacobson on guitars, Andy Haley and Russ Joel on drums, Kenny Githens and James White on bass, Walter Runge on organ, Joe Stout on piano, and Buddy Cleveland on harmonica, Bonds just rips through this 12-song set (ten originals, two covers) like a man on a mission. The opening cut, an a capella reading of “St. James Infirmary,” lets you know that Bonds is no ordinary blues singer. His haunting vocal on this track will stay with you for awhile.

The autobiographical track, “The Blacksmith” appears in two versions; first as a tough country blues rocker, then as an epilogue as a bonus acoustic version. There’s plenty of good blues here with songs like the pleading shuffle “What More,” “Lord, Oh Lord” is a New Orleans-styled second-liner. “Daily News” finds Bonds deploring the state of affairs in the world. “Dyin’ Is The Easy Way” has an R&B feel with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theme, and “Calling Your Name” is a gentle soulful ballad.

Other standouts include the slow blues “Out of the Fryin’ Pan,” and a pair of funky blues rockers (“Going Shopping” and “I Need Somebody”). John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” is the unofficial closer, and Bonds really outdoes himself with his reading of the classic.

Stepping Into Time shows that Georgie Bonds could develop into a force to be reckoned with on the blues scene if things start going his way. Vocal gifts like his only come around once in a while, so blues fans are encouraged to give this one a listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Altered FiveFormed in 2002, Altered Five Blues Band combines the soaring lead guitar of Jeff Schroedl with the funkiest rhythm section outside of Memphis (Mark Solveson – bass, Scott Schroedl – drums, Raymond Tevich – keyboards) and the real-deal vocals of Jeff Taylor into an ideal blues, rock, and soul package. Cryin’ Mercy (Omnivibe Records) was produced by Tom Hambridge, and features 11 original tunes, all written or co-written by Jeff Schroedl and his bandmates.

As you might expect from a Tom Hambridge-produced disc, the music is high energy and intense. The songwriting does take on fairly familiar topics for blues tunes, but the lyrical approach is quite different from conventional fare. The fiery opening cut, “Demon Woman,” vividly describes a female that most wise men would do well to avoid, and the defiant “Stay Out Of My Business” doesn’t pull any punches. Tracks like the funky “Counterfeit Lover,” the double-entendre-laden slow blues “Move House,” and the rocking “Who’s Your Lover” stand out from similar blues tunes with their unique lyrical content.

The band also knows how to bring the funk on tunes like “I Got You” and the clever “Urgent Care,” and Taylor’s vocals are, no pun intended, “tailor-made” for the soulful R&B of “Find My Wings.” Best of all, the disc closes as well as it started with three excellent tunes…..”Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry” rocks hard, the aforementioned “Urgent Care,” and “Back Button,” a song about something that all of us need at times.

Jeff Schroeli’s guitar work is spot-on from beginning to end, blending rock, funk, and blues seamlessly, which could be said as well for the rest of the band, all of whom definitely know their way around a groove. Cryin’ Mercy is an excellent disc of original tunes and musicianship that will certainly please any fan of contemporary blues and soul.

--- Graham Clarke

HowellDevineThe blues trio HowellDevine (Joshua Howell – vocals/guitar/harmonica, Pete Devine – drums, Joe Kyle, Jr. – upright bass) made some noise back in 2013 with their Arhoolie Records release (the label’s first new blues release in 25 years), Jumps, Blues, & Wobbles. Now, Arhoolie has released their follow-up, Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju, which continues the band’s journey through the blues styles of the 1930s and ’40s, mixing invigorating covers of classic tunes with some impressive original compositions.

The music played is truly in the old-school blues tradition. Howell plays electric and acoustic guitar (fingerpick and slide work are both impressive), blows a mean harp, and his vocals are warm and relaxed. Devine’s percussion work is a marvel as he moves from standard drums to washboard to other creative forms, and Kyle’s upright bass is rock solid. The ensemble playing is endlessly entertaining.

The trio puts a fresh face on songs from Muddy Waters (“Can’t Be Satisfied”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (“She Brought Life Back To The Dead”), Bukka White (“Shake ‘em on Down”), Al Duncan (“It’s Too Late Brother”), and a pair from Memphis pre-war blues legend Frank Stokes (“It Won’t Be Long Now” and “Sweet To Mama”), but their own songs blend in pretty well with the classics. Songs like “Let You Go,” “House In the Field,” and “Rollin’ in Her Arms” are first rate, and the marvelous instrumental “Woogie Man” is six minutes long, but could go on forever as far as I’m concerned.

Coolest of all is the closing track, an amazing live performance taken from a show the trio did in Port Richmond, California. The song, “Railroad Stomp,” finds Howell imitating the sound of a train speeding up and slowing down (in the tradition of the ‘20s and ’30s harmonica players like Deford Bailey), backed by Kyle’s bass and Devine’s endlessly inventive percussion. If you’re a longtime blues (or country music) fan, you’ve doubtlessly heard a song of this type before, but trust me, you’ve never heard it like this.

Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju is a fascinating look at updated traditional blues, and is an absolute joy to listen to. Every self-respecting fan of vintage blues should add this album to their collection.

--- Graham Clarke


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