Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2015

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Knickerbocker All-Stars

Mike Zito

Eric Bibb & JJ Milteau

JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci

Reverend Freakchild

Sista Jean and CB

Mitch Woods

Brad Vickers

Steve Howell

Georgie Bonds

Chris Yakopcic

Stolen Hearts

Little Boys Blue

The Jimmys

Diane Blue

Luther "Badman" Keith

Classic Chicago Blues 


Knickerbocker All-StarsOn the heels of their successful 2014 debut (Open Mic at the Knick), The Knickerbocker All-Stars return with Go Back Home To The Blues (JP Cadillac Records), another powerhouse set of blues and R&B classics, with a few choice new tracks mixed in for good measure. To describe their previous release as a “debut” is a bit of a stretch, as most of these artists have enjoyed lengthy tenures in the music field, either as front men or backing great musicians and bands such as Duke Robillard, Roomful of Blues, Al Basile, and Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, but those years of working in a “team” setting work wonders with these musicians on these 13 excellent tracks.

The core group consists of Monster Mike Welch (guitar) Al Copley (piano), Brad Hallen (standup/electric bass), Mark Teixeira (drums), Doug James (baritone/tenor sax), Rich Lataille (alto/tenor sax), Sax Gordon Beadle (tenor sax), and Doc Chanonhouse (trumpet) with guest appearances from Basile (cornet/lead vocals on one track) and Carl Querfurth (trombone on two tracks). They are joined by a trio of New England’s finest blues vocalists, Sugar Ray Norcia, Brian Templeton, and Willie J. Laws --- a pretty prestigious line-up of all-stars, to be sure.

Norcia sings on three tracks, the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic “36-22-36,” Chuck Willis’ “Take It Like A Man,” and the Basile’s original “Brand New Fool.” Laws ably handles four tracks: The Freddy King hit “You Know That You Love Me,” Guitar Slim’s “Something To Remember You By,” Reuben Brown’s slow burner “He Was A Friend of Mine,” and a torrid reading of Larry Davis’ “I Tried.”

Templeton’s three tracks are the swinging “Cadillac Baby” (written by Fontaine Brown), and a pair of Basile originals: the soulful “Go Home To The Blues” and the funky “Annie Get Your Thing On.” Basile himself handles lead vocals on his amusing “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Being Right.” The band is, naturally, top notch. They’ve been playing this music so long that it’s embedded in their DNA. Welch’s guitar work is particular impressive and he consistently proves that he’s one of the most underrated blues guitarist currently practicing.

Simply put, if you call yourself a blues fan and you don’t find anything to like on Go Back Home To The Blues, you probably need to head over to the Easy Listening section of your local record store. Any self-respecting blues fan will be hitting “Repeat” repeatedly on their stereo with this outstanding release.

--- Graham Clarke

Mike ZitoI have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I found out that Mike Zito was leaving Royal Southern Brotherhood, but if he continues to make albums like Keep Coming Back (Ruf Records), my disappointment will be lessened considerably. RSB will manage just fine, based on their most recent release, but Zito’s new release is something else --- 12 songs (ten originals, three penned with Anders Osborne) vivid with imagery and personal reflections of his past, present, and future life, all proving why he continues to be one of the most compelling performers and storytellers on the current blues scene.

Zito’s music has always been focused on the blues, but he also has a profound love for rock & roll and country, so you get all of these elements in his songs, and he does this as well as anyone, but it’s always been his ability to open up about his own life and the trials that he’s endured that makes his music a cut above. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a song as personal and revealing as “I Was Drunk,” which he co-wrote with Osbourne, who also guests on the song). The duet leaves nothing on the table with this country-flavored track. It’s all out there for everyone to see --- the battles with addiction and the lives damaged by it, including his own.

Other songs, like the slide-driven title track which opens the disc, “Chin Up,” and “Get Busy Living,” follow this theme as well as Zito honestly recounts his battles with the addiction demon. There are a few songs like “Early In The Morning” that change the pace a bit, with more country flair, and some hard-rocking tracks like “Cross The Border.” Zito’s “Girl From Liberty” is another standout, bringing to mind the “Everyday America” songs of Bob Seger. Speaking of Mr. Seger, Zito also covers the Motor City rocker’s “Get Out of Denver,” as well as CCR’s swampy “Bootleg,” and channels John Fogerty somewhat on “Nothin’ But The Truth.”

Zito has one of the most distinctive voices in blues or rock, capable of handling the rockers with ease as well as the more soulful numbers and country, and his guitar playing is first-rate. To these ears, this is his best release, which is really saying something. For open and sometimes achingly honest blues rock and roots, you can do no better than to check out Keep Coming Back.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric BibbEric Bibb’s latest project is definitely a worthy one. Teaming with French harmonica player JJ Milteau, the NYC-based roots musician recorded a musical tribute to the great Huddie Ledbetter called Lead Belly’s Gold (Stony Plain Records). The release consists of 11 live tracks recorded at the famed Paris club, The Sunset, and five studio recordings. Bibb, like many musicians his age, grew up listening to Lead Belly’s music, not just from the original source, but also from various blues, folk, and rock artists who covered his songs, and, like many artists, was profoundly affected and influenced by his songs.

The live set includes songs written by or associated with Lead Belly, and blues fans will recognize many of them: ”Midnight Special,” “Goodnight, Irene,” “Rock Island Line,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “When That Train Comes Along/Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” etc. Bibb and Milteau remain largely faithful to the original versions, but also put an entertaining spin of their own on these songs. It’s a lively performance in front of an energetic and enthusiastic audience.

The studio tracks include “Bourgeois Blues,” “Stewball,” “Titanic,” and a couple of Bibb originals from the perspective of Lead Belly (Bibb and Milteau collaborated on one song on the live set, “When I Get to Dallas,” in the same vein, about Lead Belly’s early days as a street singer). “Chauffeur Blues” is a conversation between Lead Belly and John Lomax, his former boss, in the afterlife, and the wonderful closer, “Swimmin’ in a River of Songs,” tells his life story.

Though Bibb’s vocal style is different from Lead Belly’s, you don’t really notice it at all, and his guitar work is typically excellent. Milteau’s harmonica is an enjoyable addition, I don’t recall harmonica in many of Lead Belly’s songs, but it fits really well with these arrangements. Bibb and Milteau are joined by Larry Crockett (drums/percussion) and Gilles Michel on bass for selected tracks. Big Daddy Wilson and Michael Robinson provide backing vocals on a few tracks.

All in all, Lead Belly’s Gold is a fine tribute to the legendary blues/folk master from two master musicians. Hopefully, it will encourage listeners to check out this music at the original source as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Jason RicciNow here’s a CD that will appeal to traditional blues fans. Award-winning harmonica ace Jason Ricci has teamed up with singer/songwriter/guitarist JJ Appleton and produced an album, Dirty Memory, that resurrects the guitar/harmonica duo that is part of the traditional Piedmont blues approach. Ricci, one of the most talented young harmonica players, has already had a productive 2015, winning a Grammy as part of Johnny Winter’s final release, Step Back, plus he performed as part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction for the late Paul Butterfield. The NYC-based Appleton was formerly a member of The Grasshoppers and has received much acclaim for his previous four releases.

Accompanied only by upright bass (courtesy of Tim Lefebvre or Neil Heidler), Appleton and Ricci work through an 11 song set that features five songs from Appleton, three songs from Ricci, and three covers. Things get off to a rousing start with the opener, Appleton’s “Leaning Blues,” and it’s obvious from the get-go that these two share a strong musical rapport with Ricci’s harp snaking over, under, and around Appleton’s guitar and vocals perfectly.

Appleton’s other originals include the steamy “Can’t Believe It’s This Good,” the reflective “Just Enough,” the rambling “At The Wheel Again,” and the solo closer, “Come On Over, Come On By,” which gives him a chance to show off his skills on guitar. Ricci’s three tunes include the autobiographical “New Man,” the moody “Demon Lover,” and a smoking instrumental, “Jason Solo,” that will let anyone who’s not familiar with his talents know what all the fuss is about.

The three covers are all choice selections: a powerful version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” the Rolling Stones’ “Black Limousine,” done country blues style, and the Swamp Dogg/Gary U.S. Bonds/Don Hollinger tune “It Ain’t No Use.”

As stated earlier, Ricci and Appleton collaborate as if they’ve done this for decades. Appleton’s guitar work is pristine and his vocals are also top notch, and Ricci’s harmonica is phenomenal. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe it. Dirty Memory is as good a set of acoustic blues as I’ve heard this year and I’m pretty sure listeners will agree once they’ve given it a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

Reverend FreakchildReverend Freakchild is a NYC-based singer/songwriter/guitarist. He’s previously played with Soul Coughing, the Neptune Ensemble, the Soul Miners, among other bands, and has also been featured with the Metro Mass Gospel Choir. His brand of blues mixes gospel, pop, rock, and even psychedelia, probably best summed up in the title of his latest album, Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues (Treated and Released Records), a ten-song set of mostly original tunes.

The general flavor of the tracks reflect the album title as well. The opener, “All I’ve Got Is Now” has a mellow vibe and catchy lyrics. The same goes for the majority of the tracks, including the Reverend Gary Davis’ “It’s Gonna Be All Right,” a fine homage to one of Freakchild’s influences, “Keep On Trucking,” and “Moonlight Messages,” which features John Ragusa of Mulebone on flute. It’s not all mellow fare, however. ”She Wants My Name” (penned by Ragusa’s Mulebone partner Hugh Pool, who also adds harmonica on several tracks) and “Tears of Fire” both rock hard, with Freakchild’s slide guitar raising the roof on the latter.

There are three instrumentals as well ---.”Angel$ of Mercy,” the lovely ”Lullaby” and the upbeat “Soul Transforming Realization.” Freakchild is a first-rate guitarist, with a nimble vocal style. On some tracks, he sounds like a bluesy Lou Reed, while on the rockers and the excellent cover of the traditional “I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,” he sounds a bit like Tom Waits.

Pool (who co-produced the disc with Sal Paradise) also plays lap steel in addtion to harmonica. In addition to the Mulebone duo (who also contribute backing vocals on a couple of songs), Freakchild is backed by drummer Chris Parker and bassist Tugboat Eustis. Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues is a highly enjoyable set of mostly laidback tunes that you’ll find yourself returning to for repeated listening. It will not only please blues fans, but should also extend to fans of other genres as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Dan TreanorIf you’re a blues fan in a funk, wanting to hear something that puts a hop in your step, then Dan Treanor’s Afrosippi Band quite possibly has the cure for what ails you. Recognized as one of Colorado’s premier blues bands, the Afrosippi Band finished third at the 2013 IBCs and boasts the mad harmonica skills of Treanor (winner of the 2012 Keeping the Blues Alive – Education award for his work in the Blues In The Schools program), along with guitarist extraordinaire Michael Hossler, and the double-barreled powerhouse vocal combination of Erica Brown and Merrian (MJ) Johnson.

The band’s latest release is Born To Love The Blues (Plan-It Records) and features 12 tracks, eight originals and four covers, of blues, soul, and rock. Treanor wrote the eight originals, including the swampy “Can You Hear Me,” the crunching Hill Country-styled “Done Got Old,” the traditional “Love Ain’t Easy To Find,” “A House Is Not A Home,” and “Knocked Out,” and the sultry “Heat” and “Missing.” There’s also a nice tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (“Mississippi Fred’s Dream”) that actually has a second-line feel to it.

The four covers are well done: Orgone’s funky midtempo ballad “Who Knows Who,” the Black Keys’ rocker “Hurt Like Mine,” a moving reading of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Going To Come,” and Emeli Sandé’s “Next To Me.” I really like the combination of vocals from the ladies. They both move easily between blues and soul, traditional and contemporary, yet have their own distinctive styles. The rock-solid rhythm section (Scott Headley – drums, Jack Erwin – bass) deserves praise as well. Gary Flori adds conga drums on one track and Bill Shannon plays bass on two tracks.

Born To Love The Blues is a very enjoyable set of rocking blues and soul that is sure to satisfy blues fans. Listeners can check it out and pick it up at Treanor’s website, along with the rest of the Afrosippi Band’s catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Sstah JeanNo doubt about it, Sista Jean and CB (Jean McClain and Carlyle Barriteau) make beautiful music together. McClain has worked as a background singer for Hugh Laurie, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Keb’ Mo, Celine Dion), as part of an ’80s regrouping of the Marvelettes, and has charted several hits on the Dance charts (as Pepper MaShay). Barriteau most recently toured as part of jazz singer Bobby Caldwell’s band, but has previously played for Rose Royce, The Miracles, Patti Austin, Paul Taylor, and Rickie Lee Jones. The two joined forces to release the excellent acoustic blues album Back To The Root in 2012.

A year ago, Blues Bytes reviewed a wonderful 2-song preview (Spectacular 2 Song Double Pack) of the duo’s upcoming album, a tribute to folk singer Odetta. The album, Requiem For A Heavyweight: A Tribute To Odetta (Freckled Bandit Records), is now a reality, featuring 12 tracks either recorded by or influenced by the folk and blues legend. McClain has stated that she was heavily influenced by Odetta as a child and her love for this music shows through every note that she sings.

The opening two tracks, the spirited “Alabama Bound” and the glorious “Easy Rider” (both written by Lead Belly), were featured on the preview disc and they start things off perfectly. Other standouts include a measured reading of the ’60s classic “House of the Rising Sun,” the downhome romp “Jack of Diamonds,” the spiritual “Deep River,” and the moving “Another Man Done Gone,” which McClain sings solo.

There are a few more songs from Lead Belly: “Midnight Special,” taken at a gently swinging pace, “Take This Hammer,” which picks up the pace slightly, and the understated gospel tune “Meet N At The Building.” “Troubled Man of Mine” is the lone song on the disc written by the duo, but it’s a perfect fit with the other tunes and you could easily hear Odetta performing it herself. “Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya” is a fun and funky reworking of the old Louis Armstrong song, and McClain brings the disc to a close with a beautiful, stripped-down version of “Glory Glory,” backed only by Barriteau’s guitar.

Speaking of Mr. Barriteau, his guitar work is just wonderful throughout the disc, understated but never in the background. He and McClain work well together and the best thing about this album is how they allow the songs to take their time and develop without any rush at all. It’s just a beautiful piece of work that will reward blues, soul, and folk music fans, who will find it hard to stop after just one listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Mitch WoodsSince 2002, Mitch Woods has hosted the after-hours Piano Bar on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Dubbed “Mitch Wood’s Club 88,” it’s just one all-night party as Woods oversees the event (in his pajamas), which features an all-star cast of musicians who stop by after playing their sets on the main stage. It’s one of the most talked-about events of each cruise, so with the new CD Jammin’ on the High C’s (Vizztone), Woods set out to capture “the spirit and the feeling” of the performances for those not fortunate to attend in person.

Recorded this past January during the 2015 cruise, Woods is joined by a veritable Who’s Who of the current blues scene as they each take their turn on the stage. Among the luminaries taking part are Tommy Castro, who does a rollicking version of the Little Richard classic, “Rip It Up,” Lucky Peterson, who offers a funky reading of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” with members of Roomful of Blues, and Billy Branch, who gets a pair of tracks, “Eyesight To The Blind” (with Roomful of Blues) and “Boom Boom,” with Coco Montoya (who also does a nice take on “Rock Me Baby”).

Other musicians sitting in include Dwayne Dopsie, who spices things up with a sparkling reading of “Jambalaya” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Popa Chubby, who leads the audience through “I Want You To Be My Baby” and a swinging “Wee Wee Hours,” and Woods’ fellow keyboard master Victor Wainwright, who does a marvelous Crescent City-styled duet with Janiva Magness on “Tain’t Nobody’s Business” and teams with Woods on “Wine Spo Dee O Dee.” Woods himself mostly stays in the background, but does take center stage for “Broke,” and fills in some entertaining information and background on the event between songs.

Jammin’ on the High C’s gives you the feeling of being there to an extent least as much as it can possibly do. The best thing for listeners to do, however, is make plans to attend a cruise and take it all in in person. While you’re waiting for the next one to roll around, this entertaining collection is the next best thing to being there.

--- Graham Clarke

Brad VickersWhen it comes to remembering, reviving, and renewing the roots of American music (blues, folk, rag, rock & roll, etc), there are few that can hold a candle to Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans. With their fifth and latest release, That’s What They Say (ManHatTone Music), Vickers and crew bring us another outstanding set combining classic tunes from back in the day with their best batch of new songs yet.

The new disc features 15 tracks, 13 originals penned by Vickers and/or fellow Vestapolitan Margey Peters (bass, fiddle, vocals) and two splendid covers, Tampa Red’s “Seminole Blues,” which kicks things off in rousing fashion, and the traditional “Don’t You Love Your Daddy No More,” a tune Vickers learned from Lead Belly that’s spiced up by bottleneck guitar (Vickers), mandolin (Dave Gross) and sax and clarinet (Matt Cowan and Jim Davis).

The originals are excellent, ranging from the foot-stomper “If You Leave Me Now” (with fiddle from Charles Burnham and Peters), a pair of old-school rock & rollers in “Another Lonesome Road” and “The Secret,” the shuffle “Everything About You is Blue,” the country rocker “Don’t You Change A Thing,” and “Mountain Sparrow,” a lovely old-timey tune. The clever title track features a spare arrangement, with Vickers on guitar with Peters (bass) and Bill Rankin on drums.

”Fightin’,” written by Peters, is an effective gospel track teaming her, Vickers, and guest vocalist Mikey Junior singing accompanied only by handclaps and Gross on percussion. Peters also wrote the swingers “Mama’s Cookin’” and “Having a Ball,” “Twenty-First Century Rag,” and the moving closer, “In For A Penny,” on which she sings with guest vocalists Gina Sicilia and Christine Santelli.

The Vestapolitans know how to make great music and they know how to make great music fun. That’s What They Say is just the latest in a long line of enjoyable and entertaining releases from Brad Vickers and company ---.their best to date.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellFriend Like Me (Out of The Past Music), the fifth and latest released from Steve Howell & The Mighty Men, is another excellent release from the Texas-born and based singer/guitarist featuring his acoustic finger-picking guitar and warm, smooth vocals. This time around, Howell has picked ten of his favorite old tunes from his guitar heroes, mentors and buddies, covering not just the blues, but also folk and country styles. Howell, of course, sings and plays acoustic and electric guitars, and the Mighty Men (Chris Michaels – electric guitar, Dave Hoffpauir – drums, Jason Weinheimer – bass) provide rock-solid support.

Howell covers tunes by Jesse “Baby Face” Thomas (the charming title track), Bukka White (a dandy countrified version of “Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues”), Charley Patton (“Elder Green Is Gone,” which is given a funky country twist), Reverend Gary Davis (a marvelous reading of “Oh, Lord, Search My Heart”), and the traditional “Little Sadie,” an ominous tale of crime and punishment. He digs deep into blues lore for “Roustabout,” an old blues narrative with some enthralling instrumental experimentation and a spooky vocal, and “This Old Hammer,” about the legendary steel-driving man John Henry.

Howell also recreates “Viola Lee Blues,” the old prewar tune from Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers that will be instantly recognizable to fans of the Grateful Dead, taking a laid-back swampy approach. He revisits the Dead’s repertoire again for a jaunty version of John Philips’ “Me & My Uncle,” before closing with a haunting take on the mid ’60s Manfred Mann hit, Pretty Flamingo.”

Because of his gentle, laidback approach and superb taste in material Howell’s albums are always a pleasure to listen to. Friend Like Me is no exception. This is an album that will be loved and cherished by fans of acoustic guitar --- just like all of Howell’s other recordings.

--- Graham Clarke

Georgie BondsSo far, Georgie Bonds’ life itself stands as a pretty vivid picture of the blues. Serving time in jail as a youth, he became a blacksmith upon release and straightened his life out. He eventually started performing as a singer in the ’90s, after being inspired by a Robert Johnson cassette someone loaned him, but soon began battling a series of health issues (including a series of hip surgeries earlier this year), but has persevered through it all, recently releasing his third CD, Hit It Hard (Roadhouse Redemption Records).

I don’t remember noticing this when reviewing Bonds’ last CD (Stepping Into Time), but the singer’s vocals are reminiscent of Robert Cray at times, the right amount of silk and grit. The setting of most of the songs is a bit more rustic than Cray’s usual fare, however, since many of the tracks feature Buddy Cleveland’s harmonica. Despite the similarities in vocal style, Bonds is very much his own man as a singer.

The opening track is “Pickin’ Your Bones,” written and previously recorded by Sonny Rhodes, and serves as a tribute to Bonds’ musical mentor. “Let’s Get Down” is a nice slice of New Orleans-styled funk, while “Sentenced To The Blues” is a fine original slow burner penned by Cleveland with a heartfelt performance from Bonds and strong work from Cleveland on harmonica and guitarist Neil Taylor. Cleveland also wrote the smooth shuffle “Butter Your Biscuit,” and Taylor wrote the revenge tune “Deadly Poison.”

Bonds contributes a few songs of his own, the highlights being a pair of tunes about time in prison (“Paid Vacation” and “Another Year,” which was the first song he wrote while in prison). He also covers tunes from Sam Taylor (“Tired of Being Alone”) and Blind Willie Johnson. The Johnson cover is “The Soul Of A Man,” which comes off like a deep soul classic in Bonds’ hands.

Providing superlative backing on the disc, in addition to Cleveland (harmonica/backing vocals) and Taylor (guitar/backing vocals) are Andy Haley (drums), Rick Prince (bass), Walter Runge (keys), Dave Renz (tenor sax), Vanessa Collier (sax/backing vocals), Corey Paternoster (percussion), Mike Bardzik (percussion), Paul Matecki (vocals), and Gina Burnett (vocals).

If there’s any justice in the world, Hit It Hard will be a big success for Georgie Bonds. All the ingredients are in place --- a great set of diverse tunes and outstanding vocal and instrumental performances --- so hopefully this underrated singer will be able to kick his recent health issues and capitalize on this excellent release.

--- Graham Clarke

Chris YakopcicDayton, Ohio-based guitarist Chris Yakopcic was a finalist in the 2015 IBC, having qualified for the event three times previously (and will return in 2016 for a fifth time). He performs regularly throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania and teaches workshops on acoustic blues guitar. With his nimble guitar work that combines Delta and Piedmont styles, along with his unique songwriting, he is poised for a breakthrough. Yakopcic’s latest CD, The Next Place I Leave (Yako Records), his second CD, provides further confirmation.

Listeners will get a pretty vivid picture of Yakopcic’s style right off the bad with the title track, which kicks off the disc, an entertaining tale of the adventures of a wandering man that leans toward the country side of the blues. The gentle “Sweet Time Blues ventures into Piedmont territory with satisfying results, and “Smallman Street” showcases his slide guitar playing. “Sounds of the Highway” is a nice blues shuffle, and “Time To Go” has a cool Jimmy Reed feel. The originals “Addicted” and “My Last Three Strings” close the disc. The former track has a bit of a rock edge and the latter has a laidback vibe.

Yakopcic also covers Robert Johnson effectively on two tracks from the legend’s catalog (creatively upbeat versions of “Preachin’ Blues” and “Phonograph Blues”). His storming renditions of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me A Few Lines” and Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” will get feet to stomping and heads to bobbing. Yakopcic is backed by a sturdy rhythm section (Brian Hoeflich – drums, Leo Smith – bass) and their sparse but strong backing allows Yakopcic plenty of open spaces to show his stuff on guitar.

The Next Place I Leave puts a modern spin on acoustic blues while keeping one foot planted in traditional fare. Fans of acoustic blues guitar (and engaging songwriting) will find lots to love here.

--- Graham Clarke

Blue LargoBlue Largo was formed in 1999 by guitarist Eric Lieberman and vocalist Alicia Aragon. Primarily focusing on ’40s and ’50s era blues, the band released a pair of well-received albums in 2000 (What A Day!, produced by Rick Holmstrom) and 2002 (Still In Love With You) and built a large following on the West Coast. In 2006, Lieberman was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called focal dystonia, which left him unable to play guitar. Over the next 8 1/2 years, he taught himself to play guitar again and soon the band was back in the studio to record their third album, Sing Your Own Song (Coffeegrinds Music).

Where Blue Largo’s previous albums focused more on covers of blues classics, this new release features seven Lieberman originals, so the idle time on guitar apparently opened other avenues of expression. This is a good thing because he has blessed us with a strong and varied set of tunes, including “Walkin’ On A Tightrope,” “Kindness Love and Understanding,” “Tears of the Night,” “Nothin’ To Prove,” “Elevator To The Gallows,” “Tears of Joy,” and the title track. These tunes convey the trials he was going through over the past few years --- the challenges, endurances, hope, and perseverance that he experienced.

The band also offers seven covers, including three instrumentals, Earl Hooker’s “Guitar Rhumba,” “Okie Dokie Stomp,” and “Remington Ride,” which show that Lieberman is as great a guitarist as he was before his setback. The other covers are Willie Dixon’s “You Know My Love,” Magic Sam’s “I Need You So Bad,” and the standard “Sitting On Top of The World.” There’s a pretty wide range of blues styles on Sing Your Own Song, and Ms. Aragon shows that she can handle all of them with ease, whether she’s presenting the slicker, urban blues or the downhome variety.

The current edition of Blue Largo also includes charter member Jonny Viau (tenor/baritone saxes), Taryn Donath (piano), and Art Kraatz (bass), but other contributors include guitarist Nathan James (who also served as recording engineer and co-producer), drummers Marty Dodson and Ron Felton, bassist Joey Jazdzewski, keyboardist Rafael Salmon, tenor saxophonist Dave Castel de Oro, and backing vocalist Missy Andersen.

Blue Largo makes up for lost time with this excellent release, which should be required listening for fans of the traditional ’40s/’50s blues and R&B.

--- Graham Clarke

Little Boys BlueLittle Boys Blue, based in Jackson, Tennessee, have been around since 1993, starting out as a duo, J. D. Taylor (lead vocals, harmonica) and Steve Patterson (lead and slide guitar). In 1997, they finished third at the IBC and have performed regularly at various blues clubs, festivals, and competitions throughout the southeastern U.S. A couple of years ago, they added Dave Mallard (bass), Mark Brooks (drums), Dave Thomas (keys), and Alex Taylor (guitars) to the group. Their third release, Bad Love (Jaxon Records) incorporates electric and acoustic blues with roots and Americana music.

I really like the title track, which opens the disc. It’s a funky minor key ballad that’s powered by Thomas’ greasy B3 playing. The swinging shuffle “She Put Me Down” is another standout, and “Treat Me Like You Used To” swings into the direction of Memphis soul, adding horns to the mix. “Forget These Blues” continues in the soul vein and Taylor really belts this one out with sweet backing from Thomas and Patterson, who also shines on the slidefest, “Howling at Your Door.”

The upbeat “Cajun Girl” should get listeners up and dancing, and “You and I” will keep them there. “Go Back Home” and “Ain’t No Use In Crying” are a pair of splendid slow blues with lots of room for the musicians to stretch out. The album also features two excellent covers that will be familiar by title (Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” and Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied”), but not so familiar in presentation. The House number gets a Southern Rock renovation and the band kicks up the tempo several notches on the Waters classic.

Little Boys Blue’s Bad Love will definitely satisfy those fans of Southern rock and blues who are yearning for some powerhouse guitar, soulful keyboards, and downhome harmonica and vocals.

--- Graham Clarke

Stolen HeartsDirty Southern Soul is not only the title of the new release from Stolen Hearts, but it’s also an appropriate description of their music. This Carolina-based duo (Pam Taylor – guitar and vocals, Robert Johnson, Jr. – bass, guitar, mandolin, and vocals) blends Southern rock, country, soul, jazz, folk, and first and foremost, the blues. It’s a heady mix for sure, and all of these styles face front and center on several of the disc’s dozen tracks, 11 penned by the couple and one cover that’s worth the price of admission by itself.

The highlights are many, ranging from the rocking opener, “The Dream” to “Carolina Days (Bootsie’s Song),” which moves in a more countrified direction. “Do You No Harm” is a catchy country blues, and “All I Got Left” is an easy-flowing traditional-styled blues. The funky “Werewolves (Make Lousy Boyfriends)” is a distinctive change of pace with its fuzz-drenched guitar and a bit of psychedelia.

“Bring Your Love” mixes blues and soul quite effectively, and Taylor’s sweet “My Johnny” is a tune that you might be hearing on the radio soon. Johnson’s mellow vocal on “C’mon Baby (I Got Your Shoes)” helps make this track a standout, one of my favorites on the disc. “Ain’t No Man” is a defiant country rocker, and the sizzling “Boy They Gonna Own You” is as fine a piece of Southern rock as you may hear this year.

The disc closes with two live bonus tracks that should make listeners want to catch this duo in a live setting. Taylor’s “Already Alright” is a solo track with her singing and playing acoustic guitar. It’s a beautiful track with loads of soul. The closing cover of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” however, is the track you need to hear. With a masterful vocal from Taylor, James Pace’s swirling B3 in the background, a sweet guitar break from Johnson, and powerhouse sax from Mike Taylor, this amazing cover sums up Dirty Southern Soul perfectly --- both the style and the album itself.

--- Graham Clarke

The JimmysThe Jimmys are one of Wisconsin’s finest bands, combining old-school R&B, blues, soul, and swing. Together since 2008, The Jimmys include vocalist/keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli, guitarist Perry Weber (Hubert Sumlin), dummer Mauro Magellan (Georgia Satellites), bassist Johnny Wartenweiler, and the Amateur Horn Stars (Darren Sterud – trombone/vocals, Pete Ross – saxophones, Mike Boman – trumpet). They’ve brought home the Madison Area Music Award for Blues Artist of the Year three years running.

The Jimmys’ latest release, Hot Dish (Brown Cow Productions), is red hot and ready to show listeners what the fuss is all about. From the powerhouse horn-fueled opener “Lose That Woman,” to the mid-tempo blues “You Say You Will,” to the funky and soulful “Freight Train,” to the irresistible swing of “I Wonder,” it’s obvious The Jimmys mean business, and that’s only the first four tracks. Other standout tracks include the Lone Star swinger “What Gives,” “What Chur Doin’” “Wrecking Ball,” the slow burner “Saddest Man,” and the riproaring “She’s Wild.”

The band’s musicianship is first-rate. Voegeli’s vocals fit well with the diverse set of tunes and he’s a wizard on the keyboards. Weber is a force of nature on guitar and the rest of the band go together like peas and rice. Their talents are on full display on two excellent instrumentals: “Funk Schway” and “Jacqui Juice,” both of which move seamlessly between funk, Memphis soul, and jazz.

Hot Dish is a fantastic set of tunes that will please any music fan who digs the blues or swing or old-school R&B. It’s a safe bet that The Jimmys will be widening their fan base beyond Wisconsin pretty quickly based on this release.

--- Graham Clarke

MitraThe slide guitar maestro fronting Michael Messer's Mitra has achieved phenomenal success in a career spanning over 30 years, with several award winning albums, extensive international tours and even his own range of resonator guitars. Michael is often cited as one of the top 10 all-time great slide guitarists, but he is also a superb vocalist, songwriter, renowned producer and gifted tutor. He often speaks about “the big world musical influence” of the blues and this has been put into practice with his latest collaboration, Call Of The Blues (Knife Edge Blues).

On this new fusion album, Messer joins forces with Hindustani classical musicians Manish Pingle on Indian slide guitar (the Mohan veena) and tabla player Gurdain Rayatt. Pingle’s rhythmical, silvery, strings enhance the vibe of the blues, starting with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s "You Got To Move." The ethereal water bubbling background sound of the tabla intensifies the mood of "Lucky Charms." Messer excels with brilliant lap steel technique on the traditional "Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms" and the beautifully arranged instrumental "Sweetheart Darling."

The only double tracking on this otherwise live studio recording re-creates perfectly the vocals of the original JJ Cale classic, "Anyway The Wind Blows." Messer’s vocals throughout match the emotion of the songs, exemplified by Terry Clarke’s "Blue Letters." "Bhupali Blues," penned by the trio, and McDowell’s "You Gonna Be Sorry" are where eastern and western cultures and music blend seamlessly. Michael’s blues roots run deep in "Rollin’ and Tumblin’’ and "I Can’t Be Satisfied," both master classes in bottleneck style guitar.

The CD’s ten tracks take the listener on an inspirational, unique journey to the Ganges Delta without losing the authenticity of rural blues.

--- Dave Scott

Diane BlueDiane Blue has been recording under her own name for at least ten years and her voice has been highlighted on a few Ronnie Earl recordings ("Father’s Day," "Just For Today" and "Good News"). She won the Massachusetts Blues Challenge in 2010 and has won numerous music awards in Boston. In addition to her powerful vocals, she is a fine harmonica player.

Great players fill the grooves on Blues In My Soul (Regina Royale Records), but it is unquestionably the singer’s record. The opener, "That’s What We Call The Blues," benefits from Ronnie Earl’s sizzling guitar and the rock steady rhythm team of Jesse Williams (bass) and Lorne Entress (drums), but it swings most mightily from those dynamic vocal cords. Her take on Nina Simone’s "Do I Move You" is a knockout vocally and instrumentally. On Bobby Womack’s "Nothing You Can Do," she shares the mic with Boston’s Queen of the Blues, Tony Lynn Washington.

Dave Limina’s piano and Earl’s guitar are prominent on Lil Green’s sex blues classic "In The Dark." Diane lives up to her surname and there are chops galore from all involved. Bobby Gus is the guitarist on "I Love Your Lovin’ Ways," a medium tempo blues rocker. He splits guitar work pretty evenly with Earl. Blue’s original tunes stand solid next to the classics.

"Someday Soon" has a gospel-ish organ intro from Limina (“someday soon/all my cares will be washed away/someday soon/its gonna be a brighter day/I’m gonna see the sun come shining through/someday soon”). Her harp is throaty and full and the horns are tight. Her "I Can’t Shake You" again benefits from organ and Ronnie Earl’s guitar, setting the scene for the deep blues. She sings “I feel numb/and I feel tired/and I ache all over on the inside/I’m so lost/and I’m confused/everywhere I turn there’s memories of you/I can’t shake you.” Gorgeous blues.

On her rollicking "Man About Town" and balladic "Cry Daddy," her songwriting is equally impressive. Other standouts are her version of "Soulville," with great horns and B3, a very powerful take on "Today I Sing The Blues" that brings to mind the young Aretha Franklin, and "Day and Night," propelled by harp and bass with a metronomic drum.

More than just solid, this is a calling card for a woman who needs your ear for a bit. Outstanding.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Luther KeithLuther 'Badman" Keith has been a fixture on the Detroit blues scene for 20 years or so. The inner sleeve for his new effort, Bluesmen Are Kings (BMB Records), features a photo of Keith with Luther Allison at the Soup Kitchen in 1983 when he was an aspiring 16 year old guitar slinger. He’s been at it with gusto since. Surrounding himself with ace players, his guitar work is impressive throughout.

"Last Call For The Blues" speaks to his B.B. King influence. Beautiful lines accented by horns from Billy Furman (sax) and Mark Croft (trumpet). "Muddy Waters Blues" shows off his slide work. Furman blows harp, drummer Todd Glass keeps time with bassist Alex Lyon. He sings of having Willie Dixon on his mind, although this is pure Detroit blues. "Blue-B-Que" has more than a taste of James Brown’s band in the groove. The horns and rhythm nail it.

"Bluesman Looking For Love" is enhanced by the horns and Jim David’s excellent B3. Luther sings, “I put a ring on your finger, you put a ring in my nose/if we stay together our love will surely grow.” He sings of “The Detroit blues/coming down on me so strong”  on "Detroit Blues" while burning guitar. He’s definitely an ambassador for the Detroit sound. “I still love my city/I know one day it will rise/until that day comes/I ask myself why?”

"Omelet" is a fun song about breakfast with an attitude in a play on words (“I’m a lettin’ you go… I’m tired of your sausage and ain’t crazy about your jam”). David’s piano work is stellar as is Glass’s drumming. His driving guitar work on the title cut is superb. "Wow Oui Ole" (“The way she talks makes me go oui/the walk she walks makes me go ole/I get so excited every time she comes my way”) is a classic r&b rocker that begs for a dance floor.

"Mojo Son" is one of the standouts here. He sings, “My daddy was a mojo man/mama did voodoo” to the rhythmic accompaniment of Furman’s harmonica. More fine guitar shines here. Keith’s vocals are more shouted than sung, but they’re always strong.

The songwriting here is generally clever and the guitar playing is always impressive. Well done, Badman.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Classic Chicago BluesI've reviewed many other Wolf releases in past Blues Bytes issues, calling the Austrian label a tireless documentarian of the blues and especially Chicago artists. This non-exclusionary approach can result in some of their releases not always being up to par with the rest of their vast catalog, but this latest compilation, Classic Chicago Blues, rises to the top with outstanding previously unreleased live performances by Chicago stalwarts Bonnie Lee, Nick Holt and Earl Howell. This baker's dozen of gritty Chicago blues tunes was recorded on various tours by Magic Slim & the Teardrops from 1990 to 1996. It goes without saying that the Teardrops were one of the best backing groups of that era, especially with the exemplary John Primer on lead guitar, so of course the accompaniment behind the three singers is as good as it gets.

The five songs featuring the vocals of the woefully underappreciated Ms. Lee are the standouts here, all recorded in 1992 on her tour to Europe with the Teardrops. The CD kicks off with her signature tune, "I'm Good," featuring a fine introductory guitar solo by Primer before Lee comes in with her powerfully confident voice stating that she indeed is very good. Equally strong is her performance on the up-tempo blues shuffle, "Tryin' To Make A Livin'," which contains more exquisite blues guitar riffs from Primer. These two just work so well together that it makes you wanting to hear more collaborations from Lee and Primer.

Lee really puts extra oomph into her vocals on the Big Joe Turner classic, "Wee Baby Blues," invoking the spirit of the best blues shouter ever. The band increases the tempo on this number a bit, making it a little more chaotic than the original and giving Primer still more chances to show off his guitar chops. Lee follows that one with the mid-tempo but equally powerful number, "Rock Me Baby."

The last of Lee's contributions to this collection is an energetic cover of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do." It's easy to hear the audience getting enthusiastically involved as she powers out the familiar choruses of this blues classic. As on every cut here, Holt and Howell provide steady backing on bass and drums, and of course Primer comes in mid-tune with a killer guitar solo.

While Lee is the real star of this collection, that doesn't mean that the tunes featuring regular Teardrops members Holt and Howell are any less enjoyable. Holt doesn't have the same vocal qualities as his more famous brother Magic Slim, but he acquits himself well the five times he stepps up to the mic. Holt's vocal style is a bit one-dimensional with a powerful "marbles in the mouth" sound that works better on slow blues tunes, including his own composition "You Better Watch Yourself," Deadric Malone's "As The Years Go Passing By," McKinley Mitchell's "The Town I Live In," and the medley "Strange Things Happening / One Room Country Shack." Not as successful is his sometimes off-key singing on the mid-tempo "If It's Too Late."

Howell is a crude singer but with projection to his voice, and it especially works on two Jimmy Reed covers --- "Come On Baby, Help Me To Spend This Gold" and "Baby, Don't Say This No More." The former features a scintillating slide guitar solo from Primer that shows off still more of this fine guitarist's versatility. Rounding out Howell's contribution to this disc is an elongated slow blues, "I Cried Like A Baby."

Classic Chicago Blues is an apt title for this CD, as that name pretty much describes the music contained here. You'll come to this particular show for the Bonnie Lee and John Primer collaborations, but won't be disappointed with the Holt and Howell contributions.

--- Bill Mitchell


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