Blues Bytes

What's New

December 2016

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Matthew Skoller

Harpdog Brown

Harmonica Shah

Mitch Kashmar

Moreland and Arbuckle

Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore

Fabrizio Poggi

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

Dennis Gruenling

Little Mike

Blues Harp Women

Elam McKnight

Cee Cee James

Reggie Wayne Morris

Sari Schorr

Liz Mandeville

Hollly Hyatt and Jon Burden

Big Dave McLean

Teresa James

Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers

Levee Town

The Temprees

The Bob Lanza Blues Band

Gina Sicilia

Tami Neilson

Blind Lemon Peel

Peach and the Almost Blues Band

Joey Gilmore


Is the harmonica the official instrument of the blues? Whether you believe that to be true or not, there sure is a horn o’ plenty of impressive harpers making recordings this year.

Matthew SkollerMatthew Skoller is the player to watch. His Blues Immigrant album on Tongue ‘n Groove may be the harp album of the year for these ears. His acoustic work is compelling, as is his flat out attack. He is lyrically clever, as he shows on "The Devil Ain’t Got No Music" (that’s why he lives in hell) and "Tear Collector" (“I need someone to cry for me tonight….little girl stole my tears/nothing’s gonna be alright”). The band, particularly guitarists Giles Corey, Eddie Taylor, Jr. and Carlos Johnson, and Johnny Iguana on keys are up to the task of backing this dynamo.

On Travelin’ With the Blues (Dog House) Harpdog Brown surrounds himself with a hot band and guest stars like Charlie Musselwhite and Kid Anderson, adding frosting to his impressive blowing cake. He covers a variety of styles. His "Fine Little Girl Rag" and "Cloud Full of Rain" are old style, his version of "Bring It On Home" is dead on and "Hayward Boogie" is an instrumental work out that harkens back to classic blowers.

Harmonica ShahHarmonica Shah's If You Live to Get Old You Will Understand is the Detroit favorite’s sixth on Electro-Fi and eight overall. It may be his best. Shah is old school Detroit, which is a whole nuther hemisphere than Chicago. He’s not as cerebral as most harpers. He’s about raw emotions and the body. Lyrically he’s about real life in his house, on his block, in his city. There is a decided “sound” to Detroit blues and he’s got it wired. With guitarist Jack DeKeyzer, pianist Julian Fauth, bassist/co-producer Alec Fraser and drummer Bucky Berger, Shah has fashioned an instant classic.

Mitch Kashmar's West Coast Toast on Delta Groove showcases Kashmar as the best West Coast player/singer this side of William Clarke. Compact and expansive at the same time, he bridges styles and schools without losing his unique soulfulness. The instrumental "Makin’ Bacon" allows the band to stretch behind Mitch who offers one of the most impressive harp blows this fan has heard this year. "Alcohol Blues" is a lament that every self-respecting blues album needs and Mitch and the fellas do it proud.
See this month's Pick Hit for a full review of this fine disc.

Moreland and ArbuckleMoreland & Arbuckle moved up to the big label (Alligator) this year with their Promised Land or Bust. With Kendall Newby on powerhouse drums and Aaron Moreland playing guitars, including the cigarbox guitar which he popularized, harmonica player and vocalist Dustin Arbuckle has carved out a niche of his own. The trio is largely about volume and Arbuckle is more than up to the challenge. "Woman Down In Arkansas" has a Southern twinge, "Waco Avenue" is almost a ballad, and "Take Me With You (When You Go)" is a hard driving tune that is a crowd pleasing knock out.

Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore's House Party At Big Jon’s is a superb LP. Young Mr. Atkinson is a fantastic guitarist and singer – but this is about the harmonica player. Bob Corritore is the owner of the Rhythm Room in Phoenix and is on a first name basis with many of the amazing musicians who criss cross the country every night. He has an impressive collection of solo and duet albums to recommend him. This is one of the most impressive. Atkinson reminds of Hollywood Fats and Corritore is the perfect foil. On "She’s My Baby" Corritore’s solo is gorgeous and on the instrumental "El Centro" the players dance with each other to the listeners delight. The good news is that we can expect more recordings from Corritore.

Farbrizio Poggi and the Amazing Texas Blues Voices (Appaloosa), in addition to having one of the longest titles of the bunch, is a superb album by Fabrizio Poggi that does indeed showcase a number of Texans who love to sing --- Carolyn Wonderland, Ruthie Foster, Lavelle White, Mike Zito and others. Backing them all is Poggi, an inventive and playful player who gives plenty room to his partners while supporting and encouraging them. On "Forty Days and Forty Nights" he does his best James Cotton to Zito’s Muddy, and his work behind Ms. Lavell White is delightful on "Mississippi My Home." He stretches on "Wishin’ Well" and offers some tasty acoustic work behind Guy Forsyth on the closer "Run On."

Sugar RaySugar Ray & The Bluenotes are as steadfast as they come. This latest effort, Seeing Is Believing (Severn) is every bit as impressive as we’ve come to expect. Sugar Ray may be the best flat out blues vocalist since Jimmy Rushing, but he’s an equally adept harmonicat. "Keep On Sailing" is just Ray on harp and vocals in an extended intro and is one of the songs of the year. Mike Welch, Tony Geraci, Mudcat Ward and Neil Gouvin set the groove while Ray fans the harp. "Blind Date" is a rave up, "It Ain’t Funny" is more of the same, and "Not Me" is a gorgeous ballad on which the harp floats. What a great album!

Dennis Gruenling's Ready or Not on Vizztone is a romp. Stylistically, the erstwhile harper with Doug Deming (who is on the disc) is generally about swinging and upbeat rockers. Is that smoke coming from the mic? The low register work on "Little Sugar" is impressive, "If You Wanna Rock (You Gotta Have That Roll)" is a rockabilly rave up, and "Count Chromatic" is an instrumental that sounds a little spooky.

Little Mike usually records with his band the Tornadoes. How Long? (ELROB) is marked as just Mike and it’s a nice collection of originals and a few classic. Opening with a tribute to James Cotton on his instrumental "Cotton Mouth," he sets the pace for a fun ride. "Smokin’" is a tune about the bad habit that sees Mike just take off. His version of Bobby Timmons jazz classic, "Moanin’," points to the symbiotic relationship between harps and saxophones. "Slam Hammer" is an instrumental that lives up to its name, "Sam’s Blues" is a superb blues groove and "Tryin’ To Find My Baby" is classic Chicago.

Blues Harp WomenThe Blues Harp Women collection (Ruf) is a revelation. If you’d asked me before I heard this to list all the great female harp players, I’d have said Annie Raines and I’d have been done. She’s here. So is Big Mama Thornton on a truly fantastic "Downhome Shakedown." I’m thrilled to note, too, that Lynnann Hyde, from Kinzel-Hyde is here, doing a fine version of "32-20." Other highlights on this 100% highlight-ful collection are Paula Rangell, who opens the set with the appropriate "Harmonica Girl," on which she sets the bar for others to follow. Roxy Perry’s "Roadmaster" is a favorite --- great vocals, a killer horn section and, of course, harmonica blowing to match. Beth Kohnen blows a beautiful instrumental on her "Ain’t Easy," and "Stuck On You" from Jane Gillman duets her clever word play with acoustic guitar and her effective harp. Zola Moon takes it to a different dimension on grunge-like "Mechanical Beast." The liner notes call her “bombastic.” She’s all of that. The harp is rudimentary but fits the bill.

The second disc opens with Jenny Kerr’s "Cash Is King." She’s got a fine voice to match the harp and this medium tempo blues rocker shows yet another application for the harp. The aforementioned Annie Raines is on board on a take on Magic Sam’s "Lookin’ Good." Paul Rishell’s accompaniment is equally dazzling. Annie is one of the best out there. This instrumental is breathtaking. Marion Turner is part of a duo, as well. Her "He’s Gone," with Steve Plater on guitar as Salty Dog, is just a blast. The harp is fantastic.

Terry Leonino keeps the duos going with her partner in Magpie, Greg Artzner. Swinging at heart their "Meet Me Where They Play the Blues" is a treat. Dana Dixon’s "Crazy Maisie" features plenty of impressive harping, and Jill Fromewich and her guitar playing partner Eliza Lynn, as the Grit Pixies, sees her playing the full harp with great results on "Take the Lead." She bends and blows straight to superb effect. Montana-based Diana Redlin doesn’t play nearly enough on her "Never Leave Home," but when she does she’s a jaw-dropper.

No blues collection should be without a "Summertime." Christelle Berthon plays a chromatic version that is a heart-stopper. She’s classically trained and has never recorded before. Whew! Our loss. This is hypnotic. Big Nancy, out of New Jersey, performs a compelling "Bring It On Home To Me" and Handy-nominated Rhonda Rucker closes the set with an instrumental, "Rhonda Alla Blue."

There are 31 cuts on this double disc set. As is the case with their male counterparts influences range from country to Chicago to West Coast swing and the results are generally more than impressive. The only knock is that full personnel are not listed. There are some pretty impressive support players aiding the cause. All in all a great disc. It would make for a nice holiday present.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Elam McKnightI’ve been singing the praises of Elam McKnight for over a decade. His brand of blues incorporates the sounds of the Mississippi Delta and the Mississippi Hill Country, but since the beginning and ever-increasingly, the Tennessee-based singer/guitarist/songwriter adds other musical influences. Each of his four previous releases improved on the previous one, throwing listeners a few curves here and there and always making for compelling listening. McKnight’s fifth release, Radio (Big Black Hand Records), is no exception to the rule.

For this latest effort, McKnight has assembled one heck of a band, with Dudley Harris, a 45-year vet of the local juke joint scene on bass and guitar, and Eddie Phillips, a drummer of piledriving force, along with guest artists Donnie Apple (guitars/keyboards/producer), Bob Bogdal (harmonica), Bobby Houle (guitar), Michael Saint-Leon (guitar/engineer), Gary Forkum (drums), Paulie Simmons (drums), and Jim Gambino (keyboards).

The opening track, the hard rocking guitar-fest rave-up “I Feel Like Rocking” sets the bar pretty high, but McKnight moves easily to the midtempo “Broken Eye,” which mixes soul and gospel with the blues, then launches into “Radio,” the album’s first single. This is one of those songs that you feel like you already know, an excellent bit of craftsmanship that mixes rock, soul, and pop, just like when artists such as Bob Seger or Boz Scaggs did it in the ’70s. If there was any justice in the world, you’d be hearing this one on the radio daily.

“Momma Take Me” is a fiery blues rocker with a boatload of slide guitar fireworks, followed by “Well I’m Bad,” a powerful blues that brings to mind Hard Again-era Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter. The middle of the album moves toward the country blues and deep southern soul with four masterful tracks: the swampy “Gonna Find Me A Hole,” the mournful country blues “Hard Times They Is,” “Hold Me (Just A Little Bit Longer),” a soul/blues ballad which combines the best of Memphis and Nashville, and the amazing “So Weep The Sky,” a gospel blues about the topic of death that is sung with great emotion by Dudley Harris.

The hearty country blues “Love Me” picks up the pace a bit, but the roaring blues rocker “Night Wanderer” really soars. “Oh My Baby” is a smooth urban blues with cushy keyboards backing some sweet lead guitar. The album closes with “Let Me Be Your Sideman,” an old-school rock n’ roller, and a sharp topical blues, “Rich Man Get Richer (Poor Man Get the Jail),” done pre-war acoustic style.

No question that the blues is strong with this release, but there are also hints of soul and roots, rock and pop, country, and gospel. McKnight is savvy enough to mix all of these genres together in a totally original way. I really dig the direction that he’s going with his music….he’s taking the blues in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions, and it sounds so good that you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been done before. I’ve enjoyed all of Elam McKnight’s releases since his debut (Braid My Hair), but I have to say that Radio is his best.

--- Graham Clarke

Cee Cee JamesNo performer puts as much of themselves into their craft as Cee Cee James. Her songs are so personal and her performances so intense that you have to think that she leaves a little piece of her soul in every song that she writes. I’ve been listening to her albums for seven or eight years now and she never ceases to amaze me with how deep she can go within herself. James’ latest release is of a largely acoustic nature, but Stripped Down & Surrendered (FWG Records) is no less personal or intense.

James and her husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews composed a dozen songs that cover the bases of the human psyche, going from despair and desperation to hope and redemption to salvation. She calls the title track, which opens the disc, “the anthem for the second half of her life,” as she comes to terms with inner demons. Songs like “Hidden and Buried” and “The Edge is Where I Stopped” describe how far those struggles took her, and the inspriational strength of the following tracks, “He Shut The Demon Down” and “Glory Bound,” is uplifting.

“Love Done Left Home” is a somber tune about a relationship that’s reached its end, and “Cold Hard Gun” is a positively chilling requiem for a friend’s lost struggle with substance abuse, but James’ bares it all on the stunning “Thank You For Never Loving Me,” a scathing reproach to her father for his lack of love for her and her family.

The mood lifts considerably with the loping “Before 30 Suns,” a blues shuffle loaded with swagger and sass, and “You’re My Man,” a sweet and playful love letter from James to Andrews. “Miner Man’s Gold” is a poignant tribute to a fan and friend who recently passed away. The gentle closer, “So Grateful,” finds James giving thanks for overcoming the demons and redeeming her life.

Andrews’ guitar work is just amazing throughout the disc and the rest of the band (Dave Malony – drums/percussion, Kevin Sutton Andrews – lead/rhythm guitar, Jeffrey Morgan – keyboards, Terry Nelson – keyboards) is excellent, too. While the general ambiance of Stripped Down & Surrendered is, indeed, stripped down, there’s still plenty of fire and white-hot intensity in Cee Cee James’ vocals and delivery. This is an album that will reward anyone who listens, lifting them from a dark place to a brighter one.

--- Graham Clarke

Reggie Wayne MorrisIt’s been quite a while since Reggie Wayne Morris’ last release, so maybe a re-introduction is in order: The Baltimore-based blues guitarist/vocalist was raised on the blues and gospel, and learned guitar at an early age from family members. As a guitarist, he cites B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix as influences. He’s released two previous albums, the last one in the early 2000’s, but has remained active on the festival circuit, touring both the U.S. and Europe. His latest release, Don’t Bring Me Daylight (Blue Jay Sound), is a most impressive set.

Morris’ lead guitar does indeed bring to mind the guitar work of King and there are definite flashes of Hendrix mixed in. His vocal style is smooth and suited equally fine for blues or soul. He shares songwriting and production duties with Gerald Robinson, other than one track written by Ceophus Palmer, and is backed by a steady and reliable band (Chuck Fuerte and Ezell Jones – drums, Vinny Hunter, Pete Kanaras, Chris Sellman, and Ray Tilkens – bass, Mark Stevens and Bob Borderman – organ/piano).

Highlights are many and include the clever opener, “Son of a Blues Fan,” which features some nice piercing fret work, “I Used To Have a Woman,” a great old-school blues shuffle, the funky “Sign My Check,” and the cool title track. “Ball and Chain” moves the album a bit toward the soul side of the aisle and Morris does a fine job on vocals and adds some nice B.B.-esque guitar accompaniment. The latter half of the album continues to focus on the soul side of the blues with “She’s Gone,” “Meet Me,” and “Ooooo Weeee” in succession, though Morris adds some tasty guitar on each track. The closer is the gospel track “God Loves You,” a plea for love and unity that has an upbeat, almost Caribbean quality.

Don’t Bring Me Daylight has a wonderful old school feel to it, with plenty to offer both fans of contemporary blues and southern soul. Hopefully, Morris won’t go another 15 years between releases.

--- Graham Clarke

Sari SchoorHas an album ever been more appropriately titled than Sari Schorr’s A Force of Nature (Manhaton Records)? The big-voiced New Yorker is already established as a songwriter and a powerhouse live performer, but this stunning debut release should expand her musical horizons considerably. Legendary producer Mike Vernon caught a live performance by Schorr at the 2015 I.B.C. and basically came out of semi-retirement to produce this fabulous disc.

Schorr wrote nine of the twelve tracks, and they are uniformly fine. “Ain’t Got No Money,” the scorching opening track, is a jab at Wall Street, while “Aunt Hazel” is a sobering story of drug abuse (Aunt Hazel is slang for heroin), “Damn The Reason” is a powerful tale about domestic violence, and “Demolition Man” is about prostitution taken from the female perspective. The funky “Cat and Mouse,” “Oklahoma,” and “Kiss Me” are considerably lighter fare, while the poignant “Letting Go” was written about Vernon’s late wife, and the lovely and contemplative “Ordinary Life” closes the disc nicely.

Schorr covers three tunes and really makes them her own as well. Lead Belly’s “Black Betty” (familiar to most music fans from Ram Jam’s roaring ’70s remake) is outstanding, almost Zeppelinesque in its delivery with an understated intro transforming into a rugged blues rocker with torrid guitar work Innes Sibun, former guitarist for Robert Plant and currently serving the same role in Schorr’s band, The Engine Room. She also covers Walter Trout’s “Work No More,” and wisely enlists Trout’s services on his own tune.

The final entry in the cover department is Holland/Dozier/Holland’s “Stop In The Name Of Love,” and it’s totally unrecognizable from the late ’60s reading by the Supremes. If Diana Ross hears Schorr’s version, she may remove it from her set list for good. Sibun’s guitar work is another bonus on this track, and anywhere else on the album. His fretwork deserves to be heard.

A stunning debut release, A Force of Nature will doubtlessly adorn many end-of-year-best-of lists and pick up a few other awards in the process. Sari Schorr is a voice that blues fans will be hearing much more from in the future.

--- Graham Clarke

Little MikeAfter a 15-year hiatus from the music business, Little Mike Markowitz has been positively prolific over the few years, scoring with two fine studio releases with his longtime band, the Tornadoes, plus a live release from St. Augustine BLUZFEST, and a fine collaboration with Chicago singer Zora Young. Little Mike’s recent solo release, How Long? (ELROB Records), finds the blues man doubling on harmonica and piano, with contributions from a few Tornadoes alumni, on a dozen songs that combine several Markowitz originals with a few tasty covers.

There’s nothing fancy here, just old school blues played like they used to play them back in the day, and few do this brand of blues better than Little Mike. He dazzles on instrumental tracks like the rip-roaring opener “Cottonmouth,” a jazzy read of Bobby Timmon’s “Moanin,,” a hot version of Johnny Young’s “Slam Hammer,” and the slow cooker “Sam’s Blues.”

Acknowledged as a masterful instrumentalist, Little Mike’s vocal talents are often overlooked, but he’s one of the best at this style of blues. He’s no slouch in the songwriting department either, with tunes like “Smokin’,” about his adventures in trying to give up his bad habit, the soulful “Whatcha Gonna Do?,” the Windy City-fueled “Tryna’ Find My Baby,” and “Not What Mama Planned,” which mixes jazz, blues, and funk in equal measures.

The serene, acoustic “Sittin’ Here Baby,” is excellent, too. In addition, Little Mike covers J.B. Lenoir’s title track and Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy,” effectively showcasing his keyboard skills on both tracks. Assisting Little Mike on these tracks is a rock-solid band that includes Cam Robb and Dave Sweet on drums, Troy Nahumko and John Edelmann on guitar, Joe Fontenot on bass, Ken Stearns on bass and guitar, and Mitch Margold on Hammond B3.

Blues fans hungry for a taste of the vintage Chicago blues will find what they’re hungry for with Little Mike’s How Long?, a great set that puts a modern spin on the old classic style.

--- Graham Clarke

Liz MandevilleThe Stars Motel (Blue Kitty Music), the latest release from Liz Mandeville, has an interesting backstory, which spans three years and several great guitarists, all of whom happened to be passing through Chicago during that time. Oklahoma-based guitarist Scott Ellison and Italy’s Dario Lombardo came for gigs and had no lodging, so they stayed in Mandeville’s studio and, while they were there, they wrote and recorded three songs each with Mandeville. Later, guitarist Miami-based Rachelle Coba also crashed there for a few days and wrote and recorded three songs with Mandeville. With nine songs completed, Mandeville asked guitarist Minoru Maruyama, who worked on her 2014 release, Heart O’ Chicago, to co-author a few more songs with her, two of which appear on this release.

The 11 tracks run the gamut of blues styles. Ellison’s contributions include the amusing shuffle “Too Hot For Love,” the after-hours slow cooker “What Could Have Been,” and the swinging “What Do Blues Men Like.” Lombardo’s trio consists of the funky Windy City-styled “Blues Is My Boss,” “Reefer And A Glass Of Wine” (which features T-Bone-esque lead guitar from Doug Deming), and “Bad Blues Habit.” Coba adds the New Orleans-flavored “Everybody Knew But Me,” the swaggering “Try Me,” and the ominous “River Of Blood.” Maruyama’s two tracks (Mandeville saved the rest for a future album) are the soulful ballad “One Dance” and “Truth.”

A host of additional musicians join the festivities throughout, including bassists Darryl Wright, Matt Kohl, Matt Cartwright, Heather Tackett Faludo, and Jon Parris, drummers Robbie Armstrong and Andy Sutton, keyboardists Joan Gand, harmonica player Dizzy Bolinsky, percussionist Jim Godsey, and a couple of horn sections that include Steve Hart (tuba), Alex Leong (trombone), Jeannie Tanner (trumpet), Johnny Cotton (trombone), and Charlie Kimble (sax). Mandeville alternates between guitar, bass, washboard, and turns in her usual standout vocals.

The Stars Motel is a fine and entertaining set of tunes by a group of musicians who obviously had a ball working together.

--- Graham Clarke

Frank BangFrank Bang has finally made the album he’s always wanted to make. The former Buddy Guy sideman has primarily recorded blues rock with his band, The Secret Stash, prior to his latest. This time around, Bang and his band, the Cook County Kings, focus completely on the blues and nothing but the blues. The Blues Don’t Care (Blue Hoss Records) is nearly an hour of powerhouse blues just like his former boss likes to play ‘em.

Bang is a 25-year vet of the Chicago music scene. He’s in great company with the Cook County Kings, which include drummer Brian “B.J.” Jones, who’s worked with Junior Wells, James Cotton, Magic Slim, and Otis Rush, bassist Andre Howard, previously associated with Slim, Syl Johnson, Chico Banks, Lucky Peterson, and Lonnie Brooks, piano man Russ Green, an alumnus of Wells and Lurrie Bell’s bands, and harmonica player Russ Green, formerly with Bell and John Primer’s bands.

Bang decided that since most of his favorite blues albums were live, then that’s the path they would follow with The Blues Don’t Care. All ten tracks were recorded in one day, with nearly every song being a first take. Seven of the ten songs are covers, and Bang puts his own unique spin on them. They include Dan Johnston’s “The Blues Don’t Care” (recently covered by Bang’s former boss, Guy, on his Rhythm & Blues album with Gary Clark, Jr.). Bang’s version takes a more basic, down home approach and it works really well.

Other covers include slow-cooking versions of Robert Cray and Bruce Bromberg’s “The Dream” and Wells’ “Come On In This House,” “Possum In My Tree,” the classic Mosley/Johnson tune made popular by Little Milton and Magic Slim, a deliciously funk rock take on Ray LaMontagne’s “Repo Man,” Johnnie Taylor’s “Still Called The Blues,” done Windy City style, and the rousing closer, A.C. Reed’s “Can’t Go On This Way.”

Bang’s originals are standout as well. “Million Miles Away” is a midtempo shuffle with some nice harp work from Green, who’s a force throughout the disc. “Till The Day I Die” is a rock-edged blues, and the nearly eight-minute “Can’t Find My Way Home (Parts 1 & 2)” is a scorcher, with Bang flashing his slide guitar skills to a Hill Country beat.

I enjoyed Frank Bang’s 2013 release, the blues rocker Double Dare, but if he should decide to continue pursuing the straight blues option, like on The Blues Don’t Care, that would be perfectly fine with me. Blues fans need more albums like this one.

--- Graham Clarke

Holly HyattBased in British Columbia, Holly Hyatt and Jon Burden work as an acoustic duo or electric trio with drummer Marvin Walker and have played shows with artists like Harry Manx, David Gogo, Paul Reddick, Sonny Rhodes, Jeff Healey, Colin James, Jim Byrnes, Ruthie Foster, Leon Russell, and Rita Chiarelli. Their music combines the best qualities of traditional and modern blues, from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago.

Shufflin’ The Blues (Flood Plane Records) is the duo’s third collaboration, and it actually captures them in their electric trio format for the most part (three songs are acoustic), performing live at The Silverton Gallery in Silverton, B.C. This nine-song set consists of five originals penned by Hyatt and four well-chosen covers.

Opening with a gently swinging version of Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow,” the duo trade vocals and Burden takes an impressive guitar solo midway through. Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth” gets a nice, mellow treatment and eases into a smooth retro rocker, “Let’s Boogie,” with some nice crisp guitar work from Burden. “Lowdown Blues” is a fine mid-tempo blues, while the pair’s cover of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” allows Burden to show his formidable slide guitar chops.

“Get Your Own Man” is blues on the jazzy side, and the duo’s reading of Nick Gravenites’ “Left Handed Soul” is a cool blues with clever lyrics and a charming vocal delivery from Burden. “Black Crow” has a country blues feel with some nuanced picking and a sweet vocal from Hyatt, and “Slushy Blues,” the closer, is a funky shuffle that blends blues and jazz.

Hyatt’s versatile vocals and Burden’s guitar go together like peas and carrots, and her bass playing is standout as well. An album like Shufflin’ The Blues sneaks up on you with repeated listens……you find something else you like with each subsequent listen. This is an album that is both timeless and charming and is recommended to blues lovers.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Dave McLeanFor his latest album, Better the Devil You Know (Black Hen Music), Canadian blues legend Big Dave McLean ventured down to Nashville to Steve Dawson’s Henhouse Studio and enlisted the services of Dawson (producer/guitars/banjo/pedal steel/mandotar/dobro), Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Gary Craig (drums), John Dymond (bass), Fats Kaplin (fiddle/mandolin), and the winsome McCrary sisters (Ann and Regina, backing vocals). The end result was a marvelous set that encompasses traditional blues and gospel, while paying tribute to several blues masters.

The disc gets off to a great start with McLean’s “Life On The Road,” a track that has to be from personal experience, and is followed by “You Can’t Lose What You Never Had,” one of two Muddy Waters covers. On this one, McLean takes his time and lets the song percolate along with a Spann-like piano break from McKendree. The McCrary sisters kick off the next tune, a smashing cover of the Blind Willie Johnson classic, “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond,” which also features Kaplin on fiddle and McLean’s harmonica. Dawson contributes “Angeline,” a sad tune about Johnson and his wife and their struggles.

McLean’s “I Need You” is a fun, harp-driven country blues, and “Where The Music Comes From,” another original, pays homage to Mississippi, inspired by a visit to Clarksdale a few years ago with some ripping slide guitar. Parker Milsap’s “Old Time Religion” returns the album to the gospel theme with some inspired steel guitar and heavenly backing vocals from the McCrarys, and the theme continues with McLean’s “Swingin’ on Heaven’s Gate,” a countrified number (with Kaplin on mandolin) which was written after the death McLean’s father and close friend in 2000, and Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Deliver Me.”

A sparkling cover, “Deep Down in Florida,” is the second Muddy Waters tune, a Delta blues song punctuated by some crisp mandolin. Dawson’s “The Side of the Road” is an atmospheric tribute to the Bentonia blues man Skip James, and the introspective “Talk About a Revolution” was penned by McLean shortly after the terror attacks in Paris in a plea for peace. The album closer is a raw cover of Johnny Shines’ “Pet Rabbit,” which was recorded in a ’30s style recording booth at Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville.

A Canadian institution, Big Dave McLean should please blues fans from all over with this winning set of old school blues and gospel tunes.

--- Graham Clarke

Teresa JamesTeresa James’ ninth album with her band, The Rhythm Tramps, is Bonafide (Jesi-Lu Music) --- both by title and in quality. The Houston-born/L.A.-based singer/keyboardist offers 13 excellent tracks – 11 originals written or co-written by Rhythm Tramps bassist Terry Wilson (who also produced the disc) and two well-chosen covers that mine equally from the blues, soul, and country. She’s joined on this set by an impressive list of L.A. musicians – Wilson, Tony Braunagel, Mike Finnigan, Ron Dziubla, Billy Watts, etc.

Songwriter Wilson and singer James have assembled a strong set of original tunes, including the sassy title track, the funky “Spit It Out” and “Hollywood Way,” soul burners “The Power of Need” and “You Always Pick Me Up,” the gospel duet (James with co-writer Gregg Sutton) “My God Is Better Than Yours,” the roadhouse rocker “What Happens In Vegas,” the poppish “Funny Like That,” and the blues ballad “No Regrets.”

The two covers are effective, as well. James opens the disc with a terrific version of The Five Royales’ “I Like It Like That,” and proceeds to tear it up not only behind the mic but on the piano, too. The other cover ends the disc in perfect fashion, one of James’ most-requested tunes, an inspired reading of John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me.”

Listeners will admire Teresa James’ soulful and versatile vocals and her feisty delivery, and probably also wonder why she’s not a bigger deal on the blues scene. I know I have certainly wondered that since I first heard her several years ago. If there’s any justice in the world, Bonafide will resolve that question in a positive way.

--- Graham Clarke

Ray FullerCurrently serving as a headliner every Saturday night at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers prove that that select roster spot, and their band name, are well-deserved with their latest thundering release, Long Black Train (Azuretone Records). Fuller’s been playing guitar since he was eight years old and he has a high-energy style, which includes some powerhouse slide work. The Bluesrockers (Myke Rock – bass, Darrell Jumper – drums, Doc Malone – harmonica) are a tight trio that move easily from high-energy blues to sweaty southern rock to greasy funk.

Fuller wrote all 14 of the tracks and if you dig straight-forward, hard-driving rocking blues, this disc has what you’re hankering for. With titles like “Burn Me Up,” “Voodoo Mama,” “Somethin’ Shakin’,” “Hip Shakin’ Mama,” “Let’s Get Dirty,” and “Evil On Your Mind,” you have a good idea of what to expect, but this is a set of solid tunes. Fuller is an engaging vocalist and has guitar chops to burn, particularly on slide.

“Cold Day In Hell” and “Whiskey Drinking Woman” do slow down the pace a bit, with more of a downhome style and some fine harp from Malone, and the title track rocks with a vengeance. “Louisiana Woman” and “New Tattoo” are southern rock at its finest, “Pipeline Blues” plays like an electrified version of an old ’30s blues, and the closer “You’ve Got the Blues” is a hard-driving rocker.

Long Black Train is an impressive set of modern electric blues with solid songwriting, savvy musicianship, and sizzling guitar work. Any blues fans who like the modern blues with a rock edge will be glad to have Ray Fuller’s latest in their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Levee TownLevee Town remains one of Kansas City’s premier blues bands and one listen to their sixth, and best, album to date should verify that they’re pretty high in the standings well beyond their home city. Takin’ & Givin’ finds the trio (Brandon Hudspeth – vocals/guitar, Jacque Garoutte – vocals/bass/harmonica/slide guitar, Adam Hagerman – drums/percussion/Jew’s Harp) covering a broad base of blues styles from their home base in K.C. to Texas to Chicago to the Mississippi Delta and beyond.

The 13 originals are a great set of standout tracks, mostly written by Hudspeth and Garoutte, include the title track, a bluesy shuffle that kicks off the disc, the funky “High Flyin’ Mama,” which showcases some tasty string bending from Hudspeth, the easygoing “Kansas City Women,” the swinging “Mr. Jameson,” “Walkin’ Down The Road” and “Every Night and Every Day” are a pair of dandy downhome blues. The latter is one of two tracks with vocals from K.C.-area vocalist Jaisson Taylor, and the hard-rocking boogie tunes “You’re So Hip” and “Letter To My Baby.”

“Charlie Brown” is a Delta-flavored shuffle with Garoutte on slide guitar and guest Annie P. Walser on piano, and “I’m Gone” has a loping, countrified flair. Taylor returns to the mic for the slow and soulful “Sunday Afternoon,” which also includes harmonica from Jimmy Meade, B3 from Chris Hazelton, and inspired fretwork from Hudspeth. “Do Si Do” finds the band venturing into almost psychedelic territory with very satisfying results, and the jazzy instrumental closer “El Grape” wraps things up nicely.

The album’s lone cover is a wonderful reading of the unsung Oklahoma guitarist Ace Moreland’s “I’m A Damn Good Time,” and it’s a perfect mix of blues and country, a combination of which the late Mr. Moreland would have surely approved.

Takin’ & Givin’ is an inspired and exciting offering from Levee Town. Their longtime fans should be used to releases like this from them by now, while newcomers will find a whole lot to enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

The TempreesThe Temprees got their musical start in mid ’60s Memphis for Stax Records. Originally known as The Lovemen, the group consisted of lead singer Jasper “Jabbo” Phillips, Harold “Scotty” Scott, Deljuan “Del” Calvin, along with Larry Dodson, who later became lead singer of The Bar-Kays. They recorded three albums for Stax (on the label’s We Produce subsidiary) and later signed with Epic Records after Stax folded. They are perhaps best known for their first-rate cover of the soul standard “Dedicated to the One I Love” and their own “Love Maze” in the early ’70s.

The group remained active until around 2001, when Phillips passed away, but Scott and Calvin have recently reunited, along with new member Walter “Bo” Washington, to release a brand new album, From The Heart (Point 3 Records). This fine effort successfully recaptures the golden era in which the group were in their heyday with ten new tracks written by Calvin and producer Angelo Earl, plus a sparkling cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire standard “Reasons.”

Let me just say that if you enjoyed listening to old school soul and R&B, circa mid ’70s, you really need this CD. This music is alive and well in the hands of The Temprees. “From the Heart” is the opening track and it’s basically a nod to their longtime fans and all their supporters over the years. “We Do Music” is a music lesson that recounts the history of Stax and Memphis, calling out some of the familiar names associated with the label --- Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Rufus and Carla Thomas, and The Bar-Kays.

“Keep It Real” promotes love and harmony via better communication, and “Love Again” and “Say Goodbye” are a dandy pair a slow burner that showcase those wonderful vocal harmonies. The group thrives on more uptempo numbers, too, like “Half Empty, Half Full,” “Baby Da Da,” “She’s Magic,” and “Paparazzi,” which adds funk and hip-hop to the mix, and the midtempo closer “Live Your Life” cautions listeners to make the most of the time that they have.

The Temprees haven’t lost much, if anything, off their fastball, still offering up those exquisite three-part harmonies in a variety of settings, in both vintage and modern musical settings. From The Heart is a great album for those who loved classic soul and R&B like they used to do it back in the day.

--- Graham Clarke

Bob LanzaThe Bob Lanza Blues Band’s fourth release, Time to Let Go (Connor Ray Music), is his best to date, an 11-song set of killer blues rockers featuring Lanza’s always-exciting guitar work and his rock-solid band (Sandy Joren – bass, Vin Mott – drums, harp, Randy Wall and Arne Wendt – keyboards, Steve Krase and Don Erdman- harp) plus the Cranberry Lake Horns and backing vocals from The Robernaires.
Lanza’s original tunes are always compelling and the five on this release are no exception. The title track is particularly moving, written after the passing of Lanza’s mother and brother, while “When The Sun Comes Up” is a crisp blues rocker. “You’re Not In Texas” is an entertaining shuffle, and “Johnny Smith” is a fiery rock n’ roller like they used to do ‘em. “Rush’nThe Blues” is a fine instrumental tribute to Otis Rush.

One of the highlights of Lanza’s albums is the unique and imaginative way that he handles cover tunes. On Time to Let Go, he capably handles tunes associated with Hank Williams (a rip-roaring horn-driven “Mind Your Own Business”), Muddy Waters (“Go No Further” and “Walkin’ Thru the Park”), Ronnie Earl (a stirring “Follow Your Heart”), Percy Mayfield (the soulful “Love Me or Leave Me”), and the standard “Your Turn To Cry.”

Lanza is known for his mad guitar skills, but he also does a fine job behind the mic, and the band provides outstanding support. Time to Let Go is another winner from this top notch New Jersey ensemble.

--- Graham Clarke

Tami NeilsonTami Neilson was part of the Canadian band The Neilson Family, who toured across Canada for years opening for numerous country music bands. She is best known for her 2014 album, Dynamite!, which was considered by many music critics to be one of the best country albums of that year. She began recording her follow-up, Don’t Be Afraid (Neilson Records), but stopped when her father, Ron Neilson, unexpectedly passed away in February of 2015. Picking up the pieces after the grieving process, Neilson was able to finish the project, which is an incredibly personal and heartfelt blend of soul, blues, and country music.

Neilson’s vocals are just amazing in their versatility and range. She’s as comfortable singing country tracks like “Only Tears,” the smoldering “If Love Were Enough,” “Lonely” (an awesome duet with Marlon Williams), and “Heavy Heart,” as she is tackling the swinging blues of “So Far Away,” or the deep soulful gospel of “Bury My Body,” the old time rocker “Laugh Laugh Laugh,” the Latin-flavored “Loco Mama,” or “Holy Moses,” the rockabilly rave-up and first single.

The tender title track opens the disc. It was the last song written by her father, while he was in the hospital, and Neilson’s delivery is somber yet still powerful , probably the best performance on an album loaded with great singing. “The First Man” is Neilson and her brother Jay’s moving tribute to their father, and if it doesn’t put a lump in your throat or tears to your eyes, then you have no heart whatsoever. A short demo of Neilson’s dad singing part of the title track from his hospital bed closes the disc out.

I nearly forgot to mention the backing musicians, who add so much to this already great album. Delaney Davidson produces and plays guitars on the disc and he’s joined by Joe McCallum (drums), Ben Woolley (bass), Dave Khan (guitars/strings), and Red McKelvie on pedal steel guitar.

Don’t Be Afraid may be classified as a country album, but it’s so much more than that. The blues permeates through every song and this rich, nearly perfect album will cross genres to appeal to any fan of soul, blues, or roots music and deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Gina SiciliaGina Sicilia has been wowing audiences since her auspicious 2007 debut release, Allow Me To Confess. A supremely gifted vocalist, Sicilia is every bit as formidable as a songwriter. Both of those qualities are readily available on her sixth and latest release, the EP Sunset Avenue (BlueElan Records). Although brief in duration (around 17 minutes), Sicilia packs quite a punch on the disc’s five tracks (four originals, plus one inspired cover of the Exciters’ 60’s smash “Tell Him”).

Sicilia’s originals include “Abandoned,” which can best be described as a soulful country blues. Sicilia’s tortured vocals are very powerful here. “Never Gonna End” passionately confers the current divided state of affairs on the world stage, and effectively conveys her concerns without being preachy. ”I Cried” and the smashing closer, “They Never Pay Me,” both show why she’s regarded as one of the finest vocalists currently practicing in the blues field.

Lending superlative support are a great set of backing musicians, including producer/guitarist Glenn Barratt, keyboardists Walter Runge and Joel Bryant, guitarist Ron Jennings, bassist Ken Pendergast, drummer Scott Key, fiddler Gary Oleyar, and backing vocalist Charlene Holloway.

Gina Sicilia continues to amaze and impress with her extensive talents as a singer and songwriter. Sunset Avenue will leave her fans and any new listeners hungry for more.

--- Graham Clarke

Thomas ForstIn 2008, Thomas Forst was a Regional VP for Cox Communication Group, at the peak of his executive career in TV advertising. He and his wife had just finished paying the last college tuition bill of their youngest child. At that point, he quit his regular job to pursue a full time music career. Now dubbed Tom “The Suit” Forst (for his habit of wearing a suit on stage), the guitarist has played hundreds of shows and recorded a couple of albums, one with the NYC blues trio Suit Ty Thirrsty and one with the Jason Gissner Band.

Now Forst is releasing his solo debut, On Fire (Factory Underground Records), which consists of 11 tracks, eight written by Forst or co-written with his late friend Gary Youell. Their tunes cover familiar blues topics, such as the cautionary tale, “The Wolf’s At The Door,” which opens the disc, and “Play Like The King” which decries those muscle-headed guitarist who are all speed and flash, but with no soul. “Going Home” is a sharp country blues, “She Was Right” is a tight and funky blues rocker, and “Still On The Run” is a potent shuffle.

Forst takes a clever lyrical approach on some of his originals, such as the wry “Unfaithfully Yours” and the soulful “Consolation Man,” about a substitute lover who’s only a phone call away, and Youell penned “Women of the World,” describing the increasing role of women in the affairs of the world. Forst also offers up three choice covers --- a scorching reading of Joe Walsh’s “Walk Away,” a hard rocking take on the Howlin’ Wolf standard, “Killing Floor,” and a jazzy reworking of the Marvin Gaye classic “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Forst’s guitar work is impressive and he’s a strong and capable vocalist in the variety of styles presented here. He receives excellent support from Paul Nelson (slide guitar on “Still On The Run”), Grace Kelly (sax), Mike DiMeo (keys), Chris Redden (percussion), Jeff Ganz (bass), Jessica Klee (guitar on “Women of the World”), and backing vocals from Hollis Long, Tiffany and Tiffany T’zelle.

On Fire is a superb showcase for Tom “The Suit” Forst’s considerable skills as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, and should definitely satisfy blues rock fans. Stay tuned for more good things to come from this talented artist.

--- Graham Clarke

Blind Lemon PeelThe Blind Lemon Peel All-Stars are an interesting blues ensemble based in L.A. In addition to having one of the coolest blues band names ever, this assembly of musical talent really kicks butt in a variety of ways. They can get low down and funky, they can get low down and dirty, and they can just get low down playing urban or country blues. The band’s latest project, Don’t Tear My Clothes, is a set of the most original, unique, even quirky blues that you’ve ever heard or danced to.

Fronted by charismatic lead vocalist Blind Lemon Peel (a.k.a. David Hale), the band really cooks on this 10-song set of mostly originals, most written with tongue firmly set in cheek. The midtempo R&B opener “Wear What I Please” has a touch of New Orleans thanks to a sweet piano break, while a sharp cover of “My Dog,” familiar to Elvin Bishop fans, is pure fun. “No Time Off (For Good Behavior)” is a slow blues about that lover that just about every man wants until they actually get her, and “I’m So Horny (The Crack of Dawn Ain’t Safe)” may be an old line, but it’s an irresistible country-styled rocker in the hands of these guys.

The title track is a standout slow burner with excellent guitar work from Steve Burgh, while “Shake Your Love Thing” is a greasy, funky shuffle that will get listeners out of their chairs. “Can’t Get Up (Offa That Much Love)” would have been a comfortable fit on the ’70s R&B charts with the cushy keyboards from Diamond and the sweet backing vocals. The humorous swinging blues “Marry My Money Again” leads into the nine-minute Delta-flavored slide guitar fest “Boogie Man of Love,” with some nice interplay between Hale, Burgh, harmonica player Mark Granville.

The closer is a horn-driven (courtesy of the Uptown Horns) R&B middle finger to any detractors, “!!!! Everybody,” which ends things on an entertaining note. It’s easy to get caught up in the sometimes offbeat and idiosyncratic of the songs here, but the Blind Lemon Peel All-Stars most definitely know their way around the blues. Don’t Tear My Clothes is an amusing and enjoyable set of blues that is guaranteed to please.

--- Graham Clarke

PeachEarlier this year, singer/guitarist Peach Reasoner traveled to Denmark to perform with her band at one of her favorite venues, the Café Bartof. Someone had the inspired idea to record the performance for a live album, so the result is Peach & the Almost Blues Band’s A Night in Copenhagen (Magic Music). Joined by Ken Stange (Joe Cocker, Roger Miller, Jose Feliciano), who plays keyboards and harmonica, the band played a warm and intimate set that consists of one original tune by Reasoner and seven far-ranging covers.

Reasoner is a talented vocalist and a formidable guitarist, and her band (Michael Engman Rønnow – guitar/backing vocals, Helge Solberg – bass/backing vocals, Niclas Campagnol – drums) provides excellent support. The eight-song set includes a cozy reading of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Stayin’ Here With You,” a smooth “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” (associated with B.B. King), the blues standard “Little By Little,” Harvey Scales’ 60’s R&B hit “Love-Itis,” Jodi Siegel and Danny Timms’ “Come Up And See Me Sometime,” and a spirited take on Frankie Miller’s “Ain’t Got No Money.” The lone original, written by Peach, is the ballad “Tell Me You Love Me,” which shows her to be a fine composer.

A Night in Copenhagen is a superb release which captures Peach & the Almost Blues Band in peak form in a comfortable setting in front of an obviously appreciative crowd. Ms. Reasoner is a compelling vocalist and guitarist and hopefully, we will hear more from her soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Joey GilmoreEver heard of Joey Gilmore? I'm sure that some of you are shaking your heads, because the truth is that this cat deserves to be better known. The latest from The Joey Gilmore Band, Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records), is a prime example of the man's high quality southern soulful blues. Gilmore's guitar work alone is enough to put him on the map, but his rich, gravelly vocals also suit his material well. In addition, he brings along for the ride a couple of guest vocalists --- Edlene Hart, Domino Johnson ---  to make this an album worth finding.

Opening the disc is a solid mid-tempo blues, "Man Of My Word," with Sonny Boy Williams' organ accompaniment laying down a foundation for Gilmore. This one gets stronger at the finish line, building up to a bluesy crescendo in the last 30 seconds. It's a strong segue into the hot guitar solo launching "Can't Kill Nothin'," an up-tempo blues shuffle written by William Bell and given a solid soulful feel by the horn work of Yoel Hyman.

Rockin' Jake guests on harmonica, nicely accenting Gilmore's expressive vocals on "Brownskin Woman." That leads into one of my favorite cuts on the album, a Lou Pride cover, "Livin' A Lie," with Johnson taking over with his smooth, silky voice. Johnson also gets to show off his vocal range on the slow blues "This Time I'm Gone For Good."

Ms. Hart is featured on two numbers, the first being the Aretha Franklin classic, "Chain of Fools," which also wraps in portions of the soul classic "See Saw." Hart and Gilmore later team up with call-and-response vocals on the closing number, a cover of "Night Time Is The Right Time" --- the best version I've heard since the late Nappy Brown was doing it as part of his live shows.

Don't let Joey Gilmore be a secret any longer. Respect The Blues is one worth finding, as are the other half dozen or so releases available from this Florida-based dude.

--- Bill Mitchell

Here come those Wolf Records guys again, attempting to release every song possible from every legendary blues artist from the past. This time they're focused on the iconic singer/guitarist Leadbelly, with Good Morning Blues, featuring what they say are "his best 24 songs," covering the period from 1935-1944. The back album cover also mentions "improved sound quality," and while some of the songs still sound a bit scratchy, the sound quality is better than on many other recordings from this period.

If you're at all familiar with Leadbelly, then you'll already know many of the classic songs here, all of which are part of American folklore. Included are "Midnight Special," "Rock Island Line," "Easy Rider," "On a Monday," "The Bourgeois Blues," and, of course, "(Good Night) Irene."

Albums like this are essential if you are trying to keep a complete blues library. It's not something you're going to throw on for your next dinner party, but you'll want to have it around when you occasionally get the urge to hear one of the classics of the genre.

--- Bill Mitchell



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