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December 2017

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Order these featured CDs today:

Gregg Allman

Johnny Rawls

James Armstrong

Benny Turner

Kim Wilson

Howlin At Greaseland

Hamilton Loomis

Al Basile

Original Blues Brothers

Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer

Alastair Greene

Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers

Lew Jetton

Webster Ave

Andy Frasco

Rob Lutes


Gregg Allman
It’s not often that a musician gets to write his final chapter, but Gregg Allman got the opportunity and made the most of it with Southern Blood (Rounder Records). When Allman and producer Don Was began working, Allman had already undergone liver transplant surgery, but the cancer had returned. The two carefully chose songs for the album and Allman invited his working band, plus a few musical associates, to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, which is where Allman’s brother, Duane got his start recording for Stax and where the Allman Brothers Band did their first recordings (as Hour Glass).

The song selection is nearly perfect. The blues are well represented with a dynamite cover of the Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon standard “I Love The Life I Live,” an obvious reference to the way Allman lived his own life, and a lovely reading of a soul classic which was crafted originally by Percy Sledge in Muscle Shoals. Allman’s performance on “Out of Left Field,” backed by wonderful McClary Sisters vocals and a terrific horn section, is one of his finest, dripping with soul and heart.

When Johnny Jenkins originally recorded “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats” in 1970 at Muscle Shoals, Allman was the only member of the Allman Brothers Band who didn’t participate, but he covers it here and does a fine job. Allman’s guitarist Scott Sharrard wrote the rowdy southern rocker “Love Like Kerosene,” which in Allman’s capable hands sounds like it would have been a perfect fit on an Allman Brothers set list, and on Lowell George’s “Willin’” is given an excellent treatment as well.

Near the beginning of the disc is a powerful set of cover songs that reflect strongly on Allman’s sense that his time is near. Tim Buckley’s somber “Once I Was,” followed by Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” where it seems Allman has accepted the reality completely. The reflective “Black Muddy River,” a latter-day Grateful Dead tune, and a tune that Allman was somewhat skeptical about recording, actually works really well.

As uniformly fine as this album is, the beginning and concluding songs are the most memorable. The only Gregg Allman original (co-written by Sharrard), “My Only True Friend,” ranks with his greatest compositions. If you can listen to Allman state, “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone,” and not get choked up, you have ice water in your veins (I got choked up typing it).

The closer is Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam.” Browne was an early songwriting partner of Allman’s, during his days spent on the West Coast. While this is one of Browne’s finest works (he sings background vocals here), written for a lost friend, it’s obvious that Allman is singing about his brother, Duane. Duane’s sudden and premature death forever affected his younger brother’s life, and Gregg got so emotional while singing it that he was unable to complete the last two lines.

Allman passed away in late May and one of the last things he did before his death was listen to the final masters of Southern Blood. With his death, music fans lost one of the finest voices in blues, soul, and rock, but with this fantastic closing statement, it’s clear that he went out on his own terms and he finished strong.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny RawlsOn Waiting For The Train (Catfood Records), Johnny Rawls looks at topics both physical and spiritual. Backed by one of the finest soul/blues bands currently practicing, The Rays, Rawls offers up a typically strong set of tunes, six originals and four covers, all steeped in a style that pays reverence to the soul music of yesterday, but also appeals to newer listeners just as much. Rawls has been doing this so long and so well that it’s easy to take him for granted, but one should never, ever do that.

Catfood Records chief (and Rays bass player) Bob Trenchard collaborates with Rawls on all of the originals, and the first three focus on the gospel side of the blues. The opener, “Rain Keeps Fallin’,” is a horn-driven rocker that finds Rawls imploring the rain to wash away his sins and release him from his tribulations, while the slick Memphis soul of “Las Vegas” (penned by Trenchard and James Armstrong) includes a powerful warning not to miss out on salvation. The title track is a slow ballad, but the train referred to is the train taking passengers to their eternal destination.

Rawls always includes a cover of a classic ’60s soul tune on his releases and this disc is no exception. Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love” (popularized by Wilson Pickett) gets a marvelous treatment with lovely background harmonies (Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston) and those wonderful Rays horns (Andy Roman – tenor and alto sax, Mike Middleton – trumpet, Nick Flood – baritone and tenor sax, Joel Chavarria – trombone) and a crisp guitar solo from Johnny McGhee.

“California Shake” moves things to the secular side with an irresistible funky rhythm (nice work from Trenchard on bass and drummer Richy Puga) and risqué subject matter. “Blackjack Was A Gambler” is a story song with vivid imagery and a moral, and Rawls does a masterful job on Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” with a measured and soulful vocal. Tyrone Davis’ “Turning Point” has been covered a multitude of times --- maybe too many times --- but Rawls’ version is one of the best that I’ve heard,. His brisk read on Syl Johnson’s classic Hi side “We Did It,” is even better.

With the closer, the subtle R&B love ballad “Stay With Me” (penned by Rawls, Trenchard, and Linda Francis), Waiting For The Train clocks in at just over 40 minutes. While this may be on the short side for some, that’s what the “Replay” button is for, and it’s safe to say that soul/blues fans will replaying Johnny Rawls’ latest many times.

--- Graham Clarke

James ArmstrongAfter an 11-year hiatus from recording in the early 2000s, James Armstrong is practically prolific these days, which is good news for blues fans. His latest release, Blues Been Good To Me is his third since 2011, all on Catfood Records. For his latest effort, Armstrong offers seven brand new songs, two covers, and a new version of an old favorite. Armstrong’s silky smooth vocals are as fine as ever, and his guitar skills are as sharp as they were prior to his 1995 injury, which caused permanent damage to his left hand. He’s added slide guitar to his repertoire in recent years and has become a splendid slide guitarist in the process.

Armstrong is one of the finest songwriters currently practicing in the blues and he’s at the top of his game on Blues Been Good To Me. The autobiographical title track kicks off the disc, with Armstrong reflecting on his travels, fans, and his legacy, while “Second Time Around” tells the tale of a young woman who’s hesitant about jumping into another romance (the “Secret Agent Man” guitar riff is pretty cool here, too).

“Early Grave” is an aching slow blues dealing with a woman stepping out on her man, and “Old Man In The Morning (Young Man At Night)” will certainly have middle-aged blues fans nodding in agreement.
“Change In The Weather” is another excellent somber slow ballad about heartbreak; few do these as well as James Armstrong. “Ain’t Another Love Song” is a cool ballad that finds the singer finally putting his love for a woman into words, and “Shot Gun Wedding” is a sober tale of a relationship “doomed from the start.” Armstrong also reprises the title track from his debut release in 1995, “Sleeping With A Stranger,” one of his most popular songs.

On his recent releases, Armstrong has been including unique interpretations of familiar tunes from other musical genres. This time around, he covers Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love,” transforming it into a funky soul blues, and the Marvin Gaye Motown classic, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” remaking it into a country-flavored romp. Both readings work really well.

Label mate Johnny Rawls serves as co-producer with Armstrong (with Jim Gaines as associate producer), and rhythm guitarist Johnny McGhee is also on board. Others contributors include Matt Murdick (keyboards), Andrew Blaze Thomas (drums), and Darryl Wright (bass), who’s worked with Mavis Staples. Brother John Kattke’s B3 is prominent throughout and the horn section (Bryan Fritz, Corey Fritz, and Kasimu Taylor) do a fine job as well.

To these ears, Blues Been Good To Me, is James Armstrong’s best release since he returned to the studio six years ago. It’s a perfect mix of blues and soul from one of the best.

--- Graham Clarke

Benny TurnerThough Benny Turner has been a musician for over 60 years, he worked in the background for many years, playing guitar or bass with various gospel groups (including a ground-breaking tenure with the Soul Stirrers), R&B singer Dee Clark, and various Chicago blues bands, recording with some of them in addition to releasing some of his own recordings. He also enjoyed a couple of stints with his brother, Freddie King.

After his brother’s death in 1976, Turner left music for a couple of years before rejoining Mighty Joe Young. After Young was forced to stop touring due to health reasons, Turner moved to New Orleans to serve as Marva Wright’s bandleader until she passed away in 2010. Turner has been very busy in recent years as a solo artist, having released several well-received albums, including 2016’s When She’s Gone. He recently released his autobiography, Survivor: The Benny Turner Story (co-written with Bill Dahl), which has also garnered great reviews.

Turner also recently released My Brother’s Blues (Nola Blues Records), an outstanding 11-song set of tunes made famous by his late brother. While all of these songs will be familiar to Freddie King fans, Turner puts his own distinctive touches on each track, notably a fine horn section that appears on several tracks and the swirling keyboards that give a couple of songs a New Orleans feel. Vocally, he sounds a bit like his brother, but his voice is a bit smoother and on the soulful side of the blues.

“I’m Tore Down” also includes co-lead vocals from Wright and the late Otis Clay from a long ago session, and guitarist/vocalist Carolyn Wonderland also appears on a pair of songs, contributing slide guitar on “Mojo Boogie” and singing background vocals (with Kathy Murray) on “Wee Baby Blues,” and Sacred Steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier add some wicked lap steel guitar to “I’m Ready.” Turner himself picks up lead guitar on “Wee Baby Blues” and “ See See Baby,” his crisp style sounding a lot like his brother’s playing.

Turner’s My Brother’s Blues is a warm and loving look at his big brother’s music. Even though it’s taken him awhile to receive the recognition he deserves as a blues man, Benny Turner is making up for lost time these days. Blues fans are advised to do the same thing in checking out his music. This is a great introduction to Benny Turner, and a great reminder of the powerful music that Freddie King left us.

--- Graham Clarke

Kim WilsonBlues and Boogie, Vol. 1 (Severn Records) was a true labor of love for Kim Wilson. The renowned singer/harmonica ace has been recording some of his favorite tunes over the past few years, working with an all-star cast of musicians, including guitarists Billy Flynn, Nathan James, Big John Atkinson, Bob Welsh, and Danny Michel, bass players Troy Sandow, Larry Taylor, and Kadar Roy, drummers Malachi Johnson, Marty Dodson, and the late Richard Innes, horn arranger Jonny Viau, and the late Barrelhouse Chuck on piano. The disc included a whopping 16 tracks, mostly covers that pay tribute to the artists and blues traditions that have shaped Wilson’s own career.

Wilson’s love for the music comes through with every note played and sung. The selections are tunes associated with Elmore James (“No Love In My Heart,” “Sho Nuff I Do”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (“Ninety-Nine”), Maceo Merriweather (“Worried Life Blues”), Magic Sam (“Look Whatcha Done”), John Lee Hooker (“Same Old Blues”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Mean Old Frisco”), Jimmy Rogers (“You’re The One”), Little Walter (“Teenage Beat” and “Blue and Lonesome”), Jimmy Reed (“You Upset My Mind”) and Willie Williamson (“From The Bottom”).

Wilson’s originals include the feisty instrumental “Bonus Boogie” that kicks off the disc, the down and dirty “Searched All Over,” where Wilson’s harp and vocal are nicely complemented by Flynn and Atkinson on guitar and Barrelhouse Chuck on the keys, “Learn To Treat Me Right,” which marries the sounds of Chess and Excello very effectively, and “Edgier,” another instrumental that sounds like a smooth fit in the Little Walter catalog.

Wilson’s readings on the older songs are reverential, but also respectfully add a few of his own touches, along with his bandmates, who stretch out occasionally on their own instruments. There’s nothing here that would have been out of place on these tunes had they been recorded 50 years ago.

Kim Wilson may have started out in the business paying tribute to his musical mentors many years ago, but he’s at the point now where his own music can be placed on the same pedestal as his predecessors. Blues and Boogie, Vol. 1 is must-listening for fans of vintage blues, who should also be thrilled that there are future volumes to look forward to.

--- Graham Clarke

Howlin At GreaselandHowlin’ At Greaseland (West Tone Records) is an impressive ten-track tribute to the great blues legend, Howlin’ Wolf. As one might surmise from the album title, this marvelous set was recorded in San José, California at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, rapidly becoming one of the go-to sites for high quality, award-winning blues albums over the past few years. Executive producer Stephanie Tice has assembled a formidable roster of talent all influenced by the music of the Wolf, including a couple who played with the blues icon during his long career.

Piano man Henry Gray appeared on numerous Wolf recordings during his 12-year stint with the band, as well as many other Chess Records classics. He leads the band in a stirring take on “Worried Life Blues” (with co-lead vocals from Aki Kumar) and “Little Red Rooster,” backed by Andersen. Tail Dragger began singing in the early ’70s under the watchful eye of the Wolf, who mentored Tail Dragger during the latter days of his career. Tail Dragger performs “I’m Leaving You” and “Don’t Trust No Woman,” plus he shares a couple of short stories about the Wolf.

Other singers appearing include Alabama Mike, who opens the festivities with a boisterous “Meet Me in the Bottom,” backed by Rick Estrin’s enthusiastic harp. Rising star John Blues Boyd takes the mic for a pair of tunes, “Smokestack Lightnin’,” “Riding In The Moonlight,” and “Spoonful” (backed by Estrin with Andersen and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin on guitar), and shares a story about seeing Wolf perform in the mid ’50s. Sax man Terry Hanck also shares a story about the Wolf, too, in addition to leading the band in “Howlin’ for My Darling,” and Lee Donald turns in a rowdy showing on “Forty Four.”

In addition to Andersen, Burgin, Kumar, and Estrin, several other Greaseland regulars, as usual, provide stellar support, including Alex Pettersen (drums), Robby Yamilow (bass), Lorenzo Farrell (piano), Derrick “D’Mar” Martin (drums), Jim Pugh (piano), Johnny Cat (guitar), Vance Ehlers (bass), June Core (drums), Patrick Rynn (bass), Chris James (guitar), Mike Phillips (bass), and Joe Kyle, Jr. (bass).

An excellent set of well-performed tunes from an exciting cast of musicians, Howlin’ At Greaseland is a wonderful, loving, and overdue tribute to one of the blues’ finest performers.

--- Graham Clarke

Hamilton LoomisWhile I have not heard a lot of Hamilton Loomis’ music, I have heard quite a bit about him over the years. A Galveston, Texas native who grew in a house with parents who listened to blues, rock, and soul music, Loomis became interested in music at an early age, learning to play drums, piano, guitar, and harmonica. A protégé of Bo Diddley, Loomis learned many lessons from the late Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and like Diddley, Loomis’ musical style encompasses not just the blues, but his other musical interests of R&B, funk, rock, and soul.

In 2011, I reviewed Loomis’ impressive Live In England set, so I was pleasantly surprised when Loomis’ newest release, Basics (Ham-Bone Records) arrived on my doorstep a few weeks back. The reason for the album title is pretty simple, the album is his most personal to date, focusing on direct, personal, even autobiographical lyrics with simple melodies and instrumentation. However, those who appreciate Loomis’ blend of blues, funk, rock, and soul will not be disappointed, as those components are still firmly in place.

On his latest, Loomis sings, plays guitar, bass, harmonica and keyboards, with backing from Armando Aussenac (drums/backing vocals), Fabian Hernandez (sax/backing vocals), Chris Eger (slide guitar/backing vocals), Bo Jordan Loomis (maracas), and Sabrina LaField (vocals/bass). The funky rocking opening track, “Sugar Baby,” is dedicated to Congenital Hyperinsulinism International, a group dedicated to fighting hyperinsulinism (Loomis’ 3-year-old son was diagnosed with the condition in 2015).

The funk is still on board for the mid-tempo “If I Would’ve,” where Loomis ponders what might have been if he’d taken a chance on a relationship that never happened, while “Candles and Wine” is a catchy, easy rocker with a touch of pop mixed in, and “Reason” follows that same vibe, following a sunny melody and cool summertime groove. “Ain’t What It Ain’t” is a sharp blues rocker that features some smoking slide guitar from Eger, and “Breaking Down” is a really strong blues ballad that allows Loomis to showcase his fine vocal talents.

“Looking Into A Dream” has a light, jazzy flair with Hernandez’s tasty work on saxophone, and on the touching “Getting So Big,” Loomis reflects on growing up and now watching his own kids grow up. “Cloudy Day” has a funky swagger with a punchy horn section, “Come and Get Me” blends blues, pop, and R&B seamlessly, and the driving “Love Can Do” rocks hard. The moving “Prayer” is directed at families raising children.

Loomis saves the best, and the most fun, for last. The closer, “Funky Little Brother,” is an 11-minute jam session teaming Loomis with some of his favorite Houston-area youngsters – guitarists Alex McKown, Zach Person, and Michael Bryan-Harris, along with Sarah Kimberly (keys/trumpet), Reagan Kimberly (drums), Austin Morris (guitar), and Daniel Holder (bass). James Brown and Sly Stone would be proud of this fierce funk workout.

Basics ain’t your Daddy’s blues record, but Hamilton Loomis’ knack for a catchy lyric, his incredible musicianship, and his genre-busting versatility definitely will appeal to a multitude of music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Al BasileAl Basile was Roomful of Blues’ first trumpet player when he joined the legendary jump blues band nearly 45 years ago. Over the past couple of decades, the singer/songwriter/cornetist has released over a dozen albums on his own Sweetspot Record label, and he’s explored several musical genres during that span, among them jump blues, urban blues, Texas and Memphis blues in his own imitable fashion. He’s a fine, highly original tunesmith, starting out as a writer and earning the first master’s degree in Creative Writing at Brown University.

Quiet Money is Basile’s latest release on Sweetspot, and like most of the others he’s joined by his former Roomful boss, Duke Robillard, who lends his stellar guitar and production skills to the project, along with several other Roomful alum: sax men Doug James and Rich Lataille, as well as Robillard’s current rhythm section (Mark Teixeira – drums, Brad Hallen – bass, Bruce Bears – piano), and trumpeter Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse.

Basile kicks off the proceedings with “Blues Got Blues,” a swinging “State of the Blues” that laments some of the current trends in the industry. “Simple Ain’t Easy” has strong ties with the Lowell Fulson variety of blues, a bit of Texas and California styles combined., as Basile notes that sometimes things get too complicated. “Did You Even Know,” an uptempo calling out to a habitual liar, is backed by those wonderful horns, which also feature prominently in “Wrong To Be Right,” which addressing taking a few losses to win out in the end.

The title track ponders why most of the money in the world ends up in the hands of a few people, and “Put Some Salt On It” is a West Coast-styled R&B/blues that will remind listeners of those classic double-entendre that were so prominent in the early days of the blues. The powerful “Line By Line” is a look at an ill-fated love affair from long ago from a modern, and tragic, point of view. “I Woulda Been Wrong” is a look at a lover who really wasn’t, and “True To Form” is a clever twist on the “Opposites Attract” theme.

Basile also addresses aging on a couple of tunes. On “Not Today,” he faces the fact that time is drawing close, but pleads for more, and the poignant “Who’s Gonna Close My Eyes” ends the disc on a somber note.

Roomful of Blues fans will dig Quiet Money because Al Basile explores much of the musical territory that the iconic troupe has mined from over their 50-year career, but Basile’s superlative songwriting and the excellent craftsmanship of these songs will the real draw, once the music pulls you in.

--- Graham Clarke

Original Blues BrothersI happened to be watching Saturday Night Live the night that the Blues Brothers made their big debut in the spring of 1978. This 14-year-old John Belushi fan thought they were the coolest thing ever, but that ten-minute or so skit quickly evolved into an entertainment juggernaut, spawning several albums, numerous TV appearances, and a pair of movies, in addition to steering a host of music fans (including this one) onto blues and soul music.

Nearly 40 years later, the Blues Brothers are still making music, at least the band. Belushi having departed this mortal coil in 1982. Guitarist Steve Cropper and sax man Lou Marini have assembled The Original Blues Brothers Band and released The Last Shade of Blue Before Black (Severn Records).

While Cropper and Marini are the lone “original” band members, they are joined by a formidable, and star-studded, line-up of musicians who take up the musical slack nicely, thank you. Veteran guitarist John Tropea, bassist Eric Udel, drummer Lee Finkelstein, keyboardists Leon Pendarvis and Rusty Cloud, a dynamite horn section featuring Steve Howard (trumpet), Larry Farrell (trombone), and vocalists Bobby Harden, Tommy McDonnell, and Rob Paparozzi (the latter two also play harmonica) successfully recapture the magic of the original line-up, along with a number of guest stars and returning alumni.

The 14-song disc features 11 covers of various blues and soul tunes, including the opener, a rousing “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” with Harden, McDonnell, and Paparozzi sharing vocals. The ensemble vocals also work well on the chestnut “I Got My Mojo Working,” which also includes actor Joe Morton (who appeared on Blues Brothers 2000) behind the mic.

McDonnell ably handles Delbert McClinton’s “Cherry Street” and shares lead vocals with another guest, soul legend Eddie Floyd, on Floyd’s tribute “Don’t Forget About James Brown.” Floyd sticks around long enough to cover his own “On A Saturday Night” (co-written by Cropper) from his Stax days.

Harden does a fine job on “Itch And Scratch,” done by Rufus Thomas back in the ’60s for Stax, but absolutely knocks “You Left The Water Running” (written by Dan Penn, immortalized by William Bell) out of the park. Paparozzi has a good time with the Fats Waller oldie “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and guest/founding member Paul Shaffer leads a funky run through James Brown’s “Sex Machine.”

A couple of other familiar voices show up as well. Joe Louis Walker sings lead on Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” (which also features a tasty guitar solo from another founding member, Matt “Guitar” Murphy), and Dr. John turns in a stylish reading of his own (co-written with Jessie Hill) “Qualified.” The originals include Paparozzi’s own “21st Century Baby,” Cloud’s “Blues In My Feet,” and the title track, which is written by and sung by Marini.

Other guests include former Blues Brothers Band members Tom Malone, David Spinozza, Birch Johnson, and Baron Raymonde., and the album is dedicated to late members Donald “Duck” Dunn, Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin, and bassist Udel, who tragically passed away in September.

As might be expected, the whole set is blues and soul played well and with tons of enthusiasm and will be a nice disc to spin at your next party. It’s the least that we blues fans can do for the band who steered so many of us to this great music.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellThe Texas-born acoustic guitarist Steve Howell has been enamored with country blues since, as a teenager in the mid ’60s, he first heard Mississippi John Hurt’s happy and gentle fingerpicked guitar work. Over time, he discovered other blues guitarists, such as Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, and others, later exploring jazz,pop, country, and rock artists of the times and combining those styles together into a style of country blues that sounds thoroughly modern and traditional at the same time.

Though Howell’s been playing and performing for many years, he’s only been recording since the mid 2000s. His sixth album, on the Out of the Past Music label, is A Hundred Years From Today. This set features Howell, along with longtime musical collaborator Jason Weinheimer (bass) working through a varied set of pre-war blues, folk, and jazz classics.

Howell opens with a lively read of “Lulu’s Back In Town,” the jazz standard popularized by Fats Waller in the mid ’30s, follows with the country blues “Kansas City Blues,” recorded by Jim Jackson in 1927, then shifts to Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Going Back To Florida.” There are also two songs from Hurt’s repertoire, beginning with a superb version of the murder ballad “Louis Collins” and following up with “Got The Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied.”

On the jazz side, the lovely title track was originally recorded in the mid ’30s by jazz singer/trombonist Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong first recorded “Basin Street Blues” in the late ’20s, and Howell and Weinheimer have a great time with the medley of “Limehouse Blues” and “After You’ve Gone.” From there, it’s back to the blues with Howell’s fun take on Bo Carter’s risqué “Who’s Been Here?” before the disc wraps up with a gorgeous cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s melancholy “Rocking Chair.”

Steve Howell’s albums are always a treat to hear because of his wonderful playing, his sincere vocal style, and his dedication to preserving, recreating, and revitalizing the country blues for a new generation of blues fans. A Hundred Years From Today is a great launching pad for those who enjoy this music.

--- Graham Clarke

Alastair GreeneGuitarist Alastair Greene has earned a spot among the current crop of revered blues rockers with his previous releases. Recently, he left his seven-year tenure as guitarist for rock legend Alan Parsons to pursue his solo career full-time and with his latest release, Dream Train (Rip Cat Records), he takes the plunge with both feet. Greene combines the best aspects of the blues, southern rock, jam band, and even a little bit of old school British rock in his musical vision. He wrote 12 or the 13 tracks for his new disc, which was produced by David Z (Buddy Guy, Gov’t Mule, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd).

The title cut gets the disc off to a flashy, fiery start with a distinct ’70s rocking vibe, followed by “Big Bad Wolf,” a fast-paced shuffle. “Nome Zayne” is a previously unreleased tune from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and it has that rough-edged boogie blues-rock feel that the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” perfected nearly a half century ago, while “Another Lie” is an intense blues ballad that features guest guitarist Walter Trout trading licks with Greene, and “Song For Rufus” is an excellent acoustic instrumental. “I’m The Taker” and “Demons Down” both follow the same cool 70’s rocker vibe as the title track, and “DareDevil” is a rugged shuffle that showcases Mike Finnigan (organ) and Dennis Gruenling (harmonica).

The funky instrumental “Grateful Swagger” finds guest Debbie Davies duking it out with Greene on guitar and allows the entire band a few moments in the spotlight, and Greene shows some impressive slide guitar chops on the North Mississippi-styled stomper “Rain Stomp.” The lovely instrumental “Iowa” adds a touch of jazz to the mix and there’s some nice interplay here between Greene and Finnigan. The disc actually closes on an explosive note with a pair of outstanding numbers, “Down To Memphis,” which teams Greene with Mike Zito with electrifying results, and “Lucky 13,” a smooth uptempo rocker.

While all the guest stars do a wonderful job, Greene’s backing crew (Jim Rankin – bass, and Austin Beede – drums) are a force of nature themselves, providing rock-solid backing throughout. Dream Train is a superlative blues rock album; there’s not a bad song in the bunch. Alastair Greene sounds like he will do just fine manning the driver’s seat, thank you very much.

--- Graham Clarke

Mindi AbairThe EastWest Sessions (Pretty Good For A Girl Records) is the second collaboration between Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers. Abair, a two-time Grammy nominated saxophonist, singer, songwriter, got her start in the jazz field, releasing several well-received solo albums. She was also the saxophonist on the TV series American Idol and has made multiple appearances on TV and motion pictures. After making a move toward the rock and soul field with her 2015 release, Wild Heart, Abair recruited Boneshakers founder/guitarist Randy Jacobs into her live band, and soon both bands joined forces, culminating in their first joint effort, LIVE in Seattle, in late 2015.

The new release is the group’s first studio effort. After 2 ½ years of touring with The Boneshakers (Jacobs – guitar, Sweet Pea Atkinson – vocals, Rodney Lee – keyboards, Derek Frank – bass, Third Richardson - drums), Abair enlisted Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith) to produce the set at the famed EastWest Studios in Hollywood. The album features eleven tracks of mostly originals, plus guest appearances from Bonamassa and rising star Fantastic Negrito.

Abair’s tough, scrappy vocal is a highlight on the robust opener, “Vinyl,” and she soars on saxophone, backed by Jacobs’ rock-edged fretwork on the boisterous instrumental “Not That Kind of Girl.” The muscular rock anthem “Play To Win” is next, and is followed by “Pretty Good For A Girl,” a slow blues jab at the largely male-based music world which features Bonamassa’s blistering guitar work.

Atkinson takes the mic for Sly Stone’s soulful ballad, “Let Me Hear It From You,” showing his vocal prowess is every bit as formidable as it was a quarter century ago when he served as singer for Was (Not Was), Bonnie Raitt, and Lyle Lovett. The band tears through “Live My Life,” a powerhouse track that alternates Abair’s smoldering sax and Jacob’s incendiary guitar between verses, then the gospel-flavored instrumental “Freedom,” before Abair deals passionate lead vocals on the midtempo life lesson, “I Had To Learn The Hard Way.”

The aforementioned Negrito sings lead on the meditative “She Don’t Cry No More,” but Abair’s sax steals the show on this track, and she really outdoes herself vocally and instrumentally on the intense “Done Me Wrong.” The disc concludes with the acoustic “I Love To Play The Saxophone,” a sweet tribute from Abair to her instrument of choice.

It’s always a thrill when artists step out of their comfort zone and try something different. Blues fans should be pleased that Mindi Abair opted to step out of her comfort zone with The Boneshakers. The EastWest Sessions prove that this pairing should have great long-term benefits for them. and for us fans as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Lew JettonLew Jetton & 61 South released a strong set of blues and southern-styled rock last year about this time (Rain) after an extended absence from the studio, and the album spent six months on the RMR Contemporary Blues Chart, finishing #36 for the year. Their follow-up, Palestine Blues (Coffee Street Records), while following closely behind its predecessor, is a bit of a change from its predecessor – a gripping, highly personal release that focuses on Jettson’s sometimes turbulent life, covering a ten-year span where the singer/guitarist battled drugs, alcohol, depression, joblessness, and a crisis of faith.

Opening with the ominous “Will I Go To Hell,” a rocker featuring Legendary Shack Shaker J.D. Wilkes’ torrid harmonica, Jetton goes into full blues-rock mode with “Oh My My,” before settling into the soulful R&B of the slower-paced “For The Pain,” which is highlighted by a splendid vocal. The mid-tempo rocker “Mexico” is a highlight, with Jetton lamenting the hard times that followed after his job moved south of the border, and “Sold Us Out” is a scathing rebuke of the Powers That Be.

The poignant “Drinking Again” is a powerful slow blues with Jetton laying down some T-Bone-esque guitar work over a smoky after-hours backdrop, and “Don’t Need No Devil” is a low-key blues track. The rugged and ominous “Christ Have Mercy” will remind listeners more than a little bit of an early ZZ Top track, while “Drama” another mid-tempo rocker, finds Jetton fed up and ready for the crises to end. The closer, “Bout Time,” is a cool shuffle and ends the disc on a positive note.

The band (Otis Walker – bass, Erik Eicholtz – drums, Wilkes – harmonica on two tracks) provides excellent support for Jetton, as on their previous release, which was quite different from Palestine Blues (named after the rural community where Jetton lives). While both releases are worthwhile, this one exceeds it’s predecessor due to the strong, personal nature of the songwriting and the gritty musical performances. Put this one on your “Must Buy” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny OskamJohnny Oskam is a Southern California singer/songwriter/guitarist who, like many other young blues artists, has not only been influenced by blues greats like Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but also rock artists from Hendrix and Zeppelin to Soundgarden and John Mayer. He uses this combination of influences to mold his own distinctive brand of blues. A standout vocalist and guitarist, he has attracted an equal amount of attention for his songwriting skills. He co-produced his recent sophomore effort, In My Shadow, with his brother Michael.

The powerful opener, “Badlands,” is a searing 21st century look at the old Crossroads story, and Oskam puts his guitar chops on full display right from the get-go. “Deep In My Bones,” the following track, ventures into SRV Texas shuffle mode, and “Turn The Key” reminded me a lot of one of those classic Bad Company tunes from the early 70’s. The harmony vocals on this track are standout and it builds from a sparse beginning to a thunderous peak and conclusion.

To these ears, the hypnotic “Hold Your Tongue” evokes the sounds of Mississippi Delta blues, with a modern touch, while “Waiting For The Rain” is a rock-edged pop tune with a ’60s “retro” feel. “Devil’s Comin’” brings to mind Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix, sort of a second cousin to “Voodoo Chile,” the original, not the “Slight Return.”

“Drag You Down” starts out with an urgent Santana-like “Soul Sacrifice rhythm, before jumping into a fierce ’90s rock style reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz, and “I Want You To Stay” ventures back toward that rock-pop direction with tight harmony vocals and catchy lyrics, a potential hit record in a perfect world. The closer, “Limbo Lane,” follows along the same line and wraps up the disc in excellent fashion.

In My Shadow is an outstanding release and shows that although Johnny Oskam’s musical influences are numerous, the blues is at the root of everything he does. This young man, only 25, could prove to be a serious influence himself in the future of the music with his triple threat talents.

--- Graham Clarke

Webster AveThe trio that comprises Webster Ave sports a set of pretty impressive resumés. David Webster (guitars/banjo/lead vocals) has served as an accompanist to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and worked in New York City as a writer and studio musician for Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, and others. Andrew Caturano (drums/percussion/vocals) performed on Broadway as part of Godspell and The Magic Show, also touring with ’70s pop star Samantha Sang, accompanying the likes of Diddley, Otis Rush, and Otis Blackwell, and serving as founding member of Howard Stern’s band, Pig Vomit. Tony Mercadante (bass/keys/vocals) was also a founding member of Pig Vomit and has also performed with Rush, Blackwell, Ace Frehley, and many others.

Those credential would indicate that the trio has played a wide variety of musical styles over their long careers, and that is certainly verified by the 14 original songs included on their debut release, Daylight. The opening track, “This Angry World,” has a southern rock feel with some tasty guitar work from Webster, while “Sing Me A Sad Line” sounds like good deep southern soul. “Ronnie O” is a reggae pop track (Webster has also worked with several reggae artists), and “Midnight Sun” has a jazz/pop layer that is reminiscent of Steely Dan, as does the title track, a groovy blues shuffle with airy Fagen/Becker vocal harmonies mixed in.

“Whenever” is a understated jazzy blues with clarinet accompaniment (courtesy of Joe Meo) and the pop rocker “Bad Thing” simmers nicely. “Never Tender Your Goodbyes” is a mellow country rock ballad and the topical “Ain’t That A Shame” is funky horn-driven R&B. The acoustic “To Be A Child” looks at a time when life was much less complicated, and the upbeat closer, “Just Don’t Need The Rain,” is an ideal send-off.

The trio gets a helping hand from a talented group that includes Meo (tenor sax/clarinet/horn arrangements), Jamie Finegan (trumpet), Benny Harrison and Matt Detroy (keyboards), and Lissie Newman (backing vocals). Webster Ave has a diverse brand of blues that combines jazz, pop, and country sensibilities at times. The combination works really well, which makes Daylight a release that will be enjoyed by fans of several musical genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Andy FrascoIf you’re not familiar with Andy Frasco & The U.N., a great place to get familiar would be the band’s recent CD/DVD from Ruf Records, Songs From The Road. Frasco got his start in the music business as a teenaged record label exec and while touring the U.S. with one of his acts, he fell in love with the road and decided he could do that himself, so he learned to sing and play piano. He assembled a band consisting of musicians from all over the world and they have basically toured the world for the past decade, dropping the occasional studio album in between, including their most successful release to date, 2016’s Happy Bastards.
The band is known for their relentless, energetic, slightly deranged live shows.Ten years of mostly nonstop touring tends to hone a band into the proverbial well-oiled machine. Their repertoire is a mix of rock, funk, soul, roots, and what the band calls “Party Blues,” occasionally in the same song. Songs From The Road is taken from a performance at an outdoor venue in Bamberg, Germany in front of a very receptive audience, and features 16 of the band’s songs on the CD, 15 on the DVD.

The band (Frasco - piano/vocals, Chris Lorentz – bass, Shawn Eckels – guitar/vocals, Andee Avila – drums/vocals, Ernie Chang – saxophone, Matt Owen – tuba, Jelmer Olsman – percussion, Neils Kant – trumpet, Arno Bakker – sousaphone/trombone, Rnes Ouburg – guitar/harp/vocals) is phenomenal and everyone gets an opportunity to solo frequently, even switching instruments from time to time, with some songs stretching well past the ten-minute mark. Thing is, you won’t notice or care because it’s a non-stop blast.

However, be forewarned that this is probably not a selection that you will want to play in front of the kiddos. This is definitely a “Mature Audiences” performance, but boy, it’s one that you won’t forget anytime soon and one that you’ll be playing after you send them off to bed. Frasco’s songs, some of the titles of which can’t really be named here, are wild, but definitely original, covering traditional blues themes with no filter attached. He obviously learned his lessons well because he’s a superb vocalist and keyboardists.

Good as the CD is by it’s own self, you really can’t appreciate the greatness of what this group does without seeing the DVD, which really gives insight into the band’s energy and enthusiasm. These guys obviously have a ball playing together, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a finer pilot for this runaway train than Andy Frasco. He bounces from one end of the stage to the other, on top of the speakers, out in the audience, with whom he keeps a running conversation throughout, even getting kids up on the stage to dance.

By the end of the performance, most listeners will be exhausted, though it seems like the band could have gone on even longer. I’m pretty sure the audience wouldn’t have minded one bit, and listeners will probably want to hit “replay” because they may not believe what they’ve just experienced. You don’t really listen to this set, you experience it. Andy Frasco & The U.N. and Songs From The Road is a non-stop party from start to finish.

--- Graham Clarke

Rob LutesCanadian singer/songwriter Rob Lutes recently released his seventh album, Walk in the Dark (Lucky Bear Records), a thoroughly enjoyable journey through the blues, folk, and Americana genres. Lutes wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 13 tracks on his new release, the lone cover being a dandy version of John Prine’s “Rocky Mountain Time,” which is a great fit in his repertoire because Lutes’ weathered vocal style bears a resemblance to Prine’s voice at times. Other times he has a hint of John Hiatt going on as well, but his voice is distinctively his own, and is a perfect match for his exceptional songwriting.

Standout tracks include the opener, “A Little Room,” a rhythmic folk-blues track that slowly builds, “There’s No Way to Tell You that Tonight,” a slow driving blues set at a James Cotton performance and is a tribute to the late harmonica master, and “Pumping Love,” which rocks like a long-lost Hiatt tune. The subdued “Whistling Past The Graveyard” is a song that every songwriter dreams of composing, and there’s even a nimble-fingered instrumental, “Spence,” that pays tribute to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence.

“Rabbit” is a fantastic mix of country and bluegrass, complete with fiddle, mandolin, and resonator guitar, while the title track mixes country and rock effectively, as does “Hardest Thing of All” and the jaunty “Believe In Something,” which should set toes to tapping. The bluesy closer, “Better Past,” is a clever bit of encouragement to look for better things in the future.

Joining Lutes in his latest endeavor is guitarist Rob MacDonald (electric, resophonic, and acoustic guitars), Mark Nelson (drums/percussion), Andrew Horton (bass), Bob Stagg (keyboards), Joe Grass (mandolin), Guy Belanger (harmonica), Josh Zubot (violin), Rob Fahie (bass), Josephine von Soukkonov and Ian Kelly (backing vocals).

Walk in the Dark is another fine set of blues, folk, and Americana from Rob Lutes, a talented artist who deserves to be heard by a larger audience.

--- Graham Clarke

RD OlsonR.D. Olson hails from Prescott, Arizona and has twice participated in the International Blues Challenge, and now has his first self-released album, Keep Walkin' Woman. As a vocalist, he's not great but is good enough for the material on the disc with a little bit of rasp to his voice, and his harmonica playing isn't featured as much as I would have expected.

The best cuts here are the ones that allow guitarist Darryl Porras (aka "Big Daddy D") and pianist Al Williams to turn it loose, such as on the uptempo blues shuffle "Sheila" and the slow blues "Petie Reed," the latter an orginal which Olson says was about a one-time model to whom he was once engaged. Williams also contributes solid sax solos to the funky, soulful title cut.

We finally get to hear a prolonged bit of Olson's harmonica playing on the Little Walter classic, "Up The Line," giving us a fine solo that makes us wish that he played the harp a little more on this album. Porras comes in with some of his best guitar licks followed by a killer piano solo from Williams, making "Up The Line" one the disc's best cut.

Porras opens the closing number, "Can't Lose What You Never Had," with intense slide guitar work, doing his best Muddy Waters imitation on a song original done by Mr. Morganfield himself, while Olson again gives us his strongest harp solo yet along with raw, primal vocals with plenty of echo.

For my money, this album takes off towards the end with a heavier blues focus on the last few cuts. For more info on R.D. Olson and how to order Keep Walkin' Woman, check out the website at www.rdolsonband.com.

--- Bill Mitchell



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