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December 2018

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Order these featured CDs today:

Bob Margolin

Josh Smith

Eden Brent

Erin Harpe

Barbara Blue

Scott Sharrard

Frank Bey

Dennis Jones Band

Brigitte Purdy

Hadden Sayers - Dopamine Machine

Hadden Sayers - Acoustic Dopamine

Alastair Greene

Damon Fowler

Gina Sicilia

Vanja Sky

Jeremiah Johnson

Lawrence Lebo

Lady A

Shari Puorto

Keith Stone

Michelle D'Amour

Johnny and the Headhunters

Karen Lawrence



Bob Margolin

Bob Margolin
has established his place as one of the most prolific disciples of the old school type of blues through countless recordings and his support of younger artists. From his early years with the Muddy Waters Band through the last 40-plus years, Margolin has respectfully eased into the role of treasured blues royalty.

While he's been preserving the early Chicago  sound and idownhome blues, Margolin has never been a slave to that side of the blues. He doesn't hesitate to work a rock 'n' roll classic or a soulful Motown tune into the repertoire, giving each song his own unique twist. We hear more of that diversity on Margolin's latest self-titled CD on Vizztone.

Calling the disc Bob Margolin is so appropriate because Margolin does everything on the album's 15 cuts --- he sang every note, played every instrumental part, wrote the liner notes, produced the CD, and did the studio mix. (I don't think he designed the album cover, pressed the discs or inserted each one into its slot .... but, then again, you never know!). All 15 songs on this CD are great, six original numbers and nine loving tributes to blues artists who have inspired him, and he carefully documents the background of each tune in the liner notes.

Opening the disc is "One More Day," a creative topical song about the ominous news we face constantly and the pressures of our day-to-day life, telling us how he just wants one more day. Good guitar with foot-tapping keeping the beat. Up next is a stripped down version of The Band's "I Shall Be Released," with a dirge-like tempo that conveys the emotion of the song and the pain of the man being condemned for a crime he didn't commit.

"Detroit" is Margolin's instrumental tribute to the sounds of Motown, with his wonderful slide guitar playing leading a steady bass beat. More exquisite slide can be heard on the original number, "Best I Can Do," with Margolin sharing with the listener his method for coping with the troubles of the world today. ".... Is there still hope for you and me? ...," he asks while making his guitar sound pretty angry.

"Blues Before Sunrise" is one of my favorites with Margolin packing a lot of emotion into his vocals to go with his tasteful guitar picking on this old Leroy Carr song that was a favorite of Muddy Waters. Next we hear Margolin playing the slide on the acoustic guitar on the Johnny Winter song, "Dallas." The Leroy Carr classic, "How Long, How Long Blues," gets the slow blues treatment from Margolin until he counters the tempo with more energetic jazzy guitar chords.

"Peace of Mind" is a Snooky Pryor number that gives Margolin a chance to stretch out on a guitar solo, giving this mid-tempo shuffle a boost of adrenaline as he sings, "If you don't like my peaches, please don't shake my tree." Picking up the tempo on the Muddy song, "She's So Pretty," Margolin adds a rhythmic percussion beat leading the way before ending the song abruptly, just like Mr. Waters did on the original just to throw off the dancers during his live gigs. That's followed by another McKinley Morganfield composition, "Look What You Done," one that the Rolling Stones covered about ten years after Muddy's original.

"Head Held High" is a mid-tempo foot-tapper, an original composition about a woman that Margolin encountered on the highway on one of his many drives from gig to gig. While he couldn't figure out what was going on inside the woman's mind, he sings that he felt her blues. "Goin' Away Baby" is his tribute to Jimmy Rogers, with the common blues line, "... I ain't never loved but four women in my life ... that' s my mother, my sister, my sweetheart and my wife ..."

"My Road" was supposed to be the title cut of Margolin's previous album but the song wasn't ready in time to make it on that disc. He now gets the chance to tell us all about the road he's traveled, while also throwing down some killer slide guitar licks.

Concluding the album is "One More Mile," a song that Margolin says was his first excursion into real deep blues back in the day. Previous versions were done by both Muddy and James Cotton, the latter credited as the songwriter. Yeah, this one gets pretty deep, and Margolin takes us to the depths of despair with his slide guitar playing. It's just one more reminder how talented and expressive Margolin is on the guitar.

If you're looking for a Bob Margolin set with full band accompaniment (piano, drums, harmonica, etc.), this isn't it. Instead, Bob Margolin is a full album of Margolin pouring his heart into every song and paying tribute to the people who have influenced him most.

--- Bill Mitchell

Josh SmithOur Surprise pick this month features a CD on VizzTone from a smokin' guitarist from Florida in David Julia, but he's not the only stellar instrumentalist from the Sunshine State that the label recorded recently. Josh Smith has a few years of age and experience on the younger Julia, and we hear his latest gem in Burn To Grow. Backed by a strong band, Smith leans heavily on the soul and jazz influences to his blues on 11 solid original numbers.

First up on this disc is "Half Blues," starting with a slow blues beat before the soulful horn section ups the tempo in support of Smith's stinging guitar notes. It's followed by a jazzy, soulful number, "Through The Night," that has Smith putting out more subdued but tasteful guitar licks.

One of the highlights of Burn To Grow is the vocal accompaniment of renowned backup singer Monét Owens, with her soulful voice providing a contrast to Smith's raspier vocals on "Watching You Go" and Smith playing a heavier, rock-influenced guitar here. Owens steps to the front of the stage with lead vocals on the soul/R&B number "Your Love (Is Making Me Whole)," with her voice soaring through the octaves. It's not surprising that Ms. Owens has a couple of Grammy awards on her résumé. Another number with her fine backing vocals is the bluesy "Look No Further."

Smith is a strong vocalist in his own right and he shows it on the mid-tempo blues, "Let Me Take Care Of You," along with some heavy guitar licks and nice horn accompaniment over the top of everything. For my money the best number here is the slow blues, "What We Need," which starts with a hot guitar solo before Smith lays down more intricate notes. It's his best guitar work on the album. Not to outdo himself, Smith comes right back with nice guitar licks on the mid-tempo blues shuffle, "You Never Knew."

Burn To Grow was my introduction to the artist known as Josh Smith. He's got a couple of other albums, so I'll be exploring the rest of his discography soon.

--- Bill Mitchell

Eden Brent

Eden Brent met her future husband, London trombonist/arranger Bob Dowell, on the 2008 Blues Cruise. Every year since they met, the pair have spent Christmas together in Brent’s hometown, Greenville, Mississippi, and recently celebrated their third wedding anniversary. Brent decided to release her very first Christmas album, An Eden Brent Christmas (Yellow Dog Records), a wonderful collection of her holiday favorites produced and arranged by Dowell with a host of Memphis’ finest musicians providing support.

“Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” kicks off the disc and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Brent’s background, or her nickname “Little Boogaloo.” This one will send you back to the ’40s, when the folks really knew how to swing. Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” is also here, as is the wistful standard “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” one of Brent’s favorite Christmas songs, and the classic blues “Merry Christmas Baby,” done in terrific slow burning fashion.

The festivities continue with the “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (though a white Christmas in Mississippi is a rare thing), and in a cool twist, Brent sings both the verses and chorus of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” while Dowell’s arrangement gives the tune a real Crescent City feel. “That’s What I Want For Christmas” is another old favorite, getting a lush jazz ballad treatment with a trombone solo from Dowell, and Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” revisits the Pelican State with a relaxed groove à la Fats Domino.

The swinging “Winter Wonderland” has a marvelous free-wheeling big band arrangement, “The Christmas Waltz” is soulfully done and a perfect tune for sitting in front of a warm fireplace watching it snow outside, and Dowell joins Brent on vocals for a flirtatious reading of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

The disc concludes with a magnificent version of “The Christmas Song” that revitalizes the familiar tune.

Brent is in great voice, as always, and plays piano on four tracks with Alvie Givhan ably manning the keyboard for the remaining eight songs. The rest of the ensemble includes Dowell (trombone), Marc Franklin (trumpet/flugelhorn), Art Edmaiston (tenor sax), Kirk Smothers (baritone sax/alto sax/flute), John Bass (guitar), Tim Goodwin (bass), and Earl Lowe or James Sexton (drums).

Any music lover in a Yuletide mood who digs the blues or jazz will love to have a copy of An Eden Brent Christmas. It’s a disc they’ll be enjoying for years to come.

--- Graham Clarke

Erin HarpeIt’s December, which means ‘tis the season for Christmas album releases. It’s always cool to get a holiday release from a blues artist, and the new album from Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers is no exception. The Christmas Swing (Juicy Juju/VizzTone Music Group) is a charming ten-track set of Yuletide blues that features the singer/guitarist and band (Jim Countryman – bass/percussion, Matt “Charles” Prozialeck – harmonica, Chris Anzalone – drums/percussion) with guests John Juxo on piano and Richard Rosenblatt (VizzTone chief executive) on harmonica appearing on selected tracks.

The opener is a loping countrified take on a Christmas favorite, “Jingle Bell Blues,” where Harpe plays guitar and Prozialeck provides strong backing on harp. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Merry Christmas” features fierce fretwork from Ms. Harpe, and she and Prozialeck take us on a funky romp through another favorite, “The Night Before Christmas.” “At The Christmas Ball,” originally sung by Bessie Smith, is presented as an acoustic duet with Harpe (on guitar and kazoo!) and pianist Juxo. The hard-rocking blues “Merry Christmas (Here I Come),” penned by UK roots-rocker Lil’ Lost Lou, is a blast as well.

The title track is actually a reworking of the group’s 2014 favorite, “The Delta Swing,” including co-writer Rosenblatt on harmonica. The jumping “Christmas Is A-Comin’” is a song previously recorded by Lead Belly, and the band has a good time with it. Bo Carter’s “Drink and Get Drunk” is not necessarily a Christmas tune, but it definitely sets a festive tone with Harpe again breaking out the kazoo, and Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph” is always a blast to hear. The album closes with an a capella version of “Auld Lang Syne,” closing with Harpe’s kazoo.

The Christmas Swing is a lot of fun. I really like the fact that the band included several old, less familiar Christmas songs in this set (If I hear “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” one more time, I may wander out into traffic), and the more familiar tunes are presented in a fresh way, too. This album will be a treat for blues fans who like Christmas music as well as those who don’t usually care for it. Give it a spin this holiday season.

--- Graham Clarke

Barbara Blue“The Reigning Queen of Beale Street,” Barbara Blue, never ceases to amaze and her latest release, Fish In Dirty H2O (Big Blue Records), is her best effort to date. Blue has assembled an awe-inspiring cast of musicians around her, including drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarists Will McFarlane, Johnny Lee Schell, Michael Tols, and Scott Sherrard, keyboardist Lester Snell, Rick Steff, and Mark Namone, bassist Dave Smith, and a horn section consisting of Lonnie McMillan (sax/charts), Marc Franklin (trumpet), Jim Spake (baritone sax), and Steve Graham (trombone).

Blue also co-produced the disc with Jim Gaines, and co-wrote five of the songs with Narmore and Sandy Carroll. The opener, “My Heart Belongs To The Blues,” is a sweet slow burner that could be classified as Blue’s “Mission Statement,” and features a great solo from McFarlane. The rock n’ roller “Johnny Lee” appropriately includes Schell on guitar, and it’s a swinging adaptation of Scott Sherrard’s “Angeline” from his recent album. Speaking of Mr. Sharrard, his exquisite slide guitar is a highlight on the driving boogie “Accidental Theft,” and “Dr. Jesus” is a gospel/R&B raver (with sweet backing vocals from Sweet Nectar – Maureen Smith and Lynette “Sue” McCracklin, and Lorina McMinn and Candace Mache) that will make an unbeliever get up and testify.

If the powers that be in the city of Memphis have any clue at all, they should make Blue’s version of Eric Hughes’ “Meet Me In Memphis” the official song of the city. She sings the praises of the Bluff City with passion and verve. The moody title track, an old Koko Taylor “B’ side, features rapper Al Kapone with Blue and her reimagining of the song gives the disc a modern touch. “Walk Away,” co-written by Blue and Narmore, sounds like a long-lost Malaco soul blues ballad. “BBQ Man” is a…well….saucy and spicy track, and “Wild Women” is a simmering slice of funky R&B.

“Gravy Train” is a swinging shuffle with horn-fueled backing and Blue encouraging all to live every day like it’s your last. “That’s Working For Me” has a jazzy feel, compliments of McMillan’s tenor sax and Blue’s smoky vocal, and “Slow Burn” is exactly that, an extended slow burner where Blue takes her sweet time delivering one of her most nuanced performances. The album closer is an impressive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” one of the best interpretations of this song that I’ve heard.

A superb mix of blues and R&B and traditional and contemporary, Fish In Dirty H2O is Barbara Blue at her very best. I’ve been listening to her 2002 release Sell My Jewelry, and it’s been a lot of fun watching her career grow and develop. The talent has always been there, and it’s good to see that the audience is finally catching up.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott SharrardScott Sharrard is probably best known for his near-decade as musical director and guitarist for the Gregg Allman Band, co-writing with Allman and playing on his final album, Southern Blood. His fifth solo album, Saving Grace (We Save Music), pays tribute to Allman and The Allman Brothers Band’s legacy. It’s a wonderful set of blues, roots, soul, rock, and R&B recorded in Memphis (with the Hi Rhythm Section – Howard Grimes, Reverend Charles Hodges, and Leroy Hodges) and at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals (with David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Chad Gamble, aka The Swampers).

Sharrard is an excellent guitarist, both lead and slide, and a strong vocalist in a variety of styles. Like the Allmans, his style is a seamless blend of blues, rock, and soul influences. The opener, “High Cost of Loving You,” is a great piece of Memphis R&B, with horns and backing vocals and that irresistible Memphis rhythm. Terry Reid’s “Faith To Arise” features Sharrard’s soaring slide guitar in an acoustic setting, and the title track is a soulful blues ballad where Sharrard turns in a powerful vocal performance and searing lead guitar.

“Everything A Good Man Needs,” believed to be Allman’s last original (co-written with Sharrard) is a good ‘un, a fine blues with Sharrard’s slide guitar backing up guest vocalist Taj Mahal (Bernard Purdie also guests on drums). The retro-soul of “Angeline” is one of those timeless works that would have been played endlessly on the radio back in the day, and the R&B ballad “Words Can’t Say” would have probably been there too, with its lush orchestration and Sharrard’s heartfelt vocal. Meanwhile, “She Can’t Wait” offers a poignant look at infidelity that belies the buoyant musical backdrop.

The upbeat shuffle “Sweet Compromise” has a gospel feel and some dynamic B3 from Eric Finland, and the R&B/soul track “Tell The Truth” includes a fine guitar solo from Sharrard. “Keep Me In Your Heart” is a tender country ballad with more superlative slide from Sharrard, and the closer “Sentimental Fool” really captures the Memphis/Stax style perfectly.

Something tells me that Gregg Allman would be pleased with Saving Grace. It’s an album that deserves to be heard, and will hopefully lead to more great releases from Scott Sharrard.

--- Graham Clarke

Frank BeySinger Frank Bey has battled kidney failure for several years, but as the title of his new album would indicate, he’s Back In Business with a new record label (Nola Blue Records). Tom Hambridge is in the producer’s chair for this fine soul blues set recorded in Nashville with Hambridge manning the drums and contributions from a stellar cast of the Music City’s best (Rob McNelly – guitar, Marty Sammon – keys, Tommy MacDonald or Adam Nitti – bass). The 11-song set consists of six songs written by Hambridge and his regular collaborator Richard Fleming, along with four from Bey’s regular guitarist Jeff Monjack, bassist Kevin Frieson, and Tanya Henry, and a Mighty Sam McClain cover.

Bey gets right to it with the fiery opener, a busy Chicago shuffle that serves notice that even though he’s been gone for a bit, he’s back to it with a vengeance. He sounds as strong as ever, so there’s little reason to doubt his claim. The funky tale of a “Gun Toting Preacher” (with a cool twist near the end) is next as sax (Max Abrams) and trumpet (Julio) join the proceedings. The atmospheric ballad “Take It Back To Georgia,” written by Hambridge and Fleming, tells of Bey’s return to his native state after initial frustration with the music business and his subsequent restart of his career.

“Cookie Jar,” written by Monjack and Frieson, picks up the pace with a heavy dose of funk and horns, while “The Half Of It” is a great slow-burning ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place during the hey day of ’60s southern soul and Bey does a marvelous job with it, as he does on his stylish take on McClain’s “Where You Been So Long,” really bringing out the blues undertones of this underrated tune. “Better Look Out” swings along with Sammon’s piano driving things along, and the romantic ballad “Ain’t No Reason” flirts with pop.

“Blame Mother Nature” is a smooth R&B tune from Hambridge and Fleming, with Bey providing a tasty blend of silk and grit in his vocal delivery. “Give It To Get It” is a fine mid-tempo blues and one of several songs that feature Wendy Moten’s excellent backing vocals. “Yesterday’s Dreams” is a splendid slow blues that showcases Bey as he reflects on the past and future, with McNelly providing tasty lead guitar and fills.

It’s good to hear that Frank Bey is indeed Back In Business. Hopefully for soul blues fans, he’s back to stay for awhile.

--- Graham Clarke

Dennis Jones BandThe Dennis Jones Band has grabbed me pretty much ever since I heard their album Pleasure and Pain back in 2009. To these ears Jones is the total package for any modern blues fan --- a killer guitarist that can play the blues and rock things out when the need arises, a strong vocalist and a talented songwriter. Based on what can be heard from Jones’ latest release, We3 Live (Blue Rock Records), he’s a dynamite live performer as well.

This ferocious live set, captured at the Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, Montana, finds Jones fronting his explosive trio (Sam Correa – bass/background vocals, Raymond Johnson – drums) and ripping through 14 songs taken from all of the band’s previous five releases, plus an excellent cover of Albert King’s  “Born Under a Bad Sign” (via Booker T. Jones and William Bell) that closes the set.

“Blue Over You” opens the set. It’s a funky contemporary urban blues that includes a pair of lively solos from Jones. The driving Texas-styled shuffle “When I Die” is next, followed by “Passion For The Blues,” where Jones acknowledges a host of blues legends and influences, and “Stray Bullet,” a midtempo blues about a man down on his luck in love. The amusing “Hot Sauce” is a salacious country-flavored rocker (complete with “Third Stone From The Sun” reference, as heard previously on Pleasure and Pain), and “Don’t Worry About Me” is R&B with a rock edge.

“Super Deluxe” is a swinging shuffle where Jones compares the girl of his dreams to his dream car, and “Enjoy The Ride” is a good-natured warning to not let life pass one by. The Latin-styled “You Don’t Know A Thing About Love” is a smooth change of pace that mixes samba with soul, while “Kill The Pain,” is a nasty grinding shuffle about drug and alcohol abuse. “Big Black Cat” nimbly mixes jazz, funk, and Hendrix, while “Devil’s Nightmare” has a bit of a Caribbean flair and some great guitar work from Jones, and the roadhouse rocker “I’m Good” closes the regular set.

The cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign” was the band’s encore track and the trio really leaves everything on the playing field with this effort, particularly Jones with an incredible run of guitar solos.

We3 Live is a masterful set of blues rock from one of the premier bands of the genre. If you haven’t tuned in to the Dennis Jones Band previously, this is a great place to get started.

--- Graham Clarke

Brigitte PurdyBrigitte Purdy has one of those voices that you could listen to all day long. A graduate of the Dorothy Chandler Conservatory, Ms. Purdy can sing it all --- blues, rock, funk, jazz, soul, and classical --- while pouring her heart and soul into every performance. Her latest release is the marvelous Still I Rise (Dirtshack Records), ten original tracks co-written with Dave Osti which beg the question: “Is she at her best as a blues singer, a soul singer, or an R&B singer?” The answer is “YES!”

The winning opener, “Hoodoo,” is a swampy blues shuffle with Purdy providing a feisty vocal while backed by Kenny Neal on harmonica and Sugaray Rayford keyboardist Drake Shining on B3, who also makes his mark on the inspirational “Be The Light,” where Purdy implores her listeners to be true to themselves and love one another. “Home Is In My Heart” is full of Texas roadhouse grit and Purdy gets an assist from guitarist Osti, who also produced the album, playing drums, bass and piano on most tracks. “My Kinda Blues” is a southern-styled blues rocker with harp from Michael Fell and fiery fretwork from Osti.

The ballad “Last Time” is a fabulous slice of goosebump-inducing soul that features one of Purdy’s best performances. The sassy funk workout “Get It Understood” is a keeper, too, and nimbly rolls into the old school R&B of “If I Could.” Purdy wrote “Lucille Don’t You Weep” with Osti and Shining. It’s a loving tribute to B.B. King and his guitar that references several of the King’s classic tunes both lyrically and musically and features a heartfelt vocal from Purdy and a sizzling solo from Osti. The timeless R&B of “Blues Angel” would be a great fit on the charts today and features Donnell Spencer, Jr. on drums.

The title track closes this excellent album. Purdy pours so much of herself into this track that the lyrics have to be autobiographical.

And then, that’s it. This one could have gone on much longer. Remember what I said in the first sentence? Listeners will be begging to hear more from this fine new artist on the blues scene, and are encouraged to put Still I Rise on their “must hear” list.

--- Graham Clarke

Hadden SayersIt’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Hadden Sayers, with 2013’s Rolling Soul being his most recent release. However, the Texas-based singer/songwriter/guitarist has more than made up for lost time with his most recent project, Dopamine Machine. This excellent 11-song set was recorded in Nashville with session musicians Greg Morrow (drums/percussion), Rusty McFarland (bass / percussion / acoustic guitar / producer), and Johnny Neel (organ). Sayers wrote all 11 songs and there are all top notch, mixing blues with rock and soul and plenty of swagger. To these ears, he’s never sounded better.

In the liner notes, Sayers states that the opening track, “Unsatisfied,” was a country song in its original form, but he reimagined it as a rocker. It’s hard to argue with his decision, because the rock version has the feel of a ZZ Top tune with the hard-charging guitar and the occasional blips and whistles that are interspersed --- a great way to kick things off. “I Feel Love” is a very different love song, mixing Americana with a blazing rock attack, “Hit The Road” is a driving rocker story with a clever twist, and the reflective ballad “Blood Red Coupe Deville” just drips with soul.

Sayers plays guitar in Ruthie Foster’s band, and she joins Sayers on the gentle “Waiting Wanting,” providing harmony vocals. Anyone who has ever fallen in love at first sight can relate to this song. “Good Good Girl” also started out as a country song, but morphed into a catchy pop rocker with a dash of funk. The funk and pop flavor carries over to the next tune, “Learning To Disappear,” but with the frenzied “Peppermint Patty” Sayers returns to the hard-driving rock that started the album off.

The title track started out as a song about Sayers’ addiction to his iPhone, but the lyrics are such that it could apply to anything that one might be addicted to. “Gravity” is a tune about growing older, and certainly one that strikes a chord for me and should for anyone else who’s firmly ensconced in middle age.

The disc closes with the explosive rocker “Backbreaker.” Sayers strikes a perfect balance between rock, soul, and the blues on Dopamine Machine, with some of the best songs he’s ever created.

Hadden SayersSayers also recorded the entire album as a solo acoustic set, Acoustic Dopamine, in his bedroom with a 1954 Gibson acoustic. The acoustic setting allows listeners to focus more on Sayers’ songwriting.

Despite the spare setting (or maybe because of it), the unplugged approach adds layers and textures to the songs. Each song takes on a different intensity than with the electric set, such as “Dopamine Machine” and “Learning To Disappear,” both of which has a bit rougher edge, and “Learning To Disappear.”

As much as I loved “Waiting Wanting” on the electric album, this album’s version (again with Foster on harmony vocals) is spellbinding, and “Good Good Girl” and “Pepperming Patty” are fun. “Blood Red Coupe Deville” is a winner in either fomat. “Hit The Road” is a churning blues, and “Unsatisfied” works very well in its original country format. “Backbreaker” and “Gravity” are both presented in a country blues setting and these versions really click as well.

If Hadden Sayers continues to make music this good, I’m willing to wait a little bit longer for it. If you’re not on board with his music at this point, either set is a great place to start but you’ll want both of them after hearing one of them.

--- Graham Clarke

Alastair GreeneIf you’re late to the game with guitarist extraordinaire Alastair Greene, then his most recent effort, Live From The 805 (RipCat Records), will certainly get you into said game in a big way. A whopping 20-track, two-CD set that provides an excellent overview of his solo recording career to date with songs culled from his previous five releases, as well as an awesome display of his musical talents. Greene recorded this rousing set in front of a hometown crowd in Santa Barbara, California, backed by Jim Rankin (bass) and Austin Beede (drums) with a guest lead vocal from Chris Chalk.

The set blasts off with “The Sweetest Honey,” a searing blues rocker from Greene’s 2014 powerhouse Trouble At Your Door, highlighted by some rock-fueled lead guitar. The boogie shuffle “Big Bad Wolf” is from last year’s breakthrough album, Dream Train.

The soaring title track from Trouble At Your Door is next, followed by “3 Bullets,” a cool blues shuffle from Greene’s A Little Wiser release from the early 2000’s. “Red Wine Woman” originally featured Greene on National Steel on Trouble At Your Door, but works very well as an amped-up Delta burner on this set.

“Say What You Want,” from the 2009 release, Walking In Circles, is a funky slide fest with a Diddley beat, while “Love So Strong” is an Albert King cut from his Stax days, the first of four cover tunes (Greene originally covered it on A Little Wiser). “Down To Memphis” was one of the many highlights of Dream Train, as it is here. Junior Wells’ standard, “Lawdy Mama,” gets an energetic reading, followed by “Lucky 13,” a jazzy, up-tempo track from Dream Train that closes the first disc.

“Dream Train” kicks off disc two, maintaining the flashy, fiery ’70s feel of the studio version, followed by the rumbling shuffle “Back Where I Belong” and the psychedelic rocker “T’other Way” (from 2011’s Through The Rain). “Last Train Around The Sun” mixes blues, rock, and funk, while “Love You So Bad” blends blues with a country-styled beat. “Rain Stomp” is a, well, stomping North Mississippi blues with scorching slide guitar.

Greene picks up the pace and gets funky with an extended take on Jimmy Reed’s classic, “Big Boss Man.” He’s then joined by Chalk, who provides lead vocals on “First Born Son,” a driving rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the mid ’70s. The final cover tune is Albert Collins’ “Shoe On The Other Foot,” with Greene capturing the good-natured funkiness of Collins’ original reading. Disc two concludes with “Walking In Circles,” showcasing some tasty Elmore James-styled slide guitar.

At 90-plus minutes, the obviously engaged audience certainly got their money’s worth from Greene and band as will anyone who decides to pick up this great live set. Any release from Alastair Greene is a treat, and Live From The 805 is no exception.

--- Graham Clarke

Damon FowlerGuitarist/singer/songwriter Damon Fowler has enjoyed a two-decade career that has encompassed blues, soul, gospel, rock, reggae, and jazz. In addition to a solo career, he’s played with blues-rock ensembles such as Southern Hospitality (with JP Soars and Victor Wainwright) and Butch Trucks’ Freight Train Band, along with his current gig as guitarist for the Dickey Betts Band.

Shortly after Trucks’ tragic death, Fowler recorded The Whiskey Bayou Session (Whiskey Bayou Records) at Tab Benoit’s studio in Houma, Louisiana. Benoit plays rhythm guitar on two tracks, acoustic on another, while the remaining eight tracks feature a line-up of Fowler (vocals, guitar, lap steel), Tod Edmunds (bass), and Justin Headley (drums).

I really like the swampy funk of the opener “It Came Out of Nowhere.” Fowler sings with a a lot of soul, while Benoit, Edmunds, and Headley lock into a slippery groove right off the bat. “Fairweather Friend” continues the funky vibe but with more of a blues-rock edge, thanks to Fowler’s tasty guitar work, and the groove is still tight. The swinging cover of Johnny Nash’s “Hold Me Tight” is a real winner too, transformed into a really cool and catchy shuffle that stays with you. Little Walter’s “Up The Line” is given a facelift as well, taking on a driving Southern rock rhythm that’s a great fit.

“Ain’t Gonna Rock With You No More” is a straight-forward blues rocker with Fowler on slide guitar, and is followed by an nicely understated countrified gospel reading of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” which features more slide. “Pour Me” takes the vibe back to the swamp with clever lyrics added to the funk (Benoit plays rhythm guitar on this track, too), and on the rocking “Holiday,” which should be the anthem for overworked, overwrought folks everywhere, Fowler ponders getting away from the stress and strain of everyday life.

On an album with plenty of funk thrown into the mix, “Running Out of Time” got more than a regular serving. This track is one that listeners will remember for awhile, thanks to the sing-along chorus and overall carefree vibe. The acoustic ballad “Candy” is a most impressive track as well, with Benoit playing guitar and Fowler really pouring his heart into the heartfelt, highly personal lyrics. Closing out the disc is “Florida Baby,” a dreamy shuffle with Fowler on lap steel.

The Whiskey Bayou Session is an album that will appeal to any music fan who digs the blues, southern rock, soul, or R&B. It has a warm, engaging quality that will almost sneak up on you and will make it difficult to stop listening. Hopefully, Fowler and Benoit will collaborate again soon, because this one is a lot of fun.

--- Graham Clarke

Gina SiciliaGina Sicilia has been recording for over ten years and it’s been a pleasure to watch her develop and gain confidence as a performer and songwriter. Her smoky, sensual vocals are potent enough, but her songwriting continues to impress almost as much. Her eighth album, Heard The Lie (Blue Elan Records), features eight of her own compositions including a couple co-written by producer Dave Darling. Sicilia is joined by a crack studio band (Josh Smith – guitar, Herman Matthews – drums, Davey Faragher – bass, Carl Sealove – acoustic bass, Doug Livingston – dobro, Arlan Oscar – keyboards, and Darling – guitar/backing vocals) and a host of backing vocalists.

This time around Sicilia is still signing the blues, but she’s also expanding into country and Americana, evident on the title track, which opens the disc. Smith’s guitar work is appropriately twangy and the brisk pace makes this one a toe-tapper. “How Many Times” ventures into Memphis soul territory, with Sicilia pouring every ounce into her vocal. Next is a cover of Bad Company’s “Ready For Love,” which she gives a funky R&B reworking, followed by “Brighter Day,” an upbeat slice of mellow blues on which Sicilia shares lead vocals with co-writer Janiva Magness, and Janey Street’s “Angels Watching,” a soaring mix of blues and pop.

“Man In The Sky” is a gospel tune that has the feel of a chain gang song with the clapping percussion and the “Gang vocals” backing Sicilia’s somber voice. The country-ish romp “Sugar” is as good as anything on the country charts these days. The pop-flavored “Darling” has a snappy Latin beat, as does “Light Me Up,” which ups the tempo for dancers. “I Do Bad Things” revisits the country/Americana side of the aisle effectively, and the closer, “Growing Dim,” is a moody gospel/soul ballad with spare backing by Smith, Matthews, and Oscar.

Gina Sicilia continues to grow as a performer and songwriter on Heard The Lie, expanding her range of genres and mastering each with seemingly little difficulty. It will be interesting to watch this fine young performer’s career develop.

--- Graham Clarke

Vanja SkyThe young Croatian singer/guitarist Vanja Sky is the latest discovery by Ruf Records. The label has already enjoyed remarkable success in finding and launching the careers of female blues artists Samantha Fish, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Erja Lyytinen, and Ana Popovic. Ms. Sky has only been playing guitar for five years but is obviously a quick study, giving up her previous job as a pastry chef to dedicate her life to music.

Ruf Records recently released Sky’s debut recording, Bad Penny, putting the lady in excellent company. Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines served as engineer for several tracks at his Bessie Blues Studios in Tennessee, with guitarists Mike Zito and Bernard Allison lending a hand as well. Zito plays rhythm guitar on all tracks and co-produced the album with Thomas Ruf.

Sky cites Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, and Rory Gallagher as influences on guitar, and her fearless cover of Gallagher’s “Bad Penny” kicks off the disc. She penned 10 of the 12 tracks on the set, including the funky rocking shuffle “Hard Working Woman” and the mid-tempo “Hit Me With The Blues,” which leans more toward the pop side of the blues. “All Night” is a straight-ahead contemporary blues rocker, and the ballad “Inside Pain” finds Sky taking on a bit of a Dire Straits vibe with a tender but tough vocal and Knopfler-esque fretwork.

“Give Me Back My Soul” is a rugged roadhouse workout with SRV overtones, while Sky takes her sweet time on the sultry slow burner “Lost Love.” “Do You Wanna” effectively mixes funk and pop with the blues, and “Married Man” is an excellent, moody ballad with a fine vocal performance from Sky that powerfully reflects sorrow and regret. The incendiary “Don’t Forget To Rock n’ Roll” should be a real crowd-pleaser, and the closer, “Crossroads of Life,” marries the Delta blues with a touch of Southern rock.

The album’s other cover is “Low Down and Dirty,” written by Bernard Allison and best remembered as the blistering opener of Allison’s dad’s final studio release in 1997. Zito and Allison share vocals and guitar duties with Sky on this track, with all three delivering the goods. The trio is also part of the 2018 edition of the Ruf Blues Caravan, which is touring across Europe and North America.

It looks like smooth sailing for Vanja Sky based on this impressive debut release. She proves herself to be a fine singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Blues and blues rock fans should stay tuned for future developments.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeremiah JohnsonJeremiah Johnson returns with a new album and a new record label. Straitjacket (Ruf Records) is a sizzling set of blues rock from the St. Louis-based singer/songwriter/guitarist and his band (Frank Bauer – saxophone/vocals, Tom Maloney – bass/slide guitar, and Benet Schaeffer – drums). Produced by fellow St. Louis native Mike Zito, who also contributes rhythm guitar, this powerful disc includes a dozen tracks, 11 written by Johnson, that deftly mix blues, rock, and soul.

The title track opens the album, a driving rocker with a driving rhythm and Johnson’s stinging lead guitar. His vocals are sometimes reminiscent of Bad Company-era Paul Rodgers, smooth with a bit of swagger. “Getting Tired” speaks to the plight of growing old, benefiting from Bauer’s wailing sax,. The soulful ballad “Blues In Her Eyes” slows things down a bit with a nice vocal turn from Johnson and Bauer’s smoky sax solo. The boisterous shuffle “Keep On Sailin’” has a country kick, and “Believe In America” recounts the financial struggles of some citizens.

“King & Queen” is a splendid slow blues with Johnson taking plenty of time to lay down some sweet blues guitar, and “Dirty Mind” is a steamy track about an adventure with an overnight guest. The autobiographical “9th and Russell” is an old-school Southern rocker that paints a vivid picture of Johnson’s early days, and “Old School” yearns for the days when minor disputes were settled by fistfights instead of guns. The instrumental “Bonneville Shuffle” is a cool retro track that mixes film noir and surf music, and the ballad “Hold My Hand” is a change of pace with Johnson playing acoustic guitar.

Johnson closes things out with a fun-filled, hard-rocking cover of the Ten Years After classic “Rock n’ Roll Music To The World,” featuring Zito and Johnson exchanging guitar solos and vocals. A great way to conclude an excellent release that should appeal to a wide variety of music fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Lawrence LeboLawrence Lebo’s sixth album, Old School Girl (On The Air Records), couldn’t be more appropriately titled. Ms. Lebo’s recording career started in the late ’80s when she released her debut EP from the kitchen of her tiny apartment, armed with a typewriter and Rolodex. Now, that is old school, but she’s been releasing her albums on her own label since 1989, long before self-released albums were a regular thing. She’s also been writing and performing with her husband, bassist Denny Croy, for over 30 years.

Lebo’s latest finds the talented singer mixing the blues with the sounds of Memphis soul, à la Stax Records. There are seven new songs penned by Lebo, with one song being presented in both “explicit” form and “clean” form, and a first-rate cover of T-Bone Walker’s standard “Stormy Monday.” In additon to Croy on bass, Lebo is joined by Tony Mandracchia (guitar/banjo), Steve Mugalian (drums), Larry David (keys, harmonica), Phil Parlapiano and Sasha Smith (B3), Carl Byron (accordion), and Ed Eblan (drums).

Lebo gets right down to business with the opening track, pouring her heart out on the slow-burning “You’ve Got A Secret,” which also features some tasty solo work from David on organ and Mandracchia on guitar. The title track is next, picking the tempo up a notch with Lebo testifying that the old ways still are the way to go while backed by more sweet guitar. “Stormy Monday” follows, and it’s not your customary “Stormy Monday” cover, with Lebo taking her time with the opening verses, savoring every moment, before the song picks up with a great harmonica solo from David.

“Stop Shouting Your Business” takes it to Bayou Country with some great second line rhythm and accordion. It's a really fun track that is reprised at the end of the disc in a “clean” version. There’s one four-letter word in the “explicit” version, so no one should be marked for life, and I certainly didn’t mind hearing it twice.

“Give Me A Try” is pure Memphis with greasy B3 from Smith, nasty bass from Croy, and some fine picking from Mandracchia, and “Bad To The Core” is a feisty Texas roadhouse shuffle. “Happy Anniversary” is a sweet soul ballad, followed by the second read of “Stop Shouting Your Business.”

A most excellent set of blues and R&B, Old School Girl will certainly please fans of either genre, and will definitely make you want to hear more from Lawrence Lebo, proving to be as good a songwriter as she is a vocalist.

--- Graham Clarke

Lady AFor her fourth release, Doin’ Fine, the Seattle-based singer Lady A returned to Jackson, Mississippi where her previous release, Loved, Blessed, & Blues, was recorded. Producers Joey Robinson and Dexter Allen also return to co-produce, this time at Allen’s studio, and provide the majority of the musical backing. Allen plays guitar and bass and provides backing vocals, while Robinson contirbutes keyboards and drums (along with Christopher “Rattlesnake” Minter). Lady A penned seven of the ten songs, with two being written by her longtime collaborator, John Oliver III.

Though Lady A hails from the West Coast, the sounds of Southern soul-blues courses through her veins and it’s clear why she’s a favorite on the Pacific Northwest blues scene. The title track wouldn’t be a bad fit on a Bobby Rush album with the lady giving a story of her musical journey, fueled by Allen and Robinson’s funky backbeat. “The Ride” is a mid-tempo reflective look at the unpredictability of life, while the standout “Next Time U C Me” is a buoyant R&B track that owes a debt to the old Junior Parker classic with a similar title.

The ruminative “Tryin’ To Get Over” has a slick, almost jazz feel, thanks to the keyboards from Paul Richardson who co-wrote the song with Lady A, and the optimistic “Change The World” ventures toward gospel with backing vocals from Lady A and Allen and Robinson’s keyboards taking listeners to the church. “That Man” is a fine, well-crafted slice of soul-blues, “Catch Me On The Low” mixes blues, funk, and R&B, and “Throw Down” is a nod to old school funk.

Oliver wrote the final two tracks on the disc.: “Roof Ova My Head” is a song of thanksgiving as Lady A counts her blessings for the many things she’s been blessed with, and “Glad To Know You” is a soulful ballad that flirts with jazz.

Lady A has a fine vocal style that can play it tough or tender, and she’s found a pair of musical soul mates with Robinson and Allen whose production and musical support is first rate. She is indeed Doin’ Fine, and her new album deserves to be heard by blues and soul-blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Shari PuortoL.A.-based singer/songwriter Shari Puorto made a lot of waves with her 2016 release, My Obsession, which put her soulful vocals and songwriting on full display. Recently, she released Live at Bogie’s (Little Lightning Productions), a stellar live set of blues, roots, and blues-rock recorded in Westlake, California with bandmates John DePatie (guitar), Frank Scarpelli (bass), John Greathouse (keys, vocals), and Mike Sauer (drums, vocals). The 12-song set includes eight originals co-written by Puorto, plus four fine covers.

Those who enjoyed her previous release will be happy to hear several songs from that most excellent album: the R&B/funk of “It’s A Damn Shame” and the humorous “My Obsession,” the supremely soulful “Sugar Daddy” and “All About You,” and the blues-rockers “Home of the Blues” and “Six Months Sober.”

There are also a pair of songs from earlier releases, the rocking “Outta My Mind” from Down The Road, and the gritty ballad “All I Want Is You,” from Real. These songs were co-written by Puorto with Johnny Hawthorn, Barry Goldberg, Alastair Greene, Tony Braunagel, and Jimmy Vivino, and she shows an ability to add a fresh touch to familiar blues themes.

The covers include a tasty reading of Randy Newman’s “Guilty," maybe the best interpretation of this song I’ve heard. Candi Staton’s “Evidence” gets a performance that comes mighty close to the original, and her take on Savoy Brown’s fiery rocker “I’m Tired” is a lot of fun, too. Puorto closes the disc with an exquisite version of Steve Winwood’s Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

Puorto does a marvelous job with vocals on this set and shows an easy rapport while engaging the audience between songs. The band is first-rate in support. If you’re not familiar with Shari Puorto, please check out Live at Bogie’s. You’ll definitely want to hear more.

--- Graham Clarke

Keith StoneKeith Stone’s 2016 debut, The Prodigal Son Returns, paid tribute to his hometown of New Orleans and was a nice reintroduction to the singer/guitarist who grew up playing in the French Quarter before leaving the Crescent City to become an ordained minister in the mid-’90s. He returned after Katrina and began playing again a few years later. For his latest release, Stone teams up with keyboardist Tom Worrell, bassist Kennan Shaw, and drummer Eddie Christmas, dubbed Red Gravy, along with slide guitarist Brent Johnson and saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter.

The new disc, Blues With A Taste of New Orleans, kicks off with the straight-forward blues rocker “Ain’t That The Blues,” which features Johnson on slide guitar, and is followed by the funky “Love Put Me Down” which really finds the band in great form, particularly Worrell on keys, as they lock into a groove that the Meters would be proud of. “You Ain’t Got Nothing” is a cool blues/funk mix, while the rollicking “Red Gravy” really captures the essence of the city, both the music and the cuisine for which the city is noted, and Stone turns in an excellent vocal on the after-hours ballad, “Crazy In Love With You.”

“Don’t Count Me Out” is a smooth, stylish shuffle, “Blue Eyed Angel” is a smoky, jazz-flavored ballad, and “Time To Move On” hit on the legendary second line rhythm backed by a hot Carpenter sax break. The slow burner “Hard To Have The Blues” boasts Stone’s best vocal and guitar work on the disc. The closer, “Something In The Water,” is worth the price of the disc as Stone and the band really stretch out as they pay tribute to the music of the city and its residents, going into an extended jam for the last half of the tune.

Listeners would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting title for this fine album than Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans. Keith Stone and Red Gravy effortlessly capture the sounds of the city, a delicious gumbo of blues and New Orleans R&B that’s sure to please fans of the music of the Crescent City.

--- Graham Clarke

Michele D'AmourMichele D’Amour and the Love Dealers have made a few changes since their 2017 release, Lost Nights at the Leopard Lounge, beginning with the addition of four new members to the band in guitarist Jeff Cornell, drummer Dave Delzotto, keyboardist Brian Olendorf, and saxophonist Noel Barnes. Bassist/trombonist Patrick McDanel remains from the previous lineup. Their new album, Wiggle Room, is their first on the Seattle-based band’s own record label, BluesKitty Records, and is produced by D’Amour with renowned Washington blues guitarist Mark Riley.

The new disc offers ten tracks written or co-written with bandmates by D’Amour, and finds the band venturing beyond their previous realm of blues, funk, and soul, adding jazz, boogie, swing, and a taste of country into their repertoire. The opener “Falling Down” mixes blues and funk and discusses continued efforts to get one’s act together. “Sweet Lovin’ Man” is a swinging stop-time blues that’s a showcase for the band’s new expanded horn section, while the title track is a wonderful jazzy lounge number that’s an impressive vehicle for D’Amour’s vocal talents, and “Honey On The Side” is a sassy warning to a straying lover.

The jazz number “Nothing To No One” includes excellent trumpet accompaniment from Greg Lyons, with Olendork on piano and Barnes on sax, describing a homeless man on the street as he’s ignored by passersby. “Let It Slide” has a definite Latin flavor and Cornell’s guitar work does give a nod to Carlos Santana, but D’Amour’s mellow vocal and the hypnotic rhythm with Angelo Ortiz lending a hand on congas also help make this one a keeper. “Been So Long” is a driving blues rocker, and “Worthy” is a haunting ballad about a battle with self-esteem after losing a lover.

Olendorf’s deft piano playing is in the spotlight on the raucous “He Can’t Be Wrong” and again on the gospel-inflected closer, “Hard Times,” which reflects on current happenings in the world.

Several things stand out on Wiggle Room. The interplay of the Love Dealers is first-rate and the addition of a fuller horn section really adds to the band’s sound. As good a singer as D’Amour is, she’s on the same level as a songwriter. There are some powerful songs on this set. This is a great little album that should be heard and appreciated by anybody who digs blues or jazz.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny and the HeadhuntersJohnny & The Headhunters is a formidable crew led by guitarist/singer Johnny Ticktin, who started playing guitar at age 6, but became enthralled with the blues while in college. He later became friends with harmonica player Larry Wise, who introduced him to Louisiana Red. The trio toured the U.S. and Canada as Nobody’s Children. Ticktin also played with Sunnyland Slim, Lurrie Bell, and in the groups Rockett 88 and the Philadelphia band The Excellos in the early ’80s before moving back to his native Washington D.C. to form The Headhunters, where they’ve held court for three decades.

That’s All I Need is the band’s eighth release, and it’s a ten-song set that covers blues, swing, mambo. R&B, and surf music. It consists of nine cover tunes that span rock, blues, R&B, and even rockabilly. Ticktin is backed by bassists Brian McGregor, Steve Shaw, Pete Kanaras and Toro Gamble, drummers Clark Matthews, Gamble and Robbie Magruder, with D.C. legend Tam Sullivan on keyboards and Dru Lore guesting on guitar for one track.

Some of these songs will be familiar to blues fans. The band covers two Magic Sam tracks. The title track kicks off the disc and gets a really swampy blues treatment with Johnny’s tremolo guitar, and “All My Whole Life” is a smooth West Side shuffle. “Lead Me On” was a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland back in the day, with Johnny turning in a fine vocal and tasty guitar work. The Doc Pomus/Dr. John tune “Body and Fender Man” gets a rousing treatment. Johnny also owns JT Auto Service in his day job, so the song has a double meaning for him.

The band does a slick job on Dave Cash’s rockabilly tune, “Chicken House,” and rock hard on Lowell Fulson’s “Rock ‘Em Dead,” a driving boogie shuffle. Johnny picks up the slide for a sizzling, roof-raising take on Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker,” and cranks up the reverb for a smoking read of Link Wray’s “Ace of Spades.” He’s joined by singer Liz Springer (of the D.C. band Build 4 Comfort) for a duet on Donavan’s “Watch and Chain.” The closer is a Ticktin original, “Collins Mambo,” that pays tribute to Texas guitar slinger Albert Collins’ early recordings.

This was a very enjoyable album with a great retro feel. Johnny is a talented guitarist and vocalist, and I like the way he takes these cover tunes and gives them a few interesting twists and turns. Blues fans who dig old school guitar will want to get their hands on That’s All I Need.

--- Graham Clarke

Karen LawrenceSinger Karen Lawrence has been performing since she was a kid, fronting her first blues band at 13. She sang backup vocals on albums for Aerosmith and Jeff Beck and has worked with longtime friend guitarist Rick Dufay, who also served as a guitarist for Aerosmith during the ’80s, and second guitarist Fred Hostetler as part of the band Blue By Nature since the early ’90s. Recently, the band released Best of Live, which collects and remasters eight popular songs from their 1998 double CD set, Live By The Lake. In addtion to Lawrence, Dufay, and Hostetler, the band includes bassist Charlie Diaz and drummer Dan Potruch.

The set list includes the opening shuffle “It’s All About You,” “Another Day, Another Mile,” the soulful ballad “Fun and Games,” the funky R&B track “I Had It All Wrong,” the southern-flavored blues rocker “You Got Me Workin’,” “You Got A Way,” which has a Crescent City R&B feel, the pop rocker “It’s Been So Long,” and the roadhouse romp, “I’ll Get Along Alright,” which concludes the disc. The songs from Lawrence are a memorable lot, covering the basic blues topics: love, loss, life, and relationships from a female perspective.

Lawrence is also a powerhouse vocalist. She will remind listeners of other vocalists. I heard Janis Joplin’s name associated with her, which is true, but I also hear Tina Turner and Bonnie Bramlett as well, and each have influenced their share of Lawrence's vocals. However, Lawrence brings her own game to the table as well with her own unique style and you’ll want to hear more from her after this sampling. Dufay’s lead guitar is spot on as well, and he also shines on slide guitar, too.

Fans of high energy blues rock will not want to let this one slip by. Hopefully, Lawrence and Blue By Nature will give blues fans an album of new material in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Jock's Juke JointJock’s Juke Joint, Volume 4 along with the previous three albums in the series further highlights the quality, richness and diversity of contemporary blues in Scotland. Most of the 18 artists showcased here, whether relative novices, veterans, or somewhere in between, compare favorably with the finest blues performers in Europe and beyond.

It is appropriate that this compilation CD starts off with the title track of Andy Gunn‘s ‘live in the studio’ album, Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now, given that he is one of the most original and inspirational UK bluesmen of his generation. As a teenager, Andy found fame in 1993 with Virgin’s Point Blank release of the sensational debut CD, Shades Of Blue, and a tour of Memphis with his band Jumpin’ The Gunn. Since then, Andy has suffered from significant periods of darkness as he battled with ill health and adversity. Proof of recovery comes with the upbeat, rock and roll “Too Many Guitars To Give Up Now” with its nostalgic lyrics, intricate guitar interludes, boogie-woogie piano and searing harp solos.

Scotland’s latest sensation, the dynamic, high energy five-piece Redfish contribute an original blues masterpiece “Immaterial Man” from their highly acclaimed 5x5 EP. Impassioned vocals from lead singer Stumblin’ Harris are underpinned by the tightest of rhythm sections which enable guitarist Martin McDonald and keyboard player extraordinaire Fraser Clark to demonstrate their creative talents. Clark is both a showman and a genius, his speed, dexterity and compositions reminiscent of the best in the world, from Brian Auger to Keith Emerson.

Melisa Kelly and the Smokin’ Crows have just released their debut full length album, Devil’s Luck, so it is opportune to hear one of the tracks, “I’m The Boss.” Kelly’s distinctive vocals are powerful and soulful as she sings over a fluent and dynamic group of stellar musicians including a fearsome brass section. The Simon Kennedy Band is a power trio comprising guitar, drums and organ whose debut album, Make Up Your Mind, garnered praise from UK blues legend Paul Jones. “All Or Nothing” is the title track of Simon’s next album due to be released early in 2019. If this catchy, jaunty, beautifully written and arranged song, with its glorious vocal harmonies, sumptuous guitar work and Manzarek-inspired keys, is typical of the forthcoming All Or Nothing it will be some album.

Multi instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and troubadour Stoney Broke (aka Jake Scott) is a relative newcomer as a blues-inspired solo artist, with a rapidly growing reputation gained from appearances across the UK. “Got It” is his latest single and follow up to last year’s EP release, If It Ain’t Broke. Although semi-acoustic in parts, the addition of drums and electric guitars give a further dimension to the narrative of this intriguing song delivered with a refreshing vocal style. US Blues Hall Of Fame inductee Wily Bo Walker’s 2018 single, “Velvet Windows (Treme Trippin’),” is a fast moving, roaring, bawdy yarn following the path that much of the blues originated from. This unforgettable musical experience is created by Walker’s hell-raising vocals complemented by sizzling guitars, horny brass and mesmeric percussion.

Lynsey Dolan’s sultry, soulful, smoky tones have been compared to Maggie Bell of Stone The Crows, but on “I Won’t Bring You Down” Lynsey proves that her vocal talent is unique as she steps even further up to the mark. This begs the question as to why a band that has backed luminaries such as Lulu and Imelda May does not have a higher profile. Hopefully, this will change with a new album, Connection, and through continuing to build up an appreciative and enthusiastic fan base. Downhome blues is well represented by Al Brown and The Blue Lighters, a popular band on the Glasgow blues circuit. Al penned “Caller Unknown,” a gentle, slow blues with mellifluous vocals and exquisite double bass accompaniment. The authentic blues theme continues with the experienced and anything-but-middle-of-the-road five-piece Mike Bowden and the A917 Band. Mike wrote “Poor Man” a superbly arranged original number with a compelling funky beat underpinning Mike’s engaging, conversational vocal style.

Scottish-based Australian chanteuse and her six-piece band, Charlotte Marshall and the 45s, bring their special blend of retro, smoky jazz and blues to the mix. The quirky and carefully crafted “Bootleg Liquor” features an exceptional sax and trombone combo, technically brilliant drumming and the most original vocals this side of the Pond. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Andrew Robert Eustace performs “Broken Down and Beat” from his Stories album with true grit and passion. The finger blurring fretwork and nimble-fingered guitar picking are a revelation as the consummate storyteller reaches the climax of his narrative, sung with emotion and intensity.

Andy ‘Honeyboy’ Smith is the harp playing/vocalist frontman of the five-piece band Used Blues, and his composition “Pebble By Pebble” epitomises the spirit of a US juke joint establishment. His killer harp playing generates a feelgood factor which matches the occasion perfectly. “Sidewinder Blues” might be the debut single from Five Grain Whisky but the personnel are anything but novices to the blues. Veteran frontman and vocalist Alex More is as authentic and charismatic as Seasick Steve, but with an even stronger, ‘lived-in’, sandpaper-edged voice which makes him sound inimitable. Marty Wade on keys and guitarist Roger Gardner add pure malt to the proceedings to make a perfect blend.

It is appropriate that a capital performance is delivered by Edinburgh-based Liz Jones & Broken Windows with the beautiful, atmospheric rendition of her ballad, “Broken Windows.” John Burgess excels on saxophone with timely interludes whilst guitar genius John Bruce delivers a solo of impeccable taste and technicality. However, it is the classy Liz Jones whose vocal clarity, jazz-infused delivery and sincerity steal the show. Her blues credentials are enhanced greatly by this contribution from The Songs Of Liz Jones album, a collection of genre-busting original songs pointing the way to a great future.

Blues-rockers Chasin’ The Train are a high octane band led by vocalist Tom Cuddihy with ‘Howlin’ Bob’ Clements on harp. “Temporary Man” starts with a slow-burning blues introduction before exploding into a volcanic, harp-driven, hard-rocking master class of energetic, creative musicianship. Black Cat Bone are described as an ‘Alt Blues Rock Band' equipped with a pounding rhythm section, layered vocals, fuzz bass, heavy distortion and screaming harmonica.” “Morning Light” certainly delivers on all these fronts. Full Fat is another Alt Blues band, this time a trio. “Temper Temper” with its clever rhythm changes, beguiling lyrics and excellent musicianship will tempt the listener to explore further.

Guitarist, composer and producer Neil Warden is one of the world’s leading exponents of the Weissenborn lap steel guitar. On his Adventures In Weissenborn Land album he combines the blues with Far Eastern nuances on this unique musical journey. “The Alchemist” represents the climax of this evocative excursion with atmospheric bass and flute adding further layers and textures behind the haunting strings.

Overall, this sampler is a cornucopia of Scottish blues which gives the listener the opportunity to delve deep into the treasure chest through exploring the links for each artist on music streams and social media. Unlike many compilation albums this one has a common thread --- the celebration of Scottish blues at its very best. Much credit goes to Duncan Beattie Chairman of the award-winning Edinburgh Blues Club for steering this ambitious project to fruition over the past six years.

--- Dave Scott




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