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December 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Larkin Poe

Bernard Allison

Warren Storm

Savoy Brown

Charlie Wooton

Big Jack Reynolds

Scotty Dennis

Heather Newman

Nancy Wright

Jersey Swamp Cats

Billie Williams

Mark Cameron

Michele D'Amour


Larkin PoeThis past year has brought to the blues world an array of young artists keeping the blues sound alive and relevant, even if they somewhat stretch the boundaries of the blues (generally in a good way). But a very good album from 2018 that I missed out on until very recently is Peach (Tricki-Woo Records) by the sister duo making up the group Larkin Poe. I got a small glimpse of sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell when they appeared as part of the fantastic worldwide collaboration of Robbie Robertson's "The Weight" (check it out on YouTube), but wasn't aware of their stellar dark blues chops until I stumbled upon a link for Peach.

The Lovell women don't look like traditional blues artists as they are often characterized by their southern goth heritage, but their old souls give them an innate ability to play the darkest, deepest blues and gospel that I've heard in a while. Rebecca  plays guitar and mandolin while handling lead vocals when the sisters aren't harmonizing, while Megan is an absolute monster on her 1940s Rickenbacker lap steel guitar and occasionally picking up the banjo.

The music on Peach will take you to dark places of your soul that you didn't know existed, so be ready for the experience. Launching the album is a very primal blues version of the Robert Johnson classic, "Come on in My Kitchen," with Megan laying out some impressive licks on the lap steel. Perhaps the most impressive number here is the very deep version of Son House's "Preachin' Blues," backed by rhythmic percussion and featuring Rebecca's echo-y vocals.

Heading deep into an old school gospel sound is a version of the traditional "John the Revelator," with more sparse instrumentation until Rebecca rips off a monster guitar solo. Picking up the tempo considerably is a cover of Leadbelly's "Black Betty," featuring repetitive ,shouting vocals by the sisters.

The Lovells can also write their own tunes, with one of the better originals being "Cast 'Em Out," a pleasant tune with a gospel-ish intro. It's a good break from the more intense numbers here. Another of their own compositions is the heavy blues, "Pink & Red," featuring a bit of rap-style vocals with plenty of echo.

Perhaps the best of their original songs is the dark and heavy blues, "Freedom," with Megan playing the banjo over some percussive sound effects in the background.

There is plenty of wonderful music on Peach, with my very minor complaint that with ten songs checking in at just about half an hour I wish that it was longer. But no problem, because I can just hit repeat and listen to it all over again.

In case you were wondering, the name Larkin Poe comes from their great-great-great grandfather, a distant relative of famed author Edgar Allan Poe, so the Lovells' venture to the dark side of the blues is perhaps part of their DNA. Needless to say, Peach comes highly recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell

Bernard AllisonSpeaking of albums from 2018 that did not previously get reviewed, Let It Go (Ruf Records) from Bernard Allison has been on my pile of CDs to cover for at least a year. Somehow it got inadvertently shuffled to the bottom of the stack, which is a shame because it's a mighty fine collection of a dozen high quality blues cuts.

Of course, Allison is a fine artist in his own right, but there's a lot of his late father, Luther, in his music --- and that's a good thing! Produced by Jim Gaines, Let It Go has Allison appearing with his three regular band mates (John T. McGhee - rhythm guitar, George Moye - bass, Mario Dawson - drums). Better late than never, here's what I like about Let It Go.

"Backdoor Man" has Allison sounding a little like Johnny Guitar Watson with his vocals, while he also contributes a really find slide solo and plays B3. "Blues Party" is another Allison original on which he opens this up-tempo shuffle with an Elmore James-style blues guitar solo before going on to mention a lot of blues artists from the past that are attending this particular blues party. "Same Ole Feeling" gets soulful and funky before Allison lays down some nice bluesy and jazzy guitar.

Among the four cover tunes on Let It Go, Allison does a version of the Brook Benton classic, "Kiddio," bringing in guest sax player Jose Ned James to flesh out the band. "Look Out Mabel" is an up-tempo 12-bar blues written by Melvin London & G.L. Crockett and recorded by the latter in 1958 on the Checker label, highlighted by some nice staccato guitar chords from Allison.

Most of the songs are original compositions, but one of my favorites from the CD was written by Allison's father. "You're Gonna Need Me" is a slow blues, more subdued than the original, with nice subtle blues guitar.

I admit that I haven't dug as deeply into the Bernard Allison discography as I should have by now, and I get the feeling that Let It Go is a nice stepping stone to the rest of the man's library.

--- Bill Mitchell

Warren StormWarren Storm is truly one of the pioneers of swamp pop music, that amalgamation of Louisiana Cajun, country & western and rhythm & blues that came out of Louisiana and east Texas during the '50s and '60s. Doubling as both a drummer and singer in his youth, Storm first recorded the single "Prisoner's Song" / "Mama Mama Mama (Look What Your Little Boy's Done)" for the Nasco label, with both songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100. When musician / educator / writer Yvette Landry started working on a book about Storm's career, it was obvious that she also needed to take this legend into the studio. The result is Taking The World By Storm (APO Records), a collection of 11 new recordings by Storm and lots of special guests, produced by Ms. Landry.

Now 82, Storm's vocals aren't as powerful as in the past but he's still got a voice capable of handling the material here. The backing band on all cuts include Eric Adcock (piano), Roddie Romero (guitar), Derek Huston (sax), Chris French (upright bass) and Gary Usie (drums).

The album opens with a version of John Fogerty's "Long as I Can See the Light," with Fogerty himself helping with vocals while Huston comes in with a nice sax solo. Next up is a cover of one of the best-known swamp pop hits, "Mathilda," done in 1963 by Cookie & The Cupcakes. It's engineered to have a more vintage sound, and includes guests Marc Broussard on co-vocals and the always interesting Sonny Landreth on slide guitar.

Another highlight of the album is the Slim Harpo swamp blues classic, "Raining in My Heart," staying close to the original while Storm shows off some of his best vocal work, Adcock adds the appropriate Louisiana-style piano and Romero contributes tasteful guitar accompaniment.

Both of Storm's early hits, "Prisoner's Song" and "Mama, Mama, Mama," are reprised here, the latter being an up-tempo stomper with more hot sax from Huston and co-vocals from Landry. "Tennessee Blues," written by another swamp pop pioneer, Bobby Charles, gets a country workup with the addition of Richard Comeaux on pedal steel and Beau Thomas on fiddle. Still another swamp pop legend, Willie "Tee" Trahan, guest stars on tenor sax on the very New Orleans-ish, "In My Moments of Sorrow," and the JD Miller composition, "Troubles, Troubles."

Thanks to Yvette Landry for making sure that Storm's story is being told, both in the book as well as this fine CD, Taking The World By Storm.

--- Bill Mitchell

Holy MolyReleased independently by Blank Studios, the word at the end of the song title, “I’d Give It All – Redux,” indicates this is a revival of a ballad from the gypsy-folk and rock band Holy Moly & The Crackers’ best selling Take A Bite album. However, it is much more than that because “I’d Give It All” marks the debut solo single release of Holy Moly & The Crackers’ charismatic front woman, lead vocalist and violinist Ruth Patterson.

Anyone witnessing the band’s raucous live performances will confirm the power and sincerity of Ruth’s solo vocal interlude with piano accompaniment as she bares her soul with amazing courage, conviction and just a hint of vulnerability. This vibe shines throughout the song which whilst only lasting four minutes encapsulates emotions so deep they become embedded in the listener’s heart. Only Beth Hart comes anywhere near the UK-based chanteuse in terms of songwriting acumen, vocal intensity and keyboard skills.

In the same way that Little Girl Blue launched the career of American legend Nina Simone over 60 years ago, Ruth’s inspirational composition has the power to do the same for her. Other similarities include both women being gifted songwriters, arrangers and instrumentalists who initially aspired to be classical musicians and whose music spans a broad range of styles including folk, jazz, blues and pop.

This beautifully crafted love song opens with attitude rather than sentimentality, the emphatic piano chords a precursor to what Ruth doesn’t want. Not for her “the dozen red rose roses laid at my front door” or the fine wine and dining which “sticks in my throat,” and when it comes to diamonds, “well it might as well be coal.” The strong poetic lyricism of this song is emphasized in the next observation: “And though I know it’s all to please me but the perfume stings. My eyes are not adjusting to the bright lights.”

The jazz-inflected vocals and carefully orchestrated atmospheric background string quartet set the scene perfectly for the killer line, “You’ve missed the point babe: love is always silent.” It is at this point that the chorus takes the words and meaning into another stratosphere as Patterson knows what she needs and is going to take her time to find it.

The sumptuous strings and Ruth’s mellifluous backing vocals merge in a series of soaring, subtly layered crescendos as the quest to discover the right kind of love, keeping it and never letting go reaches its climax. “And when I find what I'm looking for I'm gonna run, run, run, run, run away with you.” Rarely has a single piece of music left the listener feel so energized, empowered and exhilarated.

“I’d Give It All” is available on most music streaming platforms, and is best listened to in conjunction with the surreal, evocative music video by renowned film director, artist and activist Antonia Luxem and cinematographer Tegid Cartwright on this YouTube video. The film complements perfectly the flow and emotion of the music. The underwater scenes are literally breathtaking with the ‘mermaid’ who is unable to walk on land moving confidently, effortlessly and gracefully in a mesmerizing aquatic scene.

--- Dave Scott

Savoy BrownLike the Mississippi River, Savoy Brown rolls on and on. City Night (Quarto Valley Records) is the band’s 40th release over their 50+ years of existence. Guitarist Kim Simmonds has been there since the beginning, and based on the contents of the latest effort he ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. The band continues to be structured as a trio, with Simmonds handling guitar and vocals, backed by bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garrett Grimm. Simmonds wrote all 12 tracks and his guitar work is up to his usual high standards. Vocally, he has an understated but effective delivery similar to Lou Reed’s style.

The opener, “Walking On Hot Stones” is a blues rocker with a chugging rhythm and screaming slide guitar runs, “Don’t Hang Me Out To Dry” is a roadhouse raver with a touch of Texas highlighted by Simmond’s crunchy guitar work, and “Payback Time” adds a little funk into the rhythm for a cool change of pace, while “Red Light Mama” sounds like an early Savoy Brown track (Simmonds’ slide guitar is particularly fierce on this track). The hypnotic “Conjure Rhythm” has a steamy, swampy feel, and “Neighborhood Blues” is a fine shot of contemporary blues.

“Selfish World” slows things down a bit at the midpoint of the album, with Simmonds at the top of his game with some of his best guitar work. “Wearing Thin” picks up the pace with a rock-steady mid-tempo groove, and the title track is a gritty shuffle loaded with moody atmosphere and excellent solo work from Simmonds. The Bo Diddley-on-steroids “Hang In Tough” rocks as hard as anything on the album, featuring more sensational slide, and “Superstitious Woman” is a modern blues that touches on the delta and the swamp. The album closes as strongly as it started with “Ain’t Gonna Worry,” a prototypical boogie blues rocker.

Kim Simmonds says that after 50+ years in the business he’s not going anywhere, which is good news for blues rock fans and Savoy Brown fans.

--- Graham Clarke

East Side KingsThank goodness for Eddie Stout and Dialtone Records. For 20 years, Stout has been doing his part to keep the blues alive in Austin and to keep the numerous underappreciated and underrecorded indigenous blues artists on the musical map. Stout’s Dialtone label is chock-full of excellent releases, one of their most recent of which is Eastside Kings, a superb collection of recordings from some of the fine musicians based on the east side of Austin, a section of town just a mile from the downtown area that was once covered with houses, small businesses, bars, and other music venues that’s now being leveled and replaced with condos and coffee shops.

The Kings include Dialtone recording artist Birdlegg, who sings and plays harp on the romp “Evil In The Morning,” singer Mac McIntosh, who puts his big, booming voice to good use on the swing classic “Kidney Stew Is Fine” and the slow blues “Whiskey Drinking Woman.” Guitarist Bobby Gilmore, who backed Dallas blues legends Robert Ealey and U.P. Wilson, struts his stuff on the Windy City-styled shuffle “Tore Up From The Floor Up,” and bass player James “Jabo” Houston sings his own easygoing “First Name Is Jabo.”

Ray Reed shines on two numbers, the energetic shuffle “”Whisper In Your Ear” and the marvelously low-key “Boogie Chillen” cover that closes the track with Reed’s growling vocal only backed by guitar. Keyboardist Peewee Calvin’s two songs include the funky and fun “Goodlie Ooglie,” and the urban soul life lesson “Untold Story.” Soul Man Sam (Evans) keeps things on the soul-blues side with two tracks, his grainy vocals doing the job on the opener “Let The Good Times Roll” and going silky smooth on Solomon Burke’s hit “Cry To Me.”

The Kings themselves do a fine job throughout, but the veteran band backing them (Stout – bass, Stevie Fulton – guitar/percussion, Kaz Kazanoff – horns, Nick Connolly – piano, Nico Leophonte and Charles Shaw – drums) get their moment in the spotlight as well with two excellent instrumentals. The first, “Stevie C,” has a funky rhythm that brings to mind the Meters’ heyday, and the second, “Skirt Chaser,” is a cool blues shuffle.

This disc came out in 2017 and if you missed it the first time around, and you are a fan of gritty blues and soul like they do in Texas, you must have this in your collection. Hats off to Stout for continuing to help keep this music alive, and for his continued efforts in bringing it to a wider audience via Dialtone and Austin’s annual Eastside Kings Blues Festival.

--- Graham Clarke

Crystal ThomasA couple of months ago, Blues Bytes reviewed the recent Vizztone album from Bloodest Saxophone featuring the Texas Blues Ladies. Dialtone Records recently issued a 45 from the band featuring vocalist Crystal Thomas. The A-side is the sensually soulful “Your Eyes,” featuring Thomas’ smoothly caressing vocal backed by the band’s superlative horn section. It’s a track that you wish would continue at least twice as long as it does. The B-side is “The Grapevine,” a wild swinging boogie track that appeared on their recent album and features Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller that will get dancers on their feet. If jump blues and boogie is your bag, this is a nice addition to your collection.

Recently, Dialtone also released a 45 for Ms. Thomas in advance of an upcoming album release from the singer in early 2020. If what we hear from “Woman Don’t Lie” / “They Call Me Crystal” is any indication of what to expect from the future album, Ms. Thomas is going to have a very fine year in 2020. She’s backed by the Eastside Kings Band (Eddie Stout – bass, Stevie Fulton – guitar, Nick Connolly – bass), with Jason Moeller manning the drum kit. “Woman Don’t Lie” is funky mid-tempo R&B with Thomas and Fulton splitting the vocal duties, while “They Call Me Crystal” is a sassy slow blues. Both tracks bode well for Thomas and Dialtone Records, a label that never disappoints those blues fans who know about it.

--- Graham Clarke

Charlie WootonBlues fans may recognize Charlie Wooton as the bass player for the supergroups Royal Southern Brotherhood, The New Orleans Suspects, or Zydefunk. The New Orleans bassist recently assembled a talented group, dubbed The Charlie Wooton Project, releasing Blue Basso (Wild Heart Records). The album is a tribute to the late Jaco Pastorious, one of the most influential electric bassists of all time who delved into fusion, funk, blues, and R&B during his sadly-abbreviated career. Wooton is a kindred spirit to Pastorious in that he’s a technical marvel on his instrument and is also constantly looking for new musical directions to pursue.

The Project includes Wooton (bass), Daniel Groover (guitar), Jermal Watson (drums), Keiko Komaki (keys), and prominently features the stunning vocalist Arséne Delay, along with bassist Doug Wimbush and guitarists Sonny Landreth, Anders Osborne, Eric McFadden, and Damon Fowler. The 10-song set list includes several instrumentals among the eight originals and two covers.

Wooton teams up with Wimbush for the opening instrumental, “Jaceaux,” a monster funk dual bass guitar tribute to Pastorious that sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album, but Wooton and company are more than up to the task. “Reflections” and “I Didn’t Know” are R&B tunes that features Delay’s amazing vocals with prime guitar work from Groover on the former, and Fowler (on lap steel) for the latter, while on Pastorious’ “Come On Come Over,” Wooton’s bass takes the lead with Delay vocalizing in support.

The fusion instrumental “Dimenote” features sparkling interplay between Wooton, Groover, and Watson. Osborne plays guitar on the soft ballad “One Night,” another vocal showcase for Delay, and the smoking seven-minute instrumental “Fulton Alley” is another funk-fusion workout that could have gone on for another seven minutes with no problem whatsoever. Landreth appears on two tracks, the most blues-oriented of the set features his superb slide work kicking off the funky rhumba, “Tell Me A Story,” as well as the acoustic “Front Porch” where he plays resonator with Groover on guitar.

The album closes with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” but Wooton’s arrangement sounds a lot like a version I heard on one of Sugar Blue’s 9’0s Alligator releases, much livelier and funkier than the original. McFadden guests on guitar for this track and does a marvelous job, as does Delay on vocals.
Blue Basso covers a wide range of genres --- funk, fusion, R&B, and even the blues. But like Charlie Wooton (and Jaco Pastorious) the music keeps a firm footing in blues and jazz at all times. Granted, it’s not all blues, but blues fans will certainly find a lot to enjoy here with the excellent musicianship and the vocals of Arséne Delay.

--- Graham Clarke

Big Jack ReynoldsMany newer blues fans may not be familiar with the music of Big Jack Reynolds. Actually, many older fans may not be familiar either. I remember reading about him. Around the time I started listening to the blues, he released an album with Art and Roman Griswold on the Blue Suit label that received a lot of attention from music critics at the time. I was never able to track down a copy of that one. Still haven’t, to be honest. I did remember reading an article about Reynolds in Living Blues and then reading his obituary when he passed away in late 1993.

Reynolds was born in the early ’20s in Albany, Georgia, where he learned to sing and play the blues, and traveled with his family visiting relatives in Ohio and Michigan. He eventually settled in Detroit after serving in the army during World War II, and he became an in-demand musician because of his ability to play the harmonica, guitar, piano, and drums. He was able to record while in Detroit with limited success until relocating to Toledo in the late ’60s, where he worked steadily but never recorded again until the ’87 album with the Griswolds.

On the Blue Suit album, Reynolds and the Griswolds were backed by a local band called The Haircuts (Larry Gold – guitar, John Newmark – bass/vocals, Blue Suit co-founder John Rockwood – harmonica/vocals, Marc Gray – percussion, Tim Gahagan – drums, Chad Smith – keyboards), who later backed Reynolds on a few 45s and subsequent cassette for Highball Records shortly before Reynolds’ death.

Over the years, Reynolds became a legend on the Toledo scene, revered so much by the local fans and musicians that Gold and blues fan and Third Street Cigar Records owner John Henry have compiled a two-disc (one CD, one DVD) set honoring the blues man, That’s A Good Way To Get To Heaven. The first disc includes 20 of Reynolds’ recordings, a dozen coming from his Highball recordings where he’s backed by The Haircuts, plus three from the session that were never released.

The Highball tracks include covers of tunes from Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Little Walter, and B.B. King, so listeners new to Reynolds will get an idea of his influences. His own compositions reflect these influences as well. Also included are three tracks from a 1963 session for Fortune/Hi-Q Records (“In My Room,” “I Had A Little Dog”, and “You Don’t Treat Me Right”) with another song (“Going Down Slow”) released a few years later on a Detroit Blues anthology, one side of a 45 recorded for MAH Records in 1963 (“Made It Up In Your Mind”), and a solo harmonica track (“She Must Be A Millionaire”) from his Blue Suit release. This disc gives listeners nearly all of Reynolds’ recorded work and paints a vivid picture of the talents of this traditional blues musician.

The DVD features a movie describing Reynolds’ life and music, with interviews from Gold, Newmark, Rockwood, Henry, Eddie Shaw, and Harmonica Shah, among others, including a few offerings from Reynolds himself. There are some great stories told about Reynolds that describe his generosity, as well as occasional cantankerousness and even chicanery to other artists. However, it’s obvious from all the participants that there was much respect and love for Reynolds, the artist and the individual. Also featured on the DVD are a pair of performances with Reynolds and The Haircuts taken from a local TV show, plus a 16-minute interview conducted before Rockwood's TV performance on which Art Griswold makes a brief appearance.

For fans of old-school blues and blues artists, That’s A Good Way To Get To Heaven is a treasure trove of material about an artist who didn’t get the recognition that he deserved during his lifetime. Kudos to Third Street Cigar Records and The Haircuts and all others involved in assembling this fine tribute.

--- Graham Clarke

Scotty DennisScotty Dennis has been addicted to the blues since the age of four when his uncle would sneak him into Kansas City blues clubs to hear the music, telling the club owner he was a midget! He learned to sing from his mother and has been singing in the church all of his life. Starting his professional career as a backup singer, he eventually joined the All Nighters, who later changed their name to Scotty and the Soul Tones and released several albums including I’ll Be Waiting, which went to #3 on the blues charts. After 20 years with the Soul Tones, Dennis has embarked on a solo career with his new album, Back To The Blues.

Dennis wrote the lyrics on all but one of the 12 tracks, and vocally he’s pretty adept at not just the blues, but also soul, R&B, rock, and even pop, as evidenced by this diverse set. The opener, “I’m Gone,” is a driving rocker, and the mid-tempo “How Can You Love Someone” meshes funk and R&B, while the title track is a solid blues ballad. “Feel My Love” is a slow burner with a pop feel, and the upbeat “It Don’t Cost You Nothing” is a light-hearted romp.

“For Her Love” is modern Malaco-styled soul-blues with fiery fretwork from guitarist Brandon Hudspeth. “It’s Crying Time” is a fine blues ballad with a soulful vocal from Dennis and excellent guitar “response” from Hudspeth. Anthony Gomes’ “Darkest Before The Dawn” is a pop-based R&B ballad, but the roadhouse rocker “I’ve Got The Blues For You” picks up the pace considerably before settling back in with another ballad, “You Got To Love Me.” The album closes with a pair of energetic blues rockers, “When I First Met The Blues” and “Play Some Blues.”

Dennis has a smooth, but well-seasoned voice and handles the ballads and rockers most effectively. The band provides excellent backing, equally efficient whether playing blues, rock, R&B, or soul. Back To The Blues is a most impressive solo debut for Scotty Dennis and should satisfy anyone who digs contemporary blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Heather NewmanHeather Newman’s latest release, Rise From The Flames (Vizztone), will certainly satisfy those who enjoyed her Vizztone debut, Burn Me Alive, which earned the singer/bassist two Blues Blast Awards in 2018 (for Best New Artist Debut Album and the Sean Costello Rising Star Award) and a Best Emerging Artist nomination in the 2019 Blues Music Awards. As with her previous release, Rise From The Flames finds Newman mixing her brand of blues with a little rock, funk, and soul. She also wrote all of the songs, 13 in all, and is ably backed by guitarist Keith Ladd, keyboardist/percussionist Ryan Matthew, and drummer Adam Watson.

The opener, “I’m Coming For You,” is a soul burner with a smoky vocal and driving bass line from Newman, while “Zakary” adds horns (Michael Lefever – sax, Teddy Krulewich – trumpet) and a funky, syncopated beat for a cool R&B feel. “She Sure Looks Like Me” is a sassy slow blues shuffle. Meanwhile, the smooth “You Mean To Tell Me” mixes blues and jazz quite effectively, and the title track is a Texas-fueled ballad with a crisp guitar solo from Ladd.

“Water and Wine” is a sultry slow blues with a strong vocal from Newman, and “Lonely on Beale” is a sad tale of heartbreak that takes place in the Bluff City. “His Soul” is a blues rock ballad and Newman picks up acoustic guitar and gives a heartfelt vocal performance for the poppish “Taking It Slow.” The horns return to kick things up a notch on the funky “Coming Home” and the punchy “Cheapshot, while “What Goes Around” is a mellow soulful number with a Latin rhythm. The album closer, “That’s All,” is a fine ballad with an excellent vocal from Newman that cuts down deep.

Heather Newman’s Burn Me Alive was a great release, but to these ears Rising From The Flames is even better. She’s a top notch vocalist and songwriter, and she plays a pretty mean bass, too. Keep your eyes and ears out for this rising star on the blues scene.

--- Graham Clarke

Nancy WrightI first heard Nancy Wright during her stint as saxophonist for The Frank Bey / Anthony Paule Band, but she’s been one of the most in-demand sax players on not just the blues scene but also the Americana and R&B scenes. Her fourth solo release, and second for Vizztone, is Alive & Blue, recorded live at The Saloon, San Francisco oldest blues club, with her own Rhythm and Roots Band (Paul Revelli – drums, Tony Lufrano – keys/backing vocals, Jeff Tamelier – guitar/backing vocals, Karl Severeid – bass). The set was recorded by Greaseland Studio’s Robby Yamilov and mixed by Kid Andersen, featuring a dozen tracks, five originals and seven covers.

Four of the five originals from Wright are instrumentals, including the funky opener “Bugalu,” where the band really gets an opportunity to shine, particularly Wright and keyboardist Lufrano. The soul-jazz “Jo-Jo” sounds like an old Jimmy Smith track from the ’60s with Lufrano complementing Wright beautifully. “Bernie’s Blues” is a splendid slow burner that gives guitarist Tamelier the spotlight, and the swinging, shuffling “Rutabagas” closes out the disc. Wright also offers a glorious cover of King Curtis’ masterpiece “Soul Serenade.”

Vocally, Wright sounds right at home on covers from old friend/mentor Lonnie Mack (“Been Waiting That Long”), Don Robey (“I Don’t Want No Man” a.k.a. “I Don’t Want No Woman” via Bobby “Blue” Bland), “In Between Tears” (from the Irma Thomas’ catalog), Jay Miller via Lazy Lester (“Sugar Coated Love”), Jay McShann (a rollicking “Keep Your Hands Off Him”), and a soulful take on Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do.” She also sings her own “Warranty,” a smooth after-hours ballad.

One listen to Alive & Blue easily explains why Nancy Wright is one of the most sought-after sax players on the planet, but she’s a dynamite vocalist and bandleader as well and the Rhythm and Roots Band really cooks in support. Blues fans are advised to check out this superb release.

--- Graham Clarke

Jersey Swamp CatsJersey Swamp Cats (Gerry Gladston – vocals/piano, Don Leich – vocals/guitar, Larry Ghiorsi – vocals/bass, Chris Reardon – vocals/drums) are based in northern New Jersey, specializing in blues, New Orleans R&B, rockabilly, old school rock n’ roll, and jump blues. As you might imagine, the combination is an energetic and entertaining mix, best experienced by checking out their latest release, Go Cat Go!

The album consists of four originals with five tasty covers, beginning with a lively version of Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive And Wail.” The band also covers Fats Domino’s classic “Blue Monday” in swinging fashion, and deliver a rockin' take on Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Too Tired.” There’s also a rousing remake of the traditional Cajun number, “Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing,” and a rock-solid redo of Albert King’s “I Get Evil,” with crisp King-like guitar from Leich.

The originals are equally strong. The Windy City-flavored shuffle, “Cupcake!,” really cooks, and the Crescent City groover “I Don’t Mind” really swings with support from guests Anthony Salimbene, Jr. (tenor sax) and Patrick Dudasik (trumpet). Meanwhile, “Dance All Night” is blues with a touch of jazz, and the hard rocking closer, “Shiny Gray Corvette,” ends the album on as high a note as it started.

Go Cat Go! is all killer, no filler. The only downside is that there’s not enough of it, clocking in at just south of 29 minutes. That’s okay though, because you can just start over and enjoy it all over again.

--- Graham Clarke

Kate Lush BandI’ve come to figure out that they really know a thing or two about playing blues and soul in Australia. Some of the best new blues and soul music I’ve heard in recent years has come from the land down under. The Kate Lush Band is the latest addition to my catalog of Australian acts that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. Ms. Lush and the band have enjoyed much success in their native country and in Europe in recent years, and their latest release, Headline, should earn the band a few worldwide.

Headline includes 11 tracks, all written by Lush and the band, which also includes guitarist Matt Roberts, bassist Tim Wilson, drummer Tony Boyd, keyboardist Wes Harder, with horns from Jason Bruer (sax), Mike Raper (trombone), and Adrian Veale (trumpet) on selected tracks and the amazing Dave Hole guesting on two numbers. The band’s brand of blues is a spirited one, incorporating plenty of soul, R&B, and funk.

The title track opens the disc, one of four tracks with horns. It has a light R&B feel and Lush’s vocal is marvelous. The funky “If You Don’t Like It” has a bit of a New Orleans flair with a rock edge. Slide guitarist extraordinaire Hole makes his first appearance on the churning, swampy blues “Jackson,” delivering a hair-raising solo, and Lush turns in a sweet, heartfelt vocal on the wistful ballad “Goodbye To The Rain.”

“Rock That Won’t Roll” is a muscular mid-tempo blues rock, and Hole contributes a soaring solo slide ride on the rugged roadhouse rocker “Weakness.” “You Already Knew” is greasy, funky R&B, and “Fall Down Seven Times” brings the horns back for a nice slice of Stax-influenced soul. Lush shines on the moving ballad “One Heart To Break,” and “How Will I Hold Out” finds the band exploring country rock with successful results. The album closer, “Sanctuary,” is catchy, horn-fueled R&B that closes the disc on a positive note.

Headline is a fine set of modern blues with R&B, funk, and soul. Expect to hear much more from The Kate Lush Band in the coming years.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeff DaleBlues Power (Pro Sho Bidness) , the latest release from Jeff Dale and the Southern Woodlawners, includes 11 original songs recorded by the Chicago native who invited a host of musicians, including members of James Cotton’s and Buddy Guy’s bands, the jam rock band Hunter & the Dirty Jacks, former Chicago horn man (and founding member) Lee Loughnane, along with L.A. Opera cellist Derek Phillips to participate. Dale, a 40-year vet of the blues and roots scene co-produced the disc with Marvin Etzioni.

The opener, “Toxic Stew,” is a pointed look at the grim atmosphere Dale grew up in. He vividly describes the “gray skies and black dust” that he managed to survive. “Good Luck Woman” is an amusing shuffle about a woman who’s more bad luck than good, and the lively title track celebrates the rejuvenating benefits of the blues. “Middle Class Moan” is a winding, funky lament with lyrics that everybody can relate to. Nice harp work from Glen Doll and horns from Loughnane, and the aforementioned cellist appears on the gloomy slow blues “One Step From A Broken Man.”

The pace picks up a bit with the Diddleyesque “Best Kind Of Trouble,” a cool, autobiographical track with Dale’s growling vocal and greasy slide guitar showcased. “Stone Cold” is another blues ballad, with violin accompaniment from Nora Germain. Dale teams with Hunter & the Dirty Jacks on the next three tracks, beginning with the too-brief rockabilly “Let’s Buzz,” moving to the slinky, double-entendre-laden “Undercover Man,” and landing in the Delta for the rough-and-ready “Black Crow.” The rowdy “Can I Boogie” closes the disc on a spirited note.

If down-and-dirty Chicago-flavored blues and boogie is your bag, then Jeff Dale and the Southern Woodlawners have just what you need with Blues Power.

--- Graham Clarke

Cheyenne JamesFrom the time she was ten years old, singer Cheyenne James knew she wanted to be a performer. In those days, she would sing songs from Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, and Etta James. Fifteen years later, the talented Texas vocalist is working to make her own name in the blues/R&B field, having earned the name “Lil’ Miss Blue-Eyed Soul.” She’s also a successful stage actress, dancer, and as seen on the cover of her recent debut, Burn It Up, a fire eater.

Backed by a band (Rock Romano – bass, Dave Carter and Mark May – guitars, Steve Krase – harmonica, Randy Wall – keyboards, Jim Brady – drums, Eric Demmer – sax, Lamar Boulet – trumpet/flugelhorn) that matches her powerhouse vocal, James absolutely rips through this set of tunes, which features six originals, plus four tasty covers.

The covers range from a house rocking take on Titus Turner’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” to Ashford and Simpson’s soulful “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” to a folky read of Van Morrison’s “Steal My Heart Away” and the brassy version of Willie Dixon’s “You Know You Love Me Baby” that closes the disc.

James’ originals are equally potent. “Gypsy Mama” is a feisty shuffle, while “I Didn’t Know” is a lively countrified blues, and the slinky “Lay Me Down” is a funky R&B groover. “Rock” is a slow burning, seductive blues ballad, the swinging “Roll Your Coal” is greasy Memphis-styled soul-blues at its best, and the moody ballad “What Does It Mean” blends blues and jazz effectively.

James’ powerful vocals serve her well on this well-crafted set. Carter and May’s guitar work is standout, as is Krase on harmonica. The rhythm section is rock-solid and the horns fill in the gaps where needed. Burn It Up will satisfy any fans of modern blues and soul, alerting them to a new vocal dynamo on the scene.

--- Graham Clarke

Billie WilliamsBoston native Billie Williams has been a professional singer since her teens, delving into blues, rock, soul, jazz, and country over her career. Her self-titled debut received a lot of attention in 2016, and she has followed up with a worthy sophomore release, Hell To Pay, re-enlisting Grammy-winning producer Danny Blume and turning in another powerful set of contemporary blues and roots music. Williams wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks, touching on traditional blues topics and modern experiences as well.

The opener, “Damn,” is an intense, rumbling blues rocker dealing with a break-up, and the follow-up, “Cold November,” deals with the same topic in a slightly more subdued but equally passionate manner. “Start All Over” reflects on the things that happen to send couples their separate ways, and the exuberant soul/pop of “You” picks up things a bit. The punchy title track addresses the social/economic disparity and the slow burner “Hour By Hour” is another pointed look at the end of a relationship.

“Drink From My Cup” has a Crescent City feel, thanks to Jeremy Mage’s keyboards and the funky rhythm section work from Double Z (bass) and Tony Allen (drums). The enchanting “Lost In The Wilderness” sounds like a long-lost soul track from the ’60s with the horns, Mage’s keyboards, and the backing vocals, and “My Everything” travels along that same vibe with a definite Stax feel. The forlorn “Take These Wings” finds Williams wistfully parting ways with a lover. The anthemic closer, “Ten Million Sisters,” was inspired by Williams’ participation in the Women’s March in Washington back in 2017.

With her strong and soulful voice and superlative songwriting skills, Billie Williams is a voice that deserves to heard by blues and roots fans, who are encouraged to give Hell To Pay a spin as soon as they can.

--- Graham Clarke

Lil ALil A and The Allnighters are a veteran West Coast blues band based in Southern California, but Hip Ya (Straight Up Blues) is only their second release (their first being a demo recording produced to generate gigs). Singer/harmonica player Alex “Lil A” Woodson stumbled onto the West Coast blues scene in the early ’90s, during one of its most fertile periods and fell in love with the soulful harmonica sound generated by such luminaries as William Clarke and Rod Piazza, who took the young Woodson under his wing. The Allnighters are guitarists Bill Bates, Geoff Gurrola, and Mark Amparan, bassists Brion Munsey, and drummer Johnny Minguez.

Hip Ya consists of ten tracks, eight covers and two originals penned by Woodson, one of which is the smoking opener, “Poppin’ Corn,” on which listeners will find out right away that Lil A’s time spent learning from Piazza was well-spent. Guest Kenny Huff plays electric bass on this track. Next up is Junior Wells’ “Country Girl,” covered faithfully to the original with a fine vocal from Woodson and nice guitar work from Bates and Gurrola, and a terrific take of Little Walter’s “Too Late Brother.” Clarke’s “Chromatic Jump” is a fine instrumental showcase for Lil A’s harp, as is a raucous reading of Slim Harpo’s “Hip Shake.”

The title track is the second Woodson original, a cool West Coast-styled shuffle, followed by a groovy cover of Darrell Nullisch’s “Love And War,” which has a steamy Louisiana swamp blues feel. The band stays in the Bayou State for a soulful run at Earl King’s “Those Lonely Lonely Nights.” They keep things in a soul bag for Betty Everett’s “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” before wrapping things up with an exceptional version of Clarke’s “Must Be Jelly.”

While folks in Southern California have been listening to, and singing the praises of Lil A and The Allnighters for over a decade, the delightful Hip Ya should finally let the rest of the country, and the world, know what they’ve been missing.

--- Graham Clarke

Mark CameronMinneapolis blues man Mark Cameron returns with his latest release, On A Roll (Cop Records), a 14-song set of original tunes from Cameron (guitar, lead vocals), Rick Miller (harmonica, vocals), Scott Lundberg (bass, vocals), Dan Schroeder (drums), and Sheri Cameron (sax, flute, percussion). This release is Cameron’s sixth since beginning his focus on the blues in 2009, coming off of the excellent 2017 release recorded live at Blues On The Chippewa, and he and the band also recently represented Minnesota at the International Blues Challenge.

The album kicks off with “Trouble Brewin’,” a swinging shuffle that looks at the beginning of the end of a relationship. “On Your Way To The Top” adds a little funk to the mix, and “Dirty Biscuit” is a gritty blues rocker about a handful of a woman. “Ridin’ The Rails” is a road song with a touch of Canned Heat. Sheri Cameron’s flute accompaniment really adds to the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the title track is an amusing tune about a man who definitely is feeling the blues, and “Dicey” is an interesting jump blues driven by Sheri Cameron’s sax and Mark Cameron’s rumbling spoken narrative.

“Next Stop Is The Blues” is a cool contemporary blues with a touch of rock and pop that meshes together well, and “Where I Got You From” goes back in time to pre-war days with Cameron on resonator, beginning with a dusty, throwback recording approach before updating into more modern times with the full band in support. The spirited “Movin’ Out” gives a nod to Rosco Gordon’s “Just A Little Bit,” and “Back Seat Boogie” has a swinging old school rock n’ roll feel, and the lively “Here We Go” keeps things in the swing mode.

“What Lucy Says” is a terrific blues with Cameron’s excellent guitar work front and center. On the slinky “Mojo Shuffle,” Cameron explains just what “mojo” is. On the closing ballad, “Dreams,” Cameron turns in a soulful, gospel-inflected vocal, perfectly complemented by Ms. Cameron’s sax and Miller’s harmonica.
Cameron is a fine vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, and his bandmates provide superb support throughout On A Roll, which is a most impressive set of modern blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Michele D'AmourMichele D’Amour & The Love Dealers have already released one fine album this year, Heart of Memphis, which is still enjoying success on the blues and roots charts. Their follow-up, Christmas In Blue (Blueskitty Records), may seem like its right on the heels of its predecessor. But D’Amour and the band have been working on it for over two years, and well, it’s Christmas, man, so what better time to release a Christmas album, right?

D’Amour wrote eight of the ten songs, and she’s backed by her excellent ensemble, The Love Dealers (Patrick McDaniel – bass, Jeff Cornell – guitar, Dave Delzotto – drums, Brian Olendorf – keys, and Noel Barnes – saxes) along with guests CD Woodbury (guitars), Mike Mines (trumpet), Greg Schroeder – trombone, and backing vocalist Nancy Box. Mines and Schroeder join the rest of the band for the rousing title track, which opens the disc. Next is “Elf On A Shelf,” a good-natured jab at the kids game that has crept into the adult sector as well, the appropriately-titled “Funky Santa,” and a cool old-school ballad, “Bring My Baby Back.”

The jazzy “All I Got For Christmas” finds D’Amour being passed over by Santa Claus while the band really racked up, and on the spicy “Naughty List” she tries to lure her fella under the mistletoe. On the swinging “Weatherman” she begs her favorite forecaster (the track is dedicated to meteorologist Cliff Mass) for snow at her Seattle home. “The Noisiest Toy” is a wild rockabilly romp which should remind listeners of their days as a kid eagerly awaiting Christmas Day.

The two covers will be familiar to everyone. D’Amour gives a lovely, reverential read of “Silent Night,” and the band’s take on “Little Drummer Boy” adopts a nifty Second Line shuffle that closes the disc on a delightful note.

Christmas In Blue is an excellent addition to any blues fan’s holiday music collection.

--- Graham Clarke


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