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December 2020

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Order these featured albums today:

Bobby Rush

Dan Penn

Don Bryant

Rory Block

Dave Keller

Sass Jordan

Sister Lucille

Sid Whelan

Justin Saladiino Band

Allen Finney

Louise Cappi

Andrew Alli

Liz Mandeville

Justin Howl

Bob Margolin

Katarina Pejak

Gulf Coast Christnas

Andy Cohen - Tryin' To Get Home

Andy Cohen - Small But Mighty

Dave Riley and Bob Corritore


Bobby RushIn 2007, Bobby Rush released Raw, which was his first venture into acoustic blues after years of his raucous brand of soul-blues that made him a star on the chitlin circuit. Rush’s appearance in the 2003 PBS series The Blues widened his audience considerably and inspired the legend to expand his sound a bit. While he’s continued to release outstanding albums of soul-blues he’s managed to mix things up along the way with albums that broadened his palate, like Raw, Folkfunk, Down In Louisiana, and the 2017 Grammy-winning Porcupine Meat.

Rush’s latest release is called Rawer Than Raw (Deep Rush Records) and finds him revisiting traditional blues. This time around, Rush handles all the guitar and harmonica playing with most satisfying results. He wrote five of the 11 tracks on the album, including the rustic opener, “Down In Mississippi,” featuring Rush on gravelly vocals and energetic harmonica and guitar.

Rush’s take on Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor” (presented here as “Hard Times”) is particularly inspired, with Rush’s emphatic but spare guitar loaded with energy, as is the funky “Let Me In Your House,” another Rush original.
Rush next tackles Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” his hypnotic fretwork and vocal asides give the song a fresh coat of paint that makes the oft-covered tune a completely different animal.

Rush also covers Willie Dixon (“Shake It For Me”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (“Don’t Start Me Talkin’”), Robert Johnson (a spirited “Dust My Broom,” which closes the album), and the standard “Honey Bee, Sail On,” taken here at a slow, reflective pace that works really well.

Interspersed with the classic covers are a set of Rush originals, which are never completely originals, as he takes ideas and occasionally lyrics from older blues songs that mesh seamlessly with the full-blown covers.

“Sometimes I Wonder” is another slower-paced song where Rush takes his sweet time, and the song is the better for it. “Let’s Make Love Again” mixes the salaciousness of his soul-blues repertoire with the downhome blues, and Rush has previously recorded “Garbage Man” a couple of times (most recently on the soundtrack for the Last of the Mississippi Jukes documentary in 2003), but it’s always a welcome addition.

So the title of this album, Rawer Than Raw, begs the question….. “is it really rawer than Raw??” Well, to these ears, it is, but what’s more impressive to me is how Bobby Rush, who just turned 87 years old, remains at the top of his game and unafraid of taking chances with his brand of blues. He completely takes over these songs with the sheer weight and magnitude of his talent and personality and just blows this set out of the water. I can’t see any blues fan NOT enjoying Rawer Than Raw.

--- Graham Clarke

Dan PennLiving On Mercy (The Last Music Company) is the first full-blown studio album from Dan Penn in 26 years. The legendary singer/songwriter has released a live album (with Spooner Oldham) and several self-produced “demo” sets in the interim, but this set was recorded in Nashville and Muscle Shoals with Penn offering a mix of new songs and a few songs previously recorded by other musicians. Penn recently turned 79, but his voice is as warm and comfortable as they ever were, the perfect mix of country and soul, and his songs still touch on topics and situations that will appeal to everyday folks.

The title track opens the disc, a look at aging and survival …. “more dead than alive, but somehow I still survive, I must be living on mercy,” the somber lyrics belying the somewhat upbeat accompanying music that initially pulls listeners in. “See You In My Dreams” is a heart-rending tale of a lost love that most people have probably lived through, and “I Do” (co-written with longtime collaborator Spooner Oldham) is a sweet, sentimental ballad that would have probably been a hit during the old FAME Records days for one of their artists. “Clean Slate” would have been as well, and probably could be today.

“I Didn’t Hear That Coming” is another standout, a story of love with an unexpected twist taken at a livelier pace, and on “Down On Music Row” Penn relates the tale of an ambitious songwriter arriving in Nashville and being rejected by all comers. It's a tale which might have a bit of autobiographical connotation. “Edge of Love” is the hardest rocking track on the album, with soulful horns and Will McFarlane’s guitar work, and “Blue Motel,” one of two songs co-written by Penn with the Cate Brothers, tells of a meeting place for desperate lovers (their other collaboration is the bouncy, upbeat “Soul Connection”).

“Things Happen” was previously recorded by Bobby Purify about 15 years ago, one of the best tracks on his Better To Have It album from 2005, and it’s really good to hear Penn’s own bittersweet version, as his aching, vulnerable vocal is pitch perfect. The gentle gospel closer, “One of These Days,” finds Penn pondering his final days and testifying that we all need to get our acts together before that day arrives.

Dan Penn is one of those musical talents who needs to be heard by anybody who just enjoys good music. A songwriter who sings as well as he writes, Penn’s songs will appeal especially to blues, soul, and even country music fans. Buy a copy of Living On Mercy, and while you’re at it, grab a few for your friends who dig great music. I have to admit that I’ve bought Dan Penn records for some of mine over the years, and this one is no exception.

--- Graham Clarke

Don BryantOne of the nicest comeback stories of the past few years has been the return of soul singer/songwriter Don Bryant to performing and recording. One of the great songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s for Hi Records, Bryant started out as a performer with the label, but settled in as a songwriter. Hi Records head man Willie Mitchell assigned him to work with a young singer named Ann Peebles. The pair formed a tight musical and personal bond, marrying in 1974, but in the meantime, Bryant co-wrote several of Peebles’ biggest hits,.including “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” “99 Pounds,” and “Fill This World With Love.”  He also wrote songs for Al Green, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright, and Otis Clay.

When Hi folded in the late ’70s, Bryant and Peebles took a break, with Bryant focusing on gospel music in the ’80s. When Peebles returned to performing and recording in the ’80s Bryant provided new songs and support, but continued in the gospel genre. Peebles suffered a stroke in 2012, retiring from performing and Bryant found himself with free time, so he began to write songs again. He was invited to perform with The Bo-Keys on their 2016 album, Heartaches By The Number, singing the title track. That performance inspired Bryant to return to the studio in 2017, when he released the excellent Don’t Give Up On Love on Fat Possum Records. Bryant sounded as good as he did 50 years earlier, with several Hi alumni backing him, and the album was one of the best of the year.

Bryant’s not done yet either, releasing a follow-up, You Make Me Feel (Fat Possum Records), earlier this summer. The 78-year-old sounds as good as he did on his previous release and he’s backed by a most impressive band, including producer Scott Bomar (bass, keyboards, guitar, percussion), Howard Grimes (drums), Rev. Charles Hodges (organ), Joe Restivo (guitar), Al Gamble and Archie “Hubbie” Turner (keyboards), and a horn section that includes Marc Franklin (trumpet and arrangements), Kirk Smothers and Art Edmaiston (sax).

Bryant wrote eight of the ten tracks, including remakes of several of his classic hits. We hear a smoldering version of “I Die A Little Each Day,” which Otis Clay released in the ’70s, the gospel-flavored slow burner “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me,” which Bryant himself recorded in the mid ’60s, and the irresistible “99 Pounds,” a hit for his wife in 1971.

The new songs, some co-written with Bomar, more than measure up to the classics. “Your Love Is To Blame” sounds like vintage Stax/Hi-era deep soul with the horns and the backing vocals, and Bryant’s performance on the heartbreaker “Is It Over,” will leave a lump in your throat. The Latin-tinged betrayal tune, “Your Love Is Too Late,” is another standout, and “I’ll Go Crazy” is a superb soul ballad that also recaptures that ’70s Hi vibe (Bryant actually recorded this one, written by James Cross and Johnnie and Mary Frierson in the late ’60s),. The nimble “Cracked Up Over You” has a Motown feel and “A Woman’s Touch” reads like a sweet tribute to Peebles.

Bryant closes the albums with a funky take on the gospel standard “Walk All Over God’s Heaven,” returning to the music he sang for nearly 40 years. I hear the backing vocals of the Sensational Barnes Brothers behind Bryant on this one, and if this joyful tune doesn’t put a hop in your step you might want to check your pulse. If Bryant’s gospel records are this good, I might have to track them down.

Simply put, if you love the vintage Memphis soul music of the ’60s and ’70s, especially those sounds emanating from the Hi Records studios of the era, you must……you MUST own this album. You Make Me Feel successfully recaptures that golden sound and hopefully, Don Bryant will continue to make up for lost time with more fine recordings like this one, and it’s predecessor.

--- Graham Clarke

Rory BlockRory Block continues her “Power Women of the Blues” series with Prove It On Me (Stony Plain Records). Where the first entry in the series focused on the music of Bessie Smith (A Woman’s Soul), this time around Ms. Block focuses on some of the more obscure names from the early days of the blues, with seven tunes originally recorded by Helen Humes, Madlyn Davis, Rosetta Howard, Arizona Dranes, Lottie Kimbrough, Merline Johnson, and Elvie Thomas, along with a pair of songs from more familiar names (Memphis Minnie and Ma Rainey), plus one Block original. All sounds on the album are from Block and her husband, Rob Davis.

While you may not be familiar with some of the artists, you will know several of the songs. Humes’ “He May Be Your Man” has been covered by a host of artists over the years, but Block’s lively, freewheeling version is distinctive from the rest. Davis recorded “It’s Red Hot” in the late ’20s with Tom Dorsey on piano and Tampa Red on guitar, earning the name “Red Hot Shakin’” Davis for her efforts. Block’s version generates heat as well, and then she adopts a more serene approach (probably most appropriately) for Rosetta Howard’s tribute to marijuana, “If You’re A Viper,” while the feisty title track comes from the equally feisty Ma Rainey’s catalog.

Arizona Dranes was a blind gospel singer and pianist. She was one of the first professional woman gospel singers, and the first to play piano on a gospel record. One of her better-known songs is “I Shall Wear A Crown,” covered beautifully by Block who replicates Dranes’ high-singing style. On Lottie Kimbrough’s “Wayward Girl,” Block doesn’t imitate Kimbrough’s voice but effectively conveys the world-weariness of the original song, dropping in some nice slide guitar in the process. Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days” gets a nice, leisurely treatment, and Merlene Johnson’s spicy “Milkman Blues” is a lot of fun, too. Block concludes the album with the somber “Motherless Child,” from Elvie Thomas, with a heartfelt vocal and mesmerizing slide guitar.

The lone original tune from Block is “Eagles,” which she calls a “pretty straight-ahead account from my own life.” She delivers it in the same pre-war style as the other nine tracks and it fits like a glove.

I have truly enjoyed Rory Block’s tribute series, her earlier “Mentor Series,” honoring many of the male singers she met in her early day, and this ongoing series. I’ve learned a lot about these artists and their music. She is able to convey the power and majesty of the original artists while playing their songs, but manages to inject her own sound into the music as well. Prove It On Me leaves me anxiously awaiting the next volume in the series.

--- Graham Clarke

Dave KellerThe Bucks County Blues Society in Pennsylvania was established in 1977, and is recognized as the oldest blues society in the country. Since the early ’80s, they have hosted a Spring Fever Footstomper, which was launched in 1981 with Luther Allison as headliner. The Killer Guitar Thriller series started in 1983 with Matt “Guitar” Murphy as feature attraction. In 2019, Vermont singer/guitarist Dave Keller journeyed southward with his band (Alex Budney – bass, Jay Gleason – drums) for the festival and nearly blew the roof off the old Edgely, Pennsylvania VFW building.

Earlier this year, Keller released the set on his Tastee-Tone Records, Live at the Killer Guitar Thriller. It’s a strong 15-song set that mixed original tunes from Keller with a bevy of select covers. Four of the songs are among the best tunes from Keller’s then-recent Catfood Records release, Every Soul Is A Star --- the soulful title track, the funky rock-edged “Don’t Let Them Take Your Joy,” the upbeat love song “It’s All In Your Eyes,” and “Kiss Me Like You Miss Me,” a song Keller tells the audience was inspired by his mentor, Johnny Rawls. It would be cool if Rawls were to record it one day.

Other Keller originals are the bluesy “Slow Train,” from 2016’s Right Back Atcha. Keller enjoys some banter with the raucous audience during this song, and it’s obvious everyone is having a good time. The mid-tempo title track, “Right Back Atcha,” is here as well, another standout performance, and the Memphis-based “17 Years,” one of Keller’s finest moments from 2014’s Soul Changes, gets a superb treatment, too.

The covers include “Steppin’ Out” (previously performed by Syl Johnson and, later, Robert Cray) and O.V. Wright’s “Are You Going Where I’m Coming From.” Both were also part of Keller’s 2011 Where I’m Coming From album. He also tackles Albert King’s “As The Years Go Passing By,” which allows him ample space to put his impressive guitar chops on display (a nice feature of this album is Keller’s guitar work, often overshadowed on his studio releases). He also pays tribute to another mentor, Mighty Sam McClain, with a splendid version of one of McClain’s favorite tunes, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “This Time I’m Gone For Good.”

There’s also a unique take on Magic Sam’s “All Night Long,” with more ripping guitar from Keller, a mashup of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “My Younger Days” and Jody Williams’ “Moanin’ For Molasses,” George Jackson’s “Heart On A String,” and the raucous closer, Clifton Chenier’s zydeco classic “Hot Tamale Baby,” the latter which surely had the audience on their feet to wrap things up.

The event was recorded via a stereo mic in the middle of the dance floor and forwarded to Keller, who liked the music and performance so much that he decided to release it. The sound is not perfect, but it effectively captures Keller’s (and the band’s) raw energy and the appreciative audience’s pleasure is obvious as well. Live at the Killer Guitar Thriller is 77 minutes of soul-blues heaven. If  you’re not a fan of Dave Keller before hearing it, you certainly will be afterward.

--- Graham Clarke

Chickenbone SlimIt’s been awhile since I enjoyed Chickenbone Slim’s 2017 CD, The Big Beat, so I was excited to run across the San Diego-based musician’s latest release, Sleeper (Lo-Fi Mob Records). Like its predecessor, Sleeper was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Returning contributors include Andersen, guitarist Scot Smart, drummer Marty Dodson, harmonica player Troy Sandow, with Laura Chavez and former Beat Farmers guitarists Joey Harris and Jerry Raney all lending a hand here and there.

Sleeper includes ten songs, all written by Slim (a.k.a. Larry Teves), and they’re guaranteed to get your blood pumping. The album begins with the thumping boogie, “Vampire Baby,” complete with throbbing walking bass, Slim’s slashing guitar, and Sandow’s harmonica. The cool old-school rocker, “Tougher Than That,” picks up the pace a bit, and “The Ballad of Dick” is the rowdy rockabilly tale of Country Dick Montana, the late drummer for The Beat Farmers. “Strolling With Chickenbone” is a jumping West Coast-styled instrumental that really percolates.

The mid-tempo “My Bad Luck” has a swamp blues feel, and “Ride” is a rapid-paced boogie that really cooks. The acoustic “Helpless” is an interesting change of pace, with Slim’s world-weary vocal and contemplative lyrics. “Little Victory” is a tight blues rocker that looks at just making it through the day and looking for a little light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and the mid-tempo “Dignity” just asks that Slim’s soon-to-be ex-lover leaves him with just a little bit. The funky blues “These Things Happen” is the album closer.

Sleeper is another winner for Chickenbone Slim, a cool mix of traditional and contemporary blues and roots with his retro sound and progressive songwriting.

--- Graham Clarke

Sass JordanCanadian-based vocalist Sass Jordan has built a huge following over her 30+year career, winning the JUNO Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist and Billboard’s Best Female Rock Vocalist, and working as an actress and serving as the lone female judge on the Canadian version of American Idol during its six-year run. Her music has always moved between rock, blues and soul, but her latest, Rebel Moon Blues (Stony Plain Records), is her first album to really focus completely on the blues. Backed by her band, the Champagne Hookers, Jordan tackles seven blues standards from various eras of the genre, plus one original tune.

The opener, Sleepy John Estes’ “Leaving Trunk,” hews closely to the Taj Mahal version musically, but Jordan’s growling delivery kicks things up a notch. Little Walter’s classic “My Babe” gets a fresh interpretation as Jordan sings it from a female perspective, and Keb Mo’s “Am I Wrong,” gets a lively, stripped-down treatment with Jordan’s vocals, Chris Caddell’s dobro, and hand claps for percussion. The Elmore James standard, “One Way Out,” keeps the Allman Brothers Band backdrop with layered guitars and a gritty vocal from Jordan that works really well.

Leon Russell’s “Palace Of The King,” best remembered from Freddie King’s torrid ’70s version, is mere putty in the hands of Ms. Jordan and the guitarists (Caddell and Jimmy Reid). Next up is the lone original, “The Key,” a blues ballad with a rock edge penned by Jordan and her husband, singer Derek Sharp. J.B. Hutto’s “Too Much Alcohol” gets a slower, stripped-down treatment with Jordan and Caddell’s slide guitar , and she really does a number on this stellar track. The closer is Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues,” with Jordan and band saving the best for last with the splendid slow burner.

The Champagne Hookers (Caddell and Reid – guitars/vocals, Derrick Brady – bass/vocals, and Cassius Pereira – drums/vocals) are augmented by harp ace Steve Marriner (MonkeyJunk), keyboardist Jesse O’Brien, and vocalists Hill Kourkoutis, and co-producer (with Jordan) D#. Clocking in at a brief 33 minutes,

Rebel Moon Blues nevertheless gets a lot said and done in a short time, and is highly recommended listening for blues and blues rock fans. Hopefully, Sass Jordan will give us more of this great music soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Sister LucilleSister Lucille, a band hailing from southwest Missouri, advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 I.B.C. with their powerful modern mix of blues, soul, funk, and R&B. Singer Kimberly Dill and the band (Jamie Holdren – lead vocals/guitar, Kevin Lyons – drums/percussion, and Eric Guinn – bass) released their debut album, Alive (Endless Blues Records), a little over a year ago, and it earned them the 2020 Blues Blast Music Award for New Artist Debut Album. Listening to the 11-song set of nine originals and two covers, it’s hard to argue with the voters who selected it.

The album kicks off with the muscular blues rocker, “Won’t Give It,” which addresses the modern perils of dating. The mid-tempo title track is Dill’s tribute to California, mixing soul and funk, with Dill pouring her heart out on vocals and Holdren contributng some funky fretwork. Holdren breaks out the slide and cigar box guitar for the scorching “See My Baby,” a tough southern rocker on which he also sings. The Latin-flavored “Devil’s Eyes” is highlighted by vivid songwriting and Dill’s steamy vocal, and the greasy “Wanna Lose You” sounds like a lost mid-’70s R&B hit.

The album’s first cover is a smoking remake of Ann Peebles’ “99 Pounds,” with Dill practically owning this one, her vocal brimming with sass and brass and the band raising a ruckus behind her. Eric Hughes guests on harnonica on the blues burner, “Respect Your Woman,” while Holdren takes on social media with the funky rocker, “Fussin’ & Fightin’.” Mark “Muleman” Massey joins Dill on vocals for the soulful Memphis-styled “Think About You,” yielding most impressive results.

The album’s second cover is a sultry take on Etta James’ “W-O-M-A-N,” and the album closes with “Lost,” a moving plea for peace and harmony in the world, sung by Holdren.

Alive is a most excellent debut release by an up-and-coming band. Sister Lucille seems to have all of the parts in place with two talented vocalist (who are also excellent songwriters) and superb instrumental support as well. Great things appear to be in store for Sister Lucille.

--- Graham Clarke

Sid WhelanSid Whelan has studied songwriting with Steve Earle and Chely Wright, studied guitar with Woody Mann and Howard Morgen, and served as lead guitarist for several world music acts, among them the Lijadu Sisters and Afroblue. In 2013, he began releasing his own material, recently issuing his third effort, Waitin’ For Payday, an eight-song set of original tunes. Each song acknowledges all of his musical influences, moving from blues to jazz, rock, soul, and country.

The opener, “Nina Simone,” is an acoustic, jazz-flavored tribute to the singer, while “Love Me Right” is a gentle country/pop rocker. The soulful “Make Some Time” adds horns and a dash of light funk, and “Midnight In The Country” is gritty, atmospheric electric blues rock.

Meanwhile, Whelan’s background in world music is on display on the moody, percussion-based “Legba Ain’t No Devil” and “The Promise,” an intriguing track which also adds jazz and blues into the mix. The title track has a bit of New Orleans flavor and puts the “fun” in funky, and the closer, “Break It Down,” shows that Whelan can play the blues straight and nasty.

Whelan is an excellent, clever songwriter. He’s also a fine, expressive singer and guitarist, and his instrumental support is first-rate. Waitin’ For Payday is an interesting and diverse set of blues and roots that will appeal to blues fans who like a little extra in their music.

--- Graham Clarke

Justin Saladino BandThe Montreal-based Justin Saladino Band’s recent release, JSB Live (Disques BROS Records), is a live recording in a studio (Piccolo Studios) with a small, intimate audience. The band (Saladino – vocals/guitars, Antoine Loiselle – guitars, David Osei-Afrifa – keys, Denis Paquin – drums/vocals, Gabriel Forget – bass/vocals, Lucie Mertel – vocals/percussion) offers ten favorites from their previous two releases (the 2016 EP No Worries and 2018’s A Fool’s Heart), plus one tasty cover, all of which perfectly capture the band’s solid blues-rock/funk musical palette.

The first three songs come from A Fool’s Heart, the R&B-flavored rocker “Take What You Need,” the melodic mid-tempo “Honey,” and the deliciously funky “Bad Habit.” Saladino breaks out the slide for the cover of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” giving the track an easy, southern rock vibe.

Three more tunes from A Fool’s Heart follow, all slower tempo choices --- the smooth ballad “All You Ever Need,” the reflective “Put The Hammer Down,” and “Peace With You,” a supreme soul burner.

The stomping blues rocker “Purple Girl” (from No Worries) kicks things back into high gear with scorching guitar work, and the mid-tempo “A Fool I’ll Stay” mixes rock and funk seamlessly. “Irish Bordello” is a fast-paced, driving rocker that also features standout fretwork from Saladino. The disc wraps up with a bonus track, the title track from No Worries.

The live setting allows the band to stretch out a bit on these tunes from their original versions, and also adds a bit of spontaneity and energy to the proceedings. The appreciate audience obviously inspired the band as well. JSB Live is a great picture of an up-and-coming band, their previous work, and their continued development. Definitely worth a listen.

--- Graham Clarke

Lightning RodLightnin’ Rod & the Thunderbolts recently released Long Road Back To Eden (Memphis Blues Records), their first album since 2014’s Guilty of The Blues. Lightnin’ Rod Wilson is still handling guitar and lead vocals and he has retained the trio format, joined by Greg Kitzmiller (drums/percussion) and Jimmy Seville (bass), with guests Tommy Cate (harmonica), David Sears (piano), and Kristi Kitzmiller, Danielle Gross, and Kaylee Bays (harmony vocals). The new release includes nine songs, with seven originals from Wilson.

The opener, “Kentucky Mojo,” is one of those spirited blues rockers that Wilson and band do so well. He is a first-rate guitarist , with his feisty vocal a great fit. “Reverend Jones” is a tribute to a late preacher man who said “No” to the devil and never relented in his fight against evil, while the energetic title track admonishes against the evils of sin individually and collectively. Meanwhile, the moody “Till The Sun Goes Down” mixes gospel and the blues with an old-school, sweaty Mississippi Delta feel, while “Florida Shore” has a breezy vibe as Wilson opts for warmer climes.

The two covers appear back-to-back. First is Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” with Wilson’s version taking the same mid-tempo approach, but the extra instrumentation is effective. Wilson also does a fine job on Louis Armstrong’s feel-good anthem, “What A Wonderful World.” “The Morning Sun” is a poignant elegy for a recently-departed pup, and the closer, “I Should Have Seen That Comin’,” is a tough blues rocker signaling relief at the end of a relationship.

I enjoyed Lightnin’ Rod’s first two releases, but haven’t heard any new material in about 15 years. It’s nice to see that he’s still making great music. As always, he gets maximum sound and energy out of the power trio attack. He’s a powerful guitarist and vocalist and the rhythm section is spot on. With great songs and performances, Long Road Back To Eden, should please fans of blues rock.

--- Graham Clarke

Allen FinneyAllen Finney is an American-born musician/songwriter who has been based in Sweden over the past 40 years, where he’s released nine albums, His most recent effort is In a Blue Frame (Mojo Music), his second collaboration with Swedish musician/producer Robert Ivansson, their first being the well-received 2018 release Salt Breeze With Kings. Finney wrote all 11 songs on the album, singing and playing harmonica and guitar while Ivansson plays bass. They are joined by a diverse set of musicians on the tracks, a mix of traditional and contemporary blues.

Finney’s charming vocals are a highlight on these tracks, and his dry sense of humor comes through these songs over and over again via his vocals and lyrics. The opener, “Cloudy Sky Roll,” is a jaunty old school country blues that hooks you from the opening verse. Next is the ominous “My Devil Turns Around,” replete with twangy guitar and Finney’s craggly vocal, and “Here I Am at 3 AM,” an energetic and jumping mix of blues and jazz that adds tuba to the mix.

The moody “Cold Quarter Moon” pulls you in so hard with such vivid imagery that you’ll be able see your breath in the cool air before the song finishes, and then there’s “A Guy Named Sly,” a warning about the potential results of taking your lover for granted.

Felicia Nielsen joins Finney on vocals for the sentimental ballad. “My Old Shoes,” which should leave listeners with a warm feeling inside. Finney plays harp on both “I’m Glad You’re Gone” and “Goin’ Back To My Gal,” a pair of mid-tempo number that manage to blend a bit of country, blues and soul together most effectively.

The country-flavored “Take the Change” teams Finney with singer Hanna Francis on vocals, and the blues rocker “You Ain’t Funny” jabs people who aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are when trying to cheer someone up. The disc concludes with “Walking On,” an upbeat tune about perseverance through hard times.

In a Blue Frame is a disc that any blues fan will enjoy. Allen Finney is an excellent songwriter whose life experiences permeate each of his songs and his warm, weathered vocals pull you in if the lyrics don’t (but they will). The musical support is first rate (notably steel guitarist Johan Lindström on selected tracks) and there’s just plenty to like about the whole album, so give it a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

Louise CappiNew Orleans-based vocalist Louise Cappi moves effortlessly between blues and jazz, mixing in elements of Latin music, rock, funk, and pop. She’s the daughter of the late Al Cappi, New York-based jazz guitarist who was a master of the seven-string guitar, and she grew up singing on gigs with her dad and later sang contemporary gospel while in college. After moving from New York to New Orleans, she began to perform with area artists such as Delfeayo Marsalis and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. Her new album, the appropriately titled Mélange, includes nine eclectic tunes, four Cappi originals among them.

The first track, Cappi’s ballad “Talk To Me,” has a slippery Caribbean rhythm with a nice romantic flair. She covers Randy Newman’s “Guilty” superbly with a strong but not overpowering vocal performance. Alex Krahe’s guitar work is particularly noteworthy on this track, giving the track a real blues flavor. Cappi’s treatment of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” will send listeners back to the ’70s with her sweet vocal and the funky R&B backdrop (smooth and subtle solos from Krahe and keyboardist Paul Longstreth.

The charming “Bella NOLA” is Cappi’s loving tribute to her adopted home city, her heartfelt vocal is backed perfectly by Russell Ramirez’s trombone. Next is a cool medley of Aretha Franklin’s (via Don Covey) “Chain of Fools” and “Unchain My Heart,” a soulful mashup with a funky New Orleans twist.

Cappi’s third original, “It Is What It Is,” is an interesting ballad signaling the end of a relationship. It’s followed by a tasty read of the Gershwin’s “Summertime” that also manages to weave in a tiny bit of Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”

Cappi’s steamy “Let’s Make Love” is playful and carefree, and her interpretation of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” is stunning, as she delivers a masterful vocal backed only by piano from Jenna McSwain.

Mélange is a beautiful and inspiring set that combines a variety of musical styles most effectively. Louise Cappi’s wonderful voice is one that you won’t forget soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Andrew AlliRichmond, Virginia native Andrew Alli took up harmonica at age 20, later than normal for most musicians, but, boy, did he make up for lost time. The young man took it upon himself to not only learn to play the instrument, but also learn the history of the instrument. In the process he fell in love with the blues and some of the genre’s legendary harp masters, such as Little Walter, Big Walter, George “Harmonica” Smith, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Junior Wells, among others. At the same time, he’s taken what he learned from those legends and managed to incorporate it into his own unique sound.

Alli’s debut release for EllerSoul Records, Hard Workin’ Man, is as fine a set of traditional Chicago blues as you’ve heard in a long while. Through the course of a dozen tracks (nine originals, three covers), The young harmonica player pays tribute to the vintage Chicago blues, backed by a band (Jon Atkinson – guitar/bass, Carl Sonny Leyland – piano, Danny Michel – guitar, Devin Neel and Buddy Honeycutt – drums) that come as close as possible to replicating the classic ’50s Chess/Vee-Jay/Cobra recordings.

Alli’s original tunes would have been a perfect fit in the catalog of the above-mentioned labels, beginning with the stop-time shuffling title track that opens the disc, rolling with the boogie on the lively “Going Down South,” and settling into the splendid slow blues “30 Long Years.” Meanwhile, the jaunty “Texas Woman,” and a pair of lively original shuffles (“Easy Going Fellow” and “So Long”) are also highlights.

Alli also composed three fine instrumentals, the lively “AA Boogie,” the heavy-duty “Chrom-A-Thick,” and “Walkin’ Down,” the latter which gave me goose bumps because it sounded so much like those classic tracks I first loved when I started listening to the blues.

Alli also covers George “Harmonica” Smith’s “Good Things,” Big Walter Horton’s instrumental “Walter’s Sun,” and “Little Walter’s “One More Chance,” easily capturing the spirit and tone of the original versions while adding a dash or flair of his own to each offering.

Alli’s harmonica skills are first rate, but his vocals are on the same level, a perfect match for the vintage setting of this material. Hard Workin’ Man should be on the radar of any self-respecting fan of those good ol’ ’50s-era Windy City blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Liz MandevilleIn late 2016, Liz Mandeville was seriously injured in a car wreck, leaving her with multiple injuries so severe that it was believed she would never play or perform again. However, they underestimated the feisty redhead who battled back slowly, eventually stopping her pain meds and opting for acupuncture, Chinese herbs, rehab, and yoga. Four months after the accident, she did her first gig, and nine months after the accident she began recording sessions for her album, Playing With Fire (Blue Kitty Records).

The new release is a collaborative effort in the tradition of Mandeville’s previous release, The Stars Motel, featuring guest artists Dario Lombardo (Italian guitarist), Dutch guitarist Peter Struijk, Japanese guitarist Minoru Maruyama (Mandeville’s regular guitarist), French guitarist Phillippe Fernandez (Big Dez), harp player Gilles Gabisson, and American artists Ilana Katz Katz (violin), Anne Harris (violin), and Johnny Burgin (guitar). The album was recorded in five sessions between 2017 and 2019 in Chicago. Mandeville penned the 13 songs with musical contributions from Dez, Struijk, Maruyama, Katz, and Lombardo.

The first session on the album, from July, 2017, teams Mandeville with Lombardo, Harris, drummers Andy Sutton and Jim Godsey, and bassist Steve Hart. The opening track, “Bailing The Titanic,” is a traditional blues shuffle about attempting to save a doomed relationship. It’s followed by “Online Love Affair,” a greasy foray into Memphis-styled soul, and “Everybody’s Got Wings,” a dreamy, haunting ballad accentuated by Harris’ violin and Lombardo’s slide guitar.

The next featured session (recorded in late 2018) brings together Mandeville with Maruyama, Sutton, and bassist Darryl Wright for “Comfort Food Blues,” a humorous talking blues about the pitfalls of overindulging, a song we can certainly all relate to during this time of year. The session with Big Dez and Gabisson was recorded in June of 2019, and includes three tracks --- the boisterous rocker “Keep On Workin’,” the slow burning Chicago-styled “I Just Cry,” and the mid-tempo “How Many Times (Do You Get To Break My Heart).”

The Katz session, recorded in August 2019, features two tracks --- the swinging, jazzy “He Loves My Biscuits,” a fun, double entendre-laced song with Katz adding fiddle and Mandeville’s husband Carl Uchiyama contributing backing vocals, and “Just Give Her Chocolate,” a rockabilly raver that claims to find the cure for all the world’s problems.

The session with resonator player Struijk, from February 2018, offers four traditional blues tracks. “Poor Robert Johnson” tells the tale of the legendary blues guitarist, “Joliet Town” is the story of a career criminal sent to the prison at a young age, and on “Boss Lady” Mandeville (who was given the nickname “Boss Lady of the Blues” from drummer Twist Turner) relates the story of her accident and her recovery (with an assist from Burgin on guitar). The final track is “Hey Babe Ya Wanna Boogie” (credited to John Hammond), a short, but sweet acoustic tune with pre-war influences.

Liz Mandeville’s latest couldn’t have a more appropriate title than Playing With Fire, because she does just that throughout the album. These are some of her best songs and she’s never sounded better as a vocalist or guitarist. It’s true that you can’t keep a good woman down for long, and blues fans should definitely be grateful for that.

--- Graham Clarke

Tom EulerOn the singles side this month, we have a new track from Virginia-based singer/guitarist Tom Euler, who impressed last year with his debut solo release, Blues Got My Back (reviewed in November issue of Blues Bytes). Euler plans to release a pair of singles in advance of a new full-length album set for 2021.

The first of these singles is “Don’t Look For Me,” a hard-charging Chicago-styled shuffle that adds a bit of Texas roadhouse boogie to the mix. Euler, who served as lead guitarist for the Bobby Blackhat band during the 2010s, is certainly a confident and assured guitarist, his solo is most impressive on this track and his vocals are nearly equal to his fretwork. “Don’t Look For Me” is an excellent track that will have fans breathlessly awaiting Euler’s next single and album.

--- Graham Clarke

Holy MolyA shot in the arm as therapeutic as a COVID-19 vaccination, Live In Europe 2020 (Pink Lane Records) is a scorching Christmas cracker of an album to celebrate what will hopefully be the pandemic blues finale. With several million streams from major digital music platforms and a highly engaged, expansive fan base of ‘holy rollers’, UK’s Holy Moly & The Crackers are hot on the heels of Eric Burdon, The Animals and Lindisfarne in establishing themselves as musical legends in Newcastle upon Tyne. From quirky, gypsy folksy compositions and Balkan traditions to the fire and intensity of soul, blues, indie rock and jazz played with infectious, irresistible punk energy, these brilliant, eclectic musicians were born to entertain with a vengeance. Fortunately for posterity and not just for Christmas, this incendiary live set was recorded at the beginning of the band’s European tour before coronavirus struck and the concerts were cancelled.

Not so much a band as a true force of nature, charismatic co-founder, singer and guitarist Conrad Bird sets the scene with powerful, gritty blues-drenched vocals on the funk-driven, foot stomping “Sugar.” For a new audience this is an unexpected theatrical performance enhanced by a Chenier-vibe accordion background wash. The pace ramps up even further with “All I Got Is You”, once again featuring the squeezebox wizardry of Rosie Bristow and the finger blurring violin fretwork of Ruth Patterson. Ruth also shows why she has succeeded in simultaneously forging a successful solo career during the past nine months with her exceptional vocal range, timbre and cadence.

The first scintillating axe solo of the evening highlights what is to come from Nick Tyler’s inventive lead guitar interludes. Given the band’s American roots and blues influences combined with Rosie’s knowledge of rag-time piano, it is not surprising that “Gravel Rag” was conceived and interpreted as an excuse for dirty dancing and hard partying. Its mesmeric bad-ass blues hooks and riffs are the perfect platform for Patterson to shred her strings Jimi Hendrix style.

Bristow’s melodious instrumental, “River Neva,” brings a Russian dimension with its jigs and Cossack dancing rhythms leading to a fast and furious climax. The sheer pace of some of this band’s material is only possible because of the skills and fluency of dynamic drummer Tommy Evans and nimble-fingered bassist Jamie Shields. On “Naked In Budapest”, Conrad highlights the dangers of overimbibing local liquor, the increasingly boisterous fans screaming the anthemic chorus “We’re not going home.”

Conrad’s audacious trumpet solo introduces ”A Punk Called Peter,” a phantasmagoria of strings, accordion and vocal effects. The barnstorming, mega Hollywood hit single “Cold Comfort Lane”’ courtesy of Ocean’s 8 soundtrack, raises the temperature even higher, the audience now verging on the hysterical. “Devil And The Danube.” from the band’s debut album nearly a decade ago. is a nod to the Robert Johnson legend, Conrad and Ruth taking turns to communicate the narrative with style and panache.

The circus-inspired “Upside Down” is another high tempo, infectious auditory smorgasbord with all musicians in perfect synchronization amidst the vaudeville vibe. The hard rocking 2020 single, “Road To You,” makes its live debut and proves to be a sensational showstopper. Sadly, all parties have to end, this one with “Whiskey Ain't No Good,” sung by special guest Rob Heron, leader of the Tea Pad Orchestra.

The whole evening is a gloriously uplifting, celebratory omen for a better future.

--- Dave Scott

Justin HowlWe get a lot of albums sent our way for review in Blues Bytes, far more than we have time to cover, but we try not to overlook a promising independent artist. One such bluesman is Chicago-based Justin Howl, whose self-released Wanderlust  album is entertaining and shows potential for more. It's a solo acoustic project, with Howl doing vocals and playing both guitar and harmonica.

On his website, Howl points out that his Mississippi roots greatly influence his music, especially displaying the hypnotic North Mississippi style on the ten original cuts on Wanderlust. That rhythmic quality comes out on "Times I Been Good," with a touch of gospel influence. One of my favorite numbers is "Love Triangle," on which Howl repetitively sings about relationships that seem to form more than just a triangle --- :"... I'm in love with a woman who's in love with a woman who's in love with a man ..." I'm counting four souls in that triangle but it doesn't matter. The vocals are strong and folksy, with good guitar and harmonica accompaniment, especially when Howl breaks out a powerfully dirty harp solo.

"Sweet Babe" features a call-and-response between Howl's vocals and harmonica, with an up-tempo Bo Diddley kind of beat. Howl plays really nice blues harmonica on the slow blues "Josephina," with haunting vocals coming in around the harp riffs. Howl's rootsy voice is especially effective on "I Must Confess," framed by rapid fire harmonica interludes.

I'm glad that Mr. Howl tracked us down to make sure we gave a listen to his album, and then sent several reminders around the time it was going to be released so that he'd get a timely release. That's part of how you succeed in the music business, especially if you pair that business acumen with a good product. That's what he's got with Wanderlust.

--- Bill Mitchell

Bob MargolinLike the rest of us, Bob Margolin is tired of being confined to his home instead of being out in public, in his case playing the blues for his adoring fans and getting to meet and greet everyone. Most of us just rant and rave about the pandemic and the varied responses to it, but Margolin has put his frustrations into a six-song EP, Star of Stage and Screens (VizzTone), and as expected from the venerable Margolin it's a solid set of music. The recordings sound very homemade, as expected since they were recorded in his home with just Bob and his guitar.

Margolin's cabin fever comes out right away on the title cut, as he calls himself "...a fallen star of stage and screen ..." while also pointing out that he's "... Steady Rollin' no more ..." As expected, we get excellent guitar picking from Margolin. On "Love and Thanks," he pays tribute to those who love and support him but then also to those who have left us.

One of my favorite cuts is "After Party," on which Margolin is anticipating the helluva party that we all are going to have after the pandemic is over. His vocals work better on the up-tempo tunes, which is what we get here with his voice booming out over the guitar. He keeps up the pace on "Let It Go," adding slide to his guitar and singing about how we all need to chill out, take a deep breath and hold our tempers instead of getting offended by everything.

Margolin pays tributes to those who have influenced him in his life on the slow blues, "For My Teachers." Closing the album is another strong number, "March 2020 in Stop Time," this time being critical of the leaders that have allowed this COVID hex to continue for so long. A solid political statement from a man who is not afraid to voice his opinion, as we've heard on other recent Margolin releases.

Star of Stage and Screens has inspired me in many ways, but most important in the knowledge that there will be a big afterparty sometime soon. Keep the faith and stay healthy!

--- Bill Mitchell

Katarina PejakThe very fine Serbian piano player / singer / songwriter, Katarina Pejak, has also released her own EP, Outside Looking In, a four-song set that definitely shows her more mellow side with limited accompaniment. It's more jazzy and smoky music than what we heard on her outstanding Ruf Records release, Roads That Cross.

The single from the album is "Weeping Wind," a very subdued number with a slow pace, featuring a nice electric piano intro before Pejak shares her emotions by singing, "... I don't want your tears, but I'll sweep them away ..." Pejak gifts us with a strong piano intro on the late night jazzy "Silver Little River," with harmony vocals behind her later in the song before she launches into effective scat singing. The opening cut, "Flesh and Blood," is a slow, ethereal love song with just Pejak on vocals and piano before she's joined by organ and horns.

I've got mixed feelings about the strongest cut on this EP, the mid-tempo, jazzy "Shoot Me Baby." Pejak's piano playing is very good and her vocals strong as she tells her man that if he's not going to love her that he should just shoot her. It's the shooting part that bothers me, but I'll let you listen to it and form your own opinion about whether it's appropriate when there's already so much violence against women in the world.

Outside Looking In gives us a small taste of another side of this very talented artist. If you haven't yet caught on to the music of Katarina Pejak, I highly recommend tracking down every single recording on the market today.

--- Bill Mitchell

Gulf Coast ChristmasIt's December! Of course, that means that some artist or record label is going to release an album of blues versions of Christmas songs. This year we have A Gulf Coast Christmas, courtesy of Gulf Coast Records, with 16 cuts from their deep artist roster. Overall, there's a lot of good quality seasonal blues here. Not surprisingly, my favorites come from artists that I'm already fond of because of their recent Gulf Coast releases.

One of the highlights is from exciting and energetic singer Kat Riggins, who contributes an outstanding version of "It Ain't Christmas," with a strong guitar solo from someone in the studio (sorry, no liner notes included). Kevin Burt follows his recent top-notch release, Stone Crazy, with "Please Mr. Santa Claus," although the sound quality on his vocals isn't quite up to snuff. Billy Price gives us "Christmas Comes But Once A Year," done in typical Billy Price fashion.

Sax player extraordinaire Jimmy Carpenter provides a strong version of "Back Door Santa," with good vocals and a solid horn section. Another keeper is Diana Rein's version of "Ring The Bells," as her guitar work on this cut will make you want to listen to this song even after the holiday season is over. I'm not familiar with the music of Sayer and Joyce, but their rendition of "Please Come Home For Christmas" will have me searching for more music from the duo, thanks to wonderful female vocals and strong guitar licks.

Other artists contributing songs include Mike Zito, Albert Castiglia, The Proven Ones, Tony Campanella, John Blues Boyd, Mark May & Miss Molly, LeRoux, Thomas Atlas and Odds Lane.

A Gulf Coast Christmas makes a nice stocking stuffer for all of us. Happy Holidays to all!

--- Bill Mitchell

Andy CohenThe music career of multi-instrumentalist Andy Cohen dates back to the 1960s folk revival, and with more than a dozen country blues albums to his credit it's surprising that he isn't better-known on the blues circuit. I guess that's my way of saying that I wasn't very familiar with the man. Making up for lost time, the Memphis-based Cohen has released two albums, with a total of 30 songs on the pair of discs.

Tryin' To Get Home (Earwig Music) contains 17 acoustic gems, with Cohen playing solo on all but one cut. In addition to entertaining the listener, Cohen takes on the task of educating us with detailed histories of each song in the liner notes. He mostly plays acoustic guitar and sings, although at times he picks up a 12-string guitar or a steel guitar, as well as sitting down at the piano for two cuts (very fine honky tonk keyboards on "Louis Jay Meyers Memorial Stomp" and "Time To Go"). He's a very good fingerpicking guitarist, with a decent voice albeit with not a lot of range.

I especially like Cohen's treatment of his own ragtime number, "Puffin' That Stuff," with some of the nicest guitar picking I've heard in a while. A similar style of ragtime blues is heard on the instrumental, "Reverend Gary Rag," in honor of Rev. Gary Davis. Another favorite is Cohen's salute to another influence on "Bob Dylan's Dream," performed on a baritone 12 strong guitar. He also romps away on the fingerpicking instrumental, "Earwig Stomp."

Cohen goes way, way back for the novelty risqué number, "I Ain't Gonna Give You None Of My Jelly Roll." recorded in 1958 by Louis Armstrong, and then he's joined by Randy "Da Bones Man" Seppala on, what else, the bones, on an early Blind Blake song, "West Coast Blues." Cohen's fingers fly across his guitar strings in rapid fashion on this one.

The other release from this prodigious musician is Small But Mighty (Earwig Music), credited to Andy Cohen with Moira Meltzer-Cohen. Cohen has a large family with plenty of offspring, and this album collects a baker's dozen traditional numbers that he's sung and played for his children, grandchildren and other small folk over the years.

Cohen brings back "West Coast Blues," "Reverend Gary Rag," and the train song "Talkin' Casey" from the Trying' To Get Home album. Daughter Moira, a very pleasant singer, does the lead on two cuts --- "Gravy Waltz," one that her dad sang to her as a child, and "Funnel Cakes," a song that Cohen would often sing at festivals in hopes of scoring a free treat from the appropriate food vendor. Cohen plays banjo on this ode to his food craving.

Small But Mighty is Cohen's heartfelt gift and tribute to the people that mean the most to him. You may not be personally acquainted with Andy Cohen, but you'll feel his love and affection through his music.

--- Bill Mitchell

Dave Riley - Bob CorritoreTravelin' The Dirt Road (SWMAF/VizzTone) re-issues an out-of-print album from 2007 by Dave Riley & Bob Corritore, with two previously unreleased cuts added. This one is part of Corritore's 'From The Vaults' Series that also include recent albums featuring Kid Ramos and Henry Gray, with the Riley/Corritore recordings dating back to three sessions from 2005-2006. In addition to Riley on guitar and Corritore on harmonica, other backing musicians include Johnny Rapp (guitar), Matt Bishop (piano), Dave Riley Jr. (bass), the late Paul Thomas (bass) and Blues Bytes contributor Tom Coulson (drums). These lineups give the dozen songs, ten of which are Riley originals, kind of an urban feel to Riley's Arkansas country blues sound.

The album starts with one of its strongest cuts, the up-tempo 12-bar blues "I'm Not Your Junkman," with a strong harp solo from Corritore and a killer guitar break from Rapp. Riley's gravelly vocals are especially effective on this number, leading into the title cut, a mid-tempo shuffle.

Riley's vocals are even more effective on "My Baby's Gone," as he growls out the lyrics while Corritore lays down some of his best harmonica work here. "Way Back Home" is another standout, as Riley builds into more of a shouting vocal style, Corritore again lays down some solid harp riffs, and Rapp treats us to another good guitar solo.

Moving into a different blues style, "Come Here Woman" has Riley pleading to that woman on a slow, plodding blues with Rapp again laying down a very tasty guitar solo. Equally effective is the swampy country blues, "Voodoo Woman, Voodoo Man," with Corritore blowing nice blend of Chicago- and Louisiana-style harmonica while Bishop subtly contributes tasteful piano.

The previously-unreleased lrecordings on Travelin' The Dirt Road are the mid-tempo 12-bar blues, "Country Tough," and the Elmore James-sounding "Friends."

Corritore has a wealth of recordings that he's made with dozens and dozens of artists over the years, so expect more albums like this one coming down the road. I'll certainly be looking forward to them, but for now I'm enjoying Travelin' The Dirt Road, and so will you.

--- Bill Mitchell



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