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Order these featured albums today:

Texas Scratch

Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia

Randy Lee Riviere

Dustin Arbuckle

Cedar County Cobras

Kyla Brox

Paul Reed Smith - Eightlock

11 Guys Quartet



Texas Scratch
In October of 2009, Texas guitarists Jim Suhler (George Thorogood and the Destroyers), Buddy Whittington (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers), and Vince Converse (Sunshine Heights) assembled with drummer Jeff Simon (George Thorogood and the Destroyers) and bassist Nathaniel Peterson (Savoy Brown) to jam and lay down a few tracks. With little time to rehearse due to other obligations, the session took place quickly, but for some reason sat on the shelf.

The group, now known as Texas Scratch, finally sees their collaboration’s release after 14 years. Texas Scratch (Quarto Valley Records), the album, features nine songs, seven written by the band, that blend blues with southern rock and plenty of six string fireworks.

Whittington’s “Texas Trio” is a grinding roadhouse rocker that pays tribute to all of the great Lone Star State guitarists of the past and present. Suhler’s mid-tempo southern rocker “I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good” was co-written with Tom Hambridge, and “What The Devil Loves,” written by Nashville writers Fred Koller and Thom Bishop, is a smoldering blues rocker. Suhler’s boogie rocker “Trip Hammer” kicks the disc into high gear with some terrific slide guitar.

Suhler also wrote the swampy rocker “Purple Mountain Flask,” and the rowdy “Louisiana Cock Fight” was written by Texas local legend John Nitzinger. Converse contributes the funky “Do Right By You.”  Whittington’s “Ain’t Got The Scratch” addresses the problem of many, wanting more than we can afford.

The disc closes with Suhler’s splendid slow blues, “Showdown.”

It’s hard to believe that this album went unissued for over a decade but, thankfully, it’s now available. Texas Scratch will please blues rock fans with lots of great guitar and a tight set of original tunes. Hopefully, these guys will reassemble soon and give us some more great music.

--- Graham Clarke

Blood BrothersMike Zito and Albert Castiglia had so much fun collaborating on their 2022 tour, dubbed the “Blood Brothers” tour, that they decided to release an album together, Blood Brothers, earlier this year. Continuing their tour through the present year, the pair have now released a live album, Blood Brothers Live in Canada (Gulf Coast Records), which was recorded in May of 2023 at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock, British Columbia.

Backed by Doug Byrkit (bass), Lewis Stephens (keyboards), and Matt Johnson and Ephraim Lowell (drums/percussion), Zito and Castiglia present live versions of ten selections the pair recorded for the Blood Brothers studio release plus two dynamite covers.

“Hey Sweet Mama” opens the set, as it did the studio album, and the old school rock n’ roller doubtlessly got the crowd on their feet immediately. Tinsley Ellis’ “Tooth and Nail” was another highlight from the earlier album, and the duo’s guitar work on this number is fierce, Zito on slide with Castiglia’s sinewy lead. Zito gives a gripping vocal performance on “In My Soul,” a song he wrote after his late wife, Laura, was diagnosed with cancer (she passed away about two months after this performance).

The pair’s cover of Fred James’ “Fool Never Learns” is just as soulful without the horns featured on the studio release, and Castiglia’s powerful reading of his own “A Thousand Heartaches” is a highlight. Zito’s Texas-flavored blues rocker, “No Good Woman,” is one of the bluesiest tracks on the set, and his searing slide guitar kicks their swampy take of John Hiatt’s “My Business” to a higher level.

Zito and Castiglia’s twin guitar attack is really effective, and their collaboration on the 13 minutes-plus instrumental “Hill Country Jam” is riveting, reminiscent of the Allman Brothers Band’s ability to blend blues, rock, and jazz. Another Fred James composition from the album, “You’re Gonna Burn,” is a slow burning blues, and the Graham Wood Drout tune “Bag Me, Tag Me, Take Me Away” is a raucous rocker.

Two tracks not on the Blood Brothers album close out the set. Zito’s “Gone To Texas” (the title song of his 2013 album) is a tribute to his adopted home state that’s one of his best songs, and the guitarists give an instrumental shout-out to the Allmans at the song’s close.

The show wraps up with a fiery version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World,” which surely satisfied the Canadian audience.

If you enjoyed Zito and Castiglia’s Blood Brothers release, then you will love Blood Brothers Live in Canada. It’s a blues rock guitar fan’s dream come true. Truly an excellent set from two of the genre’s finest.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy Lee RiviereRandy Lee Riviere’s musical catalog is pretty far-reaching. He’s played folk-rock, Americana, outlaw country, southern rock, and even straight rock n’ roll. This time around, he ventures into blues-rock territory with an assist from producer/multi-instrumentalist Kevin McKendree, who certainly knows that territory, having worked with many of the legends in the blues and rock genres. The results of the collaboration can be heard via Riviere’s newest release, Blues Sky (New Wilderness Records).

In addition to McKendree (guitars/keyboards/vocals), Riviere is joined on these 11 original tracks by drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist David Santos, plus the McCrary Sisters, who lend background vocal on one special song.

The opener, “American Redoubt,” has a rugged rhythm and jagged lead guitar from McKendree that would be a solid fit on a ZZ Top tune. “You’re So Kind” has a heavy, droning guitar riff, punctuated by Riviere’s rumbling, half-spoken vocal delivery, and “Do or Don’t” is a straight-forward rocker with heavy guitar interplay. “Needles” (a new version of a tune originally written and recorded during his “Mad Buffalo Riviere” incarnation) has a strong Southern rock vibe.

“Spit Shine” is a driving mid-tempo rocker, which is followed by the somber ballad “Just One More Time” and the country-flavored rocker “Old Country’s Son.” “What Do You Know About Pain?” and “Rocky’s Road” are both gripping blues rocker . The former leans more toward the blues side of the aisle and the latter toward rock.The gritty “Joseline” tells of a failed relationship with lasting effects.

The closer, “Cold, Cold River,” is a stunning gospel number that features the McCrary Sisters providing sublime backing vocals.

Blues Sky adds another genre to Randy Lee Riviere’s wide-ranging musical repertoire. His incorporation of other musical styles into the blues works extremely well, and will appeal to fans of those various genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Dustin ArbuckleDustin Arbuckle and the Damnations (Arbuckle – harmonica/lead vocals, Brandon Hudspeth – guitar, Caleb Drummond – bass/harmony vocals, Kendell Newby – drums/harmony vocals) have a musical palette that moves from blues to soul to country and Americana to jazz. Their latest release, Live At The Shamrock, was recorded on three different dates in 2022 at The Shamrock Lounge, the oldest bar in Wichita, Kansas, and a regular venue for Arbuckle for the past couple of decades.

The nine-song set opens with the slinky, mid-tempo “You’re Gonna Hear Me On The Radio,” written by Ryan Taylor. The band wrote the driving blues “Across The Desert,” which features Arbuckle’s fine harmonica and Hudspeth’s dynamic fretwork, and “Dealer’s Lament,” which has an Americana feel. They also wrote the tremendous jump blues instrumental “Sioux City Strut,” highlighted by great musical interplay between Arbuckle and Hudspeth.

The moving “Let Me Live Again,” written by Mike Morgan, is a soulful showcase for Arbuckle’s versatile vocal style, and “Moonlight On The Mountain” is a moody masterpiece, punctuated by Hudspeth’s liquidy guitar. “Woman Down In Arkansas,” from the late Lee McBee, is a terrific blues shuffle.

“My Baby Loves Me When I’m Gone,” written by Matthew Cox, revisits the Americana genre, with the set closing on a raucous note featuring a stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.”

I love Arbuckle’s voice and the great tone on his harmonica, and Hudspeth’s guitar work complements him well, as does the steady rhythm section of Drummond and Newby. It’s always great to hear a recording from Dustin Arbuckle and the Damnations, and Live At The Shamrock is a top notch release.

--- Graham Clarke

Cedar County CobrasThe Cedar County Cobras are Tom Spielbauer (guitars/percussion) and April Dirks (upright bass/mandolin). They began playing together in 2014. Spielbauer won the solo competition at the 2022 Central Iowa Blues Challenge and placed as a semi-finalist at the 2023 I.B.C. Dirks played bluegrass prior to teaming up with Spielbauer and their collaborative efforts combine old-time country with Mississippi blues, as reflected on their latest release, Homesick Blues.

The album consists of ten tracks, six originals and four covers. The opener, “Utah,” is an upbeat tune about a cross-country that must bypass the Beehive State because one of the passengers is wanted by the law. “Country Records” is a country song about a broken romance. The brisk pace of the song belies the lyrics, and “Long Time Gone” is a faster-paced breakup lament with Dirks sharing vocals and playing mandolin.

The album shifts to the blues with an irresistible “Gimme Lighinin’,” which pulsates with the rhythms of Mississippi Hill Country blues as Spielbauer breaks out the slide and calls out T-Model Ford and CeDell Davis, and a lively take of Gus Cannon’s “Poor Boy,” which again teams Spielbauer and Dirks on vocals.

The Cobras’ thumping version of Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” is a refreshing interpretation of the blues standard. Son House’s “Walkin’ Blues” opens with a dynamite slide guitar intro from Spielbauer, before the duo launches into a rapid-fire blues that completely transforms the song.

“Voodoo Doll” is an original song with a country feel that addresses the end of a relationship in vivid, emotional detail before the Cobras revisit the Hill Country sound one more time with a superb cover of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Shake It Right.” The title track closes out the album, featuring more splendid slide guitar and a steady rhythm that wraps things up in fine fashion.

Homesick Blues is a great release that deftly blends blues, country, and folk into a delicious musical gumbo. The Cedar County Cobras’ sound should satisfy fans of the older styles as well as those who like things more contemporary.

--- Graham Clarke

Kyla BroxI love discovering an album from a previously-unknown artist that just completely blows me away. The most recent surprise came from a publicist with a link to a British singer, Kyla Brox, with a long history of performing around Europe. Ms. Brox is the daughter of the late English blues musician Victor Brox, and her mother, Annette, was on the original recording of "Jesus Christ Superstar." It's obvious that she inherited her immense talent from both parents.

Her latest album, Live at Köniz Castle (Pigskin Records), recorded in Switzerland and contains 16 cuts with impeccable sound quality not often heard on live recordings. She's backed by a basic three-piece band --- Paul Farr (guitar), Mark Warburton (drums), and Danny Blomeley (bass) --- a solid group that backs her impressive vocals without getting in the way. Brox also plays flute on a couple of the cuts.

Each of the 16 songs, two covers and 14 originals, here are very good, and I'll review what I consider to be the best of the bunch. Let's start with one that isn't normally considered a blues song, "I Can't Make You Leave Me," co-written by Nashville songwriters Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, was originally recorded by Bonnie Raitt in 1991. Brox pumps in a heavy dose of soul and gospel and Farr turns in a killer blues guitar solo to easily jump this version into a blues worthy number, making it one that you'll listen to over and over. Her vocals contain both power and sentimentality. The song has also been covered by giants of the music business like Prince, Adele, Geroge Michael, Boyz II Men, Josh Groban, Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, and more, but I'll put Brox's version up against the recordings from these much more famous singers.

The other cover is an extended version of "Hallelujah," lasting over nine minutes. It's a slow, spirited number with Brox's vocals soaring through the octaves, while Farr contributes plenty of tasteful guitar work.

"Bluesman's Child" stands out as an autobiographical number, with Brox using this hopping mid-tempo blues shuffle to tell about how she grew up going on the road with her father and learning the blues business. In addition to her powerful vocals, Brox adds her flute through the song, and Blomeley lays down a nice bass solo. "Bloodshot Sky" is a forceful number that gets a little funky, with Brox putting more urgency into her voice as she reminds a man that, "...I'm the best thing you never had ..."

One of her best vocal performances is the slow, soulful blues, "Pain & Glory," with plenty of power in her voice and the ability to hold a note for a long time. Her "bad girl" side comes out on "In The Morning," as she lines up an encounter with a man at one of her shows before remembering the next morning that she had a husband waiting for her at home. Nice guitar here from Farr.

"If You See Him" is a gospel-flavored song highlighting the strength of Brox's voice, with Farr's guitar emitting a more resonant tone. "365" is an up-tempo blues shuffle on which Brox adds her nice flute playing, and the funky blues tune, "Let You Go," has her telling the man in question that it's not the right time or place for him and he needs to help her let him go. Farr lays down one of his hottest guitar solos here.

Kyla Brox has a new fan, and I'm going to be digging deeper into her discography to learn more about this scintillating blues vocalist. If you also were not familiar with her, Live at Köniz Castle, is a good starting point, especially since it includes versions of songs that she has previously recorded. Highly recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell

Paul Reed SmithPaul Reed Smith is an acclaimed guitar maker, known worldwide for his craft, as well as being a pretty good guitar player in his own right. For Lions Roaring in Quicksand (Steele Records), he gets together with the band Eightlock to put down 14 cuts of a mix of rock, soul, blues, and a taste of funk. With an array of band members that have played with some pretty famous people in the music biz, there are a lot of different sounds here.

What brings it all together is the wonderful, gospel-influenced voice of Mia Samone, who takes every song to a higher level. It's that dose of soul injected into every song that makes this album interesting even if it's not straight-ahead blues. A steady rhythm is laid down on every cut from the band's three(!) drummers --- Dennis Chambers, Gregory Grainger, Ju Ju House --- all with impeccable credentials in the music industry. Gary Grainger on bass and three guitarists in Mike Ault, Bill Nelson, and Paul Reed Smith himself round out the band. Various guests pop in at times to provide a full sound on every cut.

Samone especially shines on an excellent rendition of the Al Green classic, "Love And Happiness," for me the high point of the album, with plenty of funky guitar and a big horn section. She also shows off her soul chops on Reed Smith's original, "Breathe," that gets an infusion of blues with a nice guitar solo.

We often like to hear a reimagining of a soul classic, and we get that with a good version of Edwin Starr's 1970 hit, "War." Samone's voice takes on a heavy dose of grit and urgency, bringing out another side of this very fine singer. I've already listened to this song over and over.

Looking for something that's more of a standard blues sound? Listen to the mid-tempo band original "Drivin' At Night," with sultry vocals from Samone and several solid blues guitar solos that vary the tempo throughout. She's drivin' along with her man by her side. If that's not a blues theme, I don't know what is.

Ault's original "Man In The Moon" is a mover that is part soul, part funk, and part blues, the latter sound coming from a strong guitar solo. "He's The One" heads into blues/rock territory before Samone jumps in on vocals, giving it her usual soulfulness. She co-wrote this one with Reed Smith, with the ownership of the song showing in her powerful vocals. That duo also co-wrote "I'm Ready," again more of a blues/rock tune with a strong guitar solo by Reed Smith.

There's lots more here, but I've covered my faves. I wasn't too sure how much I'd enjoy this album when first sampling it, but the musicianship here and the wonderful vocals of Samone sealed the deal for me. There are multiple songs that will appeal to blues fans willing to expand their horizons just a bit. Yeah, it's not straight blues, but there's a lot to enjoy on Lions Roaring in Quicksand.

--- Bill Mitchell

11 Guys Quartet11 Guys Quartet consists of four blues friends who get together once every blue moon or so to cut an album, first recording nearly 40 years ago when they were known as the 11th Hour Blues Band, regulars then on the New England blues scene. None of this quartet are vocalists, so they pretty much have done all-instrumental recordings. Making up this group of very fine musicians are Paul Lenart (guitar), Bill "Coach" Mather (bass), Chuck Purro (drums), and Vizz Tone label bossman Richard Rosenblatt (harmonica).

Their latest album, 11 X 11 (Vizz Tone), was recorded during the pandemic, each of the four Guys recording remotely to first produce eight singles that also turned into 'crazy as can be' YouTube videos, later adding three more songs. These cats are all outstanding on their respective instruments, and it shows in the quality of music here.

Rosenblatt especially shows that he's as good at blowing the harp as just about anyone else on the blues scene today. I especially like his work on the up-tempo opening number, "Lightning Road," where he's complemented by killer slide guitar from Lenart. Rosenblatt also puts out a nice solo on another favorite number of mine, the salsa-ish "Texicali Mojo," and on the mid-tempo blues shuffle "Stompin' Blues."

Purro is the star of "Black Cat Bone," with his tribal drum beat dominating this blues classic and giving it a real Bo Diddley kind of sound. Lenart shows off his chops on the slow, late-night tune, "Blues Beyond Midnight," and uses a slide to great effect on "Stompin' Blues," "Jokers Blues," and the closer, "Rockin' The Blues."

We do get some vocals, with plenty of effects added, on a pair  of the cuts --- "Driving A Fast Car" and "He Ain't Got You" --- but these two numbers show that the 11 Guys are better off doing instrumental numbers. They add variety to the album, so maybe I'm okay with it.

If you dig good quality instrumental blues, then 11 X 11 is right up your alley. 11 Guys Quartet records infrequently, so grab whatever they have available when you can.

--- Bill Mitchell

Review of guitarist Joel Harrison performance, Ravenscroft Hall, Scottsdale, Sat. Sept. 30, 2023, Concert Series:

The performance center was half full at best. Performing was new guitar name on me, Joel Harrison. His presentation stimulating, shook me some inside, had that good a bottom, thanks to Gary Versace on B3 who laid down the bass lines. Gregory Tardy played tenor sax and clarinet. NYC-based all, they were touring behind the leader’s 24th reported album, Anthem of Unity.

Playlist seemed to follow sequence of the disc (which advances on radio from a previous round of new releases), comprised of six originals, plus Sonny Rollins' "Doxy" and "Times They are a Changin’" by a “well-known jazz composer.” Harrison’s originals had groove, and were challenging enough to be considered a positive and progressive direction for today.

When varied time signatures were called for, they blended into the experience, rather than feeling like a musician’s self-indulgence. Leader Harrison had clarity of thought and stream of consciousness while adlibbing to the crowd during between-selection patter. Not enough acid sound was in the organ for my taste, Tardy played occasional high shriek notes on tenor, some of the crowd dug that. The reed man’s clarinet tone however was very good, close to my favorite of current players like Peplowski and Anot Cohen.

Couldn’t criticize drummer EJ Strickland in any way, in fact his playing hinted at Elvin Jones. Mr. Strickland was also playing the part of Jack DeJohnette who plays on the Harrison Anthem of Unity disc.

The leader/guitarist’s one blunder into noise seemed to be over-use of guitar pedals and foot switches. "Do they really need all that?," I asked a professional guitarist in attendance: "Yes. That is now allowed to develop a personal sound on electric guitar these days. We are now past the reasoning 'Barney Kessel didn't need any foot pedals.'"

Review of pianist Miki Yamanaka performance, Ravenscroft Hall, Scottsdale, Fri. Oct. 13, 2023, Jazzbird Friday Night Series:

Ms. Miki walked right by us in traditional dress, looked straight ahead, to neither side. I wondered if that was her personality. Wrong. Once lounge full, obvious close to, or, sold-out. I went in liking the composing, writing, of tonight’s headliner. Miki's trio was the same personnel as her latest Shades of Rainbow release minus a tenor sax.

Playlist: George Cables' "Dark Shades," "Gin." ("Horace Silver was a cheap leader, I’m learning).” "Early Morning," Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle," the March ("Hatsu"?) from Human Dust Suite dedicated to Mulgrew Miller.

The trio marks time during complex solos. As I’d hoped for, substantive stuff, harmonically the way I like it. Not the predictable trio formula like what Joey Alexander first did. This music was stimulating, fresh, and more original than many today. Most agreed in so many words.

Miles "Theme" closed first set. "Come talk with me at the box office even if you don’t get a CD. I’m a nice person.”

Set two continued with "Contrafact," “Sorry I’m talking so much, and I’ve only had half this beer. I’m fun 2 drink with.” "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Little Niles" from an all 3/4 Randy Weston album. (I met Randy Weston and his hands were huge compared to Yamanaka's, yet the same low register piano rumble was achieved). "Oatmeal," "Ask Me Now."

Ending night with a premier of "Indigo," we were reportedly a test audience. A couple of her originals this night contained shadings of “Book,” the first track of hers from 2017 I played on-air. Also on that album I thought she sounded like Keith Jarrett, and have since not looked back. Have heard many more influences since then. Told her precisely that when we got to CD sales and autographs. Showed her a Hacksaw radio video, she liked it. Got her first album from 2012 (“that one goes way out,” good). I now have all five of her albums, signed.

--- Tom Coulson



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