first became aware of San Diego singer Whitney Shay
just over a year ago, with her third album,
Stand Up! (Ruf), being a big step forward. I
dug her previous two albums, but on this latest
her songwriting is more creative and she takes
her power vocals to a new level. What helps even
more is that Shay headed to Austin, Texas to
record Stand Up!, with Mark 'Kaz'
Kazanoff producing and arranging the dozen cuts.
The backing band is full of recognizable names,
such as Laura Chavez (guitar), Red Young
(keyboards), Guy Forsyth (vocals, resonator
guitar), Derek O'Brien (guitar on one track) and
Marcia Ball (piano on one track).
plays the part of the scorned woman quite well,
and that sass comes across on many of the cuts
on Stand Up!. We hear that attitude right
away on the title cut, a bold and brassy blues,
and then continuing with the soulful "Someone
You Never Got to Know," on which she lets that
man know that he missed out on something good.
Young contributes a very hot organ solo partway
through the cut.
O'Brien is the star of the mid-tempo "Equal
Ground," opening the cut with tasty slide guitar
that continues throughout the cut. Speaking of
very good guitar work, Laura Chavez contributes
some nice licks to another song that's full of
Shay's sass, "P.S. It's Not About You."
high point of the album comes on its fifth cut,
"I Thought We Were Through," a slow soulful
anthem on which Shay's voice soars through the
octaves before getting soft and gentle to give
the right effect when she makes sure everyone
understands that this relationship is indeed
over. Young throws in strong organ playing
finally get to hear the other side of Shay
(yeah, she's capable of expressing her love,
too) on "Far Apart (Still Close)," a duet with
Forsyth on which the two singers interact well.
But then she's back at it on the very up-tempo
"You Won't Put Out This Flame," telling us in no
uncertain terms how much of a fireball she is,
singing, "...You won't put out this flame ..."
Marcia Ball joins in on piano on the up-tempo
jazzy blues, "Boy Sit Down," withle Al Gomez
playing very tasteful muted trumpet and Forsyth
coming in later for a solo on the resonator
While I'm impressed with the songwriting of Shay
and her co-writer, Adam J. Eros, I also like the
selection of covers on Stand Up!,
starting with The Five Royales' "Tell The
Truth," complete with Shay's more growling
vocals and a strong sax solo from Kaz. The
version of the 1993 Etta James hit, "I Never
Meant To Love Him" really takes this album to
another level with Shay pouring her whole soul
into this slow gospel-ish number.
Closing this very fine album are two more strong
numbers, the bluesy "Getting In My Way," with
guitar from Chavez, and the funky and soulful
"Change With The Times," featuring lots of big
brass from the horn section.
said it before and I'll say it again ---
Stand Up! is a step forward in the career of
Whitney Shay. I look forward to hearing what's
next for this exciting artist.
--- Bill Mitchell
known for their work with Taj Mahal, Phantom Blues Band
is a solid ensemble in their own right as heard
on their latest disc,
Still Cookin' (VizzTone). This is a very
diverse band consisting of veteran blues cats,
and on this disc they put together a mix of a
dozen songs, both band originals and well-chosen
Phantom gang shows their soulful side right from
the start with a cover of Wilson Pickett's
"Don't Fight It," with Mike Finnigan, Larry
Fulcher and Johnny Lee Schell sharing vocals
while Finnigan pounds away on the piano and Joe
Sublett blows some powerful sax. Fulcher
continues showing how much soul he's got in his
vocal chords on the Jeff Paris composition,
"Stop Runnin'." Paris even joins in on the
Wurlitzer piano here.
Schell stars on a band original, "Wingin' My
Way," sounding like it could have come out of
the Little Feat songbook, especially when Schell
plays his slide guitar. He's actually a little
bit of Lowell George and a little bit of Paul
Barrere on this cut. Finnigan later gets to be
the star, both on vocals and on piano, on the
jazzy, late-nite slow blues "Blues How They
band doesn't hesitate to take their music down
to the islands, with "Shine On" having a
feelgood reggae beat and "Tequila Con Yerba"
sounding like it came out of 1950s Havana. Great
sax work from Sublett on the latter along with a
powerhouse B3 solo from Finnigan.
Schell takes us to church on the closer, "I Was
Blind," with his low-key vocals complemented by
Finnigan's gospel piano accompaniment and later
on B3. Schell also contributes some very nice
slide guitar playing.
There's more here and it's all good. If you're
familiar with the PBB from their work with Taj
Majal, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and others but
haven't yet checked out the recordings in their
own name, Still Cookin' is a really good
place to start. These cats can do it!
--- Bill Mitchell
receive quite a few CDs featuring artists that
are unknown to me, and at times a disc will turn
out to be a pleasant surprise. Such is the case
Front Porch (Blind Raccoon), a new one from
Mary Jo Curry Band. It didn't take long for
me to realize that Front Porch is good.
Real good, actually. Curry possesses a powerful
voice that has just a touch of rasp to it, and
her very tight band puts out plenty of high
energy blues. They're also versatile enough to
slow it down for a change of pace and also
switch off to other forms of the blues.
trademark rapid-fire tempo is heard on the
opening cut, "Nothin' Is Easy," a rockin' blues
with smoking B3 from Brett Donovan. Guitarist
Michael Rapier stands out on the blues boogie
number, "Turn It Loose," with Donovan moving
over to the piano for this one. The entire band
has the opportunity to solo on the up-tempo
instrumental "Shake & Bake," with guest Tom
Holland laying down some nice jazzy licks on
guitar while Ezra Casey on keyboards and Brian
Moore on sax make their mark.
course, it wouldn't be the blues if the singer
doesn't tell us about her problems with men, and
Curry is quite adept at sharing her pain with
the listener. Casey's piano intro brings us into
the mid-tempo R&B tune "The Man," what just may
be the best cut here. Curry tells us how much
she loves her man even though he doesn't treat
her well, saying, "...It don't matter he can't
be trusted, I'm still gonna be in love...,"
later adding that she just can't walk away.
Another outstanding cut about a troubled
relationship is the slow, subdued jazzy number,
"House Is Lonely," with sultry vocals from Curry
as she and her man are waiting for a better day
and praying that they'll smile again someday.
Donovan's nice piano and Rapier's tasteful
guitar nicely complement Curry's vocals.
Curry's mood turns significantly darker on the
heavy 12-bar blues, "Front Porch," as she's
waiting for that cheating man to come home.
She's packing heat, too. Albert Castiglia guests
on guitar, adding some funky wah-wah effects.
Front Porch closes with an upbeat number,
"Joyful," that changes tempo throughout the song
with a rollicking gospel-ish groove when the
pace picks up.
that this band is on my radar, I'll be watching
for more music from The Mary Jo Curry Band.
Front Porch is a promising release, and this
band has the potential to keep getting better.
--- Bill Mitchell
Ryan Perry is best known as the guitarist
and leader of his Mississippi-based family band,
Homemade Jamz Blues Band, who burst on the scene
in 2008 with the first of their four albums
together after finishing second in the
International Blues Challenge. They were all
still young kids then, full of plenty of raw
energy. Perry is now ready to do his own thing,
heading to Germany with his studio band to record
High Risk, Low Reward (Ruf). It's different than his Homemade Jamz
stuff, more polished and with a more
contemporary edge over the 11 cuts (eight originals
and three covers).
There's some good stuff here, notably the
opener, "Ain't Afraid To Eat Alone," an up-tempo
blues with stinging guitar leads, and the rawer
"High Risk, Low Reward," which is more
reminiscent of the material that he did with his
family band. The same can be said about the
closing number, "Hard Times," with fuzzier
guitar by Perry.
Among the covers, "Oh No" is packed full of
emotive slow blues guitar licks, while Howlin'
Wolf's "Evil Is Going On" carries the same
rawness as the original but the guitar work and
flow of the song are drastically different.
Perry pays tribute to B.B. King on "Why I Sing
the Blues," but again he takes this song and makes it
all his own by varying the tempo and the sound
of his guitar.
first wanted this disc to sound like another
Homesick Jamz album, but it took awhile for me to
realize what Perry is trying to do in crafting a
new sound while still hanging onto his roots.
If, like me, you come in with a pre-conceived
notion, give it time. I'm still not there yet,
but the more I listen to High Risk, Low
Reward I'm starting to understand it more.
--- Bill Mitchell
born Americana, folk and country blues singer,
songwriter and guitarist Brooks Williams
celebrates 30 years as a musician with this 29th
album, Work My Claim (Red Guitar Blue
Music). One of the hardest working troubadours
in the business, Brooks is based in the UK but
tours on both sides of the pond, sharing his
prodigious talent across two continents. Brooks
has selected and re-recorded12 tracks from his
extensive back catalogue and given them fresh
interpretations with the help of a group of
accomplished music making friends.
bracing scene is set with “Inland Sailor,” the
title of the 1994 album which kick-started his
career, one prophetic reviewer at the time
predicting, “the buzz on Brooks Williams is
about to become a roar.” The expressive, poetic
lyrics of his original songs would in time
become a trademark. Brooks paints a picture in
words of the turning tides, the dramatic
movement of the wind, the turbulent waves
beneath his feet, the haunting cry of the gulls
and the smell of the sea. The vibe is enhanced
by the accompaniment of fiddle, mandolin and
harmonium all reaching a crescendo alongside
Brooks’ driving guitar rhythm and flowing
was Dave Alvin who penned the timeless classic,
“King Of California,” but by the time Brooks
recorded it in 2013 he was able to make it his
own. This latest version takes the song to a new
level with the ethereal backing of Jim Henry’s
mandolin and the fiddles of Aaron Catlow and
John McCusker, the latter also contributing
harmonium and whistle. Williams has gained a
considerable reputation as a consummate
storyteller, none more so than on “Frank
Delandry,” the New Orleans guitarist who died in
mysterious circumstances. The contrasting light
and shade of Brooks’ voice and guitar maximizes
the suspense of this engaging tale.
“Seven Sisters,” from the highly acclaimed 1997
album of the same name, is rich in the imagery
of this small chain of mountains in the Pioneer
Valley of Massachusetts and another master class
in songwriting. Brooks was still establishing
his blues credentials in 1995 when Knife Edge
was released featuring the old Doc Watson track,
“You Don’t Know My Mind,” with Ralf Grottian’s
harmonica interludes adding style and
authenticity. Williams proves he can write
contemporary blues songs such as “Here Comes The
Blues” as he exhorts, “...The world’s gone mad,
it’s come unglued...,” enhanced by the exquisite
vocal harmonies of Christine Collister and Phil
Richardson’s inspired piano contributions.
other tracks from the most recent CD, Lucky
Star, are given makeovers. “Jump That Train”
is a fine addition to the repertoire of
memorable train songs in blues history, thanks
to Brooks’ brilliant slide guitar and powerful
vocal duet with Collister. “Whatever It Takes”
is transformed from a tear-jerking ballad on
Lucky Star to a ragtime infused emphatic
love song, such is Williams’ skill in writing
several different melodies to the same set.
“Georgia,” Brooks is nostalgic for his home
town, “the Piedmont’s crowning jewel” reflected
in the intricate finger picking style of the
guitar playing and mellifluous. “Mercy Illinois”
is the tale of a small town tragedy, the music
less important than the true story. It is pure
joy to watch Williams perform solo at a gig and
to observe how he delivers the lyrics with such
feeling and intensity whilst playing acoustic
guitar with dexterity and desire, a scenario
replicated on Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad
(And It Ain’t Good).” This is front porch blues
at its best.
Turn Now” is a fitting finale with its clipped
phrasing, rhythmic grooves and sumptuous slide.
Is this going to be the year of victory for the
TT motorcycle racer? “...I’m tired of paying my
dues, of being gracious when I lose...”
Brooks Williams has spent the past 30 years
honing his craft and developing a sound which he
has made unique by drawing upon and reworking
the genres he has grown up with. It. Work My
Claim is so much more than an album; it is a
career-defining statement, an important legacy
and a lifetime achievement.
--- Dave Scott
Three-time BMA winner Terry Hanck’s
latest release, I Still Get Excited (TVR/VizzTone),
ranks with his best efforts. The veteran
saxophonist / singer / songwriter teams up with
producer / multi-instrumentalist Kid Andersen
for this powerhouse effort, along with regular
bandmates Johnny “Cat Soubrand (guitar), Tim
Wagar (bass), and Butch Cousins (drums), and
guest artists Jim Pugh (keys), guitarist Chris
Cain, drummer June Core, harmonica master Rick
Estrin, and vocalists Tracy Nelson, Lisa
Leuschner Andersen, and Whitney Shay.
set list includes five originals from Hanck,
plus six tasty covers that cover a wide range of
blues styles. The rocking title cut is an
original, with the 75-year-old Hanck proclaiming
that he’s not going anywhere. “... I might be
old as sin but in my mind I’m just a kid...”
“Smooth Tyrone” is, as the title might indicate,
a cool, jazzy, Louis Jordan-esque swinger about
a smooth operator who’s a snake in the grass
underneath. Hanck also penned “Here It Comes,”
an old school beach-flavored ballad, “Come On
Back,” a shuffle that showcases Hanck’s sax and
Estrin’s harp, and the lovely instrumental
covers include a simmering, extended read of
Jordan’s “Early In The Morning,” with Cain
sitting in on guitar, a gloriously funky,
slightly updated take of Bobby Charles’ New
Orleans R&B classic “Why People Like That,” and
an outstanding interpretation of the Wolf’s
“Howlin’ For My Darlin’.” Nelson then joins
Hanck for the mid-tempo duet, “Spring.” There’s
also a sharp, swinging version of Cleanhead
Vinson’s “Hold It Right There” and a punched-up
rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Feel So Bad”
that closes the disc in rousing fashion.
Hanck’s a force of nature on sax and his vocals
are every bit as good. He’s equally at home with
traditional and contemporary sounds as well, so
his albums are always a pleasure to hear. I
Still Get Excited is no exception.
--- Graham Clarke
you listen to Before Me (VizzTone), the
new album from Ben Levin, you can’t help
but smile because it’s a really entertaining set
of piano blues that you will replay over and
over. Levin was an 18-year-old first year
college student when he recorded these tracks,
which is one thing that should make your jaw
drop. The other thing is how incredibly sharp
this set is, with not a venture into pop
territory --- it’s blues straight and well-done
throughout with six Levin originals interspersed
among six savvy covers.
Levin’s calm, assured vocals and his nuanced
piano playing dominate the set, of course. He
offers splendid covers of Big Bill Broonzy’s “I
Feel So Good,” a pair of Freddie King tracks
(the instrumental “This Morning,” aided by
guitarist Bob Margolin and harp master Bob
Corritore, and “Lonesome Whistle Blues”), Big
Jay McShann’s “Confessin’ The Blues,” and James
Cotton’s “Lightnin’,” where Margolin and
Corritore are prominently featured again.
There’s also a tasty cover of the Griffin
Brothers’ mid ’50s R&B hit, “I Wanna Hug Ya,
Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya.”
Levin’s originals hold up well to the cover
material. The rollicking “Pappy” describes an
older friend who still has plenty of fuel in the
tank, and “Before Me” has a distinct New Orleans
feel as does the stylish instrumental “Creole
Kitchen.” The cautionary tale, “So Soon,” is a
smoky slow blues, and “Load Off My Back” is a
cool Windy City shuffle. The closer, “Open
Late,” is an after-hours instrumental
collaboration between Levin, Margolin, and
Corritore that you’ll wish would go on forever.
Levin’s Before Me is a most impressive
sophomore effort. I can’t wait to hear more from
this exciting new talent.
--- Graham Clarke
Gracie Curran relocated from her native
Boston to Memphis some time ago, and by
listening to her latest release, Come Undone
(VizzTone), produced by guitarist extraordinaire
Damon Fowler and featuring a host of “friends”
in accompaniment, the move was a wise one. Like
many of the Bluff City’s finest singers of the
past, Curran’s vocals are a perfect mix of soul
and blues, with a dash of rock thrown in for
good measure --- .a perfect match for the eight
tunes presented on this lively set.
title track kicks off the set, a slow-burning
soul number with horns from Mark Earley (sax)
and Doug Woolverton (trumpet) that Curran slowly
brings to a boil with her powerful vocals.
“Earnestine” is an acoustic tale reflecting on a
different happy time in the past, and the
swinging “Stay Up!” grooves with the horns, a
rocking guitar break from Fowler, and a sassy
vocal from Curran, who then ups the intensity
and fire on the funky, mid-tempo ballad “The
Things We Love.”
“Sweet Sativa” is a gently rocking elegy to an
under-the-counter (in most areas) herbal remedy,
while the rowdy “If Mama Ain’t Happy” is a blast
and features the piano of Victor Wainwright.
Curran slows it down for the smoldering,
heartfelt “Love Is The Cruelest Thing I Know,”
giving it an emotional reading that few others
could hope to match. The album closes with the
jaunty “Chasing Sunsets,” as she longs to return
home from the road to her loved ones.
would have been great to hear even more from
Gracie Curran & Friends on this set, which
clocks in at just 32 minutes. However, listening
to Come Undone is a well-spent 32 minutes
and you can always start it all over again,
several times if necessary.
--- Graham Clarke
Cleveland native and current Florida resident
Alex Lopez’s latest effort, Yours Truly,
Me (Maremil Music and Records), is a diverse
set of blues, soul, rock, and pop. Backed by his
touring band, the Xpress (Kenny Hoye –
keyboards, Steve Roberts – bass, David Nunez –
drums), Lopez offers 11 original tracks
(including five from previous releases in
re-arranged form) and one decidedly different
Opening with the pop rocker, “Woe Is Me,” Lopez
shows considerable vocal and guitar chops as the
band provides supple, almost jazz-like rhythmic
support. The album’s lone cover, ZZ Top’s “Tush,”
is next, and Lopez gives it a complete makeover,
transforming it into a funky R&B groover which
is a nice surprise.
“Take Me Back Home” is a laidback, easy going
acoustic blues, and “I’m A Working Man” is a
tough, blue collar rocker. “I’m A Losing It”
adds horns and carries an irresistible pop
sensibility, while “I Love You Blues” is a
strong blues ballad.
Can’t Stop” is a fun track that sounds like an
updated rock version of a classic tune from the
’50s or ’60s, and “I Will Miss You” is a pop
ballad which is uplifted by some excellent
guitar work from Lopez. “Chase My Blues Away” is
a short acoustic interlude, and “All I Really
Want Is You” is a slick midtempo urban blues
with a Latin tinge. The sultry “Sinful” teams
Lopez with guest vocalist Elle Carr, and the
spirited closer, “Cheating Blues” adds horns to
end things with a bang.
Lopez certainly has the tools. In addition to
his excellent guitar and strong vocals, he’s a
gifted tunesmith as well. He shows a knack for
performing blues, pop, rock, and R&B with equal
flair. Yours Truly, Me is an entertaining
and enjoyable listen and will certainly please
fans of all four genres.
--- Graham Clarke
Dudley Taft takes a slightly different tack
on his latest release, Simple Life
(American Blues Artist Group). Don’t
misunderstand. There’s still plenty of that
potent, rock-edged blues guitar work that
highlighted his previous efforts, but on this
album Taft acknowledges some of his other
musical influences, ranging from classic pop to
contemporary rock, in addition to the blues. If
you dig his previous efforts, you have nothing
to worry about here. This is powerful stuff.
jubilant, driving rocker, “Give Me A Song,”
opens the disc, followed by the surging title
track, where Taft reflects on his career and
longs for settling down with his wife and dogs.
“I Can’t Live Without You” is a tough mid-tempo
blues ballad, and “In Your Way” is a
hard-hitting (no pun intended) look at bullying
in today’s society, while the encouraging “Don’t
Let Them Get Away” mixes rock and funk with the
“Death By Bliss” is a blues/grunge ballad, with
Taft pulling from his years on the Seattle rock
scene, which also is reflected on “Bombs Away,”
where the guitarist lets it rip with heavy doses
of Seattle native Jim Hendrix-influenced fret
work. Taft previously recorded Warren Haynes’
modern blues standard “If Heartaches Were
Nickels” on his 2016 live album, revisiting the
track here with a slightly more restrained, but
no less effective reading.
“Never Fade” is an interesting track, a
gospel-flavored track that moves deftly between
electric and acoustic passages. “Pouring Down”
is a soaring rock tune, and “Shine” finds Taft
paying tribute to the love of his life. He
continues that theme on the closer, “Back To
You,” where he longs to return to her from the
dedicates the album to his wife (who also
appears on the cover with him) and it’s obvious
that Simple Life is a labor of love for
him --- love for his spouse and love for the
music that he grew up listening to and playing.
This release is a superb addition to his catalog
that blues rockers will want in their own
--- Graham Clarke