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February 2021

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Order these featured albums today:

Joyann Parker

Veronica Lewis

Ghalia Volt

Skylar Rogers

Reverend Freakchild

Steve Howell et al

Crystal Shawanda

The Nighthawks

Scott Ellison

Charlie Bedford

John Nemeth

Jose Ramirez


Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters


Joyann Parker

I first became aware of Minnesota-based singer / multi-instrumentalist Joyann Parker three years ago when I reviewed her outstanding second album, Hard To Love. Since then I've eagerly awaited another release from the versatile Ms. Parker, and my patience has been rewarded with her even better third album, Out Of The Dark (Hopeless Romantics Records). She continues to show major label potential, and I'm surprised that one of the bigger record companies in the blues biz hasn't scooped her up yet. But it doesn't matter as long as she keeps releasing recordings as good as Out Of The Dark.

Parker reveals so many different personalities throughout the album that makes one think that her life could be the basis for a psychological thriller of a movie, but instead it makes for an extremely diverse yet very high quality set of music. From one song to the next, she can be suave, sultry, sassy, tortured or sensitive, with each emotion coming out in the 11 songs that were all co-written by Parker and guitarist Mark Lamoine.

One of the better cuts is when this girl from the upper Midwest heads to New Orleans, leaving her regular man behind to find a "DIrty Rotten Guy." She sings, "...I'm tired of that good, clean living, I'm going to have some fun, tonight I'm going to hit the town and have some fun ...," going on to say that she's going to find a no-good, lowdown, dirty rotten guy with muscles but not the brains that she usually tries to find. Dave Budimir's trombone player gives this song the requisite French Quarter jazzy vibe while Tim Wick comes in with just the right piano sound. Parker sticks to a similar theme with sassy vocals on "Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)," as she urges her man to get out of the house and take her out on the town. This one's got some of her strongest vocals, complemented by hot guitar from Lamoine and sax honking from Rich Manik.

We hear a swampier sound on "Either Way," with Lamoine starting this slower, subtler ballad with eerie acoustic slide playing before Parker comes in with soulful vocals that soar through the octaves later in the song. The same effect is heard on the album closer, the slow ballad, "Out Of The Dark," with the classically-trained Parker showing her skills on the piano. She also handles the keyboards on the up-tempo "What Did You Expect," with the sass in her voice coming out again when her man was expecting more out of the relationship than she was able to give. Lamoine frames Parker's vocals with plenty of good guitar work in the background.

Parker comes in with inspirational vocals on "Carry On," also picking up the guitar on this number. Either she or Lamoine contribute some interesting guitar effects, with this song being an interesting mix of rock and gospel sounds. Parker brings in lyrics from the Book of Isaiah, singing, "...When the devil is coming for you, carry on, child, carry on ..." "Carry On" is the first single from the album, and it's a good choice.

"Fool For You" presents Parker in more of rockabilly frame of mind, where she again picks up the guitar for this fast-moving number on which she sings about being a fool for loving a man who loves somebody else. The other tune with Parker doubling up on guitar is another rapid-paced number, "Hit Me Like A Train," with Wick really shining on the piano.

"Bad Version Of Myself" is Parker's song of redemption, getting a little funky at times and with the right R&B vibe coming from Rory Hoffman's harmonica work sounding a lot like that of Stevie Wonder. "Predator" starts with kind of a Latin jazz mood as Parker sings about the bad man who is looking for his next love victim. Accentuating this number is Dave Foley's subtle muted trumpet and Wick's keyboard playing.

Perhaps Out Of The Dark will be the album that propels Parker to blues stardom. Regardless, she's got a good future ahead of her as long as she continues to record high quality music like this. Highly recommended.

--- Bill Mitchell

Veronica LewisOne of the goals for my recently-launched Blues Bytes Radio show is to give exposure to the many young blues artists emerging on the scene today. One such artist is Boston area piano player Veronica Lewis, still only 17-years-old. Her debut album, You Ain't Unlucky (Blue Heart Records), is fabulous, showing a preternatural talent with the chance to become a star in the music business. I described her music to my radio audience as 75% Blues and 25% rockabilly, although the photo of her on the album cover leans much heavier to the latter than the former. With only eight cuts here the running time is a bit shorter than most albums, but the quality is high throughout. With the only backing instruments being drums and sax, the emphasis really is on Lewis' piano playing, and she doesn't let us down.

Lewis takes us to New Orleans right from the start, pounding away on the keys on her original composition, "You Ain't Unlucky." Her pleasant voice soars through the octaves as she seeks to inspire the listeners by singing lines like, "...Every cherry has a pit, inside the pit is a whole 'nother tree ..." and "... I know it's raining, but why do you need to feel so sad ..." I hear a lot of Professor Longhair in her piano playing on this number, and later there's a nice back-and-forth staccato duel with sax player Don Davis, while drummer Mike Walsh provides the appropriate Crescent City beat. Lewis amps up the tempo on another original, the boogie woogie 12-bar blues, "Clarksdale Sun." Her vocals get a bit breathless at times as she is pounding away on the keys. Be sure to recharge your pacemaker before listening to this rollicking number.

Continuing to show her very strong songwriting skills, Lewis excels on the mid-tempo blues shuffle, "Put Your Wig on Mama," proudly announcing, "... Put your wig on mama, I ain't frying no chicken tonight ..." Up next is the first cover song of the album, and quite frankly it might be the best cut here with Lewis doing a slightly slower version of Louis Jordan's classic, "Is You is My Baby." We get to hear some of her best vocal work as well as strong piano playing, while Davis comes in with a very nice sax solo. I believe Mr. Jordan would smile if he could hear this version of one of his most popular songs from the 1940s. I could listen to this one over and over, and I probably will keep doing so.

Back to Lewis' original songs, up next is an up-tempo 12-bar blues, "Fool Me Twice," although she's very adept at changing the tempo at times for effect. A different pair of musicians back Lewis on her version of Katie Webster's "Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy," with Joel Edinberg leads with a strong sax solo and Chris Anzlalone lays down a steady drum beat. Lewis shows impressive vocal range on this one while pounding out the 88s on this boogie woogie number.

I repeatedly scoured the liner notes and media release for a mention that Ms. Lewis was descended from Jerry Lee Lewis, not just for the last name but also for the similarity in her piano playing to the man known as the Killer. But apparently there's no connection other than the influence that she shows on her fast-paced instrumental tribute, "Ode to Jerry Lee." She's obviously summoning some kind of energy from Jerry Lee as we hear perhaps her best piano work.

Closing this eye-opening album is another original number, "The Memphis Train," keeping the tempo of a fast-moving locomotive down the tracks as she rides along with all of her piano heroes, with her voice taking on more of a rockabilly tinge. It's a fine ending to Lewis' debut album.

I remind you once more that Ms. Lewis was just 17 when she recorded this album. I can't wait to hear what's next for her. In the meantime, You Ain't Unlucky is going to get regular spins from me.

--- Bill Mitchell

Ghalia VoltI realize that the music of Belgian blues guitarist / singer / songwriter Ghalia Volt may not be for everyone, but I sure dig her 'blues with an attitude' that sometimes has been labeled as punk blues. Her voice carries more of a Rockabilly flair to it and her guitar playing contains a high amount of fuzz and distortion. But underneath that layer, it's some pretty heavy straight blues.

For her third album, Ghalia skipped the idea of having a full backing band, instead playing a kick snare and hi-hit cymbal, plus a tambourine with her two feet, all while playing guitar and singing. Thus her latest album is appropriately named One Woman Band (Ruf Records), with only a few guests added on three of the cuts. For songwriting inspiration, Ghalia took a cross-country train trip across the United States and came up with ideas by watching the scenery outside the windows of the Amtrak passenger train. Once she had all of her ideas down, Ghalia headed into the legendary Royal Sound Studios in Memphis to lay down these 11 songs mostly on a single track.

Each of the 11 cuts on One Woman Band are Ghalia originals, with the exception of her rendition of Tampa Red's "It Hurts Me Too," done with heavily distorted guitar and slide parts mixed loud to hit the listener right between the eyes. Ghalia's version of this classic blues song defines what she's all about --- taking the traditions and giving it her own punch in the face, respectfully, of course.

The opening song, "Last Minute Packer," a 12-bar blues with plenty of Rockabilly attitude, was likely written at the beginning of her train travels as she offers her travel advisory: "...I'm a last minute packer, I wait 'til the morning after when packing is more fun ...," adding, "... When I arise I like a clear head, spread myself all over the bed ..." It's obvious that Ghalia passed through Arizona during the summer on her trip, as she sings n "Espiritu Papago" about melting in the desert on a hot summer day, while playing mean slide guitar. Dean Zucchero adds bass guitar on this one.

"Evil Thoughts" is another strong cut, a catchy, nasty mid-tempo blues shuffle singing about the evil thoughts brought on by her loneliness. I suspect those feelings came on somewhere along the way on her long trip. Monster Mike Welch helps out by contributing a killer blues guitar solo. Welch and Zucchero both return for the very energetic and up-tempo blues, "Just One More Time."

One of Ghalia's best performances comes when she lays down some killer Elmore James-style guitar riffs to start the mid-tempo "Reap What You Sow," albeit with more distortion than Elmo added to his sound. She again summons her inner Elmore on the in-your-face blues, "Bad Apple," with the volume raised for the proper effect as she sings about the boy that learned all of the wrong lessons from his father.

Ghalia's guitar playing is much cleaner on the stop-time blues number, "Loving Me Is A Full-Time Job," as she lays out the expectations for her man, even telling him to put on an apron and let her be his patron. This one starts out with a slow tempo before turning into a more raucous up-tempo stomper. Ghalia does the same type of mid-song changeup on the up-tempo "It Ain't Bad," moving to a stop-time beat at times.

Ghalia Volt takes blues into a different world, and it's one that I enjoy exploring. The next time she decides to take a train trip through Arizona, I hope that I'll be at the station just hoping for a wave through the window as the train passes by. Even better, here's hoping she stops off for a show at one of our local blues establishments.

--- Bill Mitchell

Skylar RogersSkylar Rogers comes by her blues naturally, with the release notes to her latest album crediting the fact that she was born and raised in some of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods. She was homeless for a while and survived some abusive relationships.This woman is entitled to sing the blues, and we hear plenty of it on her self-released album, Firebreather.

This is a collection of ten decent Chicago-style blues songs, all co-written by Rogers. The backing musicians complement her vocals more than overwhelm them, only occasionally stepping up for a notable solo. It's a solid unit that gives Rogers plenty of room to get her point across.

Rogers shows off her powerful vocal chops right away on the 12-bar blues, "Hard Headed Woman," which, judging from what I've read about her is likely an autobiographical number. The strongest cut here is the slow blues, "Thankful," with Rogers' voice soaring with emotion while Pete Zimmer lays down a solid bed on the B3. "Movin' On" takes it to church with a gospel-style chorus singing and clapping hands behind Rogers.

"Back To Memphis" is pretty straight Chicago blues, with fine guitar work from Marty Gibson and Steven J. Hill. Also very interesting is the slow, soulful blues, "Drowning," with shouting vocals from Rogers and plenty of heavy guitar coming after Zimmer lays down the foundation with a subtle Freebird-style piano intro.

Firebreather is a nice introduction to the blues of Skylar Rogers. I look forward to hearing more as her career advances.

--- Bill Mitchell

King BeesThe cats at Wolf Records in Austria have been tirelessly releasing just about every bit of music that's come their way, with the latest album consisting of 1990 to 2010 recordings by American band King Bees. What's distinctive about this collection, King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars, is that the 11 cuts feature the King Bees, led by very fine guitarist Rob Baskerville and bass player / singer Penny Zamagni, backing a mixture of various American blues artists over the years. It's not an essential collection, as the guest artists all released better recordings in their lifetimes, but it's still nice to have more material from Jerry McCain, Carey Bell, Beverly "Guitar" Watkins, Chick Willis, Nappy Brown, Chicago Bob Nelson, and Neal Pattman.

The King Bees gang gives their guests plenty of room to star, unlike some similar collections I've heard in which the supporting band wants to have as big of a role as the guest stars. Baskerville throws in some very good guitar licks throughout the album, but it's all about the stars of the show here. I'm especially pleased for the one cut featuring Watkins, "Beverly's Guitar Blues," because there just isn't enough of a recorded legacy by her.

Chicago Bob was also woefully under recorded in his lifetime. On this album we're treated to his Excello-style harmonica and vocals heard on "Quit You Pretty Baby" and "Goin' In The Valley." I didn't recall how much he sounded similar to Slim Harpo before hearing these two recordings. Jerry McCain also shows up on two cuts, most notably a fine live recording of "Noccalula Boogie." The live version of Neal Pattman's "Black Rat" is also a gem, a fine example of Southern country blues harmonica. We heard plenty from Carey Bell during his lifetime, but "What Mama Told Me" is a nice addition to his vast catalog. Bell also plays harp behind Zamagni's powerful vocals  on "Alcohol and Blues." Finally, any chance to hear one more song from the late great Nappy Brown is appreciated, and he doesn't disappoint with a feisty live version of "Natchez Burning."

This album is worth picking up just to hear all of these great artists one more time, and it will hopefully compel the listener to investigate more recordings by these dear departed blues legends.

--- Bill Mitchell

Johnny Burgin singleJohnny Burgin has released an appropriate single just in time for Valentine's Day with the original slow blues, "Cherry On Top." The icing on this piece of cake comes from Burgin's pairing on guitar with the great Anson Funderburgh, the first time these two artists have worked together. It's a love song that was written in the van as Burgin's band traveled around back in the pre-pandemic days when musicians could actually play gigs in various locales. As expected, there's plenty of hot guitar licks from these two masters. It may be a love song to Burgin's woman, but for the rest of us we'll get off by listening to these cats playing their axes.

--- Bill Mitchell

Reverend FreakchildI never quite know what to expect when I happen upon a new Reverend Freakchild album, but I always know that it’s going to be worth hearing and will be unlike anything else I happen to be listening to at the time. The Bodhisattva Blues (Treated And Released Records) matches up perfectly with that outlook as the good Rev revives, resurrects, and reconstructs a set of classic blues and rock tunes from a group of artists ranging from Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead (the Reverend is a longtime disciple of the Dead).

The Reverend opens the disc with the Buddhist mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which manages to weave its way into a gutbucket read of Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” merging with Freakchild’s feral growl, slippery slide guitar and drummer Chris Parker’s torrid backbeat. Reed’s “Big Boss Man” gets a funked-up, loping reworking with an old school harmonica solo from Hugh Pool, and “Little Red Rooster” features acoustic slide guitar from the Reverend and splendid work from Scott “Shack” Hackler on piano.

Next are covers of three tunes associated with the Grateful Dead. The Reverend’s cover of “Friend of the Devil” hews pretty close to the Dead’s original and serves as a nice tribute to the band, while “I Know You Rider,” an oft-covered tune associated with Blind Lemon Jefferson that was part of the repertoire of the Dead and Hot Tuna’s live shows, gets a lively reworking that retains the spirit of both band’s versions. “Black Peter,” penned by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter,” is similar in tone to the Workingman’s Dead version, but I really like the Reverend’s somber vocal and the spacious musical accompaniment.

There are also two songs from John Lennon’s catalog as well, a down and dirty version of “Yer Blues,” with wailing harp from Pool and gritty guitar work, pushed by Melvin Seals’ lively keyboards and Chris Parker’s drums, followed by a cool reinvention of “Imagine” into a soulful ballad. The Reverend’s vocals often reminded me of Lou Reed on previous albums, but this whole song reminds me of a ’70s-era Reed composition.

The poignant “Sweet Sweet You” is the album’s lone original song, and it originally appeared on the Reverend’s 2010 album, God Shaped Hole. It pays tribute to many of his favorite departed blues and rock heroes, including the late Drew Glackin, who’s actually playing the haunting lap steel guitar heard in the background. The Reverend Freakchild covers the Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Has No Mercy,” playing acoustic slide guitar while joined by Jay Collins on flute for a most unique rendition, before closing out with a live a cappella version of the traditional “And We Bid You Goodnight” (both songs were also part of the Dead’s repertoire).

I have seriously enjoyed every previous effort from Reverend Freakchild that I’ve had the pleasure to hear, but I have to say without reservation that The Bodhisattva Blues is my favorite of them all --- until the next one, I’m sure. I think anyone who listens to this one will be anxiously awaiting the next one as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Steve HowellAs I’ve said before, I always look forward to a new release from Texas guitarist Steve Howell. Not only do you get a collection of wonderfully-played guitar, but you also are exposed to an outstanding set of tunes that you probably never would have heard otherwise, which in my case, often leads me to dig deeper into the catalogs of the artists who originated the songs, or explore the genre from which he pulled the songs.
This is not to say that his own songs aren’t always first-rate, but in the case of Long Ago (Out of the Past Music), his latest collaboration with jazz session guitarist extraordinaire Dan Sumner and longtime musical partner Jason Weinheimer, Howell digs deeply into the Great American Songbook and pulls out one gem after another, 11 tracks spanning a host of musical genres. The result is a warm, relaxing set of standards featuring lovely guitar work with Howell’s smooth and soothing vocals.

The set list includes the 1920 classic “Singin’ The Blues,” a gently swinging tune with a lot of history that was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame back in the late ’70s. 1946’s “Angel Eyes” was singer Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite song (she recorded it four times over her long career) and Howell mixes a little bit of Ms. Fitzgerald’s soft mellow version with Frank Sinatra’s later cover and picks up the pace a bit as the song goes. Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” is a more familiar song for blues fans, and Howell’s version is a nice tribute to the legendary songwriter.

Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me,” a hit in 1944. gets a sweet interpretation from Howell, Sumner, and Weinheimer, and Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father,” another recognizable tune that’s been covered by a variety of artists, gets a moving reading by Howell, honoring his dad. “Dindi,” a bossa nova standard previously recorded by Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim, is presented as a light, jazzy instrumental. “Nothin’ But The Blues,” a late ’30s Ellington tune recorded by Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, and Sarah Vaughan (Robben Ford did a wonderful version back in the late ’80s), is highlighted by smooth guitar interplay.

Dave Frishberg (who penned the music and lyrics for “I’m Just A Bill,” from Schoolhouse Rock) wrote the humorous “Z’s,” and Howell has a good time singing this one. The upbeat “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” is also a lot of fun, which is probably appropriate since it was originally written for a Yiddish comedy musical in the early ’30s (lyrics added by Sammy Cahn a few years later), and the album closes with “I Remember April,” a wonderful instrumental, and a heartfelt read of Johnny Mercer’s “I Thought About You,” another song recorded by Sinatra.

In the liner notes, Howell provides indispensable background information on each of the songs, which is something that music lovers should appreciate him taking the time and effort to do. Despite the title Long Ago, Steve Howell, Dan Sumner, and Jason Weinheimer breathe brand new life into these classic tracks and, thankfully, make them completely accessible to a brand new audience many years later.

--- Graham Clarke

Crystal ShawandaCrystal Shawanda continues to prove that her transition from country music to the blues was a great decision for blues fans with her second release, Church House Blues (True North Records). Joined by her husband, guitarist Dwayne Strobel (who also produced), drummers Louis Winfield and Darren James, bassists Dave Roe, Michael Dearing, Jonathan Dixon, and Hinkie Hamilton, keyboardists Peter Keys and Jesse O’Brien, saxophonist Dana Robbins and Miqui Guitierez, harmonica player Stephen Hanner, and a group of backing vocalists that includes the McCrary Sisters, Angela Hurt, KG Green, and Quisha Hunt, Shawanda turns in a sterling ten-song set.

The rousing title track opens the disc, a blues rocker blurring the secular and spiritual that highlights Shawanda’s powerful vocals and Strobel’s guitar backing. The slow burning ballad “Evil Memory” (from The Beat Daddy’s Tommy Stillwell and Larry Grisham) follows and Shawanda’s “whisper to a scream” capabilities are front and center and Strobel’s guitar work is sublime (Stillwell also contributes guitar on this track). “Move Me” has a funky, swampy feel, and the feisty shuffle “Rather Be Alone” finds Shawanda concluding a rocky romance, while “When It Comes To Love” finds the singer deftly mixing country and soul, and it might be the best tune on the disc.

“Hey Love,” co-written by Shawanda and Strobel with Nashville songsmith David Norris, is a wonderful throwback to late ’50s/early ’60s soul/pop, complete with superb backing vocals complementing the singer’s tender-but-tough approach. “Blame It On The Sugar” is a rumbling, Latin-tinged track, and “Bigger Than The Blues” confirms that Shawanda shifted her musical focus in the right direction. “I Can’t Take It” is a splendid blues ballad with a strong gospel flavor via the vocals, the hand claps, and the sparkling guitar work. The closer, “New Orleans Is Sinking,” was originally recorded by the Tragically Hip. Shawanda blows it out of the water, transforming the song into a stirring country blues.

Shawanda’s previous effort, VooDoo Woman, was quite impressive, but with Church House Blues, she shows that she has grown as a songwriter and a performer in the blues vernacular. She’s easily among the upper echelon of blues vocalists even at this early stage of her career. It will be interesting to watch her develop even further.

--- Graham Clarke

The NighthawksWhen I started listening to the blues some 35 years ago, one of the first bands that I heard was The Nighthawks. At that time, the band had been on the scene for about 14 years. Next year, the Hawks--- founding member Mark Wenner (harmonica/vocals), Mark Stutso (drums/vocals) and new members Dan Hovey (guitar/vocals) and Paul Pisciotta (bass/vocals) --- will celebrate their 50th anniversary sounding just as great as they ever have. Their latest release, Tryin’ To Get To You (EllerSoul Records), is the band’s 31st release, and it shows the band hasn’t lost an inch off their fastball.

The new album features a baker’s dozen tracks, four originals (two written by Hovey, two by Stutso with Norman Nardini) and a great set of cover tunes covering a wide range of genres. The easy mid-tempo shuffle, “Come Love,” courtesy of Jimmy Reed’s catalog, kicks off the disc in rousing fashion as Wenner’s vocals and harp are as strong as they were nearly 50 years ago. T-Bone Walker’s jumping “I Know Your Wig Is Gone” is next, striking a tasty groove. The group turns James Brown’s “Tell Me What I Did Wrong” into a hard-charging rocker. Meanwhile, the title track has a country feel that works really well.

Hovey wrote the lively “Baby It’s Time,” which has a jazzy flair courtesy of his sparkling fretwork, while Stutso and Nardini contributed the funky “I Hate A Nickel” and the jaunty “Somethin’s Cookin’.” Hank Ballard’s “Rain Down Tears” is a splendid slow burner, and “Searchin’ For My Baby,” an old school R&B hit from the Manhattans, is a great fit for the band. Another pair of keepers is a tasty version of Los Lobos’ ’80s hit, “Don’t Worry Baby,” which rocks as hard as the original version, and a fun take of Roy Hall’s “Luscious.”

“Chairman Of The Board,” originally recorded by the band of the same name for Motown, is effectively restructured into a churning Muddy Water-esque blues that will satisfy even the most diehard blues fan. Hovey also wrote the closer, “The Cheap Stuff,” a downhome acoustic blues that wraps things up nicely.

Tryin’ To Get To You is another fantastic addition to the ever-growing catalog of Nighthawks albums. I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t keep doing this for another 50 years.

--- Graham Clarke

Rusty EndsThe Last Of The Boogiemen, from Kentucky-based Rusty Ends & Hillbilly Boogie, is an intriguing affair. Rusty Ends worked his way up the music circuit backing the Shirelles, the Drifters, the Marvelettes, Bobby Lewis, the Coasters, and the Little River Band. He’s also recorded with Kelly Richey, Robbie Bartlett, Wayne Young, and Eddie Kirkland. Over the years, he has honed a unique sound combining blues, soul, country, and rockabilly that he calls Hillbilly Hoo Doo. Ends (vocals and guitar) fronts a formidable trio (Uncle Dave Zirnheld – bass, background vocals, Gene Wickliffe – drums, with Gary Falk guesting on tenor sax) that obviously share his musical vision on these 12 original tracks.

Ends sings the praises of “Cheap Wine” on the swinging opener while lamenting that’s not as cheap as it once was. The band keeps the momentum rolling on the jumping instrumental, “Unholy Roller,” before getting down in the swamp with the funky “Hillbilly Hoodoo.” “I Forgot To Say I Love You” is a soulful, after-hours ballad that allows the band to change the pace a bit before they tear into “Rockabilly Boogie #1003” and “Cottonmouth Rock” with vim and vigor.

The atmospheric noir rocker, “Stiletto Heels and Fishnet Hose,” is a really cool track with impressive, shimmering guitar from Ends, and “Let Me Cross Your Mind” sounds like vintage rock n’ roll. “We Love Our Way Through The Blues” is a great slow burner with great fretwork (Ends refers to it as “like Otis Montgomery,” combining Otis Rush and Wes Montgomery), and “Bob Wills Played The Blues” is a fine tribute to the legendary King of Western Swing. Ends reminisces about the band’s old days on “Midnight Angels,” a story about some interesting characters encountered, and wraps up events with the silky smooth instrumental “Sinners Strut.”

The Last Of The Boogiemen is a fun romp through a variety of music styles, all of which will appeal to blues fans. Rusty Ends & Hillbilly Hoodoo navigate through the myriad genres with ease and make this fine effort recommended listening.

--- Graham Clarke

Scott EllisonScott Ellison’s latest release, Skyline Drive (Red Parlor Records), finds the Tulsa native doing what he does best, working through a fine set of his appealing blues and rock originals. Collaborating with Ellison is another Tulsa resident, Chris Campbell, who also contributes vocals on several tracks, and a host of musicians who prove their worth in a variety of musical styles (blues, rock, soul, with a touch of jazz) and settings on this outstanding 12-song set.

The opener, “I’m Missing You,” has a swampy Gulf Coast quality in its rhythm, and Ellison’s snaky guitar slips in and out. The moody title track is a jazz-flavored shuffle, and “Something About You” is a searing mix of blues and rock. “Obsession” is a cool blues shuffle (backed by David Bernston on harmonica), and “Coming Down From Loving You” mixes a little funk into the works. Ellison and band rip through the boogie rock and roller, “All Wound Up,” before going acoustic with the country blues, “Woman’s Got A Hold On Me.”

The likable “Perfect For You” borrows a bit of the irresistible Magic Sam riff with fun results, and “Breathe Underwater” has a smooth retro-pop feel with its acoustic/electric guitar combination. Meanwhile, Ellison does a great job with “These Blues Got A Hold On Me,” a fine slow blues that provides a great showcase for his gritty vocals and stinging fretwork. On the rousing “Overwhelmed” he breaks out the slide with stellar results. The closer, “Lonely In Love,” is a supple blues ballad with a lot of soul.

Scott Ellison always delivers a great set of blues and rock-based blues that satisfies. Skyline Drive is another fine addition to his impressive catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Charlie BedfordAustralian singer/guitarist Charlie Bedford has performed at the I.B.C. Youth Showcase in 2017 – 2019, returning to Memphis in 2020 to perform in Nashville and Muscle Shoals, and earning a distribution deal from Blue Heart Records to release his second album, Good To Go. The 19-year-old began performing at age 12, and currently fronts his own band while serving as guitarist for two bands, The Great Unknown and The New Savages. Bedford’s brand of blues mixes in healthy doses of pop, rock, and funk, while still retaining some of the gritty edge, so these 12 tracks should appeal to older and younger blues fans.

The funky “Money Junkie” opens the disc, mixing an edgy groove with catchy lyrics and a crisp guitar solo. “Honey” is another upbeat tune with a smooth pop feel, and “No Rain No Flowers” is a driving rocker. The title track mixes rock with funk for a real summer vibe, and the ethereal “Windy Wednesday” continues the California vibe, albeit at a more relaxed pace. “Enemy” is a strong modern rocker, and the tasty, hip-hoppy “Get Rude” features Bedford singing/rapping the lyrics.

The pop rocker “Upgrades” describes a young girl who yearns for the newest technology (a modern blues if there ever was one), and “Just A Little Longer” showcases Bedford’s appealing vocal style, a confident mix of soul and pop that is really on display for the entire set, more than a match for his guitar work. Meanwhile, the spacey “Telephone” is a slightly psychedelic instrumental, and “Steady Driver Man” is a Diddley-esque rave-up with guest harmonica player Chris “Stibbo’ Hanger and the album’s lone cover (from Mink DeVille). Hanger returns for the pure blues album closer, “Blues For John,” a somber delta-flavored tribute to the late John Jerman.

Bedford is a fine singer and guitarist, but he’s also a canny tunesmith, combining the best of modern music styles with more traditional blues fare in a manner that should appeal to the blues audience. But don’t be surprised if he ventures into other genres, because he surely has the required skills to do so. In the meantime, check out this most compelling release from an artist with a bright future.

--- Graham Clarke

John NemethWhile I did enjoy Feelin’ Freaky, the 2017 release from singer/harmonica player John Németh, I absolutely love his latest release, Stronger Than Strong (Nola Blue Records). Németh’s latest effort focuses on the blues, mostly the swampy and Hill Country varieties. As always with any Németh performance, there’s a healthy heaping of gritty soul included in every track, and he’s backed by his band, the Blue Dreamers (Danny Banks – drums, Matthew Wilson – bass, and Jon Hay – guitar). The session was produced by Németh and recorded at Scott Bomar’s Electrophonic Studios in Memphis.

Németh wrote 10 of the 12 songs featured on Stronger Than Strong. The Hill Country force is strong with the thumping opener, “Come And Take It,” and the rough and ragged “Fountain Of A Man.” The first cover, “Sometimes,” is an old Junior Parker from the late ’50s credited to Don Robey. It mixes Memphis blues and soul with a touch of the swamp, with the 19-year-old Hay’s shimmering guitar work and Németh’s soulful pipes and harp. “Throw Me In The Water” is a catchy little tune that has a fun old school rock feel (wonderful guitar solo from Hay on this track), and “Chain Breaker” is a robust Windy City shuffle.

Németh soberly addresses modern world issues on the socially-charged soul burner, “Bars,” but the mood is not somber for long, thanks to the upbeat, gospel-flavored “I Can See Your Love Light Shine,” and the funky “Deprivin’ A Love.” The moody “Work For Love” is a mid-tempo blues with one of Németh providing one of his bluesiest vocals, an extended harmonica solo, and a terrific solo from Hay as well. “Guess Who” was an R&B hit for Jesse Belvin in the late ’50s, and Nemeth’s tender take on the late soul singer’s biggest hit is sublime (bass player Wilson provides the guitar solo for this track). The album closes with the swinging R&B original “She’s My Punisher” and the brisk rocker “Sweep The Shack.”

Stronger Than Strong is an appropriate title for John Németh’s latest. His previous catalog includes a host of strong, memorable albums, but to these ears, this latest effort is the best of the lot.

--- Graham Clarke

Jose RamirezThere may be several states separating us Blues Bytes contributors, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology we’re often able to rave about great recordings with each other. For example, a few months ago Bill Mitchell emailed me singing the praises of a new album from Costa Rican native/Florida resident Jose Ramirez called Here I Come. I was pleased to see it arrive in my mail a few weeks later and was even more excited once it made it to the top of my review stack.

Ramirez finished second at the 2020 I.B.C., representing the D.C. Blues Society, venturing to Austin, Texas to record this excellent release with guitar legend/producer Anson Funderburgh and keyboardist Jim Pugh, drummer Wes Starr, and bassist Nate Rowe, along with the Texas Horns. The end result is one of the best, most refreshing blues albums to emerge in recent years, a release that embraces contemporary and traditional blues in equal measures, as Ramirez’s tasteful, measured fretwork makes a wonderful impression that will satisfy fans of both blues styles.

The title track opens the disc, a hard-charging shuffle where Ramirez lays out his journey to the present, giving a shout-out to his influences (an impressive lot). “I Miss You Baby,” the next track, is a superb ballad penned by Freddie Simon and originally recorded by Taj Mahal on his Señor Blues album. Ramirez gets a lot of space to stretch out on guitar for this track. Funderburgh joins Ramirez on guitar for the funky “Gasoline And Matches,” and the pair generate sparks with their musicianship, while on the simmering “One Woman Man,” Ramirez turns in a strong, soulful vocal.

The slow burner, “Goodbye Letter,” opens with the familiar Magic Sam riff, but takes off from there. Pugh’s keyboards are marvelous here and Ramirez takes his sweet time on vocals and guitar and it’s time well-spent. Meanwhile, Pugh and the Texas Horns shine behind Ramirez on “The Way You Make Me Feel,” a delicious slice of Memphis soul. “Three Years” is a smoldering blues shuffle with guitar work from Funderburgh complementing Ramirez’s. The horns return for the soul ballad “As You Can See,” and “Waiting For Your Call,” with Pugh’s B3, brings back memories of Booker T. & the M.G.’s salad days.

The album’s second cover is Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” though Ramirez’s electrifying version doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to the original. I think Johnson would be mighty pleased with it, regardless. The album concludes with a crisp mid-tempo roadhouse shuffle, “Stop Teasing Me,” but more than likely listeners will be starting this fantastic recording over as soon as this song wraps up.

Here I Come indeed! Jose Ramirez is serving notice that he has arrived, and hopefully he will be here to stay for a long time. Fans of contemporary and traditional blues will want to add this album to their collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Cash McCallCash McCall has been gone for almost two years now, but his musical legacy continues to grow with the addition of two songs, “One Who’s Got A Lot” and “Blues Coming Down,” which were recorded in Los Angeles in 2015 and are now available via Nola Blue Records. McCall is backed on these tracks by some of L.A.’s finest session men --- Welton Gite (bass), Tennyson Stephens (piano), and James Gadson (drums), along with Jim Koeppel, who played guitar and wrote both tracks (co-writing “Blues Coming Down” with McCall), Rajiv Halim (tenor sax), and John Christy (B3).

“Blues Coming Down” is an excellent soul-blues ballad with a sensitive vocal from McCall, and “One Who’s Got A Lot” is a funky shuffle singing the praises of a lady with a little something extra to offer. Sadly, the criminally underappreciated McCall didn’t live long enough to enjoy his return to recording (with Benny Turner on the wonderful 2019 effort Going Back Home), but this will remind blues fans of how talented he was.

--- Graham Clarke

Urban Ladder SocietyUrban Ladder Society, who hasn’t let this ol’ pandemic slow them down a lick, returns with a new single, “Juke Joint Lover,” a tasty combination of blues, R&B, funk, and hip-hop that won’t allow you to sit still. Another track from the upcoming album (Spring, 2021), The Summit, this track was crafted and performed with Victa Nooman and Henry “Rooster Man” Stevens. Based on what’s out there already, The Summit, and U.L.S., looks like it will be just what fans of contemporary blues need to get them through these difficult times.

The BluesbonesThe BluesBones, one of Europe’s best blues bands, recently issued their Live On Stage album, which Blues Bytes will review in its entirety in a couple of months. Meanwhile the band just released a two-sided single taken from the recording. “Demon Blues” is a moody, haunting track with vocalist Nico DeCock’s ominous vocal taking on a Jim Morrison edge, backed by Edwin Risbourg velvety B3 and Stef Paglia’s funky guitar. This one is a keeper. The second track, “Cruisin’,” is a breakneck driving boogie track about taking one’s baby down the road that might cause listeners behind the wheel to break the speed limit and then some. Stay tuned in a couple of months for my review of the whole album.

Eddie 9VEddie 9V, who also has an album out that I will be reviewing soon, recently released a single, “The Come Up” / “Brighter Days” on Hubbub! Music. “The Come Up” is a funky blues with a decidedly ’70s retro R&B feel and an irresistible groove that grabs you and hangs on for the next three and a half minutes --- a fun track. The “B” side, “Brighter Days,” resembles Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” a bit, with its rumbling intro, but Eddie’s guitar work and the pop-ish backing vocals give the track its own unique face. Eddie 9V’s brand of blues looks back and forward at the same time. Interesting stuff.

Anne HarrisAnne Harris is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter/violinist whose music is an intriguing mix of blues and American roots, with traces of folk and old timey traditions. She’s released five albums and has collaborated with a wide range of artists such as Los Lobos, Shemekia Copeland, Otis Taylor, Living Colour, and Jefferson Starship. Most recently she teamed with fellow blues/roots artist Markus James for a stunning single, “Over” (Rugged Road Records). James penned the track and plays banjo while providing backing vocals to Harris’ haunting lead vocals and equally haunting violin. This moody, ghostly track should appeal to fans of modern acoustic blues and roots.

--- Graham Clarke

RedfishRedfish released their latest EP, Songs From The Fire Station (Independent) on Valentine’s Day. Recorded live at the band’s monthly blues jam in the Old Fire Station, Carlisle, on the border between England and Scotland, it comprises four well-chosen covers. These talented musicians add their own stamp as they explore and interpret aspects of blues, funk, soul and jazz.

Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning” opens with an innovative duel between keyboard player Fraser Clark and guitarist Martin McDonald underpinned by the precise funky rhythm of drummer Sandy Sweetman and bassist Rod Mackay. Clark and McDonald take turns to solo with considerable energy and panache throughout this epic performance, Stumblin’ Harris skillfully overlaying the vocals with intensity and drama. This version is reminiscent of Dylan’s collaboration with Jack White but possessing the uniqueness which Clark’s consummate keys add to the mix.

The high tempo “Give Me Back My Wig” with its raucous guitar work and machine gun, rapid-fire keys makes Hound Dog Taylor’s classic sound like a waltz. Harris milks the humor of the line, “... You just give me back My Wig/Honey now let your head go bald ...” It takes a genius to even attempt Taylor’s iconic style, but Stumblin’ nails it impeccably whilst adding flavors and flourishes of his own.

“Bright Lights Big City” is mainly a straight forward 12-bar from the Jimmy Reed repertoire. However, its neat, nuanced groove just behind the beat, together with tasteful jazz-infused keyboard interludes, gives the song another dimension.

Bill Withers’ “Use Me” has a soul-funk vibe, the rhythm enhanced by guest percussionist Suzy Cargill. Harris uses his vocal range well, the interplay with MacDonald’s dynamic guitar riffs a superb feature as the song reaches its climax. By this point, Fraser and Cargill are in full-blown creative mode, held in check by the metronomic and dexterous bass and drums.

“Listening through the archives of recordings we discovered these gems recorded at our monthly Blues Jam at The Old Fire Station,” states vocalist Stumblin’ Harris. “It’s been a challenge keeping engaged with our audience throughout the pandemic, we miss the live shows greatly and releasing this EP will hopefully give a bit of a 'feel good' vibe and a reminder of what we took for granted”.

The EP is available as a download from Bandcamp.

--- Dave Scott

Jed PottsIncreasingly, musicians are issuing albums in the form of a series of singles released over a period of time. Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters premiered their latest single, “Swashbucklin’,” on February 8th as a follow up to last December’s “Where’s Your Man,” a gritty down home authentic blues track. Scotland’s rising blues star Jed Potts gained international recognition last year with his innovative tribute song, “Talkin’ Apollo 13 Blues,” marking the 50th anniversary of the USA’s third mission to land on the moon.

Jed, together with bassist Charlie Wild and drummer Jonny Christie have traditionally specialised in 1950s American blues, but are currently focusing exclusively on original material. Recorded live in lockdown at Chamber Studio, Edinburgh, “Swashbucklin’” is nevertheless a blues wailing party courtesy of its compelling riffs, muscular grooves and syncopated swing patterns. Wild and Christie provide the power, dexterity and timing to underpin Jed’s superb finger blurring fretwork. Searing solos are complemented by understated interpolations reflecting the range of Jed’s guitar work. The intensity and infectious enthusiasm of his vocals show that Potts is definitely strutting and not walking these days. If falling in love has this effect, then more people should give it a try.

Potts takes up the story: "I wrote “Swashbucklin’” very shortly after returning from the States where I had played guitar on Brandon’s album, The Longshot. Something about that experience inspired me to try to focus more on writing original material, and to try to develop a distinctive style in doing this. The idea of the word “Swashbuckling” and particularly it’s usage as a verb made me laugh and felt very 'Hillmansy' to me, and when I realised that it could be used as a metaphor to describe how good someone can make you feel it felt like a good starting point for lyrics. I liked having to figure out which types of characters could personify the concept of “swashbucklin’”; the pirate is fairly obvious but the tomcat and the paratrooper slightly less so.”

Both “Where’s Your Man” and “Swashbucklin’” are available to stream on all major platforms, and also available for download from Bandcamp.

--- Dave Scott

The Jimmy Reiter Band from Germany has released Jimmy Reiter – Live, an album recorded in Jimmy’s home town of Osnabruck and at the Blues Spring Festival in Vienna. The band features guest musicians Dmitry Suslov and Jurgen Wieching on tenor and baritone sax, respectively, alongside drummer Bjorn Puls, Nico Dreier on keys, and bassist Jasper Mortier. Having released three studio albums in the past decade, this is the first live album from the award winning band. This high energy, blues, boogie and soulful outfit has drawn comparisons with such alumni as Dr John and Allen Toussaint.

The scene is set with the laid back grooves and mellifluous vocal tones of “Waiting For My Luck To Change,” its tasteful guitar interludes highlighting Reiter’s technical proficiency. The balladic “What You Need” has a laid back country feel enhanced by its gentle, empathetic lyrics and piercing guitar licks. The tempo and attitude rise with “What’s In It For Me,” driven along by the tight rhythm section and climactic organ solo.

“Too Many Cooks” introduces the superb brass section, the sax solos and call and response interplay with the vocals adding a further dimension to the sound, one of the many highlights of this live show. The slow burning “Hard Times” showcases Jimmy’s vocal range with a harder, bluesy edge reflecting the theme of adversity and loss. The jaunty optimism of “I’ll Take The Easy Way” from the 2011 High Priest Of Nothing debut CD provides contrast and is a worthy diversion in troubled pandemic times.

The epic “Give It To Me Straight” features the sumptuous atmospheric keys of Nico Dreier, which combined with Reiter’s stunning, intricate guitar work makes this track a tour de force. Bjorn and Jasper provide the perfect syncopations for “Woman Don’t Lie,” both musicians demonstrating technical supremacy and impeccable timing.

Just when you think the keys and brass couldn’t get any better, along comes “I’m Giving In,” the piano and saxophone interpolations a veritable smorgasbord of musical goodies to accompany the main course of strings. “Jimmy’s Boogie” does what it says on the tin, a repetitive boogie-woogie instrumental which receives high acclaim from a noisy audience. A visit from the Jimmy Reiter Band would be welcome both sides of the pond, adding a refreshingly different and interesting vibe to the blues genre.

--- Dave Scott


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