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March/April 2019

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Order these featured CDs today:

Ally Venable

Tommy Castro

Rick Vito

Rockin' Johnny and Quique Gomez

Tony Holiday

Holy Moly and the Crackers

Seamus McGarvey

Sean Chambers

Eric Bibb

Jim Allchin

Blind Boy Willie - book

Big Al and the Heavyweights

Popa Chubby

Eric McFadden

David Lumsden

Diane Durrett and Soul Suga

John Akapo

Johnny and Jaalene

Bryan Lee

Anthony Gomes

Dry Johnson

Ms Zeno

Dale Bandy

Laurie Jane and the 45s

In Laymans Terms

Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones

Ruth Wyand

Regina Bonelli

Gaetano Litizia

Peter V Blues Train

Old Riley and the Water

Shawn Davis



Ally VenableMany years ago a friend voiced his concern to me that the blues would someday die out as an active genre of music, turning into something like Dixieland Jazz, played only in museums by the few remaining artists of that style. I no longer have that fear thanks to the number of outstanding new releases by artists under the age of 30 who are re-inventing the blues genre. I've had to expand my perception of what constitutes the blues, thus ever changing the scope of what I enjoy about the music.

One such artist who I previously would have discounted as being too blues/rock for my tastes is 20-year-old guitar slinger Ally Venable, whose latest album, Texas Honey (Ruf Records), is just as good as her 2018 disc, Puppet Show. The Kilgore, Texas native is a powerful guitar player, especially given her age, and has a strong yet pleasant voice. Rounding out the band are Bobby Wallace (bass), Elijah Owings (brums) and Lewis Stephens (keyboards), while Eric Gales and producer Mike Zito make guest appearances.

Venable serves immediate notice about where on the blues spectrum her music falls with the first cut, "Nowhere To Hide," starting with a heavy, rockin' blues guitar intro while her powerful voice is given a touch of echo. We get more of the same on the title cut with guitar and vocals both dominating the song. She gets kind of sassy on "Come And Take It," with Gales sharing vocals here. Venable says, "...If you think you're man enough, come and take it ..."

Paying tribute to a Texas blues/rock guitar legend, Venable does a very fine version with strong vocals on Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Lovestruck Baby."  We all know the SRV original by heart, and Venable's version holds up well. "One Sided Misunderstanding" is a bit mellower than most cuts here but with nice guitar work and more echo-y vocals added.

Closing Texas Honey is a wonderful version of a blues classic, "Careless Love," except Venable's version is so different from the original that it sounds just like a new song. Her vocals just plain soar through the octaves on this one, showing that her ability to belt out a song ranks right up there with her guitar playing.

Ally Venable is a star in the making --- and not too far away from hitting the blues big time. Don't hesitate to expand your horizons for Texas Honey because there's plenty of outstanding music here.

--- Bill Mitchell

Tommy Castro

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers are well-known to regular Blues Bytes readers, as we've reviewed at least 13 previous albums from the San Francisco legend. In addition to a rich legacy of recordings Castro and band put on consistently strong live shows, thus it's not surprising that his latest, Killin' It Live (Alligator), does just what the title suggests.

This album collects ten recordings from five different shows done by the band across the United States. If you're a Castro fan then you'll be familiar with many of the songs, but then again these versions are all so great that the album doesn't really duplicate anything that's already in your collection.

While eight of the ten songs on this killer album are band originals, two of my favorite cuts are well-chosen covers. Castro and band absolutely knock it out of the park on Sleepy John Estes' "Leaving Trunk," making this more traditional blues a lot more contemporary and funky. This song is worth the price of admission alone. Closing the disc is a prolonged version of Buddy Miles' "Them Changes," with the nearly eight-minute length giving each band member a chance to shine on their respective instruments.

Keyboardist Mike Emerson plays some red-hot piano on the opener, "Make It Back To Memphis, a rollicking tune with plenty of energy. Castro lays down really fine guitar licks on one of the band's earlier hits, "Can't Keep A Good Man Down."  "Anytime Soon" shows the more soulful side of the band with Castro singing his heart out on this soul ballad.

Emerson gets really down, dirty and funky, but this time on the organ, on another Castro standard, "She Wanted To Give It To Me," and then returns to the piano on the mid-tempo shuffle, "Calling San Francisco."

Tommy Castro fans are probably already clicking the links to order or download this album, but for those not as familiar with his music Killin' It Live would be a good way to start learning about one of the best bands on the circuit today. Even better, go see them live.

--- Bill Mitchell

Rick Vito

I wasn't familiar with the work of guitarist Rick Vito before slapping this CD, Soulshaker (Vizztone), into my computer's tray, and it took only a few songs for me to warm up to it. After a couple of cuts Vito's heavy slide guitar playing really started to grow on me. His guitar style is somewhat reminiscent of another of my recent favorite artists, Florida-based Selwyn Birchwood.

While Vito is a fine enough singer, it's his guitar playing on a signature Reverend that interested me the most. Not surprising, my two favorite cuts are instrumentals. The snaky "Doggin' Around" reminded me of Santo & Johnny's classic "Sleepwalk," but even more outstanding was the slow, dirge-like version of "A Change Is Gonna Come." I didn't miss hearing Sam Cooke's lyrics on this rendition because Vito made his slide do all the singing that was necessary. The same applies to the eerie "Soul Shadows."

Vito takes the listener down to the riverside on the gospel-ish original, "I'm Going To Heaven," with plenty of hand-clapping to go with intense slide guitar. As the title indicates, the up-tempo "Dancin' Little Sister" is one that will get your feet to moving. Vito switches to acoustic guitar while still using his slide to good effect on "Promised Land," a pleasant mid-tempo blues shuffle.

If you are into lots and lots of slide guitar, Soulshaker is the album for you. If you're not, give it a listen anyway because it's a good one.

--- Bill Mitchell

Rockin JohnnyRockin' Johnny Burgin is a well-known blues guitarist / vocalist in this part of the world, but for this latest CD, Dos Hombres Wanted (Vizztone), he teams up with Spanish harmonica player / singer Quique Gomez for 14 very strong cuts. While most of the album was recorded in Austin Texas, three of the sides were cut in Gomez's homeland.

Both artists get to shine on their respective instruments on the opening blues shuffle, "Your Charm Won't Help You," getting this album off to a great start with Burgin flexing his vocal prowess. Gomez steps up to the mic on the next cut, his original mid-tempo blues, "Take It Like It Is," on which he also blows some mean harp.

Most songs are originals written by either Burgin or Gomez, but these dos hombres shine on "Funny But True," a slow, late night blues written by Robert Jr. and Annie Lockwood, with Gomez handling the vocals. "Coffee Can Blues," another slow number co-written by Burgin and Ilana Ilana Katz, has Guitar Johnny laying down some really nice, intricate guitar chords. A rather unique arrangement on a Burgin original, the slow-paced shuffle "Step It Up," features trombone by Faris Jarrah and accordion from Christian Dozzler.

It doesn't take much knowledge of the Spanish language to know what Gomez is singing about on the blues shuffle "Otro Hombre." The spirit of the blues can come out in any language, and Gomez also puts out a really fine harmonica solo midway through the song. Greg Izor gets a chance to solo on the harmonica on "Are You Ever," an up-tempo blues number with a downhome, rural Louisiana sound to it. Think Slim Harpo and you'll get the basic concept of this song.

Rockin' Johnny has consistently been a strong recording artist as heard on his previous solo albums, but the addition of Gomez's talents for Dos Hombres Wanted takes this one to another level.

--- Bill Mitchell

Tony Holiday

Harmonica player Tony Holiday, accompanied by his guitar playing pal Landon Stone and bassist Kid Andersen, came up with an idea of traveling around the country to record various blues artists jamming with them on front and back porches to produce this very fine compilation of field recordings. The result of this brainstorm, Tony Holiday's Porch Sessions (VizzTone), will rank as one of the more outstanding blues discs of the year. The names of many of the artists on this album will be familiar to even the most casual of blues fans, although there are also a few lesser-known cats playing some mighty fine music.

My favorite cuts feature the duo of John Primer and Bob Corritore, not surprising since I've always been a great big fan of Primer's. "They Call Me John Primer" features some really nice slide playing by the man being featured, while Corritore contributes some of his best harp-playing on "Tell Me Baby." The album closer, "This Time I'm Gone For Good," is a slow soul number with outstanding vocals from Utah singer William G Kidd, a semi-finalist in the 2018 International Blues Challenge. He's obviously someone with whom I need to become better acquainted.

Charlie Musselwhite blows his harmonica behind Aki Kumar's pleasant vocals and Rockin' Johnny's guitar work on "That's Alright." James Harman and Kid Ramos team up on three very good cuts ("Pick-Pocket Fingers," "Special Friend" and "Goin' To Court"). John Nemeth sings and plays harmonica on "Woman Named Trouble" and "Blues Hit Big Town," while Mitch Kashmar does the same on "Becky Ann" and "Hip To It."

I could go on, but the idea is that this is a very, very nice album with not a weak cut among the 13 songs here. Add Tony Holiday's Porch Sessions to your shopping list right now! You won't be sorry.

--- Bill Mitchell

Holy MolyHaving achieved massive success on the UK folk-roots circuit and major festivals across Europe, the versatile six-piece Holy Moly & The Crackers have released their third album, Take A Bite, on Pink Lane Records which many blues fans will find appealing and refreshing. Indeed, these talented, innovative musicians are poised to take the genre in an exciting new direction by adding their unique flavours of soul, rock, indie and gypsy folk to the mix.

The album explodes into action like an old-fashioned, riotous blues house party with the jaunty, high energy “All I Got Is You,” a controlled, pounding wall of sound courtesy of three guitars, drums and accordion overlaid by the powerful, distinctive vocals of Ruth Patterson. “Upside Down”, its lyrics inspired by travelling circuses, continues in similar vein with mesmeric percussion from Tommy Evans complemented by Jamie Shields’ pulsating bass. The impressive chanteuse is also the violinist, and if Jimi Hendrix had played electric violin this is what it would have sounded like.

Ruth’s smouldering, blues-saturated voice on “Can’t Get Enough” reflects the serious attitude of a woman who knows what she wants and is determined to have it, the atmosphere enhanced by Evan’s haunting rhythms and vocal harmonies. The upbeat, teasing “Kiss Me Before You Go” highlights the chemistry between Patterson and co-founder of the band, Conrad Bird, with whom she shares vocals. Bird also plays guitar and trumpet, and it is their combined leadership, exceptional songwriting abilities and musicianship which are central to the band’s unique sound. The stunning accordion skills of Rosie Bristow stand out in particular on this track and the magnificently arranged “Sister”, with its edgy, passionate lyrics and series of crescendos.

Ruth’s versatility is evident on the angelic-sounding ballad, “I’d Give It All,” even her violin now sounding like a classical instrument. The melodious yet raw, almost anthemic, title track demonstrates an originality which is impossible to categorise: somewhere between The Black Keys and Jack White with an Eastern vibe! “Through With Talking” is another no nonsense, driving blues rocker with blistering lead guitar work from Nick Tyler. The mid-tempo “Who Do You Think You Are?” is superbly arranged to maximise the impact of the message, whilst “Naked In Budapest” with its repetitive, infectious phrasing has Conrad as lead vocalist telling a fascinating story

The captivating “This Little Light” is a nod in the folk direction and tinged with vulnerability and sadness. "...I put my arms around you but I know you don’t feel the same..." Whilst not a blues album in its purest sense, Take A Bite is a significant piece of creative, dynamic and interesting music covering themes, experiences and emotions which are central to the blues tradition.

--- Dave Scott

Seamus McGarveyWhen a 72-year old amateur musician and his family- based group, The Seamus McGarvey Band from Northern Ireland, recorded a debut album of greatest blues songs live in a basement studio over two days the outcomes were always likely to be unpredictable, or at best, interesting. The fact that Seamus O’ Boogie (Johnny Rock Records) has turned out to be one of the least pretentious and most honest blues-roots albums released in a long time is testament to the band’s lifelong love of music and performing.

It helps that Seamus and his musician sons Pat and John are joined by two of Edinburgh’s finest talents --- young blues guitarist Jed Potts, who fronts the Hillman Hunters, and freelance drummer and teacher Calum McIntyre. Pat McGarvey, who is vocalist and five-string banjo player with the Edinburgh-based bluegrass Appalachian band Southern Tenant Folk Union, is also the bass player on this album. John McGarvey, front man of the six-piece blues, soul and rock and roll band Johnny Marvel’s Blues Groove plays harmonica.

The opening track, “Rambling On My Mind,” oozes authenticity and sincerity of Robert Johnson, with piercing vocals from Seamus, sympathetic harp interludes and sumptuous slide guitar. Similarly, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” showcases John’s immaculate harmonica phrasing and timing, evoking memories of the blues legend. The banjo preceded the guitar in the earliest blues tradition, and its inclusion in “Sea Of Heartbreak” and other tracks makes the overall sound of the band unique and engaging, especially in the hands of the consummate entertainer Pat. Lonnie Johnson’s “It’s Too Late To Cry” is a tour de force moment as the listener is transported back in time to the late '50s.

There are few better versions of Johnny Otis’ “Willie And The Hand Jive,” with Calum’s infectious R&B Bo Diddley beat enhanced by the handclaps and melodious backing vocals of Pat’s children Johnny and Elsie Belle McGarvey.

Through learning instruments and performing the blues, the youngest family members are set to continue passing the music through to future generations. Perkins’ rockabilly classic "Honey Don’t” is significant in that it showcases the multi-talents of the full band swinging along in perfect synchronization. A poignant interlude is the duet by Seamus and his late brother John J singing an Irish ballad, “The Rose Of Mooncoin,” in 1983, recorded on cassette at a Belfast family gathering complete with children’s voices but now mastered to studio standard.

“Look On Yonder Wall,” popularised by Elmore James, gets the trademark slide master class from Jed. Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” with its infectious riff and innovative guitar solos is another highlight. Sprightly septuagenarian Seamus boogies briskly on “Break Up” with bopping piano accompaniment from versatile musician Barney Strachan. Watson’s “Deep River Blues” is similarly given virtuosic treatment, whilst the rich vocal standards are maintained on the soulful “Hotel Happiness.” The spirits of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee are raised through John’s harmonica and his dad’s mellifluous vocals on “Walk On.”

It is John J McGarvey who has the last word on the traditional “Mush, Mush, Mush Turai-i-Addy” with an emotional rendition of the famous Irish song from the 1983 home recording --- “...If a fellow can’t drink when he’s living, how the hell can he drink when he’s dead.” It’s a fitting finale for this celebration of a lifelong love of blues, boogie, roots and rhythm shared by Seamus with his close family and friends.

Thanks to mastering engineer Mark Lord, this fascinating, refreshing and intimate musical journey has been lovingly crafted into a permanent legacy to be enjoyed more widely.

--- Dave Scott

Sean ChambersSean Chambers continues to be one of the most powerful purveyors of modern blues rock, both as a vocalist and guitarist. After a memorable five-year stint in Hubert Sumlin’s band, serving as guitarist and band leader, Chambers has carved out an impressive solo career with six excellent album releases. His seventh, Welcome To My Blues (American Showplace Music), does nothing to break that momentum at all, with 11 tracks of mostly original tunes featuring Chambers with John Ginty (B3/keyboards), Moe Watson (drums), Todd Cook (bass), and guest Jimmy Bennett (slide guitar/backing vocals).

The title track opens the disc and it’s a hard-charging blues rocker that shows the guitarist at his absolute best, setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the album. “Black Eyed Susie” is loaded with swampy blues atmosphere and Chambers lets it rip with scorching slide guitar work. Next up is a fiery cover of Luther Allison’s “Cherry Red Wine,” Ginty’s funky “Boxcar Willie,” and the Texas-styled shuffle “Cry On Me,” written by Chambers, while the Western-themed “One More Night To Ride” features slide guitar from Bennett and wah-wah guitar from Chambers.

Chambers’ own slide guitar packs a wallop on the jet-fueled rocker “Red Hot Mama” and he also tears through the powerful “You Keep Me Satisfied,” with aplomb. “Keep Movin’ On” is as close as we get to easing off the gas pedal on Welcome To My Blues, leaning more toward a traditional slow burner, but most intense slow burner at that, with a great vocal turn and searing guitar work from Chambers. Meanwhile, he gives T-Bone Walker’s “All Night Long” an outstanding R&B/funk makeover, giving Ginty plenty of room to let loose on B3.

The closer, “Riviera Blues,” is a gorgeous instrumental that favors SRV’s “Riviera Paradise” with its understated, jazzy feel. Chambers’ fret work is masterful and Ginty provides sympathetic backing on piano. A bit of a variation from the rest of the album, but the track really shows Chambers’ versatility.

Welcome to My Blues is blues rock at its very finest from one of the best that modern blues has to offer.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric BibbGlobal Griot (Stony Plain Records) is certainly the most ambitious project in Eric Bibb’s five-decade career, a two-disc, 24-song set that brings the guitarist’s unique blues/folk/world musical vision to the forefront. Actually, for many of his listeners, the term “global griot” is one that fits Bibb like a glove --- one who maintains an oral record of a group’s history via music, poetry, and storytelling. His latest work encompasses the blues and folk genres he’s been a part of for a long time, as well as his ongoing fascination with West Africa, both culturally and socio-politically.

On the warm opener, “Gathering of the Tribes,” Bibb is joined by Solo Cissokho on vocals and kora. The scathing “Wherza Money At” calls out those oil rich nations who ignore their starving constituents, while the hopeful “Human River” is a call for unity through love, and Bibb picks up the six-string banjo for “What’s He Gonna Say Today,” a jab at President Trump. “Brazos River Blues” is a chilling account of the racial violence that took place in the Texas county during the early 1900s, and “We Don’t Care” takes a pointed look at our current obsession for possessions.

Canadian blues musician Harrison Kennedy joins Bibb on several tracks, including a terrific cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown, & White” and the stirring “Listen For The Spirit.” Bibb and his wife, Ulrika, join together for the optimistic “Hoist Up The Banner” and the reflective “Send Me Your Jesus.” Habib Koité, who teamed with Bibb on the wonderous Brothers in Bamako album a few years ago, appears on the exuberant Mama Wata / Sebastian’s Tune.” The first disc concludes with “A Room For You,” a lovely track with Drissa Dembele on balafon (an African xylophone) and “Remember Family,” where Bibb pays tribute to his worldwide musical family.

On the opening selection of Disc 2, “Race & Equality,” Bibb reflects on ways to deal with this always hot issue, and the love song “Grateful” has a warm island feel, while “All Because” is a country-flavored song of friendship which features Cissokho on kora, as does the glorious “Spirit Day,” where he also takes the mic and is backed by Michael Jerome Brown on gourd banjo and Bibb on 12-string resonator guitar. Meanwhile, on the upbeat “Let God,” Bibb implores us all to “let go and let God” handle the things that we can’t.

“Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” has been covered many times by a number of well-known artists (Pete Seegar, Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, etc.), but Bibb’s version is certainly one of the most memorable. The gorgeous instrumental, “Picture A New World,” continues on a similar theme with Bibb joined by Cissokho on kora and Olli Haavisto on pedal steel. “New Friends” features the beautiful vocals of Linda Tillery calling for global reconciliation.

The album concludes with a trio of traditional tunes, the gentle “Mole In The Ground,” which moves from folk to ska with guest vocalist Ken Boothe, the old favorite “Michael, Row Da Boat Ashore,” and “Needed Time,” familiar to blues fans via versions from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Taj Mahal, or Bibb himself through his live shows. Cissokho’s kora appears again and complements Bibb’s guitar work so well that one can only hope a future collaboration between the two is in the works.

Global Griot ranks among the best works of Eric Bibb’s lengthy career. It’s a stirring invitation for the world to put aside their differences and work together for the common good.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim AllchinJim Allchin manages to set the bar pretty high with each album he releases, so high that you wonder if he will ever fall short of his previous effort. Well, you won’t be hearing anyone say that about his latest great release, Prime Blues (Sandy Key Music), which finds the blues rock guitarist placing more emphasis on the blues side of the spectrum than with his previous four releases. Once again, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge serves as producer/songwriter/drummer, and Allchin also welcomes guest artists Mike Zito, Bobby Rush, and the Memphis Horns to the proceedings.

The opener is “Give It Up,” an inspirational rocker that features support from the Memphis Horns whose presence enriches the album on every track on which they appear. “Devil Don’t Sleep” is a sturdy blues about the never-ending battle against temptation, the gritty “Voodoo Doll” has an appropriately swampy vibe, and “Snuggle Up” is a funky blues rocker. Meanwhile, the instrumental “Jimmy’s Boogie” gives Allchin ample opportunity to strut his stuff on guitar, and he does that in a huge way. The ballad “Summer Sunrise” is on the soulful side with a nice vocal turn from Allchin and contributions from the Memphis Horns.

Zito’s growling vocal is a highlight on the feisty “Enough Is Enough,” and the driving rhythm and Allchin’s guitar accompaniment gives the track a strong country rock feel. “Found The Blues” is a cool shuffle telling the story of how Allchin discovered the blues as a kid. The legendary Mr. Rush makes his first appearance with a terrific vocal (and harp) on the tremendous slow blues “Two Bad Dreams,” which also includes a little Deep South grease on lead guitar and B3 from Allchin and Kevin McKendree, respectively, and those wonderful horns.

Allchin goes acoustic on “Pawn Shop Man,” with McKendree on piano, who also spices up the Windy City-styled shuffle “Lost My Mind” that follows. The blues ballad “Up To Destiny” has a few pop overtones in the mix and finds Allchin reflecting on his future endeavors. Allchin breaks out the acoustic (with Rush on harmonica) on “Tech Blues,” a humorous look at mankind’s current obsession with phones, and the closer “Logoff” is truly a break-up song for the 21st century.

Allchin gets plenty of raves for his guitar chops, but he’s also developed into a first-rate songwriter (with assistance from Hambridge and Richard Fleming on a few tracks). Prime Blues will certainly please guitar fans, but this is also Allchin’s most blues-oriented effort to date. The results are truly satisfying.

--- Graham Clarke

Bill WhartonFor over 30 years, Bill Wharton, the Sauce Boss, has been universally acclaimed for his recordings and his live performances, which usually combines his music and his culinary talents for his audiences. Wharton has played all over the world, thousands of gigs in the U.S. and Canada, Europe, and Asia, performing while cooking a huge pot of gumbo which he flavors with his own Liquid Summer Hot Sauce and serves to his audiences, always free of charge.

The Sauce Boss has been pretty busy of late, busier than usual. He recently released The Life and Times of Blind Boy Billy, a combination memoir/songbook/cookbook that has been charting on Amazon’s Top 100 Southern Cookbooks and Celebrity Memoirs lists. There’s more about the book below, but first let’s look at the EP, Blind Boy Billy (Burning Disk Records), that serves as a companion piece to the memoir.

The EP begins with the title track, a jaunty little jig about a rascal whose life was playing music, highlighted by some serious fiddle playing from David Davidson, then moves to Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play For Gumbo,” a cool tune that was inspired by Wharton’s live performance at Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant in New Orleans. Meanwhile, on the ballad, “Lonely Girl,” Wharton’s plaintive vocal and guitar is accompanied by Davidson’s somber viola.

“Little Driver” is a one-man-band rocker, with Wharton on grungy slide guitar and percussion and growling vocals. There’s also a cover of Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay,” which adopts a faster, more upbeat pace than the original, with sousaphone backing from Joe Murphy. The rip-roaring “What She Gonna Do” is another rocking one-man-band performance which precedes the relaxed and reflective ballad, “Pleasures Of The Deep,” which features Wharton backed by a string quartet (Davidson and David Angell – violins, Monisa Angell – viola, Carol Rabinowitz – cello). The EP is a great capsule of the talents of the Sauce Boss --- a great sampler for newcomers and longtime fans alike.

Bill Wharton - bookI love the format of the book. The lyrics from one of his songs (including stories about some of them, including “Blind Boy Billy” and “Pleasures Of The Deep”), a piece of his life story follows, which is often followed by one of his recipes. If you’re familiar with the Sauce Boss’s music, you already know that he’s a great storyteller, and that’s what you get with the book, a more-or-less chronological story of his life that’s as fast and entertaining a read I’ve enjoyed in quite a while. Though only about 135 pages, Wharton covers a lot of ground.

Both book and CD are immensely entertaining, and will satisfy his longtime fans and probably bring in a few new fans in the process. I know I will be trying a few of those recipes just as soon as I can.

--- Graham Clarke

Big AlBig Al & The Heavyweights have been around since 1993, founded by drummer Big Al Lauro and guitarist Warren Haynes as the Unknown Blues Band. The band has had numerous changes since their formation, only Big Al remaining from the original line-up, but their sound remains as crowd pleasing as ever, combining the blues with rock, country, zydeco, New Orleans-flavored R&B, and jazz. The current Heavyweights are Lauro (drums), Lance Younger (guitar/vocals), Wayne Lohr (keys/vocals), Dean Galatas (bass), and Destin Thibodeaux (harmonica/bass).

The band’s latest release is World Full Of Trouble (EllerSoul Records), and it’s loaded to the brim with plenty of Big Al and the gang’s fun-loving, free-wheeling blues --- 12 original songs written by the members that explore the sound they have cultivated so carefully over their 25-plus years of existence. Guest musicians include former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin, New Orleans guitarist John Lisi, and former Heavyweight/harmonica ace Jason Ricci, who all contribute to multiple tracks.

Leading off with the hopeful title track, a hot blues rocker longing for the day that “love will conquer hate,” the band employs a twin guitar attack from Margolin and Younger, who also takes the lead vocal. Lohr is on vocals for “Fool For You,” which has a cool swamp pop feel with guests Lisi on guitar and Lance Ellis on sax, and the blues shuffle “Love So Fine,” backed again by Lisi with Margolin. Meanwhile, Younger’s robust vocals and guitar are backed by gospel-like vocals from Donna Slater and Cathy Pace on the soul ballad “Testify.”

Ricci plays harmonica on the zydeco-flavored “Bayou Life,” which also features accordion from Greg “Shatzy” Shatz, and the funky “Big Old Rusty Car” adds horns from Lance Ellis, whose contributions gives “Spanish Moss” a jazzy R&B vibe. The humorous “Mother Trucker” ventures into country swing territory compliments of some fine pedal steel from Dwight Breinad. The Windy City West Side blues. “Millionaire Baby.” includes horns, harp from Ricci, and Lisi’s sublime guitar work. On “Crazy About You Baby” Ricci and Thibodeaux battle it out on harp. The disc closes with “Something Got To Change,” a horn-fueled blues ballad.

Heading into their second quarter-century of making this funky concoction of musical genres that can best be described as “Louisiana Roots,” Big Al & The Heavyweights show no signs of slowing down, based on this excellent collection.

--- Graham Clarke

Popa ChubbyThe inimitable Popa Chubby recently released a retrospective covering his nearly 30-year career. Prime Cuts: The Very Best of the Beast from the East (Popa Chubby Productions) showcases his unique style of combining the blues with other musical styles, his brawny guitar style and vocals with 15 tracks from nine of his albums, plus two previously unreleased tracks, all handpicked by Popa himself.

The opener, “Life Is A Beatdown,” is a perfect encapsulation of Chubby’s musical approach, combining the blues with hip-hop, while “Angel On My Shoulder” has a gospel/blues-rock feel. Chubby’s cover of “Hey Joe” is one of the best covers I’ve heard of this classic tune, and “Stoop Down Baby” (not the Chick Willis tune) mixes greasy funk with rock-edged guitar work., while “Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer” adds Memphis-styled horns and soul to the mix.

“San Catri” is a wonderful eight-and-a-half minute instrumental that finds Popa skillfully running the guitar gamut. The live recording of “Caffeine and Nicotine” was a great choice, and “Grown Man Crying Blues” is eight minutes of slow blues heaven. Chubby does a fine amped-up reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” while his personal experiences during 9/11 are the topic of “Somebody Let The Devil Out.”

“I Can’t See The Light Of Day” deftly mixes soul, funk, and the blues as well as any southern rocker could do, and the rough-and-ready “Dirty Lie” revisits Chubby’s blues/hip-hop/rap musical template. The autobiographical “Daddy Played The Guitar (And Mama Was A Disco Queen)” tells a story of Chubby’s childhood as Chubby lays down some splendid slide guitar.

A choice representation of Popa Chubby’s three decades long repertoire, Prime Cuts: The Very Best of the Beast from the East is an excellent set for longtime fans and should entice a few newcomers into the fold as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric McFaddenGuitarist Eric McFadden wears a number of musical hats. He’s studied jazz and flamenco guitar but played in a variety of bands ranging from punk, rock, metal in his early years in Albuquerque. He also played guitar and mandolin with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars as well as with Eric Burdon and the Animals and with the all-star band Stockholm Syndrome, his own Eric McFadden Trio (EMT) and the supergroup, T.E.N. He’s also managed to release several well-received solo albums during his busy career, including 2011’s Bluebird on Fire.

For McFadden’s latest release, Pain By Numbers (Whisky Bayou Records), the guitarist enlists bass monster Doug Wimbush (Living Color), powerhouse drummer Terrence Higgins (Warren Haynes), and Louisiana blues master (and Whiskey Bayou co-owner) Tab Benoit as producer and multi-instrumentalist. McFadden wrote or co-wrote all 12 of the tracks, leading off with the moody, atmospheric “While You Was Gone,” which is packed with energy and emotion both from McFadden’s gut-wrenching vocal and raw guitar work, followed by “Love Come Rescue Me,” a lighter, mid-tempo search for higher love that adds biblical references to powerful effect.

“Long Gone” has a grungy ’80s alt-rock feel, and “The Girl Has Changed” is a harrowing story of an old friend whose life has been consumed by addiction. The hard-driving rocker, “Skeleton Key,” is a standout track as well, and is followed by the stripped-down, acoustic “I Never Listened Too Good,” a somber tale of regret in hindsight, and the heartbreaker “So Hard To Leave.” “If I Die Today” is a fast-paced boogie rocker that speaks of despair and redemption.

The pop-flavored “Fool Your Heart” slows the pace down a bit before McFadden launches into the edgy cautionary tale, “The Jesus Gonna See You Naked,” a warning shot across the bow of those who believe. The furious hard rocking “Don’t You Want To Live” is taken at a breakneck pace before the album wraps up with the instrumental “Cactus Juice,” a lovely piece that mixes flamenco and jazz and really shows McFadden’s versatility as a guitarist.

Pain By Numbers is a remarkable, heartfelt work of power and emotion. Eric McFadden is an amazingly talented performer, and his highly personal songwriting style will knock listeners for a loop. This album deserves to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

David LumsdenDavid Lumsden served as guitarist for Hurricane Ruth for six years, previously performing for several different regional bands and holding down a regular day job. He fell in love with the blues after listening to some of the artists from the British blues rock era of the ’60s and hearing Freddie King’s Getting Ready album in 1970. Now stepping out front as a leader, Lumsden rounded up some of his good friends and released an album of his own, Hues Of Blues, which includes versions of classic tunes from a variety of sources plus a few original tunes for good measure.

Lumsden opens with Earl Hooker’s “You Got To Lose,” where he provides gritty vocals and equally gritty guitar, a dynamic intro to this well-balanced recording. Vocalist/guitarist Bill Evans joins Lumsden for an energetic duet on the standard “Further On Up The Road,” and vocalist Wayne Carter, who led the ’60s group Wayne Carter & Organ Twisters, makes the first of his three appearances on Denise LaSalle’s (via Z.Z. Hill) “You’re Ruining My Bad Reputation,” with Lumsden contributing some great slide guitar. Next up is a live instrumental track recorded at Pop’s Place in Decatur,Illinois in Jeff Beck’s “Brush With The Blues.” Lumsden does an excellent job with this low-key but intense track.

The lively “What’s The Matter With The Mill,” a classic from Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, features Reggie Britton on vocals and drums. “Raised Me Right,” an original tune penned by Lumsden, is sung with passion by co-writer Mary Jo Curry and packed with more tasty slide guitar. Steve “The Harp” Mehlberg takes the mic for two tracks, the first being his own “On Bended Knee,” a fun and funky dance number (his other contribution is a cool and fresh reworking of Ricky Allen’s oft-covered “Cut You Loose”). Carter returns on vocal and piano with an understated “Thrill Is Gone,” and “Georgia On My Mind,” charming tributes to B.B. King and Ray Charles.

There are two more instrumentals that are well worth listeners’ time: a hard rocking and most refreshing version of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” and a remarkable reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song,” featuring Lumsden on acoustic guitar and beautifully complemented by Andon Davis’ weaving slide guitar runs.

Although Hues of Blues is made up of mostly cover tunes, David Lumsden is inspired and very creative in his interpretations of these songs, almost making some of these songs seem new again. This was a very enjoyable release, and hopefully we will be hearing much more from Lumsden and his friends.

--- Graham Clarke

Diane DurrettDiane Durrett & Soul Suga recorded two shows at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia in July of 2017 for the band’s latest release, Live (Blooming Tunes Music), the singer/guitarist’s eighth CD and her second with Soul Suga (Melissa Junebug – drums, Yoel B’nai Yehuda – keyboards, Gregg Shapiro – bass, Markham White – guitar, Adam McKnight and Deborah Reese – background vocals, Wes Funderburke – trombone, Kerren Berz – violin). The 11-song set is a mix of tunes from the band’s self-titled debut and selections from Ms. Durrett’s catalog of previous recordings.

Durrett kicks the set off with the winning “Bright Side,” and she and the band move smoothly into the gritty funk of “Butters In The Skillet” and the greasy soul of “It Is What It Is,” the latter which ponders the end of an originally “sure thing” relationship (which also features a trombone solo from Funderburke). The gospel-flavored “Wish It Would Rain” is an inspirational tune which encourages listeners to persevere through the struggles and tough times, and “Love Has A Right To Be Wrong” (co-written by Durrett and Memphis soul icon William Bell) has an irresistible Bluff City vibe with the swirling keyboards from Yehuda.

Durrett begins “Be Somebody’s Angel” with a sweet story about reuniting a lost dog with its family, an event which inspired the soulful ballad, and the moving “All Is Well” was inspired by her mother and grandmother. The tender love song “In Between Times” features a sterling vocal turn from Durrett and Berz shines on violin, and the swaggering second line tale of “Sassy Larue” is preceded by a percussion solo from Junebug.

George Gershwin’s “Summertime” (from “Porgy and Bess”) is certainly a familiar tune to most music fans, one of the most recorded songs of all time, but Durrett’s version is definitely one of the most memorable as she really pulls out all the stops on this version. The set closes with the exuberant “Don’t That Bring You Back” and “Woohoo,” a fun roadhouse romp that surely had the audience in stitches.

Durrett’s rapport with the audience is another highlight of listening to Live. The decision to include the between-song banter was a wise one, as she expounds on nearly all of the songs and generally makes the crowd feel right at home. That feeling carries over to anyone who listens to the disc, which makes Live a blast from start to finish.

--- Graham Clarke

John AkapoJohn Akapo was born in Hawaii and grew up in Alaska, where he fell in love with the guitar and later developed his vocals as a youth in American Samoa. He was surrounded by music as  is uncles were touring musicians and played guitar. He learned to play songs via VHS tapes or whatever he could find, discovering Eric Clapton’s Unplugged performance on MTV in the process, which changed his whole world as he backtracked from Clapton to the origins of the blues --- Robert Johnson, Son House, Tommy Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King.

Akapo has worked and recorded as a luau musician, bandleader, solo entertainer, and as a hip-hop producer and vocalist for 13 years, but he’s always returned to the blues, leading to this fine debut album. Paradise Blues (Mensch House Records), a powerful set of acoustic blues showcasing Akapo’s skillful guitar work and his smooth, soulful vocals, as well as his songwriting (he wrote seven of the ten songs).

Akapo’s “Little Lani” is a tale of an irresistible young woman who gives him “them old Samoan boy blues” and “Maui Drive” paints a vivid picture of his island home. “Caramac Blues” is a lively country blues that would have been a solid fit in the pre-war era, and “Fighting For Love” is a heartfelt ballad about a doomed relationship. He performs solo on the traditional-styled “Hindsight (Missionary Blues)” and “Don’t Believe Her,” and listeners will enjoy his guitar on these tracks which bookend “Lord Help Me,” with more of an East Coast Piedmont flair and showcasing Akapo’s distinctive slide guitar.

Akapo covers three timeless blues classics from the genre’s early years. Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” which opens the disc in excellent fashion, gives listeners a great sampling of his rich vocals and his fine guitar work. Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is taken at a brisker pace than usual and features more splendid slide, and Tommy Johnson’s ‘Big Road Blues” is pretty faithful to the original version but with Akapo’s strong vocal giving the song more of a modern feel.

Paradise Blues may be blues, but it’s next to impossible to feel bad about the blues when they’re played this well and with this much energy and enthusiasm. John Akapo’s love for this music is obvious from beginning to end.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny & JaaleneJohnny & Jaalene are 19-year-old singer/guitarist Johnny Ramos and 16-year-old singer Jaalene DeLeon, but you could be forgiven for thinking that both were seasoned music vets. Their self-titled debut, on Rip Cat Records, is a terrific set of vintage roots, rockabilly, Americana, and Chicano rock n’ roll. Joined by an impressive lineup that includes Kid Ramos (Johnny’s dad) and Tommy Harkenrider on guitars, Brett Harding on bass, Kip Dabbs on drums, Jesus Cuevas on accordion, and Ron Dziubla on sax, the young duo pay glowing tribute to this timeless music.

Both take lead vocals on various tunes. Ramos does a fine job on Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly classic, “Teenage Cutie,” Lalo Guerrero’s “Los Chucos Suaves,” and Bill Allen and the Back Beats’ “Please Give Me Something.” His best vocal turn probably comes on his heartfelt reading of Doug Sahm’s “Why Why Why.” DeLeon takes the mic solo for a version of Carla Thomas’ “Gee Whiz,” which she absolutely nails. She also ably covers Etta James’ “Good Lookin’,” the sweet ballad “Angel Baby” (from Rosie & The Originals, circa 1961), the Wanda Jackson rock n’ roller “Let’s Have A Party,” and a breathtaking rendition of “Cuando Caliente.”

However, the songs that Johnny & Jaalene sing together show a remarkable chemistry. The opening track on the disc is the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” and it sets the stage for the rest of the album perfectly. Their version of The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” is a showcase in vocal harmony, and the rocking album closer, “One Summer Night,” from The Danleers, finds the two exchanging verses then joining together in the chorus, backed by Cuevas on accordion.

Kid Ramos’ guitar work is an added treat, as are the occasional appearances from Cuevas on accordion. Any music fan who loves the early sounds of rock n’ roll and rockabilly will find a generous selection of vintage tunes on Johnny & Jaalene. Hopefully, this talented duo will continue to make beautiful music together.

--- Graham Clarke

Bryan LeeThe night before a festival performance in a church in Norway, New Orleans guitarist Bryan Lee heard an entire musical arrangement for “The Lord’s Prayer” in his sleep. He performed it the next day just as he heard it in his dream, and he was so inspired that he recorded the song with his band while still in Norway. Flash forward seven years to Lee’s chance meeting with producer Steve Hamilton, who offered his studio and his services to Lee to finish the album he wanted to make.

Sanctuary (Ear Relevant Records) is an 11-song set that finds the guitarist professing his Christian faith and offering his thoughts on life, love and grace. Lee wrote eight of the tracks, beginning with the joyous, funky “Fight For The Light,” which sets the stage marvelously well for the rest of the album. “The Gift” is a rollicking shuffle that tells Lee’s own story, listing some of his musical influences before telling of his new direction and influence. “Jesus Gave Me The Blues” has a Memphis feel with soulful backing vocals from Deirdre Fellner, greasy B3 from Jimmy Voegeli and crisp guitar work, while “U-Haul” packs a potent second line rhythm and an equally potent message.

The slow-burning title track features dobro from Greg Koch and more spot-on keyboards from Voegeli, and the cautionary tale of “Mr. Big” finds Lee laying down splendid guitar fills reminiscent of B.B. King. “Only If You Praise The Lord” sounds like an old time gospel number, with Voegeli’s B3 and piano and Fellner’s vocal support, and Lee’s “Don’t Take My Blindness For Weakness” is a feisty statement of independence and determination, a message that’s reinforced with the spirited “I Ain’t Gonna Stop.”

Next up is the track that started it all, Lee’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which he recorded while in Norway. Lee takes his sweet time on this version, his warm and relaxed vocal showing both passion and sincerity. The album closer, “Jesus Is My Lord And Savior,” was also recorded in Norway, and is a story of Lee’s redemptionin which he proclaims “Jesus is my superstar.”

Sanctuary is an invigorating tale of one man’s redemption and his mission to share that story with others. Bryan Lee pours everything he’s got into this wonderful release.

--- Graham Clarke

Anthony GomesAnthony Gomes’ latest set is Peace, Love & Loud Guitars (Up 2 Zero Entertainment), an energetic 12-song collection of rafter-rattling blues rock originals from the Toronto native, his 13th album overall. It features a trainload of his signature powerhouse guitar and vocals and his first-rate songwriting. He’s backed by a savvy group that includes Mike Brignardello (bass), Greg Morrow (drums/percussion), David Smith (keys), and Chris Leuzinger (acoustic guitar), with backing vocalist Angie Primm, Gale Stewart, and Devonne Fowlkes.

The album kicks off with “Come Down,” a romping tribute to B.B. King begging him to come back. Gomes plays a ripping solo that will probably put a big smile on the King’s face up in the heavens. The storming rocker, “White Trash Princess,” probably has to be heard with the volume on 10 to be fully appreciated, though it’s potent enough at half the volume. “Blues In The First Degree” is a slow blues on steroids with Gomes’ roaring vocal and guitar, a thoroughly modern mix of traditional and contemporary blues that is one of the album’s standout tracks.

“Nasty Good” is a raunchy rocker, while “The Whisky Made Me Do It” is a humorous Windy City-styled shuffle that Detroit Junior, for one, would have been proud of, and Gomes shows a tender side on the radio-ready ballad, “You Are Amazing.” The rip-roaring title track follows, featuring36 metal-shredding guitar from Gomes and a cast of “gang vocalists” that includes Antry, Samantha Fish, and Albert Castiglia. The rock-edged “Stealin’ From The Devil” is a scorching tribute to Robert Johnson where Gomes pledges to take the legend’s soul back from the devil.

One track that listeners will enjoy over and over again is the boisterous rocker “Your Mama Wants To Do Me (And Your Daddy Wants To Do Me In).” “The Only Woman I Ever Loved” is a splendid slow-burning blues ballad with plenty of sweet blues guitar work, and “Hard Road Easy” has a “Kashmir”-like driving beat that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. The closing tune, “Take Me Back Home,” is a ballad that wraps things up with a soulful note with a powerful vocal from Gomes.

Peace, Love & Loud Guitars is a blues rocker’s dream. Anthony Gomes is the total package --- a first-rate guitarist, a powerful songwriter, and a vocalist who combines soul and grit with seemingly little effort. This is an excellent addition to his already formidable catalog.

--- Graham Clarke

Dry JohnsonThe Houston-based duo, Dry Johnson, consists of bassist Terry Dry and drummer Matthew Johnson, who have backed guitarist/singer Mike Zito for the past few years as well as many other musicians in the Houston area, most recently Trudy Lynn on her great 2018 effort, Blues Keep Knockin’. Ms. Lynn returns the favor by providing vocals for the title track of Dry Johnson’s fascinating debut release, Long Live Them Blues, Vol. 1 (Connor Ray Music), which features contributions from a host of area musicians --- harmonica player Steve Krase, guitarists Zito, John Del Toro Richardson, Mighty Orq, and James Wilhite, and vocalists Annika Chambers and Kevin “Snit” Fitzpatrick.

“Long Live Them Blues,” which also features Zito and Mighty Orq on guitar and Krase on harmonica, cites a number of late Houston and Texas bluesmen who set the bar pretty high for those who followed, notably Johnny Clyde Copeland, Albert Collins, Calvin Owens, Earl Gilliam, Texas Johnny Brown, and many others who will be familiar to longtime blues fans. Zito also teams with Chambers for the funky “Daddy’s Got A Cadillac,” and provides slide guitar to “Trashy Women & Cheap Guitars” and the swampy instrumental “Fried Chicken.”

Richardson does an excellent job on guitar and vocals on the sterling cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Hit The Highway,” while Mighty Orq and Fitzpatrick team up for the roadhouse rocker “Drunk Girl With A Tambourine” and “Too Many Hipsters,” an amusing jab at the numerous traffic jams in Houston. Dry takes vocals, backed by Orq and Wilhite on guitar, on the countrified swinger “Juke Joint,” and Wilhite takes vocals on the gritty “I Walk Alone.” On the closer, the acoustic ballad “Little Bird,” Dry goes it alone with vocals, guitars, and other sounds.

Dry wrote all of the original tracks and has a real knack for putting a modern spin on the blues that makes for a memorable set of songs. He and Johnson prove on track after track of Long Live Them Blues, Vol 1 why they are considered a “go-to” rhythm section for many blues artists in the Houston area. Hopefully, they will present us with Vol 2 in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

Ms ZenoVerlinda Zeno, better known as Ms Zeno The Mojo Queen, was born in Louisiana but has made Memphis her home for over 30 years. She was discovered by Little Milton in the late ’80s, who was so impressed that he asked her to join his backup singers, The Angels. After a few years she started her solo career and has been entertaining blues fans and tourists on Beale Street ever since. Her recent release for Blue Lotus Recordings, Back In Love, shows the influence of both her former home and her current one as she turns in a superb set that features 12 original tracks of unadulterated deep soul and blues.

The title track starts things off, the punchy horns reminiscent of those glorious Hi Records sides from the early ’70s while listeners get a taste of Zeno’s glorious vocals. The southern soul ballad “In My Shoes” is equally glorious, reminding me of those great Malaco soul blues ballads from the ’80s, and “That’s How I Know” is a lively R&B track. On “Willie Brown,” Zeno heads to the country side of the blues with guests Brandon Santini on harmonica and G Weevil on guitar, while on “Mojo Queen” she ventures further south into zydeco country and then she gets inspirational with the spirited “Rise Up.”

“Love Is Like A Flower” is another splendid soul ballad on which Zeno’s vocal and those horns will give you goose bumps, and the upbeat “Call My Name” finds her teaming with label mate Gene Jackson on vocals with Santini and G Weevil again in support. “Gotta Get Paid” is a slice of rocking soul with sizzling guitar accompaniment, and the powerful old-school ballad “Mistress” adds strings to the mix. The funky R&B of “Hot Sauce” should put a hop in your step. The disc closes with “Father Time,” seamlessly mixing gospel, soul, blues and country.

Blue Lotus label head Paul Niehaus co-produced the album with Kevin O’Connor and Zeno. Niehaus and O’Connor combined to play most of the instruments on the album as well and collaborated on several of the songs. If you enjoyed the golden days of Memphis soul and southern blues-soul, then you will find a lot to love about Ms Zeno The Mojo Queen and Back In Love.

--- Graham Clarke

Dale BandyDale Bandy is an Orlando-based artist who’s been on the music scene for over 40 years as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and band leader. On his recent debut release, blue., Bandy does just about everything, singing and playing guitar, bass, organ, drums, and keys, along with engineering, mixing, and programming. He also composed five of the nine tracks on the disc. Bassist Gary Thompson does appear on all but a couple of tracks, and guest musicians Joe Bolero (tenor sax) and Goran Eric (trombone) appear on one track each.

The Bandy originals include the funky opener, “My Bad Reputation,” packing a slippery southern rock punch, “If I Could Only Take It Back,” a smooth soul/R&B ballad, “Get It On,” a sparkling mid-tempo shuffle, and the amusing “Country Star,” leaning more toward rock and blues than country which is perfectly fine since it’s a cool tune. The other original, “Comin’ Down,” has a jazzy feel that reminds me a little bit of Atlanta Rhythm Section’s salad days.

Bandy covers “Big Legged Woman,” a tune that’s familiar to Freddie King fans, but this version featuring Bolero’s sax solo is a bit more funky and greasy than the King version. His recording of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” actually started before the King’s passing. It retains the slick, urban groove of King’s version, serving as a fine tribute to the legend. The other covers are Keb’ Mo’s “I’m On Your Side,” which strikes a laidback groove, and a relaxed reading of “Trouble In Mind,” with Bandy on vocals and guitar.

This was a very enjoyable album. Dale Bandy is a talented guitarist and has a warm, engaging vocal style. His music is an appealing mixture of blues, southern rock and soul. Anyone who digs those styles will want to give blue. a spin.

--- Graham Clarke

Laurie JaneFor their latest release, the Louisville, Kentucky-based band Laurie Jane & the 45s (Laurie Jane Duggins – vocals, Cort Duggins – guitar, Jason Embry – bass, Scott Dugsdale – drums, Brian “Boss” Hogg – sax) decided to pay tribute to a pre-war blues legend, Sara Martin, who also called Louisville her home. Ms. Martin began her career in the mid-1910s, singing on the African-American vaudeville circuit. In 1922 she signed with Okeh Records, where she became one of the most-recorded singers of her era, helping to launch the careers of piano legend Fats Waller and blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver. Martin recorded until the late ’20s but continued to perform until the early ’30s when she retired to Louisville to  run a nursing home and sing in her church until she passed away in 1955.

On Late Last Night – Elixir of Sara Martin (Down In The Alley Records), Laurie Jane & the 45s breathe new life into 12 vintage blues tunes associated with Martin. Martin was a fairly prolific songwriter in her day and she wrote or co-wrote five of the songs included in this tribute, including the title track which is given a bouncing, swinging arrangement with rock-edged guitar work from Cort Duggins and a tight two-piece horn section of Hogg and guest trumpeter Eric Snyder.

Duggins’ guitar work stands out again on another Martin song, “Strange Lovin’ Blues,” as he contributes jagged slide guitar which blends well with his wife’s vocal as it does on the haunting “Pleading Blues,” one of Laurie Jane’s standout performances on the disc. The steamy “My Man Blues” is another Martin song, a slow burner that’s a great showcase for Ms. Duggins. The last Martin song, “I’m Gonna Be A Lovin’ Old Soul,” was co-written with Clifford Hayes and here is updated to a rocking swinger that gives more of Mr. Duggins’ slide guitar.

The updated arrangements on tracks like “Achin’ Hearted Blues” and “Sugar Blues” give those selections a nice fresh coat of paint. The guitar contributions of Screamin’ John Hawkins are an asset throughout and most definitely on this pair of songs. Snyder’s trumpet backing on “Blind Man Blues” along with Mr. Duggins’ piano accompaniment give the track a Crescent City feel. Meanwhile, W.C. Handy’s “Joe Turner Blues” gets a full-bore rocking revival into the 21st century, and “Can’t Find Nobody To Do Me Like My Daddy Do” becomes a loping country romp that should put a hop in your step.

Some of the tracks, such as “Atlanta Swing,” are produced to emulate the somewhat scratchy sound of an old 78. This production is really effective on this track, featuring just the Duggins duo (Laurie Jane on vocals, backed by Cort on piano). The album closes with “’Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do,” a blues standard that some claim was first recorded by Martin in the ’20s. This final track is well worth the wait, with.the band really locking into a groove while Ms. Duggins’ vocal is first rate.

Actually, Laurie Jane Duggins is in fine form on all of these tracks. It’s obvious that this project was a labor of love for her, and she has a wonderful chemistry with her husband as well as the rest of the band which is firing on all cylinders throughout. Late Last Night – Elixir of Sara Martin is a great set of classic blues brought to the modern era.

--- Graham Clarke

In Layman TermsIn Layman Terms’ second album, Strong Roots (Endless Blues Records), finds this talented young group weighing into a heady mix of blues, funk and soul. Singer/bassist Logan Layman, currently a freshman at Indiana University, and her guitarist brother Cole Layman, a junior at Berklee College of Music, are pretty formidable in their own right. But teamed with Hamed Barbarji (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion) and Nick Davidson (drums/percussion), they make beautiful music that is decidedly original and innovative.

The funky title track gets things started, with Barbarji’s backing giving the song a definite New Orleans feel. “I’m Somebody” is a driving blues romp that showcases Cole Layman’s slide guitar and Barbarji’s trumpet, and the fuzz-toned rocker “Make Me Yours” is a standout as well,. “Ain’t Gonna Fake It No More” has a jazzy, after-hours appeal with Cole Layman’s subtle guitar work and Logan Layman’s smoky vocals along with superb trumpet/guitar work.

“Heartbroken” is a fine pop/blues rocker that locks into an irresistible groove, and Logan Layman’s walking bass and seductive vocal propel the sultry and soulful “Notice Me.” She also does a funky bass intro for the album closer “Way Too Far,” which should have heads bobbing and booties shaking. The group also gives a smoldering cover of the standard “Fever,” with Logan Layman leaning closer to the smoldering Peggy Lee take with interesting results.

Strong Roots shows that In Layman Terms have made incredible strides from their debut release. Logan and Cole Layman’s musical abilities are amazing, and their interplay with Barbarji and Davidson is first-rate. Their ability to sound both traditional and contemporary is a marvel. Keep your eye on these youngsters. Great things lie ahead.

--- Graham Clarke

Doug DemingDoug Deming & the Jewel Tones’ latest effort, on EllerSoul Records, is called Complicated Mess, but truthfully it’s anything but that. Guitarist Deming was born and raised in the Detroit area and spend years touring and recording with numerous artists, including Kim Wilson, Gary Primich, Lazy Lester, Alberta Adams, and A.C. Reed, in addition to leading his own band which has featured Greg “Fingers” Taylor, Terry Hanck, Steve Guyger, and Dennis Gruenling at various times. This stellar set of 13 traditional blues, swing, and roots rockers showcases ten exciting originals and three choice covers.

The title track kicks off the disc, with Deming’s sharp fretwork bringing to mind Buddy Guy’s ’60s guitar work. “Sweet Poison” has a harrowing, swampy vibe, powered by Kim Wilson’s somber chromatic harp. The mood lightens up slightly with a playful, swinging cover of the late ’20s classic tune, “You Rascal You,” most famously performed by Louis Armstrong, and on “Hold On,” an optimistic slice of Memphis soul. “Need My Baby” is an old-school, slow-rolling shuffle that features Madison Slim on harmonica, while Wilson returns for the terrific remake of Lazy Lester’s “Blues Stop Knockin’.”

“Deep Blue Sea” is one of those superb slow-burning blues that you wish would go on forever, with Deming doing some of his finest guitar work on this track (backed splendidly by Bob Welsh’s piano). “Someday Pretty Baby” is a fine R&B swinger that features sax men Sax Gordon (tenor) and Tino Barker (baritone), who also both show up on the vintage rock n’ roller “Just A Moment Of Your Time.” The last cover tune, coming  from the Fats Domino catalog, is “I’m Walkin’,” but Deming and company make this version swing like crazy.

Deming also includes a pair of dynamite instrumental tracks. “Captain’s Quarters” is a cool, jazz-flavored collaboration between Deming and Little Charlie Baty, and the hard-charging “Rat Killin’” gives each band member a little room to shine as it wraps up the disc.

Complicated Mess is a great little set that will satisfy both traditional and contemporary blues fan.

--- Graham Clarke

Randy McAllisterRandy McAllister and The Scrappiest Band In The Motherland return with the Texas-based singer/songwriter/drummer/harmonica wizard’s latest powerhouse blues rock set on Reaction Records, Triggers Be Trippin’. This is his 15th album over his nearly 30-year career and it features ten tracks, nine originals that showcase his inimitable style as a composer. He plays drums on three tracks, but packs the rest of the songs with his gritty, soulful vocals and his harmonica skills.

The hard-charging opener, “In A Flick of a Bic,” features slide guitar from Brandon Hudspeth who’s also featured on the ’50s-styled “Beauty and Ugly Upside Down.” “Bring It On Backbreaker” is a tough roadhouse rocker, while the mid-tempo “The Yin And The Yang” leans more toward the R&B side of the blues with Carson Wagner providing B3. “Batter Up” is a churning boogie blues with clever wordplay.
“Vacation In My Mind” is a slice of light, catchy soul blues and “Math Ain’t Workin’” is a raw and ragged driving blues. Meanwhile, the poignant “Makeshift Molly” is a tough portrait of a homeless person in Dallas.

The disc closes with the upbeat “We Can’t Be Friends (If You Don’t Like Jimmy Reed),” paying tribute to the legendary blues man. McAllister also covers the Ivory Joe Hunter ballad, “Since I Met You Baby,” which is taken at a relaxed tempo with McAllister accompanied by Santos Puertas on acoustic guitar.

Randy McAllister never disappoints with his musical talents. He’s a fine harmonica player and vocalist and one of the most distinctive songwriters in the modern blues world. Triggers Be Trippin’ is the real deal --- straight-ahead blues rock at it’s best.

--- Graham Clarke

Ruth WyandRuth Wyand made the semi-finals at the I.B.C. in 2018 after advancing to the 2017 finals in  in the Solo/Duo category. She is a one-woman-band based in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, but summons up the sounds and energy of a four-piece band with her voice, guitars, and various forms of percussion. Her new release, Tribe of One (Back Bay Bill Records), recorded live in the studio, gives listeners a strong dose of her music and energy with 14 tracks, 11 written by Wyand.

The acoustic “Bad Mojo (Working Overtime)” opens the disc and puts Wyand’s fingerpicking talents on full display. “Break The Curse” is an electric blues boogie and she adds snappy percussion to give the track a ’50s almost-rockabilly feel. “The Last Nail” is a sober slow blues, while “Better Off Alone” finds Wyand breaking out the slide to great effect. “Help My Soul Survive” and “Till It’s Safe To Go Outside” are both acoustic blues, the former with only acoustic guitar and the latter with some percussion added.

The humorous “Love On The Line Blues” is a nice country blues with clever lyrics, and on “I Don’t Have Proof” Wyand’s slide playing is fantastic. “100 Proof” also features splendid slide guitar that almost sings while being backed by a driving boogie percussion, and “Broken Woman” is a slower-paced, hard-hitting blues. The closer, “On The Porch With Etta,” wraps things up with more tasty slide guitar.

Wyand covers Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” in the Piedmont fingerpicking style that was a specialty of the song’s protagonist’s. She also does a magnificent acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that is a total transformation of the classic original. For her third cover, Wyand keeps things on the Piedmont side of the blues with a smooth instrumental take of Etta Baker’s “Mint Julep.”

Ruth Wyand has what it takes to keep the “one-man/woman band” tradition going with her excellent work on guitar and percussion, her strong and clear vocals, and her unique songwriting abilities. Tribe of One should be required listening for serious blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Regina BonelliBrooklyn-born blues belter Regina Bonelli is a member of the New York Blues Hall of Fame, and after listening to her latest release, Love Letter (True Groove Records), it’s easy to hear that she’s more than earned that honor. Bonelli’s powerful, earthy vocals are right at home on these nine tracks which mix blues, soul, rock and funk.

Bonelli is backed by a powerhouse band consisting of fellow New Yorkers, including guitarists Michael Hill (Michael Hill’s Blues Mob), Tomás Doncker (Ivan Neville, Madonna), James Dellatacoma, and Artur Uronen, bassist Kevin Jenkins (Shemeka Copeland) and Mike Griot, keyboardsit Nick Rolfe (Aretha Franklin) and drummers Tony Lewis and James Coley.

Bonelli delivers the opener, the defiant blues rocker “Don’t You Put Your Hands On Me,” with grit and lots of attitude, and hits the country side of the blues on the swinging “Playin’ In The Dirt” (complete with washboard from Dellatacoma and harmonica from Gary Schreiner). “Nothing I Can’t Handle” is a funky horn-fueled R&B track with Mark Henry guesting on saxophone, and “Talk Is Cheap follows that same musical theme though leaning more on the funk side of the aisle.

Bonelli’s vocal range and versatility are on full display on a trio of ballads which form the heart of the album --- the moody title track, the slow burner “Straighten My Crown,” which deftly blends soul and pop, and the somber “A Little Rain Must Fall” showing Bonelli’s range and versatility. She also tackles the ’60s Rolling Stone classic, “Paint It Black,” giving her read more of a hard-rocking edge, and closes the disc with the driving roots rocker “The Ladder.”

A short, but energetic set of rocking blues and soul, Love Letter will leave listeners wanting to hear more from the talented Regina Bonelli.

--- Graham Clarke

Mat WalklateMat Walklate is a professional musician and music teacher from the U.K. who plays harmonica, flute and uilleann pipes. He focuses primarily on harmonica (diatonic, chromatic, and tremolo) in a variety of styles but mostly the blues and traditional Irish music. He plays in a blues duo with Sicilian guitarist Paolo Fuschi, plays harp with Tom Attah & The Bad Man Clan, plays harp, flute, and pipes with an Irish traditional/bluegrass band, The House Devils, and plays flute and harmonica with the band Rosenblume. In his spare time(!) Walklate also gives private lessons for harmonica and has made two training videos that can be found on YouTube.

Oh, yes …… he’s also found a little bit of time to record a solo blues album called Sea of Blues, which consists of 11 tracks of virtuoso harmonica playing from Walklate who plays guitar and proves to be quite a soulful vocalist. There are also fine musical contributions from Fuschi, Attah, and Calypso George (guitar), Bo Lee (bass), Adam Dawson and Stevie Oakes (drums), Justin Shearn (keys), and Rachel Lasham and Laurie Agnew (percussion).

The rousing opener, “Could Have Been,” teams Walklate with Fuschi on guitar as the harp player reprimands a lover for bailing out of the relationship too quickly. On the Delta-flavored “The Sun Never Shines” Attah provides National Steel backing for Walklate’s sizzling harp, and Fuschi returns with crunching electric guitar on the powerful “So Deep In Trouble.” Meanwhile, “Exactly What You Need” takes on a breathless, almost James Brown-like approach that’s hard to listen to without moving something. The lively “Swimming Pool” features Walklate on guitar, vocals, and harmonica, while on the fast-paced “Answer Your Phone” he plays harmonica and flute.

Walklate also ventures into reggae territory on a couple of tracks with effective results. “Modest Man” also features Shearn’s bubbling keyboards, and on the closing instrumental track, “Dubbed And Burning,” a cat named Calypso George provides the hypnotic fretwork behind Walklate’s harmonica and the slippery rhythm from Lee and Oakes. The funky “Answer Your Phone” has a bit of an island feel, too. The album’s lone cover is a medley of two inspirational tunes in “Rivers of Jordan” and “People Get Ready.” This track features Walklate’s rumbling vocal and harmonica to glorious effect.

The album features two instrumental tracks, the previously-mentioned “Dubbed And Burning,” and the wonderfully-titled “Playing With Myself Boogie” on which Walklate overdubs several harmonicas on a track that every blues harmonica fan (particularly Little Walter fans) will want to listen to over and over again. Actually, any fan of blues harmonica absolutely needs Sea of Blues in their collection, not to mention any other release they can track down from Mat Walklate.

--- Graham Clarke

Gaetano LetiziaMost blues fans probably didn’t start out listening to the blues. More than likely, a lot of us were fans of, or at least familiar with The Beatles. I was a fan, for sure, writing two or three papers on the Fab Four for school projects over the years. One of the things that I remembered years after the fact was that I read in one of the kajillions of books written about the group that Ringo Starr cited Lightnin’ Hopkins and Elmore James as some of his favorite artists when the band was just getting started. Now, I didn’t know who either was at the time, but years later I did remember their names.

Guitarist Gaetano Letizia was a teenager during the Beatlemania craze and grew up listening to their music. His third release with The Underground Blues Rock Band (Mike D’Elia – drums, Lenny Gray – bass) is a loving tribute to the lads from Liverpool, Beatle Blues Blast (Letizia Records). In their earliest years The Beatles were a cover band, playing the R&B and blues songs of the era as part of their set list. Those two genres remained a part of their musical DNA even after they began writing their own compositions. Letizia understands this well because he also was influenced by the same artists, and his take on these 17 Fab Four classics is an irresistible combination of funky blues and R&B.

The set list spans the entirety of The Beatles’ catalog, from their early cover tunes to their later successes, opening with “Come Together” from their final album, Abbey Road. Gray and D’Elia give it a slippery funky groove. “Do It In The Road,” originally a brief snippet from the group’s self-titled White Album, is transformed into an extended swampy blues rocker, “Drive My Car,” from their middle period, staying fairly close to the original but a slightly funkier edge. The Motown classic, “Money,” gets a tasty surf guitar lead-in from Letizia, while George Harrison’s “Taxman” is converted to a rocking Texas-styled shuffle.

Another Harrison classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” has a catchy samba feel which Letizia infuses with crisp, measured vocals and guitar work. The trio tackles a couple more Abbey Road selections, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” running closer to Joe Cocker’s later version, but “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” which is probably one of The Beatles’ bluesiest tunes, maintains the psychedelic blues power of the original. The band really does a great job on this one with their slightly understated but potent approach. The romantic ballad “And I Love Her” gets a Santana-esque instrumental treatmen,t and “Can’t Buy Me Love” becomes a swaggering Chicago shuffle.

After a lively rocking version of “You Can’t Do That,” the trio re-imagines “Yesterday” as a slow-burning blues ballad before holding close to the original version of the Fab Four’s rooftop soiree “Get Back.” “With A Little Help From My Friends” falls in between the Ringo Starr version and the later Joe Cocker version, then Letizia and friends have a little fun with the rocking “Birthday” before giving the poignant “Blackbird” a country blues instrumental treatment that showcases excellent finger picking from Letizia.

The album’s closing number is the final track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “A Day In The Life,” which like the original slowly builds the tension and intensity before roaring to a fitting conclusion.

Beatles Blues Blast is a really cool tribute to the most influential band of the last century. By taking such a funky blues and R&B approach, Gaetano Letizia and The Underground Blues Band’s approach shows that those styles formed an integral part of The Beatles’ musical DNA. Blues fans and Beatles fans will find a lot to love with this set.

--- Graham Clarke

Peter VThe Peter V Blues Train keeps on rolling with their latest release, Shaken But Not Deterred. The band’s second release of 2018 is a rock-solid 13-song set of contemporary blues with a dash of jazz and funk. As previously, guitarist/singer Peter Veteska is joined by drummer Alex D’Agnese, bassist Sean “Gravey” Graverson, and keyboardist Aron Gornish, with guests Jeff Levine (B3) and Danny Walsh (sax) appearing on several tracks.

The opening track, “Don’t Want To Leave Memphis,” finds the band really locked into a shuffle groove, with Walsh and Levine both getting ample space for solos while Peter V wraps up by dropping the names of a few of his influences from the Bluff City. Next up is a dandy re-do of the Fats Domino classic “Blue Monday,” giving the Crescent City classic a greasy Memphis vibe. “By The River” previously appeared on the group’s debut recording in 2017, but the new version ups the funk quotient and Peter V adds guitar work from Bob DelRosso. “For All We Know” is a superb slow blues take on the Nat King Cole classic.

The simmering funk of “In Demand” gives way to T-Bone Walker’s own “T-Bone Shuffle,” which is taken at a slower, measured pace than the original version, followed by the more contemporary blues rocker “Alibi” and the vintage rock n’ roller “Don’t Cheat On My Lady.” The no-nonsense “Rodeo (No BS)” has jazzy overtones (thanks to the splendid B3 backing) and the rumbling duet from Peter V and Vanessa Vause,

“Getting Closer Now,” also features harp from Gary Neuwirth. “Been So Long” mixes jazz and funk with guest drummer Paul Levinsky, guitarist DelRosso, and bassist Bill Cherensky sitting in, and the title track is an interesting mix of blues, funk, and hip-hop that works surprisingly well.

The album also features a bonus track, Big Maceo’s “Worried Life Blues,” a live-in-the-studio duet which is performed by Peter V on acoustic guitar with Walsh’s sax.

It’s hard to imagine the Peter V Blues Train keeping up the busy pace of two album releases per year. But if they’re all as energetic and well-crafted as Shaken But Not Deterred and its predecessor, Running Out Of Time, I don’t think blues fans would have a problem with it at all.

--- Graham Clarke

Old RileyOld Riley & The Water consists of New Orleans-based guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Sean Riley, drummer Ray Micarelli, and bassist Andrew Landry. The trio recently enlisted a couple of friends (Joshua Cook – guitar/vocals/percussion, Scott Craver – harmonica), releasing their debut EP, Biting Through, a ragged but right collection of seven solid blues rockers, six written by Riley that invoke the musical spirit of the Crescent City along with the greasy grit and grime of the Mississippi Delta.

The lone cover on the set kicks things off. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darlin’,” a cool reworking loaded with fuzzy distortion vocally and instrumentally as Riley comes as close as anyone to replicating the original Wolf growl. The group follows up with “Blues Walking,” an atmospheric updating of the Delta blues with sparkling guitar work from Riley and Cook. “Kind-Hearted Woman,” not the Robert Johnson tune, is a grinding blues rocker that follows the rhythm of the Wolf’s “44,” but the vocals give it more of a ’60s feel.

“Try And Understand” is a laidback swamp blues with nice harp from Craver and crisp slide guitar. The title track is pure psychedelic grunge with distorted guitar that gives the track a ’60s British blues rock vibe, while the hard-charging “Trouble” brings together Jimmy Reed and the roadhouse. The closer, “Power To Change,” incorporates some nifty Meters-era funk into the mix and wraps things up on an optimistic note.

Old Riley & The Water give blues fans a brief taste of their talents with Biting Through. Hopefully, they will follow up with a full-length release soon enough.

--- Graham Clarke

Shaw DavisShaw Davis & The Black Ties won the 2017 South Florida Regional Blues Challenge, earning them the right to compete in the 2018 I.B.C. The 24-year-old Davis has won acclaim for his raw and rugged guitar style and vocals, as well as the band’s aggressive, road-tested blues rock attack. Davis and The Black Ties (Bobby Van Stone – drums/vocals, Patrick Stephenson – bass/vocals) recently released their second album, Tales From The West (Chin Music Records), a nine-track powerhouse that features seven original songs from the band along with two well-chosen covers.

“Take My Hand,” a funky, moody blues-rocker propelled by a driving bass line, sets a high bar for the rest of the disc, as does the band’s spectacular cover of Frank Zappa’s “Willie The Pimp,” given a rough and ready, almost metal treatment. The excellent title cut starts out as a ballad, but slowly builds in intensity and rocks hard, while “Mamma Told Me” starts out in high gear and features some of Davis’ most intense guitar work. “Fire Inside” is blues with metal overtones.

“Know Where You Been” is a cheating blues song with a hard rock edge, and “Atomic Groove” is a fiery stomper that picks up the pace briskly with a nice shot of psychedelia thrown in for good measure. Junior Kimbrough’s “I Gotta Try You Girl” is the other cover tune on the album, with the band retaining much of the original’s driving North Mississippi rhythm in their attack. The closer, “My Friend,” starts out as a mellow ballad, dropping some searing guitar work about midway before returning to the quiet approach at the song’s conclusion.

Shaw Davis & The Black Ties’ focus is on the blues rock side of the blues. While it leans more closely toward the rock side of the aisle, Davis’ songwriting has deep roots in the blues. Tales From The West should appeal to both sides of the blues rock aisle though.

--- Graham Clarke


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