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July 2017

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Order these featured CDs today:

Vintage 18

John McNamara

Bobby Messano

Low Society

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca

Polly O'Keary

Jim Roberts and the Resonants

Laura Tate

Ivor SK

Dirty Mojo Blues Band

Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter

John Primer and Bob Corritore

Corey Dennison

Bridget Kelly Band

Lisa Biales

Andy T Band

Mike Westcott


Vintage 18Vintage #18 is a blues/R&B combo based in the Washington, D.C. area. Fronted by sultry vocalist Robbin Kapsalis and powered by guitarist extraordinaire Bill Holter and the immaculate rhythm section of Alex Kuldell (drums/percussion) and Mark Chandler (bass/keys/slide guitar), this band is highly regarded for their modern, yet retro take on blues and soul, representing the Central Virginia Blues Society in the 2016 I.B.Cs.

The band’s debut release, Grit, consists of 11 tracks, nine originals written by the band and two cover tunes. The opener, “Diamonds Are Optional,” has a funky Latin flair with a solid bass line and crisp guitar work backing Kapsalis’ smoky vocal. The seductive “Is This Too Good” follows, then “Love Hangover” ---not the Diana Ross disco number, but a slow grooving walking blues that picks up the pace midway for a great guitar break. The first of two covers is Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” and the band gives this a marvelous slow blues treatment.

The upbeat “Circles” has a traditional blues feel, and Kapsalis ably handles the melancholy R&B ballad “Pieces.” The second cover is a classic:Z.Z. Top’s “Just Got Back From Baby’s.” This one positively burns with Kapsalis’s soulful delivery and Holter’s six-string fireworks. “Poor Me” is a lovely old-school R&B track, “Remember” is a funky rocking blues, and the entertaining “Good Eye” is sharp ’60s-styled rock n’ roller. The closer, “Circles Down Home,” is a laid-back country blues that includes a slide guitar run from Chandler.

All in all, Grit is a delightful and very entertaining debut release from Vintage #18, a group that masterfully blends the traditional and the modern in their approach to the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

John McNamaraAustralian soul/blues artist John McNamara decided to head to Memphis for his sophomore release, Rollin’ With It (Bahool Records), and it certainly appears to have been a wise decision. McNamara was a contestant in the 2015 I.B.C. in the Bluff City and advanced to the semi-finals that year. He enlisted the legendary keyboardist Lester Snell as a producer, arranger, and musician and brought in the cream of the Memphis musical crop, including drummer Steve Potts, guitarist Michael Toles, bassist Jimi Kinard, and a horn section of Marc Franklin (trumpet/flugelhorn), Lannie McMillan (tenor sax), and Jim Spake (baritone sax).

Rollin’ With It rolls along with ten great tracks of soul and blues music influenced by that Memphis sound. McNamara wrote six of the tunes, while the other four are covers of classic tunes associated with the city. “Ask Me About Nothing (But The Blues)” and “Blind Man” were both recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland during his Duke Records days, while “Security” was written by Otis Redding in the mid ’60s, and Little Willie John had a mid ’50s hit with “Suffering With The Blues.” Wisely, McNamara doesn’t try to emulate the original artists, but he puts his own soul-drenched vocals to admirable use.

McNamara’s own songs measure up well with the covers and combine blues and soul effectively and his guitar work is on an equally proficient level with his vocals. His sharp, stinging leads are reminiscent of Albert King’s Stax work on most of these tracks. Standouts include the R&B-styled “One, Two of a Kind,” the swinging “Bad Reputation,” “Under The Weight of the Moon,” which has a cool after-hours feel, and “Wild Out There.”

The backing musicians are nothing short of magnificent, really giving Rollin’ With It the sound and feel of those classic Memphis recordings from years ago. Of course, without the ideal performer in front, it wouldn’t really matter, and McNamara shows that he’s up to the task with his soulful, heartfelt vocals and formidable guitar skills. Fans of old school blues and soul will enjoy this release.

--- Graham Clarke

You many not know who Bobby Messano is, but you have more than likely heard him play guitar over the past few decades. If you’re a child of the ’70s, you probably heard Messano’s guitar work on “Into the Night,” a major pop hit for Benny Mardones. Over the years, he’s served as guitarist and music director for Steve Winwood, Lou Gramm, Rodney Atkins, Steve Holy, and Jimmy Wayne. He’s also played on recordings by Clarence Clemons, Franke and the Knockouts, Joe Lynn Turner, and STARZ. He’s also released seven of his own albums, including his latest and best, Bad Movie (The Prince Frog Record Company).

Messano co-wrote all 15 tracks with Jon Tiven, with collaborations from others like former Queen guitar legend Brian May, Larry Weiss, and Steve Kalinch on various tunes. Stylistically, the music spans a wide area and there’s truly not a cull in the bunch. The title track opens the disc and it’s a rugged Texas blues shuffle which sets the mood pretty well, before shifting to the soulful “Come To Your Senses,” the track co-authored by Tiven and May. The heartfelt ballad “Why Water A Dead Rose” is next and is followed by the Hill Country-flavored romp “Road To Oblivion,” then the crunching blues rocker “Unconventional Wisdom,” which takes no prisoners on either side of the political spectrum.

“Too Good To Be True” is heavy on the funk and solid on good advice, while “If The Phone Ain’t Ringing, It’s Me Not Callin’” cleverly updates the fabled Bo Diddley beat, and “Never Too Late To Break A Bad Habit” is a strong, solid rocking blues. Country singer Alecia Elliot joins Messano on the next two tracks, sharing lead vocals on the lovely acoustic “Water Under The Bridge” and singing background on the reggae-driven “You Left Me No Choice.” “The Girl Who Got Away” has a smooth after-hours feel and “I Thought We Had This” has a gentle swing rhythm and amusing lyrics. “We Need A Blessing” addresses the immigration issue and “Is It Too Late To Ask For A Miracle” serves as a call to action, seguing into the optimistic anthemic closer, “American Spring.”

Bad Movie is a complete picture into the musical gifts of Bobby Messano. Taking the songs individually or collectively, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. There’s something here for any blues fans to enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke

Low SocietyLow Society’s third album, Sanctified (Rezonate Records), finds the band (Mandy Lemons – vocals, Sturgis Nikides – guitarist/producer) splitting their time in Belgium and Memphis. Rhythm tracks for the new release were recorded in Roeselare with an impressive Belgian rhythm section (Jacky Verstraeten –bass, Bart De Brueker – drums), while all additional recording was done in Memphis.

On their latest release, Lemons and Nikides collaborated on eight of the ten tracks, with Nikides penning one solo, and there’s a great mix of blues with rock and soul. “Raccoon Song” is an interesting mix of punk, funk, rock and blues, and “The Freeze” has a moody, late night feel with guest Rick Steff adding organ to the mix. The title track is a rowdy countrified blues showcasing Nikides’ slide guitar, while “River of Tears” continues on that theme with more of a deep soul bent on vocals and slide.

“Nina,” a tribute to the late singer Nina Simone,” starts out in a low-key, understated manner with Nikides on acoustic guitar before adding some deft slide work while Lemons’ smoldering vocal kick this stunning song to the next level. Nikides’ takes the mic for his own “Drowning Blues,” a powerhouse rocker. “New York City Boy #3” is a reflective acoustic ballad with Steff adding accordion to Nikides’ guitar, and “Here Comes The Flood” bounces with a Second-Line funky rhythm that will get heads bobbing and toes tapping.

A pair of covers bookend the album. John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” would seem like a great fit for Lemons and it certainly is, as she provides the perfect combination of tough and tender on this rendition. The blues standard “I’d Rather Go Blind” closes the disc and is an equally good fit for Lemons, who really pours her heart into this one. You can feel the heartache coming from the speakers.

From previous listens to their work, I’ve really enjoyed Low Society’s sound and the ease with which they blend various musical genres into their brand of the blues. With one of the best blues vocalists and slide guitarists currently practicing, it’s hard --- just about impossible --- to go wrong with this excellent release.

--- Graham Clarke

Mick KolassaAt some point during the 2016 I.B.C., Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca hung out and swapped songs back and forth. Among those songs were “bluesified” versions of Beatles tunes that each had developed over the years, both being big fans of the Fab Four. One thing led to another and the jam session became a full-fledged album project. Kolassa and Telesca brought Jeff Jensen on board to produce and add his formidable guitar skills to the mix, and You Can’t Do That! (Swing Suit Records) was born.

Over the years, there have been attempts by blues artists to cover tunes from the Beatles with mixed results as best. Though the Beatles acknowledged R&B and blues artists as influences (I remember reading a book in high school where Ringo Starr named Lightnin’ Hopkins as a favorite, the first time this teenager had ever heard Mr. Hopkins’ name), their songs are so ingrained in the memory banks of their devoted fans that it’s often hard to actually swallow a version that’s different from the original. Let’s just say that Kolassa and Telesca pretty much threw that format out of the window and focused more on the words than the music, which is really the only way this project could work. And man, does this project work!

Kolassa and Telesca take 11 Lennon/McCartney compositions, ranging from their earlier pop/rock confections (“I’ll Cry Instead,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the title track), their midterm classics (“I Feel Fine,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “She’s A Woman,” Fixing A Hole”), and their latter-day period (“Lady Madonna,” “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” “Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”) and completely transform them into blues tunes.

Most of the Beatles’ catalog included songs that cover topics familiar to the blues genre --- love, loss, heartbreak, and various character studies --- but many times, the meaning of the band’s lyrics was often lost because listeners were entranced by the Beatles (and producer George Martin’s) enthralling musical abilities. By stripping these songs down to the basics, the lyrics actually become the focus and the lyrical gifts of John Lennon and Paul McCartney seem even more impressive than originally thought.

Kolassa and Telesca alternate on vocals and both do a fine job. It’s clear that both share a deep love for the music. Jensen provides some wonderful moments on guitar and the rest of the instrumentation (drums/percussion from James Cunningham, harmonica/guitar from Eric Hughes, trumpet/flugelhorn from Marc Franklin, and fiddle/mandolin from Tommy Boroughs) is just perfect.

The album title doesn’t just represent one of the songs on the album, it also represents the reaction that the duo got from some people when the idea for the album was broached. Fortunately, with a little help from their friends (sorry), Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca have given blues fans some great music that we might never have considered possible otherwise.

--- Graham Clarke

Polly O'KearyPolly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method recently issued their fourth release, Black Crow Callin’, which will add even more accolades to the bassist/singer/songwriter’s already-impressive resumé. Already one of the most creative songwriters in the blues with her unique perspective on familiar blues topics, she’s outdone herself with this batch of tunes. As always, she’s joined by her husband, drummer Tommy Cook, but this time around she welcomes guitarist David Miller, a music legend on the Southern California blues circuit.

The feisty “Hard Hearted World” kicks off the disc on a rocking note with some nice work on the ivories from Eric Robert and a fierce guitar run from Miller right out of the gate. “A Man Who Can Stand” is a wry variation on the “needy woman” theme and “Red Light” is a funky rocker. The title track is a moody slow burner, and “Yours To Lose” is a horn-fueled (courtesy of the Powerhouse Horns) blues rocker.

O’Keary’s vocal on the yearning ballad “One Life” is a standout, but she tops that on the following ballad, “Reconciled,” where she’s backed by vocalists Sheri Roberts Greimes and Christina Porter. O’Keary’s vocal range allows her to really tear through the uptempo rockers, but she’s equally effective, if not more so, on the slower ballads. She’s no slouch on the bass either, of course, with the amusing “I Don’t Understand” serving as an excellent example.

She also offers sage advice on “Plan B,” which features the horns again in a soul/R&B vein. The somewhat unnerving “I Am The One” closes the disc, with a sultry, yet disturbing vocal from O’Keary and searing lead guitar from Miller. Let’s just say that you REALLY need to hear this one to appreciate it.

Polly O’Keary continues to prove that she’s one of the most underrated performers and songwriters in the blues world today with Black Crow Callin’. It’s always interesting to hear what she has to say and how she says it.

--- Graham Clarke

Jim RobertsJim Roberts and The Resonants’ latest release, Beneath the Blood Moon (KKP Records), is not their debut album. The band previously recorded and performed as the Jack Roberts Harvey Band and previously released 2014’s Devil On A Dirt Road. Frontman/singer/guitarist Roberts (a.k.a. James R. Poggensee) played guitar, sang, and wrote songs dating back to the ’70s before taking an extended hiatus in the early ’90s to raise a family, working as a police officer until his return to music in 2012.

Despite the name change, the band still includes the “Jack” (bassist Tony Jack Grigsby) and the “Harvey” (drummer Mike Harvey) from the original band, and the three still collaborate with the songwriting and music, though Roberts does the lion’s share. Also participating is bassist Rick Hollander on several tracks, along with appearances from slide guitarist Grant Cihlar, harmonica player Felix Flanagan, and Mike Finnigan, who contributes keyboards on several tunes.

The band’s primary sound is Southern rock, but there’s plenty of blues to be found within these ten tracks, including the opening title track, compliments of Roberts delta-fueled guitar and stomping rhythm. “Dog Done Bit My Baby” is a fine blues rocker with some sharp work on slide guitar from Cihlar, and “Tupelo Fool” is cool and funky. You can feel the humidity and atmosphere on the swampy “Bayou Beau,” and “May All Your Regrets Be Small” is an excellent track, combining blues, roots, and a touch of country (with a nice turn on accordion from Nathan Rivera) in a sweet message from father to son.

“Gold Train Fever” is a powerful track that combines blues, rock, and roots as well as can be done. Finnigan’s B-3 figures prominently on this track, and he shines on B-3 and piano on the lively “Red Lips And High Heels.” “Southern Hospitality” is Southern rock at its finest and so is the moody “Dark Down In The Delta.” “The Hell Hound’s Due,” an intense acoustic country blues that closes the disc.

For Southern rock fans, Beneath The Blood Moon will certainly do the trick, but blues fans will find a lot to savor with Roberts’ intense vocals and slide guitar playing.

--- Graham Clarke

Laura TateFor Let’s Just Be Real (811 Gold Records), Laura Tate’s fourth album, the lovely Texas-born and raised singer brought in a few big guns to help out, including producer/bassist Terry Wilson, fellow vocalist Teresa James, drummer Tony Braunagel, and a horn section led by Lee Thornberg. The new release includes a dozen tracks, all penned by others, but Tate has the amazing ability to take somebody else’s songs and make them her own, as heard on her previous efforts.

The song selection on Let’s Just Be Real allows Tate to really show her range as a vocalist. The disc kicks off with “Nobody Gets Hurt,” one of three songs on the album written by the late, underappreciated Stephen Bruton. Tate’s sultry reading is spot on. “If That Ain’t Love,” written by Wilson and keyboardist Jeff Paris, has a light pop/soul feel and makes good use of the horn section. The rollicking “Hitting On Nothing,” from Allen Toussaint (in his “Naomi Neville” incarnation) mixes blues and R&B with a dash of Crescent City seasoning, and the smoky “Can’t Say No” has a jazzy Latin quality.

Next up is Thin Lizzy’s “Boys Are Back In Town,” but Tate’s reading is quite different from the original, starting off in a mellow easy listening tone, but quickly kicking things up a notch or two. It’s an interesting take and the final product is very rewarding. Doug MacLeod’s “Still Got The Blues” follows, and Tate does a wonderful job on this tender slow burner. Wilson and Teresa James wrote “I’ll Find Someone Who Will,” and Tate gives it a feisty treatment. The title track is an elegant, big band-styled ballad, and Tate really gives a great performance.

Tate plays it coy on “I Know You Lie,” but her smoldering take on the torch song “I Need A Man” is sure to steam a few windows. “Big Top Hat,” another Bruton composition, is a sassy swinging number and you can tell Tate had a blast recording it. The closing track is a terrific country rocker “Wildest Dreams,” written by Jodi Siegel.

The backing band, especially guitarist Billy Watts and keyboardist Paris, do a marvelous job, but Tate’s vocal performance is really top notch, as she skillfully works her way through this versatile set of tunes. Let’s Just Be Real is a very enjoyable set of songs that will satisfy music fans of a number of genres, notably blues, soul, and jazz.

--- Graham Clarke

Ivor S.K.Ivor S.K.’s previous release, last year’s EP Delta Pines, was a stellar set that indicated great things ahead for the young Australian bluesman (a.k.a. Ivor Simpson-Kennedy). He certainly doesn’t disappoint on his follow-up, Montserrat, a splendid 10-song set of originals all written by S.K., who also plays all the instruments --- guitar, drums, bass, and percussion --- and adroitly blends other genres into his brand of blues.

The title track opens the disc and pays a swinging tribute to the island. “Don’t Say Goodbye” is an updated version of an old blues theme, while “Ain’t No Cross” is a darkly humorous blues ballad. “I Been Had” is blues with a reggae beat that works very well, and “Take The Good With The Bad” is a somber acoustic ballad that befits its subject matter. “It’s Raining” and “Indianola” also really showcase S.K.’s acoustic guitar work, the latter being the album’s sole instrumental track.

The Crescent City should adopt S.K.’s “Take Me Back To New Orleans” as their theme song right now. It’s a vivid picture of the city and powerfully captures the city’s sights and sounds. The ominous “Murder Tonight” is a noir-ish boogie track, and the closer is the wry country blues “Good Mawnin’ Judge.”

S.K.’s scratchy vocals are a perfect fit for his songs and his guitar work is not flashy but is very effective, too. Montserrat is an entertaining set and well worth waiting for after his excellent debut last year.

--- Graham Clarke

Dirty MojoThe Dirty Mojo Blues Band (Shawn Strickland – vocals/harmonica, Gary Strickland and Al Meck – guitar, Tim Reinhard – bass, Mark Peterson – drums) hail from central Pennsylvania and specialize in harp and guitar-driven “dirty” blues. Shawn Strickland participated in the 2012 I.B.C. and Gary, his father, grew up playing classic and Southern rock. Their band deftly combines the best of traditional blues via the son with the classic/Southern rock leanings of the father on their debut release, Made Cents at the Time.
Shawn Strickland wrote all 11 of the songs which cover most of the familiar blues topics, but wisely the lyrics avoid cliché and are pretty creative. Tracks include “Thin Ice” the hard-charging opener, the old school romps “Too Much Alcohol” and “Morrow County Jail,” the amusing title track, a pair of strong blues ballads (“Honey Bee” and “Papa Bear”), the midtempo rocker “Go Ahead,” the blues shuffles “When You Smile” and “Broken Strings,” and the funky closer, “I Gots This.”

Shawn Strickland's vocals are strong, sort of a cross between Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Winter, and his skills on the harmonica are top notch. The guitar combo of Gary Strickland and Meck also works very well and the rhythm section is rock solid. Greg Burgess plays keyboards on several tracks and is also an asset.

This is a very impressive first release by The Dirty Mojo Band. Made Cents at the Time combines well-crafted songs with excellent musicianship and performances. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more from these guys soon.

--- Graham Clarke

Monster Mike WelchThough it might be hard for some to believe, guitarist Monster Mike Welch is celebrating his 25th year as a blues guitarist, dating back to his start as a 13-year-old. A successful solo artist with six releases under his belt, Welch has also been a vital cog in Sugar Ray & the Bluetones since 2001, and has recorded or performed with Duke Robillard, Nick Moss, Johnny Winter, the Knickerbocker All-Stars, Sugaray Rayford, the Mannish Boys, Darrell Nullisch, Anthony Geraci, and his partner on the new Right Place, Right Time (Delta Groove Music), singer Mike Ledbetter.

Ledbetter’s own resume is pretty impressive itself, with experience in multiple genres such as soul, gospel, pop, jazz, and opera before he settled into blues of the West Side and Memphis varieties. Honing his chops with a successful eight-year tenure as lead singer and rhythm guitarist in the Nick Moss Band, Ledbetter also won critical acclaim for his performance on Ronnie Earl’s 2015 album, Father’s Day. Ledbetter and Welch participated in the 2016 special tribute to Otis Rush as part of that year’s Chicago Blues Festival and there was such chemistry between the duo that they decided to make an album together and the blues world is the better for it.

This is an exceptional release, as Ledbetter and Welch tear through a rousing 12-song set of covers and originals. If their Chicago Blues Festival performance was as good as this disc is, I will forever regret missing it. Ledbetter is an inspired, versatile, and deeply soulful vocalist and he brings out the best in his musical associate on these tracks. This is some of Welch’s finest work on guitar and that’s really saying something!

The set list offers some familiar tunes for old school blues and R&B fans, with songs associated with Otis Rush (“I Can’t Stop Baby”), Elmore James (“Cry For Me Baby,” “Goodbye Baby”), Junior Parker (“How Long Can This Go On”), the Coasters (“Down Home Girl”), and Tampa Red (“Cryin’ Won’t Help You”). But Ledbetter’s own contributions (“Kay Marie,” “Big Mama,” and “Can’t Sit Down”) are equally strong. Welch contributes “I’m Gonna Move To Another Country,” which sounds just like it came from ’50s era Chess, and the closing instrumental, “Brewster Avenue Bump.”

Making a great disc even better is the supporting cast. Guitarist Laura Chavez appears on four tracks and more than holds her own. Keyboardist Anthony Geraci is a force of nature on piano and organ, as are Ronnie James Weber and Marty Richards on bass and drums, respectively. Several tracks include horns from Sax Gordon and Doug James.

Hopefully, this pairing is not a one-time deal, because Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter definitely have many more great songs in them. Never was an album more appropriately titled than Right Place, Right Time.

--- Graham Clarke

John PrimerJohn Primer and Bob Corritore’s last collaboration, 2013’s Knockin’ Around The Blues, was a winner all around. Critics and fans alike loved it and the album finished #5 in Living Blues’ Radio Chart’s Top 50 Blues Albums for the year, actually debuting at #1. Both artists have spent their entire careers literally singing the praises of the Chicago Blues, and that release was as good a modern example of the genre as there’s been in a while --- until their latest project, Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do! (Delta Groove Music).

Though Primer’s opening shuffle, “Poor Man Blues,” and Slim’s own “Gambling Blues” will have Muddy Waters smiling up in Blues Heaven, most of the remaining tracks magnificently recall the glory days of the late guitarist. Primer and Corritore have a magnificent rapport and that rapport extends to the accompanying musicians as well. The term “well-oiled machine” may be cliché, but it certainly applies here. In addition to the late pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, the impressive backing band includes another piano legend, Henry Gray, on three tracks, plus bassists Patrick Rynn and Troy Sandow, drummer Brian Fahey, and guitarists Chris James and Big John Atkinson.

Traditional blues fans will recognize many of the songs here --- Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Elevate Me Mama,” Snooky Pryor’s “Hold Me In Your Arms,” Johnny Temple’s “Big Leg Woman,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “May I Have A Talk With You.” Primer and Corritore do a masterful job in recreating them. The title track, covered by a host of blues men over the years, is just superb. Corritore also contributes a slick instrumental, “Harmonica Boogaloo,” which showcases some sparkling musicianship between the harmonica wizard, Primer on guitar, and Barrelhouse Chuck. In addition to the opener, Primer also penned the splendid slow burning closer, “When I Leave Home.”

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do! manages to recapture the sound of the classic post-war Chicago blues as well as any modern-day blues release possibly could, thanks to John Primer and Bob Corritore, two of the finest current masters of the genre.

--- Graham Clarke

Corey DennisonFollowing stints with Carl Weathersby and Sugar Blue, among others, the Corey Dennison Band’s self-titled debut on Delmark Records is an impressive one. Its old school and straight ahead, but it’s also contemporary and soulful.

Backed by the estimable Gerry Hundt on second guitar and organ, Nik Skilnik on bass and Joel Baer on drums, Dennison shares writing with Hundt and the duo proves to be a dynamic writing team on the 13 songs herein. The opener, “Getcha’ Pull” is destined to be a radio favorite. It’s a funky number that will get your fingers snapping and feet tappin’. Other notable tunes are the rousing “She’s No Good,” “Aw Snap,” a medium tempo number that tells a story about his woman’s car getting stuck in the sand, ala Albert Collins, and “Strange Things Happening.”

This is a debut, but it’s a safe bet that Dennison is on his way to a stellar career.

--- Mark E. Gallo

Bridget Kelly BandThis two-CD set, Bone Rattler (Alpha Sun), from the Bridget Kelly Band, features vocalist Kelly with her side-kick Tim Fik, a fiery guitar slinger and producer of the set, along with the rhythm team of Mark Armbrecht on bass and Alex Klausner on drums.

This is Kelly’s fourth CD and the strongest yet. The opener, “Ain’t Missin’ You” sets the pace for a lively program. Ms. Kelly and Mr. Fik work a tag team of energy that impresses. That energy rarely lets up for the life of the disc. There are a few impressive ballads ("No Good For Me," Deeper Than Blue," "The Dark Night," sung by Fik). But the songs that will sell the disc are the rowdier rockier tunes. Recommended tunes ”Goin’ To Chi-Town" and "Mr. Gaines," with R.B. Stone on harmonica.

--- Mark E. Gallo

I first met Tim and Bridget Kelly Fik a few years back in Bradenton, Florida at a party on Anna Maria Island that my friends and I threw. They were kind, generous folks and we hit it off from the get go. Fast forward to the IBC a few years back and I got to see them perform live for the first time. Since then, they’ve evolved considerably to become a fixture on the blues circuit, and I heard the story behind the Bridget Kelly Band's Bone Rattler long before I got a copy for review. Tim’s a mild-mannered in person, but put a guitar in his hands and look out. This is the first record that really features Tim at the forefront of the band and I like to call it “Tim Gone Mad.” It’s a butt-kicking 22-song disc, so we’ll hit play and try to hit the highlights here.

Tim’s fiery fretwork lights up the beginning of “Ain’t Missing You,” and here we find Bridget saying goodbye to a love gone bad. “I’m looking up…you’re going down…nobody cares…if you leave town…sleeping real good tonight….I ain’t missing you.” The band’s in great form with Alex Klausner on the drums and Mark Armbrecht on the bass holding the pocket steady, and I already know I’m in for a wild ride. Tim tones it down a touch as the band segues to “What You Need,” and here we find Bridget more than willing to give her man what he needs. “Why you looking around the room…you should be looking at me…no one’s going to land you…there’s no one good like me.” Bridget’s got the goods and he’s crazy to think he’ll find better loving anywhere else.

“Levee & The Bridge” continues with Tim’s pyrotechnics while Bridget tells us about a flood that’s affecting the integrity of the levee and the bridge. “Waters run deeper than sin...we’re trying to fix the levee and the bridge.” Tim and the boys lend a frenetic energy to the tune, and there’s serious doubt that the levee and the bridge will be fixed in time to save the town. The tune is an homage to the City of New Orleans and the victims of Katrina, for all they went through when the hurricane hit.

I’m thinking its R.B. Stone blowing the harp intro for “Boom Boom,” and it’s well done as Bridget tells us she’s ready to move on. “Got me a plan, dress and snakeskin boots…heading down the highway with the wrecking crew…got a black cat bone…boom boom…boom boom.” “I Ride the Wind” finds Bridget expounding about life on the road and the dues that must be paid. “Ain’t no pot of gold at the rainbow’s end…the money’s gone and so are my friends…every day…I ride against the wind.” Tim’s fretwork is scintillating on this disc and I’m thinking it’s good to unleash the monster every now and then.

Our tempo slows down for “No Good For Me,” and I’m appreciating a mild break in the aural assault on my ears as Tim plays some subtler licks on this tune. Again we find Bridget on the wrong side of a romance gone badly. “A flood on my pillow…these tears won’t let me be…wow…my soul’s real down…my mind’s in disbelief…I was so good for you baby…you’re no good for me.” Bridget’s a fighter, and I have no doubt she’ll land back on her feet once her heart’s had time to heal. Of course, a good cure for a broken heart might be a road trip, and we hear about it next in “Going to Chi-Town.” “Leaving in the morning…here’s a second chance…leaving in the morning, baby…it’s a sweet romance…Chi-town be calling…we’re going to have a blast.” Discretion is the better part of valor here, but trust me when I tell you Tim and Bridget Kelly Fik know how to have a good time. Whether or not Chicago’s ready for them, that’s another question.

Bridget’s bad luck with love continues in “Leavin’ on Sunday,” and here she’s ready to leave another man who’s done her wrong. “I’m leaving on Sunday…leaving at the crack of dawn…I’m leaving on Sunday…cause you done me wrong.” I can’t say enough about Tim’s fretwork and the solidness of the rhythm section, but it’s apparent that the Bridget Kelly Band is a finely tuned machine and they’re definitely showing off the goods here. “Same Bad Attitude” finds love and its conflicts continuing to cast a shadow on Bridget’s ability to enjoy life. “Every day now baby…it’s the same bad attitude…spinning lies…what’s come over you…once gave me good love…now its bad attitude.” Time to kick another one to the curb is what it sounds like to me.

The band moves on to another ballad, “Deeper Than Blue,” and their ability to switch gears here is impressive. “I’m falling…I’m sinking…going down…missing you…I’m falling…I’m sinking…I’m deeper than blue.” I’m not really sure what the cause of all this bad luck for Bridget is, but girlfriend, it’s got to get better soon. “Don’t Bother Comin’ Home” finds Bridget wondering where her man is and I’m starting to think her picker’s broke. “Got my window open…bout to throw out all your clothes…this time I ain’t fooling…I’m going to make you crawl…I know your secret lovers…are brunettes and alcohol….better pick up the phone, Babe…you’re about to lose it all.” There’s no bout a doubt it here at all, he’s gone and good riddance.

“Outbound Mississippi” is a duet between Tim and Bridget, neither one of whom had much luck in love in Mississippi. “I’m leaving you, baby…I’m going…gone…for good…heading down to Florida…just like a grown woman should.” And from Tim’s perspective…Outbound Mississippi…oh, Florida…here I come…Clarksdale women treat me mean…I guess my work round there is done.” This is probably my favorite tune on the disc simply because it is a duet between Bridget and Tim that you don’t hear very often. The first disc comes to a close with “Ghost Train,” and here we find Bridget singing about the ever after. “There’s a ghost train coming…it will stop at every station…so why don’t you come along…there’s a ghost train…and it’s coming for us all.” Time to pull this CD and throw in disc two.

A haunting solo from Tim takes us to “The Dark Night,” and he’s got the lead vocal. “Long is the dark night…when you’re sleeping all alone…I’ve tried to reach you…but you’re never, ever home…I hear the whispers…and the rattling of the bones.” Tim’s a weary traveler in this life and well aware that his time is coming to move on over to the other side as he travels in the darkness of night and never sees the light of day. I hear some steel guitar and R.B. Stone is back, weaving his harp magic, on “Mr. Gaines.” “I said…don’t mess around…with Mr. Gaines…he’ll leave you sad and lonely…yes, misfortune is his game.” Tim’s doing an admirable job telling us about why we should all avoid the acquaintance of the evil Mr. Gaines. R.B.’s harp solo is killer and it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him blow some harp.

“In My Sorrow” is a decidedly rock blues tune and Tim continues at the microphone. “Two sets of footprints…in the sand…but I walked alone…in a boring land…my heart is broken…and to my mind we failed…but I will reach for her…beyond the rail.” Tim’s love is gone now but he holds out hope in the afterlife that they will walk hand in hand, beyond the rail.

“I’m so tired…I’m tired of paying dues…and the load that I’m carrying…must be someone else’s blues” is Tim’s first line of “I’m So Tired.” The road is a hard place to travel but the only way to succeed is to hit it, and deep down Tim knows that in his heart, regardless of the burden he’s carrying. “Hambone” finds Tim exploring the memories of his youth. “When I was a young man…I knew what I was working for…I saved up my money…and I gave it to the girl next door…little hambone…just a little hambone…finally gave up on the whiskey…Still, I got to have a little hambone.” Throw in a voodoo woman from New Orleans and Tim’s better off if he sticks to a little hambone.

Alex and Mark ratchet up the tempo a bit and Tim’s more than willing to talk about a woman he calls “Bad Tornado.” “She’s a bad tornado…yes, she’s going to give you the blues.” We’ve all known a woman or two like this in our lives, and Lord knows, it’s best to stay out of her path if you can. I find “Cell Phone Blues” to be a uniquely modern blues song and reflective of our society today, when we’ve all got our noses buried in the damn little screen. As Tim would say, “Seems like I’m playing second fiddle…to the apps on your cell phone.” Amen, brother, you’re preaching to the choir here, and I’ve found my second favorite song on this two-disc set.

“Cat’s Out of the Bag” has a bit of a swing feel to it and I’m enjoying the musical change at this point in time. Bridget’s at the microphone for this one, “Ooh, yea…oh yea…whoa yea…the cat’s out of the bag.” The band closes with “Your Limozeen,” and Tim’s back at the mic for the final track. “Hey baby, yea…I wanna ride in your limousine…cruise on down my way, baby…I can get you what you need.” Who knew Tim was such a charmer at heart, but I’ve enjoyed the fact that he’s handled the vocal duties for all but one track on disc two of this set.

Bone Rattler is exactly that, a tour de force that allows the Bridget Kelly Band to let Tim Fik share his prodigious guitar skills with us as well as spend considerable time in front of the microphone. I know the band’s plan is to alternate discs between their more traditional blues approach and their take on rock-blues, and from the sounds of this two-disc set that’s a smart way to go. You can learn more about my friends from Florida at www.bridgetkellyband.com. They’ve been touring like crazy this summer, and it would be great fun to hear them perform the songs of Bone Rattler live. If you get a chance to do so, tell them Kyle sent you.

--- Kyle Deibler

Lisa BialesI’ve known my friend Lisa Biales for awhile now, and she’s a woman of many talents. Her paintings are exquisite and I still think about one she painted on the beaches of Anna Maria Island every now and then. I’ve had the pleasure to see her perform live with EG Kight, but until now I’d never heard a record of her own. Lisa recruited Tony Braunagel to produce her new record, The Beat of My Heart, and went into the project with one song in mind, “Crying Over You,” by Alberta Roberts. The impetus for this tune was a 78 rpm record of the tune, recorded by her mother back in 1947. Tony assembled a veritable who’s who of musicians to work on this project, and rarely do you hear a disc like this today.

Jim Pugh is on the Steinway piano and I hear Larry Taylor’s upright bass loud and clear as Lisa tells us she’s “Disgusted.” “I’m so tired of these men…trying to make a monkey out of me.” Joe Sublett lends his saxophone to the mix, and I love the big band sound on this tune. Lisa tackles the Dave Crawford tune, “What a Man,” next and I’m loving Jim Pugh’s organ in the background. “What a man…what a man…what a mighty good man…say it again, now…what a man…what a man…what a mighty good man.” Johnny Lee Schell lends his fretwork to the mix and the band is killing it.

Lisa marches on and next tackles an Allen Toussaint tune, “I Don’t Want to Hear It.” “Had yourself a good thing…you were too blind to see…collecting that old gossip…well, let me tell you…you just lost me…cause…I don’t want to hear it.” Joe Sublett’s sax work is sublime and Lisa’s surrounded herself with an amazing group of musicians to work with on this project. A drum intro takes us to our next track, “Be My Husband,” a tune written by Nina Simone. “Be my husband…and I’ll be your wife…love and honor you…the rest of your life…if you’ll promise me you’ll be my man…I will love and honor you…the best that I can.” Lisa’s vocal is strong, straight-forward and she does an excellent job on this tune by Nina.

“Messin’ Around With the Blues” is a piano-driven song, and I’m reminded of a ’50s lounge setting with a cold drink in my hand. “With you on my mind…I’m blue all the time…if only you knew…what I’m going through…losing my mind…just messin around…with the blues.” Lisa tackles a gospel tune, “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody,” and it’s a cool touch with her background singers sounding like a choir behind her. “Well…I said I wasn’t going to shout for joy, but, I…couldn’t keep it to myself.” The tune was written specifically for the Abssinian Baptist Choir, and Lisa has me believing.

The inspiration tune for this record, “Crying Over You,” by Alberta Roberts is next, and a cool aspect of the song is incorporating the voice of Lisa’s mother to sing the start of the second verse. “Why do I remember…little things one can’t forget…maybe because I’m hoping…I’m going to get you yet.” Jim Pugh’s Steinway piano is prominent in the background for this tune and I appreciate the impact of Lee Thornberg’s trumpet as well. A beautiful tune and I can see how it inspired Lisa to record this record.

Darrell Leonard’s trumpet intro leads us to our next track, “Wild Stage of Life.” “If I say yes…to several moments…of happiness…for I can only learn…in my wild stage of life…if I’m to become…someone’s faithful wife.” I’m not familiar with Henry Glover but he wrote a beautiful tune here, and Lisa knocks it out of the park. Paul Brown’s fretwork is amazing here as well, and I love this song’s presence on the record. Next is “Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down,” a tune by Eric Bibb and C. Hoglund. “Walk with the rich…walk with the poor…learn from everyone…that’s what life is for…don’t let nobody drag your spirit down…remember…we’re walking up to heaven…don’t let nobody turn you around.” Lisa has an amazing ability to change vocal styles at will and she more than does this tune by Eric Bibb and company justice.

Chuck Berghofer’s 1813 Upright Bass provides the background for “Romance in the Dark,” and Lisa’s having fun here. “In the dark….it’s just you and I…oh, let’s let the rest of this world go by…cause they can just dance…we’re going to find romance…in the dark.” Paul Brown’s fretwork on his 57 Gibson L5 is stunning and I’m a happy camper here. A heavy kick drum beat from Tony indicates a change in mood, and Johnny Lee Schell’s Cigfiddle leads the way on “I Should Have Known Better.” “Been a long time coming…and the cards were stacked…it’s been a long road…to hell and back…you won every hand…I lost every bet…I think that I…should have known better.” This is a love gone bad and by her own admission, Lisa, should have known better.

Johnny Lee Schell is back on the guitar, providing the intro to our last track, “Brotherly Love.” “You can’t walk down your own street…you can’t trust the ones you meet…and kindness is seldom heard of...don’t you think it’s time we learned…brotherly love.” A fitting end to what has been a great record --- a little brotherly love between everyone is definitely a good thing.

I’ve enjoyed The Beat of my Heart by Lisa Biales. It features an eclectic mix of tunes inspired by a recording by her mother that is superbly produced here. Surrounded by an amazing group of musicians, Lisa took me back to a time when songs like these were performed in a high class lounge, and a cocktail in hand would be appropriate. Her website is www.LisaBiales.com, and I encourage you to go there and learn more about this very talented artist. Lisa’s followed her muse with every recording she’s released, and this one’s a gem.

--- Kyle Deibler

Andy TThe Andy T Band was out here in Colorado for our member’s party and absolutely wowed the crowd at Syntax with their new lead singer, Alabama Mike. Great fun was had by all, and to see the band live had me reflecting on all of the great times I’ve had when Nick Nixon was their featured singer. Time catches up with all of us, and while Nick won’t be on the road with the band anymore Alabama Mike holds down the microphone wonderfully. The band’s new disc, Double Strike, serves as a transition with both Nick and Mike contributing their lead vocals to the party.

We start off with “I Want You Bad,” and Alabama Mike is at the microphone for this one, telling us how bad he wants the woman of his desire. “I want you bad, baby…I can feel it in my bones…I won’t you bad, baby…I don’t want to be alone.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that and I’m appreciating the saxophone contributions from Kaz Kazanof and John Mills, along with Andy T and Anson Funderburgh on the guitar. Alabama Mike seems to be a lover, not a fighter, and we hear more from him on our next track, “Somebody Like You.” “This could be my turn…you get lonely, too…I’ve been looking for…somebody like you.” Be careful what you wish for Mike, you just might catch her. Larry van Loon’s killing it on his Hammond B3 and the band is having fun.

Nick Nixon takes the microphone for “Deep Inside,” with Greg Izor lending some killer harp to the mix. “Deep inside…deep inside…I’m deep inside your heart, babe…I’m deep inside of you.” Now Mike could take a lesson or two in charm since Nick’s the master of love, and I’m enjoying hearing his sweet voice fill my headphones on this tune. “Sweet Thing” is our next track, and Nick is telling us all about the woman he loves. “I know she really loves me…she’s my sweet thing…she puts honey in my coffee…sugar in my tea…that’s how I know there’s nobody but me…she’s my sweet thing.” Nick’s got a keeper here and I know he’ll hang onto her.

The mood changes as Nick tackles our next track, “I Feel So Bad.” “Sometimes I want to stay here…then again, I want to leave…I just can’t make mind up…I shake my head and walk away…I feel so bad…my baby gave me a dirty deal.” Andy T is playing a sweet guitar solo behind Nick’s heartfelt vocals and you can feel the pain he’s sharing. More keyboards and horns provide the intro for Nick’s next vocal, “Juanita.” “I ought to be stronger…since I see…your love is no longer…here with me…still I keep calling…calling…calling your name…Juanita.” Nick is definitely pining for Juanita’s return, but it’s very clear she’s not coming back. Sorry. Nick, you’re unlucky in love this time.

Our tempo picks up considerably for “Mudslide,” and it’s an instrumental that sets the band loose to play what they will. Larry’s B3 and Andy T’s guitar lead the way with Jim Klingler keeping the pocket going on the drums. It’s a nice interlude and we turn the microphone back over to Alabama Mike for our next track, “Sad Times”. Larry’s B3 with the horns provide the introduction for this tune as Mike tells us how it is. “Baby…since you left me…my life has been so bad…I’m trying to find something…to help me feel bad.” Alabama Mike’s taking this one hard and he’s struggling to handle the sad times being left behind has brought him.

Anson’s got the guitar solo to introduce the band’s next tune, “Doin’ Hard Time,” and Alabama Mike is contemplating the confusion he feels with the woman he loves. “You’re my big house warden…and you got me doing…hard time…I’ll keep on loving you baby…I’m wrapped up in your chains…I don’t want to be free…I’ll suffer in your pain.” I’m feeling Alabama Mike’s pain here, but he’s determined to hang in there and love this woman who treats him so badly. “Drunk or Sober” is the band’s next tune, and Larry’s twinkling the ivories here as Nick tells us about the woman he loves. “I love her drunk or sober…there’s no one to take place…cause I love her…to me it’s no disgrace…I love her drunk or sober…and there’s no one to take her place.” I admire Nick’s loyalty but I’m not sure I could do the same here.

The fun continues with Nick contemplating the turn of events in his life on “I Was Gonna Leave You.” “I love and trusted…thought you’d always be mine…my friends all said…you were mighty fine…your sister warned me…about your two-timing ways…the day you left me…I was gonna leave you.” Nick’s remorseful here, but he can’t have a cheating woman in his life and he’s better off that she’s gone. “Dream About You” is the one song on the disc that has Alabama Mike singing lead with Nick on the background vocal, with Alabama Mike dreaming that his woman came back. “I had a dream…my baby came home to me…ain’t no way in the world…this could ever be. Andy T is wailing on the lead guitar and I’m thinking it’s about time Alabama Mike came to his senses.

“Where Did Our Love Go Wrong” has the band slowing the tempo down a bit, and it’s the final song on the disc with Alabama Mike at the microphone. “Was it something I said…didn’t I tell you that I love you…now I’m singing this sad song…where did our love go wrong?” Poor Alabama Mike has been unlucky in love for most of this disc, and I wish you better luck in the future.

Double Strike clearly shows why the Andy T Band with Alabama Mike is one of the best traditional blues bands touring these days. All of the band members are crack musicians who deliver the goods, and you just can’t argue with the one-two punch of Alabama Mike and Nick Nixon on lead vocals. The band’s website is www.andytband.com. Check out their touring schedule since there’s a good chance they’ll be coming to a town near you soon. Consummate professionals, they’ll show you a good time, fill the dance floor, and leave you wanting to hear more.

--- Kyle Deibler

Mike WestcottI’ve known Mike Westcott for the better part of ten years or more so I was happy to give his new disc, Atomic Blues, a spin when he sent it to me. I appreciate Mike’s songwriting and this disc has almost a futuristic bent to it.

“Gotta pay my bills, baby, my paycheck ain’t come through, don’t even have enough dough, to buy my dog some food” is the opening lyric to “Broke,” and we’ve all been there. Mike’s first resort is to head to the pawn shop with his best guitar and go from there. I’m hearing organ from Chris Brooks while Jay Turner on bass and Jean-Paul Gaster are holding down a strong beat in the pocket. It’s good to hear Mike’s guitar again, and you can’t help but hope that he pulls himself out of the financial dilemma he finds himself in.

The band segues onto “Good Groove” and here Mike’s telling us there’s an art to creating it. “You want the groove good…you’ve got to take your time…if you do it right…she’ll beg you for more…she’ll love you all night…rock you to your core.” Mike’s obviously got it all figured out, and more power to him for keeping “the groove good.” A strong guitar intro from Mike leads us to “Wonderdrug,” and he’s got a package outside his front door. “It’s a wonder drug from overseas…says it’ll bring a grown man to his knees…from me to you…says it’ll make you feel 10 feet tall.” I’m not quite sure what all’s in the wonder drug, but it sounds like it’s giving Mike an edge with the women and that can’t be a bad thing.

More keyboards from Chris Brooks, and here we find Mike’s relationship ending in “Done.” “I don’t want to have to leave you…but you don’t seem to want to fight to make me stay…there’s nothing I can do now…to make you change your ways.” Breaking up is always hard but at the end of the fight, sometimes you’re just through and it’s “done.” Mike’s passionate tones convey the pain he feels but he’s going to have to let her go and move on. I find “Pie Hole Blues” a strange name for a tune, but the rhythm section is killing it and Chris’s organ is spot on as well. This is a frenetic instrumental and its fun for me to hear Mike’s current band tear it up. Up next is “Funkii,” and Mike offers a different perspective here. “Time to put your cares away…the funk will make you feel ok, what you get is what you see…and you’re about to see funkii.” Jay’s delivering a heavy bass line for this tune and it’s good to let your hair down every now and then.

Another heavy bass line from Jay leads into “The Reaper,” and it appears he’s coming for Mike. “Shot all my horses and burned down my barn…drove all my family away from my farm…heard it was you and I fell to my knees…how could you take everything that we need?” The Reaper will always come to settle the score and you best be prepared to pay the debt you owe him before you lose everything you have.

Jean-Paul sets the tone for the final cut, “Swamp Monster Blues,” and he’s hitting the drums hard. “Going up to the mountain…I can drown my sorrows…maybe you can find yours too. Mike’s killing it with some serious slide work to end this record and I’ve enjoyed the diversity to be found in his musical arrangements on this disc.

Atomic Blues is an aggressive record, and it features Mike Westcott and his band playing some impressive arrangements not typically heard on a blues disc. I’m happy in that it shows Westcott's musical growth,  and he’s surrounded himself with some killer players to deliver his musical message. His website is www.mikewestcott.com, and I’m happy to see he’s got a busy gig schedule on the east coast. I’ve enjoyed the listen, and keep hitting it hard, Mike.

--- Kyle Deibler



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