Here's an intriguing album ---
Trio In Tokyo (Blue Heart Records) from Rob Stone featuring Elena Kato & Hiroshi Eguchi.
We've reviewed albums by harmonica ace Stone in the
past, and he's spent time in his native Boston as
well as many years in Chicago and now in Los
Angeles. For this album, he headed off to Tokyo to
record an all-acoustic set with the two musicians
mentioned above. I don't have any previous albums
from Stone in my collection, but if the music's as
good as we hear on Trio In Tokyo then I need to dig
back into his earlier stuff.
Stone plays harmonica and handles all vocals, while
Kato plays piano and Eguchi lays down a solid bass
line. Stone is the star of the show, but don't
overlook Kato's consistently outstanding piano
playing. She's really, really good. The concept of
the album is to re-create standards from the 1930s
and '40s, and they do a very good job at capturing
that era's vibe.
The best cut is a rendition of Walter Davis' "Come
Back Baby," with Kato really standing out with her
piano intro on this mid-tempo blues while also
getting all gospel-y later in the tune. Stone's
voice really resonates on this one. And how can we
all not love a Louis Jordan classic, as Stone
absolutely owns "Jack You're Dead," with good
transitions from his vocals to the harp breaks.
Kato again steals the show with her work on piano on Solomon Burke's "Got
To Get You Off My Mind," with
Stone's pristine vocals carrying the song. The album
opener, "No Money," is good, solid 12-bar blues, a
great introduction to the set.
Big Jay McNeely's original, "There Is Something On
Your Mind," was supposed to include Big Jay on the
recording, but he passed away before he could
lay down the sax parts for this slow blues. The
interplay between Stone and Kato on the slow blues,
"What Am I Living For?," is great.
Kato gets one more chance to show off on the 88s
with a very unique rendition of Leadbelly's
"Goodnight Irene," as she opens with a piano intro
that comes right out of church.
Trio In Tokyo is going to have me digging
around for past albums by Rob Stone. They may not
hit the same nerve for me as this album, but I have
to think there's going to be plenty of quality
music. In the meantime, I will keep playing Trio
In Tokyo over and over.
--- Bill Mitchell
music of Chicago soul/blues
veteran Gerald McClendon
has been in regular rotation for me since I first heard his very good 2020 album,
Can't Nobody Stop Me Now,
reviewed in Blues Bytes just over a year ago.
I've given that album regular airplay on my radio
show this year, and have already been spinning tunes
from McClendon's newest release, Let's Have A Party!
(Delta Roots Records).
I'll start by saying
that individually the songs and the vocal work from
McClendon on Let's Have A Party! are equally
as good as last year's album. There's plenty of good
stuff here. My only problem is in listening to it
from start to finish I'm finding that there's too
much of the same tempo and energy level from song to
song. I don't like to compare one very fine artist
to another, but check my review of this month's Pick
Hit for the Wee Willie Walker album. That one just
flows better and feels like there's much more energy
Okay, now that I've
gotten that out of the way, let's look at the
highlights on Let's Have A Party!, because, as
I said, there's plenty of good material here and
McClendon has the voice to handle it. All songs here
were written by producer and drummer Twist Turner.
The backing musicians are strong throughout,
especially the guitar playing of Rico McFarland on
his three cuts.
Looking first at the
three songs featuring McFarland, "If It Ain't The Blues" is a slow blues with a strong
guitar instrumental opening the song. "Throw This
Dog A Bone" presents some of McClendon's strongest
vocals along with very strong guitar by McFarland,
which we also hear on "I Just Can't Help Myself."
We got a more of a
mid-tempo funky number on the title cut, with fine
sax from Skinny Williams and Hammond B-3 from the
always excellent Jim Pugh, but for a party song I'd
like a little extra oomph to it. Like, really make
that party jump. McClendon
packs a lot of emotion into the slow soul ballad,
"Pretty Girl." Another favorite is the slow soul
number, "You Got To Be Strong," with fine gospel
piano accompaniment from Sumito Ariyoshi. I hadn't heard anything
from Chicago guitarist Melvin Taylor in quite some
time, and the veteran shows up with very strong
guitar work on the album closer, "Funky Stuff."
McClendon is one of the
finest soulful singers I've heard recently, and
there's a lot of quality stuff here. I just don't
think the final product measures up to the sum of
its parts. More variety in the tempo and energy
level throughout Let's Have A Party! would
have made it a more complete product for me, but
I'll keep listening to the individual cuts because
there's quality stuff here.
--- Bill Mitchell
Crooked Eye Tommy’s
sophomore effort, Hot Coffee And Pain (Blue Heart
Records), comes five years after their promising
debut, Butterflies And Snakes, but the band (Tommy
Marsh and Paddy Marsh – guitars/lead vocals, Samuel Corea – bass, Charlie McClure – drums, Craig
Williams – sax, Jimmy Calire – keys) has been
productive in between releases, reaching the I.B.C.
semi-finals in 2019 (previously in 2014) and
reaching the 2020 finals as a duo act.
The new album includes nine tracks, three covers,
and continues the band’s musical mix of blues,
southern rock, and roots. The twin guitar attack
from the Marsh brothers is reminiscent of the
southern rock sound popular in the ’70s and the duo
do a fine job on vocals. The opening track is a
slippery, mid-tempo take of Son House’s “Death
Letter Blues,” with the brothers’ guitar work
intertwining quite effectively, and “Sitting In The
Driveway” is a splendid slow burner blues with Paddy
Marsh on vocals.
The title track moves into a soulful direction with
horns added to the mix, and “Twist The Sky” is a
slow-churning rocker. “Baby, Where You Been” is a
soulful ballad teaming Tommy Marsh with guest Teresa
James (who also plays piano) on vocals. “Angel of
Mercy,” originally recorded by Mike Henderson and
the Bluebloods, gets a rough-edged with horns and
plenty of guitar fireworks, while “The Time It Takes
To Live” is another slow blues with the guitars
taking on a psychedelic edge.
The band pays tribute to one of their bigger
influences with the instrumental “The Big House,”
named after the Allman Brothers Band’s residence in
Macon, Georgia in the early ’70s (now home to the band’s
official museum, which is well worth a visit if
you’re a fan), before closing things out with a
deliciously funky cover of Sonny Landreth’s “Congo
Hot Coffee And Pain is a rock solid set of blues,
soul, and southern rock that should definitely
satisfy fans of those genres, especially those who
dig the dual guitar attack made popular by the Allmans.
--- Graham Clarke
Sugar Ray and the Bluetones have been making some
mighty music for well over 40 years. Sugar Ray
Norcia (vocals/harmonica), Anthony Geraci (piano),
Michael Mudcat Ward (bass) and Neil Gouvin (drums)
have been together since the beginning (1979), with
several guitarists filling that position over the
years. The most recent guitarist to step in with the
group was Little Charlie Baty, who unfortunately
passed away in March of 2020, so his appearance on
Too Far from the Bar (Severn Records) features some
of his last recordings.
A whopping 14 tracks (one alternate take
included) with eight original tunes from Norcia,
Ward, and Geraci and six dynamite covers, this album
is another in a long line of excellent Bluetone
recordings. The album blasts off with the Five Royales’ “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” a
dandy shuffle that features some crisp fretwork from
Baty and fine work from the rhythm section in
support, and moves into a terrific take on Sonny Boy
Williamson’s “Bluebird Blues,” where Sugar Ray and
harp are front and center.
The title track, a Norcia original, rolls in at a
breakneck pace, driven by Geraci’s peerless keyboard
and guitar from Baty and producer Duke Robillard
(who also plays on four tracks, making a great album
even greater). Norcia also wrote the
country-flavored ballad “Too Little Too Late,” and
the scorching instrumental “Reel Burner,” which
earned its title when a tape machine caught on fire
during the recording (this tune is also present as
an equally hot alternate take at the end of the
Sugar Ray pays tribute to one of his heroes, Little
Walter, with a fine cover of “Can’t Hold Out Much
Longer” before launching into the jaunty original,
“Numb and Dumb,” and covering Jerry McCain’s “My
Next Door Neighbor,” kicking things up a notch from
the original version. Meanwhile, Ward’s “What I Put
You Through” has a smooth, after-hours feel, and
Otis Spann’s “What Will Become Of Me” allows Geraci
a moment in the spotlight with some splendid
Spann-like runs on the piano.
Norcia does a fine job vocally on the standard “I
Gotta Right To Sing The Blues,” a standout track
among standouts. Geraci penned the lively shuffle
“From The Horse’s Mouth,” and Ward delivers on the
humorous story-song “The Night I Got Pulled Over,”
in which Sugar Ray narrates a close encounter with
law enforcement after a late-night gig. “Walk Me
Home” is an easy rolling shuffle with an extended
harmonica opening followed by Geraci’s piano and
Baty’s stinging fretwork.
You can’t go wrong with any album from Sugar Ray and
the Bluetones, but Too Far from the Bar is
definitely one not to be missed, thanks to the
wonderful musicianship between Sugar Ray and his
original Bluetone rhythm section and the superb
guitar work of Little Charlie Baty. If this was his
last session before his tragic death, he certainly
went out on a high note.
--- Graham Clarke
I’ve heard of guitarist/vocalist
Shawn Pittman for a
number of years, but for some reason I’d never
actually heard Pittman until I got a copy of
his latest album, Make It Right! (Continental Blue
Heaven). Pittman fronts a powerful trio consisting
of father-and-son team Erkan Özdemir (bass, also
Pittman’s tour manager) and Levent Özdemir (drums),
and they rip through a strong 12-song set (seven
originals, five covers) that holds up to multiple listenings.
“Done Tole You So!” has a raw, grinding Hill
Country feel that serves as a fine opener, and
Albert King’s “Finger On The Trigger” is funk with a
rock edge. The title track is a driving, breakneck
boogie track that will put a hop in your step. A
fresh take on Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good”
maintains the droning, hypnotic rhythm of the
original while kicking things up a notch, while a
loping take of Eddie Taylor’s “There Will Be A Day”
is nice and funky.
The slow burner “How Long?” is a nice change of pace
coming at about the midway point with some nuanced
fretwork and a soulful vocal from Pittman, and the
jaunty “For Right Now” is loose and carefree,
leading into a, well, sweaty instrumental version of
James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” that finds the band
completely locked into the groove. Meanwhile, I
really like Pittman’s understated vocal and
reverb-laden guitar on the Bobby “Blue” Bland
standard “Woke Up Screaming.”
The original “Let It Go” sounds like a long-lost
Jimmy Reed tune with that great lump-de-lump rhythm,
and “Fairweather Friend” is a solid tribute to ’50s
era Chicago blues. The album closer, “I’m Done,” is
a gritty and grungy rocker with tightly-wound rhythm
support and splendid slide guitar from Pittman.
Make It Right! serves as a great introduction to
this reviewer to Shawn Pittman, who is a fine
guitarist and vocalist in a variety of blues styles.
The Ozdemirs make an excellent rhythm section and
this set should please blues and blues rock fans.
--- Graham Clarke
The Travellin’ Blues Kings (“full Belgian” version)
return with another excellent single to get blues
fans through the pandemic blues. “Too Many People” (Naked Productions) is a red-hot, smoking
blues rocker that borrows from Slim Harpo’s “Shake
Your Hips” rhythm and adds horns and harp to make it
a truly swinging affair. Jb Biesman
(vocals/sax/harp), Jimmy Hontele (guitar), Patrick
Cuyvers (Hammond organ, backing vocals), Winne
Penninckx (bass) and Marc Gijbels (drums) really
tear this number up and the musical interplay
backing Biesman’s weathered growl is just perfect.
Hopefully, the Dutch members of the band can get
back into the picture soon, but we’ll certainly be
enjoying the “full Belgian” lineup until then.
--- Graham Clarke