It had been a while since I listened to the two King Snake releases Roy Roberts released in 1997 and 1999. Every Shade Of Blue and Deeper Shade Of Blue were both critically acclaimed releases. The release of Burnin' Love on his own Rock House Records reacquainted me with those much listened to releases. In fact, the latter received a very favorable review in these pages in June 1999 by Bill Mitchell. This new release follows the same successful path that made those two earlier releases so enjoyable. Roberts' mellow voice and B.B. King- like guitar riffs and the use of real musicians throughout raise this to a higher level than so many other recent releases. Real musicians do make a difference, as Skeeter Brandon ( of Highway 61 fame) and Rusty Smith's full sounding horn arrangements compliment each song. Roy is responsible for the writing credits on all but the Benny Latimore classic "Let's Straighten It Out" and the Bobby Womack- penned, Wilson Pickett original hit "I'm In Love," both of which work real well here. But the highlight of this release is Roberts' "Couldn't See The Tears For The Rain." The opening track, "Burnin Love," is a tasty, mid-paced track that immediately shows off the Stax sounding horns and sets a happy tone for this entire release. "Dirty Old Man," with its mellow guitar opening and those fat horns, again score high, with Phoenix favorite Bob Margolin guesting on slide guitar. A well produced CD and a very enjoyable 40 minutes with Mr. Roberts and his crew. Visit Rock House Records at www.royrobertsblues.com and make some new friends today.
You Better Watch Yourself (Rock House Records) is my first acquaintance with Priscilla Price, and it is her second release in recent years. It is a worthwhile listening experience, and with the proper exposure should carve out a place for Priscilla as a touring southern soul diva. Upon hearing the first track, the hot "You Better Watch Yourself," you immediately realize that you are in the company of real musicians, searing horns and great production from Roy Roberts. The fine slow burner "Give Me a Chance" follows, and now we're really cooking. "Gonna Put My Foot Down" opens with Roy Roberts' searing guitar and continues with some passionate Price vocals and fine back-up singers. The beautiful Roberts penned "Lonely For You Tonight" is a highlight track, and one I am sure is getting its share of airplay. "We're Gonna Work It On Out" is a nice duet with Roberts (sort of like one of those '70s Stax duets), and once again the horn arrangements by Rusty Smith compliment the performances. The final track, "I Worship The Ground You Walk On," is a retro sounding soul/R&B ballad, and my favorite of the ten tracks presented here. This release, a worthy companion to the equally fine Roy Roberts CD reviewed above, gives us an overview of the fine music coming out of North Carolina, and especially the studio of Rock House Records. Keep an eye on Ms. Price, for she is a talent to be reckoned with. To quote Stephen Cagle's excellent liner notes ... "Priscilla takes no prisoners, so you no-good men 'Better Watch Yourselves' indeed. The music may move you, but her message will cut you to the bone. On the other hand, if you treat her right, you will be rewarded by her smooth silky and seductive words of love and praise. Name your tune, and Ms. Price delivers with style and sophistication. She's got sass, with a touch of class." I couldn't have said it better myself.
I have been a fan of Theodis Ealey, going back to 1992 when his first CD came out on Ichiban Records (oh my, another Ichiban alumni). Going Back To Hurtsville was one of those timeless slow blues songs featuring Theodis' soulful vocals and pleading guitar. It was a track that let us know that here was a special artist. We played that album and especially that track quite a bit. A year later he had his second release on Ichiban, humorously titled If You Leave Me I'm Going Wit' Cha, a tune that is reprised on this new release, It's A Real Good Thang (IFGAM Records). That early release also had a great cover of Lowell Fulson's "Black Night" and a wonderful reggae-like version of the classic "House Of The Rising Sun." 1995's Stuck Between Rhythm & Blues was a puzzling release that left me wondering if he was indeed stuck. That release seemed to lack the humor and passion of the earlier two. It would be three long years before Raw was released, but it was worth the wait. The energy and passion were back with that release. The first few bars of Dylan's "Meet Me In The Morning" let you know that Ealey was back. That release had a killer cover of Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee" and a warm and moving version of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away." It also yielded the first appearance of "All My Baby Left Me Was A Note, My Guitar And A Cookie Jar," also reprised on this newest 2002 release. It's A Real Good Thang is a wonderful new addition to the Theodis Ealey catalogue and his strongest release to date. It features a fine duet with former Phoenix resident Francine Reed on the old Brook Benton/Dinah Washington song "Baby, You Got What It Takes" and an absolutely incredible duet with Chick Willis on the intense "You've Got To Hurt Before You Heal," a great Larry Addison tune that first appeared on Bobby Bland's Midnight Run LP back in 1989. Great stuff. Once again he calls on a Lowell Fulson classic, "Reconsider Baby," and it gives it a sleek 2002 reading. This is a major release from an artist whose time has arrived. Those who are lucky enough to have the capabilities of playing this enhanced CD on their PC or Mac will not only be treated to a wonderful live performance of "I Wanna Be Your Friend," but will be convinced as I am that here is one talented performer. You can visit his site at www.theodisealey.com.
--- Alan Shutro
Chris Thomas King's latest album, Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues (21st Century Blues), is billed "as a test for the blues genre to see if it will move forward." King recently become a major star due to his work in the movie and soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the successful "Down From the Mountain" tour. Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues' mix is far different from the more traditional blues of his recent work. This album finds King fusing blues guitar with hip-hop beats, rapped lyrics, and DJ scratching. There are three major problems with this record. First, the "blues" parts pale in comparison to King's own records like Red Mud or Me, My Guitar and the Blues. Second, the hip-hop is mediocre at best. Most damning, King made basically the same album back in 1995, when he was able to complete and release the album 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood. 21st Century Blues was a mediocre blues-based rap album; just like dirty south. If you're looking for a good blues album, pick up Red Mud or Me, My Guitar and the Blues. If you're looking for innovative rap/hip-hop, try Mos Def or Spearhead. Dirty South is a disappointing album from a great talent.
Gary Moore's career moves all over the musical map. Moore starting in the 1970s playing hard rock with Thin Lizzy before moving on to a solo career in the same vein. For 20 years Moore produced about 15 albums of hard rock. Then in 1990 he released Still Got The Blues, a terrific electric blues album that was his biggest commercial success. He followed with three more blues records. His last two records, Dark Days in Paradise and A Different Beat, seemed to signal another musical change. These albums are hard to characterize and, frankly, just not very good. His last album was a return to the early 90s sound with the excellent Back to the Blues. Now comes Scars (Sanctuary), billed as a hard-rock power trio making a hard-rock record. Fortunately for us, Moore has failed to make a hard rock record. What he has made is another good blues-rock record in the vein of Back to the Blues with perhaps a bit more rock. Scars has a few slow blues (the 13-minute showstopper "Ball and Chain" among them), a few rocking blues, and a few pop-blues tracks. It's nothing new for Moore or the listener, but Gary Moore does this kind of thing better than most. Another solid effort by Moore.
--- Joseph Sherman
The latest offering from Texan guitarist Josh Alan, self-titled release on Top Cat Records, is his fourth CD, and each one improves on the one before. There's some great blues here, a mixture of covers (Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Bob Dylan, etc.) and originals, as well as rocking blues and ballads. Almost all are excellent. Track one, the instrumental "Josh's Breakdown," really gets the album off to a flying start with some superb slide work on a great rocking blues number. I just wish it lasted a bit longer! From the cover versions, Muddy Waters' "Rollin' & Tumblin' is well executed, with a nice guitar break in the middle. Johnny Winters' "Mean Town Blues" is better, and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" is nothing short of superb --- a lesson to Mr Dylan on how this song should sound! Josh Alan shows on this CD that he is a guitar craftsman and a pretty mean songwriter, too. For proof of this, just listen to "Josh's Breakdown" or "No One Owns The Blues" (a small dig at Chicago). Mention should be made here of contributions by David Fathead Newman (sax) and Bernard Wright (organ, ex-Miles David Band) on "Her City," two great musicians in very good company. For me, "Josh's Breakdown" and "Highway 61 Revisited" make this whole album worthwhile, and the other tracks are pretty good too.
Nickels & Dimes (Meltdown) is what I assume to be the debut album from a British blues band, Maddy Leigh Blues Band, based in Liverpool. If it IS a debut album, I can only guess that there will be more, because this is a good showcase for the band. It shows that they know their blues and that they can master the technical details, as well as writing some good tunes. Nine out of the 11 tracks are written by vocalist Maddy Leigh and guitarist Marc Ellison, and there is a good mix of fast and slow, with some in between. Personally, I prefer this band when they are belting out the rocking blues of the title track (with a superb bit of Dr.Feelgood influence), "Heaven Sent" and "Moan, Moan, Moan," but that's not to say that their other material is lacking in any way. In between the rocking blues and the ballads, there are some good solid slow blues. The first track, "Faith To Follow," sets the tone, and the opening bars of "Impossible Things" puts me in mind "Rambling On My Mind." And how about a blues version of "Amazing Grace!!!" The closing track on the CD features Maddy's voice singing this old standard over a good driving blues riff; this is good original use of a song not associated with the blues. I would love to hear a whole album of this band belting out some rocking blues, and maybe that's still to come. For now, this is a great start for a band that deserves to be heard. The CD is available from their web-site www.maddyleigh.co.uk.
Bust Out is Robin Sylar's second release on Top Cat Records, and it's a good showcase for a man that paid his dues with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Big Joe Turner, Eddie Vinson, Canned Heat and others. Carrying on the great tradition of Texas blues, Robin Sylar brings a great variety of good rocking blues music of different tempos, underscored with fine guitar playing. Unfortunately, the cover notes don't give any credit for the songwriting, so I can only assume that these are all Robin Sylar originals, in which case he is an accomplished songwriter as well as a good solid guitar player. One track,the gimmicky "Scratchy", left me a little disappointed. Apart from that, the rest of the album is a treat to the ears. The title track, "Bust Out," is a great uptempo boogie that tears along at an amazing pace, buoyed up by some excellent drumming from Kevin Schemerhorn. This is one of those tracks that has your feet tapping before you know it. Once you've heard this first track, you know that you're in for some good blues. It rolls straight into a semi-Cajun boogie called "Louisiana Lava Man." By the time track three, "Dynomite Nitro," comes around, your tapping feet will be aching! Rex Mauney shows what he can do with the keyboards on "Double Dip," and the band really cooks on this one. All in all, this is a good, bluesy CD. I really enjoyed 14 out of the 15 tracks, and "Scratchy" is probably just a matter of personal taste anyway. Give this one a listen ... it will please your ears.
--- Terry Clear
Reared in Detroit and raised on the blues coming out of Chicago, Cosmo St. Clair would spend many young adolescent nights listening to DJs spin the classics like Howlin', Muddy and B.B. After a friend gave him a few lessons showcasing style and the reason to improvise within the standard three chord blues, St. Clair was off and running and hasn¹t looked back. St. Clair¹s first recorded effort, Now Blues for Now People (Analog y Digi-tal Recordings) is definitely a tribute towards the more established old school blues, as he states in his own words, "In terms of its relation to popular music, and the spirit and attitude, Blues was the first Punk Rock." There are 11 cuts that feature blues rockers like "The Spider and the Fly," an early effort by Jagger-Richards that showcases St. Clair's obvious nod to all the '60s groups from England who, before they became rockers, were simply bluesmen, to soulful harp flavored numbers like "Down Home Girl." As far as the band's duties go, St. Clair handles most of the stringed instruments, including guitar, bass and vocals. Harp player Sunny Girl Yoko expertly blows throughout. Rounding out the band is Rob Klonel on drums. St. Clair's version of John Lee Hooker¹s "Boom, Boom" incorporates the great Hammond B-3 sound that was essential in many of those early recordings, along with some ample picking by St. Clair himself. Check it all out at www.cosmostclair.com.
Occasionally you find a band founded by someone other the lead singer or guitarist. In the case of the San Francisco-based Box of Blues (now called Popa Dave Montano and his Hired Guns), bass player extraordinare Popa Dave Montano fills those difficult shoes very well, handling songwriting credits, thundering bass attacks and vocal stylings on his latest release, What's up with That? (independent). Montano and his three piece (including guitar and sax) take us through a nice collection of blues-based numbers that swagger along with shuffles and sultry rhythms, truly reminiscent of the best bar band on any given Saturday night at the countless watering holes throughout this great land of ours. The band's personnel has changed since this recording, but we're still delighted to hear wonderful sounds emitting from Montano's bass along with the father/son team of Jeff Neiman (guitar) and Daniel Neiman (sax). Highlights include the upbeat shuffle "Sexy Lookin' Lady" and the rolling rocker "Turn your Lights Down Low" (the only tune not written by Montano; here the credit goes to Elmore James). The sax solo rips on this one. Also try the slow cooker "I Tried to Love a Drinking Woman." Even though there's only eight cuts here, the main feel of this band gets through in a powerful way. To learn more about Montano and how to get a copy of this disk visit www.rockinblues.com.
Delbert McClinton is not only a gifted vocalist and harmonica player, but a legend whose distinct style sets him apart from other blues artist. While his career as a singer began in the mid-1950s, it would take Delbert nearly two decades to evolve into one of the most renowned and respected blues artists to come out of Texas. His latest recording, Room to Breathe (New West Records), again gives longtime fans a pleasing combination of blues, soul, country, and rock and roll. Room to Breathe is classic Delbert McClinton, with tight horn arrangements, funky rhythms and Delbert's trademark 'story telling' lyrics. While there are no big surprises here, Room to Breathe is an enthusiastic and fun recording. McClinton starts working his mojo from the first track, "Same Kind of Crazy,"' where the harp player struts his stuff with a tasty solo. The singer gives the listener some old school boogie woogie with rolling piano and a Jerry Lee Lewis vibe on "Blues About You Baby." With Emmylou Harris, Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell (to name a few) backing McClinton on vocals, "Low Star Blues" mixes country with a twang of bluegrass fiddle. With his signature rough-edged voice, Delbert constructs the heartfelt ballad "Don't Want To Love You," which could easily rival his rendition of the Otis Redding classic "Dreams." "New York City" is an uptempo tribute to a city that saw devastation. Even though this album is what we've come to expect from Delbert McClinton, the 12 tracks are fresh and pristine. Room to Breathe would be a welcome addition for any Delbert enthusiast.
When The Sun Goes Down (Bluebird) is a comprehensive and equally impressive series which looks at the history of Blues. The four-disc set takes you back to the rudimental origins of the music, while giving you an in-depth look at how Blues shaped rock and roll as well as contemporary musical forms. While the majority of the artists on this compilation are somewhat obscure, for the most part, these were the musicians who shaped music as we now know it. Volume One: Walk Right In sets the stage for the rest of the collection, as it explores early blues styles such as country jug blues, stripped down Delta and urban vaudeville acts. Highlights on this volume include: Robert Petways' "Catfish Blues," which was later transformed by Muddy Waters to become "Rolling Stone." This would later not only inspire the magazine, but the now legendary band. Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" is another example of how blues would influence artists in later years. Not only was this song recorded by countless blues artists, but was interpreted by rockers such as Ted Nugent, AC/DC and Them. Leadbelly became legendary for his song, "The Midnight Special," which was done by CCR in the early '70s and later appeared on two Van Morrison compilations. Volume Two: The First Time I Met The Blues is the first original greatest hits of blues, as it features early recordings of some of the best-known blues songs. Notable tracks on this set include: Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," which achieved legendary status as the Allman Brothers recorded it at Fillmore East in 1971. It was also reworked by the Youngbloods in 1967, as well as by Pat Travers in 1997. Bonnie Raitt's hero, the impeccable Sippie Wallace's provocative song (for its time), "I'm A Mighty Tight Woman," is another gem. Frank Stokes is somewhat unknown outside elite blues fans, but his song "Taint Nobody's Business If I Do" was later recorded by soul singer Lou Rawls. Volume Three: That's Chicago's South Side presents the first generation of Blues stars. These artists' songs would become legendary in blues history. Tunes such as Pine Top's "Everyday I Have The Blues" is the earliest documented recording of the B.B. King standard. Another classic is from obscure singer Richard M. Jones, with the' now classic "Trouble In Mind," later done by such superstars as Lightnin' Hopkins and Memphis Slim to '50s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis and soul diva Aretha Franklin. Sonny Boy Williamson is recognizable to all blues lovers and is featured with one his first recordings, "Good Morning School Girl," which was a favorite in the 1960s as done by the Yardbirds. Other covers include Ten Years After, Johnny Winter and a very young Rod Stewart. Volume Four: That's All Right follows the transformation of blues to rock and roll. Possibly the song that set it in motion was Elvis Presley's "That's All Right," as done by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Lil Green recorded another song which found chart success for Peggy Lee, called "Why Don't You Do Me Right." While the four volumes do have an under-produced, scratchy and antiquated sound, the songs are the important thing here, for they set the stage for generations to follow. Moreover; the anthology takes the listener on an educational trip to a simpler time. Whether you're a blues expert or just interested in the history of this time-honored music and its impact, the When The Sun Goes Down series is an investment that you will treasure for years.
--- Tony Engelhart
After playing a few select festival dates together the past couple of years, it comes as no surprise that Jimmy Thackery and Tab Benoit finally got together in the studio to cut one hell of a record together. The name of this gem is Whiskey Store and is brought to you by the Telarc label and producer Randy Labbe, who have been throwing the dice for a few years now on different groupings and pairings of artists and coming up with 7s and 11s. They truly hit the jackpot this time around. These two string bending road warriors are in top notch form for about an hour's worth of some finely crafted axe slinging, backed by Double Trouble, Reese Wynans and harp virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite. You can bet your last dollar that there is plenty of bone shaking blues to be found here. But this is not by any stretch of the imagination the same ole 12 bar blues you might expect, so dismiss that thought immediately. Jimmy and Tab have chosen to put their own unique spin on some very familiar tunes from the rock world, with Thackery taking the lead on stunning versions of Dylan's “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and The Stones' “The Last Time,” which actually has both guys harmonizing vocally. Benoit fronts a countrified version of Neil Young's “Unknown Legend” that can only be described as simply gorgeous, with Musselwhite adding some delicate harp licks to it. Tab also serves up a glowing reworking of his own “Nice and Warm,” which in my opinion rivals the original. Thackery is in the driver's seat (no pun intended) for the rough and tumble opening number, ”I Ain’t Broke,” which has both guys ripping off some intense licks, but it’s Jimmy doing about 100 mph with Reese Wynans seemingly adding a few more keys to his piano that grabs your ear. Percy Mayfield's “Strange Things Happen” is given a fabulous arrangement, with the whole band just plain cooking. Musselwhite jumps in for a few well-placed fills, which he also does on “Bad Luck Blues,” a slow blues number handled expertly by Benoit. The crown jewel of this collection is undoubtedly the heartfelt swinging tribute to Freddy King, entitled “Freddy’s Combo.” As I sat and listened to this intense jam, my arms fell off, my legs fell off, my head sort of detached itself and went rolling across the room and ... well, I think you kind of get the idea of what I am trying to say about “Freddy’s Combo.” The album closes with a terrific little shuffle, “Bone Pickin’,” from Benoit that could have easily fit onto either of his last two albums with it’s down home feel and fine picking. The album's title track is a soul searching ditty comparing a women to a whiskey store, with some moody changes and a few slick guitar runs set around Tab’s haunting, crying vocals. After listening to this album so many times that my wife may kill me at this point, I can honestly say that I would be surprised if it doesn’t skyrocket to the top of the blues charts. Both of the principles have never sounded better, the band is, well ...... Double Trouble for gods sake! They are flawless throughout, as is Charlie Musselwhite and Reese Wynans. I mean, hell, when you add up all the years, miles and experience these fellas collectively have, it boggles the mind the same way this remarkable recording will. I only hope that there will be a sequel to this one, as I found myself chomping at the bit for more as soon as the last track was played. Get to your nearest retailer and crack open Whiskey Store and take a big drink of one of this years tastiest brews. But be forewarned, it is dangerously intoxicating in the best of all possible ways!
British blues master John Mayall has the most uncanny ear for finding great
guitar players to play in his bands. Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor
and Coco Montoya are some of the names that have passed through The
Bluesbreakers and achieved fame and fortune in either the blues or rock
world. But a lot of folks forget that a gutsy guitar player by the name of
Walter Trout was also once a member of Britain's premier blues ensemble. The
recently reissued Life In The Jungle (Ruf Records) is Trout’s debut that came
about after a Danish promoter caught him filling in for a sick Mayall one
night and signed him up to tour and record. This 10 tune set is gut busting
blues/rock that is as fiery 12 years later as it was when it was first
issued. It’s hard to believe that this was a first time studio effort, because
he sounds like a well-seasoned pro ripping off some amazing guitar
pyrotechnics and some fairly impressive harp licks as well. Two Trout
originals lead things off, with “Good Enough To Eat,” taking off like a
runaway train on icy tracks and highlighted by a searing harp solo. The
following piece, “The Mountain Song,” contrasts quite nicely, as it really is a
slow blues piece, but maintains the strong energy level by way of Trout
bending the hell out of his notes accompanied by some very throaty vocals.
The weighty title tune has some dark overtones, as it tells the story of woman
cut down by a junkie. I sort of get the feeling that this is a very personal
subject to Walter. His soloing has an almost angry sound to it, but is
superb nonetheless. “Frederica” is a very pretty ballad that gives you a
great insight into what a well-rounded artist Trout is, scoring a triple play
for song writing, playing and vocals. The album also contains three live
numbers recorded at Denmark's Midtfyn festival in 1989, and I’m sure Jimi
Hendrix would have been satisfied with Trout’s barn burning nine minute
cover of “Red House.” Yes I know Hendrix covers have been done to death, but
this one is truly exceptional. The other two live pieces, covers of “Cold
Cold Feeling” and “Serve Me Right To Suffer,” sizzle with Trout’s
screaming structured guitar work and growling vocals to close out the album.
Backing Trout are Dan Abrams on B-3 and piano, Leroy Larson on drums and Jim
Trapp on bass. Walter Trout has always been one of those artists whose genre
of music is always hotly debated amongst blues purists as to whether he is
blues or rock. But quite frankly, I don’t think it really matters, as this guy
plays like every tune may be his last. Life In The Jungle is a great look at
this artist in his formative years, and harbors some of his best song writing
that satisfies more with every listen. Give this hard hitting record a few
thousand or so listens.
I can’t honestly say that every day is a lucky day for me, but the day I received this album in the mail surely was. There are many multifaceted players floating around the Los Angeles blues scene, but I have yet to find one that even remotely comes close to the enormous versatility and talent that Jeff Turmes displays in everything he does. Whether it’s song writing, producing, engineering or playing the sax, guitar, bass, piano, or stepping up to the mic for lead vocals (which he does all of on this album), Jeff exudes a burning passion for his music that makes his first solo release, Every Day’s My Lucky Day, a shining jewel of a record. Self-produced and released on his own Fat Head records, this 14 track collection of original works is an eclectic exploration into every style of blues known to man. They are expertly integrated to create a style that belongs solely to Turmes, arranged in the form of traditional yet modern melodies, joined with brilliant, clever storytelling songwriting. The album opens on a very humorous note with “Great Big Slob,” a Louie Prima-ish number that has the author professing his shortcomings with a ‘deal with it attitude’ that is hilarious. Following up is the beautiful two-part harmony provided by Jeff's lovely wife, and sensational singer in her own right, Janiva Magness, on “Don’t Count Me Out,” a story of determination that can be interpreted to fit most folks’ situations in whatever fashion may be appropriate. The sometime woes of owning man’s best friend are spotlighted in “Everybody Hates My Dog,” a tale of a troublesome pooch and his distraught master served up with a little tongue in cheek. “Can’t Save A Dollar,” finds Turmes displaying some fine slide guitar and sax licks alongside the rolling piano of Andy Kaulkin, set against a churning beat for the story of a scoundrel that can’t hold on to a buck. The slow blues of “The More I Keep On Losin’ “ is augmented by the mellow guitar pickings of Rick Holmstrom, and tugs a heartstring or two due to its hard luck story. Three numbers that are sure to grab you by both ears run in succession, beginning with ’Worry Me To Death,” a powerful number highlighted by the wicked harp riffs of John "Juke" Logan and some percussive magic by way of Dave Kida, segueing into the funky strut of “Shipwreck,” where once again Jeff fires off some stinging slide work and commanding vocals. The last of the three is a jumping, jiving number entitled “How About It,” which may give you a severe case of "happy feet" due to it’s very danceable rhythms. Wrapping this entertaining disc up are a pair of tunes from different sides of the tracks, “I Know It’s Wrong,” a bouncy piece with a tad of New Orleans flavoring to it, and the title track, a smooth shuffle featuring Red Young’s swirling B-3 sounding like a number that could have been cut during the big band era. This is a spectacular record that plasters a big old smile on your face from the first note to the last due to its immaculate production and flow.But the real hook here is Turmes’ vocals which have a slight nasal quality to them, but are smooth, confident and most importantly captivating. If you are chomping at the bit to own a copy of this terrific album and can’t locate it at your favorite record store, it can be mail ordered for $16.50, which includes shipping, from Fat Head Records, P.O. Box 251511, Los Angeles CA 90025. Better yet, pop by one of his gigs and double your pleasure with a stunning live performance. If you are a true blues fan and don’t acquire this one, then shame on you because this is one of this year’s best that is not from a major label. Have yourself a lucky day and lay your hands on this one soon. Well done, Mr. Turmes!
--- Steve Hinrichsen
David Johansen is not a household name in blues circles, but if you've ever had a punk period in your life, you know the guy. Johansen was the front guy in the New York Dolls. He was also, under the alias Dexter Poindexter, making lounge music a good five years before that type of music caught on. He's also an actor with a good reputation. And, for about five years now, he's rediscovered and sought to emulate the music of Harry Smith's seminal Anthology of Folk Music, hence the name of his current group, David Johansen and The Harry Smiths. With a full band (Brian Koonin on acoustic guitar and mandolin, Larry Saltzman on dobro, Kermit Driscoll on stand-up bass and Keith Carlock on drums) on Shaker (Chesky Records), husky-voiced (gravelly-voiced?) Johansen revisits pre-war blues, slightly updating the sound, essentially because of the drums. But the music still sounds thoroughly ancient. He covers not only Furry Lewis, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Tommy McClennan (and also Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied", the most modern-sounding blues herein), but also lesser-known bluesmen as Robert Wilkins, Rube Lacy and Geechie Wiley. Is it because of his acting abilities or because of a deep comprehension of the blues? It's hard to say, because Johansen is utterly convincing. His "Death Letter Blues" is, well, letter perfect. His command of pre-war stylings is even, at times, too great; on Charley Patton's "High Sheriff," for example, he goes so far as to reproduce Patton's mistake in the second-to-last verse ... "It must not have been those Belzoni jail I had - (spoken: blues I had, boys)." So, is this a great tribute to a vital style of music, or superb imitation? Hard to say ... probably both.
After his first independent release two years ago (reviewed here in October 2000), guitarist and studio engineer Mark Cook won enough praise (including Just Plain Folks' Blues Album of the Year) to soldier on and keep playing the blues. His recent release, The Promise Highway (Wendster Records), is further proof of Mr. Cook's talents. Again, he shows his ability in numerous styles, such as West Coast and acoustic country blues styles. He also includes elements of jazz, funk, gospel and soul, and even, on "This Is My Life," a heavy-funky touch a la Allman Brothers, performing all original material --- songs that, although not blessed with a distinct personality, are strong enough to merit repeated listens. This time around, Cook has been able to record with a stable group of musicians instead of a rotating caste; these include Andy Engle on bass and Chuck Hill on drums, as well as Bobby Mobley on keys and Steve Rusin on harp, both of whom are allowed some solo spots. As Mark Cook is not a singer, he relies on vocalists Roman Broadus and DaRon Washington to bring his songs to life, both of whom acquit themselves well of the task. In particular, Ms. Washington evokes memories of classic blues singers in the slow and dignified "Down with the Blues," while Mr. Broadus is totally in his element when he testifies on "The Bitter Truth." Although I found one or two guitar solos to be overly stretched out (such as on the title track), generally Mark Cook is able to put his guitar talents in the service of the songs, instead of the opposite. This approach, though it might cost him a few fans looking for cheap guitar heroes, should ultimately take him to a higher level.
Composed of singer and multi-instrumentalist John Gillespie (acoustic and National Steel guitars, mandolin, harp) and guitarist Mike Herman, The Hell Hounds specialize in a style of pleasant-sounding acoustic blues that comes off as a cross between the smooth blues of Mississippi John Hurt and the country blues of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, with Gillespie at times sounding eerily like John Hammond Jr. This Upper New York-based duo recently sent us its latest release, last year's Can't Take It With Ya, along with the previous one, 1997's On Your Trail (both on Blind House Music; see www.thehellhounds.com for details). With an even mix of originals and choice covers (two Sleepy John Estes tunes, as well as cuts from the catalogues of The Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson) on Can't Take It With Ya, the Hell Hounds generally eschew the menacing, gloomy overtones of Delta blues in favor of a more restrained, "polite" sound. This being said, they also seem to flavor reflexive and sad songs over happy hokum-styled dance ditties, although they are certainly capable of doing that too, as the title track proves. The absence of a rhythm section means that the listener can savor every detail of the complex interaction between the two guitars; in comparison, On Your Trail featured bass and drums on a few tunes (as well as piano and fiddle), which meant that it offered a little more variety. But the overall quality of both CDs is otherwise similar. Fans of acoustic music should take the time to get to know this band.
Ex-Bluesbreaker Walter Trout is definitely not aiming at the acoustic music market; his type of all-out attack, take no prisoner approach has made him a popular draw at big outdoor festivals, as documented on 2000's Live Trout album. I personally found that last year's Go the Distance actually went too far; the pyrotechnics and firepower were so massive and loud that I suggested listening to the album from one room away. Trout's first album, Life in the Jungle, originally released on the tiny Provogue label in 1990 and just re-released by Ruf Records, is in my opinion a better-balanced affair between electric power and soulful emotion. There are even a couple of instances (notably on "The Mountain Song") where we can use the term "restraint," a notion that is usually antonymous with Mr. Trout's style. If, like me, you only know Walter Trout's last few records, you're in for another surprise; he takes some harmonica solos! (And very capably so, I might add.) To these ears, even if he's added power and muscle in the intervening years, this 12-year old record is still Trout's best album.
--- Benoît Brière
What better way to indulge oneself in the works of David Gogo by listening to his latest release, Skeleton Key (Cordova Bay), while driving around the beautiful and breathtaking Vancouver Island. This ain’t Mississippi, so you leave understanding why Gogo’s style of roots music is not traditional. The Nanaimo, British Columbia native aspired to be like Stevie Ray. A chance meeting with his idol provided the needed encouragement to try it in the music business. Gogo’s band quickly jumped to the point where they were opening for blues legends touring western Canada. This led to a solo deal with EMI/Capitol. He soon parted ways with the huge label and settled on Canadian indie Cordova Bay. "(Just Ask) Jesse James" is a heavy hitter with a beat that shakes you from head to toe. Brendan Hedley’s piano is soaring while Gogo’s slide is wicked as expected. David’s aggressive and assertive vocals are nicely softened by the backing vocals of Melisa Devost. Two musicians, Hedley and Rick Hopkins, are credited with the organ work. It's not certain who is performing on "Backstroke," but he is so good that you will have the track programmed for auto-repeat. Gogo proves he can play exactly like Albert Collins in this tribute to the Master of the Telecaster. The organ is hypnotizing and pensive, while the guitar tone reflects the late '60s/early '70s on "Reap What You Sow." The pop ballad "I Can Still Hear You Crying" is loaded with emotion, especially Gogo’s heartfelt vocals. At the end of the stirring track, David says, "that one felt good, man." Listeners will surely agree. The groove of the title track creates a joyous celebration of life. Here, the two-part male vocal harmonies and horns accent the song’s soulful feel. Pierre Komen (sax), Earle Gibson (trombone) and Tina Jones (trumpet) combine again on "Fool For You," while the backing vocals reign supreme. "Walkin’" is a fun, barnstorming, barrelhouse attack featuring the drums of Billy Hicks and the harp of Gerry Barnum. Throughout, Todd Sacerty’s bass rumbles and shakes the foundation. For those unfamiliar with Depeche Mode’s "Personal Jesus," you may be expecting a gospel groove. The lyrics are about reaching out to touch faith but the rhythm is almost alternative in nature, featuring Gerry’s dirty harp. "Belgian Moon" is a funky rock groove where the band gets a chance to play off each other by trading licks and solos. All along, Gogo’s guitar rocks out with the help of pedal magic. On this 55 minute, 15 track disc, Gogo matures as a musician and songwriter. Half of the content is original material. Even though the non-originals are performed with Gogo’s own twists, his songwriting has become so strong that covers are no longer required. The screeching wild banshee blasts from previous CDs, like Halfway To Memphis, have almost been put to rest with the exception of "It Don’t Make Sense." Sure, in-your-face rockers such as "Stay Away From My Home" and "Things Are About To Change" are still present, but they are performed in a more controlled fashion. The new Gogo has as much energy but more intelligently discharges it. David Gogo is classified as a blues-rocker, but you won’t find much blues here. However, if your tastes warm to heavy hitters and pop ballads that are joyous, fun, alternative, funky and soulful, then this Key will appeal to you. For CDs, booking and information, contact: Cordova Bay Entertainment Group Inc., 5159 Beckton Road, Victoria, BC Canada V8Y 2C2, website: www.cordovabay.com, artist website: www.davidgogo.org.
--- Tim Holek
California guitarist Alastair Greene leans a little closer to the blues side of the blues / rock genre on his independent release, A Little Wiser (Riatsala Music). While Greene isn't a real strong vocalist, he's a solid guitarist, shown to best effect on Albert King's slow blues "Love Too Strong." The album opens with a strong blues number in Muddy Waters' "Ramblin' Mind," highlighted by Mitch Kashmar's harmonica work. A more traditional blues sound comes across on "The Long Way Home," where Greene contributes all of the instrumental work, including nice mandolin to go with acoustic guitar, National Steel guitar, banjo, bass and drums. The best original composition is the catchy number "Get My Wings," with nice guitar playing from Greene. For more info on Greene, check his good-looking web site at www.agsongs.com.
A trio of re-issues from Delmark Records is worth tracking down, as they cover a number of significant, yet lesser-known recording artists from years past. Hoot & Holler Saturday Night! feature post-war jump blues recordings from Piney Brown and Eddie Mack, originally cut for the Apollo label. While Brown and Mack weren't as well-known as fellow blues shouters Wynonie Harris or Roy Brown, their music is no less enjoyable. This is blues that was made for an audience ready to boogie woogie again after World War II, with no pretense of any kind of social conscience. Many of the backing players for these sessions were taken from the Erskine Hawkins Band, so the musicianship is naturally very high. I especially liked Mack's vocal range, heard best on the jump tune "Kind Loving Daddy." He also does a nice rendition of "Lemonade," more recently heard from Sam Myers of Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets.
A different sound from Apollo is heard on The Back Porch Boys, which includes recordings made in New York City just after WWII in a more down-home urban style. Included here are sides by Alec "Guitar Slim" Seward & Louis "Jelly Belly" Hayes (commonly known as The Back Porch Boys), Blind Willie McTell, Champion Jack Dupree, and Dennis McMillon. The most incredible recordings here are the five acoustic spiritual numbers from McTell ... they alone make this an essential addition to your blues library. The Thomas A. Dorsey composition, "How About You," is exquisite. An essential Dupree number, with Brownie McGhee on guitar, is "Rub A Little Boogie." This one's been a favorite blues song of mine for a long time, and it's good to hear it again, as well as the rowdy "She Can Shake It." The Seward & Hayes and McMillon recordings are Piedmont-style blues from Virginia and North Carolina. The McMillon number, "Goin' Back Home," with two versions on the disc, is a pleasant country blues frolic that makes the listener wish for more from this obscure artist supposedly from Burlington, North Carolina. This is believed to be the only recording ever made by McMillon, cut basically for bus fare so that he could get back home from New York.
The third in the series of Delmark re-issues is an excellent collection, Bye Bye Baby, from barrelhouse pianist Robert McCoy (this is not the same McCoy who recorded as Robert Nighthawk). The 21 songs on this collection were recorded in Birmingham, Alabama at various sessions between 1958 and the mid-'60s. McCoy was in his '50s when these sides were cut and still in very good form. The disc starts out with the title cut, a red hot boogie woogie number written by the performer. Another interesting 'original' is "Pratt City Special," which sounds suspiciously like the popular blues "Goin' To Chicago." No matter --- it's a great tune. There's a pleasant version of St. Louis Jimmy's "Goin' Down Slow," and an incendiary cover of Pine Top Smith's boogie woogie instrumental "Jump Steady Blues." The disc concludes with seven 'on location' recordings, on which the sound quality suffers. But that fact aside, this is a fine disc of vintage barrelhouse piano.
--- Bill Mitchell
The new CD, Easy Street, by Lincoln, Nebraska-based band Travis & The FlameKats, is a work of pure blues for a new generation. The band has a unique lineup that includes a female bass player, Becky Koester, who adds a new element to blues in general. The tracks that offer a blues harp give a great touch of old to the new. There are 13 songs in total on Easy Street, and three of them are live tracks that give you a great taste of the band's "in your face dynamics." I give much deserved credit to Travis Koester, the singer/songwriter/guitarist of the FlameKats for making a CD that is not cluttered with fancy effects or spiced with overpriced studio time. A true work of blues in it's purest form.
--- Steve Mugstrom
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