Blues Bytes

What's New

October/November 2016

an associate Order these featured CDs today:

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

Lurrie Bell

Grady Champion

JJ Thames

Duke Robillard

Ronnie Earl

Al Basile

Vaneese Thomas

The King Brothers

Smoky Greenwell

Dan Bubien

2Ton Bridge

Kat Riggins

Owen Campbell

Bruce Katz

Johnny Nicholas

Brian Langlinais

Hard Swimmin Fish

The Jeremiah Johnson Band

Gonzalo Bergara

Lex Grey

Ally Venable Band

Laurence Jones

Lee Delray

Lew Jetton

Mary Jo Curry

The Coal Porters

JL Fulks

Doug MacLeod



Sugar RaySugar Ray and the Bluetones have been going strong for 35 years and show no signs of letting up. Their latest release, Seeing Is Believing, is their tenth album overall and their seventh for Severn Records. The band is universally recognized as one of the best in the business, with each member (Sugar Ray Norcia – vocals/harp, “Monster” Mike Welch – guitars, Anthony Geraci – keyboards, Michael “Mudcat” Ward – bass, Neil Gouvin – drums) having been nominated for Blues Music Awards and the band being nominated as Best Band three times, including in 2016.

The new disc consists of 11 new songs and one cover, Welch’s gorgeous instrumental tribute to B.B. King, “You Know I Love You.” Norcia contributes the minor key title track, which would have been a good fit on Otis Rush’s set list back in the day, the wonderful “Keep On Sailing,” the hard-charging “Blind Date,” “It Ain’t Funny,” the smoky ballad “Not Me,” and the collaborative shuffle “It’s Been A Long Time,” which closes the disc out.

Welch penned the opener, “Sweet Baby,” and provides outstanding fretwork throughout the disc. Geraci, who’s still on a roll coming off last year’s excellent solo effort, Fifty Shades of Blue, contributes a couple of tracks, “Noontime Bell” and “Got a Gal,” and Ward authored the clever “Misses Blues.” It may be cliché, but the band works like a well-oiled machine, which actually makes sense…..this particular incarnation of the band has been together for 16 years.

Seeing Is Believing is a sterling showcase for one of the finest blues bands currently in operation. Their music is a fine tribute to those masters who preceded them, and its blues well done overall. It’s a safe bet that come Blues Music Awards time, these guys will be on the ballot once again and deservedly so.

--- Graham Clarke

Lurrie BellOne of the most productive musical relationships in recent years has been between Delmark Records and Lurrie Bell. The Chicago guitarist has battled back from numerous obstacles and tragedies to become one of the finest of the Windy City’s blues artists, and his releases with Delmark (six over the past 20 years) have helped solidify his position. Few artists today can match his highly original singing (a perfect combination of power and emotion) and his creative and intense guitar playing.

Bell’s latest Delmark release, Can’t Shake This Feeling, is another sparkling effort. As on his last Delmark album (2013’s Blues In My Soul), Bell is backed by his own band (Matthew Skoller – harmonica, Roosevelt Purifoy – keyboards, Melvin Smith – bass, Willie “The Touch” Hayes – drums) and is produced by Dick Shurman. There are 13 marvelous tracks, nine covers of Chicago blues classics and four interesting originals from Bell.

Bell covers songs from Willie Dixon (“Sit Down Baby,” part of Otis Rush’s Cobra output from the late ’50s, and “Hidden Charms”), Eddie Boyd (“Drifting”), T-Bone Walker (“I Get So Weary”), Lowell Fulson (“Sinner’s Prayer”), Little Milton (“Hold Me Tight”), Buster Benton (“Born With The Blues”), Jimmy Davis (“One Eyed Woman”), and Bell’s dad, Carey (“Do You Hear?”). The cool thing about when Bell does a cover is that he basically makes it his own, adding his own personal touch to each to the point that it’s almost like he’s lived the lyrics of most of these songs.

The personal touch carries over, of course to his original songs as well. The title track is particularly memorable and he turns in a bravura vocal performance on “The Worrisome Feeling In My Heart.” His fretwork is spot-on for “Blues Is Trying To Keep Up With Me,” and the closer, “Faith and Music” (co-written with Shurman), is a stripped-down autobiographical track…just Bell and his guitar….that should raise goose bumps.

Well on his way to achieving legendary status at this point in his career, Lurrie Bell has blessed blues fans with Can’t Shake This Feeling, yet another fantastic release of Chicago blues. Simply put, if you like the blues, you will love this album.

--- Graham Clarke

Grady ChampionEach Grady Champion release sets the bar just a little bit higher for bluesmen everywhere. Two years ago, Champion released his Malaco Records debut, Bootleg Whiskey, to rave reviews, and the Canton, Mississippi singer/songwriter/harmonica player manages to outdo himself yet again with his Malaco follow-up, One of a Kind, a superb set of traditional and urban blues and R&B that now stands as Champion’s gold standard release. Champion wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks, and they’re a distinctive batch that you’ll find yourself humming along to after listening.

There’s plenty of traditional styled blues tunes like “House Party,” Leave Here Running,” and “Stone In My Path,” along with urban blues offerings such as “Life Support” and “What A Woman,” in which Champion and lead guitarist Eddie Cotton channel the vintage Junior Wells/Buddy Guy days, with an assist from Elvin Bishop on slide guitar. Champion also mines heavily from the R&B side of the blues with the title track, “Heels and Hips,” the ZZ Hill classic “Bump and Grind,” “Move Something,” “Thin Line,” and “When I’m Gone.”

Champion and Cotton have worked together a long time and their musical rapport is seamlessly intertwined throughout, but nowhere is this more apparent than on the great instrumental jam, “GC Boogie,” that closes the disc. The blues world is fortunate that these outstanding young musicians’ paths crossed. Additional guitar work is provided by Mr. Sipp, Theodis Ealey, and the aforementioned Bishop. In truth, the whole band (bass players Myron Bennet and Ken Smith, drummer Sam Scott, keyboardist Carroll McLaughlin, and The Jackson Horns – Kimble Funchess – trumpet, Jessie Primer III – tenor sax, Sydney Ford II – baritone sax, Robert Lamkin – trombone, and the late Harrison Calloway – arrangements) is superlative throughout, and backing vocals are provided by Cotton, Champion, Lisa Palmer and Jewell Bass.

Ten albums in (his first effort was a 1990 rap release as MC Gold), Grady Champion continues to be one of the most innovative blues artists currently practicing. Each new release always holds a few twists and surprises. His association with Malaco has proved to be a productive one so far, with One of a Kind being his best release to date, and one that you should be hearing more about, come BMA time.

--- Graham Clarke

JJ ThamesJJ Thames will not be suffering from the sophomore jinx based on her outstanding second release, Raw Sugar (DeChamp Records). Recorded at Malaco Recording Studios and produced by Eddie Cotton (who also plays guitar), this disc is so hot that it may burn your fingers. The lovely Jackson, Mississippi-based singer is in fine vocal form on these 13 tracks, mostly co-written with Cotton, which deal with the effects and aftereffects of the end of a relationship.

Thames really shows her range and depth on these tracks, covering the blues with tunes like the jumping “Hattie Pearl,” “I’m Leavin’,” an upbeat shuffle with some sharp guitar from Cotton, the fiery “Woman Scorned,” “Bad Man,” “Don’t Feel Nothin’,” and the title track, a smoking, in-the-alley slow burner.
“Leftovers” moves seamlessly between R&B, pop, and jazz, and “Hold Me” blends blues and jazz. “Only Fool Was Me” is southern soul at its finest, and the upbeat “Want To Fall In Love” brings to mind ’70s R&B. “Don’t Stop My Shine” is a pure funk number with appropriate fretwork from Cotton and Darryl Sanford on keyboard. Thames also shines on the gospel opener, “Oh Lord,” where she teams with Joe Seamons (acoustic guitar) and Ben Hunter (mandolin), and pours her heart out over the agonizing moral dilemma presented on the soul-drenched track “Plan B (Abortion Blues).”

Thames is backed by a powerhouse ensemble in addition to Cotton and Sanford. The late Harrison Calloway handled all the horn arrangements (provided by The Jackson Horns: Kimble Funchess – trumpet, Jessie Primer III – saxes, Robert Lamkin – trombone), and the rhythm section (John “Lanky” Blackmon – drums and Anthony Daniels – bass) is rock solid.

JJ Thames brings to mind the stylish and classy soul and blues singers of years gone by with her formidable vocal talents, but she’s also firmly entrenched in the modern world with her first-rate songwriting. Raw Sugar is a great step forward, but there’s still much more to be heard.

--- Graham Clarke

Duke RobillardWith Blues Full Circle (Stony Plain Records), guitarist Duke Robillard returns to his beginnings as a musician, playing old school blues with his regular small combo (Bruce Bears – keyboards, Brad Hallen – bass, and Mark Teixeira – drums). The disc also marks Robillard’s return to full-time performing following rotator cuff surgery, and the 13 tracks indicate that the surgery was a rousing success, with the guitarist sounding just as sharp as ever.

In addition to his regular band, Robillard is joined by Jimmie Vaughan (guitar), Sugar Ray Norcia (vocals), Kelley Hunt (piano, vocals), Sax Gordon Beadle (tenor/baritone sax), and Doug James (baritone sax) on selected tracks. Vaughan and James team up with the guitarist on the inspired guitar-driven instrumental “Shufflin’ and Scufflin’.” Hunt sings and plays piano on the swinging “The Mood Room” (a song Hunt had penned about her experience in Robillard’s studio of the same name), and Norcia sings with support from Beadle on Jimmy Lewis’ “Last Night.”

Robillard wrote 11 of the tracks, eight brand new compositions plus three which date back to his Roomful of Blues days in the ’70s. Some of the standouts include “Lay a Little Lovin’ On Me,” a textbook Duke Robillard cut, loaded with plenty of six string swagger, the R&B-styled “No More Tears,” “Rain Keeps Falling,” and the lovely “Mourning Dove,” and the Crescent City-flavored “Fool About My Money.” Speaking of New Orleans, Robillard also does a wonderful, moving tribute to the late Guitar Slim (“Blues for Eddie Jones”), and the guitarist does a great job behind the mic on “Worth Waitin’ On,” a ballad tailor-made for his vocal style.

Blues Full Circle is another superlative effort from Duke Robillard, who’s been turning out quality releases like this one with amazing consistency for over 30 years.

--- Graham Clarke

Ronnie EarlMaxwell Street (Stony Plain Records), the new album from Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, is named in honor of David Maxwell, the late pianist and former Broadcaster who passed away in 2015 at age 71. Earl and his bandmates (Lorne Entress – drums, Dave Limina – keyboards, Jim Mouradian – bass, Diane Blue – vocals) have put together a ten-song set – six originals, four covers – that’s described on the back album cover as “An album of traditional, healing and soulful blues rooted in gratitude.” That’s a pretty tall order, but Mr. Earl delivers on the promise, as always.

If listeners don’t get a sense of peace and serenity, and even healing, while listening to Earl’s supremely lyrical guitar work, then counseling is strongly recommended. He hits it out of the park repeatedly on numbers like “Mother Angel,” where his fretwork walks a tightrope between the blues and jazz, the sweet shuffle “Brojoe,” the magnificent “In Memory of T-Bone,” a spot-on tribute to the great guitarist, and the masterful “Blues For David Maxwell.” Keyboardist Limina penned another tribute to Maxwell, the moving “Elegy for a Bluesman,” that features some nice interplay between his piano and Earl’s guitar.

Diane Blue contributes vocals on five of the tracks and she’s a wonderful addition to the ensemble, doing excellent work on the original “Kismet” (co-authored with Earl), Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble,” Gladys Knight’s “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination,” Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and the blues standard “As The Years Go Passing By.” Earl’s guitar accompaniment is perfect on all of these vocal tracks, but his work on “Double Trouble,” clocking in at nearly 12 minutes, is positively spellbinding.

Maxwell Street is as good a release as I’ve ever heard from Ronnie Earl, which is really saying something. Blues fans will get nothing but sheer listening pleasure out of this magnificent album.

--- Graham Clarke

Al BasileAl Basile is a model of consistency. Every year or so, he presents blues fans with a high quality set of original songs that capture his musical influences perfectly…..blues, jazz, and R&B. One of the best and most original songwriters currently practicing, his songs are like little short stories….sometimes humorous, sometimes touching, sometimes thought-provoking, but always compelling and rewarding listening.

Basile’s latest set, Mid-Century Modern (Sweetspot Records), consists of songs composed over a two-week period shortly after he completed work on the 2015 Knickerbocker All Stars release Go Back Home To The Blues. That project reminded Basile of his days with Roomful of Blues, so he decided to write a set of tunes in the tradition of that great band, allowing him to not only sing, but play his cornet more than he had on previous releases.

As on all of Basile’s previous releases, Duke Robillard takes the producer’s chair, guesting on guitar on a couple of track. “Monster” Mike Welch takes the lion’s share of guitar work on this release, and several of Basile’s regular sidemen, Bruce Bears (keyboards), Brad Hallen (bass), Mark Teixeira (drums), Doug James (tenor and baritone saxes/bass clarinet), Rich Lataille (alto and tenor sax), and Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse (trumpet) return to provide their usual superlative support.

Basile’s whimsical side comes out on tracks like “Keep Your Love, Where’s My Money?,” the ribald “Tickle My Mule,” the lighthearted “I’ve Got To Have Meat (with Every Meal),” and “Like A Woman, Like A Man.” He ventures places that most blues composers rarely venture, too, on tunes like “Like You or Despise You,” the ominous “Blank Dog,” and “Lie Under The House With Me,” and “No Truth To The Rumor.” “Midnight Blue Persuasion” is a steamy reflection upon affairs of the heart, “Listen To The Elders” encourages listeners to heed the advice of those who have traveled through life.

Basile’s robust cornet playing is front and center on most of these songs, and Welch provides excellent support on guitar (Robillard appears on a couple of tunes, as well). As on his previous releases, Basile provides liner notes to accompany each song and they are always entertaining and informative. Mid-Century Modern is another great set of high quality original blues tunes from one of the most talented composers and performers in the business.

--- Graham Clarke

Vaneese ThomasVaneese Thomas returned to her roots for her 2014 release, Blues For My Father (dedicated to her late father, Memphis music legend Rufus Thomas), an album that earned her two BMA nominations. The Memphis-born chanteuse digs a little bit deeper on her latest release, The Long Journey Home (Segue Records), a marvelous twelve-song set that focuses on the rich musical culture of her hometown, and on Thomas’ talents as a singer and songwriter. Thomas wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks and co-produced with her husband, guitarist Wayne Warnecke. She’s backed by her own road band, who provide superlative support.

As stated above, the songs cover the broad spectrum of styles that emanate from Memphis, from the Stax-like opener, “Sweet Talk Me” and “Prince of Fools,” which recalls the heyday of Hi Records, to the delightful swinging sing-along “Sat’day Night On The River,” to the funky “Rockin’ Away The Blues,” to the down-home “Revelation.” Thomas also ventures into topical items of interest with “The More Things Change,” which recounts the civil rights movement and its continued progress, and pleads for love and understanding on the reflective “Mean World,” accompanying herself on piano.

The blues is all right in Thomas’ hands, too, on the shuffle “Lonely No More” and the blues rocker “I Got A Man In TN.” “Mystified” is an impressive venture toward modern R&B, and “Country Funk” is just that, combining the blues with funk and country with the addtion of fiddles, dobro, and banjo with fantastic results. Speaking of fantastic, Ms. Thomas’ vocals are just that. The closer, and lone cover on the album is a fabulous acoustic reading of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” and it shows the lady’s vocal talents at their very finest.

The Long Journey Home is an amazingly diverse and powerful set of music. Vaneese Thomas is taking the music of her youth (blues and soul) and pushing it into new and interesting directions.

--- Graham Clarke

The King BrothersThe King Brothers (guitarist/singer Lee King and drummer Sam King) have been playing together since elementary school. Lee has played with Ike Turner and Big Joe Turner, and the brothers backed Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Freddie King (their second cousin), and Albert King, performing on the latter’s classic Blues at Sunrise album. On their own, they’ve released a pair of well-received albums, Turnin’ Up The Heat (1997) and Mo’ Heat (2001).

Get Up And Shake It (Club Savoy Entertainment Group) may be the brothers’ first recording in 15 years, but it shows that they haven’t lost a step during that time span, producing a blistering set of blues that mixes in soul, funk, and rock. The brothers wrote three of the ten tracks, two of which are instrumentals, and chose seven blues classics to recreate in their own inimitable fashion.

Some of the covers will be familiar to blues fans……”Rock Me Baby,” “Hound Dog,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Close To You”….. but there are a couple that may be fairly new to a few listeners. ”Big Leg Woman” and “Tore Down” were both tunes previously recorded by their cousin Freddie back in the day, plus there’s a sharp take on Bobby Rush’s “Blind Snake.” The brothers pump these tunes up with some energetic and skilled musicianship. Lee King has got guitar chops to burn and Sam King’s time-keeping is impeccable.

The instrumental tracks are “Just Driving Around” and the title track. Both are extended jams that are heavy on the funk and should get a few tail feathers shaking. The remaining original is “Just The Way I Like It,” which is in the same vein, with a solid vocal from Lee King, who ably handles all the singing on the disc.

The Kings are backed by a tight rhythm section --- Ellis Hall, who really shines throughout with his versatile keyboard work, and bassist Al Threats. Michael Fell adds harmonica on several tracks.

This disc was a wonderful surprise. The King Brothers’ first release was one of my favorites when it was first released and it’s great to see them back in the studio. Hopefully, they won’t wait another 15 years before blessing us with another album. For now, Get Up And Shake It is highly recommended to all blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Smoky GreenwellFor South Louisiana Blues, the 11th release by Smoky Greenwell, the New Orleans-based blues icon has surrounded himself with some of the Crescent City’s finest musicians. Greenwell (vocals, harp, and tenor sax) and his regular working band (Jack Kolb – guitar, David Hyde –bass) are joined on this winning set (four originals, eight covers) by keyboardists Joe Krown and Johnny Neel and drummers Doug Belote, Willie Pankar, and Pete Bradish, along with backing vocalists Dana Abbott and Lynn Drury.

All of the songs on South Louisiana Blues were written by artists from the area, or with deep connections to the area. Greenwell covers three songs from Lonesome Sundown, which is never a bad thing (“Lonesome, Lonely Blues,” “I Had A Dream Last Night,” and “I’m Glad She’s Mine”). There’s also Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together,” the Snooky Pryor classic “Boogie Twist,” Willie Dixon’s “Two Headed Woman,” Lee Allen’s “Walking With Mr. Lee” (one of several featuring Greenwell on tenor sax), and Nobel recipient Bob Dylan’s “Dirt Road Blues.”

The four originals are Greenwell and Kolb’s “Animal Angels,” a modern blues rocker, the Chicago-styled “You Can’t Take It With You,” and a fine and funky pair of instrumentals. The first, “Pick It Up,” has echoes of James Brown with Kolb’s ringing guitar, and the second, “The Hunch,” is New Orleans funk with a bit of Memphis grease thrown in.

South Louisiana Blues is a very enjoyable set for those who like their blues on the swampy side. Greenwell is an ace on harmonica and his warm, honest vocals are a plus as well. He has excellent taste in cover material and the interplay between the band members indicates that this record was as fun to make as it is to listen to.

--- Graham Clarke

Dan BubienWhy Dan Bubien isn’t more widely recognized for his soaring guitar work, his gritty, soulful vocals, and his ability to craft vivid and imaginative songs is a mystery to me. His sophomore release, Grinding These Gears, is an earthy, absorbing mix of blues, rock, and soul from an artist who deserves to be heard. Loaded with ten potent original tracks (written by Bubien or co-written with Roman Marocco), this disc is sure to satisfy blues and roots fans.

The opening cut, “Palest Rider,” has a western movie soundtrack vibe with Bubien’s slide guitar, the ominous drumming and eerie keyboards. The title track follows and picks up the pace with an almost pop/rock rhythm tempered by Bubien’s rugged vocal and slide. “Forever Yours” is a soulful blues ballad with a great vocal turn from Bubien, which is followed by the crunching rocker “Vagabond” and “Dark Hearted Woman,” a tantalizing slow burner that meshes soul, rock, and the blues.

The funky “Second Hand Man” adds horns and backing vocals with an island-like sensibility, while “Memphis Murder Blues” is a hard-driving boogie track that really takes off about midway through and is one of the strongest cuts on the disc. “I Will Take Care of You” is a smoldering ballad that proves to be another showcase for Bubien’s fine vocals and guitar, and “Coming Clean” follows suit, although with more emphasis on Munroe’s keyboards. The closer, “The Struggle Is Real,” is a keeper, invoking a hot, sultry Delta day while incorporating the sound of a chain gang.

Bubien is backed by a muscular rhythm section (Andy Taravella – drums/vocals, Joe Munroe – keys/vocals/bass), with support on selected tracks by guest artists Tim Mabin (keys), Gary Ripper (bass), Eddie Manion (sax), David Buffalini (trumpet), and Jeff Davis (sax). Grinding These Gears shows Dan Bubien continuing to develop into one of the more exciting and unique voices in blues and roots music today.

--- Graham Clarke

2Ton BridgeLast September, I reviewed a single by 2Ton Bridge, a.k.a. Alexander Wright, an Americana/roots artist with deep roots in Southern music. The single was designed as a preview of his upcoming album, 2Ton Bridge (Monkey Room Music), which has just been released, and the entire set follows the example of those singles, with traces of blues, country, and Americana in each of the remaining ten tracks.

The two songs included on the single, “I’m a Hoot Owl” and “Pennies On The Shore” are included, but there are other standouts as well. “Post Hole Digger” is one of the best, and the serene “She’s So Steady” is pretty close. There are songs about ordinary, everyday folks dealing with the hardships of life (“Waterman Town,” “Take Your Hands Off My Land”).

The haunting “Parchman Prison Clay” is the closest pure blues song on the disc, and even it shows the blurred line between blues and country music --- same themes, different instrumentation. “The Beast” provides maybe the most vivid lyrical imagery of a train that you’ve likely heard in years. “Last Winter” is a somber contemplation on roads taken and not taken. The album’s lone cover is a brief snapshot of the Rev. Gary Davis’ tune “I Will Do My Last Singing,” which features Wright’s voice and guitar.

Wright himself plays acoustic guitar, steel guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and he’s accompanied by Eric Haywood (pedal steel, lap steel, electric guitar, nylon guitar), Marvin Etzoni (electric mandolin, keyboards, bass, electric guitar, mandocello), Joachim Cooder (drums/percussion), Dylan Cooper (bass), Jerry Donahue (electric guitar), Phil Parlapiano (accordion), Tammy Rogers (fiddle, viola, backing vocals), Mark Serridge (bass), Jonah Tolchin (harmonica, electric guitar), David Ralicke (horns), and Taylor Brasheer (backing vocals).

This is a great album of songs about regular people and their regular life experiences that continues to reward listeners with each spin. Blues fans will find much to enjoy here, but anyone who enjoys any kind of American music will enjoy this disc.

--- Graham Clarke

Kat RigginsKat Riggins was born in Miami and was raised singing in the church and at local gatherings with her family, being exposed to a variety of music in the process. However, she was always drawn to the blues and it has always worked its way into whatever music she’s performed during her career. Her current style is the blues mixes with influences from hip hop, pop, rock, and even country, and her latest release, Blues Revival (Bluzpik Media Group), blends many of these sounds together, but it’s still the blues through and through.

The diminutive Ms. Riggins may be small in stature, but she’s blessed with a powerhouse voice that will grab listeners. She’s backed by the versatile guitarist Darrell Raines (who provides lead and rhythm guitar, plus keyboards) and a tight rhythm section (George Caldwell – bass, Doc Allison – drum) who put the “unk” in funk. She penned eight of the ten tunes, the lone covers being a masterful take on the Sam Cooke standard, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Riggins opens with an acapella reading of the traditional “Let It Shine,” and a tasty version of “Blues Is My Business,” first done by Etta James.

Riggins’ originals include the sizzling opener, “Now I See (Ooh Wee),” the moody “Good Girl Blues,” which includes some of Raines’ exemplary fretwork, which is also featured to great effect on “Wail Away,” an ideal vehicle for both him and Riggins. “Queen Bee” is a sassy shuffle, and “Murphy’s Law” is a strong and defiant soul-blues burner. “Music Fiend’ is an autobiographical track with an irresistible funky backdrop, and the simmering “Devil Is A Liar” continues the funk at a slower tempo. The feverish gospel-styled closer, “Blues Is The New Black,” proclaims that the blues are back in style.

Kat Riggins has big talent, both as a singer and a songwriter, and she gets fantastic support from Raines and the rhythm section on these tracks, and with any luck at all, Blues Revival may very well start one.

--- Graham Clarke

Owen CampbellYou may not be familiar with Owen Campbell, but chances are good that you will be soon. The Australian blues singer/songwriter was a one-time finalist on the TV show Australia’s Got Talent. Active as a performer since the early 2000s, he’s traveled and busked in many countries around the world. Since 2011, he’s released three albums, including this year’s Breathing Bullets (ROC Records), which was recorded in Memphis and produced by Devon Allman, with whom Campbell will be touring in the U.S. this fall.

Campbell is an excellent songwriter, painting vivid pictures with lifelike characters and situations, such as “Eagle Man” and the reflective title track, “On My Knees.” The acoustic “Howling” is a keeper, too, as Campbell’s weathered vocals yearn and plead to a lover to take him in. “Rise” is a sharp reminder of the need to look within to solve your problems, and “Rattlin’ Round” and “Keep On Walkin’” are representative of a restless spirit, but the rousing closer, “Coming Home To You,” shows that there’s no place like home.

Campbell’s rugged vocals and songwriting are worth the price of admission, but he completes the hat-trick with his nimble guitar work, whether using pick or slide. He’s backed by a solid group that includes Rick Steff (keyboards), Ben Isackson (drums), Landon Moore (bass), Jana Misener (cello), Von Dé Namlla (guitars, percussion), and Wendy Moten (backing vocals).

It’s easy to see why Owen Campbell is so popular in his Australia. A strong set like Breathing Bullets should go a long way toward doing the same everywhere else.

--- Graham Clarke

Bruce KatzKeyboardist Bruce Katz has been an in-demand sideman for many years, playing on over 70 recordings. He’s also toured with Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters, Duke Robillard, John Hammond, and Gregg Allman, in addition to leading his own band with whom he’s released seven albums since the early ’90s, the most recent being Out From The Center (American Showplace Music), which features guitarist/vocalist Chris Vitarello in a prominent role.

Of the 11 tracks featured here, seven are instrumentals that showcase Katz’s keyboard dexterity and creativity. “Schnapps Man, “Dis-Funkshunal,” “Think Fast,” “You Got It,” and the title track feature Katz on Hammond B3, and “Blues From High Point Mountain” and “Bessie’s Bounce” are piano-driven pieces. While they’re all based in the blues, Katz takes each into different directions, touching on jazz, funk, New Orleans R&B, and even a bit or rock n’ roll in the process.

The other four tracks put Vitarello front and center --- the boisterous rocker “Don’t Feel So Good Today,” the after hours smoker “The Struggle Inside,” “All Torn Up,” a Texas –styled shuffle, and “Another Show.” He is a skilled guitarist with a lot of versatility. He also has a fine voice, and certainly should have an entire album of his own in him. Katz’s complementary keyboard accompaniment is as nuanced as his work on the instrumentals. The remainder of the band (Ralph Rosen – drums/backing vocals, Jimmy Bennett – lap steel guitar/guitar, and Peter Bennett (bass) provide sublime support to Katz and Vitarello.

Katz says that his music travels “the wide world of blues,” and Out From The Center is verification of that. It’s a vivid image of what makes modern blues so interesting. Blues is the roots of most music today, so it’s pretty cool to see those other genres that sprung from the blues being returned to the source and generating something fresh and exciting to hear.

--- Graham Clarke

Johnny NicholasJohnny Nicholas is now in his fourth decade of playing his own unique brand of blues. The Austin, Texas musical mainstay has performed, toured, and recorded with scores of blues legends such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Big Walter Horton, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnny Shines, Snooky Pryor, Robert Pete Williams, Eddie Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, and many others. He produced and played guitar on Shines and Pryor’s award-winning album, Back To The Country, in the early ’90s. He served as one of Asleep at the Wheel’s lead vocalist during their salad days and also gave Ronnie Earl his first gig with his band, Guitar Johnny and the Rhythm Rockers.

Fresh Air is Nicholas’ latest album, and it features 13 tracks, 11 originals written or co-written by Nicholas and two cover tunes that blues fans will love. Actually, they should love the entire disc. Nicholas has turned in a splendid set of tunes, and his warm vocals and instrumental expertise (he plays piano, harmonica, guitar, baritone guitar, national resonator guitar, and acoustic guitar) are on full display. He’s joined by a pretty prestigious group of backing musicians, too, including Scrappy Jud Newcomb (guitars, mandolin, mandocello), Cindy Cashdollar (lap steel and other guitars), John Chipman (drums, percussion), Bruce Hughes (producer, bass, percussion), and Steve Riley (accordion).

Nicholas wastes no time on Fresh Air, kicking things off with the Delta blues original, “Moonlight Train,” where he lays down some sweet harmonica. As mentioned above, the originals are standouts, from “Red Light” (great lap steel from Ms. Cashdollar here) to the Gulf Coast stylings of “Bayou Blues” to the impressive after-hours ballad “How Do You Follow A Broken Heart” to the menacing “Sweet Katrina.” The reflective title track and “Wake Up Bobby,” with its Crescent City rhythm, are also keepers, but the best of the bunch is probably “Play Me (Like You Play Your Guitar),” a sensual tale that leaves little to the imagination ….. you’ll love it.

Fresh Air also has two cover tunes. The first is a funked-up reading of Sleepy John Estes’ “Kid Man Blues,” with fine performances by Cashdollar on steel guitar and Newcomb on mandolin, and a stripped-down take on Willie Dixon’s crowd-pleaser, “Backdoor Man.”

It’s great to have Johnny Nicholas back on the recording scene and, hopefully, we will be hearing more from him in the near future. In the meantime, make sure you take in some Fresh Air, an album that will appeal to any self-respecting fan of blues and roots music.

--- Graham Clarke

Brian LanglinaisMusic fans may not realize it, but there’s a whole musical genre called roadhouse music. It’s been around for years and most people are familiar with it, but in these days of endless categorizing and compartmentalization of music, it now has a name. If you’ve heard artists like Delbert McClinton, Marcia Ball, Lee Roy and Rob Roy Parnell, and the like, well then, you’re familiar with it. It combines the blues with country, R&B, zydeco, and soul, all with a truly southern, Gulf Coast flair. It’s a truly unique and irresistibly catchy brand of music.

Brian Langlinais has been immersed in the elements of roadhouse music all of his life. His dad played sax with the swamp pop band The Shondells in the ’60s, and Langlinais himself majored in trumpet and vocal performance in college, and played in bands that covered soul and blues standards. He recorded two acclaimed Americana albums, but has returned to his roadhouse roots with his latest release, Right Hand Road (Patoutville Records).

Recorded in Langlinais’ hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana with producer/guitarist D.L. Duncan, Grammy-winning engineer Tony Daigle, and several Lafayette and Nashville (Langlinais’s current home base) musicians, Right Hand Road started out as just a group of guys laying down a few cover tunes over a couple of days. Then, an ice storm hit Nashville and the band was stranded a few extra days. Sometimes, good things come out of bad situations, and that’s what happened here.

Langlinais and Duncan wrote six of the ten songs, all during this time frame, and the songs are remarkable given the quickness of the work. Songs like the laidback opener "You Can’t Say I Didn’t Love You,” the New Orleans-flavored “Louisiana Love,” the soulful “One Desire,” the boogie rocker “Tumcumcari Tonight,” and the country blue title track and closer, “Our Love Is Slipping Away,” are simple, straightforward tunes but show a freshness and emotional depth that lift them above the normal fare.

The four covers are equally impressive. Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” gets a Cajun reworking that really works well (nice backing vocals from Jonell Mosser). The Muddy Waters classic “Don’t Go No Further” is a fun track, and Langlinais’ cover of William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday” is splendid, really capturing that Stax Records feel. Darrell Scott’s (via his dad, Wayne Scott) “It’s The Whiskey That Eases The Pain” combines country with a bit of Crescent City funk for a cool effect.

Brian Langlinais has struck gold with Right Hand Road, a stellar set of roadhouse music. It’s a fine set of originals and cleverly reconceived cover tunes that will satisfy anyone who digs any brand of southern music.

--- Graham Clarke

Hard Swimming FishHard Swimmin’ Fish is a four-piece ensemble that play a modern brand of blues with one foot planted firmly in the vintage sounds of yesterday’s blues. The group (Demian Lewis – guitar/vocals, Waverly Milor – harmonica/vocals, Jason Walker – drums/percussion, Randy Ball – upright/electric bass) play the down-home blues, but they include a few dashes of funk, jazz, swing, and rock in the mix, with electrifying results.

Their fourth album, True Believer, offers a dozen tracks --- eight originals and four familiar covers --- that will bring a smile to the faces of most blues fans. The gritty title track opens the disc with a swampy groove, and moves to the funky “Five Years Hard Labor,” an amusing track about escaping the clutches of a miserable romance. “No Shortage of The Blues” is a sterling mid-tempo blues rocker, and “Ooh, That Was Close” blends blues and rockabilly seamlessly. “Love Me Or You Don’t” is a cool blues on the traditional side, and the country blues “Come Together” chugs along nicely.

The band does a fine job on the four covers. First up is a rocked-up version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darlin’,” followed by a smoky version of “Need Your Love So Bad,” which has a smooth after-hours feel. The classic “Mess Around” is transformed into a breakneck, countrified hoe-down and segues into a rocking take on “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” (stick around a few seconds after this one ends for a short bonus cover, “I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,” that’s tacked on the end).

The members of Hard Swimmin’ Fish have been at it for over two decades. It’s obvious that they’ve learned their lessons well with True Believer, an engaging, ragged-but-right set of rocking blues that blues fans will be spinning over and over again.

--- Graham Clarke

Eric SommerHouston and Boston-based singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire Eric Sommer will blow guitar fans away with his latest CD, Brooklyn Bolero (Clyde Is Thinking Records), a dazzling display of guitar wizardry coupled with a unique songwriting perspective. Sommer plays acoustic guitars and telecaster, stomp box, and blows a mean harp. He’s backed by Jim Oakley (percussion, stomp box, harmonies and hand claps) and Zach Smith (bass guitars, vocals and harmonies, claps, groove accelerator).

The disc clocks in at a crisp and concise 28 minutes of music, but Sommer covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. “Red Dress” is a sharp acoustic blues with tasty slide guitar and irresistible beat, while the country blues and rap are mixed with fun results on the clever “Cereal Song.” The ballad “Best Foot Forward” has a smooth pop feel, and the old-school “Doin’ Wrong” would have been a good pop/rock hit back in the ’60s. The easygoing country rocker “Cover My Soul” is next, followed by the loping “What A Day I Had,” and the subtle, but wacky “Death Ray Cataclysm.” Sommer closes the disc with the catchy rocker, “Hold Your Hand.”

Sommer displays a deft versatility on guitar, whether playing slide or fingerpicking style. His songwriting is also first rate and he has a warm, comfortable vocal style that meshes well with his playing. Guitar fans will want to pick this one up, but there’s plenty to offer other fans as well.

--- Graham Clarke

Backtrack Blues BandThe Backtrack Blues Band is one of Florida’s longest-lasting original blues bands, having been founded in the 1980s. Winner of the past three Tampa Bay Music Awards for Best Blues Band, the band (Sonny Charles – lead vocals/harmonica, Kid Royal – lead guitar, Little Johnny Walter – rhythm guitar, Joe Bencomo – drums, Jeff “Stick” Davis – bass) recently released their fifth CD, Way Back Home (Harpo Records), a ten-song set that has a solid mix of modern and traditional blues.

On the tough opening cut, “Goin’ To Eleuthera, “ as in the island stop in the Bahamas, you can almost feel the warm ocean breezes and the gentle island vibe. That is just one of six originals, all penned by Charles. The funky “Tell Your Daddy” has the swampy feel of Excello Records, while “Shoot My Rooster” is pure vintage Chicago and “Heavy Built Woman” swings hard. Other originals include the Lone Star shuffle “Rich Man Blues” and the thumping closer, “Help Me Just This Time.”

The cover tunes are well chosen and well done; Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Your Funeral, My Trial” and “Checkin’ On My Baby,” Little Walter’s “Nobody But You,” and the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Though all of these are familiar tunes, the band has a ball playing these and it shows. In fact, the entire disc has a nice live in the studio feel and it really plays a key role in capturing the band’s energy and enthusiasm.

With over 30 years under their belt, the Backtrack Blues Band shows that they’re not resting on past accolades. Way Back Home is an excellent set of blues like they used to do them back in the day. Thank goodness they’re still being done that way.

--- Graham Clarke

Jeremiah Johnson BandThe Jeremiah Johnson Band, based in St. Louis, consists of Johnson (guitar/vocals), Jeff Girardier (bass/backing vocals), and Benet Schaeffer (drums). Previously residing in Houston, the band won the Houston Regional Blues Challenge three years in a row. Since returning to St. Louis, they won the St. Louis Blues Society’s International Blues Challenge in 2011, advancing to the semi-finals in Memphis. Their fifth album, Blues Heart Attack (Connor Ray Music), captures the band’s high-energy blues and southern rock attack in top form.

Johnson wrote all 12 of the songs on Blues Heart Attack, and they’re a hearty bunch, beginning with a pair of nifty rockers, “Mind Reader” and “Room of Fools,” both of which feature some sizzling guitar work from Johnson. “Flat Line” has a jazz undertone with Girardier’s walking bass, sax from guest Frank Bauer, and an understated guitar break from Johnson, “Get In The Middle” is an irresistible stomper with a honky tonk bent, and “Summertime” is a terrific ballad that finds Johnson doing a soulful turn behind the mic.

The southern rocker “Skip That Stone” will remind listeners of mid ’70s Allman Brothers with Johnson playing a Dickey Betts-styled riff and Nathen Hershey emulating Chuck Leavell on the piano (Tom “Papa” Ray add harmonica on this track). “Talk Too Much” is a stylish shuffle with Johnson punctuating each verse with stinging guitar fills, and the band gets funky on “Sun Shines Through,” and moves toward the country side of the blues with “Southern Drawl.”

“Everybody Party” is pretty self-explanatory ---- a loose-limbed celebration designed to get listeners on their feet. “Here We Go Again” is a ballad that showcases Johnson’s expressive vocals, and the closer, “It’s Been Hard,” mixes blues with southern rock and ends things on a high note.

Blues Heart Attack is not your everyday blues/rock effort. It’s a cut above, thanks to the inspired songwriting and spirited performances from Jeremiah Johnson and the band. This release should please fans of several musical genres.

--- Graham Clarke

Gonzalo BergaraArgentinian guitarist Gonzalo Bergara is one of the foremost practicioners of Gypsy jazz guitar, headling festivals around the world as frontman for his own Gonzalo Bergara Quartet. However, the blues has always been near and dear to his heart, and as John Lee Hooker once said, “it’s in him and it’s got to come out.” With that in mind, blues guitar fans are strongly encouraged to check out Bergara’s first (hopefully not last) blues recording, Zalo’s Blues, an outstanding release from a guitarist that Charlie Baty calls “one of the most talented guitarist in this universe.”

Consisting of 12 tracks, 11 originals with one tasty cover, Zalo’s Blues is sure to satisfy blues guitar fans, but it features several guitar styles ranging from shuffles, swing tunes, rockers, country, and of course, blues. There are several fine instrumentals, including “Drawback,” which combines the blues with surf guitar, the jazzy “Been Runnin’,” “Dirty Socks,” a funky blues rocker, “Levi,” a tough Texas shuffle like SRV used to do, and the lovely ballas, “Ines.”

Bergara shows himself to be a talented, versatile vocalist, too, on tracks like “Drinking,” a tough boogie track, the smoky ballad “Singing My Song,” the countrified “Gotta Go,” the hard-charging shuffle “No More,” and the blues rocker “Woosh.” He also does a fine job on the acoustic closer, “Won’t Stay With You,” both on guitar and with his impassioned vocal. The album’s lone cover is a good one, too --- Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go,” with Gonzalo perfectly capturing the rhythm and feel of the blues legend’s guitar work and his laconic vocal style.

Bergara is backed by his rhythm section on these tracks (Mariano D’Andrea – bass, Maximiliano Bergara – drums) with bassist Vince Bilbro and drummer Michael Bartlow sitting in on “Woosh.” While Gonzalo Bergara appears to have a great future in the Gypsy jazz guitar field, it would be great to hear more from him in a blues vein as well. Zalo’s Blues proves that he has plenty to say in that genre as well.

--- Graham Clarke

James Buddy RogersJames “Buddy” Rogers grew up listening to the blues in his native Vancouver. His dad worked for the railroad and often brought home recordings and a guitar, which the youngster started playing at age 10. By 13, he was gigging at local blues clubs and by 15, he had formed the band Texas Storm and was in demand as an opening act at local concerts. By 19, he moved to Kansas City and began a five-year tour with former B.B. King bassist Russell Jackson. He formed his own band in 2000 and played clubs across Canada and Europe, while appearing on several U.S. tours and recordings with other acts.

Rogers’ recent CD, By My Side (JBR Records), is a razor-sharp set of rocking blues that show him to be a talented guitarist (he cites Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Jimmie Vaughan, and the three Kings as influences) and a strong vocalist. I hear a bit of Albert King (and Otis Rush) in his fretwork on the opening cut, “Come Back To Me,” but he shows he has the churning boogie down, too, on tracks like “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” and “Hell To Pay.” The laidback blues rocker “Runnin’” is a cool track, too.

Rogers knows his way around a ballad, too, showing a fine set of pipes on the title track, “You Belong,” “You and I,” and “Change.” His vocals are tough on the upbeat tracks and appropriately soulful and vulnerable on the ballads. He also turns in a terrific cover “Goin’ Down,” a hit associated with another of the three Kings, Freddie King, sticking pretty closely to the original ….. if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As a bonus, Rogers also includes acoustic versions of two of his songs, “You Belong” and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind.”

I’m not sure if this is Rogers’ debut release, but if it is, By My Side is a very confident and assured one, with well-crafted tunes and excellent musicianship, and is unreservedly recommended for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Lex GreyLex Grey and the Urban Pioneers. Remember that name. The NYC-based blues-rock ensemble has put together one of the most distinctive sets of the blues-rock genre in quite some time with their sixth release, Heal My Soul (Pioneer Productions). Ms. Grey’s voice is an impressive instrument, capable of going from quiet and soulful to raw and raucous, and that really describes this 10-song set as well, which rolls from traditional blues to rowdy rockers to rootsy Americana.

Eight of the songs were written by the band, and they cover a wide range of styles. “Factory” is a whimsical blues rocker, while “Hobo Soup” is an all-acoustic story song inspired by actual events in the neighborhood that Grey lives, and the haunting, but catchy “Ghost” has an ’80s alt-vibe.

The somber “Blues All Around” is another highlight with a soulful vocal from Grey, and the fun “Junkman” veers toward jazz with a swinging rhythm and clarinet accompaniment. Other standouts include the rugged “Lightnin’ (In A Jar)” and splendid covers of Jaik Miller’s “A Quiet Place” and Rhett Tyler’s “Survive.” The title track, which closes the disc, is a seven and a half minute slow-burner.

Grey’s vocals are mesmerizing at times. She can go from roadhouse ragged to silky smooth to tough but tender, sometimes in the same song. The Urban Pioneers provide most impressive musical support. Heal My Soul should do just that to blues and blues rock fans.

--- Graham Clarke

Ally Venable BandThe Ally Venable Band has been lighting up the Houston music scene with their rock-fueled blues attack. The band won the East Texas Music Award for Best Blues Band and singer/guitarist Venable has been voted East Texas Female Guitarist of the Year in 2014 and 2015. She also placed in the Top 10 of the Under 20 years old category at the last two Dallas International Guitar Festivals. You read that right --- under 20 years old. The talented Ms. Venable is all of 17 years old, and recently released her debut CD, No Glass Shoes, on Connor Ray Music.

Venable’s coming-out party includes eight pulse-pounding tracks, five Venable originals, plus two covers and a reworking of an old blues classic. She’s joined by guitarist Bobby Wallace, bassist Zach Terry, and drummer Elijah Owings, with special guests Steve Krase (harmonica) and Randy Wall (keyboards).
The originals include the funky opener, “Trainwreck,” the rocking title track, “Woke Up This Morning,” a crunching boogie number in the best ZZ Top tradition, and the bluesy “Too Much Too Soon.” The covers include a fun reading of Junior Wells’ “Messin’ With The Kid,” a crisp take on Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like A Man,” and an electrifying remodel of the Alberta Hunter classic, “Downhearted Blues.”

Venable sings and plays with a confidence and swagger that belies her youth. In addition, she has excellent support from her bandmates. This is a fine debut release and bodes well for this young lady’s future in the blues.

--- Graham Clarke

Laurence JonesEven though British guitar slinger Laurence Jones looks like he should be waiting on the school bus to pick him up for high school, the prodigious 24-year-old recently released his fourth album of high-powered blues rock. Take Me High (Ruf Records) teams Jones and his killer band (Roger Inniss – bass, Phil Wilson – drums/percussion, Bob Fridzema – keyboards) with the legendary producer Mike Vernon, who’s produced one classic blues album after another since the ’60s.

One of the pleasant surprises of Jones’ previous album, What’s It Gonna Be, was his songwriting. Already acknowledged for his guitar work and his strong vocals, he showed a maturity beyond his youth with his compositions. That’s certainly the case with this album’s batch of songs as well. Tunes like “Got No Place To Go,” the funkified “Something’s Changed,” the hard-rocking “Live It Up,” the ballads “I Will” and “Thinking About Tomorrow” stand out for their originality and versatility.

The title track is a mid-tempo rocker with an interesting arrangement, in more of a rock mode than the rest of the album, but Jones shows that he’s comfortable in that genre, too. “Down & Blue” mixes funk with blues and rock and includes an impressive guitar run from Jones. “The Price I Pay” includes an appearance from former Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones, who blows a mean harp.

The album’s lone cover is a fine choice, a fierce reading of the Stevie Wonder ’70s smash, “Higher Ground.” Jones is joined on lead vocals by soul belter Reuben Richards, and Jones really steals the show with a ferocious solo in mid-song.

The main thought regarding Laurence Jones and Take Me High is that if he’s this good at age 24, how good will he be as he continues to develop and grow as an artist? He’s leaps and bounds ahead of many of the other young guns were at this point in their careers. It will be exciting to see where he goes from here.

--- Graham Clarke

Lee DelrayNYC guitarist/singer/songwriter Lee Delray took in all sorts of music growing up in the city; country, soul, doo-wop, rock, funk, hip-hop, and traditional blues. The blues stuck with him the hardest, but Delray manages to include a few flourishes of the other genres within his brand of blues. Listeners will notice that pretty quickly on Delray’s second release, Brand New Man (JAC Records).

When Delray was getting ready to release his debut in 2013, he sent a copy to Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer, who praised his efforts, saying it was better than 95% of the self-produced CDs he received each year. Listening to Brand New Man, it’s pretty obvious what Iglauer enjoyed about Delray’s sound. Songs like “Meet My Maker,” “Blues Came Callin’,” “Gotcha,” “Cookin’ In My Kitchen,” and “Holler” would be a great fit on current Alligator releases with their high-energy approach to the blues, keeping things grounded in the traditional, but putting a fresh spin on the genre.

Delray also ventures into the southern rock area on “Love Line,” a funky little number that combines blues, rock, and soul very effectively. “Mine All Mine” is a great loose-limbed rocker and “Yesterday’s Tears” is a Skynyrd-esque ballad with harmonica accompaniment from Mike “Sweetharp” Smith and acoustic guitar from Lenny Hayden. Delray also combines blues and hip-hop on the interesting “First String Man,” which boasts a rap chorus from Young Chizz and turntable from Deejay Nogood.

There’s also a cool bonus track at the end of the disc, an a capella reading of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” that showcases Delray’s vocal talents.

Delray is backed by his regular band (Scott Ward – bass, Ken Conklin – drums) on nearly all of the tracks. For “Yesterday’s Tears,” he’s joined by Rick Fleming (bass) and Papa John Mole (drums), in addition to Smith and Hayden. Brand New Man is a fresh and innovative look at the blues. It’s always fascinating to hear this sort of album because it gives you an idea of what directions this wonderful music could possibly move toward.

--- Graham Clarke

Lew JettonIt’s been ten years since we last heard from Lew Jetton & 61 South, but after hearing their new release, Rain (Coffee Street Records), all will be forgotten and forgiven. Jetton, the former Tennessee news anchor/meteorologist turned singer/guitarist, and his bandmates (Otis Walker and James Sullivan – bass, Erik Eicholtz – drums, Sam Moore – guitars, and Dan Bell – keyboards/guitars) have turned in a first-rate set of blues spiced up with a healthy shot of southern rock and soul. Jetton wrote eight of the ten songs, which are complemented by two covers that assist in capturing the mood perfectly.

Jetton’s originals are pretty cool, whether he’s putting a modern spin on age-old issues (“Who’s Texting You”), humorously moving on in a relationship (“Move On Yvonne”), cranking out tough blues rockers (“Mississippi Rain,” “Keeping Me Awake”), sweet southern rock ballads (“Lay Me Down”), country-flavored blues (“Sandy Lee,” “Done Done It”), or trying to save souls (the rockabilly rave-up “Glory Train”). He has a great, whisky-soaked vocal style that’s a perfect fit for any of these styles, and boy, does the band burn it up behind him.

As mentioned, Rain includes a pair of dandy covers. The first is a gorgeous reading of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain,” that’s really takes it’s time and is so good that you can almost feel the “sticky heat” that Jetton sings about in the first verse. Closing the set is a moving take on the Allen Toussaint’s R&B classic “It’s Raining,” which Jetton tackles solo, accompanied only by J. Solon Smith’s piano.

Other guest musicians include Jetton’s former bandmate Colonel J.D. Wilkes (of the Legendary Shack Shakers) on harmonica, IBC semi-finalist Alonzo Pennington on guitar, former Lonnie Mack back-up singer Miranda Louise, and the Reverend Joann Green, who’s sermonizing opens up “Glory Train.”

Rain is a great and powerful set of southern-styled blues and rock with excellent tunes and performances. Hopefully, Jetton and the gang won’t wait ten years for the next album release.

--- Graham Clarke

Mary Jo CurrySinger Mary Jo Curry studied voice and theatre in college, eventually touring with theatre companies before discovering the blues some five years ago and joining a Central Illinois blues band, who quickly began to feature her as their lead vocalist. Things have happened pretty fast in that five-year span, and now Curry has released her self-titled debut. It’s the first release on James Armstrong’s new Guitar Angels Records, with Armstrong serving as producer.

Curry penned two of the nine tracks on her album. Two were written by her husband, guitarist Michael Rapier, who teams with Armstrong to offer some terrific fretwork throughout. The originals include the celebratory opener, “Ooooo Weeee,” the sassy “Husband #2,” “Homewrecker,” and the funky “Smellin’,” The covers include Junior Wells’ “Little By Little,” Tom Hambridge’s slow burner “Wrapped Around My Heart,” and a spicy reading of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman.” “Steppin’,” originally done by Café R&B, is another standout, with a terrific vocal turn from Curry on a disc full of fantastic vocal turns. Her interpretation of Dennis Walker’s “When A Woman’s Had Enough” is evidence enough that the lady knows how to deliver a tune.

Rapier and Armstrong do a great job on guitar, accentuated with several great slide guitar solos from both. The rest of the band (Darryl Wright & Lawrence Baulden – bass, Andrew Blaze Thomas – drums, Brett Donovan – keyboards, Dick Garretson – trumpet, Mike Gillette – sax, Larry Niehaus – trombone, L.A. Davidson – backing vocals) provides superlative support, but the instrument of choice is Ms. Curry’s spectacular voice. Anyone who enjoys blues singing done well needs to check out Mary Jo Curry at their first opportunity.

--- Graham Clarke

Coal PortersA friend of mine once said, “Just about all the music I hear is blues. The instruments may be different, but the songs all cover the same ground --- good times, bad times, happy times, sad times.” OK, I think he may have been drunk at the time, but there is definitely something to what he said. For proof positive that the blues permeates every American genre of music, I give you The Coal Porters, an interesting assembly of musical talent fronted by former Long Ryder Sid Griffin.

No. 6 (Prima Records) is the band’s newest release and while the band’s sound is on the bluegrass side, it’s definitely the “blue” side of bluegrass with tales of everyday life and tragedy. The opening cut is “The Day the Last Ramone Died,” an elegy of sorts for the late, lamented band Gabba gabba hey!!

Other cool tracks include a couple of entertaining story songs (“The Old Style Prison Break” “Train 10-0-5”), “Save Me From The Storm,” a tale of faith and perseverance, the story of “The Blind Bartender,” and the rowdy instrumental “Chopping The Garlic.” There’s also an intriguing cover of The Only Ones’ late ’70s punk rocker “Another Girl, Another Planet.”

The Coal Porters (Griffin – mandolin, autoharp, clawhammer banjo, vocals, Paul Fitzgerald – banjo, dobro, vocals, Neil Robert Herd – guitar, bajo sexto, dobro, acoustic guitar, vocals, Kerenza Peacock – fiddle, ukelele, vocals, and Andrew Stafford – doghouse bass) have put together an excellent, if a bit left of center, set of classic American musical styles that encompasses the blues, bluegrass, and folk music in equal portions.

--- Graham Clarke

Paul MarkPaul Mark’s latest single release, a dazzling cover of the old Yardbirds tune, “Heart Full of Soul” (Radiation Records), should be just enough to keep his fans amazed and entertained until the artist decides to release another full length album. While it’s quite unusual for Mark to release a cover tune, he’s a highly original and creative songwriter with an impressive catalog, this version of the classic tune is taken at a much slower pace than the original. Mark’s weather–worn, brooding vocal gives the song an edge that the original doesn’t have. His guitar work, played on a vintage Contessa, has a fuzz-tone that compares favorably to the energetic fretwork from Jeff Beck on the original. Though this is a cover, Mark makes it his own with this creative interpretation.

--- Graham Clarke

JL Fulks, former lead guitarist for Memphis harp master Brandon Santini, recently issued his debut EP, On Down The Road (JL Fulks Enterprises), and it will definitely leave blues/rock guitar fans clamoring for more after they’ve given it a spin. Fulks wrote all five of the featured tracks, and shows a deft and versatile hand on the frets as well as a strong and confident vocal style.

The opener, “The River,” is a powerful, churning rocker that gets things off to a perfect start. The upbeat title track follows, which teams Fulks with guest guitarist Matt Schofield, then an outstanding slow burner, “I Believe In Love,” that showcases Fulks’ vocals as much as his guitar work. The Jimmy Reed-esque mid-tempo shuffle “Honey, Ain’t That Love,” is next, with engaging vocals and clever lyrics from Fulks. The interesting closer is the instrumental “Phrygian Dance,” a five-minute tour de force that mixes the blues and world music very effectively.

As stated above, this EP will leave listeners wanting to hear more. It’s a short, but very effective introduction to a guitarist that blues fans will be hearing much, much more from in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke

JL FulksI suppose EPs are fast becoming a way of life for new artists anxious to get some material in front of fans as they build a base audience for their music, and JL Fulks is no exception. His EP, On Down the Road, is a byproduct of time spent on the road with Brandon Santini and his own foray into the Blues hotbed to be found in South Florida. JL’s EP is dedicated to David Shelley, a South Florida bluesman and a friend who we lost just over a year ago. That’s good enough for me, let’s give JL’s disc a spin.

JL leans to the Blues/Rock side of the plate and that’s apparent with the strong intro to “The River,” a tune of love gained and lost. Muggie Doo plays a mean B3 while Rachel Brown lends her vocal talents to the mix. The core trio features JL on guitar and vocals, Ken Burgner on bass and Ian Jones on the drums, the result is a hard charging trio playing their butts off. JL’s heart’s been captured by a woman with a black cat bone and he’s hoping that a dip in the river will wash away all of his pain and sorrow. “Went down to the river, fell on my knees…bathed in the muddy water…set my soul free…and my blues…all my blues…were washed away.” If only it were that easy, JL, but keep on believing…and get away from that woman with the black cat bone.

Ian’s drum intro leads us into our next tune, “On Down the Road,” and Matt Schofield lends his considerable instrumental talents as the lead guitarist for this tune. JL’s lingered for awhile, but now it’s time for him to be moving on. “Want to stop by my baby’s house…tell her good-bye…and that I might be back some day…she don’t got to sit around and wait…cause I’m a travelin’ man and I’m going to head on down the road.” Matt provides an aggressive guitar solo and it’s time for JL to keep moving on. “I Believe in Love” is our next cut and a ballad that opens with a sad guitar solo from JL, echoing the pain he must be feeling as the result of a relationship he’s in. “I believe in love…love is going to set me free…I believe in love….oh, love is going to set me free…but it hasn’t found me yet…but, it’s going to find me….some sunny day.” The woman JL loves is ignoring his intentions and it’s probably best he takes the hint and leaves her alone, “but I still believe in love…it’s going to find me…some sunny day.” Good luck, JL. Love is an elusive thing at times and it will find you when you least expect it.

We move on to “Honey, Ain’t That Love,” and again JL is in pursuit of the thing he treasures most. The woman he loves isn’t satisfied and she’s trying her best to mold JL into the man of her dreams. “Told me to wise up…and told me not to lie…I did all these things for you…and still I hear you sigh….honey, ain’t that love.”

JL and the band close out the disc with an instrumental tune, “Phrygian Dance,” a song that has some Middle Eastern influences and could easily feature a belly dancer or two. It’s an odd choice to me on a disc that has serious Blues/Rock tendencies, but it’s well done and the band is enjoying a great opportunity to just let loose a bit. I appreciate the fact that JL Fulks wrote all of the material for his EP, On Down the Road, and I think we’ll be hearing more from him in the future. He’s just getting started and South Florida is a great area of the country to be playing the Blues.

--- Kyle Deibler

Doug MacLeodThe recording of Doug Macleod’s Live in Europe actually was part of a video project for Black & Tan Records that was recorded in 2006. The audio sat in the can for a number of years until Jan Mittendorp of Black & Tan suggested to Doug that maybe the audio should be put out as a record. Doug was hesitant at first but Jan encouraged him to give it a second listen and that’s the reason the disc is in the world today. Doug would readily admit he wasn’t at his best that day but the result is typical of any show that Doug performs, just him and his guitar…letting the music find its own way out. That it did, so let’s give it a listen.

Doug starts out picking on the National guitar he calls “Spook,” and the first track to reach our ears is “I Want You.” “Oooh, baby…what you do to me…I said it before…you make a blind man see…I ain’t blind…I got my sight…sure like lady, what I’m looking at tonight…I said…oooh, I want you…every word is true…this man wants you.” We never really know if Doug caught her but I think it’s safe to say he definitely tried. Doug gets amazing tone out of his National and the next tune up is “Bad Magic,” a tune about a little town called Tawana, Virginia. “Bad magic…don’t you know it true…you don’t watch yourself…got its evil eye on you.” Definitely a town of mystery, bad magic is all around Tawana so watch yourself.

Doug moves on to “Ain’t the Blues Evil” and his picking is very stark and somber here. “Lonely nights….I got one more night alone…and my blues…my blues are evil…but now my baby…she’s gone home.” Doug feels himself slipping and that glass of whiskey is doing its best to tempt him toward the dark side as he mourns the loss of his woman. I have the feeling that glass of whiskey is going to be the winner here. Up next is “The New Panama, Ltd.,” the only song on Doug’s disc not written by him. This happens to be a take on the original tune written by Bukka White. Definitely a train song and Doug’s version is bright and lively. The Panama Limited ran from New Orleans to Chicago with stops in Memphis and St. Louis. Within the tune is a story from Doug about a brandy drinking session he had with David “Honeyboy” Edwards and whether or not he was ever able to catch a ride on the Panama Limited. More story than song, this is Doug at his absolute storytelling best.

We move on to “Home Cookin’,” and Doug’s picking is bright and lively. Doug calls it a song about a natural law, the natural law is “If you can’t get home cooking in your own home…you’re going to go to someone else’s home and get you some.” “You never liked the kitchen woman, ain’t something you want to do…I’m going to find a brand new lady…and let her cook something better than you.” Doug’s a man whose stomach is the fasted way to his heart, and a woman who can cook definitely has a leg up on the competition. Dark tunes emanate from Doug’s National as he picks the intro to “Cold Rain.” “My woman said…oooh…I don’t believe I want you no there’s a cold rain falling…deep hole in my soul.” Doug had a feeling something wasn’t right and she confirmed his worst suspicions.

Doug’s picking and mood lighten considerably as he moves on to our next track, “Long Time Road.” “Long time road…and I’ve made this by myself…course I left behind…there wasn’t somebody else…I sit on mountains…and I look down my long time road…I’m looking at my time…I will know no more.” Doug’s a thinker and his self-reflection is an important part of the process he uses to look at his life and where he’s headed. Up next is Doug’s reflection of the fairer sex, “Turkey Leg Woman,” as he says, “Don’t give me no bird leg woman….I want a turkey leg woman with the meat dripping off her bones.” Doug goes on to tell us that like every good Bluesman, he takes pieces from here and there to come up with the tunes he writes. This particular tune has its roots in the Mississippi Hill Country tunes of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. The song goes on to extol the virtues of a turkey-legged woman, with a built in cushion, and we’ll leave it at that.

The final tune on this disc from Doug is called “Masters Plan,” and it features some of the most beautiful picking that Doug does on the record. “One man lives…one man dies….one man blind….one man sees….ain’t that something…ain’t that something to understand…you look inside yourself…and find you the Master’s plan.” God has a specific journey for each of us to follow and the sooner we divine what the Master’s plan is for our lives, the better off we’ll be.

Doug Macleod is rightfully one of the finest storytelling Bluesmen we have in our genre today. It’s safe to say that Doug, Rory Block and John Hammond are carrying on the traditions of the ones who came before them and they honor the lessons they’ve learned with every recording. I, for one, am extremely appreciative of Jan’s suggestion that Doug give the audio from the video session another listen and bring it to us in the form of Live in Europe. You will find information on Doug’s schedule and discography on hiss website,, and I encourage you to hear one of the masters in person next time Doug Macleod visits your area. Live in Europe will hold you over in the meantime, but Doug Macleod is a delectable performer best heard live.

--- Kyle Deibler



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