Charlie Musselwhite
I Ain’t Lyin’
Henrietta Records
Memphis Charlie is a blues harmonica icon. Since he released his first LP in 1967 there have been around 30 more and there hasn’t been a sour apple in the bushel. The man is just amazing, still. He has recorded over the years for Vanguard, Arhoolie, Alligator, Capitol, Telarc, Virgin and other labels. Now recording on Henrietta, named for his wife, he gets to keep more of the fruits of his labor. This live recording represents a snapshot of the 2015 version of the maestro. He’s in fine form through these nine original tunes and Elmore James and Duke Pearson covers recorded with guitarist Matt Stubbs, drummer June Core and bassist Steve Froberg at the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma, CA and Clarksdale Soundstage in Clarksdale, MS. Rhythmically and harmonically dead-on, he sings and plays like the man on a life-long musical mission that he is. His tone is fat and enticing on Long Lean Lanky Mama. The band cooks behind him. Stubbs has a decided West Coast swing style that reminds of Little Charlie Baty and the rhythm team is rock steady. Always Been Your Friend sees Charlie almost reciting the lyrics (“please remember me baby/honey I’ve always been your friend”) but playing a pensive and emotive harp run that proves he’s still got chops to spare. My Kinda Gal has a rollicking and rolling beat that propels it with gas. The extended instrumental intro is a knock out, and when Musselwhite sings it’s easy to imagine being in the audience dancing up a storm. (“Come down to lovin’ she loves to take her time/they say she ain’t pretty/I swear she’s dumb or blind”). 300 Miles to Go (“On the road for nine months/driftin from town to town”) is a road-weary lament that’s offset by Charlie’s sonic excursions. Again, Stubbs is a show-stopper with fluid guitar work. Christo Redentor, a jazz classic from the pen of pianist Duke Pearson, has become a Charlie Musselwhite standard and he’s in fine form throughout. Even though this disc represents live performances there are no audience reactions included. Outside of that minor quibble, this is typical Charlie Musselwhite fodder, which is to say it’s another great addition to his spectacular catalog. —Mark E. Gallo

Karen Lovely
Ten Miles Of Bad Road
Self released
This 100% fan funded project is a glimpse into the art and the heart of Karen Lovely. Her fourth album, following the live Prohibition Blues from last year, Ten Miles of Bad Road is a hard rockin blues disc that shows off her considerable vocal chops. The backing band is as chops-ready as she is and they mesh splendidly. Johnny Lee Schell’s guitar, Jim Pugh’s keys, James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (bass) and drummer extraordinaire Tony Braunagel are the core group — and what a group they are. The sinister groove they set up on A Better Place for instance is the perfect foil over which she sings and hollers (graveyard train style) “late at night I hear the whistle blow/one day soon take me with you when you go.” The guitar and train track drumming are hypnotic as she sings “Find me a better place/find a better town/North, South, East, West/bound to settle down.” On Ignorance she sings that “ignorance it ain’t bliss/but it’s a whole lot better than this.” Her vocals are more mature with each outing. This is clearest on the horn-driven title cut. She is nuance heavy and hits the bottom and top with precision. I Want To Love You is a deceptively sweet ballad that speaks to a long time love and the doubts that time brings. You Stole My Heart is a medium tempo piece on which she asks for her heart back. Save Me is organ and drum heavy and she sings of homelessness and hopelessness. “It could have been you instead of me… Dope sick and hungry out in the rain…empty door way home for the night.” The images are clear and effective. Frank The Spank is a rockabilly bar romp on which she realizes her libatious limitations (“I know I’m never gonna drink again/the bottle just ain’t my friend”), with Kim Wilson on harp and Pugh on a honky-tonk piano. She realizes, “Half way through the second bottle of red/wish I knew what you just said/when I called you fathead/I wasn’t thinking/Now you want me to give up drinking.” Great tune for getting sober! The standout tune on the set is Company Graveyard on which Ms. Lovely sings that she “ain’t gonna die in a company graveyard” as she and the band notch it up. Energy abounds. Her vocals are impressive and expressive. Play this as loud as you dare. The buildup is a cross between CCR and Savoy Brown. Whew! Karen Lovely is not a woman looking for a pigeonhole. She can be sweet or bawdy and she brings her powerful voice to whatever the song calls for. She brings it here.—Mark E. Gallo

Deb Callahan
Sweet Soul
Blue Pearl Records
The cover photo of Deb Callahan does not mesh with the music herein. On it is a shy demure looking woman. Out of the grooves comes a lioness. Here’s an appropriately named album if ever there was one. From the opening minor key Real Love, it’s obvious that this is unique, both vocally and lyrically. There’s nothing cliché on the set. She sings, “Mama got a new love and it feels just right/like a souped-up chicked-out out keg of dynamite.” She soars vocally and has an amazing band helping her fly. On I Keep Things Running she sings, “I run the show/I carry the weight/never hesitate/I hook it up/ I get it done/I plug it in/I make things run,” and that about sums this wonderful set up. Accompanied by guitarist and songwriting partner Allen James, along with keyboardist Mike Finnegan, drummer Tony Braunagel and backing vocals this is a woman’s manifesto. Johnny Lee Schell plays sizzling slide on Shacking Up, one of the strongest songs on the disc. “We were young and crazy when we first laid eyes on each other/you were smokin’ fine and your kisses were as sweet as sugar,” so they tried living together and discovered “Shacking up/ain’t all it’s cracked up.” The song cites advice from her second husband (“a pack of lies”) and from her third (“always seemed to simplify” before he ran up all her credit cards). It would be funny if it weren’t so damn true.
I Am Family is one of the most lyrically stark and honest songs I’ve heard this or any other year. It asks when does a sister stop trying? She sings “Where’s the line/where’s the limit?” and complains that her sister “bought a ticket for the Greyhound bus/time to move on/ain’t much to discuss/you sold your toaster and your TV/said ‘this time its gonna work out for me’/…when are you gonna see that it’s you that has a problem/she said ‘I am family/how can you turn your back on me?’” Whew! Do people write songs like that? Born To Love You has a funky backbeat and chronicles the “perfect fit” that she finds in her relationship and Seven States Away is a medium tempo litany of the road travelled back home to PA and her honey. Step Back tells that man “I don’t want you hanging around no more/so just pack your bags and head on out the door” to s shimmery guitar that breaks into a gallop before simmering down again. She sings, “I’ve been in the back seat/ along for the ride/I had to put my hopes and dreams aside/you’ve got to step back/give me a minute…” Her Slow As Molasses, with gorgeous guitar to match Callahan’s vocals is an appreciation of quiet time with her man. This is the work of a mature woman with the thoughts and ambitions of a grown up. Brilliant.—Mark E. Gallo

Chris James Patrick Rynn
Trouble Don’t Last
VizzTone Records
The duo of Chris James and Patrick Rynn are a classic Chicago blues combo that’s paid their dues in the Windy City before hitting the road backing their musical heroes. With their fourth CD “Trouble Don’t Last” they’ve pared the sound back to just Chris on vocals and guitar, Patrick bass, drummer June Core and either Rob Stone or Aki Kumar on harmonica. The band is tight and tough with six of the ten songs being their own original material.
Ripping into the originals the disc cranks up to cruising speed with a rollicking throw down jam driven by the harp till the drums step it up as James calls out “Shameless” with a relaxed but urgent voice saving his unabashed guitar solo till the end. A romping “Steady Goin’ On” features the dueling harps of both Rob and Aki, one plays rhythm the other lead, then laying low when Chris hits a solo. We’re all finding it’s “Hard To Keep A Dollar” this down beat Bo Diddley-like blues rolls into a slow burner that states if you’re sitting here in jail, it seemed like “A Good Idea At The Time.” As a change of pace they take a leisurely stroll “Going Down To The Ocean” and with “Trouble Don’t Last” a hill country bop led by a steady harp and repeating guitar figure for the vocals to sweep over. Four covers fill out the disc and some carry real meaning, R.C. Smith’s “Don’t Drive Me Away” was on the first Arhoolie Record that Chris’ Mother bought him when he was eleven and Freddie King’s “Lonesome Whistle Blues” was the first song that inspired Chris to play guitar. Aki’s harp weaves through Calvin Frazier’s “Lilly Mae” but Sunnyland Slim’s “Roll Tumble and Slip” is a different take on that familiar tune with a rumbling tremolo guitar as the two harps slip in and out through this finale.
With “Trouble Don’t Last” Chris James and Patrick Rynn give the originals a classic feel and the covers a fresh kick. —Roger & Margaret White

John Ginty
No Filter
American Showplace Music 2015
This is the third solo album by Ginty, popular session keyboard player and former member of Robert Randolph’s Family Band. Based in New Jersey, Ginty has formed a quintet comprised of Mike Buckman on guitar, Paul Kuzik on bass, and Dan Fadel and Andrei Koribanics on percussion. Augmented by multiple guests, notably Cris Jacobs on guitar and Cara Kelly on vocals - also with noted Alexis P. Suter singing on one track - the band embarks on eleven of Ginty’s original tunes (a few co-written with bandmates).
This isn’t a blues album, but it’s bluesy. Three of the numbers are instrumentals, each appropriately highlighting Ginty’s aptitude on the keys. Although he is proficient on piano, he obviously favors organ, and his solos are often simultaneously swirling, spacey, and rhythmic. “Elevators” is particularly appealing: four minutes of upbeat jazzy organ punctuated toward the end by a tasty guitar solo by Jacobs. “No Jelly” likewise gooses the tempo, this time with some zesty guitar playing by Jimmy Bennett.
Other notable cuts include “Ball of Fire,” a dreamy five minute outing distinguished by Jacobs’s guitar and Ginty’s alternately pulsatile and ethereal organ, as well as some arcane, surreal lyrics: “She got trees for days/Far as thee eye can see/She’s doin’ her best to keep the Stranger from me…” “Rock and Roll Sunday,” as the title implies, is a gospel rocker fronted by Paul Gerdts on vocal, and could be mistaken for a Little Feat tune. The closest track to a pure blues song is “Annadale,” slow and evocative and utilizing Jacobs’ vocal to best effect. “Old Shoes” nicely melds Suter’s guttural vocal with Ginty’s piano and Bennett’s guitar renderings.
Several of the remaining tracks are portentous, with mannered vocals, but throughout Ginty’s skill on the keys and that of his fellow musicians shines through.— Steve Daniels

Laura Rain & The Caesars
LRC Records
Laura Rain and her group of Motor City mercenaries known as The Caesars have been knocking crowds out at festivals all over the country this summer. Her last CD “Closer” got her signed on the line and out on the road. For her new CD “Gold” the posters feature the vivacious Miss Rain in a skin tight gold lame jumpsuit reminiscent of James Bond films, assuring some real action. The CD cover art features the ferociously delicate face of Miss Rain thrown back in song while on the flip side Laura’s jump suit is obscured by her debonair band leader and co-songwriter George Friend and his guitar. Baby, with her voice and music like this that’s all you’ll need, everything else is just pleasant window dressing. The Bond analogy is fitting for the big bold soundtrack-like sound of Miss Rain’s dramatic near-operatic vocals while The Caesars have a gritty groove hitting closer to “Trouble Man” or “Shaft.” So slap on these twelve all original tracks of “Gold,” get on the floor and be ready to groove.
The first eight songs could be a medley from an action soundtrack. The credits open with a pulse-pounding action sequences as Laura’s vocals “Work So Hard” till the suspenseful ping of guitar and twitch of tambourine ushers in a restrained Miss Rain with “Hard Times.” A harder rock edge bludgeons “You Can’t Stop” then shifts into a disco flavored “Pay To Play” with Ms Rain’s sublime vocals captivating each. The title tune’s arrangement with horns and percussion led by tambourine has a classic Detroit Motown feel that’s pure “Gold.” With “Guilty Me” a regretful Laura sings of temptation and illicit behavior as the guitar gently screams for mercy as “Raise Your Hand” is stripped down to a simple trio, the fuzzed guitar blasting a sax like solo. In the contemplative “Lonely Girl” Laura’s tone and projection builds the tension with Laura blasting to a finale. The final four are no less stunning with the dance floor filler of “Cherry Pickin’,” the Stax-like soul of “Better Than Me,” the confessional break up of “Ring On The Table” and the minimalist backing of drums and guitar under Laura’s double and triple tracked vocals on “Ready To Love” make for a gorgeously striking conclusion.
“Gold” is a gleaming example of modern soul and a testament to Laura Rain & The Caesars.—Roger & Margaret White

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers
Method to My Madness
Alligator Records 2015
This is Tommy Castro’s second release since jettisoning his horn section - in fact, his entire band - a few years ago and re-employing former bass player Randy McDonald. Last year’s album, “The Devil You Know,” proved that the high quality of his albums hadn’t diminished. “Method to My Madness” retains McDonald, with new bandmates Michael Emerson on keyboards and Bowen Brown on percussion.
Let’s be blunt: this CD is terrific, and confirms Castro’s position in the top echelon of blues rock artists.
The even dozen songs, save for two covers, all list Castro as sole or partner composer, and they feature verve and variety. “Common Ground” opens the set; a catchy anthem, it features McDonald and Brown on backing vocals and has a potent thrust that made me want to get up and march. Castro’s staccato guitar lead and Emerson’s swirling organ introduce “Shine a Light,” which sports Castro singing along with his guitar. The ensuing title cut is a brief and pithy rocker, followed by “Died and Gone to Heaven,” a slow blues with a compelling gospel flavor.
If you aren’t hooked yet, “Got a Lot” clinches the deal: channeling his musical buddy Tab Benoit, Castro blasts into bayou blues mode, with a few Grateful Dead-like licks at the end. “No Such Luck” is a 1950s-1960s-style R&B tune with a doo-wop kind of chorus, and “Two Hearts” a mid-tempo Memphis soul swinger with fine piano and organ and some nice Castro vocal falsetto. It’s succeeded by “I’m Qualified,” replete with funk and verbal braggadocio.
We’re not done! “Ride” is my favorite track, a mid-tempo automobile metaphor with organ reminiscent of…the Doors, if you can believe it. “Lose Lose,” penned with Joe Louis Walker, is the longest cut on the album, a slow blues with great interplay between Emerson’s piano and Castro’s guitar. Another cooperative effort, the cynically humorous “It’s All About the Cash” written with Rick Estrin, leads to the closer, “Bad Luck,” a B.B. King shuffle on which Castro nods to King’s guitar style while remaining faithful to his own.
Speaking of which: Castro is a very good but under-recognized guitarist. Although capable of rapid single note runs, he instead plays relatively brief solos that fit into rather than overshadow the song itself. His playing on this album, from irresistibly propulsive to slowly poignant, is excellent - as is his singing, which is powerful and soulful. His efforts are matched by those of his bandmates, whose contributions are stellar. The clarity of the sound mix is also exemplary; each instrument can be heard clearly, even the bass, which is neglected in many CDs.
At least twice in this album Castro lets out one of the “Uh!” grunts of joy and grit which usually characterize his live shows. I did the same multiple times while listening. Top notch stuff!— Steve Daniels

The Jimmys
Hot Dish
Brown Cow Productions
The Jimmys, out of Madison, Wisconsin are one of the hardest working bands in bluesland and their newest CD “Hot Dish” serves up a savory platter of thirteen originals that are sure to please swingin’ rhythm and blues connoisseurs. Recorded at Makin’ Sausage Music these prime cuts showcase the lead vocals and keys of Jimmy Voegeli, some tasty guitar licks of ‘Jimmy’ Perry Weber a hard core veteran of Madison blues culture, the pulse of ‘Jimmy’ John Wartenweiler’s bass, rock steady rhythm with ‘Jimmy’ Mauro Magellan formerly of the Georgia Satellites on drums, and the loosely termed Amateur Horn Stars, ‘Jimmy’ Pete Ross Saxophone, ‘Jimmy’ Darren Sterud trombone, and ‘Jimmy’ Mike Boman trumpet. These Jimmys can play and they really know how to party too, they’re the only band I know that is officially sponsored by Jose Cuervo tequila.
The primary subject matter of this feast is the age-old subject of women troubles, with Jimmy Voegeli writing most of the material and Weber delivering a handful of hits. The party starts with Jimmy belting out a Ray Charles flavored “Lose That Woman” with an energy matched by the wail of horn and pounding of the keys. The band swings and sways when “You Say What You Will” but the guitar is cryin’ the blues because you won’t. With a slow steady rhythmic beat “Freight Train” has the guitar blasting stream as the horns sound a warning of the impending romantic wreck while “I Wonder” has the horns honk off their lines as Weber’s guitar answers each one and the vocals as well. As the singer takes a breather for “Funk Schway” a Meter-like instrumental of rhythmic Hammond organ and second line beats while “Jacqui Juice” is a sweet blend of swinging funk. With a T-Bone swagger the horns answer the call and response as the whole band asks “What Gives” and the guitar and trombone slur into “What Chur Doing” because you ain’t doing nothing for me except acting like a high fashion “Wrecking Ball” that will tear down your happy home collapsing into the classic after hours blues of the “Saddest Man.” If he ain’t got his baby’s love the guitar is crying along with the squeal of clarinet and blare of trombone, he’s got to give her “What My Baby Wants.” Taking it back to full speed “She’s Wild” is a Little Richard piano riff that careens into a Chuck Berry-like solo with the vocals pressing to keep up as a “Freight Train Reprise” slides in ’cause they’re gonna do it again.
A tight band with an appetite for fun, The Jimmys have cooked up some treats guaranteed to satisfy your craving for a “Hot Dish” of good time R&B. —Roger & Margaret White

Tom Rigney and Flambeau
Swamp Fever
Parhelion 2014
Did you know that 20th Century blues legends Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson played fiddle as well as guitar? More familiar to you may be late greats Papa John Creach and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, both adept on the violin. Current purveyors of blues fiddle include Lionel Young, and Anne Harris of Otis Taylor’s band.
Add one more name to the list: Tom Rigney. A featured player with several notable bands over the last few decades, since 2000 Rigney has fronted his own band, Flambeau, and ruled the San Francisco Bay Area with infectious blues mixed with Cajun and Zydeco music. Of his many albums, this is his second live release, and first since 2007. It was worth the wait.
Recorded in Folsom, CA, in summer 2013 and produced by Rigney, the album presents twelve dandy tunes that give full play to the ensemble of talented musicians. Holding down the excellent rhythm section are Steve Parks on bass and Brent Rampone on drums. Caroline Dahl, a boogie woogie maven, tickles and pounds the 88s. On guitar Danny Caron, formerly with Clifton Chenier and Charles Brown, supplies deft and empathetic interplay with Rigney’s expert fiddle renderings, and some beautiful solos. Willard Blackwell joins the band with some rub board moxie. Rigney’s vocals are pleasant, and his fiddling is terrific throughout.
This CD should come with a warning: “Do not play near excitable pets (or people).” If you are a klutz with three feet, it doesn’t matter: you will be up and dancing! The tracks exhibit a nice variety, encompassing New Orleans Cajun, Zydeco, boogie woogie, rockabilly, and bluegrass tunes, some with subtle Celtic overtones. Check out “Caroline’s Boogie,” penned (duh!) by Dahl; ultra good. The title track, a seven minute dazzler, is itself worth the price of admission. “Serious Fun” is the rockabilly entry, reminiscent of something by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (remember them?)
Oh, yes, there is definitely blues here, too, represented by “Adeline Shuffle,” “Windowpane Blues,” and especially “Rigo’s Blues.” The latter, probably the song most identified with Rigney, demonstrates that the band can play slow and with emotion. The sublime mournful tone of Rigney’s fiddle is complemented by an equally moving Caron guitar solo.
The production values of this CD are very good, the musicianship is uniformly outstanding. This band deserves wider recognition. If you listen to this album, I predict that you will react as enthusiastically as the audience did in Folsom on the night it was recorded.— Steve Daniels

Bad News Barnes and The Brethren of Blues Band
90 Proof Truth
Flaming Saddles Records
At seventeen, Chris Barnes, found early notoriety as an emcee at a small blues club opening for the likes of Koko Taylor and Hound Dog Taylor, creating tunes using audience suggested lyrics while accompanying himself on harmonica. Since those days he’s forged a 30-plus year career writing satirical comedy for Saturday Night Live, writing and performing for Second City and has an impressive list of films and television roles under his belt. With “90 Proof Truth” Chris returns to his roots taking on the persona of Bad News Barnes and combining music and comedy, bringing back a time-honored tradition known as Hokum. Joining Barnes is a band made up of NYC A list musicians: Tom “Bones” Malone and “Blue” Lou Marini of Blues Brothers fame on horns, guitarist Felicia Collins of The David Letterman Orchestra, drummer Chris Parker of Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker fame with Bette Sussman, pianist for Cyndi Lauper and Bette Midler’s bands. The CD includes originals, parodies, covers, a DVD and a lot of fun.
Kicking off this CD and election year with the call for not just a woman President but someone who’ll do it with a little more style on “America Needs a Queen.” The band has the horns swinging into “Shake Rattle and Roll” as Barnes extolls the bad news of “Salt, Sugar and Fat” and “Let the Good Times Roll” morphs into every man’s mantra “Hungry and Horny.” A sultry sax has those emotions roiling as Barnes’ poetic eye for detail sets the mood of a ‘girl’ who caught his attention on “Post Op Transgender.” Barnes flashes his harp when a little too much liquor finds him admitting the “90 Proof Truth” when a little white lie might have been wiser. A preacher-like rant may seek the truth but he doesn’t need the “C.I.A” “to see what going on, you can see my ass walking away and kiss it goodbye.” The gentle refrain of “Ode To Billy Joe” has a duet with Felicia lifting the veil of sinners in “Westboro Baptist Blues” while a countrified pedal steel, the blare of Tex-Mex horns and a galloping beat finds his “Lawyer Riding Shotgun” and he’s gunning for you. Setting the parodies aside for some blues the CD finishes with four covers recorded live at the Cutting Room in NYC as his harp leads “Going Down” and Little Walter’s “Boom Boom” (Out Goes The Lights) he testifies with “Raise Your Hand” and ends up playing with “My Ding-A-Ling.”
Bad News Barnes “90 Proof Truth” while not always politically correct, is honest and real as Barnes proves that jesters can still question the status quo.—Roger & Margaret White

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin
Lost Time
Yep Roc Records 2015
Brothers Dave and Phil Alvin fell in love with the blues as teenagers and frequented blues clubs in the Los Angeles area, seeing many of the greats and being befriended by legendary blues shouter Big Joe Turner. Subsequently they formed the core of renowned rock band The Blasters. After the demise (save for rare reunions) of that influential group, Dave has attained success as a skilled purveyor of rock, rockabilly, and Americana, usually with his band The Guilty Men; Phil has had less steady gigs. Following a major health scare of Phil’s several years ago, the siblings rejoined last year, for the first time in decades, and produced the highly lauded album “Common Ground,” a tribute to one of their idols, Big Bill Broonzy, and a nominee for the Blues Foundation’s Traditional Blues Album of the Year.
They are back, this time with covers of songs by such blues luminaries as Thomas Dorsey (“Georgia Tom”), Willie Dixon, Leroy Carr…and most especially, Big Joe. The result is equally edifying and enjoyable.
As on “Common Ground,” the Alvins are supported by a group of talented musicians. Bass duties alternate between Brad Fordham and Bob Glaub, drums between Lisa Pankratz and Don Heffington. Gene Taylor, David Witham, and Wyman Reese (I’m guessing this is Reese Wynans in disguise) finger the ivories expertly, and regular Guilty Men guitarist Chris Miller is brought on board for rhythm, slide, and acoustic renderings with a few tangy leads as well.
On six of the dozen tracks Phil handles the vocals; on the rest, it’s Dave with his deeper voice, or the two harmonizing adeptly. When Dave is singing, Phil adds zest and poignancy with some fine harmonica work. Those of you who share my (and the Alvins’) reverence for Big Joe Turner’s artistry may wonder at the wisdom of covering his tunes. There are certain singers whose stylings are, in my opinion, inimitable: Big Joe, with his power and simultaneously smooth rasp, Aretha Franklin, and Junior Wells come to mind. Either refashion their songs, or don’t attempt them; their singing can’t be matched. I have to say, though, that Phil Alvin does a damn fine job covering Big Joe. Just listen to “Cherry Red” and the rousing “Feeling Happy”; really good stuff. Under-recognized Gene Taylor’s piano playing on the latter is outstanding.
For those who aren’t familiar with Dave’s outings with The Guilty Men, his guitar leads may be a surprise, and a pleasant one. Not uniformly “bluesy,” they incorporate rock and rockabilly riffs and sensibility; they are consistently creative and appropriate without hogging attention.
Big Joe and other blues idols of the Alvin brothers would be delighted with this album, as am I.— Steve Daniels

Andy Santana and The West Coast Playboys
Watch Your Step!
Delta Groove 2015
Big City Blues, meet town blues. Andy Santana is based around Santa Cruz, CA, a bastion of the 1960s counterculture located between the Bay Area and Monterey. Although relatively small, Santa Cruz has always had a lively musical scene. (I remember Van Morrison and Hot Tuna doing great shows there in the 1970s.) Santana has long been a respected harmonicat, guitarslinger, and singer by his fellow musicians. Now a major label, Delta Groove, has afforded him his chance to shine nationally.
This baker’s dozen of tunes features Santana on all the lead vocals, and guitar lead on five tracks. He is also the harmonica maestro, although surprisingly, since he his known mainly for harmonica, his harp playing isn’t the focus as suggested by the front cover of the CD showing him with his guitar, while the back cover sports him playing harp. The listener is the winner either way, since both his harmonica stylings and six-string forays are equally adept. Santana also penned three of the numbers, including “Greaseland,” a seven minute instrumental undoubtedly paying homage to the same-named recording studio of album co-producer and sterling guitarist Kid Andersen. On that track, no fewer than five different guitarists trade leads.
Five guitarists? As is frequent with Delta Groove releases - for example, the multiple Mannish Boys CDs - the album employs a myriad of musicians in different permutations. Alongside Santana’s vocals, primarily guitar and keyboards are spotlighted. The list of guitarists is impressive: Andersen, Mighty Mike Schermer, Rusty Zinn, Anthony Paule, and Bob Welsh. All are excellent; Paule’s solos on “You May Not Know,” a speedy rocker, and “Can’t You See,” a slow blues, are superb. Welsh, long-time and under-recognized sideman with Elvin Bishop’s band, acquits himself beautifully on both guitar and piano. Lorenzo Farrell, bassist and keyboard man with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, provides some fine organ accompaniment, as do several horn players.
What cements this album in my permanent library is one of Santana’s original tunes. Why have we had to wait so long for someone to write a love song entitled “You Smell Like Cookies”? Well, it’s here; enjoy it.— Steve Daniels

Tommy McCoy
25 Year Retrospect
Earwig CD 4971
Florida-based rock/soul bluesman Tommy McCoy is a far-fetching guitarist, versatile vocalist and accomplished songwriter—all but 5 of the 30 titles on this jam-packed two-CD anthology are his— and has been delivering the real deal for more than two decades. As he puts it: “I’ve been playing blues since the early ‘60s. I remember having both Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits and Bo Diddley In the Spotlight albums when I was in elementary school. Then the Animals, Pretty Things and Yardbirds came along and by 1966, in sixth grade I formed my first band, The Rapscallions.” By the time he got to 11th grade The Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions was his favorite album and his new band, the Quick, was opening for the likes of the James Gang and the Human Beinz. This career retrospective samples material from the seven albums McCoy has released since 1992 and, as a bonus features three new and recently recorded numbers—from a studio in Athens, Greece comes a soulfully clever tribute to the recently departed B.B. King called “The King Is Gone” and the easy rocking, Stax-styled “I Got A Reason” while the solo acoustic “Sugar Cane” was laid down in Gary Vincent’s heralded Sound Studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Other picks include great covers of titles by Jimmy Rogers (“Ludella”), Lowell George (“Spanish Moon”), Ray Charles (“Hey Now”) and Roger Water’s prescient “Money.” Faves among McCoy’s raft of well-crafted originals are a cooking, ying-yang blues called “Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back,” the eloquent, Mingus-deep “They Killed That Man,” a hard-charging “Jive Dive” and the minor-key atmospheric “Bitter Soul To Heal” — to cite only a few. Guests scattered throughout include Commander Cody, Levon Helm, Lucky Peterson, Garth Hudson and Tommy Shannon. Well worth tracking down!—Gary von Tersch

Barbara Carr
Think About It Baby
Jam Jar Records 001
Rhythm ‘n’ blues-accented soul singer Barbara Carr was born in 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri and started singing with her sisters, as the Crosby Singers, at the nearby First Baptist Church in Elmwood but, before long, they were in demand at gospel concerts all over Missouri. By the early 1960s, however, the forthright, high-powered Carr had gone secular, was fronting her own band, the Comets Combo, in a residency at the illustrious Dynaflow Inn and thinking about recording. Her first sessions, as a member of The Petites (a female vocal trio) were instigated by a tiny local label and resulted in one 45—a slow-burning “I Believe The Man Loves Me,” with Carr taking the lead, and the plaintive “Lonely Girl”—along with four songs (check out the dynamic “One Kiss, One Hug” and the soulful advisory “Stop And Think About It Baby”) accompanying talented local vocalist (and producer) Charles Drain. All six titles are included in this gem of a Jam Jar project as “bonus tracks” on this “limited edition” compilation of previously uncollected, rare and unissued sides from 1964-1971. The remaining twelve tracks were recorded a little later for Chess Records, produced by house producer Oliver Sain (who’d recently had major chart success with Fontella Bass) and feature the entire session that resulted in her classic plea “Think About It Baby” (here also in an extended version without overdubs) along with such favorites as the finger-wagging “My Mama Told Me,” a hips-wiggling “Shake Your Head” and the “previously unissued” screamer “It’s All Over.” Send twenty dollars to Ms. Carr at P.O. Box 32854, Olivette, Missouri 63132 and she’ll autograph one for you!—Gary von Tersch

Wynonie Harris
Don’t You Want To Rock?
Ace Records CDTOP2-1124
One of the most eagerly anticipated rhythm ‘n’ blues reissues of the decade finally sees the light of day! Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1915, Wynonie “Mr. Blues” Harris began his musical life as a drummer, then metamorphosed into a dancer and, decisively, around 1940, into a blues singer. Around 1944, he recorded as a vocalist with Lucky Millinder’s band and, by 1945, was recording solo in Hollywood for a variety of local labels with combos led by the likes of Johnny Otis, Illinois Jacquet and Jack McVea. Harris’ real commercial success, however, began two years later when he signed with Cincinnati, Ohio’s indie powerhouse King Records and, almost immediately, made a name for himself—cutting mostly humorously risqué records that, due to his rousing, hip style, had significant commercial appeal (pop as well as rhythm ‘n’ blues and jazz) for the better part of the next decade. Harris was also an exceedingly popular live performer, shouting out his lyrics with an infectiously uproarious, bad-boy spirit that comes across vividly in the best audio ever (all mastered from fresh transfers from the original acetates) on this collection of all his seminal sides that could be located. Sure-fire picks scattered among the two discs (48 tracks) in this latest entry in Ace’s celebrated King & Deluxe Acetate Series are headlined by the only track anyone has heard before—the master of Harris’ classic version of Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight”—that is featured along with another take and a breakdown on Disc Two—which is entirely devoted to “alternate takes.” Other impressive “alternates” include “I Want My Fanny Brown” (another Brown composition), “Love Is Like Rain,” “Good Morning Mr. Blues” and “Love Is Crazy.” Disc One has 23 of Harris’ seminal King sides—from “Blow Your Brains Out” and “Grandma Plays The Numbers” to “I Feel That Old Age Coming On” and “Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee.” Not to mention such raunchy numbers as “Rose Get Your Clothes,” “Sittin’ On It All The Time,” “She Just Won’t Sell No More” and a fetching portrait of a “Lollipop Mama.” The end-story for “Mr. Blues” was tragic as his carefree lifestyle caught up with him at age 53 in Los Angeles (he died of esophageal cancer) but, in his day, he was the biggest name in the newly created genre of rhythm ‘n’ blues. Very recommended.—Gary von Tersch

Sonny Simmons
Arhoolie CD 551
Born in Sicily Island, Louisiana in 1933, avant-garde jazz musician Huey “Sonny” Simmons grew up in Oakland, California—where he started out playing French horn and, as a teenager, took up the alto saxophone which became his primary instrument. Developing his reputation as a “new music” pioneer in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, he recorded a string of albums, often featuring the likes of his then-wife and fiery trumpet player Barbara Donald, Prince Lasha, Eric Dolphy and Elvin Jones for Arhoolie, Contemporary and ESP-Disk before personal problems derailed his career and home life, culminating in divorce and homelessness. After nearly twenty years busking on the streets of San Francisco (see cover), he resurrected his career and began playing in clubs once more. Which brings us to this recording—a live set from June 1991 recorded at Barb’s BBQ in Olympia, Washington and unique in that, in addition to Ms. Donald, their son Zarak Simmons has the drumsticks. The longer cuts, in particular “American Jungle Theme” and “Ancient Ritual” are especially powerful and mesmerically dynamic while a laid-back yet intrinsically passionate cover of “Over The Rainbow,” that moodily closes affairs, recalls a reflective Charlie Parker. A stunning tribute to “one of the most talented and brilliant families in musical history,” as producer Craig Morton puts it at the close of his brief liners. I fully agree.—Gary von Tersch

Tampa Red
Dynamite! The Unsung King of The Blues
Ace Records  CDTOP2-1440
“The Unsung King of The Blues” is certainly a most appropriate sub-title for this jam-packed two-CD, fully 50 track set of never-before comprehensively collected sides (also never in this shape, mastered from the original tapes and metalwork transfers!) from Smithville, Georgia’s own Tampa Red—a changing-with-the-times entertainer, accomplished and oft-covered songwriter and powerfully authoritative blues guitarist—whose uniquely fluid and polished, single-string bottleneck style influenced the Windy City likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, Jimmy Rogers and, perhaps most tellingly, Elmore James. This thoroughly enjoyable compilation of Red’s later RCA/Bluebird recordings, from the1940s through the early 50s (interestingly in reverse chronological order), are a heretofore mostly historically overlooked yet imperative component of the heralded Golden Age of post-World War II blues as well as serving as a touchstone for the extremely robust Chicago West and South Side blues scenes of the time. A subject that intrepid compiler John Broven and Living Blues co-founder Jim ‘O Neal thoroughly explore in an enclosed very fat booklet. Another bonus, on select tracks, is the presence of fellow blues geniuses on the order of Sonny Boy Williamson II, Blind John Davis, Ransom Knowling, Big Walter Horton and rock-ribbed pianist Big Maceo and his talented protégé Little Johnnie Jones. Favorites among the, count ‘em, five unissued numbers are the proto-rock ‘n’ roller “I’ll Never Let You Go” and the bruising tale of the double-timing “Evalena” while other ear-perkers include the declarative “I Won’t Let Her Do It” (with Red and Jones trading bawdy vocal riffs), the then-contemporary “1950 Blues,” a colorful confessional called “I’ll Dig You Sooner Or Later,” a downcast “Detroit Blues” and two of the Guitar Wizard’s biggest hits, both from 1942—the mischievous “She Want To Sell My Monkey” and an equally salacious dialogue with Big Maceo “Let Me Play With Your Poodle.” Just to pick a few—all fifty numbers are dynamite! A real eye-opener. More please. —Gary von Tersch  

Tinsley Ellis
Tough Love
HeartFixer Music 2015
Georgia axeman Tinsley Ellis has been making quality albums for 25 years now. “Tough Love” is a worthy follow-up to 2014’s “Midnight Blue” and its all-instrumental predecessor, “Get It!”
Once again, Ellis has composed all ten tunes, and is abetted by previous drummer Lynn Williams, new bassist Steve Mackey, and stalwart Kevin McKendree on keyboards. The ensemble coheres seamlessly.
The album opens with “Seven Years,” a lament for a relationship threatened by a one night stand. The vibe and Ellis’s guitar intro evoke vintage Robert Cray.
“Midnight Ride” follows, a mid-tempo rocker with fine piano by McKendree and either an uncredited vocal back-up, or Ellis himself on a vocal overdub. “Give It Away” is a slow number deploying McKendree on both piano and organ. “Hard Work” is a funky track a la Mark Knopfler or J.J. Cale, and the ensuing “All in the Name of Love” is a highlight of the album, a haunting tune embellished by Jim Hoke on saxophone and Steve Herrman on trumpet and featuring beautiful spare guitar by Ellis. “Should I Have Lied” deploys more stellar guitar work in a tale of stressed love and trust.
“Leave Me” opens with some B.B. King-like riffs in another tale of love gone bad. “The King Must Die” wraps Ellis’s near-talking verbalization around some further poignant guitar. “Everything,” although not explicitly a tribute to Jimmy Reed, certainly emulates his style and allows Ellis to blow some nice harp. The album concludes with my favorite track, the languorous “In from the Cold,” reminiscent of pre-pop Fleetwood Mac at its best and distinguished by Ellis’ passionate vocal and lyrical guitar.
Throughout, McKendree provides splendid support to Ellis without drawing undue attention. Ellis’ singing, somewhat limited in range and rarely deployed in sustained notes, is redeemed by his emotional delivery and the deft lyrics of the songs. His guitar work is excellent, eschewing showmanship for taste and tone. Overall, another fine album.— Steve Daniels

Classic Blues Artwork From The 1920’s 2016 Calendar/Cd
Volume 13—Special “American Epic Edition” plus enclosed CD
Blues Images:
John Tefteller’s latest calendar/CD incarnation is similar to the earlier editions in that (when opened) the top half features trade advertisements for vintage 78 rpm record releases and, occasionally, photographs of the musicians—the quality of the Ma Rainey, Charlie Kyle and Spark Plug Smith pictures is sensational—while the bottom half employs the five-week calendar format with much of the attendant space replete with more compact ads, song lyrics, brief biographies & various birth and death dates and places. The real treat here for blues lovers is the astonishing re-mastered sound quality (that apparently costs $1,000 per selection) on the accompanying CD that features not only a dozen blues classics (from the likes of Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake, Barbecue Bob, Jim Jackson and Blind Lemon Jefferson) but eight very rare sides by fabled blues artists such as Hattie Hyde and the Memphis Jug Band recorded in Dallas, Texas in 1929 (“Special Question Blues” and “T & NO Blues”), Charlie Kyle, Papa Charlie McCoy (a previously unheard “Boogie Woogie”), Blind Lemon Jefferson (the original version of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”) and the disc’s two most significant tracks—a newly discovered 78 by little-recorded Jaydee Short (“Tar Road Blues” and “Flaggin’ It To Georgia”) that features Short in his prime and is a good example of the genius sound engineers employing their newly developed sound techniques for the upcoming documentary American Epic. The original 78 was in terrible shape. Incidentally, the American Epic reference above refers to a three-part PBS/BBC documentary due to be aired in 2016 that celebrates the vast array of rural, down-home music captured at the dawn of electrical sound recordings and how it influenced performers throughout the following decades. Worth watching out for, no doubt, as you spend the seasons “Singin’ The Blues” with this one-of-a-kind calendar. Can’t recommend enough!—Gary von Tersch


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