Blues Reviews
Feb/March 2017

Bobby Rush
“Porcupine Meat”
Rounder Records

Bobby Rush has lived a lifetime of blues, his persona of a nasty loving man has revived Southern Soul and with his newest Grammy-nominated CD “Porcupine Meat” he’s redefined that genre. With twelve original tracks, Rush’s lyrics are witty and full of double entendre and his harp has never sounded better. Recorded and mixed in New Orleans by Scott Billington, who updated Rush’s sound with a slicker and at times almost jazz-like tone, while music director and guitarist Vasti Jackson controls the dynamics of his guitar, shaping it to match Bobby’s harmonica and cementing the sound. Backing Bobby and Vasti are David Toranowsky on keyboards, guitarist Shane Theriot, Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, Cornell Williams’ bass augmented by Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone (a marching band tuba) and an occasional big horn section featuring Barney Floyd, trumpet, Jeff Albert, trombone, Jeff Watkins, tenor sax, Kari Allen Lee, alto sax and Roger Lewis on baritone sax.
Kicking in with blaring horns and popping funky bass Bobby makes it clear, “I Don’t Want Nobody Hanging Around” when I’m not at home. “Porcupine Meat” has an almost smooth jazz feel with the tinkle of Fender Rhodes as he sings about a prickly situation between him and a lady, the horns follow the points of the lyrics and Vasti’s guitar echoes Bobby’s delicate harp licks. With basslines on sousaphone and Rhodes piano creating a mournful tone for “Got Me Accused” as the harmonica revives a Butterfield-like tone, the lyrics will make you shake your head. A strong blues groove warns you to watch for the “Snake In The Grass” and the groove continues as Bobby reminisces over the errors of his ways on “Me, Myself And I” with Joe Bonamassa adding a guitar solo that’s like a lonely wail. Things get a funky stank when Rush says, like checkers “It’s Your Move” with a searing guitar solo by Dave Alvin and Keb’ Mo’s lap steel sounds like sacred steel for “Nighttime Gardener,” but there ain’t nothing sacred about the digging and trimming Bobby’s doing in these lyrics. “Funk O’ De Funk” bass and horn blasts and the sousaphone gives it an extra bassy bottom end that’s as funky as a Mississippi mule. With grooving, restrained horns Bobby declares baby “I Think Your Dress Is Too Short” while the funky beat and Bobby’s double entendres on “Catfish Stew” will hook ya. For the finale Bobby goes near acoustic overdubbing dual harp for a fat sound and a whining guitar like bailing wire as he sings “I’m Tired.”
“Porcupine Meat” is some of the best work of Bobby’s astonishing 60-plus year career. Known for his outrageous live performances it’s his clever lyrics and wit that proves what a truly talented entertainer he is.—Roger & Margaret White

Jimi Hendrix
Morning Symphony Ideas
Experience Hendrix/Legacy EP

This 10” translucent vinyl yellow EP was a three-track limited-edition issue and only available at brick-and-mortar record stores last Black Friday. It consists of three superb-sounding demo tracks recorded between September and December of 1969, right around the time the guitar avatar was starting to assemble his Band of Gypsys outfit with bassist Billy Cox (who appears on “Strato Strut”) and drummer Buddy Miles—who plays on all the tracks. By 1969, the guitar revolutionary’s international fame and the vertiginous schedule of touring and performing it demanded caused chaos as far as his eagerness to explore new directions for his music. And with Cox and Miles on board—who had also come up in the same second-notch R&B “chitlin” circuit—he also started to compose music that veered more toward the funky end of things than his prior, more singles oriented work with the Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze” Experience. The extended “Jungle” nods to the guitar technique of Curtis Mayfield with traces of “Ezy Rider” and “Villanova Junction”—the ethereal motif he successfully debuted at Woodstock only a month earlier—while the concept for “Room Full Of Mirrors” dates back to the sessions for Electric Ladyland as he alters the song’s tempo and includes a brief salvo of “Measure To Love” to great effect. Finally, “Strato Strut” genuflects to James Brown’s longtime guitarist, Jimmy Nolen, an emblematic R&B guitar master. Worth tracking down.—Gary von Tersch

John Sinclair
Mobile Homeland
Funky D

There was a time in the sixties and seventies when John Sinclair permeated the local youth culture in Southeast Michigan and ultimately on a national scale. He organized antiwar demonstrations alongside the likes of Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, helped form the Artist’s Workshop in Detroit, co-formed the White Panther Party as support to the Black Panther Party, was one of the folks who got the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival off the ground and, perhaps most famously, was the manager of the great rock and roll band the MC5. A pro-marijuana advocate throughout his adult life he was sentenced to ten years in prison for giving two joints to an undercover narcotics officer. In 1971 a benefit was held that included poet Allen Ginsberg, Black Panther and Chicago 7 defendant Bobby Seale, Bob Seger, Stevie Wonder, Archie Shepp, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among others. It helped with his release from prison and further spread his reputation. The past 25 years or so have seen him in residency in New Orleans and Amsterdam. A mobile homeland. At 75 he still has that glint in his eyes. Above and beyond everything else, John Sinclair has always been a poet. The wedding of words and music are natural to him. One can quibble about the definition of poetry. I think of these 10 pieces as narratives. But, perhaps I quibble.
On Cass Avenue Breakdown with the late great Johnny Bassett on guitar and Harmonica Shah on harp John talks about the murder of Henry Normile, owner of Cobb’s Corner, the iconic jazz club of Detroit’s Cass Corridor, in the 1970s, and the sounds of local jazz icon Marcus Belgrave playing at the memorial service. Though the piece chronicles a slice of Detroit jazz it is done within the blues context.
Jimmie Bones’ organ, Mo Hollis’ bass, Eric Gustafson and Jeff Grand on guitars, drummer Tino Gross, Kenny Robinson, trumpet and Chris Kaercher on tenor give Mobile Homestead a sixties soul groove as Sinclair breaks it down on the state of nascent suburbia. He says, “It was the brave new world of the real estate developers and the bankers and the advertising agencies. We were a nation of perfect consumers…with a job for everyone and the good little schools filled with little white faces…and the shopping malls packed with irresistible products and the only reasonable place to take a walk…a home for every gradation of income level and occupation so a family could move to the next suburb …and more than half of Detroit was abandoned and the factories closed and the jobs were taken away…and desolation spread throughout the city, but it stopped at the city limits while the suburbs thrived…”
Detroit Beatdown features sax great David Murray, along with Robinson and Gross and vocalist Holly Brendt who recites, “Walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil for thou art with me…” Sinclair tells us “You know, people have been getting beat down ever since history began … It’s bad all over/and it ain’t never nothing nice/they beat us for our little money/they beat us on the rent…they beat down and beat down and beat down and beat down…but there ain’t no beatdown like the Detroit beatdown. Nowhere else in the world do they beat you down …they took away the jobs they took all the money out…they took away the future/and left this place in ruins…”
Just One Big Heart with Shah on harp, Dennis O’Bryan on bass, and Grand, Kaercher and Gross deals with the first Ann Arbor Blues festival. Here Sinclair writes/says, “On August second 1969/at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival the Howlin’ Wolf said …’I’m looking for a man walkin’ down the street/with no head on his body.” The Wolf wanted to see a world of all heart. Sinclair says “these performers probably had the biggest hearts in the entertainment business.” He says that there were “30 or 40,000 kids here trying to learn about heart/learn about understanding.” He talk/sings, “all rock and roll music/all jazz/all American music finds its root in gospel music and the blues.”
Let’s Call This-Rhythm Inning, with Jimmie Bones playing a baseball stadium type organ and David Murray and guitarist Wayne Kramer piping in, is a sidewise take at a Monk title. This piece combines Sinclair’s passions of “Baseball/poetry/and rhythm and blues/All three in one most glorious day…” The Tigers beat Toronto in a baseball game while Dave Cortez was holding court at the Detroit Institute of Arts and it marked the first Detroit appearance of Gatemouth Brown — making for a perfect day. The music takes a few brilliant twists and turns while Sinclair continues to opine on baseball.
Everything Happens to Me, The Chet Baker title, and Dance of the Infidels, a Bud Powell title are given his wordy interpretation. Send In the Vipers: “Way back in the day when marijuana was something people smoked in Mexico/or Mexicans brought with them to the United States/and smoked quietly among themselves/there were musicians in New Orleans/Los Angeles/Chicago who were introduced to weed by their Mexican friends…”
The cover is a photo of Sinclair with headphones on. He has done radio in Detroit, New Orleans and Amsterdam. The back shows him on a mock TV while a seventies-looking couple smiles at the screen while drinking beer. Like the words herein, that back photo is open to interpretation. Fans of his work, myself included, will find much to enjoy here. —Mark E. Gallo

Biscuit Miller
Bluebass Music

With David “Biscuit” Miller’s infectious smile you could easily overlook the fact he’s one of the best blues voices on the scene today. Through we’ve taken note of Miller and his band The Mix with their last couple of recordings, he’s been part of the scene for two decades. Shortly after David Miller moved to Chicago he joined the Lonnie Brooks Band on bass for more than ten years - then another five years with Anthony Gomes; but Biscuit was cooking up his own recipe for success. By ‘09 he was ready to take on the challenge of bandleader with The Mix and in 2012 won Blues Music Award Bassist of the Year. With his third release, “Wishbone,” he’s produced a dozen original tracks and adding to this recipe The Mix includes Myron “Dr. Love” Robinson a rock solid drummer, Bobby “B” the rhythm guitarist, background vocalist and newest member “Southside” Alex Smith an impressive lead guitarist. For some extra pizazz on a few tracks there’s a dash of keyboardist Damiano Della Torre, a pinch of Ronnie Baker Brooks, and a few unnamed musicians who’ll remain his secret ingredients in this tasty feast of blues.
Starting off with some classic Memphis soul it’s Biscuit’s warm baritone vocals and clever lyrics on the title tune “Wishbone” that will make you smile. Biscuit narrates a family tale including all the comforts of home on “Lay It On Down” as Southside Alex lays it down over the Biscuit’s throbbing bass. The easy rolling sway of “She Likes To Boogie” rolls right into a rock driven jam with a bit of a Little Richard squeal begging his girl to “Shake It Like Jello.” The party continues as Miller demands that Ronnie Baker Brooks pass him that “Bottle of Whiskey, Bottle of Wine” as the organ and guitar wails. The dramatic roar of Brooks’ guitar complements Biscuit’s plaintive “Mr. DJ” bringing to mind early Otis Rush and with a melancholy plea Miller agonizes over how you “Use To Love Me.” The organ chimes in as Biscuit recounts the dismal realization of “Monday Morning Blues” and with a steady pace like a marathon runner Biscuit chants out a call and response to give him the strength to reach his goal of only “One More Mile.” A wailing harp and Miller’s voice are all that you need “Down In Mississippi” then taking an acoustic back porch break on the last two tunes “Let’s Go Fishing” and “Going Home” brings in a duet with Uncle Jesse Hutson.
Biscuit Miller’s new CD “Wishbone” is his best release so far and that ain’t just wishing, it’s the real thing.—Roger & Margaret White

Ana Popovic
ArtisteXclusive Records
Ana Popovic Music

Ana Popovic has been taking chances her whole life. Born in Belgrade, Serbia, she moved to the States, released her first American CD in 2007 quickly rocketing up the charts and become a festival favorite. Now Memphis-based, her first release of original music in 3 years, “Trilogy,” is a sweeping three disc set - each documenting different moods, different bands and different studios. It was a full year from first recording date till completion, and fifteen of the twenty-three songs are her own originals. Each disc is named for a time of day, Morning is a wake up call with Soul and Funk, Mid Day is Blues and Rock while Midnight is cool jazz. The list of players is too large to include here and the quantity of music make is impossible to cover everything but like Ana herself, this release is the full package.
“Morning” features a large rotating band but most of our picks feature Ivan Neville’s keys and George Porter Jr on bass, starting with the opener “Love You Tonight,” a hard horn and organ-driven soul stirrer, Ana’s vocals are strong and confident and her fierce guitar leads overpower the horns. Porter’s funky bass and Ana’s fast-talking jive “Show You How Strong You Are” is sweetened by a female chorus and a touch of Prince. “The Train” is a slow burner with Ana’s voice and guitar gently intertwining with the bass till Joe Bonamassa’s guitar catches fire blazing through till the finale and Ana’s slide guitar slaps you to attention on “If Tomorrow Was Today.” With a new lineup for “She Was A Doorman,” Ana’s voice, lyrics and guitar are even bigger and more brash than the full horn section.
Ana eases in with sweet pillow talk and Robert Randolph’s lap steel shimmers until her guitar takes charge for “Hook Me Up” then she finishes with a powerful breakup number with screaming guitar on “Too Late.”
“Mid-Day” is more rock-driven with smaller bands. Ana charges into Chaka Khan’s “You Got The Love” as a trio without losing any of the original power, then just her and a drummer charge into a no-holds-barred instrumental “Who’s Yo’ Mama.” Cody Dickinson lays down drums for the haunting melody of ‘I got “Wasted” on my way to you, babe’ as the slide guitar screams in outrage and Neville and Porter rejoin as Ana mournfully sings I wonder if anyone is “Crying For Me.”
“Midnight” turns towards jazz, an unexpected but pleasant surprise. The Tom Waits tune “New Coat Of Paint” has a sultry vocal and big brassy flourishes while Ana does two versions of her own “Waiting On You” showing off a heavy set of jazz guitar chops. With Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” her restrained vocals carry the tune masterfully with equally restrained horn and her bright clear guitar runs. Finishing with Billie Holiday’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” her husky voice matching the original.
With personal lyrics, emotional vocals, excellent guitar work and a crew of fine musicians with her, “Trilogy” will delight and impress. Is there nothing this woman can’t do?—Roger & Margaret White

Roger Street Friedman
Shoot The Moon
The Playroom Records CD 003

Late bloomer Friedman, married and the father of two, has surfaced with his sophomore, jointly-produced (with Felix McTeigue) project that reveals itself as a thirteen song assemblage of spirited, contemplative sketches from everyday life that, variously, hearken back to deft singer/songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Robbie Robertson and Marc Cohn, among others. Friedman’s stylistic carte de visite is both down to earth and cosmopolitan, covering, from track to track, idyllic folk, alt-country, R&B and lively Crescent City-leaning, horn-driven pop-rock and features cameos from the likes of Jason Crosby, Ari Hest, the Mastersons and Amy Helm (of the Levon Helm band), the Dirt Farmer Band, the Midnight Ramble Band, the Handsome Strangers and Ollabelle nicely sprinkled throughout. All in all, a multi-directional, well-grounded and uncommonly soulful project. Standout tracks, after a couple of spins, begin with a Leonard Cohen-like “Love Of A Mother,” an accomplished ode to a “strong margarita” titled “Pour Me Another,” a Springsteen-like social commentary called “No Safe Place” and the rainy day, reflective title track, that features Amy Helm. A nice, stripped down recall of John Prine’s “Paradise” is also noted. More please. —Gary von Tersch

Josh Hyde
The Call of the Night
JHR CD—0069

Pelican state slide guitarist, Sonny Landreth, was born in Canton, Mississippi, grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana and is currently based in Breaux Bridge, LA. Known as the master of “Slydeco,” he plays with a decided zydeco influence and comments: “Josh is one of my favorite up-and-comers—he’s funky, atmospheric and soulful—his new, debut album was a real pleasure to work on.” Indeed, Landreth’s stellar, unmistakable playing on both the enigmatic, emotionally potent “Offshore” and on the deep-grooved, languidly expressive, slowly unfolding “It’s Not Too Late” are both album highlights. Hyde, himself, was born in Baton Rouge, cut his teeth at Tabby Thomas’ Blues Box club (“As soon as I could drive, when I turned 15, I would he drive down to the Blues Box—where the real deal blues guys played. I started to play there on jam nights”) and, still in his early twenties, became a fixture on the festival circuit throughout Louisiana. Other special guests include Buddy Flett (on both the hypnotic  “Close” and the exploratory (“At least I got a friend I can talk to”) reflection “Mississippi Bridge”) and veteran keyboardist James Westfall—on the moving-forward, Tracy Chapman-like, project-closing rumination “I’ve Got This Song.” Other picks include the confessional “Need A Lil More” and the adventurous “Guitar In Hand.” A lot of depth and darkness on these nine Hyde originals. Bottom line—the wheelchair man is spinning circles upstairs! And we all know what that means.—Gary von Tersch

Best Of Proverb & Gospel Corner Records 1959-1969
Various Artists
Narro Way 2CD PN-1601/1602

This illuminating two CD, 52 track project shines a long overdue spotlight on a reformed West Coast blues shouter called “Duke” Henderson, who was fairly successful in a Wynonie Harris-styled, rhythm ‘n’ blues vibrato-laden vein and who recorded widely for many of the top-tier independents (including Apollo, Modern, Swing Time and Specialty) from 1945 through 1953. After a religious conversion shortly thereafter, Henderson forsook the “devil’s music” and was soon employed as an afternoon gospel DJ in Los Angeles (after switching his identity to “Brother” Henderson) while promptly announcing his changeover to the world on an obscure 45 with “Brother Henderson’s Spiritual Lambs” forcefully proclaiming “I Made Up My Mind”—which “pointed out a new path for the former blues artist,” as astute producer Per “Stockholm Slim” Notini puts it at the outset of his well-researched liners.  Begun in 1959, Proverb Records and its subsidiary Gospel Corner were quarterbacked by the charismatic, big-eared Henderson and this 2CD package gathers nearly one-quarter of the issued sides by not only world famous groups as the Pilgrim Travelers, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Cavaliers and the pre-psychedelicized Chambers Brothers but a host of local and West Coast groups, traveling quartets, the extraordinary Watts Community Choir as well as total obscurities like Madame Nellie Robinson (with her passionate cry “Viet Nam”), the Spiritual Five of Sacramento and Lady Byrd. Further topical tracks like Prince Dixon’s “April 4th, 1968” (the day Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated), “Keep On Fighting” and the prescient “Something Is Wrong” as well as Henderson’s own “Eleven-Twenty Two Nineteen Sixty Three” (the time and year President John Kennedy was assassinated) alongside riveting performances by the likes of the Singing Corinthians, the Vocal-Aires of Birmingham, Alabama, the Los Angeles Angels, the Gospel Revelators of San Diego, California and the Fabulous Ohio Wonders, to only cite a few favorites, add a well-deserved luster to the legacy of Henderson’s venture. A five star compilation! As a sad footnote, today’s newspaper brings news of the death of Joe Ligon, the founder and lead singer with the Mighty Clouds of Joy, who with his harrowing, emotionally colorful, pedal-to-the-metal vocals and a hard-driving band that pretty much split the difference between gospel and rhythm ‘n’ blues, was still expanding the gospel audience widely, collecting fans like James Brown and the Rolling Stones and three Grammies along the way. Here’s where he began, as the Mighty Mighty Clouds of Joy, on the Proverb label, with the declarative “Jesus Is Real,” co-authored by “Ligon-Henderson.” Mighty Mighty indeed!—Gary von Tersch

The Terry Hanck Band
From Roadhouse to Your House LIVE!
Vizztone 2016

In September of 1985 I attended the best rock concert of my life (and there have been many): Dire Straits, led by guitarist Mark Knopfler, at the beautiful outdoor Santa Barbara Bowl. After the first song, which received a standing ovation, I remember saying to myself, ‘Well, I might as well go home, it can’t stay this good!’
Wisely, I didn’t leave, and it stayed that good.
This CD may not be the best blues album, or even blues saxophone album, that I have ever heard, but after three minutes of the first song I had the same feeling, and I wasn’t wrong. Recorded in July 2015 at the California State Fair, this iteration of Hanck’s band included ace musicians Johnny “Cat” Soubrand on guitar, Butch Cousins on percussion, Tim Wagar on bass, and former Robert Cray Band member Jimmy Pugh on keyboards. These guys were cookin’! Sorry I wasn’t there, but now we all can be.
Hanck, former long-time member of the Elvin Bishop Band, is a previous winner and perennial nominee of the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award as Horn Player of the Year; he has demonstrated his skill on multiple past albums and confirms it on this one. Every one of the thirteen tunes allows him to wail, screech, and croon convincingly on his horn, in perfect interplay with his bandmates. As is his wont, he graciously shares the spotlight with his cohorts, who rise to the occasion. Soubrand plays nasty licks behind Hanck, and dazzles when his turn comes to solo. Cousins maintains a firm foundation, as does Wagar, whose chops emerge nicely on Hanck’s tribute to Junior Walker, “Junior’s Walk 2016.” Pugh is consistently excellent, alternating effortlessly between piano to organ; I especially enjoyed his contribution to the 1950s-style “I Don’t Love You No More.”
This set nails it at all speeds. “Flatfoot Sam,” an obscure Oscar Wells song from 1957, is a rocker that will have you up and dancing. “Smilin’ Through My Tears,” a Hanck original, takes it slow, again in 1950s style, with a great Soubrand solo. Another standout Hanck original is “Peace of Mind,” a six minute Chicago West Side number that would have made Magic Sam proud. The album begins and ends with two tracks most identified these days with Hanck: the exuberant “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On” to kick things off and “Cupid Must Be Stupid” to wrap it up.
“Octavate’n” is the only instrumental track; on all the others Hanck proves that he is a fine soul singer. It’s his horn mastery that stands out, though; sexy, mournful, ribald, and rocking, he can produce it all with his tenor sax. This album is a full hour-and-a-quarter of horn-driven blues bliss.—Steve Daniels

Paul Nelson Band
Badass Generation
Friday Music

The cover of this rock blues opus features a photo of a cassette tape. This is not to say the music is retro, but it is definitely reminiscent of the cassette days when my friends and I drove around endlessly listening to music. There are elements of Tommy Bolin, Ritchie Blackmore, Bad Company and Pat Travers in the mix, and there are certainly shades of Johnny Winter, Nelson’s old boss. Nelson was the second guitarist with Johnny and, following a stint at the Berklee School of Music, that must have seemed like graduate school. Both experiences have led to Nelson emerging as a first class guitarist.
With vocalist Morten Fredheim, bassist Christopher Alexander and drummer Chris Reddan Nelson has crafted an impressive collection of songs that cover a good deal of territory, both sonically and lyrically. The dozen songs gathered here are all originals and all impressive. Opening with Down Home Boogie the band sets the stage. “I’m driving down South/where the girls are pretty/want to get down/down to the nitty gritty… I’m heading for a good time/ain’t looking for no bride.” Classic blues rock power. On the medium tempo Keep It All Together Fredheim sings “It’s been a long time since I felt the pain/I’ve tried real hard not to go insane,” and admonishes himself to “back down/turn yourself around/and keep it all together” while the band goes about the business of buoying him with tasty and appropriate licks.
On Goodbye Forever Nelson’s guitar is sizzling over Fredheim’s powerful vocals and guest artist Frank LaTorre’s harmonica. Fredheim sings, “It’s goodbye forever/we always knew this was coming.” Trouble is one of the most visual compelling of Nelson’s lyrics: “Went down to the local bar to get myself a drink/taking time from my crazy life/need some time to think/this girl walks in/you know the kind that leaves you wanting more/oh my god here we go/been down this road before.” He wonders “Should I do it again/the shape I’m in/pour me a double.”
Paul Nelson is a fine lyricist and an explosive guitar slinger. He has found a first class vocalist in Fredheim, and the power that Alexander and Reddan bring to the disc is as tight as it gets. This is a standout blues rock disc that fans of the genre will eat up.—Mark E. Gallo

Studebaker John & The Hawks
Eternity’s Descent

Studebaker John Grimaldi was born in Chicago in 1952. He started playing the harmonica at age 7 and began to pursue the guitar with fervor after seeing Hound Dog Taylor. He was a regular on Maxwell Street and named his band after becoming friends with J.B. Hutto, whose band was also named the Hawks. He has recorded for Blind Pig and Delmark and other labels and this marks his 16th recording. Gifted with a unique and easily recognizable vocal style similar to John Hiatt’s, he is a fiery guitarist and a good harper, as well. On the opener, Same As Mine, his guitar work is sinewy, powerful and uniquely his own. There is a sixties rock blues sense about it. On Up and Down the Line Again he blows harp in the intro before breaking into “Take a ride with me baby, don’t you want to go? /take you to a place you’ve never been before/…they say this old road ain’t got no end/rolling up and down this old line again.” Not to Be Like You has an ethereal and freaky guitar line, offering more insight to his brilliance as a player. Hold Me Down is all crisp guitar notes and fat harp lines as he sings “Don’t you worry about the fool/…don’t you know they’re trying to hold the boy down…you can’t hold me down.” The vocals and the instrumentation seem to be on different roads, but it works spectacularly. He attacks it like a warrior. My Life is fueled by guitar and rhythm on a full tank: “just trying to live my life/In this world there’s no integrity, honesty or loyalty/in this world they’re trying to take you dignity/and I say this respectfully/I’ve never known any other way…” Passed and Gone takes a lyrical look at life. “When I feel like my time is passed and gone/I start to wonder if I ain’t got long …Sometimes I feel that there’s a weight heavy on my soul…” Bluesy and made for volume. Humanity is a heavy blues. “There is deception and dishonesty/among this nameless sea of faces/there are lies and corruption…” and on the closing instrumental title cut he plays acoustic notes under the electric guitar for a beautiful juxtaposition and a calling card for his brilliance as an electric guitarist. He wanted a different sort of cover. He likes it. I find it to be muddy and hard to read. That’s as close as I get to criticism. This is a brilliant album.—Mark E. Gallo

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones
Seeing Is Believing
Severn Records Inc. 2016

As I’m writing this review, it’s unnecessary to assert that the album should be a Blues Foundation Blues Music Award nominee as Album of the Year…because it is! In addition, the ensemble is nominated for Band of the Year, and Sugar Ray Norcia for Harmonica Player of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. The recognition is well deserved.
A venerable group from New England, the Bluetones is comprised of Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Anthony Geraci on keyboards, Michael Mudcat Ward on bass, and Neil Gouvin on drums, fronted by Norcia. Familiar after many years together, they play as separate organs of a single blues beast, their talents meshing seamlessly as they deliver an almost hour-long feast of a dozen songs, all composed by the band except for one by “R. King,” a tribute to the late King of the Blues and presumptive composer, Riley “B.B.” King.
As it happens, that track is one of many highlights of this outstanding set. It’s the only instrumental, and Norcia cedes the spotlight to Welch, who is in fine form. A guitar prodigy in his youth, Welch just garnered his second BMA nomination as top guitarist of the year. Although his axe is dominant on this cut, it is impeccable and incandescent throughout the set…as are the piano and organ stylings of Geraci, who recently released a laudable album of his own. The backdrop, basis, and bones are provided by Ward and Gouvin, who eschew flash for finesse and foundation.
Of course, Sugar Ray is appropriately and predominantly the focus. In addition to penning half of the album’s songs, he plays excellent harmonica with a rich tone and creative leads and fills; “Misses Blues,” composed by Ward and innovatively employing the lyrics “miss” and “mis-,” shows off Norcia at his best, venturing into the high registers of the instrument. To put it mildly, the man can also sing! Check out the title tune and “Not Me,” both slow numbers with smooth and soulful vocals, in my opinion some of the finest blues crooning since Bobby Blue Bland.
Although most comfortable in slow and mid-tempo ranges, the band can nail the uptempo as well, as evidenced by the blues rocker “Blind Date.” Another track to savor: “It Ain’t Funny,” with Norcia and Welch trading licks in a splendid harmonica-guitar interplay. I’m going to be playing this album a lot!—Steve Daniels

Fiona Boyes
Professin’ the Blues
Reference Recordings 2016

Since leaving a band format and striking out as a solo artist almost two decades ago, Australian blueswoman Fiona Boyes has blazed a coruscating trail through the blues world. Winner of the 2003 International Blues Challenge, she has since burnished her credentials as a compelling songwriter, singer, and both acoustic and electric guitarist. On this outing she has chosen to present her acoustic skills, abetted on a number of tunes by ace accompanists Jimi Bott on drums and Denny Croy on bass.
The almost hour-long CD features sixteen tunes, all but two composed by Boyes. They range from the raucous to the risible to the raunchy to the rueful. Since I like every one, I’ll just tell you my favorites. One is “Lay Down with Dogs” a cautionary tale aimed at a wandering paramour. Another is certainly her rendition of the classic “Baby Please Don’t Go,” notably sung by Big Joe Williams and covered by hundreds of others. Fiona’s strong and raspy vocal fronts Botts’ subtle rhythm base, and Boyes plays some dazzling runs on her 4-string cigar box guitar.
Speaking of guitars, a digression: the informative and entertaining liner notes include a photo of the four guitars Boyes uses on the album, with a description of each. (For you cigar aficionados, the cigar box is a Coh Black Gigante.) The notes also include a paragraph about the provenance of each song.
The cigar box is also deployed on “Card Sharp,” a song allegedly written about her “evil ex, a cheatin’ man.” That track is followed by “Old and Stiff,” a risqué number (use your imagination) in 1920s-1930s style; as Boyes writes, “I love the sassy attitude of the Classic Era blues women.” She nails it, while vamping on her National Reso-Phonic guitar. The tempo is goosed on “Love Me All the Way,” as it is on the ensuing “Stubborn Old Mule,” which in turn leads to “Catfish Fiesta,” a jaunty instrumental track which allows Croy to display his chops on a mid-tune bass solo.
Get the picture? There’s plenty of variety in the album, but absolutely no wavering in the consistently high quality of music. Equally laudable is the sound quality, which is pristine; the vocals and each instrument are heard perfectly.
This is one killer album, destined to rake in many award nominations and probably win several…deservedly.— Steve Daniels

Backtrack Blues Band
“Way Back Home”
Harpo Records

The Backtrack Blues Band has been a regional treasure in the Tampa Bay area performing original blues since 1980. Possessing a tough electric sound reminiscent of the early Chicago blues scene they are getting off that backtrack and stepping up to the national scene with their latest release, “Way Back Home.” Led by long time vocalist and harp master Sonny Charles with a rhythm section of Little Johnny Walter on rhythm guitar, Stick Davis on bass and Joe Bencomo’s drums, while the newest member of the band is hot young guitar slinger Kid Royal. Plus for this session they’ve added Florida piano heavyweight Victor Wainwright with backing vocals by Latonya Oliver & Dana Merriwether. Six of the ten tracks are Sonny Charles originals but have a quintessential sound of blues standards that can stand toe-to-toe with the classics.
Showing their tropical roots, Backtrack turns the classic “Going To Chicago” into “Goin’ To Eleuthera” an island in the Bahamas cause “those Caribbean woman are the friendliest around.”
The harp and vocals blast out a churning delivery for “Tell Your Daddy” till Royal reigns full swing before the harp takes back control and drives it home. A chorus of sweetly crooning female vocals back up Sonny for every mention of “Heavy Built Woman” with the Kid adding some sprightly guitar and Sonny channels Ellington on the harp riff and then gives a tip of the hat to Guitar Slim on “Shoot My Rooster.” The harp references “Walking by Myself” on “Rich Man Blues” singing, “If one man takes it all ain’t nothing left for you and me.” Working with the basic “Help Me” riff, “Help Me Just This Time” doles out a hefty dose of blues. Trying their hand at two Sonny Boy Williamson tunes, “Your Funeral, My Trial” is given a traditional reading with Charles emulating the Williamson harp sound while keeping the vocals all his own then “Checkin’ On My Baby” takes full flight on this traditional tour de force, when the harp and guitar are in sync it’s spine chilling. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is a classic tune done with a hard rocking attitude and original solos and Backtrack makes the Little Walter hit “Nobody But You” their own without losing any of its intensity.
The Backtrack Blues Band’s “Way Back Home” is right on track with some cool contemporary blues that really knows it’s roots.—Roger & Margaret White

Tas Cru
Simmered & Stewed
Vizztone 2016

“Simmered & Stewed” is a return to my ‘acousti-ish’ blues roots,” Tas Cru tells us in the liner notes to this, his seventh album. Well, you sure would have fooled me…but it doesn’t matter. Those expecting some gentle, back-porch, solo or duo tunes will be disabused of that notion immediately as the first track, “Dat Maybe,” kicks in. The first chord nearly blew me out of me chair. From then on, I was either snapping my fingers or dancing.
The set of eleven songs displays Cru’s talent at creating compelling tunes with catchy hooks; he wrote all but the last tune. The ensemble of musicians, many of whom have appeared on Cru’s previous albums, is extensive, with some playing on every track and others on only one or a few. Those with ubiquitous presence include percussionist Ron Keck and harmonica man Dick Earl Ericksen. The latter deserves special plaudits: his playing is lyrical and adept, providing perfect filler with occasional short bursts of lead. In fact, there is little soloing on the entire disc by any of the principals. Instead, each varied group percolates organically in service to the songs.
Versatility is in evidence, with tracks ranging from uptempo blues rock to slow, country-flavored ballad to mid-tempo shuffle. On several, Cru shares licks with electric guitarist Jeremy Walz; their interplay is particularly tasty on the zippy rocker “Grizzle n’ Bone.” Keyboard contributions are consistently fine throughout, mainly handled by Cru veteran Chip Lamson. Kudos also to several backing vocalists, led by Mary Ann Casale and Alice “Honeybea” Ericksen, who lend appropriate ethereal, soul, or gospel vibes as required by the tune.
Although Tas Cru is based in upstate New York, his heart apparently lies in the deep South, judging from both lyrical and liner note allusions to Memphis, Clarksdale, and other iconic southern locations. “Biscuit,” one of my favorite tracks, reflects that tie with its Mississippi hill country vibe. Another standout is “Just Let It Happen,” with an introductory Cru and bassist Mike Lawrence duet segueing into a gospel style. “Feel I’m Falling” features an eerie dialogue between Walz’s electric and Cru’s slide guitars, and “Tired of Bluesmen Cryin’ “ provides a counter-intuitive take on our favorite musical genre. (Isn’t crying what bluesmen do?)
Throughout, Tas Cru’s ventures on electric, acoustic, resonator, and cigar box guitars and his slightly raspy vocals are spot on. All told, an indubitably snappy and successful album.–Steve Daniels

Vin Mott
Quit the Women for the Blues

When you give a listen to this debut release of NJ native Vin Mott, you’d be hard-pressed to guess that these 10 originals were written and performed by a 27-year old singing harp player. But I’ve been continually impressed by this young ‘old soul’ since meeting him a few years back at the Wednesday blues jam at NJ’s The Robin’s Nest. All of the songs have an old-school familiarity to them and the excellent group of musicians chosen to perform ‘live in studio’ (at Passaic’s Guerilla Recording) by Berklee grad Mr. Mott (his ‘regular’ guitarist Sean Ronan, in-demand drummer Andrei Koribanics, Phil Silverberg on organ and on bass the versatile Dean SHot, who also happens to run the very jam where I became an admirer of Vin’s) all perform their parts beautifully – aided by the engineering talents of Silverberg and James Stivaly. It’s good to see musicians of any age brining forth the blues in a traditional manner, and catching Vin Mott’s Rhythm and Blues Band live in the NJ area is a great way to get that comforting sound delivered by a fresh face. And for those not close to the NJ haunts of Vinny, grab this CD and bide your time because I have a feeling it won’t be long before he’ll be paying visits to an area near you. My only advice to this young multi-instrumentalist (he is also a badass drummer and can play bass and guitar as well!) – if you’re giving up women at such a young age - where are you gonna get the inspiration for your next blues CD? –Guy Powell

Lisa Biales
The Beat of My Heart
Big Song Music

Lisa Biales grew up in a musical family; her mother was a ’40s era singer/ songwriter and Lisa surely inherited her passion and voice through her. A songwriter herself, she found an old record her Mom had made in the ’40s that inspired her ninth CD release, “The Beat of My Heart,” taking a dozen covers including her mother’s and giving them everything she’s got. Enlisting the help of producer and drummer Tony Braunagel and engineered by Johnny Lee Schell at his Ultratone Studio where Schell and Paul Brown played guitar, Chuck Berghofer, Larry Taylor or Larry Fulcher on bass, Jim Pugh keyboard, Joe Sublett on saxophones, Darrell Leonard plays trumpet and Braunagel is on drums. Together Lisa and this band engage a wide range of styles to showcase Lisa’s expressive voice.
Swinging in with a slew of feminine writers Lisa starts with her mother, Alberta Roberts, who at twenty-four wrote “Crying Over You,” the first verse Lisa uses the original recording of her mother’s vocal and then takes over this subtle torch song with heart-stirring effect. Then Lisa updates her style to the more empowered ’60s Soul stomper, ’cause she needs a man that loves her right and does the camel walk too on “What A Man” originally improvised in the studio by Linda Lyndell but credited to her producer Dave Crawford. The queen of ’40s bittersweet blues, Lil Green, wrote “Romance In The Dark” with Big Bill Broonzy for those tender moments of stolen kisses, but when things go bad Lisa comes back in full force on Naomi Neville’s “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” a hit 45 for Betty Harris. Lisa swings in with her own mini big band as she’s “Disgusted” with men trying to make a monkey out of her by Mabel Scott. A man, Henry Glover, wrote for Lula Reed that she should give up her “Wild Stage of Life” just to become somebody’s faithful wife as Lisa seems to gently concede, then gives a hauntingly rough treatment to the Nina Simone song as she pleads “Be My Husband” but please don’t treat me mean. To soothe those troubles some woman find religion and Lisa plunges into a joyous, full gospel rave up written by Alex Bradford, “Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody” then the waters are calmed by Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down” as Lisa is gentle but has the strength to go forward. Knowing that this love is through, Lisa takes Fats Waller’s advice from 1927 and starts “Messin’ Around With The Blues” because as Carrie Newcomer’s song realizes “I Should Have Known Better” an Americana banjo with cocktail piano tinkle that blends into a smooth jazz-tinged “Brotherly Love” by Brenda Burns with Lisa expressing the confidence to move on…
Lisa Biales’ “The Beat of My Heart” takes a variety of moods and writers and puts her heart and soul into every song sending them directly to yours. —Roger & Margaret White

Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee Of Baton Rouge
By Martin Hawkins
LSU Press/Baton Rouge 70803

Commercially successful and internationally renowned “swamp blues” legend, the ill-fated blues singer and musician, Slim Harpo, was born in Lobdell, Louisiana in mid-January, 1924 and died on the last day in January, 1970 after a string of hits—on the eve of a European tour and a new recording contract. After honing his craft at a string of Baton Rouge clubs in the early 1950s, billed as Harmonica Slim and recalling Jimmy Reed, Harpo was signed to J.D. Miller’s Excello Records in 1957, with his initial release, “I’m A King Bee” b/w “Got Love If You Want It” doing little sales-wise—but both were soon successfully covered by British R&B groups like the Brian Jones-led Rolling Stones. Martin Hawkins’ well-researched book (complete with some fascinating vintage photographs) traces the Pelican state-based bluesman’s decidedly rural raising, his musical development—encouraged by the thriving (and still thriving) local blues scene and his national success in the mid-sixties with R&B and crossover pop hits such as his signature song “Rainin’ In My Heart,” “King Bee” and “Baby Scratch My Back.” In addition to relating Harpo’s bittersweet story, Hawkins also offers a detailed look, utilizing recent research and pertinent interviews, at the heart-and-soul of the Southern independent music milieu that enabled his Top 40 success. He also goes the extra mile by delving into Harpo’s assorted recording sessions and providing a scholarly, detailed discography along with a comprehensive checklist of blues-related records by fellow Baton Rouge artists like Lightnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and Silas Hogan. A drastically overlooked, never-before-told saga of a little-known corner of the blues and R&B that yours truly found quite engaging. Particularly the last few chapters that vividly update Baton Rouge’s still flourishing and evolving “swamp blues” music scene. As it says on the back of the book jacket: “Hawkins lifts the curtain on the King Bee, his circle, environs and era.” Indulge yourself.—Gary von Tersch

Godfather Of The Music Business:
Morris Levy
By Richard Carlin
University Of Mississippi Press American Made Music Series

Early “record shark” and music hustler, Morris Levy, probably best known for his ownership of the Roulette and Tico record labels (among a host of others in the 1950s and beyond) along with running New York City’s popular Hell’s Kitchen-based nightclub Birdland (that he co-founded as a teenager) and his well-known Genovese family Mafia connections, gets the “just-the-facts-ma’am,” evenhanded, well researched treatment in this compelling biography, by Richard Carlin, of one of the most notorious figures in popular music history. Ever. The forward-looking Levy, along the way, operated one of the first integrated clubs on Broadway (Birdland) while helping build the careers of jazz geniuses like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Bud Powell and, most notably jazz-wise, immeasurably assisted in the reemergence of the hands-down “bluesiest” of the big band leaders— splanky pianist Count Basie. Levy also scored Top-Ten charting pop hits with musicians like Buddy Knox (“Party Doll”) Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Joey Dee and the Starliters, Tommy James (“Crimson And Clover”), Jimmy Rodgers (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”), Ronnie Hawkins, the Detergents (remember “Leader Of The Laundromat”?), Tito Puente and a host of others, including even Emmylou Harris. Levy also released a great blues album by Louisiana Red (now quite rare), operated a large, New England-based chain of record stores (Strawberries), ran a constant variety of nightclubs, was always in fear of his life (Irving, his brother, was murdered in a case of mistaken identity), actually released an album by John Lennon, was responsible for The Hullabaloos, and enjoyed threatening his artists, songwriters and producers (often just for sport) while making a whole bunch of lawyers happy with a lifelong legacy of robbing artists of their  royalties. Carlin’s tale behind the authorship of Frankie Lymon’s classic “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” is especially revelatory. Beginning in 1984, the FBI shone the spotlight, wire-taps and all, on the alleged infiltration of various crime bosses into the “cut-out” album business. The feds had already ruined the career of Levy’s longtime buddy, Alan Freed, in a late 1950s, headlines-blaring “payola” scandal. Convicted in 1998 in federal court, Levy didn’t live long enough to serve prison time—he died of cancer just as his last appeal (of a 20 year sentence) was denied. A couple of interesting footnotes: firstly, Levy also appeared, played by Paul Masurzky, in the 1998 film Why Do Fools Fall In Love and has often been enumerated as the inspiration for the Hesh Rabkin character in the HBO TV series The Sopranos. And secondly, as of 2012, Levy’s son, Adam, of Rumson, New Jersey owned a medical marijuana consulting business and was about to begin a marketing medical enterprise in New Jersey. He had been impressed by the salutary effect marijuana had had on his father’s lucidity during his final days dealing with colon cancer. For those seeking a look at the wider picture that organized crime played in the record business, proceed to Frederic Dannen’s insightful book Hit Men: Power Brokers And Fast Money Inside The Record Business.—Gary von Tersch

The Art of the Blues
A Visual Treasure of Black Music’s Golden Age
By Bill Dahl and art consultant Chris James

Wow! Bill Dahl has always been a Blues scholar in my mind but this book really takes the cake! The art of the Blues shows that all the love is not only in the grooves but in the packaging and the marketing! The unsung heroes of the music called Blues are the graphic artists and poster artists who helped get the word out and make the vision happen! Great photos, artwork and commentary - this is a must in every library and on every coffee table. Thanks Bill & Chris!—Robert Jr Whitall

Zydeco Discography
Louisiana & Texas Creole Music
By Robert Ford & Bob McGrath

This index is the final word on African/American Zydeco listing the artists, the songs, the albums. It is meant to be a supplement to both “The Blues Discography, 1943 - 1970 (BD1)” and “The Blues Discography 1971 - 2000 (BD2).” Zydeco in this instance is defined as Blues-influenced African/American dance music originally from Texas and Louisiana. Typically (although not exclusively) with accordion accompaniment. This is the last word on Zydeco with a remarkable collection of American roots music at its finest! —Robert Jr Whitall


The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock n Roll
By Preston Lauterbach

“The Chitlin’ Circuit illuminates a period of American music that is long needed. Goes a long way toward illuminating the life of black performers’ lives off stage in the conditions they endured and while they worked.” - Edward-NPR
My friend Curtis Salgado highly recommended this book and as I was reading it, I did not want it to end. It’s that kind of book. All of us in the music industry know that there are two worlds. This book shows “The Black Bottoms” of the U.S. as they were once upon a time. —Robert Jr Whitall



Dispatches From Pluto
Lost And Found In The Mississippi Delta
By Richard Grant

As a Blues publisher and traveler, I have spent plenty of time in Mississippi looking for Robert Johnson and staying ahead of the hounds! Mr. Grant visits all my familiar haunts and makes friends with all the “right” people. He really gets it right. All the trials and tribulations that Mississippi has gone through and developed into, he hits it on the nose! You really get transported through time to modern day Mississippi. It has all the ups and downs off the beaten track. A must read if you are traveling to Mississippi.—Robert Jr Whitall




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