Brandon Santini
Live & Extended!

VizzTone Label Group
Brandon Santini is a young man with a big, bold harp style and a brawny voice dripping in southern culture. Raised in North Carolina, getting his first harmonica at fifteen in ‘97, the man has been on the move since relocating to Memphis a decade ago. Last year Santini’s second CD, “This Time Another Year,” was nominated for best Contemporary Blues Album and he was nominated for the best Instrumentalist-Harmonica category at the 2014 Blues Music Awards. Keeping busy and playing on the new CD’s of JP Soars & Jarekus Singleton, this year he’s stepping up his game and taking to the road with a CD that is not just live but “Live & Extended!” Recorded at a festival in Quebec City, Canada it features the full Santini concert experience working the crowd with two sets of his new southern blues with his trio of Timo Arthur on guitar, Nick Hern on bass and Chad Wirl behind the drums.
Opening the show with a hard rockin’ version of Muddy’s “One More Mile” and a more traditional take on Sonny Boy’s “Elevate Me Mama,” grooving into Frank Frost’s “My Backscratcher” and rockin’ out Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” Santini also has some tunes that he’s attached his name to like Ronnie Shellist’s “Evil Woman,” Big Walter Horton’s “Help Me With The Blues” and letting Timo’s guitar take all the leads on “Have A Good Time.” With a faithful cover of Charlie Musselwhite’s 1966 tune “Baby Will You Please Help Me” Brandon adds a verse and renames it as “This Time Another Year.” His own songs ease in with “What You Doing To Me” but brings back the enthusiasm on “No Matter What I Do,” gets down with “I Wanna Boogie With You” and finishes the night with the crowd in his palm on “Come On Everybody.”
With “Live & Extended!” Brandon Santini plays up his strong points of confident delivery, swagger and exuberance and the crowd loves it.—Roger & Margaret White

Cathy Lemons
Black Crow

Squeeze Play Records VissTone Label Group
Cathy Lemons found her blues in Texas before taking root in San Francisco where she’s worked with some of the best in the Bay area for the last twenty-five years. Honing her skills she’s now at the top of her game and with her new CD, “Black Crow,” her songwriting has taken flight. Six of the ten songs are her own compositions and each song has a different tone ranging from folk to funk. With the help of co-producers Stevie Gurr who played guitar and harmonica and Kid Anderson on engineering and mix, Paul Olguin on bass, D’Marr or Robbie Bean playing drums and Kevin Zuffi covering keyboards, Lemons has exerted her independence as a singer and songwriter.
The title tune, her own “Black Crow,” has a delicate Neil Young-like folksiness that lets her vocal carry the weight of the song. Lemons’ haunting slow blues “You’re in My Town” has a forceful vocal that makes you believe every word with intense guitar and a piano that underscores it all. The “Hip Check Man” is Cathy’s hard rockin’ blues and the “Texas Shuffle” takes her to the rollicking roadhouse days of her youth. Shifting gears with sparse backing and a loungy sax “I’m Going to Try” lets Lemons’ emotions run free. The covers begin with a country tinged “Ain’t Gonna Do It” and Earl King’s “It All Went Down The Drain” then lets loose with some dirty blues as Lemons reworks a Kim Wilson song into “I’m A Good Woman” and gets on the Good Foot of Funk with James Brown’s “The Big Payback.”
As a finale Lemons’ “The Devil Has Blue Eyes” casts her in an acoustic blues with guitar and harp but her voice dominates everything she does.
Cathy Lemons’ “Black Crow” has allowed her to spread her wings as a solo artist.—Roger & Margaret White

Ilana Katz Katz
I’ve Got Something To Tell You
Ms. Katz trained as a classical violinist, but her free spirit wouldn’t let her be restrained by its traditional confinements. In the tradition of old blues players this nonconformist found her niche playing on street corners and subways. The fiddle was a common instrument in the turn of the century blues but Katz playing this old timey style is a refreshing change from the rockin’ direction of blues today. In her debut release “I’ve Got Something To Tell You” she performs solo, as a duo, trio and quartet but each with her own unique arrangements. Inviting kindred spirits to join her, on this project are Ronnie Earl on guitar, Marylou Ferrante on guitar, banjo, vocals, Dotty Moore on fiddle, Jesse Williams on bass and Diane Blue singing on thirteen fiddle-driven classics and originals
Kicking off with John Lee Hooker’s “She’s Long She’s Tall (She Weeps Like A Willow Tree)” Ronnie Earl riffs and stomps out the beat as the fiddle sways and bends the notes and Ilana takes her only turn on vocals. Earl continues and Ilana leads the way on two instrumentals, “Marlyn’s Blues” for her mother and “PB Cracker Blues” dedicated to Ronnie, as Diane Blues joins on vocals for Robert Lockwood Jr’s “Take A Little Walk With Me.” Katz has a duo with Marylou Ferrante on guitar and vocals covering Memphis Minnie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’” and “Frisco Town” then the traditional instrumental “Cruel Willie Blues,” with Katz’s ode to one of her cats “Conan’s Farewell” and Ferrante switches to banjo on “Johnny, Don’t Get Drunk.” Dotty Moore joins for dueling fiddles as they casually breeze through “Old Medeira Waltz” and “Shove The Pig’s Foot A Little Further In The Fire.” Adding a modern note Diane sings “Runnin’ In Peace” about Ilana’s experience at the Boston Marathon being only fifty feet from where the bombs went off as Ronnie uses the riff of “Two Trains Running” as the fiddle sets the pace. Finishing with a traditional instrumental Ilana hits some high points and low mournful tones on “Piney Ridge.”
Ilana Katz Katz is keeping a blues tradition alive with “I’ve Got Something To Tell You.”—Roger & Margaret White

Billy Walton Band
Wish For What You Want
Billy Walton is a young man from Asbury Park, New Jersey who was honing his skills in East Coast clubs before he could drive. Walton’s guitar licks and voice have taken him through four CD’s and what makes his latest, “Wish For What You Want,” stand out is his songwriting. Not falling into a standard formula of repetition, Walton’s thought-provoking lyrics are complete storylines like another Jersey boy, Bruce Springsteen. Ten of the twelve tunes are originals and adding to well written lyrics, his voice is warm and melodic. Joining Billy is William Paris on bass and vocals, John D’Angelo on drums and horn players Ian Gray on trombone and Sean Marks on sax with keyboard ace Mike Finnigan sitting in and Tony Braunagel as producer.
Setting the tone for the full recording, “Wish For What You Want” has Walton explaining wishing don’t make it happen, success takes hard work and perseverance which Walton has done, financing and putting this CD out on his own. Billy’s warm guitar and genial vocals capture the mood with his radio-ready anthems “True Lovin Man,” and the ‘Bruce’-like “It Don’t Matter” has a passion for life. With powerful beat and wailing guitar the band reaches new heights on “Mountain” and steps it up a notch on “Forgive and Forget” as Finnigan’s keys spar for position with the horns. The eerie tone of the guitar and keys paired with foreboding lyrics warn there’s a “Change” on the way as a steadfast rhythm drives a powerful message on “Worried Blues” against doom and gloom getting you down. Doing a rare cover by the other Jersey Boys, The Rascals’ “Come On Up” has a driving pace and the Latin rhythm of Willie Deville’s “Walk That Little Girl Home” is a real treat. Two city boys go down to the country as Southside Johnny provides harmonica to Billy’s acoustic slide guitar on “Blues Comes A Knockin.” Listen close to the country flavored “Hudson County Star” a biting satire about a certain New Jersey politician.
Billy Walton’s put hard work and time into his dreams and makes it look easy when you do more than just “Wish For What You Want.” —Roger & Margaret White

The Staple Singers
Freedom Highway Complete: Recorded Live at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church—1965

Legacy Recordings CD
This historic, soul/gospel concert by guitarist/vocalist Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his talented children (Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis) at their home church commemorates the 50th anniversary of the three historic Civil Rights marches along the 54-mile highway from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama in 1965 and was initially released the same year as an LP on Epic Records. This newly expanded, state-of-the-art version presents the full concert recorded at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church (with 30 additional minutes) and service in naturally ambient sound, remixed and remastered from the original analog multi-track tapes. In a spunkily animated set that runs from Civil Rights anthems such as “We Shall Overcome” and the newly composed “Freedom Highway,” to gospel chestnuts (“When The Saints Go Marching In,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”), more than a few “Pops” originals (favorites include an expanded “Help Me Jesus,” “When I’m Gone” and “Tell Heaven”) and an impassioned version of Hank Williams’ eerie “The Funeral,” the trio of singers, rigorously accompanied solely by their father’s Charley Patton-inspired yet genre-melding, archetypal six-string guitar playing, bassist Phil Upchurch and drummer Al Duncan, create timeless music for the ages. Other fascinating highlights include Pops’ intros and outros, sermon-like performances by Reverend Hopkins and Brother Bob along with a couple of previously unreleased numbers—”View The Holy City” and “Samson And Delilah.” One of the most outstanding, audio verite live albums ever made.—Gary von Tersch

Tinsley Ellis
Tough Love

Heartfixer/Landslide CD 1012
Tough Love is the third release from veteran Tinsley Ellis’s own label (he also has upwards of a dozen albums on various other imprints including Alligator, Telarc and Capricorn) and features plenty of his patented, feral six-string guitar work and ardent, lived-in vocals. Not to mention some stellar songwriting chops—all the songs are his. Approaching the same electric blues-rocking intensity and power as his Deep South musical heroes Freddie King and Duane Allman as well as equally inspired contemporaries such as Derek Trucks, Buddy Guy and Warren Haynes, Ellis is more than ably assisted by keyboard wizard Kevin McKendree (who also recorded and mixed affairs), drummer Lynn Williams and Steve Mackey on Ellis’s consistently well-crafted songs like his stormy, busted romance saga of a long “Seven Years,” a plaintive plea a la Percy Mayfield titled “All In The Name Of Love” (add saxophonist Jim Hoke and trumpeter Steve Herrman), the harrowing “The King Must Die” and the pointed commentary “Give It Away” (“If you want to have it all, you got to give it away”). Further juggernauts encompass the B.B. King/Ray Charles-eloquent “Should I Have Lied” and an easy, Excello-rocking blueser called “Everything”—where he gets a chance to blow a little swamp-styled harp as well. Over the past three decades or so, Ellis has played in all fifty states as well as Canada, Europe, Australia and South America. Here’s another excellent example why. Recommended.—Gary von Tersch

Mark Hummel
The Hustle Is Really On

Electro-Fi Records 2014
Record producer, tour director (Harmonica Blowouts), songwriter, singer, and one of the best blues harmonica players for decades now, Mark Hummel went into the studio in summer 2013 with two different band configurations and has emerged with a sterling collection of twelve-bar blues.
Anchored throughout by the sturdy bass of R.W. Grigsby, Hummel first employed the recording studio and guitar talents of Chris “Kid” Andersen for six tasty numbers also featuring June Core on drums and Sid Morris on piano. A highlight is “What Is That She Got,” a tune reminiscent of Muddy Waters’ “The Same Thing,” with a similar nod to female sexuality. Morris provides a fine piano
contribution and Andersen delivers a slide guitar foray evoking memories of Muddy’s own skills on slide. Andersen’s virtuosity is further displayed on the subsequent number, “Bobby’s Blues,” abetted by Doug James on saxophone. Grigsby’s acoustic bass shines on “Sittin’ at the Bar,” also featuring outstanding solos by Andersen and Hummel. The slow blues “Tonight with a Fool” showcases Morris and Hummel at their best, and this ensemble finishes with the uptempo “Gee I Wish.”
Not to be outdone, Hummel’s second array of musicians delivers a stellar eight tracks of solid and compelling tunes. Wes Starr replaces Core on drums, and Andersen’s spot is taken by the expert guitar duo of Little Charlie Baty and Anson Funderburgh. Their diverse set of shuffles and rockers reaches its acme in the instrumental “Crazy Legs,” featuring a long, superb, and mesmerizing harmonica solo by Hummel.
A few quibbles: Baty’s and Funderburgh’s solos are not identified, and there are no songwriting credits. Presumably Hummel penned all the tunes (although “Bobby’s Blues” sounds suspiciously like “Further on Down the Road”). These minimal liner deficiencies are more than made up for by the high quality of the CD. Hummel handles the singing capably with his mid-range tenor, and his harp stylings are excellent throughout. Just listen to his harmonica’s tone on “I’m Gonna Ruin You”; the legendary Little Walter, one of Hummel’s admired predecessors, would have been impressed. One of Hummel’s finest outings!— Steve Daniels

Jimmy Thackery
Extra Jimmies

Blind Pig 2014
Since leaving the Washington, DC-based band in 1987 that he co-founded, The Nighthawks, guitarist Jimmy Thackery has issued a slew of dynamic albums, most of them with The Drivers trio that he established in 1992. (Also check out his two collaborations with Tab Benoit: “Whiskey Store” and “Whiskey Store Live.”) “Extra Jimmies” presents selections from three of his 1990s Blind Pig releases, now out of print.
Is Thackery a rock-and-roller or a bluesman? Both! (Although not showcased in this compilation, he can also play a mean surf guitar.) In his website biography he cites his days playing with Muddy Waters as a major influence, and after all it was Muddy who allegedly opined that “blues had a baby and called it rock-and-roll.”
Listening to any Thackery album, it becomes obvious that rapid tempo is his preference. Accordingly, there is plenty to dance to here, as well as several mid-tempo shuffles with solid grooves, and, just to prove that he can do it expertly, one slow number, “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing.” That tune, one of seven penned by Thackery in this thirteen tune collection, features sweet Hammond B-3 organ accompaniment by Al Gamble. The guitar solo doesn’t arrive until almost three minutes into the song, but it’s worth the wait: gritty, emotive, with Thackery’s omnipresent clear tone.
I had a tough time choosing my favorite tracks on this compilation, they are all so good. “Take Me When I Go,” a zydeco outing abetted by Chubby Carrier on accordion, shows Jimmy’s range and is the only tune without a guitar solo. “Rude Mood” is a rockabilly speed-romp, a release of pure adrenaline, evoking comparisons to the guitar styles of contemporary East Coast slinger Bill Kirchen and the late legend Hollywood Fats. Believe me, by the time its nearly five minutes is over, you will be breathless and exhilarated. “Lickin’ Gravy,” is somewhat more subdued, but displays dazzling versatility; its guitar forays echo the styles of the late, under-recognized guitarist Roy Buchanan, Jimi Hendrix, and even Albert King in its occasional pauses, bent notes, and string of repetitive single notes and chords. What a tour de force!
It’s not by accident that I evoke Buchanan, Hendrix, and Albert King in discussing Thackery; in my opinion, he is their equal and one of the best guitarists alive. In particular, I liken him to Hollywood Fats (dead in 1986 at the tragic early age of 32), in that his sense of rhythm is impeccable and his incandescent guitar solos never detract from the integrity of the song. Thanks to Blind Pig for resurrecting parts of these hard-to-find albums.— Steve Daniels

Al Blake
Blues According to Blake…a road less traveled

Soul Sanctuary 2013
The title of this CD should be “Straight Blues, no nonsense, no frills, no bells or tin whistles.”
Al Blake was born in Oklahoma but has lived in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas for 50 years. He cites Freddy King and Taj Mahal as prime musical influences. From 1976 until 1986, he was lead singer and harmonica player for the Hollywood Fats Band, a seminal and highly influential band comprised of Fats on incendiary guitar, Fred Kaplan on piano, Larry Taylor on bass, and Richard Innes on drums. (If you don’t have it, check out their album “Rock This House”; it’s a classic.)
Since Fats’ untimely demise in 1986, the band has reformed at various times as the Hollywood Blue Flames, sporting such guitar luminaries as Junior Watson and Kirk Fletcher. Meanwhile, Blake has released several of his own albums. With this one, he reaches a peak.
Spare, stellar, sparkling, seductive…of the ten numbers here, seven are penned by Blake. Only one, a rendition of the blues chestnut “Rock Me,” features the full band configuration of the Blue Flames. In contrast, the remaining tracks are anchored by Blake’s guitar or harmonica, without overdubbing, either solo or joined on two cuts by SoCal six-string adept Nathan James and on three others by Kaplan’s piano.
The result is mesmerizing. Blake’s singing is understated, with a hint of Oklahoma drawl, and perfectly suited for the tune selections. Take, for example, his cover of the Slim Harpo classic, “King Bee”; Blake’s solo version, backed only by himself on steel guitar, showcases his smooth and insinuatingly salacious handling of the lyrics and is the best version of the song that I’ve ever heard (including Slim Harpo’s).
In the process, Blake confirms that he really knows how to play both acoustic and steel string. Particularly notable are his contributions on the only full band tune, “Rock Me,” and his own composition, “Hummingbird,” which opens the CD. Other highlights are his two duets with long-time bandmate Kaplan on piano, “Papa’s Boogie” and “Music Man.” The two musicians share a beautiful intuitive rapport.
Not to be overlooked: Blake’s proficiency blowing on that Mississippi saxophone. Although he plays harmonica on only three songs, he does so with a vengeance, especially on the instrumentals “Easy” and “Old Time Boogie,” the latter sporting his own foot-pedal percussion accompaniment. It’s a challenge to maintain interest with a song-length solo harmonica tune, but Blake kills it.
If you missed this album when it was released, it’s not too late…— Steve Daniels

James Johnson
Stingin’ & Buzzin’

Self-produced 2014
A guitarist since his teens, James Johnson was lead six-string man for the legendary Slim Harpo from 1959 to 1966. After a two decade hiatus from music, Johnson picked up his guitar again in the mid-1990s, at the instigation of the late Baton Rouge, Louisiana, harmonica man Raful Neal, and has been playing around Baton Rouge ever since. Now he has chosen to display his talents on “Stingin’ & Buzzin’,” his first ever CD, and the results are worth the wait for listeners, and we hope for the 74 year old Johnson himself.
Backed by the trio of Miguel Hernandez on bass, Michael Ceasar on drums, and Orlando Henry on keyboards and “sound effects,” Johnson delivers ten songs of his own composition, of generally high quality. All but two are mid- tempo, and for some variety the set could have benefited from one or two up-tempo numbers, but the band settles into a tasty groove on almost every cut. We’re hearing the equivalent of a musical drawl, a musical gumbo: don’t hurry, take your time, stir it just right. The mixing is very good, and bass and drum contributions are clearly heard without obscuring the lead man’s machinations. Also refreshing are the lyrics, which, while not poetic, eschew the usual trite laments about lost love and bad whiskey.
In a recent Living Blues profile, Johnson describes Albert Collins as his main inspiration as a teenager, and the influence is obvious in Johnson’s vocal style, as well as in several of his guitar leads, particularly in “Let’s Party,” in which his talking blues vocal is accompanied by a Collins-style lead lacking Albert’s power and steely cutting edge but providing more lilt and lyricism. Also notable is the CD’s title cut, where Johnson reprises the signature “chicken scratch” guitar riff that he devised for Slim Harpo’s famed tune, “Scratch My Back,” in 1966. (Ironically, another contemporary bluesman who employs that riff is Super Chikan, whose real name is also James Johnson!)
As a singer, Johnson is fine within his range, and his lead guitar is deployed to good effect throughout; he eschews repetitive chords and rapid-fire cascades of notes in favor of grooves and lyricism. Unless Orlando Henry’s “sound effects” include rhythm guitar, that piece of the pie is supplied by Johnson in apparent studio overdubs.
“Stingin’ & Buzzin’ “ is a good album worthy of repeat listening, but especially hits a peak with the longest number, “Live a Little.” A slow blues, it is distinguished by truly beautiful guitar work, and sensitive interplay between Johnson’s guitar and Henry’s organ. It’s reminiscent of guitar legend Duane Allman’s magnificent playing on the classic eponymously named first “Boz Scaggs” album of 1969, and that’s high praise indeed.— Steve Daniels

Chris Moore
Harmless Blues

Drawing Room CD 0010
Born in the wilds of Detroit and currently Brooklyn-based, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, competitive skateboarder and visual artist Chris Moore returns with his first record in three years. And it’s a pip. Produced, recorded and mixed by Adam Druckman—who also accompanies Moore throughout on vocals, guitar, keyboards and percussion—Moore creates an album that constructs epiphany redolent stratums of sound that furtively encircle the persuasively dynamic, rootsy, plugged-in folk approach he has put a unique edge on over the years. Though his music can be aurally classified as an integrated mix of edgy pop-blues, alt-country and folk rock, Moore’s punk/hardcore foundation (from his days with the influential Mid-West band Negative Approach—who opened for Iggy Stooge among others) is quite palpable in his wide-scoped, poker-faced lyrics that teem with a poetic, mildly hallucinatory intensity. Favorites include the sadly harmonious “The Mood Is On,” a bleakly sad, severe title song, a nostalgia-laden, bittersweet-themed closer titled “There Goes A Light,” the combative blues “Pushed Out The Door” and the piano-filigreed “Watch The Sky.” Genius at work. More please.—Gary von Tersch

Richard Berry
Louie Louie

Ace LP 017
John Lee Hooker
Boogie With John Lee Hooker

Ace LP 026
The recent vinyl comeback continues apace with this neat pair of retro-cover and label cool (think Crown/Modern Records) LPs, devoted to a pair of rhythm ‘n’ blues heroes, that are an aural time machine back to the rock and rolling 1950s when 45’s actually ruled the roost (remember listening booths?). Vastly influential singer/songwriter Richard Berry was born in New Orleans in 1935, moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s and began composing songs with Jesse Belvin while latterly becoming one of the first “session” singers—he appears on a variety of Leiber and Stoller productions including “Riot On Cell Block No. 9” and “Dance With Me Henry” as well as sobbing behind Donald Woods on the harrowing “Death Of An Angel.” Side one here collects some of Berry’s finest solo sides waxed for Max Feirtag’s Flip Records with his group the Pharoahs—including his signature, controversial “Louie Louie,” the clever, TV-show referencing “Have Love Will Travel,” “The Mess Around,” a rocking “Give It Up” and a make-out mushy “Sweet Sugar You.” Side two collects seven earlier sides he recorded for the Flair and RPM labels (including the Little Richard aping “Yama Yama Pretty Mama” and a couple of great Leiber and Stoller story songs—”Oh! Oh! Get Out Of The Car” and “Next Time.” Also noted is the lively “Jelly Roll” and a cautionary “Gettin” High.” One of the leading pioneers of the mid-1960s blues revival, John Lee “Boogie Man” Hooker cut hundreds of sides during the 1950s with his trademark amalgamation of pulsating electric guitar, hypnotic African rhythms, lived-in vocals and foot pounding  roaring out of jukeboxes all over the nation. This 14 track collection features some of his earliest sides, cut in Detroit by record store owner Bernie Besman for lease to Modern, and is all boogie woogie—from his introductory #1 smash, “Boogie Chillen,” its alert followup “Boogie Chillen #2” and his name-dropping “Hastings Street Boogie” to “21 Boogie,” “House Rent Boogie” and the inevitable “Too Much Boogie.” From “Gotta Boogie,” “Hoogie Boogie” and “Rock House Boogie” to “Huckle Up Baby,” “Shake Holler And Run” and “Momma Poppa Boogie.” Believe me, you’ll wear this one out. Better buy two copies!—Gary von Tersch

Koerner, Ray And Glover
Blues, Rags And Hollers

Elektra/Red House CD
Koerner, Ray And Glover
More Blues, Rags And Hollers
Elektra/Red House CD
Koerner, Ray And Glover
The Return Of

Elektra/Red House CD
This trio of Elektra LPs, issued from 1963-65, were recognized almost immediately as some of the most significant albums to emerge out of the mid-sixties folk revival. Featuring three talented and audaciously potent collegian musicians on the Greenwich Village/Cambridge folk scene by way of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with “Spider” John Koerner and Dave “Snaker” Ray on guitar and vocals and Tony “Little Sun” Glover on harmonica and vocals, the trio performed in various configurations as well as solo throughout all three projects—playing and singing a potpourri of robust and musically potent blues, rags and hollers that nod to legends and influences like Leadbelly (lots of Leadbelly), Sleepy John Estes (an esteemed favorite), Cat Iron, Peg Leg Howell, Muddy Waters (pre-electric), Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie McTell and Elmore James (a vivid “Dust My Blues”) alongside a covey of in-the-vein group originals that prove remarkably identical in temperament and eloquence as well as musical virtuosity. A few of the latter are particular standouts— Koerner especially captivates on his “Ramblin’ Blues,” “Good Time Charlie,” “Lady Day” (a homage to Billie Holiday), “Duncan And Brady” and “The Boys Was Shootin’ It Out Last Night” while Ray impresses on his “Shaker’s Here,” “It’s All Right,” “Fine Soft Land” and a raucous “Slappin’ On My Black Cat Bone.” Harmonica ace Glover similarly shakes the shack on vivid solo instrumentals on the order of “Sun’s Wail” and the rough and rowdy “Don’t Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand Do.” Tuneful foot-tapping and a jocular atmosphere abounds. The most authentic white folk-blues group of its time—here’s the evidence in the original stereo format. Enduring music that still sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. Worth the search.—Gary von Tersch

6 String Drag
Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll

Royal Potato Family CD
In the mid-to-late 1990’s, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based 6 String Drag were pioneers of the incipient alt-country movement—wailing away alongside the likes of Drive-By Truckers, Whiskeytown and Son Volt. Their celebrated High Hat album, produced by Steve Earle, remains an unambiguous classic of the era. After nearly twenty years of dormancy the slapback, chemistry-rich quartet—frontman, guitarist and songwriter Kenny Roby, guitarist Scotty Miller, upright and electric bassist Rob Keller and percussionist Ray Duffy—is back full-swagger celebrating rock’s initial golden age with a combination of rhythmic intensity, elegant harmonies, swinging drums and a Stax-versed horn section. Favorites include a teen rock anthem that recalls Buddy Holly titled “Drive Around Town,” the coy rave-up “Kingdom Of Gettin’ It Wrong,” a Chuck Berry meets New Orleans groovy grinder “OOOEEOOOEEOOO” and the rocking, windows fogged up homage “I Miss The Drive-In.” Other titles echo the likes of Little Richard, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, even Muddy Waters. If you’re a fan of the music the late Doug Sahm and his crew could conjure, you’ll want to add this one to your collection . Like a phone call from a long lost friend. More please.—Gary von Tersch

Sunny Lowdown
The Blues Volume Low

Self-produced 2014
Here’s my first guess: his birth name isn’t Sunny Lowdown. Here’s my next guess: the birth name of the drummer on the several band tracks on this album isn’t Sunny Tubs, and the bass player’s real name isn’t Sunny Bottom. Finally, the main man probably isn’t related to late Louisiana bluesman Lonesome Sundown (birth name, Cornelius Green; died in 1995), because Lowdown appears to be white on the hazy CD photos and Sundown was black.
So, why is Lowdown intent on obscuring his identity? On his website, he claims that he backed such luminaries as John Lee Hooker, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, and Otis Rush. If he did, he wasn’t using his current moniker. (Even on his website, video clips obscure his face.)
Mysteries aside, this debut album reflects Lowdown’s alleged major influences: Hooker, Muddy Waters, various Mississippi hill country musicians, and especially Lightnin’ Hopkins. Pretty classy progenitors! Lowdown presents thirteen tunes, the majority covers of blues standards. Some of them he names accurately — “Can’t Be Satisfied,” a Muddy Waters classic — and others he masks by changing the title: for example, what he calls “Tear My Playhouse Down” sounds a lot like both “Meet Me at the Bottom” and “Diving Duck.”
At any rate, Lowdown displays some very nice finger-picking and slide talent on both acoustic and electric guitars, and really hits a bluesy groove on almost every track. I particularly like “Red Devil Blues,” where he emulates Robert Johnson to great effect, and the ensuing “Shotgun Blues,” a fine resurrection of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ style. Lowdown’s tenor vocals are slightly reedy and occasionally off-key, but appropriate to the rough-edged country vibe.
Information included with the CD is just as sparse as the arrangements: no composing credits, no track duration listings, no recording studio location. My surmise is that Lowdown preferred us listeners to focus solely on the music. Fortunately, it’s good.— Steve Daniels

Eric Bibb
Blues People

Stony Plain 2014
This is not only an excellent and moving album, but also a fascinating one.
Eric Bibb is the scion of noted folk singer and activist Leon Bibb, himself a long-time socially conscious luminary of the acoustic blues scene. As follow-up to his lauded 2013 release, “Jericho Road,” Bibb has presented an organic selection of fifteen songs, starting with the autobiographical, segueing to the historical, then to gospel and testimonial and anthem. Throughout the journey the set is held together by Bibb’s deep, smooth, and mellow vocals.
In the liner notes, Bibb makes his aim explicit: “…a tribute to blues troubadours and…focus on some of the history of African Americans, the original blues people, as a reminder of what we’ve been through and where the music is coming from.” There is also a discerning explanatory mini-essay by Sebastian Danchin.
The opening two numbers, “Silver Spoon” and “Driftin’ Door to Door,” summarize Bibb’s itinerant career, including his relocation to Sweden years ago. “God’s Mojo” begins with a striking line, “The best intentions rent a room/In the boarding house of your heart”; the lyrics are clever and poignant, worthy of comparison to Leonard Cohen’s best efforts. “Turner Station” and “Pink Dream Cadillac” call on familiar blues tropes, as does “Chocolate Man,” a double (actually triple) entendre track by fellow acoustic bluesman Guy Davis with Bibb and Davis sharing vocal duties.
“Rosewood,” an imagined first person summary of a horrible racist massacre in 1923, introduces the more overtly historical and inspirational last several numbers. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Selma, Alabama, are invoked in tracks featuring the contributions of such stellar blues figures as Ruthie Foster, Taj Mahal, Harrison Kennedy, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. String mavens Staffan Astner and Michael Jerome Browne and multi-instrumentalist Glen Scott shine brightly.
Only one minor quibble: several songs lack an identifiable melody or hook and consequently lack impetus. Otherwise, another exhilarating and impressive album from one of the best contemporary acoustic blues performers.— Steve Daniels

Bluesin’ By The Bayou
Rough ‘N’ Tough

Ace CD 1403
This is the second “Bluesin’” entry in Ace’s celebrated “By The Bayou” series of releases and proves as fascinatingly elucidating as the first. Featuring 28 decidedly downhome, accordion-sprinkled blues numbers recorded by musicians from Southern Louisiana and South East Texas by Crowley’s J.D. Miller and Lake Charles’ Eddie Shuler, two big-eared giants of the post-war studio scene, fully 17 of the deck’s 28 cuts are either previously unissued or alternate takes. From the engrossing opening track with colorful storytellers Lightnin’ Slim and the still-active Lazy Lester ad libbing their way through their “Trip To Chicago”(an actual “talking blues” of sorts) to Slim “Rainin’ In My Heart” Harpo’s closing homage to his “Little Queen Bee” (the follow-up to his bragging charter “I’m A King Bee”) we also hear from the likes of further jukebox and house party favorites such as Boozoo Chavis (“Paper In My Shoe”), Lonesome Sundown (“an ostentatious “I’m Gonna Stick To You”), Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco, with an uncharacteristically bluesy “Don’t You Want A Man Like Me,” slide guitarist extraordinaire Hop Wilson (the paranoid “Love’s Got Me All Fenced In”) and Guitar Jr.—with his laudatory “Fine Fine Fine Pretty Little Thing.” Other auditory masterpieces feature Vince Monroe, Joe Mayfield, Clarence Garlow, Big Chenier, Mad Dog Sheffield, Wonder Boy Travis, Jimmy Anderson and Jimmy Dotson. Let the good times roll!—Gary von Tersch

Arkansas At 78 Rpm
Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers

Dust To Digital CD 36
Making Pictures: Three For A Dime
A Photo Book By Maxine Payne

Dust To Digital Book 35
For the enterprising record men of the late 1920s, the northern part of Arkansas provided particularly appealing pickings as the area was teeming with a slew of spirited yet idiosyncratic acoustic string-bands. The majority of the 26 recordings collected here were made during the Golden Age (1928-1932) of old-timey music for a variety of labels and feature such dynamic aggregations as Luke Highnight & His Ozark Strutters, with their roaring “Fort Smith Breakdown,” The Reaves White Country Ramblers with a bad case of the dipsomaniacal “Drunkard’s Hecups,” Fiddling Bob Larkin And His Music Makers with their timeless plea “Paddy Won’t You Drink Some Good Old Cider?” the harmonica bolstered Arkansas Barefoot Boys paying tribute to the “Eighth Of January,” the fiddling Morrison Twin Brothers on the evocative “Dry And Dusty” and A.E. Ward & His Plow Boys with their optimistic “Going To Leave Old Arkansas.” Carrying things on a little further in the decade are equally inspired numbers by the likes of Lonnie Glosson (“Arkansas Hard Luck Blues” and “Lonnie’s Fox Chase,” both from 1936) and the team of Bonnie Dodd and Murray Lucas with a fetching “Ozark Mountain Rose” as the hillbilly craze of the 1920s was shifting to the more song-based country music of the late 1930s. An enclosed 30 page booklet has rundowns on all the musicians and recording details by the esteemed Tony Russell. Making Pictures: Three For A Dime tells the story of the enterprising extended Massengill family with hundreds of photos (occasionally hand-tinted) that they shot in a series of makeshift mobile photo studio trailers in rural Arkansas from 1936-1945 that shed light on a slice of the Depression-era South heretofore unseen by the public. As curator Phillip March Jones astutely comments: “The providentially-located photographs can be playful, serious, strange and, at times, haunting—viewed today the images offer an intimate portrait of the rural South of a bygone era.” These two sensorily linked projects are the very essence of art and music. Sometimes, indeed, life turns on a dime.—Gary von Tersch

Cracking The Cosimo Code
’60s New Orleans R&B And Soul

Ace CD TOP 1402
The recently unearthed Cosimo Code is an open-ended, website-based discographical means (see above) of sequentially documenting the thousands of 1960s recordings that emanated from the legendary Cosimo Matassa’s tiny pair of studios in the Crescent City’s French Quarter. Compiled and featuring extensive notes by Red Kelly, John Broven and John Ridley, this 24 track project brings the Code’s numerical data to life by answering many of the enigmatic questions that encircle most of the New Orleans-based R&B and soul recordings from the post-Imperial Fats Domino era. A raft-full of young producers on the order of Allen Toussaint, Mac Rebenack (Dr. John), Harold Battiste, Huey Meaux and Wardell Quezergue were now “behind the glass” and crafting music with a funkier, more soulful edge to it while still employing the omnipresent New Orleans street rhythms—Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’,” Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is,” Barbara Lynn’s pop-charting “Second Fiddle Girl” and Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” come readily to mind. All included here as well as such regional hit gems as Earl King’s “Trick Bag,” Oliver Morgan’s “Who Shot The La La” Eddie Bo’s “Lover & A Friend” and Danny White’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and, best of all, plenty of superb rarities like the cross-dressing Tick-Tocks with “I’m Gonna Get You Yet,” Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra’s bawdy “The Monkey Speaks His Mind,” Huey “Piano” Smith emulators The Party Boys with their wild “We Got A Party” (“Bring on the whiskey...I can hardly stand up”) and Blazer Boy with his all-out rocker “New Orleans Twist.” Amazingly, Cosimo had no competition in the 1960’s—thus cracking the Code reveals a mirror image of the local recording scene as it happened and as Kelly comments: “It wasn’t all R&B and soul either—there was virtually every other genre of music, including gospel, Cajun, rockabilly, country, psychedelic, garage rock and trad jazz (even flamenco).” Sounds like we’ve got a lot of great listening on tap!—Gary von Tersch

Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band
So Delicious

Shanachie/Yazoo CD
Outside-the-box, country blues fingerstyle and slide guitarist and high-spirited vocalist Rev. Peyton and his big-sounding band accomplices, composed of his wife Breezy on exhilarating washboard and churning drummer Ben Russell (both also lend supporting vocals to the proceedings), reestablish their juke joint-noisy, genre-bending sound on their Yazoo debut—an ingenious mix-up of vintage blues, ragtime and folk strains with dashes of country, old-timey and an inordinate dollop of rustic, yet punk-edged, rock ‘n’ roll. As the Rev. puts it: “Yazoo was my favorite record label growing up. For fans of old country blues and all manner of early American music, they are the quintessential label. And for me, it’s like being on the same label as Charley Patton and Mississippi John Hurt.” Compelling picks among the eleven-song, all-originals set vary from somewhat restrained contemplations like the autobiographical “Picking Paw Paws,” an astute music business commentary “Scream In The Night” and a resplendent “You’re Not Rich” to a resonator guitar fulcrum-ed incantation “Raise A Little Hell,” the belly-full post-repast “Pot Roast & Kisses” (written for Breezy), a charging testimonial called “Music And Friends” and the adventurous “Let’s Jump A Train.” Well worth the search!—Gary von Tersch


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