Blues Reviews
April/May 2019

Willie Buck
Willie Buck Way
Delmark CD

Born in 1937 in Houston, Mississippi, singer/songwriter Willie Buck arrived in Chicago as a teenager in 1953 smack-dab in the midst of the post-war heyday of Chicago blues. A brother-in-law used to sneak him into clubs like Smitty’s Corner and Pepper’s to hear Muddy Waters with his classic band and within a year he was sitting in at those same venues (even singing with Little Walter just before his untimely death) and in the 70s began leading his own bands, that were abrim with top-shelf talent like Eddie Taylor, Johnny “Big Moose” Walker and Magic Slim. Willie Buck Way is the name of an honorary street named after Buck in his adopted hometown as well as the title of his new Delmark recording where he’s accompanied by some of the Windy City’s finest—acoustic/electric guitarists Billy Flynn and Thaddeus Krolicki, harp aces Scott Dirks, Big Spider Beck and Mervyn “Harmonica” Hinds, pianist Johnny “Fingers” Iguana, bassist Bob Stroger and drummer Jimmy Mayes. In addition to forthrightly fresh covers of a couple of Muddy’s songs (“Please Have Mercy” and “How Deep Is The Ocean”) and a stark reappraisal of Leroy Carr’s reflective “Blues Before Sunrise” Buck also delivers a dozen poignantly vivid originals in that classic old-school style—favorites are the cautionary “The Men Ought To Learn (To Treat The Women Right),” the good-timey “Bottom Of The Hill,” a tough-toned “My Mind Froze Up” and the robust “Heck Of A Time.” As liners author Plastic Crimewave puts it: “Buck is still at the top of his game and this new album is a showcase for his deep roots and raw yet smooth vocal skills.” Recommended.—Gary von Tersch\

Mary Lane
Travelin’ Women
Women Of The Blues CD

The debut project for the newly-launched Women Of The Blues label is a must-hear affair featuring 83-year-old Clarendon, Arkansas-born singer/songwriter Mary Lane, one of the last of the legendary blues trailblazers that made the Great Migration from America’s South. By 1957 she was in Chicago where she was taken under the wing by Checker and Vee-Jay recording artist Morris Pejoe and was soon sharing South and West Side stages with a treasure trove of Windy City immortals—Elmore James, Magic Sam and Howlin’ Wolf to cite a few. This ten song set (nine co-writes with deft, evocative producer Jim Tullio) shines the spotlight on Lane’s expressive, deep-soul steeped voice backed by a host of first-call musicians along with special guests—including harmonica mavens Billy Branch (on the easy-rocking “Ain’t Nobody Else”), Corky Siegel (a resolute “Some People Say I’m Crazy”) and ex-Howlin’ Wolf sideman Eddie Shaw (on the downbeat, cried-all-night-long blues Ain’t Gonna Cry No More”)—plus guitarists Dave Specter (on the bouncy “Bad Luck And Trouble”) and Colin Linden (who adds some acoustic slide dobro to the stark Robert Johnson-like “Make Up Your Mind) and sax ace Gene “Daddy G” Barge—on Lane’s autobiographical title song. Other picks begin with a great temperance blues called “Leave That Wine Alone” and the gospel-rimmed blues ballad “Let Me Into Your Heart.” As Buddy Guy attests: “Mary’s the real deal.” P.S. A riveting film documentary about the West Side chanteuse, titled I Can Only Be Mary Lane, will be available soon. —Gary von Tersch

Harpdog Brown
Travelin’ With the Blues
Dog House Records

Harpdog Brown may not be well known outside his native Canada but this dog has been working the Vancouver blues scene as a singer, harp player and band leader since 1982. Brown earned a solid reputation playing classic electric blues and has won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) and numerous Maple Leaf Awards, the Canadian equivalent of The Blues Music Awards. For “Travelin’ With the Blues” Brown crossed the border, recording at Big Jon Atkinson’s Bigtone Studio in California, bringing his regular band Jordie Edmonds on guitar and Pat Darcus, bass, filling it out with Jimmy Morello on drums, Carl Sonny Leyland on piano with Kid Andersen, Rusty Zinn, Big Jon, producer Little Victor on guitars and Charlie Musselwhite guesting on harp. This dog growls and barks while crooning with the best of them, or as Charlie Musselwhite says, “his singing is the real deal, old school blues just like you want to hear it.”
Jumping right in, Harpdog’s vocals growl with lonesome howls, explains he’s seen “Better Days” as the Kid and Jordie’s guitars shuffle and scream against a spirited chromatic harp. Edmonds’ guitar goes old school on Otis Spann’s “Must Have Been The Devil” as the Dog blows some fiery harp, a light piano tinkling in the background then gives Willie Dixon’s standard “Bring It On Home” an upbeat spin on harp, rhythm and vocals. Getting into a fast shuffle the Dog’s harp squeals and rasps while his vocals, melodically singing how she’ll never find “Another Fool Like Me” by Jesse Thomas then takes on a rare 1940’s Muddy Waters “Hard Days Blues” with a slap bass, high harp and lonesome vocal. Slipping into a front porch-flavored original, “Cloud Full Of Rain,” Jordie’s slide rings true as he and Harpdog are reminiscent of Capt. Beefheart and Ry Cooder, then bringing a Wolf-like “Evil” feel to “Facebook Mama,” asking why won’t that Mama interface with him, then guitarist Zinn joins on “Home Is Where The Harp Is.” With a slow steady snare, playful piano and shimmering guitar from Big Jon, Harpdog adapts a Satchmo-like voice describing a musician’s struggles on “Sacrifice,” blowing some melancholy harp till the bright lights come on. Continuing in the ‘30’s-styled “Fine Little Girl Rag,” his harp has a brassy cornet-like sound as the band plays a syncopated rhythm with piano peeking in. Dog blows some haunting chromatic and Zinn joins the band for a cool groove playing under the growling narrative of “What’s Your Real Name” the back story of his moniker. A rambunctious instrumental, “Moose On The Loose,” features a fierce harp duel between Harpdog and Charlie Musselwhite then still energized from the session the band created the “Hayward Boogie” on the spot, Jordie’s lopping guitar and a raw harp creating a tasty bonus track.
Harpdog Brown’s “Travelin’ With the Blues” shows that this Dog carries his blues where ever he goes.—Roger & Margaret White

Jim McCarty
Talkin’ to Myself”
Self-produced 2018

Jim McCarty sports a lengthy and distinguished resume. A Detroit, Michigan-based guitarist, he began his musical career playing with the popular rock band Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels in the mid-1960s and has never stopped. His discography is extensive, including stints with Detroit Blues Band and Mystery Train. “Talkin’ to Myself” is the epitome of a “solo release”: in addition to guitar, McCarty plays the bass and drums as well.
Although no song credits are given, presumably the ten tunes are originals. All are instrumentals, although a couple of tracks have some faint backing vocals. The emphasis is on uptempo blues rock, McCarty’s forte, with plenty of crunching chords interspersed with high end single note forays. Jim’s bass and drum rhythm work is dependable, and on most tracks establishes an insistent groove, but throughout guitar is king. This recurring motif is exemplified by “Free Fall” and “Dexter Digs In,” which barrel ahead to open the set. Next, “Late Night Rain” starts with a few bars of slower, more lyrical guitar, but soon morphs again into a rocker.
“Sidewinder” moderates the tempo, with brief slashing guitar statements above the rhythm foundation, and the ensuing track, “Slidin’ Home,” shows that McCarty can deploy slide guitar handily.
Demonstrating that he is no one trick pony, McCarty demonstrates prowess on the solo acoustic “Memphis Two Step,” which is followed by “Blues for K.P.,” a slow twelve bar with some nice reverb and with guitar ventures from low to high note registers. Then we get the no-holds-barred “Entropy,” after which the set closes with “Rosie’s Dream,” the longest track, with some of the best guitar stylings of the album; and “Annie and Me,” another slow blues with a beautiful, pensive vibe and a country music inflection.
For those who appreciate guitar wizardry, this album will be a treat.—Steve Daniels

The Wildcat O’Halloran Band
New York City Chill
Dove Nest Records 2018

Bringing the blues to western Massachusetts and the surrounding region, this rocking band is fronted by guitarist, singer, and songwriter William (“Wildcat”) Halloran. In addition to Wildcat, the band is composed of drummer Mark Chouinard, bassist Kathy Peterson, and saxophonist Emily Duff. On a few numbers, David Bartley on keyboards and Wally Greaney on harmonica sit in. The band has a notable resume: winner of several regional awards, the band has opened for multiple big name performers and backed blues legends James Cotton and Bo Diddley.
The set of twelve tunes rewards careful listening…because, more than is true of many blues albums, its major appeal resides in the song lyrics. Halloran is a witty and winsome lyricist, whether he is addressing hoary blues tropes like thwarted or fraught love, the high cost of living, or work travails. He also dares to be politically incorrect, as in the song “Dumb”: “I hope you don’t think that I don’t have a heart/but the trouble with some folks, they ain’t smart.” His “Cookin’ Mama” is an amusing track which, defying expectations of sexual double entendre, may actually be about a woman who’s a great cook! (or not).
The longest track of the set is the title song, delineating the inherent disruption “this country boy” encounters in heading to the Big Apple. Some nice piano work is provided by Bartley, and there is a really fine sax solo toward the end by Duff, whose contributions throughout, with their clear tone, are stellar. On the track Greaney is tasty on harp, and Halloran’s guitar fills and leads are some of his best of the album.
Halloran’s creative songwriting is complemented by covers of several songs. One is a rendition of “More Than You Ever Know,” written by Al Kooper and part of the classic Blood, Sweat & Tears classic soul blues album of 1968, “The Child Is Father to the Man.” Here again Wildcat’s plaintive guitar lead intertwines nicely with more beautiful sax renderings from Duff. Toward the end of the set O’Halloran covers Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” by himself, demonstrating some deft acoustic finger-picking.
The Wildcat O’Halloran Band deserves kudos for its longevity, for helping to keep the blues thriving in New England, and Halloran for his risible and pithy lyrics.—Steve Daniels

L&M Rhythm Kings
The Lower Level
Self-produced 2018

This album could have been entitled “We Can Prove the Groove,” because that’s what this veteran quartet does. The group has been together for over a decade, and its principals have played together in various permutations for more than thirty years. Mark Longo on keyboards and Larry Lusignan on guitar share lead vocals, with sturdy rhythm support from bassist Michael Rush and drummer Glenn Rogers. The set is produced by Chris Vachon, guitarist for the last couple of decades of the venerable band Roomful of Blues, and further connection to that ensemble is revealed by the appearance on two tracks by one of its illustrious former guitarists, Ronnie Earl.
The set clocks in at exactly one hour, and it’s sixty minutes of continuously intuitive collaboration and craft. Each of the eleven songs is an original, and they range from straight twelve-bar blues to a few jazzy instrumentals, with the uptempo “Smoke” even sporting a Latin inflection. There are no brief knock-offs here; each tune is well over four minutes long, suggesting that the band was having a good time and didn’t want to quit.
That’s to the listener’s benefit. For example, “Inside Out,” the longest track at over seven minutes, is a slow talking blues with Vachon sitting in on second guitar; both six-stringers comport themselves adeptly and interplay well, steadied by the clearly heard bass and drums. Witty lyrics, also. Another standout is “Big Wheeled Bonneville,” a lament about a departed lover, buttressed by sublime guitar fills by Earl, whose piercing, plaintive high single notes are full of emotion. Slow blues is one of the band’s fortes, but far from the only one; check out “Meadow Lounge,” the opening track, an infectious mid-tempo shuffle, and “The Same 50,” which perfectly epitomizes the band’s ability to grab and maintain an uptempo groove.
Longo on alternating piano and organ excels throughout, whether providing tinkly jazzy fills or sonorous blues undertones. Lusignan’s guitar playing is consistently impressive; refreshingly, in contrast to many guitarists, he spends almost as much time playing his leads in the low register of the instrument as in the high range. He deals out a minimum of flashy cascades of notes, showing devotion to the song, not the player. Likewise Rush and Rogers, who mesh seamlessly without flaunting their proficiency. (Rush does have a few nice bass solos.) Meshing equally well are the vocal harmonies of Longo, Lusignan, and Rush, who croon together on several tracks of this excellent set.— Steve Daniels

Chad Pope & Julia Magness
@Tlaxica on Facebook and Instagram
@chadbpope on Facebook
and Instagram

Julia Magness is originally from Austin, Texas, competed in the International Blues Challenge 2011 but has since mainly concentrated on gospel music. Her move to Memphis in 2016 seems to have brought another shift for Ms Magness; resurrecting her Native American roots and inspiring her to use her given first name Tlaxica, which is pronounced Tuh-La-Sheeka. In this current incarnation she’s joined by fellow Austin to Memphis transplant Chad Pope. Pope is a third generation musician raised in the Pentecostal church and the Fort Worth blues scene. They are calling this project TLAXICA + POPE, describing its gritty mix of blues/gospel as Pentecostal Swamp Blues and won the Memphis Blues Society battle for the Solo/duo category in the International Blues Challenge 2019. From that high the duo traveled to Royal Studios of Memphis TN to record this disc, produced by Grammy-winner Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell, the son of legendary producer and Royal Studios owner Willie Mitchell. Royal Studios features vintage recording consoles, reel-to-reel tape machines and is still owned and run by the Mitchell family. Magness and Pope share the vocal duties and write two songs each with Pope on guitar, Cody Dickinson on bass, drums and keyboards, Uriah Mitchell supplying beats, Art Edmaiston, horns. Though this is just a five song EP the sounds did make me perk up.
The set begins with Pope’s “Steady Walking” as his slide glides in long strides punctuated by the blare of baritone sax and the steady tat-tat-tat of a snare going at more than a walk and his vocals are as if through an old PA loud speaker, encouraging us to keep walking and get out of his way. The gentle strum of acoustic guitar powers “Angel” as Pope’s voice sounds akin to Gregg Allman with a slightly hollow echoing vibe and on the chorus he’s momentarily overwhelmed by the heavenly wail of Magness and the Tennessee Mass Choir, which she is a member of, while a gentle slide guitar takes a brief mid-song solo. Ms Tlaxica Magness takes over on “Down For The Last Time,” her vocals have a similar vibe to Pope but she is so powerful it’s bigger and bolder than the bullhorn she’s singing through. Backed by the clap of wood blocks and a deep drone till the high whine of guitar slithers in, winding around each line, Julie steps right up for “Wasted Woman,” her voice clear and bright over the clopping rhythm of drums and highlighted by the bell-like rings of guitar. The finale, Bessie Smith’s “Revival Day,” brings out Julia’s Gospel training, her voice echoes as if through a large room, as this sermon fills her soul and the Tennessee Mass Choir swoops in, filling that space.
The duo of TLAXICA + POPE keep it short but the sounds they’ve presented make you eager for more.—Roger & Margaret White

Little Freddie King
Absolutely the Best
MadeWright Records 2019

His promotional material says that he plays Mississippi Delta blues, but he doesn’t. His real name isn’t even King. So what? His latest release confirms that New Orleans bluesman Fread Martin is as authentic as Nawlins gumbo.
Billing himself as “Dr. Blues to da Bone,” Little Freddie actually plays Mississippi hill country blues, which differs from Delta blues because of its emphasis on rhythm and repetition. Eschewing melody and complexity, hill country blues traces its origin back to the polyrhythms and percussion instruments of its African progenitors. Some of its legendary purveyors included Fred McDowell (“I don’t play no rock-and-roll”), Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and R.L. Burnside, and Freddie’s living colleagues in the genre include the North Mississippi All-Stars and Cedric Burnside. The music is mesmerizing and eminently danceable.
The thirteen songs in this set were all written by Little Freddie with his long-time drummer and producer, “Wacko” Wade Wright, whose new bass partner on this album is Scott Craver. Bobby diTullio Jr. on harmonica rounds out the quartet, but unsurprisingly the center of attention is King, whose raspy vocals fit perfectly with the primal vibe of hill country style. Regarding his lead guitar efforts: also suited well to the genre, with nasty, insistent chords alternating with stinging single note forays.
All thirteen tracks represent a re-visitation to previously recorded numbers. For a prime example, check out “Walking with Freddie,” which sounds like John Lee Hooker meeting Chuck Berry. “Kingshead Shuffle” amps up the percussion even more, with a talking vocal refrain. “Chicken Dance” provides interplay between diTullio’s harmonica and King’s guitar, with some amusing six-string “chicken talk” reminiscent of the 1950s innovative guitar renderings of Slim Harpo’s guitarist James Johnson and the delivery of today’s Super Chikan. We even get “Great Great Bamboozle,” which sounds much like the classic 1960s instrumental “Tequila.”
By the way, Little Freddie can handle a slow blues adeptly, and did so on several tracks of previous albums. However, the only song of this set with a reduced tempo is “Messin’ Around tha House.” Enjoy it; enjoy them all. Hill country blues is made for back porch juke joint partying, booze flowing. As King advises on track 11: “Do Da Duck - Quack Quack.” I’m with him.—Steve Daniels

Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones
Complicated Mess
Eller Soul Records

Doug Deming has always been one of the swingingest cats around and as a blues man he’s the complete package: sharp suits or tropical shirt now that he’s living in Florida, great songs and vocals, cool guitar riffs, a tight band and man, do they know how to play! Deming’s honed his skills backing some of the best veteran blues men as well as up and comers and with his youthful appearance it’s a surprise to realize he’s been gigging well over twenty years. The new release, “Complicated Mess,” covers a lot of ground stylistically with Doug Deming on vocals and guitar, his longtime bassist Andrew Gohman playing upright and Fender, drummer Marty Dodson, with Sam Farmer sitting in on one track, Bob Welsh, piano, Chris Codish, organ and horns from Sax Gordon on tenor and Tino Barker, baritone. In addition a few friends like Little Charlie Baty, Kim Wilson and Madison Slim sit in on half of the dozen tunes that Doug’s mostly written and produced himself.
With a heartrending wail Doug tries to make sense of a “Complicated Mess” even though “he’s just tried to do his best” then slipping in a bewitching rhythm and haunting chromatic of Kim Wilson on “Sweet Poison,” it won’t let go. Pandemonium breaks out as Doug croons through Lazy Lester’s “Blues Stop Knockin” as Wilson blows Lester’s riffs then gliding in with a sashaying rhythm Doug’s neighbor Madison Slim’s harp hums while Doug pleads I “Need My Baby.” Doug ponders his decisions on “Deep Blue Sea” the piano goes low, the guitar hits the upper register as the feel-good love song “Hold On” tells a lot about Doug personally and shows his keen finesse of the guitar. Doug’s vocal really swings on this cover of the Louis Armstrong and Jordan “You Rascal You” as Little Charlie takes the leads and stays on for “Captain’s Quarters” a quiet getaway of an instrumental with Doug and Charlie trading licks, digging themselves a gentle groove. “Just A Moment Of Your Time” is a Tex-Mex stroll with horns moaning then they give Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” an up beat jazzy twist as the baritone punctuates the lines and Sax Gordon is let loose for a wild solo. A sax hits the rhythm of “Someday Pretty Baby” while Doug’s vocals sway, the guitar bites out sharp leads with that sax blaring. “Rat Killin’” is an old school instrumental letting the drums and baritone set the pace till they drop back to let the guitar cut loose followed by each band member. When Doug’s not on the road his regular Sunday gig at Cortez Kitchen is immortalized on “Cookin’ At The Kitchen” with another regular, Madison Slim, joining in as well.
Simply put, “Complicated Mess” while not really complicated is like two lines of that song “he’s just tried to do his best” and he’s “better than the rest.”—Roger & Margaret White

Nick Schnebelen
Crazy All by Myself
Vizztone 2019

The acclaimed band Trampled Under Foot, comprised of siblings Danielle, Kris, and Nick Schnebelen, is apparently defunct, but the siblings are thriving. Nick’s website cites this as his first solo album, a claim belied by his isolated name on 2016’s “Live in Kansas City.” In that same year, the Nick Schnebelen Band released “Live at Knucklehead’s.” No point in splitting hairs, though; first or second solo release, “Crazy All by Myself” is another set of scorching blues rock, spiced with some rockabilly and soul blues.
Nick, winner of the 2008 Albert King guitarist award at the 2008 International Blues Challenge, is supported by the core of the top-of-the-line Phantom Blues Band: Johnny Lee Schell on rhythm guitar, Mike Finnigan on keyboards, and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel. Bass chores are handled by Hutch Hutchinson, and an array of notables make brief appearances as Schnebelen sails through thirteen songs, mainly originals with a few covers.
The first track, “Lil’ Death,” sports an insistent mid-tempo beat (and somewhat ambiguous lyrics; is it about cars, orgasms, both…?) and the surprising but welcome addition of violins plied by Lionel Young and Ada Pasternak. Nick’s stinging guitar leads carry “It Ain’t Me,” and then the band kicks into overdrive with the rocking “Ain’t Got Time for the Blues,” Finnigan switching from organ to piano to goose the song along.
The title track, a slow blues, challenges the limits of Nick’s strong vocal, but affords him room to stretch on guitar, with a few bars evoking memories of Albert King, Michael Burks, and even Jimi Hendrix. The following full-speed rocker, “Altar of Love,” and then another slow track, “Bad Disposition with the Blues,” feature respectively the harmonica stylings of Jason Ricci and Dustin Arbuckle. Shortly after, we get to appreciate Nick’s ability to croon on the aptly titled “Soul Magic” and then he hits a high mark on “I Leaned My Heart on You,” the set’s longest track, another slow blues with pensive organ by Finnigan and evocative lead guitar.
“Monkey Around,” a shuffle, and the slow blues “Holding On” complete the nearly hour-long set. On this outing Nick Schnebelen’s songwriting and singing continue to mature and his guitar mastery remains premier. He isn’t crazy, he’s not by himself, and he continues to shine.—Steve Daniels

Watermelon Slim
Church of the Blues
Northern Blues 2019

Grit, grease, gumption, giggles, and…intelligence! The arrival of a new Watermelon Slim album is always cause for celebration, and “Church of the Blues” is no exception.
Bill Homans taught himself guitar on improvised instruments while recuperating from injury in a military hospital during the Vietnam War. He has since honed his slide guitar skills and become an adept harmonica player and compelling singer with the Oklahoma drawl of his adopted home state. After over three decades plying various trades, including watermelon farming, and obtaining advanced academic degrees- check his website for his fascinating personal history - in the mid-2000s he commenced what has become a startlingly successful blues career, replete with eighteen Blues Music Award nominations with two wins, multiple other awards, and a devoted fan base.
Purveying his bountiful talent, Slim delivers a full hour composed of fourteen tunes, half covers and half originals, all of them imbued with skilled musicianship. Along for the ride with this former truck driver (one of the many jobs in Slim’s highly eclectic resume) are drummer Brian Wells and bassist John Allouise.
Abetting that core trio is a glittering cast of guests, including vocalists Sherman Holmes and John Nemeth and expert guitarists Bob Margolin, Joe Louis Walker, Nick Schnebelen, and Albert Castiglia.
The covers get regal treatment. “Gypsy Woman,” penned by Muddy Waters, benefits from the guitar contribution of Waters Band alumnus Bob Margolin, with Slim delivering a powerful vocal and blowing forceful harp. Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” also covered on the classic Butterfield Blues Band album “East-West” of 1966, is distinguished by zesty interplay between Slim and Margolin on guitars and the vocal harmonizing of Slim, Holmes, and Nemeth. On Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightining” Chris Hardwick adds electric guitar to produce a relentless driving rendition. No guest guitarist is needed on the cover of Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway Blues,” which optimally displays Homans’s vocal prowess.
For those who want some intelligent commentary on contemporary life, spiced with wit, there is satisfaction aplenty in the original tracks. “Tax Man Blues” utilizes the familiar blues trope of financial woe, but with insight into the particular political scene in which we live. Similarly, “Too Much Alcohol” repeats a familiar lament, with dazzling slide guitar work in tandem with Castiglia on second six-string. Ecological and environmental awareness, not the usual subject matter of a blues song, is addressed in “Mni Wiconi - The Water Song,” this track enjoying the participation of J. L. Walker. The ultimate track, “Charlottesville (Blues for My Nation),” confirms that Homans is unafraid to address fraught situations boldly and perceptively.
This is a blues album to dance to, chuckle at, think about…and savor. Crank up the award speeches.—Steve Daniels

Tiffany Pollack & Eric Johanson
Blues In My Blood
Nola Blue Records www.

Growing up in New Orleans, Tiffany Pollack always knew she had music in her. With a proclivity towards singing she joined Russell Batiste & Friends in her youth before striking out on her own with Beaucoup Crasseux, which translates to ‘very dirty’ and dealt with everyday life studying mortuary science and starting a family. Knowing she’d been adopted at birth it wasn’t until her twenties that she became aware her birth mother played and sang in a jazz band and discovered that award-winning singer/guitarist Eric Johanson was her cousin. Together they’ve collaborated on “Blues In My Blood,” sharing vocals and songwriting credits. Teaming up with them is multi-instrumentalist Jack Miele, who also produced, engineered, mixed the tracks and helped write several songs. Supporting them on this project are Phil Wang on bass, Brentt Arcement on drums, organ, piano or percussion, John Gros on organ and piano with Johnny Sansone’s harmonica and the 540 Horns stepping in for a few. “Blues In My Blood” from this New Orleans family has a fresh vibe with a soulful collection of seven originals and four choice covers.
Beginning with a pounding tempo and powerful vocals, Pollack’s revealing lyrics of “Blues In My Blood” tell her personal story against Eric’s ominous slide guitar. Then a wispy guitar intro leads to a powerful beat and organ as Tiffany jumps into “Keep It Simple” her vocals and lyrics holding nothing back as the band drives home the point. With a funeral procession pace Pollack brings her mortuary memories to life for “Michael,” only 19 years old lying on her table, as Eric’s Resonator wails and the 540 Horns close it out as death has won again. Eric’s hard rock grind drives his memories of wasted days, he’s not a “Slave Of Tomorrow” he lives for today and Johnny Sansone’s haunting harp gives a sense of foreboding as Eric bares his soul declaring he keeps making “Memories To Forget” and again Eric takes the lead with country rock on “Diamonds On The Crown” displaying his guitar skills with Tiffany joining him harmonizing. With Eric’s smooth soulful vocals you’re drawn in to “Get Lost With Me” and can lose yourself in his deft blues guitar lines as they build to a blazing climax. Tiffany takes on two covers, with full-throated sultry vocals on a confidently restrained version of Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You?” as the guitar twists and shimmies, then she pays tribute to Joni Mitchell on “River.” Showcasing the family’s vocal talents Eric sings lead with Tiffany, adding sweet harmony on a cover of Jagger and Richards stoned country “No Expectations” and finishing the disc a steady thump turns soulful as they trade verses on Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.”
The title of the new Tiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson CD says it best, they truly have “Blues In My Blood.” —Roger & Margaret White

Reverend Shawn Amos
Kitchen Table Blues Vol.1
Put Together Music

Prior to becoming a self-described “blues preacher,” Shawn Amos (son of cookie impresario Wally Amos) was an A&R executive at both Rhino and Shout Factory!, producing multiple Grammy-nominated projects for legacy artists like Quincy Jones and Heart along the way. This entrancing first volume of Kitchen Table Blues is a savvy round-up of five songs culled from his 2016-17 YouTube series of the same name. Actually recorded live at his California kitchen table, Amos reinvents some of his favorite songs in a unique, stripped-down, decidedly acoustic “joyful blues” style, as he describes it. My top three picks, among the five efforts on this EP, begins with a laid-back, lead-off cover of the Faces blues-rooted, wistfully pensive “Ooh La La,” followed by a marvelously slowed-down version of Richard Berry’s rhythm & blues classic “Have Love, Will Travel” (ah, the 50s!) and a whisper-to-a-scream version of Tom Waits’ gospel reflection “Jesus Gonna Be Here.” All recorded live over a Sunday breakfast in Van Nuys, CA in 2016. More please.—Gary von Tersch

Bloodest Saxophone/
Texas Queens 5
Vizztone/Dialtone CD

Put together by greasy tenor saxophonist Koda “Young Corn” Shintaro in Tokyo, Japan, this youthful jump blues and swing band has been performing old-school vintage sounds for the past twenty years. They already have released 11 recordings of their own, toured internationally and have spent studio time with both sax maven Big Jay McNeely and legendary vocalist Jewel Brown. Enter imaginative Austin, Texas record man Eddie Stout whose “big ears” led him to match up the retro sounds of Shintaro’s quintet (also encompassing trombonist Coh “Colonel Sanders,” baritone saxist Osikawa Yukimasa, guitarist Shuji “Apple Juice,” upright bassist The Takeo “Little Tokyo” and Kiminori “Dog Boy” on drums and congas) with, count ‘em, five lusty, in-the groove, powerhouse vocalists that are the current cream of the Texas R&B scene: Angela Miller, Diunna Greenleaf, Lauren Cervantes, Jai Milano and native Louisianan Crystal. Powerhouse vocalists all, they pretty much split up the lead chores between themselves and really impress on their choice of cover songs—from Mac Rebennack’s “Losing Battle” and Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog” to Louis Jordan’s period calypso chant “Run Joe” (my favorite) and Mable John’s au courant/timely “Don’t Hit Me No More.” To cap affairs off, there’s also a pair of soulfully twisting instrumentals, with some sizzling solos by the band—Shintaro’s “Pork Chop Chick” and a great cover of Lafayette Thomas’ “Cockroach Run.” All in all, a match-up made in heaven!—Gary von Tersch

Michael McDermott
Sky CD

Accomplished singer/songwriter Michael McDermott grew up on the Irish Southside of Chicago and began performing at Windy City coffeehouses in the early 1990s, dramatically blending elements of Irish music into an American folk-rock sound. Orphans is just that—consisting mostly of tracks that were recorded during the sessions for its pair of well-received predecessors, Willow Springs and Out From Under, along with some earlier recordings—songs “that wouldn’t go away,” as the loquacious McDermott puts it. The combination of his immediately engaging vocals, deeply personal, perceptively imagistic lyrics with a lo-fi backdrop prove particularly effective (a la Steve Earle or Townes Van Zandt) on numbers like “Los Angeles, A Lifetime Ago,” a detail-rich snapshot of a dark period in his youth; the easy rocking opener “The Tell Heart,” a blend of Edgar Allen Poe atmospherics with references to Dorian Gray and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands; a reminiscingly passionate “Sometimes When It Rains In Memphis” and the reflectively downbeat “What If Today Were My Last.” All in all, songs that search to make a connection—a couple more picks would include a couple about yearning for home—“Meadowlark” and the echo-laden “Black Tree, Blue Sky.” Two thumbs up!—Gary von Tersch

Ted Drozdowski
Coyote Motel
Dolly Sez Woof Recording

Ted Drozdowski is a renowned freelance journalist and musical historian. He received the 1998 Blues Foundation’s Award for journalism and is a singer and slide guitarist with the trio, Scissormen. His newest project is a collection of storytelling blues with the feel of a psychedelic juke joint. To make this Coyote howl Ted takes on vocals, guitar, lap steel and diddley bow with Sean Zywick on bass and Kyra Curenton or Pete Pulkrabek on drums and percussion with a little help from Luella aka Melissa Mathes backing vocals. For a blues historian these nine originals provide an alternative to the conventional blues rock we may be used to hearing, but checking in to “Coyote Motel” you may find yourself wanting to stay for the party.
Starting with an eerie mood, “Still Among The Living” oozes in with a subtle drone as Ted’s vocals flow with a casual Leonard Cohen-like quality over his barely perceived backing of Laurie Hoffma’s keyboards and Luella till his guitar bursts forth with a scream. The remorse and anguish over the loss of “My Friend” is conveyed through a dreary halt time march as the guitar takes on a 1960’s San Francisco-styled blues. An offbeat bouncing bass rhythm drags you on towards Judgment Day as Jesus is calmly heading to “Los Alamos” to kick ass. With a surf music splash and rush of Link Wray garage gusto guitar situated between the “Hippy Hippy Shake” and “Batman” sliding the slippery slope in to “Frog Alley,” alternating between the pleasures and the evils of drug addition. The guitar sweeps around like the scatter shot of a heavy metal flashback as you might envision yourself riding a Harley through the North Mississippi Hill country of “Down In Chulahoma” climbing and coiling like the invasive kudzu weed mentioned in the track. Psychedelia meets the blues and finds “Trouble” with a throbbing bass refrain reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” and lyrics with a sense of foreboding compounded by the screaming tension of Ted’s guitar. Blasting into a two minute high-speed warning worthy of the Ramones, Ted tells you in no uncertain terms, don’t mess with “Jimmy Brown” because his righteous will rule. The bass slinks in with a “Fever”-like pulse as the guitar moans gently in the back, Ted croons about “57 Flavors” of shit gone wrong “too damn many for one damn song.” The finale takes a major detour down “Tin Pan Alley,” this cover barely recognizable to the Stevie Ray hit, but Ted’s version makes you believe it really is “the roughest place you ever been” groggily looking for whiskey, wine and gin.
Ted Drozdowski’s newest musical foray “Coyote Motel” may be under appreciated by blues purists but they didn’t understand “Electric Mud” when it came out either.—Roger & Margaret White

This Is The Night
Various Artists
Koko-Mojo CD
Tore Up!
Various Artists
Koko-Mojo CD

A couple more rewarding 28 track projects from the enterprising Koko-Mojo label. Both are, as usual, invitingly packaged and expertly curated by Little Victor aka “The Beale Street Blues Bopper” with mostly esoteric blues, r&b and rock ‘n’ roll obscurities from the fifties with a host of familiar names alongside a fascinating abundance of competent yet total unknowns. This Is The Night, accurately sub-titled “Lessons In Wild Saxophony” features an abundance of enervating, honking instrumentals (with Noble Watts’ “cha, cha, cha”—ringing “Hot Tamales,” The Passengers’ stop-start “Sand In Your Eyes” and the Vibrators’ soulfully churning “Way Out” leading the pack) alongside frenetic dance numbers (Jimmy Tolliver’s “Hoochie Kootchie Koo”), sax-strutted jump blues, wayward rock ‘n’ rollers and a variety of intriguingly greasy one-offs. Particular picks include Mary Ann Fisher’s tough “Wild As You Can Be,” Charlie Glass’ noir-ish “Screamin’ And Dyin” (after a gunshot, Glass laments “I left her screamin’ and a dyin’, rolling on the floor/ Well, I found my baby cheatin’, but she won’t cheat me no more”), the bebopping Cacaos with their finger-snapping “Flip Your Daddy,” William “Thunderbird” Walker’s homage to his favorite nick-name-vehicle (in tempo with his nagging girl-friend) and wild-man Joe Boots & His Band’s apocalyptic rock ‘n roller “Well Allright.” Nary a clunker in the bunch as far as these fifties-acclimated ears go. Or as Little Victor accurately puts it—“Straight from the land of razz ma tazz!”
Tore Up is basically more of the same with the accent on the harmonica instead of the saxophone. As the be-turbaned Mister Victor puts it: “Dig this mighty hep selection of some of my fave harp tunes. Some are pretty “obscure” and some are “classics” but every number here is simply fantastic. Hot Shot Love (with his rockingly fervid “Harmonica Jam”), Papa Lightfoot (a characteristically chugging “Mean Old Train”), Lazy Lester (“Sugar Coated Love”) and Dr. Ross (with a whooping “Call The Doctor”)—every one of these cats was a true harmonica boss.” I might also recommend Rockin’ Sidney’s swampy blueser “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine,” Tommy Brown’s perceptive travelogue “Southern Women,” an exhilarating “Madison Shuffle” from Little Buster as well as Smokey Smothers’ inventive take-off on Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me Annie” theme titled “Twist With Me Annie” and Jerry McCain with his live-wire “She’s Tough.” I’m also fond of Polka Dot Slim’s commentary on Louisiana’s mosquitoes and Arizona’s rattlesnakes called “A Thing You Gotta Face,” Judy Clay’s accusatory “Do You Think That’s Right,” and the decidedly downbeat “Picking Cotton” from one Little Red Walters. Needless to say, there’s a refreshingly wide variety of harp styles on display from a similarly wide cross-section of labels including Sun, Excello, Federal, United and Imperial among others. Pick these up while you can—these won’t be available long—Gary von Tersch


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