Blues Reviews
Dec 2016/Jan 2017

Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers
Long Black Train
Azuretone Records

Ray Fuller is a fine guitarist/vocalist. No big deal. There are a lot of guitarists/singers. Some better than others. Fuller is in the impressive category. He traces his professional career back long enough to have opened for Muddy Waters and his slide guitar work apparently was such even then that it garnered compliments from the master. There are players who use the slide to cover up a lack of imagination. Not so with Mr. Fuller. This is a master player who holds nothing back, including volume. You’ve heard players who cover that same lack of imagination with volume. Again, not so for Fuller. This is who he is - a superb slide player who uses volume to his advantage. With his equally impressive band – bassist Myke Rock, drummer Darrell Jumper, and harmonica player Doc Malone – the energy could propel a long black train. There are 14 tunes to recommend Fuller and the fellas on this, their fourth album.
The opener, Burn Me Up, sets the tone. It’s a fiery number with a Johnny Winter kind of octane. On Devil’s Den, Fuller’s lyric prowess shines. He sings, “The wind it was a-howlin’/….. sounds that could bring a grown man right down to his knees/Spanish moss was swaying/like a scarecrow in the breeze…” That’s some stark and scary imagery! The band brings almost an updated, albeit quite different, CCR sound to life. The following tune, naturally, is Voodoo Mama. Not as voodoo-y as Devil’s Den, it features a driving guitar over the lyric, “Voodoo Mama/you sure cast a spell on me.” Hip Shakin’ Mama is a slide guitar tour de force with vocals that remind of Alvin Lee. Let’s Get Dirty (“funky and lowdown”) features Malone’s harp and sounds like a sideways Scratch My Back. Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman (“stay drank most all the time”) is that same old story. You’ve Got the Blues could have been a long lost Chuck Berry tune. “The boss man called/you done lost your job/come home early found your house been robbed.” The lyrics are a hundred miles per hour and the band rocks tight.
This gets more impressive with each listen. These are no imposters. The Bluesrockers live up to their name and flat out knock me out. Highly recommended for blues rockers.—Mark E. Gallo

Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
Quirky Boogie

Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues may truly be defined by the title of their newest release “Quirky Boogie,” Liz the world’s only award winning six fingered piano player and Dr. Blues aka Paul Shambarger, yes he really is a Doctor. They’ve been a couple on and off stage for thirty-three years, Liz provides a big full sound on the 88’s with a heavy left hand and full melodic run on the right plus harmonica, trombone and a mature voice while Doc fills out a full band sound with rhythm and lead guitar and his share of vocals; you don’t notice the need for any other players in this group. On their first release in eight years Liz and Doc take an equal share in the songwriting with the other third some tasty covers.
Liz’s songs begin with the bouncing title tune “Quirky Boogie,” she states all their friends have their quirks but they love them because they’re quirky too and with an affectionate play on words tells of her two biggest delights, her “Grand Baby Grand.” Going solo for the instrumental “Boogie Woogie For Mr. Sabino” Liz pays tribute to the man who taught her trombone and started her on Boogie Woogie. With a tip of the hat to Ellington, it’s Liz’s abandonment and Doc’s scorching guitar that portrays the joy of “Mortgage Burning Boogie.” Liz sings of their love and unbreakable bond in “Anniversary Song” with Doc’s guitar echoing her every note. Shambarger takes the mic for five tunes he’s written starting with “Paris In The Snow,” a true tale of their thirtieth anniversary trip to France in the winter while Liz blows a mournful chill on trombone. Doc takes a turn on piano, bass and vocals for “Angel at the Piano” a touching song he wrote at the beginning of their relationship. A message of faith resonates through “That’s What He Said” and with two humorous tracks sings about the plight of “Stuttering Woman Blues” as Liz repeats her piano on harmonica and Doc laments being a “Low-Tech Guy” living in a high tech world. Liz takes a moody turn on Memphis Minnie’s “Bumble Bee” with the slide guitar buzzing in and out, then Doc takes to the mic as they rock out on Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox.” For their friend and fellow pianist Liz plays a rambling full-fingered intro on Ann Rabson’s “Dr. Blues,” a song she always played for them. As a tribute to two of Liz and Doc’s musical heroes in one song, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell’s “Blues Power” is followed by another duo, Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham’s tune “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On.”
With over three decades making music together “Quirky Boogie,” shows why Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues complete each other in so many ways. —Roger & Margaret White

Liz Mandeville
The Stars Motel
Blue Kitty

It seems like Liz Mandeville has been recording for longer than she actually has. Maybe it’s that old soul that seems to inhabit her music. She’s played guitar since she was 16, initially heavily inspired by John Hurt, but then later by Lightnin’ Hopkins and, strangely, James Brown. She’s been on tours with the likes of Honeyboy Edwards and Albert King, and she’s an inductee into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. In between whirlwind worldwide tours and recording she found time earlier this year to be certified as a Sound Healer, working with sound as a healing art. I’m not going to proclaim that this is music that heals, but it sure does get you off a lazy psyche and ready to shake those limbs. She has become a certified triple threat blues powerhouse over the years, as well as adept at apportioning speaker time to others. The lead guitar on the opener, Too Hot For Love, for instance, is the very hot Tulsa rocker Scott Ellison with Liz assigned to vocals. When you sing as powerfully and convincingly as she does, that’s just plenty. She sings, “Its 99 degrees and you’re mashing up all my clothes…it’s too hot to eat/too hot to sleep/I feel like a wet blanket when I’m walking down the street/too hot to push/too hot to shove/too hot to even thinking of making love.” She sure paints a vivid picture! She plays the second gorgeous lead on Blues Is My Boss, following Italian blues star Dario Lombardo. The results are splendid. Her voice is elastic and emotive. “I drink my coffee/I still got the blues.” Everybody Knew But Me is a song that almost says what it needs to just in the title. “My baby was havin’ a great time/they were getting down all over town/everybody knew but me.” Mandeville plays the guitar and the washboard, and Jim Godsey’s percussion includes a whistle, which works well with Steve Hart’s tuba, giving it an NOLA atmosphere.
One Dance features Minoru Maruyama, a guitarist and vocalist from Japan who has worked with Liz previously. Her delicate opening bars in conjunctions with Joan Gand’s nuanced B3 lead to a gorgeous blues from Liz. The guitar is extraordinary, the horns (Jeannine Tanner, trumpet; Johnny Cotton, trombone; Charlie Kimble, sax) add the magic and the song is a trip to 60s soul. Miami’s Rachelle Coba shares guitar and vocals with Mandeville on the sassy Try Me. Liz sings “I’m full grown/I ain’t no child” and you know that’s a fact. She sings that she’d “rather have fun/youth is overrated/experience counts/try me and you’ll find out.” Truth, with Minoru Maruyama again on board, finds our heroine worried about the interpretation of the “truth.” She sings, “My guts tell me that I’m being played” and “You are on my very last nerve/forgive and forget/but you’ve thrown me a curve.” Real life. Dizzy Bolinski’s harp is a nice touch here. . Reefer and a Glass of Wine is a song title that’ll get some attention. Detroit-bred Doug Deming, now out of Miami, takes a turn on swinging guitar on this timeless number. Folks have been singing about this since at least Fats Waller’s era. Liz sings, “Whiskey’s good/whiskey’s fine/I like reefer and a glass of wine/don’t want no blow/don’t get me low/I want reefer and a glass of wine.” Simple enough. The horns give it the right oomph. What Could Have Been is Liz with Joan Gand on organ, Matt Kohl on drums and Robbie Armstrong on a tune that reminds of Candye Kane, which is a compliment from these quarters. The eleven songs here are a glimpse into the artistry of Liz Mandeville. This is a whole lotta fun.—Mark E. Gallo

Mitch Kashmar
West Coast Toast
Delta Groove 2016

Multi-talented singer, songwriter, and harmonica ace Mitch Kashmar roars back to the recording arena with his first release in six years, and it’s a good one. The native of Santa Barbara was leader of the renowned Pontiax of the 1980s and 1990s, and has continued his career in his adopted home of Portland, OR, with a number of lauded albums on the Delta Groove label and a busy touring and festival schedule.
On this outing, Kashmar and producer Jeff Scott Fleenor call on the talents of some of the left coast’s finest musicians. Holding down the six-string seat is Junior Watson, erstwhile guitarist of Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers and with innumerable credits to his resume. Another Piazza alumnus, Bill Stuve, plucks the bass strings, and former Mark Hummel bandmember and frequently tapped session man Marty Dodson flicks the drumsticks. Rounding out the ensemble is top-notch keyboard man Fred Kaplan, of the Hollywood Fats Band and Hollywood Blue Flames, who tickles the ivories, pulls out the organ stops, and on one number plays the cabasa.
What is a cabasa? My dictionary has no entry for “cabasa,” but by email Mr. Kaplan enlightened me that it is a hand-held percussion instrument similar to the maraca. The track on which Kaplan plays the cabasa, “Too Many Cooks,” is a well chosen Willie Dixon tune providing room for Kashmar to display both his vocal and harmonica skills. Several other covers also receive adept treatment, including songs by Billy Boy Arnold, Lowell Fulson, and John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy I). The latter, “Alcohol Blues,” evinces Kashmar’s frequent choice of tunes both risible and poignant.
No slouch at composition, Kashmar claims authorship of six of the eleven tracks. Among my favorites is “The Petroleum Blues,” with its recognition of our harmful addiction to that ubiquitous fossil fuel. The song sports one of Mitch’s best vocals, full of verve, soul, and range.
Singing? We don’t need no singin’ (although we like it!)! Accordingly, four of Kashmar’s original compositions are instrumentals, and each shines. The album begins with the uptempo “East of 82nd Street,” followed somewhat later by “Mood Indica,” a slow number highlighting some slippery and supple harmonica. “Makin’ Bacon” gooses up the rhythm again, and the CD ends with the tour de force, almost eight minute long “Canoodlin’,” with Kashmar this time wielding a chromatic harp. On each of these Watson and Kaplan are given room to strut their stuff, expertly, while Stuve and Dodson maintain a solid bottom and the latter intermittently adding some surprising and pleasing flourishes.
A worthy return by one of the West Coast’s best and his compadres.—Steve Daniels

The Jimmys
Live From Transylvania, At Sighisoara Blues Festival
Brown Cow Productions

The Jimmys came roaring out of the wilds of Wisconsin with their last studio platter “Hot Dish,” but there was a suspicion that the studio environment might be holding this band back. While on tour to promote that “Dish” they recorded this hot set, “Live From Transylvania, at Sighisoara Blues Festival.” The band features Jimmy Voegeli on keys, vocals and writing most of the tunes, Perry Weber guitar, vocals, Mauro Magelian drums, John Wartenweiler bass, Pete Ross sax and the new brass players Charley Wagner trumpet, Darren Sterud trombone. So hold on to your hat for almost a full hour of a non-stop roller coaster ride, banking on the horns, rolling on the keys, screaming guitar ripping through at full speed, only slowing down to get to the top and ride again.
This mini big band takes the stage with their original instrumental “Jacqui Juice” it gains momentum and hits its stride with a haunting Hammond, swinging guitar and horns blasting red hot! Rolling right into “I Wonder” Voegeli belts out the lyrics till Wagner’s trumpet blasts it out of the park as Jimmy pulls it back in on vocals. They rip into a Jerry Lee-style pounding piano for fellow Wisconsinite Jim Liban’s tune “You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore,” the wailin’ sax is just barely in control as they draw to a close. Easing back on the throttle they let the vocals take charge as this fool in love asks is this “Hell Or Heaven.” Having caught their breath a pumping piano pushes the horns aside on a Fats Domino-like romp on “Love Will Find A Way” the trumpet maneuvers for a solo till the guitar muscles in to take over. That guitar breaks the ice as Jimmy slides in with this rare Mack Rice tune “Cold Women” with chilling keys, the sax blows a cool riff while the band burns so hot the temperature never drops till that head of stream lets out on the “Lonesome Whistle Blues” Jimmy belts out the vocals and the trombone blows a fat full throttle wail. Guitarist Perry Weber takes the mic on his original “You Say You Will,” his guitar battling that bone for the lead, then Jimmy throws off the restraints for the whirlwind of “Lose That Woman” before they lose their mind. As an encore The Jimmys roll out The Band’s “Ophelia” as the horns and drums take the show out.
The Jimmys “Live From Transylvania, At Sighisoara Blues Festival” had to be a blast both for the audience and the band. All we can say is hit repeat and lets go again. —Roger & Margaret White

Eddie Taylor Jr.
Stop Breaking Down
Wolf Records

Eddie Taylor Jr. is a man who has reluctantly taken on a legacy. Eddie Taylor was a sideman with Jimmy Reed, but Jr. was hoping for a career as a hip hop DJ and rapper. After his father passed he took up his father’s guitar teaching himself to play and steeped himself in blues. By sixteen he joined Sam Lay & Eddie Shaw’s band and developed his own style blending Chicago blues with a harder rock edge, while keeping each song grounded in the blues tradition. In this German release, “Stop Breaking Down,” recorded in 2014, Eddie Jr. leads the band on guitar and vocals, his brother Timothy on drums, Tony Palmer, guitar, Greg McDaniel, bass and Bob Waleco blowing harp, doing classic blues and originals.
Starting off with a laid back version of Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” the vocals are sweet & sweaty while the harp drones throughout as the lead cuts through, then on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” Eddie elaborates on what his dad started. The guitar rings bright and clear as Eddie’s vibrant voice chills on B. B. King’s “Ghetto Woman” then takes a more playful tone skipping along as Eddie lays it on the line with some serious talk with Brook Benton’s “Kiddo.” The Elmore James classic “The Sky Is Crying” is given a more up beat swing while Eddie’s vocal delivery captures the tone of Buddy Guy, then a modern distorted lead guitar slips in at the end. Rearranging two traditional numbers Eddie keeps the tempo up with a shuffle on “I Got To Find My Baby” as a modern distorted lead slips in and on “Low Down Dirty Shame” the harp takes the lead before letting the guitar step in, then snatching it back as a high powered lead blasts through for the end. For two originals Eddie’s vocal phrasing is reminiscent of Sam Cook on “You Gotta Pay The Price” with a restrained early lead soaring on the second verse before pulling back for the finish and “Baby Please Come Home,” a slow stroll Taylor keeping his vocals tight and applies a restrained vibrato lead that shimmers. Eddie takes it home playing Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues” as a straight-ahead blues. Finishing the CD with a traditional guitar and harp set featuring Harmonica Hinds, recorded live in Vienna 2012, they engage Tommy McClennan’s “Whiskey Headed Woman” and the title tune, Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.”
Eddie Taylor Jr. is a man who’s followed his fathers lead while setting his own path and “Stop Breaking Down” is a mix of traditional and modern that is the blues today.—Roger & Margaret White

Wendy Rich
It’s All Nothing
Wendy World Productions

Wendy Rich, originally from Houston Texas, starting singing in rock bands at age fourteen. This country girl relocated to the sun coast of Florida in the early ‘90s and has been active on the blues scene hosting jams and singing the blues. Wendy spent a few years touring with Big Brother & the Holding Company and still occasionally makes appearances with them. But Wendy’s got much more to offer than just recreating the work of someone else and she’s independently produced her fifth release “It’s All Nothing,” recorded over the past two years in Houston, Texas, Franklin, Tennessee and Largo, Florida. Wendy can be bold and dynamic, spicy or sweet and her songs remind me of good whiskey - each a little different yet all tasty. Her style includes shades of other blues women, but Rich brings her personal touch, positive energy and plenty of enthusiasm to her blues along with a little country, rock, and funk.
Leaping from the speakers the funky “Back To Zero” kicks things off and Wendy’s powerful vocals rivet your attention over searing guitar licks of Kenny Cordray and a growling pack of horns. From that high Wendy downshifts into a sultry ballad, Paul English strokes the keys as Tyson Sherth brushes out the beat, and Wendy’s breathy vocals purr warm and sweet, and drawing out each emotion of her “Love And Happiness.” With a soulful country gospel feel “Welcome Home” hints at Tracy Nelson and it’s Wendy’s passionate vocals that make it one of the stand out tracks. Wendy’s country roots are on display as she gently cries through “Losin’ You” till Cordray’s guitar rips loose but it’s Wendy’s soaring vocals that carry it home. A bright sparking piano contrasts against a swampy slide guitar as “Song About Nothing” gives a satirical take on bad relationships and worse break ups. Taking charge Wendy declares “I Just Wanna Be” your everything, with you! A Stones-like guitar riff takes Wendy “Off The Deep End” with a weary touch of Janis peaking over the edge as she goes tumbling down, then in closing she pumps it up in with a “Hand Jive”-like rhythm and Wendy is ready to “Get It Together.”
Don’t let the title “It’s All Nothing” fool ya, Wendy Rich really is “something.”—Roger & Margaret White

Smoky Greenwell
South Louisiana Blues
Greenwell Records

Smoky Greenwell has been a Louisiana resident for thirty- five years via detours through Michigan, Nashville and Memphis. With “South Louisiana Blues” Smoky delves deep into the rich sounds of his adopted state. Greenwell is featured on harp, sax and vocals, Jack Kolb on guitar, David Hyde bass, Joe Krown or Johnny Neel keyboards and Doug Belote, Pete Brandish or Willie Pankar knocking out the drums on four originals and eight cool covers.
Kicking off with a few original songs a slippery slide meanders as Smoky declares we’re all “Animal Angels” then blows a mean harp and sings “You Can’t Take It With You.” The harmonica drives an almost totally instrumental jam except for the repeated chorus of “Pick It Up” with Doug Belote on drums and Joe Krown on B3. Greenwell pays tribute to Excello Records, Lonesome Sundown aka Cornelius Green immersing the band into the sound of the swamp with a trio of tunes: a rockin’ “I Had A Dream Last Night,” slowing things down for “Lonesome Lonely Blues” with Joe Krown on piano, then Johnny Neel plays piano and Smoky’s wailing on sax roll into “I’m Glad She’s Mine.” Other covers include the Wilbert Harrison classic “Let’s Work Together” which begins slow then starts to burn as Smoky fans the flames with some hot harmonica and the band really kicks up some dust on Bob Dylan’s “Dirt Road Blues” and has some swampy fun with Willie Dixon’s classic “Two Headed Woman.” The band does a few instrumentals including “The Hunch” penned by bandmate Jack Kolb, reminiscent of “Baby Scratch My Back” and everyone is hands-on trying to reach that sweet spot. Breaking into “Boogie Twist” not Snooky Pryor’s but Cal Valentine’s rockin’ instrumental, Smoky’s on fire switching between harmonica and sax and Jack Kolb’s guitar burns. Smoky finishes this set with Lee Allen’s ultimate horn-driven, hand clapping sock hop instrumental, “Walking With Mr Lee.”
Smoky Greenwell has paid his dues, found a home and poured his heart and soul into his “South Louisiana Blues.” —Roger & Margaret White

Omar Coleman
Live! At Rosa’s Lounge
Delmark Records

Chicago’s Omar Coleman had barely put out his Delmark Records release “Born And Raised” in the summer of 2015 when they recorded “Live! At Rosa’s Lounge” over three nights at this blues landmark. Coleman had been playing this gig every Tuesday with these cats and the bond between them comes across with such a tight sound that easily took it to another level from their recent studio CD. This band of brothers backing Coleman’s bold vocals and harp are Pete Galanis on guitar, Neal O’Hara on keys, Marty Binder on drums and either Dave Forte or Ari Seder on bass and together they play blues that is true to its roots but also includes a soulful funky groove.
This live set starts with the Junior Wells classic “Snatch It Back and Hold It” seamlessly morphing into Johnnie Taylor’s “Wall To Wall” and rolls confidently into Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready.”
Charging into a slew of originals “Born And Raised” drops a bit of funk on the mix as Coleman and Galanis burn the sucker down with Binder knocking out the back beat against waves of organ. With a cry of Rock n Roll, “Slow Down Baby” barely does as a boogie piano and hard rockin’ guitar drive Coleman’s fullt-hroated shouts. Winding down with measured harp lines Omar rhymes his way into “Sit Down Baby” then shuffles and glides into another Johnnie Taylor tune “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone.” Slipping under the sweet influence of “Raspberry Wine” Coleman shouts and brags that he’s a “Lucky Man” letting his harp take the lead with horn-like lines. For “One Request” a gentle heartfelt ballad, Omar’s vocal delivery is mindful of Kim Wilson. Slipping back to some funk Coleman’s harp pulls out the stops on the Rufus Thomas groove “Give Me The Green Light” and throws in a touch of “Mojo Working” to Willie Dixon’s “Two Headed Woman” as the guitar heads to the country on a fast picking fest that grinds down to a set ending finale.
Omar Coleman has his blues roots down cold and “Live! At Rosa’s Lounge” has captured the electric energy of a live performance with a little rock and funk in the mix to appeal to a younger generation of blues lovers. —Roger & Margaret White

Annika Chambers
Wild & Free
Under the Radar 2016

Soul and blues vocalist Annika Chambers has been a mainstay of the Houston blues scene for several years and comported herself well at the 2014 International Blues Challenge. Her 2015 debut release, “Making My Mark,” was well received and benefited from the production and bass guitar skills of Larry Fulcher and the occasional participation of his bandmates in the renowned ensemble, the Phantom Blues Band: trumpeter Darrell Leonard and drummer Tony Braunagel.
This sophomore CD is again produced by Fulcher and colleague Richard Cagle, with Braunagel, and this time employs the entire Phantom Blues Band sans horns, adding guitarist Johnny Lee Schell and keyboard maven Mike Finnigan to the mix. Two of the dozen tunes were written by Chambers, the remainder are covers.
Although she plays no instrument, unsurprisingly Chambers is the cynosure of the album. Her vocal prowess is undeniable. She has powerful pipes and a wide range, and is able effectively to evoke a gamut of emotions from elation to frustration to sorrow. At times her efforts are reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, and the late Sista Monica, and of fellow contemporary Diunna Greenleaf - all intended as praiseworthy comparisons.
The set list begins with four soul-blues numbers whose power is somewhat diminished by somewhat obtrusive drumming. “Six Nights and a Day” rights things, Braunagel hitting a syncopated groove while Schell and Finnigan display their long-gestated rapport. “Put the Sugar to Bed” is a lascivious invitation to horizontal pleasure featuring guest guitarist Josh Sklair, and “Reality” sports Chambers’ full vocal scope in front of Finnigan’s swirling organ contribution.
“Why Me” is a gospel-flavored tune in which the Phantom four really achieve a groove. “I Prefer You” affords Chambers her Aretha moment, aided by guests Sklair and pianist Jon Cleary, and it’s followed by the lovely, slow ballad “Piece by Piece.” The set ends with “Love God,” another spiritual outing in the Staple Singers mode.—Steve Daniels

Doug MacLeod
Live in Europe
Under the Radar 2016

It’s about time that we have a live Doug MacLeod album! If you have never seen MacLeod play live and he is appearing near you, don’t miss him. (If you have seen him, you don’t have to be told.) Winner of two recent Blues Music Awards as Acoustic Artist of the Year, MacLeod has released multiple studio CDs that are uniformly excellent, but seeing Doug live is a revelation. Whenever I go to one of his shows (as often as possible), I know that I will leave feeling great, no matter how I felt when I arrived. Such consistently uplifting performers are rare. (Ruthie Foster is another who comes to mind.).
This outing was recorded in 2006 in a town in The Netherlands whose name Doug couldn’t even he didn’t try. His liner notes and banter apologize for the suboptimal state of his voice, as he was ill at the time. It’s not noticeable, as his distinctive vocals ably range from deep to falsetto, with his familiar subtle drawl. Certainly not affected was his masterful work on the National Reso-Phonic guitar. The man has impeccable and irresistible rhythm, and coaxes unique sounds from the instrument; it’s hard to believe that only one man is playing…and playing so adroitly. Omnipresent also is his ever-present third instrument: besides voice and guitar, his thumping percussive left foot.
You’re not only getting top quality here, you’re also getting quantity: although comprising only nine tracks, the CD lasts a full hour. At least half of the songs are on his studio recordings, but the audience’s enthusiasm punctuates the verve of his live delivery. All tunes are originals except for “The New Panama Limited.” That fourteen-minute tour de force is Doug’s rendition of the seminal Bukka White song, also memorably covered in the 1960s by folksinger Tom Rush. MacLeod’s version maximally showcases his remarkable guitar skills.
The remaining tracks range from the love/lust opener, “I Want You,” (not the Bob Dylan tune) to “Cold Rain,” about a fraught relationship, to the lubricious “Turkey Leg Woman” (“I don’t want no bird leg woman when it come to pushin’, Give me a turkey leg woman with a built-in cushion”). The closing track, the wise and wry “Masters Plan,” confirms MacLeod’s forte at fashioning lyrics that can be amusing, poignant, and thought-provoking…often in the same song. As Doug, a fine raconteur, often intones at the end of his shows, “Don’t forget to pack your sense of humor with you.” He also reminds us at each show that what we hear will be “exactly like this” (not coincidentally, the title of his prior CD). Well, this is exactly how it sounded on a night in Holland in 2006, and it’s damn good.—Steve Daniels

Earl Thomas
Conton Music and Earl Thomas Music 2016

Based in San Diego, soul and blues singer Earl Thomas Bridgeman has developed an avid following on the West Coast and in Europe and
has been one of the most popular performers on the two Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises on which he has sailed. Perhaps this new CD will garner him the national recognition that he deserves but that has escaped him despite several previous laudable albums.
On “Crow,” Thomas has teamed up with producer, songwriter, and guitarist Vyasa Dodson, formerly of the apparently now defunct Portland, OR, band The Insomniacs. Dave Fleschner on keyboards, Bill Athens on bass and Tom Goicoechea on percussion round out the ensemble. Ace harmonicat Jason Ricci makes a welcome appearance on three tunes.
Eschewing the rollicking uptempo opener characteristic of most albums, the CD opens with the lilting soul ballad “Some Kind of Song,” immediately displaying Thomas’ rangy and buttery-smooth voice. It’s followed by Thomas’ own tune, “Do I Know You,” augmented by Ricci’s harmonica fills. The Dodson shuffle “She’s My Baby” allows nice interplay between Vyasa’s guitar and Fleschner’s organ. “Shotgun Wedding” and “Happiness” inject some funk, and “Howlin’ “ and “Love School” show that Thomas can rock as well as croon.
The following three tracks mine soul blues territory, succeeded by the beautiful “North Country Blues,” composed by bassist Bill Athens. The dozen cuts conclude with “When Forever…,” which displays Thomas’ wide emotional palette.
Thomas is in top form throughout the CD, and his vocals are highlighted deftly by Dodson’s skilled production and unobtrusive but impressive guitar licks. This is one of the best soul blues albums of 2016.—Steve Daniels

Kurt Crandall
Take It Off

This is an enjoyable album. Crandall is a first-rate songsmith and impressive harper who surrounds himself with a stellar crew of players. The ingredients are delectable. His sound is uniquely his own. On the opening 8th Event Bill Heid sets the church tone on organ. You know it’s really a gospel tune, but that’s the magic of the song, that wedding of gospel and secular with tambourines, drums, and a superb backing chorus with handclaps. Crandall sings “I saw a girl I had to meet/she was a finely-tuned athlete” before Karl Angerer adds a rockabilly flair on guitar. Talk about a song that has a bit of everything! The following title cut, sung to a cha cha groove, celebrates bald heads. “Listen to me and everything will be fine/don’t you fight mother nature/get in line with father time/take it off/let your bald head show.” Can’t Dance is a swinging harp blow on which Crandall decides that if she can’t dance there’s no romance because she “ain’t got no rhythm” and if she doesn’t have it on the dance floor, she probably won’t have it later that night (wink wink). The band swings behind him, more tasty guitar with Rusty Farmer on standup bass and Aaron Binder on drums.
On Loser, again floated by Heid’s sweet organ, He sings that losing is all he does, but he hasn’t lost his love for his honey. Taquito Under My Seat is an instrumental tango that gets feet tapping. Heid is a master on piano here. TV Mamma is another superb acoustic harp blow with more of that contagious Binder guitar in the mix. This is one of Crandall’s best on the set. On Dirty Pete the groove is a 40s-style swinger. His friend Dirty Pete is a lady’s man and he’s confused by it. He is a “rancid man/but the ladies won’t leave you alone.” Fun song with a metronomic Johnny Hott drum driving it. Figgy Bag is a fiery instrumental on which our hero blows with power and finesse. On the closing Bolivar Blues, the band shines. Aaron Binder’s brushes, Farmer’s solid bass, Heid’s jazzy filigrees and some of the finest harp you’ll hear all year.—Mark E. Gallo

Matthew Skoller
Blues Immigrant
Tongue ’n Groove

There are a handful of truly great harmonica players out there. Matthew Skoller is unquestionably in that exclusive club. This is a phenomenal album. He has a superb voice, writes intelligent songs and blows the roof off the sucker with his 10-holed rocket. Aided and abetted by a first rate crew of players, including Johnny Iguana on keys, Giles Corey and Eddie Taylor, Jr. on guitars, Carlos Johnson, lead guitar on a pair of tunes, Felton Crews on bass and Marc Wilson on drums, our hero tosses beautiful swaths of color throughout. Opening with Big Box Store Blues, he jumps in with both feet, singing about his most decided disdain for the big stores. He tells his honey that he would “do anything in the whole world for you/but I ain’t going down to no big box store.” Great shuffle with hard blowing, note sustaining acoustic harp that just tickles the ears.
The Devil Ain’t Got No Music is a standout tune and gets my vote for the song of the year. Opening with Marc Wilson’s sparse jungle drum with an equally compelling Giles Corey guitar, Skoller reminds us that the Devil got all kindsa things but he just ain’t got no music. He sings, “The Devil’s got the horns/Devil’s got the tail/the Devil’s got a smile/and the key to the jail/…but the devil ain’t got no music/that’s why his home is hell.” He delivers it with strong vocals and explosive harp blowing. The title cut has a metronomic acoustic guitar under his harp and vocals. He sings a bit of recent history, from his grandfolks landing on Ellis Island, through the murders of MLK and RFK, and wonders if he needs a green card to bring his harp to America. That harp is especially crisp and full of subtle fire.
Tear Collector is a beautiful blues that asks for someone to cry for him because his lover took all his tears. Guitar, organ, and the rhythm team are wholly impressive in their support roles. Story of Greed, opening with brushes and an ancient harmonica wail approximates almost a slo-mo Smokestack Lightning groove in the chorus. He sings. “It’s a story about greed/it’s a song about death.” It’s so heartening to hear songwriters lyrically tackle real life. The ultra-rich and greedy have no regard for the rest of us. 747 says that she needed to get out and a bus just wasn’t fast enough. Beautiful acoustic harp in tandem with Johnny Iguana’s percussive piano.
On the instrumental Organ Mouth he shines with Iguana on organ. Skoller sounds like a young little Sonny here and Iguana channels Jimmy Smith. On the second chorus he comes back darker and quicker, but steady knockin’ out. On the closing Blue Lights there is more Little Walter influence than elsewhere and showcases Skoller’s dynamic chops. Great album.—Mark E. Gallo

RJ Howson
Set It Free

RJ Howson honed his chops in the Windy City before blowing down to the Gulf Coast of Florida and playing up a storm. A regular suspect in the Tampa area he recently moved further south to the blues hot bed of Bradenton. The move may have inspired the muse for his new CD “Set It Free,” it seems to be a true labor of love, RJ wrote all the songs, recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered everything himself in his own studio. Howson has played all the guitars, sang all vocals but is helped by his rhythm section of Chuck Riley on bass and Pat McDonald on drums with Mark Kach on keyboards.
The title tune, “Set It Free,” has the sound and feel of the Allman Brothers even though it’s just a single freely flowing guitar, Howson let’s it fly. Next from the first line of “I am” it ain’t no backdoor or Hoochie Coochie man as Howson reaches higher with “Lightin’Man” invoking the heavens at his command as his fingers fly and the rhythm pounds. Adopting an Albert King-like style on “Mojo Mama” and “Lookin’ For A Lover” RJ croons and his guitar rips though the restrained rhythms. “Prove This Love Is True” is a guitar thrill ride sweeping to string bending heights then plunging off that edge, notes flying off on the ride down. Picking up the pieces “Sweet Soul Sister” has the organ and vocals carrying the tune till a “Layla”-like solo raises at the finale. A burning boogie lights up “Carry Me Mama,” the vocals sing that he’s “hung out on the wire” but the guitar and piano are on fire. “I Got Mud” gets down with some dirty chicken scratching rhythm under sweeping power chords then takes it deeper as Howson cries “can’t keep a good soul down” and the guitar is set free to “Make A Joyful Sound” with Allman influences returning on a Dickey Betts like solo and ringing out throughout the melody. For a real change of pace Howson closes with a wish of good tidings and using a hushed reverberating tone gently sings “Until We Meet Again.”
RJ Howson is a musician who truly loves the life he leads and he’s put it all on the line in order to “Set It Free.”—Roger & Margaret White

John Lee Hooker
Acrobat 4-CD 7103

The legendary Boogie Man, John Lee Hooker, was one of the foremost guiding spirits of the mid-60s blues boom. Early on known commercially as Birmingham Sam & His Magic Guitar, Texas Slim or Little Pork Chops among other aliases, Hooker was born toward the tail-end of August in 1912 to a sharecropping family, led by a Baptist preacher, in the tiny town of Tutwiler, Mississippi in Tallahatchie County, and was influenced early on by both his stepfather—droning, one-chord blues stylist Willie Brown—as well as his running pal Tony Hollins, who was dating Hooker’s sister, Alice, at the time. The youthful musician moved to Memphis in his teens and began playing with the likes of Robert Nighthawk but around 1943 he relocated to Detroit, where he worked at the Ford plant during the day and played the clubs on and near fabled Hastings Street, the dynamic center of the black community’s night life on the east side, on the weekends. He also began his recording career in the Motor City in 1948 where his initial session produced the biggest selling “race record” of 1949, “Boogie Chillun,” that featured his signature gravel-voiced singing alongside his hypnotic, foot-stompingly boogiefied guitar rhythms. This 4 CD, 101 track project chronologically spotlights both the A and B sides of all the singles recorded under his own name for the Modern, Chess and Vee Jay labels from 1949 through to 1962, thus proffering a comprehensive overview of his output during this key period of his career as well as an excellent showcase for his one-of-a-kind talent. Naturally, all the hits are here—from the fore-mentioned million seller “Boogie Chillun” and “Crawlin’ King Snake” to “Hoogie Boogie” and “Hobo Blues.” From “Boom Boom” and “I’m In The Mood” to “Tupelo” and “John Lee’s House Rent Boogie.” An enclosed booklet features comprehensive liners by Paul Watts along with full discographical and session details. Well worth hunting down!—Gary von Tersch 

Lonnie Mack
The Wham Of That Memphis Man
Ace CDCHM-1134

As liners authors Dave Burke and Alan Taylor, of Pipeline magazine, put it at the outset of their informative, photo-studded liners: “Credited as one of the principal instigators of blue-eyed soul as well as the inspiration for southern rock, roadhouse bar-blues and the legion of blues-based guitar-slingers that plied their trade throughout the 60s, 70s and beyond, Lonnie Mack may not be a household name but he was one of the genuine giants of music.” Born into a musical family in the backwoods of Harrison, Indiana in 1941, Mack left high school at 13 and spent the next two decades recording for a string of local, independent labels while maintaining an exhausting schedule of one-night stands, playing his Flying V guitar for all it was worth in raucous taverns, honky-tonks and blues clubs before his arresting instrumental take on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” became an out-of-the-blue Top Ten smash in the summer of 1963. It was closely followed by another pull-out-all-the-stops number, penned by Mack and titled “Wham!” As Burke and Taylor note: “Because of Lonnie’s plentiful use of the Bigsby tremelo arm on “Wham!” the device became known as a “whammy bar.” Originally released on Cincinnati’s Fraternity label in October, 1963, Mack’s classic, eleven track debut album remains one for the ages—every cut here is terrific—Mack’s “lightning fast guitar runs, punctuated with amazing string-bends, an organ-like tone and piercing guitar notes, put most other instrumentalists to shame.” Equally accomplished are Mack’s hypnotic, blue-eyed soul vocals (often in front of the stupendous Charmaines vocal group) with gospel hollers and heartbroken screams multiplying the music’s thrusting power and rapturous aura. Personal favorites include two inspired sacred covers (The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi’s classic “Where There’s A Will” and Martha Carson’s rousing “Satisfied”) along with all the groundbreaking instrumentals. Lonnie died last April, with this release already in the works. Now it stands as a fine memorial to an early guitar hero. Back in the day (I graduated from high school in 1963) this was one of those scant “all killer, no filler” LPs. Long live Lonnie Mack!—Gary von Tersch

Misssissippi Heat
Cab Driving Man
Delmark CD 848

The Fat Babies
Solid Gassuh
Delmark CD 257

The heat on the stove is cranked all the way to “Hi” once more for the twelfth chapter in the quarter-century history of licensed clinical psychiatrist Pierre Lacocque’s tight Mississippi Heat band. His ardently eloquent harmonica work and savvy songwriting skills (often composed from a woman’s perspective and frequently commenting on contemporary issues) are ably aided and abetted by a roster of heavy hitters—most notably earnest vocalist Inetta Visor, eloquent guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Michael Dotson, bassist Brian Quinn and groove-deep drummers Terrence Williams and Kenny Smith and keyboardist Chris “Hambone” Cameron. Saxophone maven Sax Gordon also “special guests” on five tracks with his soulful insinuations particularly effective on both the title song—an atmospheric nod to Cab Calloway’s stony, cabaret-blues approach— as well as on an inspired cover of Sarah Vaughan’s memorable toast to her “Smooth Operator.” Lacocque’s exemplary originals run the gamut from low-down Delta and Chicago blues and boogie woogie to party-down-den numbers, R&B ballads and cajun reveries with subject matter that “runs the gamut of the human experience from the purpose of life to the glory of love,” as liners author Greg Easterling accurately puts it. Further ravers begin with the opening “Cupid Bound,” “Flowers On My Tombstone,” “Life Is Too Short,” “Mama Kaila” and the closing shout-out “Hey Pipo.” An entertaining and rootsy musical smorgasbord of the highest order! Play loud!   Which brings us to another recent Delmark release, featuring the Windy City’s most popular vintage hot jazz band—the Beau Sample-led Hot Babies. Sample plays string bass, with Andy Schumm on cornet, John Otto on either clarinet or alto sax and Paul Asoro on piano and the occasional vocal—he particularly shines on a deliriously exciting “Egyptian Ella,” Benny Goodman’s “After A While” and the visionary “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?” Tenor banjoist and guitarist Jake Sanders and drummer Alex Hall round out the hot-to-trot septet. Currently in residency at the world famous Green Mill in Uptown on every Tuesday and on every Sunday at the Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen (where this after-hours recording was done) the fresh-faced combo is musically soaked in the idiom’s early days as they pay a vibrantly fresh tribute to a host of the era’s, often unsung, trailblazers—from Wingy Manone and Bud Freeman to Johnny Dodds and Albert Wynn. From Muggsy Spanier and Punch Miller to Lillian Armstrong and Clarence Williams—that never fails to have the dance floor full in no time flat. Other recommends include a modernistic “Delirium,” a flag-waving rendition of Luis Russell and Paul Barbarin’s “Doctor Blues” and a fiery cover of Thomas Dorsey’s dazzling “Parkway Stomp.” A “solid gassuh” through and through, as Louie would put it.—Gary von Tersch

Deb Ryder
Grit Grease & Tears
Bejeb Music 2016

This third album by chanteuse Deb Ryder is a winner. It doesn’t hurt that she has enlisted the talent of drummer and ace producer Tony Braunagel, whose efforts are enforced by Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and Mike Finnigan on keyboards. (Recognize those names? That’s the core of the Phantom Blues Band, Taj Mahal’s ace ensemble for the last couple of decades.) A slew of other top-flight musicians make appearances, but the focus is appropriately on Ryder’s vocals.
This lady has the pipes! She proves it from track one, “Ain’t Gonna Be Easy,” a rocker that incorporates a growl into her powerful vocal. It’s followed by one of the highlights of the set, “Get a Little Steam Up,” wherein she duets with rising star Sugaray Rayford. The funky tune presents two of the most forceful singers on the contemporary blues scene, and they mesh expertly.
“Blink of an Eye” is a shuffle giving room for Schell to vamp on slide guitar, with assistance from Pieter van der Pluijm (“Big Pete”) on harmonica…who then hands the harmonica duty to Bob Corritore on the slow and spooky title cut, enhanced also by West Coast guitarist extraordinaire Kirk Fletcher (most recently part of Joe Bonamassa’s touring band).
By now you get the picture: each cut is an all-star outing with a rotating cast of characters, anchored by Ryder’s vocals. Making appearances are Joe Sublett and Darrell Leonard of the Phantom horn section, bassist Kenny Gradney of Little Feat, and former Robert Cray keyboard man Jim Pugh. Present on only one track but shining is legendary guitarist Albert Lee on the country-flavored “Just Her Nature.”
Perhaps as impressive is Ryder’s songwriting: she composed all dozen tunes, all based in blues but touching on country, rock, and even gospel. Oh, yes, and boogie, too: check out “Prisoner of War,” with the basic group running on all cylinders, Big Pete wailing on harmonica. Good stuff!—Steve Daniels

Sari Schorr
A Force of Nature
Brand New Music

When famed producer Mike Vernon produces your debut disc it’s a big deal. Sari Schorr didn’t chase him down. Vernon pursued her based on how impressed he was at first hearing her. She has that effect. Hers is a major voice waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world. She has the ability to be explosive and to be demure. Add to that her exceptional lyrical skills and you have a Force of Nature comin’ at ya.
Ain’t Got No Money opens with a searing Innes Sibun guitar, signaling the locomotive vocal that follows. The slice of life lyrics are the Universal theme we’ve all seen at times: “Ain’t got no money/Got no work no play/Well I ain’t got no money/But I still got bills to pay.” Her elastic powerhouse vocal cords come to life here. The interplay between singer and guitarist is seamless and dynamic. Singers often stretch their capacity and sound like screamers. Schorr hits the extremes successfully. When she unleashes her pipes the result is crystal clear diction and power that never sounds strained.
Aunt Hazel, an ode to the power of heroin (“I’m in trouble again/just one hit to clear my mind/I’ll pay the rent another time”) is starkly gutsy. Sibun’s guitar is again a force of its own. Damn the Reason, a song that weighs the pros and cons of leaving with Ollie Brown now on guitar, is a medium tempo over which her vocals ring “don’t want to see myself in your eyes.” Cat and Mouse is about self-fulfillment and when she sings that she will “pack up my secrets and leave the rest to you” you know this is a woman on a mission. On his Work No More guitarist extraordinaire Walter Trout propels Sari to gorgeous bluesy lines about reaching the goal. On Demolition Man she sings, “You’ll never quit your sinning ways/you’re just the man I need.” The lyrics on Oklahoma are transcendent: “There’s a big fat moon in a jealous sky/Mocking the way that my lover done bid me goodbye.”
Letting Go is a song about coming to grips with a new normal. She sings, “All my dreams belong to yesterday” and vows, “I will love you forever/’Til the stars retreat from the sky.” This is a standout. Her vocalizing is bluesy and mesmerizing. The backing is first rate, as well, with Sibun on guitar, Quique Bonal on rhythm guitar, Jesus Lavillas on keys and the solid rhythm section of bassist Nani Conde and drummer Jose Mena.
Kiss Me (“There’s a hummingbird’s wings/beating in my chest ….all I want you to do is kiss me”) is a song most of us can relate to and Ordinary Life (“I’ve made my piece with loneliness”) close an album that is wholly impressive, top to bottom. In a field of first-rate female vocalists that we’ve been blessed with this year, Sari Schorr more than holds her own. — Mark Gallo

Down Home Blues
Detroit Special
Wienerworld 3CD—5095

As it asserts on the car-cluttered street on the bottom of this vintage 1960 Hastings Street cover-photo, this 3 CD, 82 title (lotsa rare & unissued) project is “The definitive three album collection of down home blues from Detroit.” The 21 artists featured (John Lee Hooker, Baby Boy Warren, Eddie Burns, Doctor Ross, Eddie Kirkland, Bobo Jenkins and Earl Chatman among them) provide a comprehensive view of the post-war blues scene in the Motor City from 1948 through 1962. The three discs come in a sturdy, deluxe digipak with an outer slip-case that includes a fifty page booklet with extensive liners dealing with the decidedly raw music and the surroundings that generated it by renowned veteran researcher and historiographer Mike Rowe, who proffers incisive biographies of the musicians (others include Slim Pickens, L.C. Green, Martee Bradley, John Brim, Detroit Slim and Little Sonny) and complete session details along with a slew of colorful label shots, track listings and vintage photos of the clubs, bars and restaurants where they performed in Detroit’s downtown black neighborhood known, tongue-in-cheekly, as Paradise Valley. Quite fittingly, the bulk of the titles are by guitarist and singer/songwriter Baby Boy Warren, who in the 1930’s had played in Memphis’ fabled W.C. Handy Park along with Robert Lockwood Jr., Howling Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson, with nary a clunker in the bunch. The silver medal is shared by Eddie Burns and Bobo Jenkins with ten songs each (Warren has 16) with John Lee Hooker and Little Sonny at seven each—four of Hooker’s are stupendous solo efforts, originally issued on Chicago’s Chance label, and all the evidence necessary to understand where his sobriquet “The Boogie Man” came from. But, thrillingly, even one-shot wonders like Little Daddy Walton (with his tenacious harp blues “Papa Doo”), Detroit Count (with his rip-roaring “Detroit Boogie”) and Carolinian Henry Smith recalling Blind Boy Fuller with his “Dog Me Blues” also impress. One of the most entertaining 224 minutes I’ve had in a long time. And for those who desire to dig deeper, the UK’s Ace label also has an equally splendid, multi-disc Detroit Blues package available entitled “Battle of Hastings Street” and, just last year, JSP released a similar compilation titled “Garden City Blues.” All essential five-star listening for any blues aficionado.—Gary von Tersch

Classic Blues Artwork From The 1920s
2017 Calendar With Cd
Blues Images

Since 2004, Grants Pass, Oregon’s Blues Images operation has been doggedly dedicated to bringing blues fans worldwide outsize reproduction of classic blues artwork, rare photographs and recorded music with an annual calendar/CD set. Rising production costs have forced a slight price increase this year but the quality of the breathtaking sound reproduction on the enclosed 23 track CD is nothing short of amazing as, for the second year in a row, Images head honcho, John Tefteller, has joined up with PBS and the BBC’s American Epic documentary organization and their highly developed ultra-modern digital restoration technology. Of course, it also helps that the very finest copies of the original blues 78’s available are played on the original 1920s studio playback equipment to begin with—all in all, the result is a lot less surface noise and heightened dynamic range. You can hear Charley Patton’s chair creak during the testifying gospel track “Lord I’m Discouraged” (cut during his initial Paramount session in 1929) while a cricket audibly joins the Mobile Strugglers on “Fattenin’ Frogs” from 1949 (later “covered” by Sonny Boy Williamson) and, if you listen closely, you can hear Mr. Memphis Minnie—Kansas Joe McCoy—clearing his throat before beginning this year’s Halloween offering “Mr. Devil Blues.” Other calendar-linked gems include the two-part magnum opus “Cottonfield Blues” (with Garfield Aker’s eerily unforgettable vocal), a vivid barrelhouse piano stomper titled “Louisiana Glide” by one Blind Leroy Garnett and the reflective “Let Your Light Shine On Me” by the legendary Blind Willie Johnson. Also featured are a pair of numbers by both the prolific Big Bill Broonzy (the downbeat “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “The Western Blues”) and Blind Joe Reynolds—an oddly-titled “Nehi Mama” (that’s got nothing to do with soda pop) and the declamatory “Outside Woman Blues”—along with one of cover girl Memphis Minnie’s biggest hits, “Bumble Bee,” and a closing couple by inventive bottleneck guitarist Ishman Bracey from 1930—the high-wire “Woman Woman Blues” and the imagistic “Suitcase Full Of Blues.” A unique combination that is the perfect Christmas gift for blues aficianados everywhere!—Gary von Tersch

Hot Flash – The Documentary
Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women
A JO Films and Roadside
Pictures Production

Bands not tied together by blood often consider themselves family. Some bands’ fans are as much a part of the family as the musicians themselves. Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women fall into both categories as I was reminded of that fact after meeting up with Gaye Adegbalola this past summer. I don’t recall how it came up in conversation but she was surprised to learn I was not aware of this Saffire 2008 DVD release. Shortly thereafter I find the DVD in my mailbox. Perfect timing? Yeah, ’cause we’re doing a family issue and maybe what the world needs right now is a good ol’ family reunion.
Hot Flash gives a great view into the history of Saffire – with Gaye practically becoming an Ann Rabson groupie before ultimately adding Earlene Lewis to the mix and thus Saffire is born. Andra Faye is brought in 5 years later when Earlene departs and the rest is history. Their tale is spun from interviews with the members as well as music industry luminaries, some live performance snippets and old footage, pictures and press clippings. It will put a smile on your face, perhaps teach you some things about the band you didn’t already know (I certainly found out some fun facts) and will have you longing for those days gone by when you could check your local club or festival calendar and look forward to a Saffire performance, maybe a Saffire ‘experience’ would be more fitting, in those coming days, weeks or months.
If you already own this wonderful piece of history, now would seem a good time to take another look. If this escaped you, as it did me – now would be a great time to add it to your collection.
I write this the day after Thanksgiving – a day when we’re all too painfully reminded of those whose empty spot at the table can never be filled. Such it is with Saffire, a reunion that can never occur with the passing of Ms. Rabson in 2013 – but for those who still mourn the band’s ending, well, as Johnny Thunders once said, ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,’ but you sure can wrap your head and heart around this video and escape from reality for a short time. —Guy Powell


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